Being in Oxford

I said to several people in Cambridge that I wasn’t really escaping, since I was only going to Oxford. This was both true and not true. The two places are 81 miles apart, I was told yesterday by a medievalist who’d worked this out while planning to walk between them overnight; yet it is really quite awkward to travel between them without a car, so they are cut off slightly from each other.

There are lots of other differences I’m noticing, some of which have no business on a public blog and some of which just aren’t very interesting unless you live here. One of the ways in which the two universities are the same is that it is very hard sometimes to get the people you need to cooperate in contact with each other. It is as if by arriving here I have formed a new medieval-style body corporate of which I am the head, but of which the left and right hands firmly and correctly believe that they are nothing to do with each other. In this institutional gap has fallen much of the online access I expected immediately to have, which is why entries have been thin and few just lately. This is now almost fixed, I have set my first round of essays, met most of the people I need to work with, braved the Senior Common Room (and been welcomed very warmly there), probably even made new friends though it’s hard to tell as yet, and unpacked almost all the books. I am still not online from home, but in other respects the new situation is lovely and I am feeling extremely lucky and over-privileged. (Going to tea in All Soul’s has however shown me that there is much higher one could climb in terms of privilege. When did you last see both India and China tea served together, with bread-and-butter and cake? Even I don’t do this.1) I have to write quite a lot in the next little while, however, so I don’t know what content I shall have for here. I have plenty of old charter stories to draw on at least, and they may be a good excuse to try and work out using the Bodleian, which otherwise I will likely find ways to avoid, so I shall try one of them next. For the moment, however, here are some Bullets of Being in Oxford.

  • I have had to relearn Macs since that’s what was immediately available for me as an office computer. It’s a MacBook, and I cannot find a key on it that will type a hash. How can I do my footnotes, dammit?
  • There are as many bikes here as in Cambridge but in Oxford they are much more endangered by the traffic, and outside the immediate town centre the roads are a patchwork of repairs and potholes, very dangerous to cycle on.
  • On the other hand, the buses are so good that it’s tempting to leave the bike at home. In Cambridge, the buses are a ridiculous and useless waste of public and private money condemned to inefficacy from the start by the tiny city’s tiny roads, on almost all of which in the centre two buses cannot pass. Oxford’s buses are about half as expensive as Cambridge’s, four times as fast as Cambridge’s, twice as frequent as Cambridge’s and just actually work. I have never lived somewhere where the bus was actually a viable way of getting round, and now I do. It’s weird.
  • I used to complain bitterly also of Cambridge’s shops, piled high with expensive stuff no-one wanted; Oxford’s shops are however frequently mostly bare of shelves. The usual shops are hard to find. The phone book lists a number of supermarkets that are simply not physically there. Leaf tea is weirdly hard to buy here, especially if you eschew Twining’s, as anyone who prefers flavour to oil should.2 I did today find the city centre Sainsbury’s but it really wasn’t easy. I am probably missing something important here but it is using a lot of my time trying to find it.
  • The History faculty here is much larger than the Cambridge one, but because Cambridge has the Department of Anglo-Saxon Norse and Celtic, there are actually fewer Anglo-Saxonists noticeable in Oxford. It must be said that Cambridge ASNCs are notoriously social so they may just show up disproportionately anyway.
  • Seminars! There are loads! I will never manage to report on them all, and given that those presenting here will be close colleagues for some years it may be wiser of me not to…
  • Two people already have recognised me from the blog, and one said that he’d seen me cycling and thought, “Aha, he’s arrived then” and then remembered he actually didn’t know me at all. Apparently I am still an Internet celebrity, and it’s still weird, but I’d never before thought that it might also be weird for other people to see me wandering the streets, swearing under my breath like a street crazy, in fruitless search of Kenyan Broken Orange Pekoe. (None of this is a joke, sadly.)
  • The number of people who have freely offered help is far too many to count and I owe them all thanks, though a special mention to one on the outside, Elina Screen, for various documents and advices, is definitely deserved; thankyou Elina, should you ever read this.
  • Again, this may be the change of job, but, my good and propitious deity-of-your-choice, there is SO MUCH FREE FOOD available to me. Enough to make me feel quite guilty in fact (though also, you know, full).
  • I worked out, in an SMS exchange with T’anta Wawa, that one of the reasons I am feeling guilty about this post, apart from that lots of others didn’t get it of course, is that as well as teaching I am now also being paid to research. My income has been supposed to allow me to research for, I think, two years of my 13-year postgraduate career. For the last five years I’ve had a nine-to-five job that my research had to fit round. Being able to read on work time, which is more or less whenever I set it, is freaky.
  • That said, also writing. By the time you read this, I will since I arrived here have submitted a final version of one paper and started writing another. At one of the inductions I’ve been to someone said that they were keenly aware that there were several really important new books they should have read but haven’t because they weren’t quite relevant to their current papers. I’ve been working in that frame for years and it had not yet struck me that I might have the opportunity to abandon it; and already it seems I probably haven’t, at least until Christmas. A good Spanish friend of mine observed to me apropos an editor we were both arguing with, “never believe an Englishman when he tells you something will be finished by Christmas”. This may well invalidate the previous hope. However, it may be a good sign that so far, at least, even an it be dysfunctional, I am more busy with research than with teaching.
  • The book is now down to the absolute final stages but still doesn’t yet exist; I now await proofs of the index…
  • Lastly, some links of relevance:

  • Obviously the place is full of students, but so far there is one particular one I have not come across. Probably best not to be teaching other blogger’s sons anyway, right?
  • Secondly, in Cambridge, at least around where I worked, there was an awful lot of interest in Vikings. In Oxford, however, we kill Vikings! So there.

1. Mind you, I looked in the silver teapots and was rather surprised to find they were using teabags. Oxford college’s secret shame revealed!

2. Which would explain the situation at All Soul’s, I suppose.

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42 responses to “Being in Oxford

  1. Option-3, I believe. On US keyboards, Shift-3 is and Option-3 is £; on UK keyboards, it’s reversed.

  2. Edit: that was supposed to be “On US keyboards, Shift-3 is # and Option-3 is £; on UK keyboards, it’s reversed.”

  3. #! Ha ha! Alt-3, in fact, but it’s All Good. Thankyou.

  4. Glad that worked. Option occupies the Alt space (with a little “alt” annotation in small print) on the US keyboard.

  5. I usually set Macs to use the US keyboard layout, making # be shift-3, as I use # much more than £.

  6. Glad you’re settling in. And I am now reminded that I owe something to Elina and a letter to Steve Robbie! Also — do not feel guilty for getting the sort of position we are trained for and supposed to have! A junior acquaintance of ours in Cambridge gave me a hard time for the same sort of thing, so I shall do the same for you :-)

  7. highlyeccentric

    In this institutional gap has fallen much of the online access I expected immediately to have

    … you know, I find it incredibly reassuring that institutional disorganisation is the same the world over. Or perhaps USyd cultivate it deliberately in order to keep up the Oxbridge air…

    Kenyan Orange Pekoe, hmm? Did you find it?

    • The highly fragmented nature of Oxford means that this sort of disorganisation can happen even when people are extremely competent, which is obviously good!

      And no, I didn’t, though I got some Kenya CTC to hold teh fort, but I do now know where to look.

      • highlyeccentric

        Mmm, tea. I have set up camp in the postgrad lab today (a place I normally avoid because I haven’t yet done the paperwork-wrangling necessary to get computer access), and am reuinited with my stash of vanilla-infused white tea. Nothing like good tea to fortify oneself against marking… :) Good luck in your continuing quest for tea!

        • Cor, white tea is going some even for me. I think you will possibly need to bring some bags with you to Leeds at this rate!

          • highlyeccentric

            *tilts head* Idiom translation, please? What does “going some” mean?

            • Argh, sorry, translate fail. Roughly, “quite extreme”. But the tea at Leeds is famously awful, I’m afraid.

              • highlyeccentric

                EXTREME TEA, that’s me.

                No, really, my logic is: I normally drink tea with sugar and milk; but I’m not in the postgrad dungeon often enough to warrant keeping sugar and milk there. Ergo, I require tea which I can drink without either. Enter white tea!

                Isn’t all conference tea, ever, awful? I shall try to remember to purchase do my bringing-a-stash-of-tea-in-a-box trick :)

                • highlyeccentric

                  … I shall also try to remember to use my leet grammatical skillz in future. Sentences, I structure them good.

                • There is still, I presume, a stash of Russian Caravan in the Department of Coins & Medals of the Fitzwilliam for exactly the former reason.

                  At Leeds, I admit, I usually manage on coffee for the day. The Tetley teabags they provide for the rooms (TAKE NOTE KALAMAZOO) are enough to get me out into the daylight, at least.

                  • highlyeccentric

                    As I recall, our foray into Teltey teabags in this household was… not pleasant. *crinkles nose* I shall come armed with tea!

                    (Also, I can’t see the words I’m typing here. They could be utter gobbledeygook.)

                    • It is very strange, because although the Yorkshire tea company is nothing to do with the Yorkshire beer company of the same name, both their standard products taste faintly of mushrooms. Something in the water maybe.

                  • highlyeccentric

                    Mushrooms. Ew. … In other news, I can no longer see the reply button. I declare wordpress to have FAILED at embedded comments.

                    • There may be other blog themes that handle them better, but I like this one still. I am however answering this through the Track my Comments page, not the actual blog…

                  • highlyeccentric

                    Oh, yes, replying to comments made on one’s *own* blog is easy enough. I haven’t yet found a way to send replies to someone else’s comments page without opening it, though.

                    But I’m spoilt – WP has far superior stat-crunching abilities, but LJ/DW take the cake for comment threading and reading pages. Interestingly, the DW test pages for the soon-t-be-released posting page picked up a few features from the WordPress post page. The day DW come up with stat monitoring features, I’m dragging my blog over there…

    • There is recently published great comfort for those of us with institutional efficiency fail, by the way: see here.

    • I have subsequently been told that currently no-one has any Kenya BOP. This is apparently because some local trade lord in Kenya, foreseeing unspecified trouble, has bought up the whole year’s crop and is selling it only at crazy prices. I’ve no idea how to substantiate this but if it’s true it’s a sufficiently awesome reason not to have any that I may cease to grumble.

  8. Oh, also? I am envious that you have a teaching-research load that assumes you’ll be doing research. My load is one that still assumes I’ll squeeze it in …

    • I think that a lot of people have assumed I’m doing more teaching than initially I am. I bet this doesn’t continue long… Does sound as if you have more than your fair share right now though!

  9. I’m a coffee person; but have you tried the Whittard’s in the Westgate centre (same place as the Sainsbury’s you’ve apparently discovered…)?

    • I found that, and it would do by default, but there is also a stall in the market which is unlikely to be as expensive. I shall check. Thankyou!

    • found whittard,s near sainsburys,and they sell a wide range of specialty teas,thanks ever so much.

      • They do indeed, but I would imagine the market stall will sell them at half the price. I shall report back later!

        • The answer is: Cardew’s in the covered market are a bit cheaper than Whittard’s, have a wider range of the real stuff (as opposed to coffee syrup etc.) and know their terms. Still more expensive than the equivalent in Cambridge and indeed the supermarkets, but it’s my problem solved.

          • Good news!
            Speaking of markets, is there perhaps a relevant stall at the Gloucester Green market too? Wednesdays I think – or might be Thursdays… M’ aging brain fails me…

            • The open one? There may be. Having had a look at that earlier in the year, I am kind of operating on the assumption that everything there is priced for tourists. But it is worth a look,

  10. Wait, Cambridge has busses? That’s how useless they must be — I didn’t even know they existed!

    • If I remember rightly when you were there, they have actually improved a lot since then, not least in as much as they’ve put a new route in that actually goes near your alma mater. That said, I never lived anywhere in Cambridge where I couldn’t walk to the station faster than a bus would get me there at least one time out of three.

  11. “Mind you, I looked in the silver teapots and was rather surprised to find they were using teabags. Oxford college’s secret shame revealed!”

    They tend to spare some coins at least. I`m sure the magnificent teapots covers the shame:)

  12. Afternoon tea is one of life’s greatest luxuries, not so much in the raw materials, but in having the time to indulge in the first place. For that reason, although I am glad that All Souls preserves the institution, leaf tea should always be preferred to the abomination that is tea bags (though I confess to being seduced by their convenient charms on occasion).

    I’m fairly sure I have bought decent leaf tea in the covered market, though I may be getting confused with Salisbury. I am also in awe of your ability to keep blogging so close to the start of term…

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