Tag Archives: Oxford

Christmas Impossible

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I hate airports. Stuff Hugh Grant with his ‘my favourite place in the world is an airport’ thing. The Arrivals part is brilliant – marred only slightly if you are the owner of the child dragging his brother along the floor by the foot – but sooner or later you’re making that inevitable return visit to Departures. Heartbreak, raw for everyone to see, in the middle of all the horrid jolly souls going on holiday for New Year.

All the McDonald’s Festive Pies in the world can’t make up for it, I can tell you that.

This is why I am to be found eating bananas and custard for dinner at 8pm, watching Tom Cruise do tiny ridiculous things in Mission Impossible, and compiling the BIGGEST PHOTO POST EVER of our last week. Indulge me loves; it’s nice to put it all in one place.

So! My sister got married this Christmas. I am one of four, and half of us live overseas. Which meant my mum and step-dad, two younger brothers and their other halves all came here for Christmas week. Since some of our party had never been to the UK before, we crammed e v e r y t h i n g in. It was wonderful.

Wedding first. Absolutely lovely. How classy do they look, eh?

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The boys were already rabid about having so many extra adults to play with.

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Then some play time. On Sunday afternoon we ran quickly over to Silchester, the ruins of an ancient Roman town nearby. I bet the Romans had sunsets like these too.

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Of course, you can’t do England without London.

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We tripped around Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square, Westminster Abbey and some other pretty fancy stuff. You know London. Full of it. Embarrassing, really.

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The next day, minus siblings, we went to see Nelson’s flagship at Portsmouth, the Victory. It was fantastic.

H got a bit into it.

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Please zoom in on that photo by the way: his face is hysterical. Full-on Power Ranger.

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Listening to the tour really brought home to me how splendid and patriotic and yet how irredeemably crap it must have been to serve in the Navy in the 1700s. Body parts. Everywhere. All the blimming time.

Then we did Oxford. City of my heart. Seller of excellent noodles.

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After all that, there was Christmas. I made my first giant Christmas dinner and it was intensely stressful and, like a miracle, came out beautifully even so.

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Even better, my littlest brother proposed to his girlfriend on Christmas Eve, and we all cried, especially when she said yes.

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After Christmas everyone started to go home. Time for some leftover turkey, and one last walk.

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I am wearing (fake)fur-lined leggings in this photo below, by the way. Thanks, Primark. I felt like Lyra Silvertongue ALL DAY.

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Phew, still alive? That brings us up to today, with me sat in pyjamas, eating banana custard and watching hobbity Tom Cruise do implausible things, in a doleful sort of way.

It was a great Christmas. Once-in-a-lifetime, really. I’m glad I get to remember it here.

A whistle-stop tour of southern England

If you’d like to know how you can tell my mum went back home to the States today, I need only say that we drove straight from the airport to a very large plate of steak and chips, spent the afternoon in pyjamas watching movies, and there was a point at which I sang along to Robbie Williams’ Angels with all these meaningful tears in my eyes. Bring on the 90’s power ballads, dudes. I have emotions. I think the next stop might be Westlife, and you can’t even stop me.

Then I looked through the photos we took during the last ten days, which made me feel a little better. So this post is essentially a camera-dump, but it’s a camera-dump with all these feelings behind it. Indulge me. (This series also serves to illustrate how very, very much I need another haircut.)

First we visited The Vyne, which is a National Trust-owned Tudor house and grounds fairly close to us. We get terribly excited about four-poster beds and the like, and Henry is very passionate about adventure playgrounds, so we all were moved. Especially when we found Henry VIII living in the gallery, the old rascal.

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Over the weekend we had Henry’s birthday party, and then his birthday trip to London a couple of days later. In between was a day for Teddy: we had his blessing at church – our equivalent of a christening – and had the most lovely time with a picnic and cupcakes and many, many family photographs. See above, re. haircut.

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A few days later we decided that on a properly hot day, we should by rights be getting sand in awkward places, so went to the beach down in Dorset. We discovered it last year, and fell in love. Henry decided to go dressed as a chimney sweep. The lesson here is that it’s never a bad moment to rock a flat cap.

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Unfortunately, this Glorious Day At the Seaside was then subtitled The Day I Got Poop, Pee and Sick All Over Me From Both Children, Thanks. Still. Look at that sky, eh?

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At this point, we felt we hadn’t yet appreciated enough four-poster beds, so we visited Highclere Castle. As Tim said, this is less of a castle and more of a large house with spiky bits on top. But it is Downton Abbey, so we didn’t quibble. You’re not allowed to take photos inside – boo! – so we made up for it by striking a number of ludicrous poses on the front lawn. That’ll show ’em.

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Almost there, and time for a day in Oxford, which obliged us by providing pretty buildings, That Door That Reminds Us of Narnia, and the best Chinese food not very much money can buy. It’s a strange thing, being back in the city that made the adult version of you, ten years after you first arrived and with a husband and two children. I feel like I’ve seen a thousand new landscapes since then, but I don’t love this one any less.

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Still with me? Good, because here’s Henry in a blitz helmet. Coventry Transport Museum made the boys’ eyes stand out on stalks. I suppose we have a lot of that to come.

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Oh, and Teds took a bath in a sink. He is growing actual cheeks, you guys. Proper cheeks, and way ahead of schedule. I am beside myself.

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What’s that, another rendition of Flying Without Wings? I’m so glad you asked.

Miss you, Mama!

The old stones are the best

I fell in love with this city, once upon a time.

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Does everyone feel like their university years made them, in a way? Mine made me. And I slogged and read and thought and wrote so much I grew an extra head on one of my fingers, which wasn’t always pleasant, but still. These buildings are in my bones. Almost literally, because I spent so much time in the libraries I nearly fused myself to one of the desks.

It was a really beautiful place to grow into yourself. Leaving aside the extra head. I was so, so lucky.

We were here today to talk about mortgages, which is adult and depressing. But then we drove into the centre of town to eat lunch, run errands and visit at least three toilets (hey thanks, little foetus), and I got to love these streets again and be one of those irritating midweek tourists I hated with a passion when I lived here.

Also, Chinese food. Also, a giant Ben’s Cookie from the Covered Market. Also, Timothy is now off work for the next week and a half, and for at least some of that time we’ll be in PARIS. PARIS, BABY.

Adulthood isn’t all that bad.

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Alma mater.

Alma mater. It’s not shrunk; I’ve grown (I mean, outwards).

Want a perfect Oxford day? Here’s mine:

Hit the Ashmolean Museum or the Pitt Rivers (shrunken heads!) early-ish before the crowds.

Tour a college – Magdalen’s a beautiful one; Christ Church is the most famous (Harry Potter alert!); or you could go to Jesus for me – or the Bodleian Library if you’re a bibliophile. 

Eat gourmet bangers and mash for lunch at The Big Bang, or try The Turf for a classic pub atmosphere.

Go to G&D’s ice cream parlour for dessert. Get the chocolate sauce. Always. 

Work off your food with some punting down the Cherwell past the Botanic Gardens. Try not to end up in a hedge. If you can make friends with a student, so much the better – most colleges own their own punts, and students use them for free.

If the weather’s not river-friendly, go up St Mary’s Tower instead for the view of the spires, and then poke around the books in Blackwells (or the toys in Boswells, depending on your preference).

Try a cream tea in the late afternoon: the High Street is full of little cafes. The Grand is the one people rave about. 

If you’re here in the evening, a concert at the Sheldonian Theatre, or whatever’s at the Oxford Playhouse, will make you feel beautifully lah-di-dah. 

Any Oxford favourites of your own? Tell me!

A good day for good company

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It’s true, it’s true: days that start with sunshine can take you just about anywhere.

Today we woke up and the skies were clear for the first time in several millennia. We flung open all of the blinds and had celebratory pancakes for breakfast. Then we followed the sun all the way to Oxford, and met old friends for lunch and ice cream.

It’s been ten years since we first sat in G&D’s ice cream parlour at five to midnight, feeding late-night essay writing with chocolate sauce and easy conversation. When I miss my university days – and I do – it’s those nights and these lovely people I think of. I love catching up. The conversation comes just as easily, and the ice cream hasn’t changed much either.

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PS: Henry’s first time on a bus. HA. Every time the driver set off, he let out this ear-piercing scream of joy and got so overwhelmed he had to do something like lick the window. For which, fellow passengers, we’d like to apologise.

Soul Food

Spring has finally, decidedly sprung: the cherry blossom trees are out!

 

Every year, the first time I see them, I think of my university tutor telling us that ‘cherry blossom trees always flower when you most need them’. He was an old, tweedy gentleman with patches on his elbows, a moustache and a stammer, and saying delightful things like this was entirely characteristic of him. That year, the magnificent, gnarled tree by St Mary’s trailed its petals over the High Street while we were studying for our finals, and it helped. It’s been true every year since, too.

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