Tag Archives: Oxford

A Perfect Day In Oxford

Today has been a rough day. I’ve been so busy pouring my time and energy into my first year of teaching, where everything has to be created new and I’m only a few days or weeks ahead of the students at any given time, in addition to trying to juggle BTSA work, MA.Ed duties, and the rest of life.

And today I was informed that I have to pack up my entire classroom–including the many, MANY files of papers that belong to a teacher on a year-long leave of absence whose room I’m technically using now–before break, which movers will take care of the week of Christmas. Then, during the week of New Year’s, I need to unpack and recreate my whole classroom.

So much for Christmas break. :'(

I already gave up most of Thanksgiving break just to catch up (“catch up”) on grading, and had been dangling the carrot of a real Christmas break before my nose. Alas.

ALL THAT TO SAY that I have been depressed, and would like to feel better. The weather is finally cooling down here in southern California; I took the dog for a walk after school and got to wear my jeans, boots, and scarf, like a normal day back in Oxford.

Which got me thinking about Oxford. :)

So: how about I do a few blog posts about a “perfect day” in various places I love? First up, of course, will be the city of the dreaming spires!

If I had a day to spend in Oxford–which I hope to get eventually, to take Jeff through some of my favorite old haunts–I’d start off with a proper English breakfast. Katie and I actually only ever did this in our Oxford and London hostels, so I don’t have a fancy restaurant recommendation! I’m sure many a place would provide the necessities, though: toast, beans, eggs, tomato, sausage, and a cup of black tea (Earl Grey is my preference) with milk.

Now, stuffed and full of energy, we could begin our walk! Oxford is built for walking, and there’s a lot to see. I’d say first we’d head down south, all the way to Magdalen College, to see if we could get in for the day (usually all the colleges are limited to students, but sometimes tourists get lucky) and walk part of the famous path where Lewis and Tolkien had their Lewis-conversion-conversation. It’s a beautiful college anyway, and as we came back up, we could stop by the Radcliffe Camera and the Bodleian Library to admire them, too–but tourists definitely can’t weasel their way inside those. A few pounds would buy us the rights to climb the Tower of St. Mary the Virgin for a gorgeous bird’s eye view of Oxford.

ah, the Rad Cam with scaffolding. Because everything we visited in Europe had scaffolding.

ah, the Rad Cam with scaffolding. Because everything we visited in Europe had scaffolding.


That would take us right by the Bridge of Sighs, too:


Then it would be off to New College, my study-abroad alma mater, to see if we could get in to appreciate the cloisters and gardens there. By then, Blackwell’s should be open, so we could make our way toward the center of the city to revel in the enormous amounts of books for sale (including the largest room of books in any bookstore in the world. I’ll have to look up the actual size though; I just know it’s record-breaking)! There are a few tourist-y shops in that vicinity that we could pop into as well, and then we could have a quick lunch on Cornmarket Street. My favorite option were the pasties, specifically the pork and apples one. Yum!

just one of the many beautiful aspects of New College (founded 1379; quite new)

just one of the many beautiful aspects of New College (founded 1379; quite new)

Did you know I lived in Oxford for two whole months before I figured out there was a castle in it?? I kept taking shortcuts that meant I never passed it. I would definitely walk Jeff past the Oxford Castle after lunch, and perhaps take a quick tour of it if he was so inclined. Then we’d weave our way through the city to pop into the free Ashmolean Museum for a bit before visiting my old flat, 47 Walton Crescent. That’s a good chance to shake our heads at Oxford University Press behind it (the source of soooo muuuuch college reeeeaaading, haha. Aaaaaah).


the green door :)

Then I would waste no time in getting up to Port Meadow to check on my horseyfriends! The scenery is beautiful no matter the weather, and there are no “open hours” to worry about. We could walk off the many calories of the day in a little loop through the meadow, depending on the state of the rain-lake, of course, and sit on the dock to watch the swans and ducks while the sun sets (short northern hemisphere days).


Then we’d hike back to St. Giles–yes, we’ve done some zig-zagging throughout the day, but not too bad and Oxford proper is a fairly small city–to eat dinner at the Bird and Baby pub! Okay, it’s more properly known as The Eagle and Child, but I like the nickname. They have lots of things on the walls from Middle Earth and Narnia to honor all the time the Inklings spent there. A stout pint and a plate of fish and chips with mushy peas would be a perfect meal to end the day.


Eating there means skipping some other favorites, so another tourist day might be necessary. I’m thinking specifically of Peppers, the burger place by Port Meadow; Jamie’s Italian, a marvelous Italian food restaurant with a menu by Jamie Oliver; and the St. Giles kebab van that rolls up from about 9:00pm to 2:00am.

Anyway, if we still had any energy left, we could catch a movie at the Odeon Theater, and if it was December, we could look at the giant Christmas Tree near Broad Street. And eventually, we should sleep… but there’s always karaoke at The Holly Bush pub if we aren’t ready for rest. :)

How does that sound?? Let’s go! I’d rather be flying to Oxford than trying to set up a classroom all over again!



Filed under Life

books and a moment in time

When I read books while traveling, I end up associating the book with the place and vice versa. I’ve been thinking about it a lot recently because I’m preparing for the school year and reading some non-fiction on Jane Austen. They keep referencing Northanger Abbey, which I read (most of) on a train from Florence to Venice.


I’ll have to ask Janice if she remembers what she was reading that day!

When I see the cannals of Venice, I see Catherine Morland immersed in her Gothic novels. When I read about Catherine, I think of rumbling along on that train (which you’ll notice was oversold, hence sitting on the floor for hours) reading my little green Penguin classic.

I read most of my Shakespeare assignments from my Oxford University study abroad semester in Port Meadow. I love that place for a lot of reasons, but a big part is my connection between it and the 18 plays I read that semester. I can start reading The Tempest and be blown away into the quiet meadow where horses grazed and birds called, peaceful and happy.


( …even though we got to go to London and the Globe Theatre and see Shakespeare’s plays unfold in the same way people would have watched it in the 1500s!)

"Timon of Athens"

“Timon of Athens” intermission

For another paper, I had to read Jane Austen’s Emma and Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland/Through the Looking Glass, which I did mostly in my room in our lovely flat on Walton Crescent. (Sometimes the weather was a little rough to go read Port Meadow). When I pick up those books again, I’m reminded of the beautiful little green backyard view from my room. 


My grandmother was a librarian, and when she babysat me, I was basically locked in the library with her and given free rein to wander through the shelves; I read most of the “Boxcar Children” series there and picture those four siblings as much in a library as they were in a boxcar. My family spent a week at Solana Beach every year growing up, and we always got to buy a new book right before we left. I always tried to pick giant ones because I read fast and didn’t want to run out of reading material. So at a young age I picked “The Count of Monte Cristo” to take because I knew I could spend the whole week reading it! Haha… I really liked it, too. I should give the movie another try.

I don't have a picture of me and my books, so here's a pretty picture of the last time I was at Solana Beach...

I don’t have a picture of me or my books there, so here’s a pretty picture of the last time I was at Solana Beach…

Some of the associations are not so happy–I was reading “The Remains of the Day” while my grandmother was in hospice, and it was in my hands at the moment she took her final breath. So it’s certainly not counted among my favorite books. I read the entire “Lord of the Rings” trilogy while moving in my freshman year of high school, so as dramatic as leaving all my friends felt, it was heightened by feeling like I was marching with Frodo and Sam into Mordor, too. (Okay, I’ll confess that’s a little comical though. Oh, the teenage years…). Those are tied more to events than places, though I can remember the “scene” I was sitting in for each one.

But for the most part, I love that I’ve associated so many books and places. What about you? Do you have a book that’s become tied to the place you read it? I can’t wait to travel again and make more memories like these!


Filed under Reading

Homeless & Horses

Yesterday was my birthday!

Have a short story in celebration. ;)


The multitude of homeless people in Oxford surprised Anna; she’d not been briefed on this during any pre-departure meetings. She rolled her luggage through the mixture of paved and cobblestone streets to what would be her flat during her Michaelmas study-abroad term and did her best to firstly, not get lost, and secondly to ignore all the homeless people along the way.

It took her a few weeks to adjust to the city and figure out the best routes. Soon, though, she knew that she could take Walton, Little Clarendon, Broad, and St. Giles Street to get to most of the places that she needed, like the market, library, and college that she’d be spending most of her time in. And as she learned the routes, she learned which homeless people “lived” on which street. Some were politer than others, and she began to plan her walks around them. It was worth an extra block or two if it otherwise made life easier.


Though reading and writing quickly consumed her life, as they did most Oxford University students, Anna still needed to find time to breathe. She’d heard rumors of a place called Port Meadow, north of the city center and her flat, where wild horses and cows were free to roam along acres of fenced in land. Two weeks into the term, with a grasp on the essentials of life abroad, she felt she was ready to find this place and meet the horses.

Of course, reaching Port Meadow involved walking on a non-preferred route, past a long row of homeless people. It was easiest to not meet their eyes. Anna didn’t exactly have much money either; the exchange rate was roughly two dollars to one pound, therefore quickly draining her bank account dry. So she tucked her head down and walked rapidly through the streets, ignoring the homeless people with dirty hats and ratty McDonald’s cups sitting next to them, asking for change, or even the homeless who tried to hawk Big Issue magazines through the government assistance program.

“I’m pregnant, love, and could use a quid.”

She looked up, startled by the voice, and met the homeless woman’s eyes.

Damn, she thought. The mistake was made and now she couldn’t ignore the conversation. The woman’s voice had the rattle of a smoker, but she smelled like all the other homeless people and Anna didn’t note tobacco among the pungent scents. She was tall, probably close to six feet, with stringy blonde hair. Her thick white sweatshirt, now stained, hid any potential proof of her pregnancy.

“Just a quid?” she prompted.

The battle raged on within Anna. She might truly be pregnant. She might need money for food and clothes and shelter. Or she might turn around and spend all of this in the nearest pub.

Anna covertly dug through her messenger bag for a handful of coins—all pennies, which were obnoxious to count out at the registers—and passed them off. She rushed off to avoid hearing the homeless woman thank her for a measly handful of coins, but thank her she did. Anna mumbled something and continued walking, eager to meet the wild horses.

She would never forget that first moment she walked through the gate to Port Meadow. All cares and worries melted away as she stepped foot into “the leaping greenly spirit of trees and the true blue dream of sky” made real, for surely e.e. couldn’t have meant anywhere else but here. The perfect meadow stretched before her. A bike trail, walking trail, or grand expanse of grass beckoned toward her, and Anna chose the grass. She traipsed through until her shoes began to squelch in the mud where the ever-changing pond had chosen to dwell for that day; with the next rainfall, it would grow even more.

The horses were there, drinking deep from the muddy water.

People often said things like “horse craze is a phase all little girls go through,” but Anna had never grown out of it. Seeing the magnificent creatures up close made her feel alive and full of joy. She didn’t know where to begin, but a horse with a bright white blaze on its face introduced itself by walking straight up to her.


“Hi,” Anna said, surprised. The horse’s nostrils widened and Anna blew politely into them, teaching it her scent. The brown mare’s belly was wet with dew from brushing so low to the tall grass. She was clearly pregnant. Anna let her snuffle through the pockets of her cozy black peacoat while she planned out what to bring her the next time she came by. Horses ate apples and carrots, but could a horse safely eat a whole apple if handed one? Would it have to be chopped up and stuffed into her pockets in little baggies?

Guiltily, Anna recalled the other pregnant being she’d interacted with that day: the homeless woman that she’d tossed some pennies to. Why am I willing to plan a shopping trip for an animal, and make plans to see it again, yet all I plan to do for someone in need—of my own species—is avoid them or give them as little as possible if I can’t? She shook her head, dug her camera out of another pocket to snap a memory of the mare, then trudged home as the sun set behind her.

She stopped at the market the next day. The Co-Op was cramped compared to the grocery stores Anna shopped in back in the states, but she wove through the tiny aisles and reached the corner full of fresh produce. She picked two apples, two carrots, and then thought about what a homeless person might desire. Something warm wouldn’t stay warm for long; anything in a can would be difficult to open. It might be offensive to hand someone a homemade sandwich, and sweets wouldn’t be nutritious.

I’m overthinking this, she thought in frustration, and grabbed another apple along with a baby-carrots-and-ranch-dressing pack. If fresh food was good enough for a horse, it should be good enough for a homeless person. Anna immediately felt horrible for thinking such a thing, and knew she just wasn’t going to win.

She put off her return for a week. Her studies called for her attention, and she was eager to let a distraction exist. But the meadow called to her, and she braced herself as she jogged up Walton Street.

The pregnant woman was there, and smiled when she saw her.

She knows I’m a sucker, Anna thought. Yet she found herself smiling back.

“Fancy sharing a pound or two with a pregnant woman?” she asked. Anna tried not to feel uncomfortable as they stood face-to-face.

“I’m Anna,” she said. “And I would love to help. What’s your name?”


A dagger sank into Anna’s heart. Natalie was her sister’s name. This woman was just like her, could be a member of her family, but she was living on the streets and Anna was assuming the worst. Of course her name is Natalie. She took another deep breath and continued her speech. “I don’t have any change with me at the moment”—a lie—“but I do have some snacks, if you’d like.” She retrieved an apple and the carrot pack from her bag and held them out in offering.

“Why thank you, love,” Natalie said. It sounded genuine. She bit into the apple and leaned back against the blue wall she frequented of the Phoenix Picture house, and Anna took it as permission to leave. She continued on to Port Meadow and managed to spot the pregnant mare scratching her hindquarters against a tree. Anna needed the mare’s friendship, and somehow the horse understood that; she moseyed up to the woman and began to snuffle her pockets.

“It’s true, I’m bribing you for friendship,” Anna whispered while the horse chomped on an apple slice. She ran her fingers through the tangled auburn mane and thought about how free the horses in the meadow were.

“You have no idea how lucky you are,” she told the horse—though perhaps the horse suspected, since others broke off from the distant herd and meandered over to the provider of crunchy treats. Anna shared with the other horses, hoping none of them were biters, and then bribed her pregnant buddy along behind her with bit by bit of carrot. She led the horse to the dock overlooking the meadow, where the horse could graze nearby and she could continue with her Shakespeare readings.


Natalie wasn’t around for the next few days, as the skies decided to open up and pour a few inches down onto the world below. Anna clopped around town with her wide black umbrella, thankful for the cobblestones that kept puddles from forming like the ones she was used to trudging through back home. When the sun showed up again, slowly evaporating the wetness, she knew to expect Natalie. Anna had an apple for her horse and a packet of peanut butter crackers for “her homeless friend,” as she’d taken to thinking of her. She held it out as soon as she saw Natalie, who leaned against her regular, chipped-blue-paint wall, staring out unflinchingly at the world.

“Thanks,” the woman said with a smile. “God bless ya.”

Anna couldn’t help but notice that Natalie still didn’t appear to be pregnant in the slightest. The lack of cigarettes or beer bottles helped her try to ignore it, though.

“Where d’you go when you come up this way? Not much up there for a uni kid.” Natalie tore open the flimsy plastic and began to chew on one of the crackers.

“Port Meadow—it’s a big field with wild horses, very peaceful. I like to read there and visit with the animals.”

Natalie laughed. Anna clammed up immediately, aghast that anyone could not find Port Meadow as perfect as she did.

“That’s sweet,” was all the homeless woman said, and Anna continued her walk.

Proves she’s ungrateful, she told herself, though she knew it wasn’t true. She skirted around a homeless man who was sleeping on a pile of rags, so dirty that they’d all lost their original color and become a clump of dark grey matter. A skinny shepherd dog curled next to him.

She still had the apple. She had money in the maroon messenger bag she clutched to her side. But she didn’t stop for him. Another man was stretched across the bench near the entrance to Port Meadow, staring up at the sky. His head rose when he heard her footsteps.

“Spare a bit of change?” he asked through coughs.

Anna shook her head and continued on to the horses.

The heavy rain had filled the craterous, soggy middle of the field into an enormous pond, almost double what Anna was used to seeing. Her pregnant horse, noticeable even this far away thanks to her dark brown coat and distinctive white blaze, was across the pond from her. She wouldn’t be able to see her today. Other horses grazed near the dock where she usually sat, including the one she called Bad Horse for always snuffling her pockets so intrusively, but she didn’t know how to pick who to get her apple. She wanted her favorite horse to have it, and she wasn’t available.

I’m such a jerk, she thought, feeling deflated. She reached a hand up to run it stressfully through her hair; a drop of rain splattered down onto her hand. She shoved it deep into the pocket of her peacoat and hit the apple. The drizzle picked up, beginning to flatten her hair.

“I’m sorry,” she said aloud, uncertain to whom she meant, and left the meadow.

None of the homeless people she’d passed on her way in had left their perches, despite the rain. Flashes of Sunday school learning popped into Anna’s mind as she walked. She knew quite well how many times the Bible urged everyone to help the poor. It was probably the easiest commandment to ignore. One of the homeless men, a beer bottle in hand, leered at her and began to speak, though his rising drunkenness swallowed his words up before any intelligible ones emerged. The hat at his feet had a slew of coins filling it. Who gave to him, and did they know he was using it on alcohol? Didn’t he know that he was affecting the willingness of people to give to those who truly needed it?

Natalie wasn’t in her normal spot. Anna didn’t know what to think. She had a copy of The Tempest in her bag and felt like the title was appropriate for how her heart felt, especially considering how damp the rest of her was after the ten-minute walk in the rain.

An unfamiliar homeless man sat on the corner of her street, beneath an Oxford University umbrella, just when Anna thought she’d be able to get home unobserved. She could recite the words along with the stranger: “Spare a bit o’ change?”

Anna shook her head. I don’t want him to know where I live.

Why? He’s a danger just because he’s begging?

Yes. No.

Maybe so.

The homeless man was giving her a look that warned Anna that she looked like the crazy one in the situation. Her internal monologue had made enough of an impact on her face that the homeless man actually backed away. Embarrassed, Anna ran down the street and let herself into her dry flat where she could finally peel off her soaking jeans. She missed whatever the homeless person had called out after her; the words were drowned in the now-pouring rain.

She removed the apple from her pocket, set it on the kitchen counter, tore off her peacoat, and threw  it over the radiator. The shiny red apple stared at her. Maybe this one was for her to eat. That was allowed. She didn’t have to give everything away to homeless and horses. Would she pick and choose her graciousness for the rest of her life, she wondered? One day—soon, too soon—she would have to leave Oxford, and the people on the street and the horses in the meadow would be for someone else to experience, and she’d be far away. “The poor you will always have with you,” Anna thought, spinning the apple on the counter. Nobody could run from “always.”

She stood up and filled a pot with water, then set it on the stove to begin boiling. She took a box of pasta out of the cupboard and set it on the counter. The Tempest needed to dry before she could begin reading it, so she grabbed her copy of Measure for Measure to skim through while she cooked. She’d read it earlier but needed a refresher so she could successfully write her Shakespeare essay for that week.

“The miserable have no other medicine/But only hope,” Claudio said in Act III, and Anna slammed the book shut. She sighed and finished making her spaghetti and meatballs. With the rain still tumbling down, she filled up a bowl and took it to the man on the corner.

out the door


Filed under Writing