Oxford

Oct. 1st, 2006 06:22 pm
ksimes: (Default)
I have not been feeling myself lately (Oo err missus!) and came home early on Friday feeling nauseous, slightly dizzy and pouring with sweat. However, now that I have more or less recovered I thought I would say a few words about Oxford to finish off my tale of woe that was the trip to the Oxonmoot.
 
I liked Oxford, especially as I understand that it was outside of term time. Although the one major point of irritation was that it was full, with no accommodation at all for outside visitors. I have since been told that September was a very bad time to travel to Oxford and we should have booked two places just in case one fell though (which it did), as cancellation charges are only about £10, with thanks to [profile] hubblegubble for that useful tip for the future.
 
Wedny and I first saw Oxford via a 2:00am taxi whirl through the core area before being dumped on the streets to trudge back towards St. Giles (near to where the Oxonmoot was being held) and then being given an even more whirlwind tour of Oxford and its environs by super taxi, which is documented elsewhere in this Journal.
 
Once we had got over all that and experienced what we did of Oxonmoot we went on to enjoy the experience of Oxford a little before having to board the train and return home. Really the first time we got to look around was on Sunday afternoon when we went straight to the Ashmolean. I had always wanted to visit it and had unfortunately found out just before travelling that it was mostly closed for refurbishment and only had the original main building open. It is run by very helpful volunteers who take the time to tell you where things are and what was worthwhile seeing but as the museum seemed to have the heating on full blast neither Wedny nor I could think straight, so it wasn’t that brilliant an experience. Then again that may have been due to still recovering from the trip down. There was a particularly good exhibition of treasures of the Ashmolean in one of the rooms which was excellent and in which we saw Guy Fox’s Lamp he used while trying to explain his policies to the government of the day and the Alfred jewel (which is much smaller than you would think). The museum shop on the ground floor is good and there are lockers in the basement near to the toilets where you can store your bag or whatnot while you tour round the building. Refurbishments finish in 2009 and I might revisit after that.
 
We did a fair amount of sitting around in Broad street at the outdoor café called the Campus Buttery through a tiny bit of Saturday, big chunk of Sunday afternoon and a bit of Monday Morning. That was fun; watching the world go by and looking at the postcards we had just bought at the tourist information office. We walked along to Blackwell’s Bookshop or rather I did, as Wedny went straight to the separate Blackwell’s Music shop and disappeared for an hour or two. I found out that Blackwell’s has a second hand section on the top floor and a rare books section on the second floor. This was too good to miss and I increased my collection of James Hilton novels by two.
 
I was going to add to my LiveJournal while down in Oxford but two things put paid to that. One, was the fact that we were completely knackered and I didn’t really feel like saying anything worthwhile to the world. Secondly, they have an interesting turn on Internet cafes in Oxford. We were in several cafés around and about the centre of Oxford and none appeared to do any kind of Internet access, (we did finally see an Internet café at Gloucester Green but it was closed… permanently). It turns out that most cafes and coffee shops in Oxford provide wireless Internet access and all you have to provide is a laptop to connect up. I suppose for a University town this makes a lot of sense as then you don’t need to go to the capital expense of buying computers and using up valuable space to site them. But it does mean that you do have to have a laptop or portable computer to use and that was something I neglected to take with me. Ah well.
 
We also ate out on the Sunday night in Gino’s which was particularly good and I would thoroughly recommend to anyone who likes Italian food. There is a particularly good set of reviews of their restaurant here. They also are the source of the Greek quote I put into the Journal some days ago (Aren’t online translation services a wonderful thing!). Due to a lack of concentration or maybe tiredness I managed to order pasta in a Chilli sauce and as I am allergic to peppers this was not the smartest thing to eat. I apologised to the waiter and asked for a Calzone which is what Wedny had ordered, but to charge me for the pasta as it was my mistake. The owner (Gino himself, I think) was straight over apologising profusely and insisting that the change of dish was on the house. He would not accept that it was my mistake and refused point blank to change me for that meal. After some of our experiences this was a wonderful change to see such an attitude. Strangely, if you look at the second review that I pointed at for Gino’s almost exactly the same thing happened to the reviewer on 08/05/06! Again I would heartily recommend them as a place to eat to anyone passing through Oxford or even just getting off at the bus station in Gloucester Green.
 
All in all, I loved the buildings (which strangely, to me as a Glaswegian, don’t look like 16th-17th century buildings due to the light colour of the stone, not really dirty enough. I had thought that they were Victorian gothic revival buildings!). I loved the well kept gardens which you could see peeking though the gates and over walls as we went round Oxford on the open topped bus tour on Monday morning and I loved the ambience of the central Broad street's, hustle and bustle. Oh, and I loved Blackwell bookshop and I loved the Bodleian Library (What little you can actually see, as you can only go into the shop, you can’t get into the library for a peek) and the Bridge of sighs and St. Helen’s Passage and the Turf Tavern and Somerville college. Really the town itself was the best bit of the trip. Like I said I would like to go back to see the Ashmolean when it is refurbished, and one final word of caution. All the museums and galleries appear to be closed on Mondays so if your looking for a long weekend in Oxford and want to visit these kind of places start on a Thursday and go till Sunday.
ksimes: (Default)
Hmm, what can I say about the Oxonmoot?  We did attend the welcome drinks in the college bar, the welcome meal in the dinning hall and more drinks in the bar afterwards on the Friday but were substantially frazzled so cannot remember any of the names of people we met or spoke to (except Julie, Julie was nice, from Dorset and came all the way there by herself). We also had to leave fairly early as we had to go back to our hotel in the middle of nowhere.
 
After the moot committee had spent a lot time before the moot arranging who should eat what for the Friday meal there was a screw up by the college and a number of people did not get their chosen main course for the meal. It didn’t go down terribly well and may have set the tone for the rest of the moot, although I have to say that in our case Wedny and I were perfectly happy with the meal. The main dinning hall was superb in that it was Oak panelled and had the paintings of all the Principles around the walls. It was an interesting experience eating dinner there.
 
We did unfortunately miss all of Saturday morning’s lectures and events as we were still recovering from our trip down to Oxford and were delayed in getting to Somerville College that morning due to trying to arrange accommodation for the Saturday and Sunday nights as well as the 10 mile taxi journey from our Hotel. I have to say that I sat outside the marquee in the sunshine (and there is a lot of Sunshine in Oxford in September) throughout the afternoon events just to unwind and try and relax as I was not feeling particularly bright, although Wedny did go to one of the lectures so I may ask her to write something.
 
We did go to the dealers room which I thought was quite good, but others felt didn’t provide much choice. Everything in the room was Tolkien related, inspired or specific, which was the point of the moot so I’m not too sure why they said that. I bought a set of commemorative postcards for the Tolkien stamps released in 2004 as well as “The roots of Tolkien’s Middle Earth” by Robert Blackham and Wedny got a mouse mat for our Sister-in-law, who does like Elephants which has an Oliphunt and a short poem from Tolkien on it. Not much I know, but our budget had taken a real beating by this time.
 
We did go to the Art show which had a number of works by Ted Nasmith which I thought were particularly good. These were full landscapes with a feeling not quite like the movies which I liked. Ted Nasmith attended the moot and was about in the background for most of the Saturday and also started providing some of the musical entertainment on the Saturday party which we watched some of, before leaving.
 
We did wander round and round Somerville College throughout the weekend which I thought was particularly wonderful, from the out quad to the inner quad and the fact that you could only enter by either the front gate or one of the entrances controlled by key. I really, really liked the closed community; away from the public feel to it (I suspect that I was a silent order monk in another life). They have a slightly smaller BMfH whom I have just found out is called Pogo (silly name if you ask me but what the hey).
 
All in all we found it an interesting but not welcoming experience, it is most likely that that had a lot to do with how tired we were and how long we had to travel to get to the moot on Saturday. I feel that we were just not in the right frame of mind. But that mindset did get better as the weekend progressed and by Monday morning we were in the right mood to be tourists and indeed, delegates. Unfortunately, it was all over by then.
ksimes: (Default)
Scene 1 – Things take a turn for the worse.
 
So now we were hurtling towards Oxford in the back of a Birmingham Hackney cab being driven by a young man with an unfeasibly large beard. We eventually struck up conversations, discovering that one of our fellow passengers was a Philosophy Lecturer at one of the Oxford Colleges (I kid you not, and I never found out which College) originally from South Africa and the other was a Librarian for the NHS who had just come back from a job interview in Glasgow and was originally from California. With two Scots and a broad accented Brummy in the front seat who looked like a refugee from the Mujahadeen, we were a real international mix.
 
I should jump backwards in time here and point out that at 10:00pm Wedny had had a very strange telephone call with our guest house in Oxford.
“We’re going to be late as there has been disruption of the trains due to the weather”
“Oh”, came the reply “So you don’t want your rooms then?”
“Yes”, said Wedny, “We’re booked in for the whole weekend, we’ll just be later than we planned that’s all”
“When will you be here then?”
“Well we don’t know as we are still on the first train and don’t know if there will be a connection on to Oxford”
“So I can’t give your room away then?”, said slightly strange man at the end of the phone.
“No”, said Wedny, carefully enouncing each word, “We are booked in for the whole weekend, we will just be late that’s all”
“OK”
And that appeared to be that.
 
In the taxi we swapped travellers disaster tales for most of the journey with the driver cheerfully joining in until he started fishing for money saying that he had heard that people from Scotland were good tippers. Aye, Right! This taxi trip was on Virgin Trains anyway and I think we were all too tired and pissed off to oblige.
 
All of us in the back of the taxi watched silently as the taxi fare went straight through £110 before we even hit the edge of the outer ring road round Oxford.
 
Scene 2 – the other shoe drops
We dropped off our first passenger in the heart of Oxford and he helpfully pointed out Somerville College in passing so we could get back there the next day. The Californian Librarian knew where we were going and kindly stayed on board to drop us at out guest house.
 
So at 2:00am in the morning we got out of the taxi, said our goodbyes and walked into the Guest House. “Hello”, says I, “We called earlier, we were delayed by the train problems?”
“Oh”, says bloke coming from the back of the Guest House, “I had to let your room go at midnight, we don’t have any other rooms, sorry”.
 
I just stood and stared at him. This was just perfect. You didn’t “have” to let our room go you c**t, you obviously just wanted to, I thought.
 
However, at this point my hair was physically blown forward by the storm brewing behind me.
 
I BEG YOUR PARDON!!
 
I looked over my shoulder to see the white faced and slightly tearful Wedny building up for a ten year blowout to have words with this… man. I should point out at this juncture that Wedny is a Singing Teacher who has taught a number of Opera classes and was about to burst the… helpful man’s eardrums and probably wake everyone in a 1 mile radius.
 
I had recognised the complete arsehole, “more than my jobs worth”, “It’s you own fault anyway, y'know” type standing in front of me and just knew if we caused any trouble he would either call the police or just refuse to talk to us and retreat into his rat hole at the back of the building.
 
So stopping only to say to him that we had booked for the entire weekend so thanks for that, I turned and physically manhandled (first time in 10 years) Wedny out the door and had to stand and explain myself before trudging back toward the centre of Oxford. In a flash of almost unreasonable optimism I did comment “At least it’s not raining”.
 
Scene 3 – Hotel ho!
Within 10 minutes we waved down a taxi and asked the driver to be taken to the first Hotel he knew which might have rooms. He looked wistfully at us and said “You aren’t going to get any rooms in Oxford this weekend, the're all full up”
 
This just got better and better. Here we were in a major English tourist destination and there were no hotel rooms in the whole of Oxford? I have to say that I didn’t believe him and just said to take us to the big expensive hotel in the middle of town. That wasn’t likely to be full now, was it? And do you know, it was!
 
To cut a long story short, we hit approximately 10-12 Hotels and larger Guest Houses that night (all the smaller ones where well and truly closed) and none of them had any free rooms. We did a high speed circuit, and I mean high speed as I didn’t know that Hackney cabs could reach those sorts of speeds, round the Oxford outer ring road, checking in at the Holiday Inn, Best Western, Four Pillars and Travel Lodge (2 of them) and not one room. Finally we stopped at a Hotel where our extremely helpful taxi driver, Sunny, knew the front desk man and he then kindly phoned a few other hotels finally getting us into the Oxford Belfry which is a mere 10 miles from Oxford in Milton Common near the M40. The Hotel link does say “just minutes away from the heart of Oxford” but I feel that 25 minutes on the motorway is stretching it a bit.
 
We finally got there at 4:05am and I still had the presence of mind to ask when the checkout was. It turned out to be 11:00am. This was likely to be a problem as almost certainly we would sleep through. So we booked in for two nights and I remembered to set my phone alarm for 8:30 so we could get something to eat. In total, with Sunny being extremely reasonable and stopping the meter each time we arrived at a new hotel while I ran in to ask about rooms, the taxi bill came to just short of a completely unbudgeted £50.
 
The Oxford Belfry is a beautiful conference hotel. Really, really nice with a huge hot buffet for breakfast, where I think they were beginning to get worried as we made our third pass at it for bacon, fried bread, eggs and black pudding. After breakfast we went back and slept in our large, comfortable, beautifully appointed room (with patio area, as we were on the ground floor, and bath and separate shower cubical) until mid afternoon.
 
Scene 4 – Oxford at last
When we woke and wandered, sleepily back to reception we asked if there was a bus service into Oxford. Twice a day came the reply, unless you were willing to walk for 25 minutes or more on country roads without pavements to the other bus stop in which case it was a 15 minute service. Bugger that for a game of soldiers! How much was the taxi to Oxford? £20 one way was the reply. With a hey ho, this can’t get any worse, attitude we finally set off to Oxford and the Friday night welcome dinner at the Tolkien Oxonmoot.
 
Hooray!!!
ksimes: (Default)
Scene 1 - A feeling of resignation
 
So here we were, in the dark, near Preston, deep in the middle of… Lancashire (I had to go and look that up on Google) with the two Virgin West-coast trains being manfully connected together by two drivers (I had a mental picture of two men, with blue grubby coveralls, peaked caps and dirty neck kerchiefs hauling huge chains together and tying them in a knot… but that may be a bit silly). This as I said took a mere 40 odd minutes and then we started, steadily to make our way towards Preston station.
 
Once connected we had an interesting tannoy monolog (?) between the Train Driver (I am assuming) and the Train Manager, who no longer seemed willing to come on the tannoy himself to tell the poor passengers what was happening. It went like this: Driver, “Would the train manager, please answer the next staff call”, short pause, interesting warbling noise pervades train. Longer pause. Driver (again) “Would the train manager in the rear unit, please answer the next staff call”, slight irritation now in voice. I sat puzzled as to where the Train Manager may be, if not in the rear unit, and thought,  'probably walking back up the line to Oxenholm'. Interesting warbling noise now pervades train, again. Much longer pause, during which, I suspect, a heated conversation went on between Manager and Driver. Finally Driver’s voice comes back on tannoy to announce that the train we were now on, newly assembled to eight carriages, was now the slow train to Birmingham and would not be arriving until after midnight.
 
The rest of the journey to Birmingham passed without further incident, which made a change, and we rolled into the station at an almost reasonable 12:20am.
 
Scene 2
We disembarked from the train after a stern warning from the Driver/Manager (I honestly couldn’t have told you which one) that Birmingham New Street was an underground station and therefore NO ONE WAS TO SMOKE WHILE DISEMBARKING FROM THE TRAIN, please wait until you are in the main concourse. Coming from Scotland this was a novel experience.
 
We wondered upstairs to the main concourse which was deserted, except, strangely for a clean, shaven, short haired, be-suited man curled up and fast asleep in a corner. We arrived and duly entered the Customer Services office (surprisingly still manned/womaned) in ones and twos and handed over our chits dispensed by the Train Manager (I did mention that before, didn’t I?) like late notes for class, meekly and obediently and stood about waiting for the taxis we had been promised (didn’t I mention that, either?). There was in total about 50 of us looking for some means of going on to a further destination and looking pretty damn disgruntled, I can tell you.
 
After some twenty minutes someone went back in to Customer Services and started waving his arms about. When they came out with a face like thunder I cowardly sent Wedny over to ask what the delay was for the taxis and his answer was… “Even though they had 2 hours in which to prepare, they said that the taxi company they used would not release taxis for use until they had guaranteed passengers in the station.” This actually seemed reasonable which just goes to show what lack of sleep and tiredness can do to you.
 
After another 10 minutes a harassed Customer Services Manager came out and started organising our motley crew into small groups of passengers going to the same or similar destinations, two for Leicester, five to Cardiff, four for Oxford, etc. Again as a testament to what tiredness can do to you, being sheparded about like 5 years olds almost seemed reasonable. Our taxi thankfully arrived some ten minutes latter which whisked us away from the bright eyed, 50 year old American tourists who actually seemed to be enjoying this (as they were going to Cardiff, I didn’t feel annoyed at them at all).
 
 
As this is again getting a bit long, I’m going to break off and write more tomorrow night. I unfortunately missed last night due to unforeseen commitments but I will make lots of effort to post tomorrow, I promise.
 
I was also asked the question via an email, so what happened at the Oxenmoot? Unfortunately, I have to say that we missed most of the discussions and had to leave the Saturday night party early as we were completely knackered for reasons which will become clear in later posts. But what little I did see and experience I will tell you about… just later, OK, Please?

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