Wednesday, July 15, 2009

I went to Wonderland today...

Well, the garden that served as part of the inspiration for 'Alice in Wonderland.' Today I did a tour of Christ Church, the college in which I am staying. It has a rich and varied history, including the connections with Alice - I saw the little door, the Cheshire Cat's tree and a most marvellous gnarled old tree which our guide believes partly inspired the Jabberwocky. Sadly, I did not have my camera with me, but I am doing the garden and meadow tour tomorrow, so will remember it then.

I am really, really enjoying my time here; I'd like to say "I love Oxford" but apart from a couple of pubs and a walking tour yesterday, I have mostly been in Christ Church so I should really say "I love Christ Church." The Oxford Experience (the official name of the summer school) is great. There are a range of people here - lots of people from the US, lots of retirees - but my new drinking buddies include a NY state attorney and a retired BHP exec who lives in Queensland. What we have in common is that we're all interested in *stuff* and quite happy to talk about anything and everything, and also quite happy to give our opinions! We have really interesting discussions over lunch and dinner about all topics under the sun, although as we all get into our courses, I think we are getting a little more focussed on our pet subjects. Loving my Shakespeare group; we have some *hilarious* times, particularly where people who haven't necessarily studied Shakespeare before start to appreciate how down to earth he really was... i.e. we explain how many dirty jokes there are in the text. We're going to see Henry V tonight and spent some time on it today; we read bits of it aloud and do various exercises to bring it alive in different ways.

Also Christ Church is just a beautiful setting; I've put up a couple of pictures which don't really capture it - one is crooked for starters! The crooked one is Tom Quad, which is where we enter and leave the college. The other is the main wing of Pec, where I'm staying, although in the left wing. For all its external grandeur, inside it is very much college accommodation.

My favourite, favourite experience so far has been coming 'home' after a night out. (See pubs aforementioned!) The main gates are shut, but there is a tiny, ancient wooden door set into them, for which we have a key. The first night we came in with the very last dregs of sunlight (sunset is around 10pm-ish), and last night there was a little moonlight. The door closes behind us and we come out into the quad, the buildings lit by moonlight with clouds rushing behind them. It's quiet, the quad is deserted, the moon is out, the last rays of the setting sun are lighting the clouds behind the spire, the stone is glowing slightly... it is an absolutely magic moment.

Both nights I've stopped and looked at it, and thought, well, even if rest of the trip is terrible, and despite Australia bloody not winning on Sunday, the whole thing was worth it for this. We'd better win at Lords, though, it's one of the few trump cards I've been able to play against the various Englishmen I've been discussing cricket with.

So, all in all, awesome so far and it is only Tuesday... a week is not enough, really. There are various people here who come for two or three or even all five weeks, and a very large number of people who come every year, or as often as they can. They are mostly from Europe or the US though.

All the non-Harry Potter fans can leave now - one of the things they do love telling you about here is which bits of Harry Potter were filmed where. Interestingly, the dining hall, which was a major inspiration for the dining hall in the films, did not actually have any filming in it. This is because they were here during term and the students needed to eat! The other interesting thing is how many of the people here for the course love Harry Potter. There are a few anti-Harry snobs, but the vast majority of people I've spoken to love it. I seem to be a in a very small minority who enjoy it but don't love it. Various bits of Tom Quad and the dining hall staircase were used in the films, and I have to say it does all feel slightly familiar. I think this is also due to it being from a similar period to bits of Bath, and no doubt inspiration for various other fantasy / medieval epics and the setting for about 800 films.

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