From my diary – my trip to Oxford

Up before 7:00 and on the road at 7:15.  Very hot and humid here, and I was glad of the air-conditioning in the car.  A good trip down to London in the rush hour.  When I am on the way to Oxford, and get onto the M40 out of London, it always feels as if I have left London almost immediately.  The motorway runs through countryside.  It’s never too busy, and I have never been held up going north on it towards Oxford. 

Soon it starts to undulate, up and down, but ever upwards.  Then you reach the sign saying “Oxfordshire”, and immediately pass into a wide cleft in the hills, from which you can see the whole valley in which Oxford lies.  Immediately there is a bare hill to the right, with woodland at hand, reminiscent of the downs.  The cooling towers at Didcot — the landmark if you go by train — are visible in the far distance.  Then a sign saying “Thame” reminds us that this is the landscape of “Farmer Giles of Ham”. 

From here on, the air and light seem enchanted, heavy with memory of summer days in Oxford.  The brick buildings give way to Cotswold stone.  The Oxford exit appears, and the broad straight road that takes one from the M40 to Oxford is soon traversed.  A spell on the ring road, and I found myself driving up the Abingdon Road.  Then comes Folly Bridge, the Head of the River pub, and Tom Tower of Christ Church is visible and we’re in what I think of as “the real Oxford”.  Brilliant, hot sunshine, and Oxford almost glows with light.  I park in the Westgate centre car park, which is as shabby as ever, and go through the Westgate centre which I remember from my student days.

I sold my books at St. Philips bookshop.  Fifty books, which made only 175 GBP (about $270), but at least they are off the floor.  The remainder he didn’t think he could sell, and will be given away, including all the Italian translations.  Then up to Carfax and into the bank to deposit the cheque; the bank I used as a student, now much rearranged, but still at the same address.

On to the Bodleian, where the entrance area has been rearranged.  Gone are the cloak-pegs and cupboards; instead a turnstyle and I must swipe my card.  Bags are forbidden, unless of clear plastic.  But I have anticipated this evil, and prepared accordingly.  Inside my normal plastic bag is a clear plastic bag, containing my papers.  I remove it, fold the outer bag and stuff it in my pocket, transfer my wallet and mobile phone into my trouser pockets — for I am wearing only a shirt and tie in the hot weather — and I can go anywhere in the library.

Up to Duke Humphrey’s library, where the Combefis volume awaits.  A quick persual of “Asterius of Amasea” reveals a volume containing a huge variety of materials, only a few of which are by Asterius.  The Eusebius passage is there!  I look for information on the manuscripts Combefis used; the usual vagueness in a single page headed “Candido Lectore”.  I note which pages I want, and after a fruitless attempt to obtain copies resolve to obtain them from Birmingham instead.

Down to the Lower Reading Room, and the catalogues.  I’m looking for three articles on the Coptic history by Al-Makarim, what it is, manuscripts etc.  The Bodleian has all three journals (hurray).  But it takes at least half a day to get any (boo).  Then I discover two of them are in the Sackler library.  “What’s that?” I wonder.  It turns out to be the books associated with the Ashmolean, including Egyptology.  Those journals will be on the shelves.  I’ll go there.  By now it’s lunchtime.

Out I come… to rain.  The weather has changed, and I am caught out.  I walk valiantly down the road towards the High, and then along, hoping to get to my car and my umbrella, but the rain increases.  I’m driven into the covered market, as the thunder crashes overhead.  The market used to be down-market, but has been renovated.  It’s very pleasant there, with tables and cafes, and I spend 20-25 mins before the rain diminishes enough that I can leave. 

Once I have my umbrella from the car, back up the road and into the Sackler library.  I eventually find a photocopier, and get the articles.  Exit; it’s raining again.  I go down to the Bodleian, then down to the High, then down Magpie Lane to Merton college.  Little has changed, although the porters’ lodge has been reordered in a sensible way and an iron gate installed across the main entrance to force visitors through it (less welcome).  The porter tells me incidentally that Merton now has 600 undergraduates, twice what it did when I was there, the increase mainly in the last few years.  It seems that the college has omitted a few important facts from the material it sends out to graduates each year.  Then across St Albans quad, out into the garden, and up to the turret on the wall, in haste as the rain increases again.  Past King Charles’ mulberry tree, and back through Fellows Quad. 

Finally out, back to the Westgate Centre.  I pop into Sainsburys and buy some rolls and cheese and water for the journey back.  It is 3:15, and I leave, and head out into a monsoon-like downpour which turns the Oxford ring-road into a river.  But by the time I get to the M40 it has slackened, and I get home by 6:15.  A good day.

6 thoughts on “From my diary – my trip to Oxford

  1. Thank you. Your comments on my previous post made me realise that I ought to do this, and I’m glad it worked!

    Indeed we all ought to write travelogues, I think. For in a decade or two, the small things of our life will be hard to remember; the things that no-one ever records or writes down. I was reading the “Diary of a Country Parson” by James Woodforde — who never did anything in his lifetime — and it is wonderful to read just because it evokes that period of Austen’s England.

  2. I agree very much. I occasionally publish travel diaries online and it is interesting how the minutiae can be the things that entertain readers the most, e.g. a particular ice cream shop when I was in Rome got several comments.

    I think reading diaries from yesteryear is absolutely fascinating. I recently did some research on Lewis Carroll’s religious views and in order to get a feeling for how conventional he was, I read as many Victorian diaries as I could get my hands on. It was fascinating.

  3. “Just one cornetto”, eh? 🙂

    You’re right, and it’s hard to judge what is interesting. But I would guess that most people reading these blogs are liable to share sympathies, and so will probably find interesting what we do.

    I can’t say I know much about Lewis Carroll, although his dad translated Tertullian for the “Library of the Fathers” project, which I have tried to research myself from time to time. The latter seems very ill-documented, for a project that involved the Oxford Movement leaders for decades! H.P.Liddon has more than any other source I have seen.

    Victorian diaries must be interesting, I would have thought. What a nice project!

  4. Yes, it’s been a fascinating project. Hope I can get it written up sometime, but it’s a spare time thing. Yes, had realized that Dodgson’s father translated Tertullian. His father was a little more high church than him.

  5. Well, remember that whatever you can make available about him will save someone the effort of doing it all again. There are too many people out there doing research, and not publishing it because it’s not quite ready yet. When these are old men, you just know they’re going to die and leave nothing but fragments behind them.

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