What is it about transit days?

Invariably, transit days are always a horror show. Angus and I were both flying out today – Angus back to Aust and me heading back to the UK, so we packed ourselves up early, went for a quiet breakfast where we ran into the fabulous Holly who was so absolutely exhausted but had dragged herself out of bed in the hope of running into us. <3

Took an Uber (got a cab, again) to the airport which was uneventful (so long as we ignore that this driver also got up to well over 130 kmph), and then walked into what can only be described as one of the most chaotic airports I’ve ever seen… rivalled only by our arrival in Moscow perhaps at Sheremetyevo Airport in 2018. At least there were some masks in the BA queue.

Anyway… turns out all the One World Airlines were in one section and Angus’ Qatar flight, leaving 30 mins before mine, was happily in the check-in counters right near my British Airways one. The websites for both airlines said that check-in would be available from 3 hours before scheduled departures, so we joined our respective queues. I was about 7th in line to get checked and the check-in was supposed to start in about 5 mins. Angus was about 40 deep in his queue but it was already moving as he joined towards the back. I stood there (*right about now, I can’t remember whether I have mentioned just how much my pain levels were ramped up atm… I literally can not stand for more than about 3 minutes before I find myself shifting from foot to foot, pain shooting from my feet to my hips, my knees feeling like they’re going to collapse out from under me and of course I’m inevitably failing to breathe because pain does that to you), with the understanding our queue would open shortly and I would get checked-in relatively quickly – only problem with my cunning plan was that the British Airways staff didn’t seem to have read the, ‘three hours before scheduled departure’ memo and about 25 mins of standing later, I was starting to feel really fucking desperate. I could see Angus moving up in his queue while mine hadn’t moved. He texted that he’d get his stuff checked in and then come and stand in my queue for me, but I was like ‘holy fuck I better not still be standing by the time he’s checked-in’. But, you know, transit days being nightmarish at the best of times, of course I was still waiting when he got through his queue! He took my space while I limped off to the side looking desperately for somewhere to sit. I was on the side long enough to strike up a conversation with a nice Canadian man on his way to Baghdad who was calmly reading and thinking his Royal Jordanian flight wasn’t open for check-in yet but as soon as I pointed out the queue behind us, he ran off and no doubt discovered he was now running late.

Finally! BA check-in opened at 2hrs 20mins before the scheduled departure (fuckers!), and it was at this point that the generic BA monitors above the check-in counters switched to say “London Heathrow – Checked In Online” and “Business and Priority Customers” queues… and wouldn’t you know it? For some bizarre reason, the One World Sapphire, Emerald and Ruby were showing up as being able to use the Priority Lane and I needn’t have stood in line at all. 🙁 Bees dick from tears and collapse at this point. As predicted though, barely five minutes after the check-in opened, Angus was up the front on the queue and I limped over with my passport.

Got checked in and the woman behind the counter asked me if I was okay (What gave me away… the hunched over pained posture? Or the flushed face with tears forming in the corner of my wincing eyes?). I replied that I needed to rest and now I had two hours before my flight so I’d be fine – which is when she mentioned the stairs. My flight was leaving from a ‘remote terminal’ which is a euphemism for taking a bus to the middle of the tarmac and climbing a steep flight of steps to get on the plane. Oh FFS. I had to say ‘No. I can’t do steps today.’ :/ So she insisted I get an airport assistance person to lead us through to the gate.

I took up my seat again and we waited for the assistance person – policy is they won’t just give us a chair and let Angus push me through screening etc, I had to wait for them to have a staff member spare… and nothing about Athens Airport was screaming ‘competence’ or ‘well-staffed’ on this day. There was another young woman waiting for assistance also – she wasn’t in pain, but had her foot in plaster and was hobbling on crutches so they were making her wait for help too due to the stairs. Eventually… like about 45 mins of sitting around… someone turned up with two chairs and attempted to push us BOTH at the same time through customs and security. It was shambolic – he kept running us into people and nearly into walls while Angus was trotting on beside us and could have easily guided one of us. :/ Some policies are just stupid.

To their credit, we found ourselves through security and customs in very quick time, Angus’ gate was off in another direction and I barely got to say a quick goodbye and squeeze his hand before I was being propelled towards my gate where I was unceremonious left 50 mins before my flight… which left one hour late. 😐

It was during this time where I was left twiddling my thumbs that I received a handful of WhapsApp messages that basically told me my driver that I had booked to take me to Aylesbury was ditching the job… oh dear, it’s almost like he had belatedly discovered the planned rail strike (the same one I had a heads up on some two weeks earlier) and decided to ditch my booking in favour or screwing some desperate traveller who suddenly found themselves without options to get home! What the fuck, man? I made the booking days ago, it was fully paid for and now the driver is trying to say I gave them a different postcode? Seriously? The postcode I gave them in Aylesbury is the ONLY damn postcode in the entire UK that I know! So I’m pretty sure I didn’t give them one only 18 miles away and not the 44 miles I needed to travel. So didn’t need this aggravation.

Got onto damage control real quick and made alternative arrangements with Stephola and figured I’d fight it out with the transfer company fora refund later. The motherfucking dodgy personal transport industry strikes again! Le sigh. Eventually got on the plane and, as I said before, our flight left one hour late – most of which we spent sitting in our seats waiting to get a new space in the queue to leave… air travel is definitely not what it was pre-pandemic. So much rolling of eyes, and even more ‘hurry up and wait’ than ever.

My flight was thankfully just how you like them – uneventful. British Airways has slunk the way of Jetstar and other budget airlines though… not even a cup of tea without whipping out your credit card if you happen to be seated in economy; which is kinda sad. They used to be a pretty reliably good airline.

Arrived in Heathrow, and unsurprisingly, no one was there to assist me as I was promised on the other end so I limped my wait through border control, baggage collection, out eventually out through a two minute stop in the duty free to fix my driver up with two bottles of interesting gins (It was the least I could do on such short notice)… out and straight away I received a message from Stephola saying she had just parked. Thankfully my luggage made it, and thank God for Steph – there’s not many I happily pick up at the airport, but Steph will always have a lift from me forever. <3

A quick hug, and out of the city we head to the comfort of the village… ever such a long and painful day. Further reinforcing why, 1) we do NOT sightsee or go touristing on transit days and 2) we always, (always!), travel with our drugs on our person not in our checked luggage!

Life in the Fast Train

I’m awake bright and early this morning to pack my suitcase and get my shit sorted because we are heading to Lyon!  We’ve got to take a train from Leighton Buzzard to London, then a cab from Euston Station to St Pancras, then the Eurostar from there to Lille in France then change to the TGV to Lyon… so we are setting off from ‘the Buzz’ (I’m almost local now so I get to call it that 😉 ) at 0900 and fingers crossed – we should arrive in Lyon at 1900.

Right… let’s skin this cat!

I’m back.  Strangely we will have a bit of time today sitting around on trains and naturally glued to our phones. Got to the train station, and this is totally not connected to anything at all, but there is a cool sprung section of pavement at the Buzz that generates electricity when you walk on it… it’s beta test of some sort to see whether or not larger areas of spung walkways could generate power.  Very cool, I wonder if it’ll become a thing.

However, I digress.  The first segment of our transit went ok… train from the Buzz to London was fine. Met a nice cabbie this time who didn’t make a song and dance or try to rip us off over a short fare from Euston to St Pancras and so for his trouble I gave him £12 for the £8 fare… Take note, Sydney cabbies – it pays not to be a prick!

Once at St Pancras we found we had to wait around until the passengers from previous Eurostar trains had been cleared away before we could be checked though. There was scant little seating but we managed to find somewhere to wait about half hour. The rope lines they have set up are worse than bloody Disneyland and everyone not happy about being directed around like cattle. Anyway, eventually we went in, got scanned out of the UK, went though security and then in through French customs. Was reasonably painless but then we were herded into a large departure lounge with about half as much seating as was required. People were sitting around all over the floor or perched on luggage or coffee tables. But silly really. We managed to snavel a pair of seats and then time completely stopped!  It seemed to take forever for our 12:40 boarding time to roll around. No idea why… it’s a mystery.

Eventually our train was boarding and we settled ourselves onto the Eurostar premier economy seats that Stephola had chosen. Very comfy all round… chairs were good, tables were a useful size and the meal that came with our ticket was quite nice with a wee bottle of rosé to go with it.

The train is incredibly fast and amazingly quiet. Everyone was also abiding by the unwritten rules of being quiet in snooty class travel, which I have to say – I’m really getting used to. I don’t know why economy seats on planes and trains are always so noisy – people playing games and phones not on silent, people just talking too loud… it’s maddening but there’s always a sort of hushed serene atmosphere that comes with more pricey seats. Dammit.

Going through the Chunnel was cool and I honestly had no idea who quick it would be. One minute it’s gone black – the actual tunnel is about 50km long and you’re through it in about 30mins. Before you know it, you’re hurtling through the French countryside which looked beautiful as we passed fields and quaint little villages.

We arrived in Lille to change trains to the TGV much sooner than I expected (possibly because my phone hadn’t automatically changed time zones for me) and then it was a short amount of confusion regarding bathrooms (that were miles away) and platforms (which was the one we had just come up from!) before we were settled on the next train to Lyon.

Another couple of hours in a comfy carriage and next thing we knew we were pulling into Lyon. The Lyon Gare de Part Dieu is being renovated atm so it was a bit of a clusterfuck looking for a bathroom – and ffs France, really?  €1 to use the loo?  Don’t you know that’s really expensive for Antipodeans?! We’ve just paid a small fortune to take a train is it too much to ask that you maintain comfort stops for passengers?  Harumph.

Found our way out to the taxi ranks and met another lovely cabbie (man, I hope that Sydney arsehole got sacked!) who drove us to our hotel… where, oddly enough, every other guest is walking around in black with metal bands on their shirts. Yep. We’re in the right place.

Threw our stuff into our room and went down for a late dinner in the hotel’s restaurant. Discovered my French is way too rusty when we ended up with mineral water we didn’t want and two serves of fries we also didn’t want. Never mind we had a nice meal and took a spare bottle of wine to take up to the room.

Slept like a dead thing. Tomorrow – chill out day and then Rammstein!
Very excited. 🙂 

Verulamium and St Albans Cathedral

Went to visit the Verulamium Museum in St Albans today to check out some Roman mosaics and such.  St Albans is situation on top of what used to be the third largest town in Roman Britain.  Huge areas of the Romany city are not yet excavated being parklands and agricultural lands, so I imagine it’d be the sort of place you could keep coming back to and find they’ve continued to find new objects.Most of exhibits are pretty much self explanatory given all the artefacts here are from around 50AD when Verulamium was granted municipium status.Grave goods found buried with wealthy citizens. Interesting loom weights. Little model replica of a kiln:

Funerary urns and grave goods.Infant grave – apparently if a baby didn’t make it to 40 weeks, it would not receive a burial.Some extant fresco panels which have been reconstructed to show what they would have looked like.Samian pottery originated in parts of Gaul (modern France and Rhineland) and was made in vast quantities.  It was the most common fine tableware in was made in Roman Britain imported from 50AD to around 225AD.  The high glossy finish stems from minerals in the local clays where it was made. It took very particularly skilled potters to fire it to this lovely red colour.  Most of it was thrown, but the heavily decorated bowls are done by mould.   Ivy leaves were applied to some bowls using a bag and nozzle, (like icing cakes).

Pottery oil lamps – these are much smaller than ones I have seen in Italy – about the size of a bar of soap.Coppersmiths’ work:Blacksmiths’ work:This place is well worth a stop for the mosaics alone.  They’re truly stunning – I can’t imagine what else lays around the countryside buried in fields. 

After the museum I went a few miles up the road to visit St Alban’s Cathedral, which is a ‘must see’ in this area. Most of the cathedral dates from Norman times. It was dissolved as an Abbey in the 16th C and became a cathedral in 1877, and while it is technically a cathedral, it is also a Parish church unlike most other cathedrals in England. It has a dean who is the rector with the same responsibilities and authority as any other parish church.

The nave is bloody enormous being about 85m long – from the information plaques, this is the longest nave in England. 

Medieval tiles…Ceilings…Of course a cathedral isn’t a cathedral without a rose window…The shrine to St Alban – Britain’s oldest saint. On a random column close to the Shrine of St Alaban is this random remaining piece of fresco – the figurative style has the typical elongated hands and 3/4 face that was typical of people being depicted in painting and other decorative arts in the 12thC.  Posh people’s seating…

Some modern artworks honouring St Alban’s – also done in the 12th style. Fancy trunk with no information connected to it.

After wandering around St Albans I head back to Whitchurch to figure out dinner and have an early night.  Transit day tomorrow, which should be interesting.

Cute high speed landscape pic of fields near Whitchurch as the sun goes down…







West Wycombe and Hellfire Caves

During the late 1740s, after a series of failed harvest seasons, some wealthy plonker by the name of Sir Francis Dashwood (11th Baron le Despencer) commissioned an ambitious project to dig a series of caves into the mountain side to keep the local farm workers employed.  At one shilling a day (enough to support a family) these farm labourers were put to work digging deep into the chalk mountain to create what is effectively a secret playground for the rich and possibly sadistic.

The caves are near the village of West Wycombe and extend 260m underground to be directly beneath the St Lawrence’s church and the Dashwood family mausoleum, which are located high on the hill above.  Said to have been constructed to represent, ‘heaven’ with the church above and ‘hell’ with the caves directly below; the caves came by their name, “Hellfire Caves” as this is where the original Hellfire Club is said to have met and carried out many pagan rituals, orgies, bacchanalian feasts and who knows what?  There is plenty of speculation of what went on in these caves, but not a lot of solid evidence seems to have survived. The caves are well made and easy to navigate, the tunnels veer off and return to each other in such a way that you can not get lost – if you want to go deeper into the caves, you just go down the sloping pathway, if you wish to return to the surface, make sure you’re taking a path (any path) upwards. Towards the very deepest part of the cave is a man made underground river called the River Styx (of course it is), which is just outside the inner chamber where guests are said to have held their ‘parties’. The meetings were said to be notorious, pagan, full of debauchery and occult rituals where copious amounts of alcohol were consumed.The Hellfire Club is known to have been founded by Sir Francis Dashwood and unsurprisingly, included many various politically and socially important 18th-century people.  Mostly men, such as William Hogarth, John Wilkes, Thomas Potter, John Montagu (Earl of Sandwich) and while there’s nothing definitive around to say he was a member – Benjamin Franklin (yes, that one…) was a close friend of Sir Francis Dashwood and was known to have visited the caves several times. His letters and connection to the group and Lord Dashwood figure quite prominently on the information plaques throughout.

The men at these gatherings referred to themselves as ‘monks’ and they did have female guests who were said to have dressed up as ‘nuns’ – mostly prostitutes, local girls, wives, sisters, and even some ladies of society would join them. They were rumoured to have dabbled with the occult and performed black magic, but I dare say they largely just behaved very drunkenly and lewdly away from society’s prying eyes.

The club motto was Fais ce que tu voudras (“Do what thou wilt”)… which certainly does make you fearful for the young women and clueless maids that no doubt found themselves encouraged into these tunnels with rich and powerful men  :/  There is a couple of mentions of a young local barmaid named Sukie (for Susan) who was accidentally killed in the caves when some local lads sent her a letter pretending to be from an aristocratic beau, that told her to come to the caves dressed in white (so as to be like a wedding gown). When she arrived, the local lads teased her, and she threw rocks at them, one threw a rock back that struck her head and she died from this injury. She is now said to haunt the caves dressed in white – because of course she does.

The only thing that spoiled this slightly spooky visit into the Hellfire Caves was their propensity for lacklustre mannequins placed in variously carved out niches… made the experience somewhat Madame Tussaud’s tacky rather than being eerily quiet and still and cold…  

After wandering down through the caves, I headed up the top of the hill to ‘heaven’ to see St Lawrence’s Church. Unfortunately the church was locked up and I was unable to visit inside, but the location of this church is stunning – the views across West Wycombe Village and the Park are gorgeous.

The golden ball atop the church’s tower is a familiar symbol of West Wycombe village.  It is constructed from timber and was covered in gold leaf.  Apparently you used to be able to go into it (it’s about 8 foot in diameter) and it has what must be super cosy seating for up to six people.  Sir Francis Dashwood and his friends were rumoured to have met there (probably to smoke opium and get high and close toheaven!) but the public is no longer allowed in because of vandalism.

The nearby Dashwood Mausoleum is another notable West Wycombe fixture… it’s a huge hexagonal building containing the remains of Dashwoods and people connected to them, going back for centuries.

It’s enormous and a very impressive monument that stands out quite strikingly atop the hill. After a wander around the church, the old cemetery and the mausoleum I made my way over to West Wycombe Park to see the house and the estate.  The house is only open from 2-4pm in the summer, so I was in luck and took (what was supposed to be) a little 40minute tour through the house.  There is so much to be said about this place, that I’m not even going to try… click here for more info on West Wycombe Park If you want to know who built it and how.

The TL;DR is that a wealthy spoiled tradesman’s son took the Grand Tour to polish of his education and came back enamoured with all things Italian, Roman, Ottoman and Byzantine.  He brought back some exceptional fresco artists in the form of Giuseppe Mattia Borgnis and his son who painted copies of many famous frescos from villas in Rome and Venice that the young Lord Dashwood so admired. Every ceiling and many walls in the staircases are covered in their works.

Northside of the building looks out over the grounds and the man made lake. Turns out this property has featured in Downton Abbey several times as Lady Rosamund’s London home and several other outdoor scenes. Most of the artworks were themed around Bacchus, Venus, Cupid, and other gods and myths, as was the fashion of the time.  Drunken Bacchus with his grapes and laurel coronet feature throughout the house along with the occasional bawdy or lascivious scene which is probably why several of the artworks were covered over (possibly by the straight laced Victorians who followed) and have since been restored. 

There was no photography allowed on my 40 minute tour (which turned into a 1hr 20 mins of standing way too long and being told the same thing over and over about whether the marble was genuine or a clever fabrication to look like marble – yes, we got it after the first two rooms, the fireplaces are real marble, most everything else that looks like marble, is not), and they did not have a book to purchase at the end.  So I have unapologetically borrowed some images from their website and tbh if you’re not gonna flog the tourists a book, they’re lucky these pics aren’t hot-linked!

The entrance is an impressive hall which has frescoed ceilings copied from a Roman villa somewhere.  Many of the busts were brought back from Europe whilst the young Lord Dashwood was on Tour, and some are weird copies made of long dead family members.  The columned are not real marble, but rather a timber centre with a reconstituted highly polished crushed stone method of construction.

 The Palmyra Dining Room, which if memory serves the guide, is based on a palace ‘somewhere in modern Syria’. Again the columns are not real marble, but the fireplace to the right is genuine marble.  The Rococo mirrors are some of the finest to be found…  Apparently.  The dining suite however, not so authentic, Sir Francis Dashwood (the one who died in 2000 not the one who built the house) saw it in a movie set and picked it up when they were refurbishing. The aptly named ‘Yellow Drawing Room’  Has one of the largest and oldest Axminster carpets still in use and has lovey views down over the lake.  More Rococo mirrors, and ‘What else can I tell you about this room? Oh yes, the fireplace is genuine marble but the elaborate doorway and the plinths that hold up statues of the Four Seasons are made with the same faux techniques from the Entrance Hall.’The Tapestry Room – where I nearly had a heart attack was lined with genuine 18thC Flemish tapestries that were a gift from the Earl of Westmorland.  These genuine Flemish tapestries covered in delightful pastoral scenes have been cut and hacked to fit around the doorways, windows and fireplace in a way that made my heart just sink.  With little or no regard for them, they were ruined to fit into a room that is way too tiny to hold them.  ‘Oh and what else can I tell you about this room?  The fireplace is genuine marble, but the decorative archway around the door is not.’You guessed it:  The Red Drawing Room which is beautifully appointed and has a fabulous cabinet in the corner and an amazing 17thC travelling trunk which we weren’t allowed to photograph. ‘Oh and what else can I tell you about this room? The fireplaces are marble, but the doorway and….’ Fuck it.  You get the idea.

The Music Room which was used to host parties and balls.  The frescos are full of Bacchanalian iconography and symbolism.  Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II and her sister were entertained here with a small circus as children, complete with ponies in the house… and of course the fireplaces are genuine marble but the plinths and doorways are not.

I know not everyone who comes through these sorts of places has a degree in Art History and/or Visual Arts, but I swear (minus the family history bits, with which I was not familiar) I could have given a better reading of the visual in that house completely cold and unprepared.  Never mind, I got to see some beautiful things – the guide was just too slow and repetitive for words. By the end of it, several of us were obviously over-done from being on our feet too long and unlike every other country house in the entire United Kingdom… this one does not have a tearoom or cafe. That being the case, I felt a short stroll through the gardens on the way back to the car park was in order.

“Have you ever seen a place so happily situated, sister?”

Drove back to Whitchurch – can I say how much I love the roundabouts that keep the traffic moving on the A roads?  I know lots of people driving in the UK hate them, but seeing as how I am driving on the proper (left) side of the road and we do use roundabouts in Australia, I find them easy to navigate and saves so much time on stopping constantly for lights.

Once back at Whitchurch, we spent the evening with a few quiet G&Ts, while Stephola’s Beloved chased the ‘chippie van’ (yes, that is like an ice cream truck but it dispenses fish and chips on the side of the road when it rings a bell to draw in hungry people who don’t feel like cooking)… and as entertainment for the night, we got to slowly watch as Boris Johnson tries to desperately hold onto government by a thread as 43 members of his parliament resigned citing no confidence in the wanker!

Fucking good wholesome fun all round. 🙂

Wee Bus Trip to Oxford

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.

Flight of the Vestal Virgins (tempura and gilding on panel) and detail below.
Biagio di Antonio Tucci (1446-1516)

Saint Nicholas of Bari Banishing a Storm (tempera and gilding on panel)
Gucci di Lorenzo (1373-1452)

Master of the Ashmolean Predella (c.1350-1400)
The Birth of the Virgin Mary (tempera and gilding on panel) and detail below.
The Virgin and Child (tempera and gilt on panel) and detail below.
Bernardino Pintoriccho (1452-1513)
Anon Riding on a Dolphin – Arion charmed a dolphin to safety in Ovid.
Attributed to Francesco Bianchi Ferrari (1481-1510)

Christ among the Doctors – oil on canvas (detail below)
Jacobo da Ponte, called Bassano (1510-1592)

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!