Solstice, Yule, Christmas, Kwanzaa, whatever Festival of Light Returning you like. (Chanukkah is over by now, having come very early this year...)
Not much in a festive spirit, though. No reason, just crabby and dull. All I want to do is work on my Viking book and not talk to or see anybody...I have bought myself a lovely bronze owl and another pair of cowgirl boots for Solstice, so that was very thoughtful of me, I think...
Anyway, have a lovely festiveness and see you all after Secular New Year!
After Lee Aakers (Rusty on "The Rin-Tin-Tin Show"), when I was about seven, Peter O'Toole was my first actor crush, for, of course, "Lawrence of Arabia", in 1962. In fact, I had come to the movie as a 16-year-old T.E. Lawrence fangirl, straight from reading Seven Pillars of Wisdom
, and staggered out of the theater after four hours unsure on whom I was crushing harder, Lawrence or O'Toole.
After "The Lion in Winter", in 1968, I kind of fell away, bored by his bizarre film choices and turned off by his real-life hijinks. He was still capable of reeling me right back in, with some of the work he did ("The Ruling Class"), but I was always, and probably unfairly, mentally chiding him for behaving like the stereotypical Irish-actor drunk.
By the 80's I didn't bother keeping up at all; even the heralded "My Favorite Year" and "Stunt Man" didn't lure me to the theater, though I did go to see "Stardust", but for Neil Gaiman, not for O'Toole. "Troy" did get me because of him, though; well, him and Orlando, not
Brad... Sometimes I would catch him on TV: "High Spirits", "Masada", "Lassie", "The Last Emperor", stuff like that. He always seemed better than his material, but he never condescended to it. I'm sorry I never saw him on the stage; if I did, I don't remember it, which is probably the worst thing you can say about an actor. But no; I doubt I ever saw him live. Even at his worst, I would have remembered.
Sympathies to his family and friends, of course. By now he's probably sorted himself out and getting settled at The Bar, with his buddies Burton and Richard Harris and Oliver Reed and the other wild boys. I bet it will be fun, and resting in peace is probably the last thing Peter O'Toole has in mind.
I don't have anything profound to offer about what happened on this day five decades ago, when I was a seventeen-year-old away from home for the first time, at college. But I want to remember now, without pain but with solemnity, how I felt then...
Fifty years ago today, on an indecently bright and cold and sunny afternoon, I was about to leave my freshman English lit. class at St. Bonaventure when a fellow freshman, Jack Garner, came into the room and told us that President Kennedy had been shot. We all reacted with disbelief, except our professor, Leo Keenan, who grimly strode off to the journalism office and the AP ticker.
We huddled around, uncertain, not really believing until we saw our prof's reaction. Then the other girls and I ran back to our dorm---seeing the flag already being lowered to half staff on the campus flagpole, but not believing, desperately denying---to turn the single rec-room TV on and see Walter Cronkite, blinking away tears, announcing that the President was dead. We all collapsed in tears ourselves, stunned, and for the next four days basically were glued to the tube and walked around like zombies otherwise.
I couldn't stand being around anyone, and walked up the hill behind the dorm to a shrine to Our Lady of Lourdes that was there, set in a little wooded hollow. Nobody else came there but one of the younger nuns who looked after us, and we didn't speak to each other, just sat there for a long time in the chilly afternoon as the sun went down behind the hills across the valley, wrapped in our own thoughts under the last leaves still on the trees.
All classes were immediately canceled, of course, and a lot of the students with cars instantly took off for D.C. to be there to pay respects at the lying in state in the Capitol rotunda if they could, and for the funeral and procession. The rest of us didn't stop crying or watching the nonstop TV coverage all weekend---I can still hear the shocked intake of breath from all of us at the sight of Mrs. Kennedy, wearing that godawful suit, emerging from the plane later that night.
On Saturday, as nothing public was happening, it was all repetition and old footage on TV; commercial programming was canceled, and there was a lot of symphonic music heard: the funeral march from "Eroica" was pressed into heavy-duty rotation, and the funeral music for Queen Mary, which just about killed me, both of them.
On Sunday, there was the procession to the Capitol for the lying in state, and the first time we'd seen Mrs. Kennedy since Friday. I have no words: she looked like Persephone unveiled, and seeing the kids was like a punch to the solar plexus, especially Caroline in the rotunda, slipping her hand under the flag to touch the casket.
On Monday, the day of the funeral, there was a Solemn High Requiem Mass on campus, timed early, to be over by the time the one in D.C. began, so that we could pay our own respects in proper Catholic fashion and also then be able to watch the obsequies taking place in Washington.
It was again a cold, bright morning, and I remember walking to campus (our dorm was across the road) in my dressy black coat and gloves and lace mantilla, along with the other girls dressed much the same. The whole school was crowded into the gym: guys and friars downstairs, girls and nuns upstairs on the running track balcony. The male choir of priests and seminarians sang the Dies Irae, the first time I'd ever heard it sung; there was a procession with candles and incense, all the celebrants in black vestments; total silence except for the prayer responses. I was just about out of my body: one of the most splendid and deeply profound spiritual experiences of my life.
Then we went back to the dorm to watch the Mass and funeral procession on TV. I still see Mrs. Kennedy's queenly bearing, and still hear those muffled drums in my head, and still hear the moan as we all crumpled to see little John-John salute the casket coming out of the cathedral. We sat there crowded in the rec room, on the floor or on chairs we'd brought in from our rooms, until everything was done and the screen showing Arlington went blank.
After that, I really don't remember. I went to my room and wrote some things, but we were all too staggered and too full of grief and shock to do anything. We were kids, and for most of us this was our first experience with loss, made worse because most of us had idolized the family so.
It was a profound national moment, all the more so because it was so nationally shared. That's really all I have to say about it; I don't have any big eloquent words, no words apart from these. But I wanted you to hear them, and to maybe share words of your own, and to offer prayers and thoughts as you feel the need. And though I know he no longer needs it, may his journey thrive.
I do wish that more of the faceless Russian (mostly) hordes who have added me, against my will and knowledge, to their "friend" lists would get the hint and take a hike. They don't contribute, because they're just friendwhores at best and bots at worst, so I can't imagine why they're even here in the first place. They are not my friends. I am not their friend. Go away.
...that I haven't posted in absolute yonks. I was dealing with health issues, all now mostly resolved (had a stent procedure), and then I just got lazy. Not much to tell in any case: I finished up "Go Ask Malice: Murder at Woodstock", the fifth Rennie book, and I had a far better time writing it than I had at that damn festival; I have about 90,000 words on the sixth, "Ruby Gruesday: Murder at the Fillmore East", so that will probably be out next.
After that, not sure. Either Rennie7 ("Daydream Bereaver: Murder on the Good Ship Rocknroll") or the long-delayed Viking book, "Son of the Northern Star." I may even get back to the Keltiad after the ninth Rennie book, which is kind of where extensive pre-writing stops at the moment, with my protagonists getting married. I have two or three books planned out after that, but may or may not get to them. It all depends on if I'm getting bored, or if my readers feel it's time for something completely different.
Which would be Keltia. "The Beltane Queen" is about Aeron's great-grandmother Aoife, who is both the Prince Hal and the Queen Victoria of Keltia, and also, a big surprise for me, happens to have a girlfriend in her youth. "The Cloak of Gold" is the conclusion to the series, and yes, people we love will die. Or possibly the galaxy explodes and EVERYBODY dies. We'll see.
In other news, Pottermore is a crashing bore. Rowling doesn't toss in enough new backstory morsels to keep my interest, and the stupid games and things don't work on my browser. Not that I'd play them, but still.
Recent reads: I read all E. Nesbit's Bastables books on Project Gutenberg, and they are terrific. Also all five of the Richard Hannay books by John Buchan, which are likewise. Rereading Molesworth, which is always hilarious. Other than that, not much except some research on Rennie, circa December 1969, and P.D. James's sequel to "Pride and Prejudice", "Death Comes to Pemberley", which was entertaining but left me rather underwhelmed.
Apart from that, not much. I haven't gone away anywhere, first because of getting Mr. Stenty and then because I'm just too lazy. Maybe in October: it would be nice to see leaves, and I found an upstate horse farm on Airbnb that sounds delightful; and I could ride!
So that's me up to date. Not terribly exciting, but really it's all going on inside my head. Now back to 1969! Though I guess it's January 1970 by now...
A bit late, but very much felt. 2011, you could have been a lot better. Let's see how 2012 shapes up...
Anne McCaffrey has died. How very, very sad this makes me. She was a glorious writer and a lovely person, and she was always deeply kind to me. She gave me my first book blurb and feedback, and we kept up a correspondence for years. And she told me I could have a queen dragon on Pern, which made me so happy. I put her into "Blackmantle" as Aunya nic Cafraidh, and she was delighted. She leaves a huge, huge emptiness where she stood. May her journey thrive.
I guess it was because of Rosh Ha’shanah that I got to thinking of that really neat Israeli-gospel-folk-rock I downloaded the other day, but I was playing it earlier on the iPod, and bouncing and clapping to it as I sat here working because it is just that kind of music, and then the wind started streaming in over my shoulder and blowing my hair around, and it was a northwest wind with its charged-up ions and everything and that always charges me up even more.
But it all seemed somehow of a piece, and it sent my mood up to one of those toweringly exultant moments when you are so glad of the joy of creation, and Creation, that you just want to get up and fling back your head and dance with the world, and dance love to the world. I am exalted by those moments when they come: you can put yourself in the way of them, and even teach yourself to reach them at will, but you can’t really plan for them, they just happen for you. And they are more wonderful by far when they just come like that, out of nowhere, like a great wind out of Aldebaran.
And it doesn’t matter if you’re a Jew or a Christian or a Pagan or whatever, the joy all comes from the same place, the same Power. And everything you do becomes prayer and praise to that Power, and you can call the Power Adonai or the Goddess, or even not believe in it at all, but it is the real and undivided Power no matter what people think. And people are foolish to try to separate it out the way they do, or to deny it, to selfishly hug their little crumbs of it to themselves when really they could have the whole cake if only they tried sharing for once.
I often start thinking like this around this time of the year, as the sun heads south again and the days begin to draw in and the air gets chilly and the leaves start to turn. It fills me with joy that never grows old or any the lesser, because I know that it will always be there and always be like that.
Because it’s work that does it for me also. I am so lucky to have an art that is at my fingertips, as a dear friend reminded me recently. Her own art requires other people for its fulfillment, and she was thinking wistfully that it would be nice not to have to rely on the whim and will of others before she can perform it. I don’t have to worry about that. Sure, I like to have readers, and the more the better, and the smarter the better. But I would write even if I didn’t. I don’t write for them, or even for me, or even for Jim, or even for my gods, though all those certainly figure into it. I write for the Power. I write for Creation.
And it’s THAT that makes me want to dance. You come dance too.
So now I have been enjoying myself for the past couple of weeks playing with my lovely new toy: grad school at Oxford. It is by no means as expensive as you would think, though still of course pricey and I will have to save up for it, and there are many options.
I just got smitten and bitten by the whole idea. And, let's face it, by the sheer romantic fantasy of it: me hurrying back to my rooms in a medieval building, through the snow, to study something I'm really into. The reality is rather less so: grad students are usually housed in modern digs, alas. But I'm sure I could arrange something.
Also I'd snobbishly want my Master's from an ancient college: Balliol, Magdalen, Merton, Exeter, Christ Church, Jesus. One of those. (Which could be done, but then I'd have to live over there for a whole year and I don't think I could manage that.)
And the Continuing Education program itself is run by Kellogg College, a rather new one. But still. It would be a MASTER'S FROM OXFORD. Think how good that will look in the obituary!
Anyway, the M.St. (Master of Studies, as they refer to it), organized through Kellogg but with tutors from whatever college my specialty is in, would run me about 9,000 bucks. Not Bad At All. For a two-year program online and over the phone, with three one-week residencies over the two-year period. And a 10,000-word dissertation (which for me is like a shopping list...)
I am quite seriously considering this. I have been getting great advice from a Facebook friend currently studying for her doctorate at Jesus, and you know, this just might happen. I don't think I'd take a creative writing Master's, because my idea of creative writing and Oxford's almost certainly would not get along, and I doubt they'd accept a rocknroll murder mystery or a Viking historical romance as a thesis.
So maybe Viking history, or Celtic studies...my Bachelor's is in English Lit, so not that, I don't think. Could be BIG fun, yes? I think yes.
I may have mentioned on here that I would be spending two weeks in England this summer...here's the report.
Well, where to start? London, I guess, where I landed after an uneventful flight and proceeded to steal another woman’s luggage! In my defense, it looked EXACTLY like my new big tapestry bag (except a little pinker, where mine is more purplish), even to the identical black leather luggage tag. What are the odds? So I didn’t realize it (except to wonder to the driver why my bag looked a bit pinker than I recalled, and the wheels made a strange new funny sound) until I got to my hotel in London and actually checked the tag, then fished into an outside zipper compartment to pull out a long black wig!
Oh noes! Holy crap! Not mine! Back to the airport, hysterical. My bag! My LIFE!!! I figured the other lady wouldn’t have been NEARLY as stupid as I was and taken mine in return, and my bag was probably still there and not halfway to Scotland by then, and it was indeed there, parked lonely as a cloud by the luggage carousel. Shamed, I slunk off with mine in tow and left the other (which the airport people were incredibly cavalier about, “Oh, just leave it over there, luv”...I could have had it stuffed with explosives). What drama.
London was...well, Dr. Johnson notwithstanding, after a dozen or so trips I think I may be done with London. For one thing, even though I know it’s the height of tourist season, it didn’t seem very British anymore. NYC is a polynational city too, of course, and I have no problem with that, but I did not at all like the way I hardly ever heard English spoken by British people on the street or the train. And every tenth woman I passed on Oxford Street was in niqab or a burqa. I don’t think I’m a racist, but it disturbed me very much indeed.
Bought very little. Too ruinously expensive and nothing looked any good anyway. Even Harrods disappointed, though it was worth going there just to view this simply appalling huge bronze statue of Diana and Dodi holding hands and dancing on a beach and releasing the bluebird of happiness, or the albatross of public opinion, or the seagull of something or other, whatev, that Dodi's father, former Harrods owner, erected in their honor in a prominent position...tackiest thing EVER.
I did indulge myself in Marks & Spencer prawn mayonnaise sandwiches (Rennie's favorite!) as per usual, a complete bargain for lunch or hotel room snacking. The hotel (the Royal Park, on the north side of Hyde Park two blocks from Paddington Station) was lovely, with a spacious room with view and a quite decent price for London, but then again I did book back in February...current summer room rates on TripAdvisor were over the moon.
Went to the Tate Britain to see the Turners and Pre-Raphaelites, and walked in Kensington Gardens to visit the Peter Pan statue and the Diana memorial fountain. That was it, really.
On Sunday the 24th I went by train to Oxford (again, not hearing a single English-speaking voice the whole way), and checked in at Christ Church College, where I was to be in residence for the whole week of The Oxford Experience, as the program is called. Christ Church is known as “the House”, from its Latin name Aedes Christi, House of Christ. Founded by the infamous Cardinal Wolsey in 1525, refounded by his equally infamous enemy Henry VIII in 1532, it has the most gorgeous architecture, and is the largest but far from the oldest college in the university and therefore has not a lot of really medieval stuff going on. Even the college chapel, which is actually the Oxford city cathedral, and huge for a chapel, though quite small for a cathedral and largely Norman, is built on the site of much older structures.
I stayed in Peckwater (Peck for short), a lovely, large, U-shaped building from the early 1700’s, all classical-looking tan stone, kind of like the White House north façade, Staircase 8, Room 6. Rooms in Oxford colleges are usually arranged opening vertically off a staircase, not horizontally off a corridor as we have here, generally two to a landing; if you want to visit someone in the next stair over, you have to go downstairs, walk outside, go next door and go up---you can't just walk down the hall. Each student has a bedroom (with sink) and a sitting room (with small fridge), and accommodations vary tremendously. Worn but functional furniture, though many rooms have antiquey-looking pieces and mine had two lovely sofas and some nice desks. My first room, rejected instantly, was a claustrophobia-inducing ground-floor one where the windows barely opened and the tourists passed by only feet away; I whined and moaned and was rewarded with a TWIN suite, two bedrooms (small) and a sitting room (large and airy), on a third-floor (what the Brits call second floor) corner, windows and window seats all over the place, overlooking Peck Quad on one side and Canterbury Quad on the other, with a view south to the cathedral spire smack in the middle of my bedroom window and the towers of Merton (I think) off to the other side.
But. No bathroom. A toilet two flights up in the attic, and showers and more toilets and a single bathtub in the BASEMENT six flights down. The flights were longish ones of 12 steps each, two to a floor, switchbacking...aarrgghh. I never could find the same shower twice, and only once came across the laundry room: the cellar of Peck was a maze of twisty passages and weird doors. Like the Tardis. And several times I ended up in the basement of the next staircase over. Some of the other stairs in my building had toilets and/or shower rooms on alternating floors, but not Peck 8. I realize it's student accommodation, but it still seems stupefyingly primitive. True, only six or eight students live on each staircase, so there's not that much competition for facilities, but all the same...
I have been advised that next time (if there is a next time) I should book a room in the very Tudor-looking Meadow Building, to my taste by far the nicest-looking dorm, though supposedly the most unfashionable when built in the 1800's, when Peck was the real des. res. and all the cool smart people lived there. I would have grabbed rooms in Meadow like a freaking shot if I'd had a choice (or better information): first-floor (our second floor), with en suite bathroom and a view over expansive and bucolic Christ Church Meadow (which was full of big round hay bales from the recent harvest). I shall keep it in mind.
But the Great Hall and Tom Quad, the big front quadrangle with the Christopher Wren tower and gatehouse, were simply glorious. The first time I went up the famous stairs (used in the Harry Potter movies), I was bitterly disappointed not to find Professor McGonagall waiting for me at the top... It was splendid.
Food was pretty good, especially for dinner (escalope of turkey, prime rib, rump of lamb, pork roast), though they were quite stingy at breakfast: one egg, one sausage, no hot breakfast at all on the last day, just croissants and toast and stuff. I’m not used to eating three sit-down meals a day, in company, so that was a little weird. But dining under the gaze of all those ancient portraits and under that hammerbeam ceiling (I sat at the Gryffindor table as often as possible, of course, Ravenclaw when I had to, though the movie Hall was merely based on the Christ Church one after the first two movies filmed there, CGI'd and expanded by one table, and they really don’t like the Hogwarts comparisons, too bad!) was A. MA. ZING.
Oh, and there was Morris dancing, which I love, in Tom Quad one night after dinner, and tours of the college and the town, and the House has its own art gallery full of Old Masters, and I spent a lot of time in the Cathedral, not just the Cathedral gift shop. Pretty darn fun. The town was FULL of Asian teenagers on tour or attending summer school all over Oxford: I don’t think there was a single Japanese, Chinese or Korean adolescent left at home. They were delightful, if a bit noisy, and I have never SEEN traffic like Oxford traffic, foot or vehicular. Well, it’s a medieval city and not made for modern hordes.
But sitting in my William Morris-print-covered window seat at 9:05 pm (Oxford University, being five minutes west of Greenwich, keeps its own time of five minutes later), windows open, leaning on the sill and listening to Great Tom, the immense bell in Tom Tower at the gatehouse, ring out its nightly 101 strokes for the original 100 scholars plus one added later, was truly magical.
Classes began at 9:15 Monday, after breakfast. Two classes per day. First one ran to 10:45, then there was coffee and tea and bikkies in the Junior Common Room (undergraduate rec room) in Tom Quad building, and then another class from 11:15 to 12:45, and then lunch in Hall. After lunch, we were free to do as we pleased until dinner, which for me meant just roaming around Oxford, one of my favorite British cities. I visited Balliol College (pronounced bale-yull, alma mater of Turk Wayland and Lord Peter Wimsey), Magdalen (pronounced maudlin, alma mater of dear Oscar Wilde) College, Merton College (where Tolkien taught for many years), Jesus College (alma mater of my hero T.E. Lawrence) and a few others, and some Inspector Morse/Inspector Lewis locations, like the Sheldonian Theatre and the Radcliffe Camera and the Bodleian Library and a few ancient pubs, and shopped rather more than I had in London. Corny as it was, I bought numerous Oxford- and Christ Church-related items…and didn’t get to see half of what I had planned on.
The class, "King Alfred and the Vikings", was, I have to say, deeply disappointing. To begin with, my tutor, one Dave Beard, had an Attitude as well as an Agenda. He trashed Celts (“there were no Celts”), fans of Celticness (“Celtic loonies on the Internet”) and Templars (“they don’t exist in modern days, despite what crazy people think”), all this despite me raising my hand instantly to protest. Hey! Celtic loony AND crazy Templar over here, thank you ever so much! So that pretty much turned me against him, and rightly so, on the second day of class. By his own admission, he was an archaeologist, not a historian (despite him also teaching a History of the Vikings in Britain class online), and therefore claimed that he couldn’t answer most of my very specific questions. Helloooo?? Which was, after all, the reason I was there??? Duh. Also he was way too fixated on pre-Viking Saxon history and town plans and surviving streets and stonework and other boring crap that just about put me into a coma. And the course material was, in my opinion, waaaaay too much King Alfred and nowhere NEAR enough Vikings.
So I learned a couple of things, but mostly I tuned him out, and flatly refused to “contribute” (shakedown) to his “gift” (extortion) at the end of the week. Why should I, after he had trashed my religion, my ethnicity and my Order? I'd never have been able to live with myself if I had caved and done so. Stupid pretentious git, and I certainly didn’t give a damn what the other students thought of my refusing. And the program will be getting a very sharp letter from me regarding him, you just bet it will. Too bad he’s the program director. Then again, I doubt I’ll ever be going back, so I'm burning no bridges giving him the pointy end of the stick. I was told by fellow students who had tried both that The Other Place (as they call Cambridge) has a similar, and superior, program---three courses over two weeks, and choice of college---so that's possible too, and I hear it's even more beautiful than Oxford, but I have no emotional attachment there the way I've always felt about Oxford...we’ll see.
Anyway, I discovered that you can stay in Oxford colleges like Balliol, Magdalen, Trinity, Keble and Wadham, among others, for bed and breakfast, without being obliged to sign up for a course, so I may try that next time. The staying in college part was the best part, and it would be fantastic to crash in Turk's old dorm room, or Lord Peter's, or dear Oscar's...I did wonder who had lived in my rooms over the years, and hoped to find ancient graffiti carved in the walls, but no such luck.
But the people, at least some of them, were nice, though most were five or ten or even fifteen years older than I. We had a snooty Australian cow of a girls' school principal who sat next to me in class (held in the tutor’s office in Peck 2, seated all round on comfy chairs and sofas), whom I rapidly grew to detest, but two older men, Bob and Bill, were very dear and kept me feeling involved in the class and not invisible, and another guy, Herb, was nice too. Some of the women (Yvonne, in my class, and Lena, from the class on the Brontes) were also quite pleasant.
Still, they weren’t Our Kind of People, my friends, and perhaps I was naïve to have expected they would be. Also it was very cliquey among people who’d been there before, and not very welcoming or friendly for newbies like me; in fact, they were quite rebuffing, and most were not terribly interested in what I had to say. I did try: I was one of the younger students there, and pretty certainly the only one coming from my sort of background. (I ‘fessed up to being an author, but kept Jim strictly out of it and utterly unmentioned by name...just “my late husband” if anyone inquired, which almost no one did.)
I did get a chance to reconnect with the wonderful John and Caitlin Matthews, authors and Celtic scholars, whom I hadn’t seen for twenty years. We had lunch at the Tolkien/CSS Lewis watering-hole the Eagle and Child, known familiarly as the Bird and Baby, on Wednesday afternoon (great fish and chips!). Unfortunately, I had badly hurt my left ankle on my way there: the Achilles tendon popped on a bad step (not even twisted it, no rough pavement, just stepped down on it wrong and BLAM!) and I thought I’d torn it. Oh, the pain and the ouchiness. So that was no fun. But after lunch I went for tea chez Matthews, in a nearby village, and then they drove me back to college. Missed dinner since I couldn’t walk, though thankfully there was a pizza truck parked outside Tom Gate where I got a really excellent (even by NYC standards) personal pizza for my supper, and went to hospital the next morning to have the ankle, by now swollen and screaming, checked out.
God bless the NHS, is all I have to say, and shame on this country for having no single-payer healthcare system. The college had recommended their own private medical practice (100 quid for a walk-in visit!); I said no thanks and went to the excellent and speedy ER at the John Radcliffe Hospital, for which terrific care I paid exactly NOTHING. Not tuppence nor yet one pence. Big difference, and more shame on Christ Church for not telling people they have this option. (I did make a donation, but no one even hinted that it was mandatory, or even expected...)
Anyway, they said I hadn't torn my tendon, that it was just a severe sprain, and gave me this sort of compression stocking for my whole lower leg, called a tubigrip, a cane and some leaflets on care. I stopped at Boots, fabulous chemists (drugstore), for OVER-THE-COUNTER CODEINE PILLS and ice packs, and have been hobbling around (mildly stoned...) ever since.
Needless to say, that put a damper on too much more roving around Oxford. But at least I escaped going on a boring field trip Thursday to Winchester (been there) and the Portchester Saxon Shorefort (didn’t care), so that was okay, and I spent the day in bed after the hospital. Though still a wasted day.
Friday was the last day of class, and that evening there was a reception in the Masters’ Garden (where Lewis Carroll, who taught mathematics at the House, had been inspired to write Alice
...the Cheshire Cat's tree is still there) and a formal dinner in Hall. Oh, and on Monday night I had been invited to dine at High Table, as each student was one night during their stay: very nice. To both events I wore pearls, diamonds and my Templar breast star. You know (as Bill said sardonically), that order that doesn’t exist?? (He knew Templars himself, and we had a nice chat about it...) So sucks to you, Mr. Beard, arrogant, self-impressed academic that you are, and would you have dissed the Masons or Judaism the way you dissed the Templars and Celts? Well, maybe you would, in the depths of your ignorance...
On Saturday our dear LJ friend the lovely Liz Williams picked me up and drove me down to Glastonbury to stay with her and her husband our dear LJ friend the lovely Trevor Jones for several days in their fabulous house in the deep country, with dogs and cats and even a pony. We lunched at Avebury, in an ancient pub in the middle of the ring of stones (like the rest of the village), and met up that night in Glasto with our dear LJ friend the lovely Elle Hull. A delightful evening of much merriment ensued, in the George and Pilgrim Hotel pub, and later we all had dinner at the Ashcott Inn in a nearby village. Steak and ale pie. Brilliant.
Next day Liz and I did the Viking Tour of Wessex, hitting all my Guthrum/Alfred sites: Athelney, Barrow Mump, Aller, scene of Guthrum's forced baptism, the hilltop village of Wedmore, where the two kings signed a peace treaty, bunch of other places. Very helpful in visualizing how the land lay, even after a thousand years. MUCH more instructive than my class. And more than enough reason to justify the tax writeoff. Oh, and Cheddar Gorge, spectacular chasm in the Mendip Hills a bit north, and over to Wells, where I'd been on my first trip to England in '72.
Monday we drove down to the Jurassic Coast, to Lyme Regis, a gorgeous old sea resort town much frequented in Jane Austen movies, where an evil nasty seagull kamikaze'd in and grabbed a piece of chicken sandwich right out of Liz's hand and we felt the need to recover from the shock with clotted-cream vanilla ice cream, as who wouldn't. Then along the coast to Chesil Beach, an amazing-looking feature (Google it!), and up inland again to say hi (it being Lammas) to the Cerne Abbas Giant, an equally amazing-looking hillside chalk figure of, er, impressive dimensions. Keep it up, sir!
Tuesday I spent mostly at Chalice Well, in Glastonbury town at the foot of the Tor, drinking sacred spring water, sitting in the peaceful lovely gardens and walking through the Healing Pool in hopes of repairing my hurting legs (surprisingly effective, so thank you, Chalice Well!). I spent the last night at Magdalene (pronounced magdalen) House, a lovely guesthouse right across from the Abbey, so as to conveniently catch the Heathrow bus the next morning at 6:45.
More drama. Bus driver had to leave the M4 Motorway due to it being blocked completely by a bad accident, and then he got totally lost on his detour. No GPS. We must have driven around Basingstoke, Newbury and environs from every possible direction on every possible road (though we did pass right through Watership Down country, so that was okay, and went by Prince Charles's old school, Cheam), and were two hours late getting to the airport. Which was fine, as I still had three hours to kill before my plane left.
I tripped getting off the moving walkway and went crashing to the floor, but two very nice young men instantly ran over to help me up. I had ordered a wheelchair to take me to the gate, but Virgin Airlines is so stupidly run that I had to walk halfway there myself, upstairs to a special “Special Assistance” room where EVERYBODY flying that day who needed a chair or had crutches or kids or language difficulties or other problems was corralled. Horrible polyglot bedlam, though I did get taken to my flight, finally, in one of those cool golf cart/buggy things. At JFK they put you in a chair right there at the check-in desk and wheel you straight to the gate, where you just sit for as long as it takes. And then the plane was an hour late. And I was wiped out from dragging about a half-ton of luggage: I never will learn to pack light, I fear. But I needed everything! And I had to buy books!
By the time I got home, about eleven pm New York time, I was exhausted. But all in all a great trip. My profound thanks and love to Liz and Trevor, for the wonderful hospitality and for tolerating my food preferences, and to Lily for the endless doggy kisses, and big hugs to John and Caitlin and Elle. My only regret is that I didn’t eat more fish and chips than I actually did...