Do you know that scene in Bridget Jones, the first one, where Bridget loses her scarf in the wind on the way to her mini-break with Daniel Cleaver, and she walks into the hotel with her hair looking like a bird’s nest?
Well, that’s along the lines of what I currently look like, after a day of walking Oxford’s streets. On my last day here, I found an element feared more by tourists than the rain: the wind. In a town like Oxford (or should I say a city, apparently a town becomes a city when it boasts a cathedral), the wind whips around street corners and hits you like a ten-tonne truck in the face, bringing with it its old friend, the rain. My umbrella has become an extension of my arm, so I’m used to that by now. But the wind, that was another thing altogether.
Why am I going on and on about the weather? Because I just checked out the forecast for Spain (where I’ll be in about a week), and its promising sunshine and temperatures of over twenty degrees! Never have I heard such splendid news! Away wit’ ya, umbrella and fleece!
Moving on. Today I explored Oxford, and, apart from the weather, it was lovely, so different from the working class cities that I’d resided in the last week or so (even though I did enjoy them for different reasons – except one of course). I went on a walking tour so I would get a better idea of what all the buildings were and how exactly the university/college system worked, and I was glad to see my tour guide was wearing a tweed coat. Not that I’m stereotyping or anything.
I can’t really compare Oxford to anything, except to say that it was kind of the opposite of any universities in Australia. Instead of residing in a set space, the university and its thirty-nine autonomous colleges were spread out throughout the town. Even though townfolk and those who work or study at the university live virtually side by side, each group seems to keep to themselves. The university has definitely shaped the town though, despite the fact that the university has only about 16,000 students (whilst about 120,000 people call Oxford home) everyone seems to walk with books under their arms, and ride their bike everywhere. Without helmets, mind you. I have no idea why there are any traffic lights in Oxford, as I haven’t yet seen two cars meet at an intersection.
The colleges were gorgeous. We went into New College, which isn’t new at all (what is with that? Old Trafford isn’t old, and New College was founded in the thirteenth century). We went into the dining hall and the chapel, which were elaborate. I didn’t think I knew of any of the founders of the college until later, when I realised that the Spooner guy that got his sentences mixed up was who they based the ‘Spooner or Later’ book on that I used to love. The students were all in residence as we walked around, and one guy was practicing playing the organ. Now, what kind of person plays the organ? I can only think of that man with the massive family at Queen of Peace, and that’s not good company to be in.
Ah yes, and sport. Very interesting, as in the bookstore almost all of the sports section was on soccer, yet all I saw were rugby and cricket grounds, and plenty of people walking around in hoodies or rugby tops displaying the name of their rowing team. Interesting…
Anyway I thought it would be fitting now to reflect on the last few weeks in the motherland…
- People – The English are a lot friendlier than I thought, except for anyone who works in a shop. Back home I hate it when shop assistants want to talk to you when you enter, but that’s not as bad as the silence you get when you walk into basically any shop here. The only thing worse is an instance I’ve experienced enough for it to warrant a mention: when two shop assistants are chatting away, and after you walk into their shop a deafening silence follows. As soon as you get out of there, they carry on as if there was never an interruption. It doesn’t help when you’re wearing a fleece and toting a backpack, I’ve found.
- Food – Probably the best curries I’ve had are found here, but that’s about it, oh, except for the yummy fish and chips. Apparently if they tried to serve you frozen chips here (as opposed to homemade) they would be out of business very quickly. People also order – alongside their mushy peas, mind you – batter by itself. Just a whole bowl of batter. It’s almost enough to want to go on a health kick. Almost, that is, until you acquaint yourself with Britain’s confectionery. The chocolate is so much better here (Cadbury’s), apparently it has something to do with the cooler climate. But that’s about it – nobody seems to cook anything from scratch, aisles and aisles in the supermarket are reserved for instant meals.
- Weather – Hoo boy. Well, it’s cold. And the further north you get, it gets colder. The further south you get, it gets windier. It rains without prejudice.
- Attractions – The best has probably been Westminster Abbey, it really set the scene for visiting everything else, as all of the castles, palaces, cathedrals and museums seemed to refer to the Abbey with regard to something or other. Weirdly, virtually all museums and galleries are free here, whereas today I went to have lunch in the Botanical Gardens and they wanted AU$7 from me to sit with a few plants. Thankfully in the winter they have an honor system – my thinking was if you’re not paying for someone to sit here and collect our hard earned pounds then you’re not getting mine.
- Media – There was a small story on the BBC the other day about Scotland Yard getting a whole lot of DNA tests wrong and therefore there’s been a whole lot of wrongful arrests over the past decade or so. Pretty big news, if you ask me. That’s the only bit of news I’ve seen that doesn’t have something to do with Robbie Williams going into rehab, how cool the new Tory leader is (he is pretty cool), Helen Mirren’s win and subsequent invitation to meet Queenie, London Fashion Week not banning size zero models and how unfair the congestion tax is. Oh, and the Polish taking all the unskilled jobs since joining the EU – the EU seems to be a bit like ‘don’t mention the war’.
Anyway, bring on the French, I say. I’m up for anything!
Oh, and I have more photos up. The photos from Japan are here – http://unimelbedu.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2026070&l=372e0&id=218102467, and the photos from England and Scotland are here – http://unimelbedu.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2026069&l=fe26c&id=218102467. Enjoy my fascinating commentary.