Sunday, 26 February 2012

Once you go black

We were in Oxford yesterday which made an interesting contrast to our recent trip up to Cambridge.  Though both cities are steeped in academia, Cambridge continues to feel small and rural, whilst Oxford is more bustling and urban.  We had travelled west because The Boy was attending an open day at one of the colleges to find out more about studying German at Oxford University.  Whilst he went off and spent the day in lectures, debates and such like, The Cat's Mother and I explored the city.

It's not a place I am entirely unfamiliar with as I spent three months there during my gap year.  It wasn't a happy time as I worked at a firm of accountants to find out if it was a career I wanted to follow.  It decidedly was not. The lingering legacy of that time is that my bank continues to be based there....and that's not a happy relationship either.

Anyway, we found ourselves in the Ashmolean Museum, which claims to be the oldest in the country.  That doesn't mean it isn't modern... certainly a lot of money has been invested in modernising it.  Most of the building seems brand new.  Bizarrely, who ever designed the thing decided that the best way for visitors to enjoy the contents is to make it as complicated as possible to navigate even with the museum map, and then to further complicate it by not bothering to put up the gallery numbers.  I've never seen so many people asking how to get to a gallery as I did yesterday, which proves, to me at least, that I wasn't being stupid.  Perhaps the powers that be had decided this was the best way to encourage people to explore.  Anyway, we looked at Howard Hodgkins' collection of Mughal art (pretty dull really - sorry) and not much else, as the whole place was a bit dense and difficult to get enthusiastic about.  They did at least have an excellent section on Cyprus, so we studied that at length in readiness for our next trip to see Grandma in Cyprus.

We headed off to Carfax to get a birds' eye view of the city roof tops, and were sold our tickets by a man who really was the spitting image of a ventriloquist's dummy, even down to the rosy cheeks.  He was very happy and friendly, but I didn't see anyone sitting behind him with their hand up his posterior.  The view was fine, and we were able to spot the Bodleian Library, which we didn't go in as visitors are discouraged.  I bet most city libraries would be pleased to be able to do that.  Instead we went in the souvenir shop where I was given a sound ticking off for trying to take a photo out the window.

We'd arrived early so had gone for a coffee in the Randolph Hotel, which we noted was a Macdonald group hotel.  Disappointingly there were no burgers to be had, and we had to twist their arm to let us have breakfast as we'd arrived at 10.05.  Breakfast stops at 10.00.  Burgers or not, there were a couple of very well-spoken and loud gentlemen in the lounge with us.  They were like the arguing professors in Newman and Baddiel...except they weren't arguing, they were just talking extremely loudly in very affected accents.  I recorded some of it on my mobile phone, but I assume publishing it would be illegal.  Shame.  One had bug eyes and a bowler hat, the other was portly and wore slacks, sports jacket and a waistcoat..  You couldn't avoid hearing them; in fact it was hard to hear each other speak such was the volume of their conversation.  Their views were somewhat conservative.  They were clearly men who thought the world had gone rapidly downhill since their youth, and probably bringing back the birch and national Service would solve all our problems.  One of them I suspect was an academic, but without too much up top, and the other it transpired was a priest.  And it was he that was heard to say, "Well as they say once you've had black you never go back".

We spluttered into our coffee cups and left shortly afterwards.