06 October 2009

adventures in a new land

Adventures abound here. First of all, Oxford is absurdly beautiful, and I can't even go for a walk without stopping to gawk at the wondrous things around me. Second, the people are thoroughly entertaining. That's the only way I know to describe that without just telling you stories.

First, the best adventures concerning geographic location:

1. The University parks- gorgeous vast expanses of park/gardens/sporting fields/paths/river close to our house. Yesterday I thought they might also become the mysterious ghost haunts of the daring explorer Megan Kennedy who disappeared into them one bright October day and was never seen again.

I had to go to the Social Science Library in search of the books on the pre-reading list sent to me by my Comparative Governments tutor. Unfortunately, all I knew about the Social Science Library is that 1. it is somewhere in Oxford, and 2. on the map it looked like it was roughly near the southeast corner of the University parks. So I set off on an adventure. I left Regent's Park, and upon reaching the southwest corner of the parks, I began just walking along the edge of them, figuring I would eventually end up passing the Social Science Library. Forty minutes, three streets of science buildings, a narrow bike alley, a small iron gate, and some large hedges later, I found myself here,

standing on a bridge deep in the middle of nowhere scanning my options. The path I was currently on that I thought was still going in the right direction led into a large pasture backed by trees with absolutely no sign of buildings as far as I could see. There were a few ducks, but they were disinclined to provide any advice and ignored my attempts at communication. I was "litrelly" (the Brits say this all the time) out in the countryside, with no sign of civilization beyond my narrow path. The other option was what looked like a deer trail meandering along the stream. Retracing my steps was a declaration of failure, as by the time I reemerged in Oxford it would be time to head back to the college to meet Melody. So I did what all true adventurers do: I took the road less travelled by. And by "road", I mean a deer trail. I followed the trail until it faded into oblivion, then tramped though a large pasture toward the only building I could see, hoping only at this point to find a fellow human being, perhaps a friendly farmer who would let me borrow a horse to ride back. Or something.
Anyway, I trudged across this pasture and through a tall fence and found myself, of all places, in a back alley behind the dorms of St. Catherine's College! I had no idea where St. Cat's was or how on earth to get back to Regent's, but at least I would not wander for four months in the forests until I either lost my mind and tried to join the community of ducks or keeled over from eating poisonous berries!
So I made my way through the maze of dorms, intently ignoring the fact that I was walking past large window walls looking right into lots of people's rooms and even hearing some of their conversations. I victoriously made it to the entrance to the college and then slumped when I remembered that I had still failed the initial aim of my adventure and would have to go back without accomplishing anything or obtaining my books. But as I trudged down the street, still lugging my backpack, laptop, and all of my junk, in who knows what part of town, I glanced up to the right looking for a street sign and saw a large building labeled SOCIAL SCIENCE LIBRARY. Miracle!! Impossible!! God loves me immensely!!
I marched in in disbelief, registered my card, checked out my books, found out that since it's still technically vacation I get to keep them for a week instead of the normal two days, and found my way back to Regent's. I still don't know where the Social Science Library is, as I just wandered around afterwards through neighborhoods and alleys and colleges until I found myself in an alley next the the Lamb & Flag, across the street from Regent's, but I'm okay with that. Minor detail.

2. The Summertown public library branch- don't worry, this isn't as long of a story. The basic details are that it's delightful. I meandered up there on Saturday. It was an absolutely gorgeous day, cool and crisp and a little cloudy, with fall leaves everywhere, and Summertown had a really pleasant small town feel, like most of the people in the library actually lived there and weren't just students or visitors, which is more the vibe of the rest of Oxford. The British librarian lady was very nice and got me a library card and I just perused their small assortment of books and used the computer and got familiar with the place. So cute.

3. Church- went to St. Ebbe's Sunday morning, which is an old (they're all old here) evangelical Anglican church (didn't even know there was such a thing until I went). I wouldn't have known it was Anglican if someone didn't mention it afterwards, and if it wasn't for the building, which is gorgeous ancient high-traditional style. It was stellar. I loved it. I went to the 9:45 service, which apparently is the more family-attended, intergenerational service, whereas the 11:45 is mostly college students. I am so glad I did, as I feel like I've only spent time with college students for the last week and I'm tired of them. :) Age-divided services are not my thing anyway; I feel like they miss out on so much richness. This week was a children's service, so all the kids were up in the front rows sitting on the floor listening and playing their little musical instruments during worship. One of the children's workers gave the sermon on the parable of the rich fool (the one who stores up his wealth on earth and then God demands his life from him) and it was a stellar mix of really engaging the kids in the story with a puppet and a balloon man and age-appropriate illustrations, and still really bringing the message effectively to the grown-ups as well. It was surprising to me because I never expected such an old, traditional church to love Jesus so much and to be so joyfully focused on the gospel and the cross and the bible. Oxford feels like a very secular town (I'm coming from the Bible Belt, so I'm sure my perspective of the common place of religion in culture and daily life is a little skewed), with religion being so much more diversified and so much more optional than in the Midwest. I actually kind of crave talking about God, so much so that I feel like I'm on constant lookout for people to relate to spiritually. I stayed late at lunch today chatting with a ministerial student because he was telling me about his experiences as a missionary in Tunisia and it was refreshing as all get-out.

4. Blackwells- the most amazing array of books imaginable with the possible exception of the library the Beast gives Belle. Five floors of bookstore and the underground level goes on forever, with over three miles of shelves! It might just be what heaven looks like. :)

5. The JCR- where everything happens related to student life. It's great. I'm thinking of starting a campaign to get rid of the Cage at Jewell and replace it with a JCR. Seriously. Though that might be a bit of a problem on a dry campus...

6. And finally and obviously, Oxford- it is quite simply the most beautiful and awe-inspiring town I've ever been in, with just scads of history and extravagantly beautiful architecture. The oldest tower, right in the middle of the shopping area, dates to the 11th century. As in the 1000s. My mind just can't grasp that.

And now for adventures with people...

1. The Oxford nightlife is worth it just for the people-watching. Disclaimer: I promise (Mom, Dad, Grandma, all of you who look after me in some capacity) that there are many normal sane sober people, police, and street lights around in the wee hours of the morning. Many. Oxford seems to be an impressively safe town, with no bad areas as far as we've explored, and we live in a very nice area of town. All that to say that these crazy people we run across are the exception, not the rule, and should be seen as entertainment, not danger.
So anyway, Saturday night as we were walking home from hanging out and bumming internet at Joe/Maura's house in the frigid early early early morning, we first passed a girl in a sleeveless dress with no shoes or coat running down the street pulling a young man behind her by the hand who is appropriately dressed and they are both exclaiming over and over again, ignoring the pleas of the other:
Girl: "Please come to my bed! Please come to my bed!"
Boy: "You shouldn't be talking to me like that! You shouldn't be talking to me like that!"
We then passed a man huddled in a doorway who very politely but a little pathetically inquired "Might you be interested in The Big Issue?" (a magazine designed to give homeless individuals the opportunity to earn money honestly by buying copies of the magazine and reselling them at a profit on the street). When I apologetically declined, he kindly replied "That's alright love. Thank you anyway and have a good night." Everyone who asks for money here is just so polite and kind about it; it makes your heart fall out all over the sidewalk to tell them no.
Next came two men standing on a corner who boldly (and with excellent diction) called out "Hello ladies! Could you help us with our English? We're from Spain." Astonished, we set before them the fact that it was the middle of the night, but they were shocked that this could make any difference in our sympathy toward the seriousness of their plight, and so we hurriedly continued on down the street, Melody calling over her shoulder "Lo siento!"
Next, as we passed the Eagle and Child, was a group of middle-aged to older men, waltzing jollily (is that a word? it's what they were) down the sidewalk belting out a good old-fashioned drinking song. I could easily imagine them all very staidly and seriously engaged in the business world at three o'clock on a Wednesday, but late on a Saturday night, they had thrown inhibition to the winds. The loudest one reeled to the side, swinging his arm as he passed Melody, and for a moment we thought his fist was going to connect with her face, but he steadied himself and continued along with the next verse.
Finally came a very nice looking, but disheveled and confused, 30 or 40-year-old man stumbling back and forth between the street and the sidewalk with a distressed look on his face. "Excuse me, I need help." We stopped, alarmed. "I need to find the train station. Do you happen to know where the train station is?" he slurred desperately in a British accent. "We're so sorry, we just moved here, we really honestly don't know how to get to the train station. We're so so sorry." He looked at us confusedly and slumped despondently when it finally registered in his mind that we truly couldn't help him. "That's alright." he replied sadly and began to stagger off. We turned to watch him leave, heartbroken that we couldn't help him, worried about his safety. He was nicely dressed, very polite, wearing a wedding band, and we could only imagine what could bring him to this stage of intoxication in this nice area of town in the early hours of the morning. Where was his wife and what was she thinking? Where did he need to go on the train? Melody called out after him, "Hey buddy, be careful! Stay on the sidewalk, okay? I don't want you to get hit by a car." He kind of nodded and continued weaving down the street. We probably should have helped him find a cab, but we didn't think of it in time. We can only pray that he made it safely to his destination and that his life was better in the morning.

2. Crunchy Blonde- that's all I have to say about that. Apparently Melody really attracts the quality British men. :) Check out her blog for the details of the hilarious episode with this creeper.

3. Our neighbor Hannah- she's swell. The end.
No, I'll give you a bit more about her. :) She's just adorable, twenty-something, very very sweet and kind, kindergarten teacher, married to ministerial student Andy, lives in the flat above us, expecting their first child in March, invited Melody and I over the first evening we were here for tea and we just sat and thoroughly enjoyed talking to her for at least an hour and a half. Just met her husband Andy the other night, as he was gone on a trip last week. He knocked and introduced himself and explained the trash and recycling collection to us. Seemed like a really nice, fun guy, younger than I was expecting.

I love people. Even crazy people. Especially crazy people.
And I love all of you people back home who are reading this. Cheers!

"The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged." Deuteronomy 31:8


  1. I LOVE the explosion of details! keep it coming! I feel like I'm sitting right next to you and I can see all of the expressions on your face as you speak! love you!

  2. ok...only half way through reading...i'll hit the people part later...must tend to the chilens now:) love you and your adventure!

  3. so glad you added the disclaimer about the police and lots of lights...i was thinking just as i started reading "you parents are going to have a heart attack...and who knows what maryjo will do"...so thanks for saving our family from totally freaking out! love the pictures you are painting with your words:) keep it coming!