Oxford – city of a million bicycles. Yesterday, I suspect it might have been more apt to describe it as the city of a trillion raindrops. From arrival around lunchtime until mid-evening, it rained – either half-heartedly, spitting and spraying, or with full-bodied summer rain. So, I spent my first day here wrapped in a cagoule. And those things can get sweaty and uncomfortable in their own right.
However, Oxford offered a little more than doom and gloom on this first day. We had an interesting lunch at Fire & Stone, a brand of restaurant that has crept no further north than this place of dreaming spires. I had a New York (crispy bacon, mozzarella, tomato sauce, garlic & rosemary roast potatoes, caramelized onion jam, topped with sour cream and smoked paprika), while my wife had her home town pizza – a Melbourne (tomato sauce with sweet roasted butternut squash, balsamic roasted red onions, sliced brie, mozzarella topped with toasted pumpkin seeds). I suspect you can see Fire & Stone don’t deal in ‘ordinary’ pizzas – and the site has a link to their menu – so, we found some small amusement in a couple, somewhat older than ourselves, who came in. The wife reviewed the delicious options on the menu and after due consideration ordered a Margherita. How delightfully adventurous!
After eating, we trundled off to our accommodations at one of the colleges, before scuttling through the rain to the Pitt Rivers museum. I suspect, having visited twice, you need a day or two to really absorb this place. We managed to walk around the top floor at the back of the museum – and even spending a couple of hours doing that felt rushed. The museum had the top floor closed off for renovations last time we visited, in 2009, so we went straight there to find out what we’d been missing (Swords, Shields and Samurai, as it happens). Some very impressive displays of weaponry of all kinds, many raising an involuntary wince when you read the description of how they might be used to main or kill an opponent. I especially appreciated the ornate cudgels – the prospect of enjoying the handiwork of the craftsman while being beaten to death.
Still raining, we headed off to The Eagle and Child, which has some good guest beers/ales and a very filling menu of rustic fare. The place seemed packed with Americans and Spanish – as does the rest of Oxford, with a few Germans and Japanese thrown in for good measure. I began to wonder whether when the students leave, do the tourists come in and fill the void for a few months? The Americans seemed oddest, as they apparently expected courtesy without giving any. Someone trying to get past with a pram asked politely three times ‘excuse me?’ to an American woman who had her back turned, and when he finally started shifting furniture she became aware enough to move other people out of the way with reprimanding looks. A moment later, some squeezed past her and when they’d gone, she gave the most disapproving stare to a rotund man I assumed was her husband.
We had a sausage platter followed by Eton Mess – and I had a restrained string of half-pint samplers. All very pleasant in nice surroundings. I took the occasional dip into a book I picked up from Oxfam (around the corner), just to really turn it into a cultural and literary experience.
And then bed. I’m sorry – we were tired. 9PM or not – we couldn’t keep our eyes open any longer and lapsed into sleep.