Wasn’t really feeling the tourist vibe today and would have happily taken a day off but when there is so much to see, I always feel really slack if I take a ‘sea day’ when I’m travelling. So it was about 0900 when I got motivated to see when I could jump on a bus to go to Oxford for the day. Checked the timetable, X60 bus was at 0917. Right, up and at ‘em – I can make that. Quickly dressed, grabbed sunscreen, hat etc and went to the bus stop which is about 1 min from Stephola’s front door. How unexpected? The bus was late… but anyway, got on the bus and admired the landscape and scowled at the unmasked, all the way to Buckingham Tesco where I had to change to the X5 to Oxford.
At the interchange, things didn’t improve, the bus which should have been 4 mins, failed to materialised and the following one which was 23 mins behind it was running late. So I stood around for a good 39 mins. Yay. Onto bus two… and now feeling like I needed lube: £21.40 for the round trip. Ultimately ended up in Oxford; what should have been a 1hr 20min trip was closer to 2 hours, but c’est la vie – what can you do?
Decided to wander around to the Bodleian Library via the Covered Markets (much of which was closed, because Monday!), to have a look about only to find that you can no longer go into the library without a tour guide. Hmmm… things have changed. And again, being a Monday, tours were limited and therefore all sold out for the day.
Oh well – I wasn’t too disappointed as I have been here before and I still got to admire the beautiful architecture which is so unlike anything we have back home. The Radcliffe Camera is also closed to everyone except Readers, unless you’ve booked on a special tour that takes you in when the library isn’t in use. This is certainly sounding like tourists had become too disruptive over the years and they’re desperately trying to keep the libraries useful for the students. Unsurprising really… before the pandemic, *I* was finding the sheer bulk of rude, ignorant and noisy tourists fucking annoying (and I am one!), so I can’t imagine what it must be trying to maintain a quiet contemplative library environment when truckloads of selfie-taking tourist are flocking through the book stacks.
Right next door is the University Church of St Mary the Virgin, which is one of the oldest working churches with a place on worship having been on that site since the 11thC and parts of the existing church build in the 13thC. Absolutely stunning… though there was a rather weird exhibit inside which I am still uncertain as to its purpose. There was an enormous balloon/orb with a projection of the earth on it, and audio track which appeared to be of early astronauts talking to each other – it seemed rather out of place being in the old church, and I had no idea what they were selling/promoting, but felt obligated to take photos of Australia when it spun towards me! *shrug*. She says she doesn’t know!
On the way out I realised I hadn’t had breakfast and that it being now midday, I should probably stop and have something to eat and more importantly drink. I saw the Vaults and Garden Cafe (which is no doubt why entry to the church is free) and saw a lady having a scone and a cuppa in the garden and thought that looked terribly civilised and followed her lead. Popped in ordered a pot of tea and a plain scone, complete with homemade strawberry jam and clotted cream and found a table outside, which turned out to be in the middle of an medieval cemetery, and promptly remembered why I hadn’t had a clotted cream tea since I was St Ives with BigSal and BluddyMary in 1995… it’s soooo bloody sweet! Tea was lovely though, and I did manage about half my scone.
After breaking my fast thusly, I decided to head to the Oxford Natural History Museum to see the dodo, which I do not recall doing last time I was here. Now, back in proper tourist mode, I googled to check they were open on a Monday and happily found they were. Not only are they open, but entrance is free. The building itself is spectacular and the first things that greet you on entrance are enormous dinosaur skeletons, one of which is an enthralling T-Rex skeleton that just dominates the enormous space even in such a huge building, along with other massive whalebone on display and huge elephants skeletons etc. I wandered around for quite a while up and down the various levels looking at all sorts of interesting object and thinking ‘where is this famous dodo?’ Only to look it up and find out that it’s right beside the T-Rex! If I had been a normal tourist and turned my back on the T-Rex for a selfie, I probably would have seen it immediately but instead I was just so taken by the enormous skeleton, I walked right past the modestly proportioned dodo. 😛
There were many other animal specimens in here, all stuffed to the gills with sand, but of course the only other one that captured my attention and gave me a good giggle, is this stuffed platypus. It is the second late 19thC taxidermied platypus that I’ve seen and you can tell quite readily it’s been prepared by someone who has NEVER seen a live platypus… the last one I saw which BigSal and I have been laughing about for years was at Blair Castle in Scotland – he was so stuffed he looked like a blowfish and his little feet didn’t even touch the ground. God bless those weird little 19thC aristocratic gentleman naturalists, and their cotton socks!
Right behind the Natural History Museum is the Pitt Rivers Collection which is a crazy arse collection of STUFF from all over the world that belonged to some altogether too-monied and too-bored aristocrat named August Pitt Rivers. He had some 20,000 weird anthropological and archeological objects that he had collected over his lifetime and he bequeathed them to the museum on the proviso that they appoint a Head lecturer in Anthropology. This collection is full of weird and interesting stuff – but the arrangement by ‘Object Type’ did my head in. The cabinets are named ‘Body Forms in art’ or ‘Tribal Face Masks’ or ‘Pottery Objects’ or ‘Bows and Arrows’ or ‘Opium Pipes and Equipment’ and you’ll look in the cabinet and for example see ‘Tribal Face masks’ from twenty different cultures across several hundred years! So if you’re interested in say, Anglo Saxon objects you might see one object here, another two over there, and maybe three more somewhere else. It’s really quite disconcerting when most of us are more accustomed to going through a museum that will have objects sorted by period and culture, eg: ‘Japanese Edo Period Gallery’, an ‘Aegean Artefacts Gallery’ or ‘Ancient Egyptian Gallery’. So much so, that I found it thoroughly impossible to take in. It was overwhelming given there are now some 500,000 objects on display from Inuit totem poles to bark textiles to flensing knives! It kinda broke my little brain and I knew I’d need about five weeks to comb through to make sense of it so gave it a unfortunately cursory once over knowing I couldn’t take it all in.
The Pitt Rivers Museum is also very famous for having a ‘shrunken heads’ collection which they very respectfully no longer have on display. They also have som information placards about which make it clear they are working with many different stakeholders regarding repatriation and/or sensitive display of tribal objects that were just rampantly taken from various places and cultures around the world over the last several hundred years. I hope it’s not just lip-service and that they are doing serious consultation.
After the weird and kinda curious mindfuck of the Pitt Rivers, I made my way over the the Ashmolean Museum, which I left for the late afternoon because I knew once I got in there I wouldn’t want to leave. This place is a wonderful museum full of all those beautiful things the British are famous for pilfering since pampered rich men first needed something to fill their under-employed days with. Egyptian sarcophagi,
Albarello (drug jar/s) lustred, Italian, c.1450-1500
Testa di cazzi, Francesco Urbini, Casteldurante, c.1536, Maiolica plate.Lustred dish with Cupid Workshop of Maestro Giorgio Gubbio c.1525-1535
14. Frankish Bottle, wheel-throne ceramic c.500-650. Marchelepot, France.
15. Biconical jar, hand-thrown, Frankish or Anglo Saxon, c.450-600. Waben France.
16. Cup, hand thrown ceramic. c.500-700 ceramic form of German palm cup.
17. Bell beaker, glass c.500-700. Palmero Sicily.
18. Globular jar, wheel-thrown ceramic, Late Gallo-Roman c,450-550. Waben France.
19. Globular jar, wheel-thrown ceramic, c.500-650. Beuvais, France.
20. Squat jar glass, c.450-600. Amiens, France.
21. Biconical jar, wheel-thrown ceramic, c.450-600. Cologne, Germany.
22. Cylindrical beaker, glass, c.500-600. Andernach, Germany.
23. Carinated jar, wheel-thrown ceramic, c450-600. Cologne, Germany.Brooches from Andernach Germany
73. Disc brooch, c.500-600, copper alloy, silver and garnet
74-77 Two pairs of radiate headed brooches, silver gilt
78. Disc brooch, silver and gemstones c.600-700. Rhine Valley, Germany.
79. Appliqué (?) gold and gemstones. Rhine Valley, Germany.
40-42 and 44. Gotland Sweden, c.400-700
40. Open work disc brooch, copper alloy.
41. Disc on bow, gilt copper Lloyd and garnet.
42. Disc brooch, copper alloy.
44. Annular brooch, copper alloy.
34. Radiate-headed brooch, silver gilt and garnet, c.500-600. Italy
35-36. Radiate-headed brooches (park) silver gilt, c.500-550. Thennes, France.
37. Buckle, silver gilt and garnet, c.500-600. Belluno, Italy.
38. Buckle, copper alloy, c550-600. Kerch, Ukraine.
Huntsman Salt – gilt, and painted silver, and rock crystal, c.1400-1450, unprovenanced.
One of the most important survivals of medieval plate in England. It belonged to Henry Chichele, Archbishop of Canterbury, who founded All Souls College, Oxford. In 1438, it may have been a gift to Chichele, who led a number of diplomatic missions to Rome (between 1406 and 1420). Equally plausible that it may have been made in London by a continental goldsmith.
12th C Ivory Mirror case
Rune stone, granite. 1100-1150 Andersta, Uppland, Sweden.
The runic inscription states that ‘Lidsmod had this stone carved in memory of Julbjorn (his) father’. The stone was presented to the Ashmolean from the Swedish King, King Karl XI in 1687.
Assyrian protective spirit front he Northwest Place, Nimrud, (modern northern Iraq).
c.875-860 BC. This supernatural spirit with a human body and the head and wings of an eagle is carved in relief on a huge slab of gypsum (approx 8’ tall). He was one of a pair of spirits that guarded a doorway into the royal throne room at Ninrud, capital of Assyria providing magical protection against evil and welcoming in good. The cone and bucket he carries were symbols of fertility and purification. Across the middle of the slab is a cuneiform (wedge-shaped) inscription naming King Ashurnasirpal II (c883-859 BC) and recounting his achievements. (Detail below)
I lost myself in the Ashmolean in the most delightful way possible, and next thing I knew I realised I had better try and navigate the buses (oh the sense of impending horror!) back to Whitchurch before my phone battery was completely dead – for without the aid of Google Maps I feared I would end up in Stratford or somewhere… not a bad outcome, but not the desired outcome (for today anyway).
On my way back to the bus stop I realised I had spent barely £15 going to the Natural History, Pitt Rivers and Ashmolean museums as they have free entry but they do provide a ‘tap and wave’ £5 Donation pay point, which I happily waved my credit card at in each location. It’s clever, hardly anyone is carrying cash since Covid and the perspex donation boxes looked mostly empty. I hope most visitors do drop them a Fiver so they don’t have to start implementing structured entrance fees for upkeep.
Completely OT: I’ve noticed that many of the red phone boxes around the place now have defibrillators in them and a ‘Call 999 to get access’ sign on them, which seems like a great use for these iconic phone boxes seeing no one uses public phones anymore…
Right! Back on the buses and I managed to find the correct X5 bus that was heading to the exciting transfer point of the Buckingham Tesco Bus Stop B. Again with the lack of masks on the bus, even though every ticket has a request for patrons to wear one,, *rolls eyes*. And found myself being ferried along with a driver who was driving like he fucking stole it! I swear this guy was doing close 120kph on these windy two lane country highways. I was constantly bracing myself for when he was braking for the huge roundabouts that break up these routes. Mad bastard… and so stress inducing. There are no seats near the driver except the one priority seat and I had no idea where my stop was or what it would look like as we got near to press the bell – and there was now way I could steady myself (I’m still only six weeks post carpal tunnel surgery) enough to walk up a speeding bus that felt like it was hurtling through the countryside, trying to break the fucking sound barrier! Eventually I asked some lovelies on the bus if knew when the the Tesco was coming up and one of them hit the bell for me immediately or I would have missed it!. So much fun. Then the wait for the connection… there is a handy sign that counted down the minutes until the X60 turned up, and I was watching it counting down from 12 to 4 mins and then just stay on 4 mins for a while. Eventually a man who was also waiting for the X60 got up and ran off down behind the bus stop. I thought, ‘maybe he’s got an alternative route home’? Nope. Guy had run off to a nearby bottlo to grab a couple of tallies and then settled himself back in for the wait. He said one day last week he waited nearly two hours for buses that just never came. 😐 and I thought BCC buses were bad.
After about 40 mins of waiting for a bus that was 4 mins, 4 mins, 4 mins away… Stephola called and said she was in the car from the train and she decided to meet me in Buckingham for dinner. So it was with glee that I abandoned the bus stop and found a bar serving cold ciders. It was ridiculously hilarious but only because Steph magically provided an out! Dinner was had in a strange chain steakhouse (whose namesake BBQ sauce had weird hints of curry flavour!) and then back to Whitchurch where we had a few civilised G&Ts. I am ‘Le tired’… and likely tomorrow I won’t feel so compelled to ‘make the most’ of the day!