Saturday, July 14, 2007

Oxford, a year ago last June...

The first update: last year's summer trip to England and Norway.


I’m sitting at the Rose Hill Oval, having stupidly bought a day pass for myself and the kids, forgetting that there are two bus companies in Oxford and a pass is only good on one. Just missed the number 3 bus so have to wait 20 minutes (it's Sunday) for the next one. It's all coming back so slowly.

Kadin turns out to be a very excited traveler and had a great time with the moving sidewalks at the airport. He was determined to figure out everything himself.

We arrived Friday and felt pretty good. At least I am speaking for myself. It was HOT! Okay, only in the 70s with clear, clear blue sky, but the humidity made clothes feel warmer. And I just couldn't believe that people were choosing to sit in the sun. Just as I couldn't believe when we first moved to Colorado that people would actually close their curtains to the sun. We walked around the city centre and ended up at the new Castle development. It was nice and spacious and they had outdoor seating at the child-friendly Pizza Express. When I had just about finished with my salad, Kadin remembered that he had left his bag (a small thing he was given on the airplane) at Boswell's toy store. I volunteered to go back to get it. Traipsed across town to find they had closed shortly after we left and would open the next day at 9:05am. 9:05? Thought I would try again then.

Went back to the flat and with some encouragement and cajoling, all fell asleep shortly after the 9 o'clock chimes of Tom Tower. I slept intermittently until about 8:30 the next morning. There was a party next door. At one point, it was getting light out and I heard lots of people talking and moving about. I assumed it was morning and people were off to work. Then I remembered it was Saturday and when I checked the clock, it was only 3:30am. So, it would seem this was not the morning commotion, but the continuing commotion from the night before. By "real" morning, Boulder's night, we were all sound asleep. I did wake about 8:30 and walked up to Boswells, easily found the bag, and then noticed that the bank would be open in about half-an-hour so thought I'd walk around a bit until then. It was novel moving about Oxford by myself. I didn't have any small bodies to keep track of or specific errands to attend to. It felt so freeing. Nice and early in the morning, too, less crowded. When the bank opened, the guy at the bank was even nice and chatty and gave me lots of good, unhurried information. I then bought two lattés and headed back to the apartment.

By 11am everyone else was up and about and we got to the Trefethen's for lunch, though pretty late in the end---bought flowers, got a Taxi, etc.

It was so great to visit with them. Unfortunately we missed Jacob, but they have very full lives! We walked down to the park by Rainbow bridge and had a picnic by the Cherwell river. Luckily, Nick was also interested in watching the World Cup soccer game, so we saw the first half of the England game at their house before Ann drove us to our next appointment at Hinksey park to meet Rees' old friend Daniel. We went to the outdoor swimming pool in our old neighborhood, the nearby playground, and the little store next to our house. Despite wearing wet suits and the weather being about as warm and clear as it ever gets, the kids got very cold at the pool! Wow, they are now weather wimps! Rees, Daniel, and Kadin even got to ride the little yellow paddle boats that they were too young to go in when we lived here. England won the game "one nil" as expected and everyone was in a festive mood. The pool probably would have been more crowded had there not been a game.

We explored some more on the way home and, as we were all very tired, opted to eat in rather than risk a temper tantrum by one of the kids at the Head of the River. I went out and got some provisions, and we collapsed into bed again after a full day of exercise and sun. Veggie samosas very popular.

Greg said he remembered the feeling of almost constant embarrassment he had while we lived in England, the feeling that you are almost always doing something wrong. I remembered overwhelming feelings of being tied down. When I was out walking around by myself it just was so novel and something I almost never did when we lived here. And I don't remember ever thinking that people in Oxford dressed particularly interestingly or flatteringly, and maybe it was the unusually warm weather, but I was really struck by how appallingly people dressed. I don't know if people in Oxford are just more comfortable with their bodies and so less self-conscious or if they just don't realize how bad they look! Fit bodies that were well taken care of were few and far between. Tortured and tacky seemed the rule.

Sunday, Rees went to see William in the morning. I chatted with Mark in the garden. It was very nice and I started remembering some of the gentle pleasures of the English garden. One of Kadin's big memories, besides the shark in the house, is going to the Sainsbury's with Grandpa. So Kadin and I headed out and got on the number 3 bus to the Rose Hill Oval. I felt foreign and empowered to ask the driver directions to the walking bridge over the ring road. He knew all the back paths and we found it with no problem. We bought water, marmite (two large jars, at a cost of 4 pounds each), apricots, apples, and toilet paper. I even asked a thug on the way back if the bus stopped on Speedwell street. I liked being able to be foreign and anonymous.

We got back on the bus to Temple Cowley after lunch in the flat. Met up with Ceri, Rebecca, Alex, and Theo (new!) at the pool. Rees went in the men's changing room. When I got out of the women's changing room to the pool, Rebecca said Rees couldn't go in. Hmmm. Yes he could. Then I found out the story was that Rees and Kadin were not allowed to swim in their wet suits as it "restricted movement" and was "against policy." I argued with the guy for a while: it's a shallow pool, I'll be with them, wet suits are designed for swimming, we swam at Hinksey all the previous day, etc. Finally asked to speak to the manager. He appeared and basically said, "I have no problem with it." And we were able to swim after all. Sigh.

Visited with Ceri et al. at her house. House is the same and she is as orderly as ever, cutting up fruit for the kids, pouring them all juice, and they all wash hands, sit down to eat politely, and get up when they are finished. With a fourth kid on the way this is a good thing.

I called Annie and she was suffering a migrane. Wasn't sure she wanted me to come, but she did, so called Greg and said we'd meet him there. Then, since I had bought a day pass for Stagecoach, I thought I couldn't take a bus to Annie's so we decided to walk. Also to kill time to give Annie some more peace. Turns out the number 16 bus did in fact run and was now changed to Stagecoach, but runs only once an hour. Annie told me a bit of the story: It is the only bus to cross the Donnington Bridge and there are older people who have lived in the area all their lives who rely on the bus. And, since the bus ran only once every half-an-hour, they would get to know each other standing at the bus stop. Anyway, the 16 bus was abolished and, Annie said, despite these people who relied on it and though they could have organized, they weren't able to. She said she should make a movie about it. In the end, the 16 bus was reinstated under the Stagecoach line but only runs once an hour.

Anyway, we found a stop, but found we had just missed the bus by about 3 minutes. Oh well, walking was nice, and just at the end, when some new fences looked like they would block our way, we found a hole and got through. Hard to keep back the tide of human pedestrians.

Annie's house was nice as always and she was alone for the moment, the kids having gone out to the Thames with George and neighbors. Things perhaps a bit more cluttered and crowded than before. A bit chaotic when the kids arrive. Elsa was glowing a told a great story about swimming in the Thames and how Oliver (neighbor) had swum out to get an old bottle for her. Muddy, happy, and active. Ned (new!) took a bath in ketchup, the kids indulged in fish fingers and Asian pasta. Kadin had two bowls of pasta. As George later said, "Lots of veggies went down their little gullets." It was crowded and cluttered and happy.

Walking home along the Thames path on a beautiful evening should have been relaxing, but we forgot about the bicycles and staying to the left. So slightly nerve wracking, but only slightly. I was so pleased that Kadin was walking. What freedom!

Ceri had told me there was an LLL toddler meeting on Wednesday morning. Jayne is still a leader, Ceri is a leader in the evenings, and Kathryn is too, four kids and all! And Cathé Heron, the former leader from Ox, whose had another baby is now leading again. The best thing I got the whole time I was in Oxford was the LLL brochure that Jayne had made. It was so gratifying to see. I was especially touched that they still have a summer picnic gathering as well. I had so many nightmares with those picnics, the timing for me always seemed wrong (bad weather, kid sick, me sick, etc.). So it was nice to see that people enjoyed and appreciated them in the end! The group is thriving with meetings almost every week. Wow! It was so gratifying to have a piece of paper that showed something concrete from my years in Oxford. I realize how little I feel I accomplish at any time.

Rees wanted to visit Grandpont Nursery. So on Monday morning we did. I got all teary eyed when we walked in. It was such a nice place! I was so sorry Kadin didn't get to go there. Kadin still says he hated his preschool. Such a different environment! At Grandpont they never raise their voices and rarely correct the children. The children just seem to know how to behave. Very skilled teachers. The boys sat and played for a long time with mobilo and I reminisced about people who were there.

Monday I was to have lunch with Kerry. We planned to meet at Edamamé, the Japanese restaurant on Holywell. Could not ditch the kids as Mikael was down from Scotland to work with Greg. So Greg went to his meeting at Starbucks, and the kids and I set out across Christ Church meadow, through to Magpie Lane, into Radcliffe square and through the narrow passage to the Turf tavern and the Bath House Hotel that emerged on Holywell.

Edamamé was closed on Mondays, but there was a new restaurant in the bottom of St. Mary's that looked good: seasonal and organic. That was the first place I went when I first met Annie through Clare, when Rees was two. It had a nice atmosphere and kids could kind of blend into the background. We ate well, Kadin ate all of his organic chicken, rice, and salad. And though Kadin was sleepy and said he couldn't walk, I thought he'd be fine climbing, so we did one of the things I never did when we were in Oxford before: climbed St. Mary's tower. The kids loved it. Then climbed and climbed up all the stairs and then we walked around the top, getting a beautiful 360 degree view of the city. Kerry was dizzy from the heights, but soldiered on for us. I was so glad I never did that when I had babies! So glad I did it now that the kids were old enough to enjoy the adventur and be safe as well.

We walked back the same way through Christ Church meadows with Kerry. Got to show her around Oxford! We arranged to meet her later in Abingdon. We had a few moments to rest at the flat and meet up with Greg before getting the bus to Abingdon to meet in front of the Police Station.

Kerry's house was wonderful, as always. Kids were older. Turtle was thriving. Mr. Greenleaf (lizard) had recently died. Barrel with tiny frogs recently hatched from spawn. Cat and all the menagerie. The older kids were focused on their homework, Rees and Kadin gravitated towards the zip line. Perhaps too much for Kadin who decided to jump off early. After falling from a pretty good height, he cried and said the top of his foot hurt. Sounded like it could be a small fracture.

We pretty much carried him for the next week and much of the rest of the trip. Oh well, so much for our walking freedom! It really was a bummer. We decided not to return to the JR (hospital emergency room) for old time's sake.

Annie came over on Tuesday morning and since we couldn't get far with Kadin, we just went over to Christ Church and Greg went in to take a photo for his father. We sat out on the lawn and talked and talked. I missed her so much! Then it was time to catch a cab to Vanessa's for lunch. (Where did we catch a cab? I can't remember. Near the Head of the River? No, I think we walked up into town and caught one at the top of Cornmarket. Was Ned in a stroller for this? Kadin on Greg's shoulders?)

Arrived a bit lat at V's and had a lovely lunch out in the garden. It was warm, I think, and even started raining a bit. It was nice to see V in her home environment. We talked about science. It became clear that there is a lot of work to do on the core samples we collected together last April. Hmmm, maybe I need to come back for a week alone to do that work!

I think we stayed and stayed, and only had a brief time to stop in at the flat, pick up the videos, and wait for Chris to call and say that he would pick us up out front. We were off to Rosie's new house in Standlake for dinner.

Her house was small, but larger than before, with lots of amenities. Really pretty and organized and as always and the kids were thriving. Rees and Catriona put on a gymnastics show out back. Jacob (new!) looks just like his sister. R is doing well with the two kids. Angus, the rabbit, was also still in residence.

Really nice to share some time with them. Was glad I could mostly understand Chris. Rosie is full of ideas as always and very good to talk to about her thoughts and philosophies. She always seems to have strong, clear opinions.

Got home late, tired!

Wednesday was our last full day in the UK. I was beginning to feel like I could never leave! Greg went to meet Vanessa at the Geography department and he was to meet Chris McKenna at Brasenose that night. I took the kids to the LLL meeting at Allison Samuels’. I knew most the people there! Jayne, Kathryn, Rachel, et al. It was really neat to see. I wish I had chatted more with Cathé Heron, but was too self-absorbed talking to the people I used to know. Everyone has two kids now, except Katherine who has four (two new!).

One of the women at the meeting talked about her anxiety over her upcoming visit to her dad's in Romania. People really let her talk and offered her all sorts of good suggestions.

Kathryn had invited me home for lunch. It was nice and tidy and not just because it had just been cleaned. Like Ceri, she is very organized and her kids help out a lot.

Annie came over with Ned and Elsa and we walked down to the Adventure playground to meet Kelly et al. Boy was the playground as fun as ever. I saw Kelly and Kathryn and Annie, and Jason and Holly and their moms, and Tyler and his dad. Samuel too. It was great to see everyone and felt almost like we had never left! What a nice, magical playground that is!

Then Kathryn and Annie and I decided to go out to dinner, something they rarely do. We took all eight kids out to Tootsie's, the burger restaurant at the Castle. Katherine drove Kadin and her brood and Annie, Ned, Elsa, Rees, and I walked. Yes, we really went out to dinner in Oxford with eight kids and three adults. We felt such rebels. We promised not to spill any of our drinks. Yea, right. But we dealt okay, and it was early so not crowded and we were outside so not too disruptive. Kathryn's brother worked next door, so he ran a little interference for us as well. Annie had a rough time, though. Ned insisted on digging through the plant containers and throwing the pebbles on the plaza. Annie would reprimand him and he would laugh and run to another planter. Ugh! The evening culminated when he took off his poopy diaper in the middle of the plaza. Poor Annie!

Elsa wanted to come over to see the flat, but it was late and Annie had the option of a ride home with Kathryn, so they agreed to come over in the morning.

All we did in the morning was walk up to Sainsbury's and buy a picnic lunch that we ate in the St. Ebbes churchyard. Elsa took the day off school to see the flat! Annie said it was nice to break up what she called her "monotonous life."

When we got back to the flat, we had very little time to pack and clean before the taxi got there to take us to Glouchester Green for the bus to Terminal 4 where we would meet my parents for the flight to Oslo. The bus was our last and only chance to see the shark in the house from the Headington Road. We prepared Kadin as we approached. But alas, when we pointed, he looked at the end of our fingers and not the place where we were pointing. He missed it! Kadin!

Coming soon: post on airport and trip to Norway.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This sounds like a really different experience (much more positive!)of Oxford than what you've shared of your previous stint there. What do ya figure: Time? Perspective? Children who are more grown?

Sounds like it was a lovely time.