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 ain’t my favorite time in Oxford. Not that the town and its surrounding countryside aren’t gorgeous then, it’s the people.

Tourists are not, I fear, attractive. In small numbers, maybe, but small numbers isn’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 Blackwell’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 Harvey’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.

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  1. Chris on June 24, 2008 at 10:58 am

    Glad you are home safe and well – it’s given much pleasure (and plenty of amusement along the way!) to keep up with your posts whilst you have been over here, and it was such a pleasure to meet with you in Edinburgh. I think you have seen more of the UK in the last three weeks than I have seen in the last 15 years, so shame on me… How I can have left Orkney off the list after almost 20 years in Scotland I do not know!

    Looking forward to your next visit for Language of Bees – no pressure, then! – and to UK success for Touchstone.

    With all good wishes,

  2. KarenB on June 24, 2008 at 1:08 pm

    Welcome home and thank you for the fascinating travelogue. Much clicking has been done on my computer trying to see maps, overview and photographs of where you have been.

    I think I may have walked past your house in Oxford 13 summers ago on the way to dinner. If I only knew then what I know now, you could have been able to call the police to rid you of a stalker!

  3. vicki on June 25, 2008 at 9:10 am

    Welcome home! And thanks for letting us vicariously enjoy your trip–it sounds like it was great fun. 🙂

    Karen, I’m sure you’d be a very nice stalker. Maybe like the one who follows Thursday Next–Millon deFloss. I like that he violates stalker regulations so as to help Thursday in her investigations and adventures, then later turns historian to record her life and times.

  4. Strawberry Curls on June 25, 2008 at 1:50 pm

    Welcome home. Your travel blog was such a treat to read, thanks so much for sharing your adventures. I have quite a few new things added to my “must see” list for the next trip to the U.K.

    Thank goodness the fires are dying down, it has been a tough few weeks for Northern California.


  5. tangential1 on June 26, 2008 at 10:08 am

    It’s entirely redundant as I’m about the sixth person to say it, but welcome home 😉 I’m going to be in Oxford for a couple of days next month (we’re doing a tour through the old colleges to see the architecture, etc) so it was fun to hear about the covered market; I’ll definitely have to get over there!

    And these fires are horrible. 840 of them I read in the paper yesterday. We haven’t had any actual fires here, but we are thoroughly surrounded and we’ve had brown skies for days. I woke up this morning to an entirely red sun…very creepy.

  6. Bachi on June 26, 2008 at 3:04 pm

    Wow, This sounds like two different lives not just two homes!!!!

  7. Barbara C on July 3, 2008 at 6:58 pm

    Welcome home, Mrs. King. I have been in England several times, which greatly enhanced my joy of reading your blogs while you were there. I didn’t know about Calke Abbey, nor the open market, and would love to visit both some day. I am a new fan member to your web site and mostly a lurker at this point. However, I did write two fan letters recently in one week, and then after reading The Game, felt like Sunny Goodheart in my enthusiasm. (oh horrors – I’m usually somewhat reserved, but in the case of Laurie King, could possibly entertain ideas of joining Karen as a stalker, especially to the house in England – lol) Your blogs each day are great fun to read. Thanks for sharing everyday life and what’s going on in your writing, with us.

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