Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Oxford First Glimpses, Part 1

Magdalen College Tower through the cloisters | Postcard by Chris Andrews Publications Ltd.

Our trip to Oxford and London -- a thrilling birthday present of a lifetime -- is now a cherished part of history. What a cache of happy memories, photos, and carefully selected mementos we squirrelled into suitcases for homeward travels. When my friend Matty asked, on our return, if the trip was all we had dreamt and more, I happily told her it really was 'and more'.

In trying to decide how to write this these posts, I thought let's give you the first glimpses of our first day ... and we'll go on from there.

After a long and (thankfully) uneventful flight over the pond and a pleasant bus trip through the English countryside, we found ourselves in front of No. 14 Holywell B & B. It was to be our home away from home for the next few days. And what a lovely 'home' it turned out to be.

Carrie, our lovely hostess, knew I wanted to see Oxford in the springtime aka that time when daffodils bloom wildly everywhere, and there by her front door she had created a sprightly collection of the spring blossoms in her garden pots. They were beautiful!

As it turns out, many fields of daffodils, being the early bloomers they are, were already spent, but there were still so many pockets around the town and countryside to satisfy the dreamer girl inside. Like the poet himself, I would be able to wander (not) lonely as a cloud ... to catch the hosts of golden daffodils beside the lake, beneath the trees, fluttering and dancing in the breeze. And if you haven't heard Jeremy Irons recite this favourite Wordsworth poem, you'll find him here.

"Little acts of kindness that we render to each other in everyday life,
are like flowers by the way-side to the traveller;
they serve to gladden the heart and relieve the tedium of life's journey."
Eunice Bathrick

Then we got to meet Jack. Darling Jack! I can see why Carrie and her husband, Stuart, are in love with this little fellow. He's quite a character and a real dear-heart. I think he knows how to talk human, especially when he looks into your eyes with his dark brown eyes. And he certainly knows all about the in's and out's of B&B hospitality.

When we first came into the dark panelled breakfast room to get our room key and such, we could hear him making little noises off in the other room, and it wasn't until I mentioned "Can we meet Jack" that he made serious woofles. Carrie says, "Oh yes, he's waiting in the kitchen to meet you."

At first Rick thought she said, "He's reading in the kitchen." Which on second thought, Rick figured, okay, he's an Oxford dog. Ha ha.

Jack flew into the room, eager to see us -- tail in full swing and a face all happy to meet his new guests. Sweet, gentle, polite ... and sometimes just plain silly and fun.

We had a room with a view. Peering from our window out onto Holywell Street, we could see it was busy with people on foot or whizzing by on bicycles; there was no thoroughfare for vehicles. Lest you think it safe then to walk in the middle of the street, you best think again and stick to the sidewalk; those seeming benign bicycles from another era could take you down in a pedal-beat.

Across the street loomed the beautiful, centuries old New College. Founded in 1379, it is one of the 38 constituent colleges of the University of Oxford. According to the college visitor's guide, "New College, or 'the College of St Mary of Winchester in Oxford', is the second Oxford college to be named after St Mary Winton, which is why the College has been known as New College from early days."

As we visited the various colleges during our visit, it was a lot of fun to learn of the notable alumni from each college. From New College, you might be interested to know actor Hugh Grant is one, as is Lucy Worsley (English historian and a presenter of BBC television series on historical topics which show up on PBS sometimes); John Galsworthy (novelist of The Forsyte Saga); and Susan Rice (US Ambassador to the United Nations).

New College on Holywell Street

Holywell Street is a wonderful old street with so much variety in architecture and style -- all on one street. Well known as a spot for filming one television show or another, Carrie has a delightful post in which she shares the delightful scoop here (in case you missed the link in my last post).

Our first evening, we had supper at a happening pub just up the street from the B&B. The very old Turf Tavern was a place where Morse and Lewis would stop off for a pint after a hard day's sleuthing. In case you don't know Morse and Lewis, they are the fictional characters in the series of detective novels by British author Colin Dexter, which were turned into a long-running television series some years ago.

We got to chatting to an older fellow one evening who told us all about it. He got to be an 'extra' in one of the episodes, and from his countenance, I think the experience was a highlight of his life. He probably could have told us stories all evening long over a pint or two. Maybe we missed an opportunity to hear more of his Oxford stories by not just settling in, but we wanted to see a bit of the city as evening fell.
Holywell Cemetery
After supper we took an amble down the street and around the corner to visit Holywell Cemetery. A lovely old place to stroll through. The air was bracing and I was glad for the scarf round my neck, but still it seemed perfect for an evening in Spring. One of Oxford's hidden gems, the cemetery is the burial spots for some of the city's well known personages, but most well known to me was author Kenneth Grahame.

For anyone who loves Grahame's Wind in the Willows with his beloved characters Ratty, Mole, Badger, and Toad of Toad Hall--or perhaps you're one who is partial to the weasels because they really are funny--you'll understand the pleasure I had to come across a name I recognized. It was hard to make out all the words and letters, but if you peer hard, you can just make out his name on the grey stone below.

The cemetery is now a wildlife refuge for many birds and butterflies, as well as small and larger mammals, including deer and foxes. I hear tell Jack likes to take his mom for a walk through there so that he can sniff out who's been to visit during the day. You know, keep a doggie eye on things in the neighbourhood.

And so that is a peek of our first day. There is so much more to tell and show you, but your cup of tea must be getting cold by now. I'll stop for today and start working on the next post, so it should be up in a day or so.

Next time I'll show you what we had for breakfast here at Holywell B&B. And some pics of those dreaming spires for which Oxford is so famous, not to mention a few of the books we bought at Blackwell's. We got right to shopping that first day and in a bookstore. Perfect way to start, I said.

Wishing you a beautiful rest of the day,


Sunday, April 09, 2017

April Edition: The Simple Woman's Daybook

A Bird's Eye View of  Oxford
Photo: Sidharth Bhatia / unsplash.com

OXFORD: "The city is known worldwide as the home of the University of Oxford, the oldest university in the English-speaking world. Buildings in Oxford demonstrate notable examples of every English architectural period since the late Saxon period. Oxford is known as the 'city of dreaming spires', a term coined by poet Matthew Arnold." ~ excerpt from Wikipedia

In a few short days we'll be seeing this view with our very own eyes, not just as we see it on television or movies, not just imagining the historical crooks and crannies from the books I've read. In real life. Squeee.

I'll be posting photos from the 'city of dreaming spires' on my Facebook page while we are there; you are welcome to join me on Facebook.

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Since you came to read the April Daybook edition, let me begin without further ado.


For Today...

Looking out my window... a mix of sun and cloud... with chances of blue skies. 

I am thinking... there's no time like the present to wish you a wonderful week ahead. And to tell you how much I appreciate all the really nice comments you leave here for me and all our readers to enjoy. I do hope there will be a day in heaven when we can all meet and have one big kindred party.

I am thankful... for one lovely husband who says, "Okay, let's do Oxford on a whim" and books the tickets ... all because he likes to make his wife happy. And yes, she is happy -- she likes to make him happy too.

One of my favourite things... reading in a sunny room on a Sunday afternoon. With a soft breeze blowing the curtain in a lazy manner. Something smooth and lovely to sip as the pages turn. And, a snoozing kitty cat nearby to make it perfect.

I am creating... lists as the days to Oxford count down.

I am wearing... a floral sleeveless summer dress because the sun is shining now and it feels warm.

I finished reading... The Singing Sands by Josephine Tey, the book mentioned in an earlier post. Without giving anything away here, the author puts her Scotland Yard Detective Alan Grant through his paces to uncover whether the corpse found on the train is accidental or suicidal, or maybe even murder. The plot is twisty-turny without making the reader sit too near the edge of her chair. It's a relaxing, delightful read, and I will definitely look for more of her stories. 

I am watching... Gaudy Night, the third in a detective mystery miniseries with fictional characters Lord Peter Wimsey and detective novelist Harriet Vane. Produced by the BBC in 1987, the detective series is based on novels by British author Dorothy L. Sayers. I'm watching now because Gaudy Night is a story that takes place at a fictional ladies college in Oxford, England; it was also filmed in Oxford.

Dorothy L. Sayers was born in Oxford, and as a young woman, she won a scholarship to Somerville College, Oxford, where she studied modern languages and medieval literature. No doubt her own experience of Oxford academic life created the inspiration to write her truly wonderful book, Gaudy Night. 

I am listening... to the oh-so-welcome whistles of my first robin of the season calling from a nearby roof-top. That, dear friends, signals Spring in my corner of the world.

I am hoping... for days that aren't too rainy when we get to Oxford next week. So far, the weather report bodes well for us ... mild temperatures, cloudy skies, and no sign of any sharp showers. How convenient travellers can now Google weather stations anywhere in the world -- makes it much easier to know what to pack.

I am learning... to pack my suitcase more lightly. What's that old rule -- pack everything you want to take into your suitcase, and just before you close the lid, take half of it out. Yup, it seems about right.

In my kitchen...  for our Sunday dinner, we enjoyed a small baked ham with a buttery raisin sauce, and a garden salad with fresh dill and Catalina dressing drizzled over it.

In my garden... there are tiny signs of green poking through here and there. The very first reddish sprouts of my peonies, for one, and tiny green noses of crocuses, for another. Oh joy, oh bliss. Every year I keep being surprised just how quickly things get going when it warms up. Dormant all winter, they must be most eager to get on with their work of making our world beautiful.

A favourite blog... is Carrie's very English, totally delightful Fawlty Spires. She describes herself as a 'transplanted South Dakota/Seattle girl living in the heart of Oxford, UK', and she runs a small B&B with her husband, Stuart, and her beloved dog, Jack, who I understand is her official bacon tester. I first 'met' Carrie on Twitter -- we being mutual Twitter followers of Susan Branch. So you can imagine how exciting it is that, while we visit Oxford, we're booked to stay at Holywell B&B -- click for gorgeous photos here.

So much of my yearning to visit Oxford comes from the films and movies I've watched over the years: Shadowlands (1993) starring Anthony Hopkins as C.S. Lewis; Brideshead Revisited, the 1981 television series with Jeremy Irons and Anthony Andrews -- total favourite; the Morse detective series with John Thaw as Morse, the follow up series Lewis, and most recently, Endeavour, the prequel to Morse with Shaun Evans as the younger Morse. To name a few.

You will imagine my delight when I learned that Carrie lives in the heart of Oxford where so many of these well-known shows and movies are filmed. In one of her posts, she talks about it: 
"Hardly a month goes by when there isn't a film crew in Oxford. Countless movies, TV series, and documentaries have all used Oxford as a beautiful backdrop. It isn't unusual to be watching a documentary and suddenly the presenter is walking down Holywell Street or through the Radcliffe Square, or some other equally familiar spot where we walk every day. It's strange to see the place you live flash on the television screen, and it's even stranger when they film outside your front door. ..."
To read Carrie's complete post, you'll find it here.

Photo: morguefile.com

A favourite author... Years ago when I first read C.S. Lewis, I was drawn to this man's gentle approach to life and life events. I wanted to learn more about the man, his life, and about Oxford, the place where he lived, worked, and studied for so many years. In truth, his writings shaped my life -- I read everything I could find by him, and about him, in bookstores and on library shelves.

I came across some notes I jotted down in an old notebook ... something I'd read from C.S. Lewis and his thoughts on what makes a literary person. I wrote his comments carefully into my now vintage common book, and looking back, I think they helped change my reading habits... I didn't want to be found lacking in this department if anyone asked or looked too closely. Up to that point I mostly read historical and romance fiction (which is fine as one item on the dinner plate, but not for the whole meal -- if you want balance, that is). My reading habits and tastes developed over time, and I think I have C.S. Lewis to thank for it, for I never really forgot his comments. Note: I typed out the short list of notes; if you are interested, you'll find them here.

A seasonal quote or two or three...
"The window is open and a warm, delicious little breeze comes wandering in. It smells of magnolias and dogwood and it whispers in our ears enticing little stories of gurgling brooks and cool woods. Yes, we have got spring fever and got it bad." ~ Country Life, June 1922

"Spring won’t let me stay in this house any longer! I must get out and breathe the air deeply again." ~ Gustav Mahler, musician 
"Science has never drummed up quite as effective a tranquilizing agent as a sunny spring day." ~ W. Earl Hall
Have you seen this... Sometimes I really am a late bloomer, for I haven't seen this movie yet. Have you? Testament of Youth is a 2014 British drama film based on the WWI memoir of the same name written by Vera Brittain. Young independent Vera abandons her Oxford studies to be become a war nurse. Yes, I will be checking for this one, and if I can't find the movie, I'm looking for the memoir.

Closing note...
"Whoever has a heart full of love always has something to give."
~ Pope John XXIII

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Friday, April 07, 2017

April Hodgepodge

Joyce From This Side of the Pond  -- who is really on the other side of the pond from me -- has some great prompts for us again this week, so here goes:

1. April is Lawn and Garden Month. On a scale of 1-10, what's the current state of your lawn and/or garden (10 = a showpiece, 1 = send in the professionals). Tell us about any lawn or garden plans you have for this month.

Hahaha... at this point, we have no lawn and no garden. It was torn apart last spring, and we'll be working on it again this spring and summer. Worn out trees needed to make room for new healthy specimens. What is to be green lawn again is still dirt brown; once the snow is really gone for the season, we'll lay sod.

So, on a scale of 1 to 10, I'd give it a 2 = we're working on it so please don't bring your camera. Our goal in this monumental project is to make our yard require less maintenance with simpler care, and to be more conscious of using plant material that is more adaptable to local climate changes, ie, warmer winters and less snow, less rain in spring and summer. Even though I still love flowers and gardens, I am not the enthusiastic gardener I used to be. Less is better at this stage -- I much prefer enjoying my garden's Edenese loveliness from my study window or while sitting on the patio in my lounge chair as I read or watch the birds.

2. "Many things grow in the garden that were never sown there." ~ Thomas Fuller. What does this quote mean to you?

On first thought, I take that to mean that the gardener has not deliberately sown those seeds that now grow in her garden. There are other forces at work -- some seeds blow into the garden on the winds, some are left behind in bird droppings, and yet others voluntarily spring up into willing new shoots from the mother root.

Weeds show up without prejudice in anyone's garden or lawn, and will choke out the desired plants if the gardener is not careful to tend to her treasured plants. When a lawn is kept healthy and lush, it creates a thick thatch that disallows weeds from sprouting in it.

Which reminds me to a favourite quote that comes from the 1993 film The Secret Garden, based on Frances Hodgson Burnett's 1911 children's novel of the same name. "Where you tend a rose, a thistle cannot grow." I think it was the old gardener who said it.

It seems if we want good things in our gardens, we must carefully tend the desired plants and be ruthless about tearing out those we never sowed or desired.

3. What's the first thing that comes to mind when you think about God? I have happy thoughts about him, and I talk to him often throughout the day. When I listen, I hear other-world thoughts in my inmost being and often I feel his love around me.

4. If we were chatting in person, how would I know if you were nervous? I might be a little fidgety and I'd probably be chattering about some inane thing.

5. Do you like the colour yellow? Would I find any in your home or wardrobe? Daffodils, tulips, roses, sunflowers, day lily, black-eyed susans ... which yellow bloom on this list is your favourite?

Oh yes, yellow is a household favourite. My house is painted in soft yellows for the walls, which actually surprised me when I first thought about it. When I was a girl, the colour yellow was never a first choice ... I'd pick from the crayon box colours of pinks, purples, and pretty blues. The yellow was reserved for the sun in the blue sky. But years later, when it came to decorating my home, I knew I wanted bright and cheerful -- yellow tends to go with the lighter moods of summer and it lends cheery notes when it's cold and grey out. Yellow also seemed my best choice to go with my favourite colour combination of blue and white. 

Yellow is not in my wardrobe, except for one creamy yellow silk scarf with a French motif on it. It's a scarf from a dear friend, and I love both the scarf and my friend.

As for flowers, I LOVE yellow daffodils, tulips, sunflowers, and black-eyed susans. Not to mention those yellow roses I saw at Chartwell, Sir Winston Churchill's former family home. I took this photo when we visited there last summer. You can find more about the visit in my post here.


6. Flip flops or bare feet?  Flip flops please ... I'm much more comfortable in shoes than barefoot these days.

7. Tell us about any Easter plans, celebrations, or traditions you'll carry out this month.  Rick and I will be in Oxford over Easter. I am so very excited about being in a city where Sunday Easter Service is celebrated with bells ringing and choirs singing. And maybe daffodils springing out from church gardens and alongside river banks.  

8. Insert your own random thought here. You may recall that, in an earlier post, I mentioned beginning a project to create a photo slideshow "60 Years in 60 Photos" to mark the milestone of my upcoming 60th birthday. I wanted to create a collage of photos, one for each year, much in the style of one I saw made for the Queen's 90th birthday.

I'm happy to report this sweet collage of memories is now complete. It was so much fun to work on, sorting through old photos, deciding which ones to select, and then eventually turning them into the photo video slideshow you see below. Not having done this before, I kept it pretty simple, but I'm pleased with the outcome, and delighted to share it with you. If you like music as you watch, you can turn up the volume.

Note: It might not be as bright or clear on this post, as Blogger may have had to adjust the high definition so it fits here. It is clearer on my Facebook here; you are welcome to friend me, if you like.


On that note, here's wishing you glimpses of heaven in unexpected places.

Many hugs,

Joining Joyce for Hodgepodge fun