Two homes, Oxford and Santa Cruz
After my pilgrimage to Calke Abbey, I headed for Oxford. We own a house in the city, near Folly Bridge, where one can still see (and punt beneath) the Saxon underpinnings on which everyone from the Norman Lord of Oxford, Robert D’Oilley, to the ever-busy 19th century Victorians built and re-built this bridge over the Isis (the Isis being the Oxford section of the Thames.) One can also admire the small island halfway along the bridge where the alchemist Roger Bacon set up shop, or hire a punt and buy a choc ice at the one-time toll booth on the city side of the bridge. Our house is on the first road south of the river, and I have lived there for short periods any number of times over the years. Still, I have to say, summer ainâ€™t my favorite time in Oxford. Not that the town and its surrounding countryside arenâ€™t gorgeous then, itâ€™s the people.
Tourists are not, I fear, attractive. In small numbers, maybe, but small numbers isnâ€™t what you get in Oxford. Packs of foreigners roam the streets, talking loudly and stopping abruptly in the middle of the pavement (sidewalk) to read their maps. Few Americans this year, but the Italians, French, Germans, Russians, Japanese, and Indians made up for them.
May is nice, or September before the students come back. Summer is a time to duck into town early in the morning, winding through the streets to Blackwell’s Books for the latest books by those writers who aren’t published yet in the US, then making a raid on the Covered Market. This is my favorite shopping mall in the world, the Victorian Covered Market, where one can buy a loaf of wholemeal bread, a selection of British cheeses, and a punnet of English strawberries, acidic and delicate. Then escape from the increasing crowds and settle into a chair in the back garden, waiting for one of the churches to practice their bell-ringing. (And surely you’ve read Nine Tailors, Dorothy Sayers’ novel set around bell ringing? Or at least followed Robin McKinley’s blog on her experiences?)
But we had a nice event at Blackwellâ€™s that night, with the friends-and-relations summoned by my stepson who is living in the Folly Bridge house, bolstered by half a dozen members of the reading group from the public library in town, where my kids used to raid the stacks during the periods we were living there.
And then to London, venturing in the next day for tea with Harry (HRF) Keating and his wife, the actor Sheila Mitchell, followed by an event at the library nearby. A hot evening and thin numbers, but good anyway.
Friday it was back to Heathrow and settle into my first-class seat, watching bad movies and enjoying John Harveyâ€™s newest novel as the ground passed by with no effort from myself. I was met at San Francisco by my daughter, who managed to catch me waving into the not-so-hidden camera in the approach hallway out of Customs, and we drove back through a heat wave that was added a note of the piquant by a wildfire that blocked the freeway in Santa Cruz, dumping all the traffic onto side streets, so that a 2 hour trip was made to stretch four.
The next day, which found me well rested despite the sweltering temperature in the house, we had thunderstorms, adding a number of new wildfires to the one near the freeway. Santa Cruz County feels like a war zone these days, five major fires in the past month, accompanied by roaring bombers (of fire retardant) and thudding helicopters bringing baskets of water to bear.
But Monday the fog finally was drawn in by the inland heat, and I woke during the night to a cat seeking warmth and the need to find a blanket. Bliss.
And now, back to work.