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…
- 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.
Lastly, some links of relevance:
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.