To fight the dreaded salmon steaks

Woke at 8am to frozen wastes dotted with sedentary horses standing on the frost. But I feel it imperative I mention that this wasn’t the first time I’d woken. Mirinda, obviously in the midst of a very funny dream, burst into laughter twice in the night. The first burst was that of a giggly school girl but the second belonged to a Bedlam escapee just before decapitation…mine! When questioned later, she denied laughing in her sleep, even in any style. Leaves me in no doubt that the room is haunted.

We went downstairs for a lovely breakfast of sausages, bacon, fried potato, chunky mushies and tomato. The fried eggs had run out so I was forced into having scrambled. Mirinda was very good and had bran and fruit. After tea and coffee it was briefly back to the room then off to Oxford.

We walked in via the Thames (although it’s called the Isis hereabouts, something that is written everywhere) tow path, as dozens of strapping young girls woman-handled big rowing boats of varying sizes down to the water while Borg-ish hi-tech coaches chatted from the shore, aboard bicycles and equipped with mikes and amps. It seems even the coxes these days are wired up for maximum communication. Suffice to say the river was alive with rowing girls.

Girls rowing on the Thames/Isis, Oxford

We followed the path until we collided with Abingdon Road, choked with traffic and tourists. Our first stop was the Ashmolean Museum. This was the first museum in England and I would have classed it very highly. Unfortunately half of it is closed for “demolition” as the helpful man at the information desk informed us. 32 of the 57 rooms were inaccessible! Unfortunately the stuff we wanted to see was also, inexplicably inaccessible! Mirinda wanted to see the pre-Raphaelite work on the 2nd floor. The stairs had been boarded up so the only way is via the lift, enthusiastically indicated by a female guide. Although we were on level 1, the lift indicated it was on LG (Long Gone, perhaps?). We stepped in – Mirinda suffering – and pressed 2. The lift immediately took us down to the ground floor. We decided we’d had enough of the Ashmolean!

Still, we did manage to see the English Delfware and a remarkable bowl from the Italian renaissance period. It was created by Francesco Urbini in 1536. it is called “a composite head” and is inscribed “Every man looks at me as if I were a head of dicks” in Italian, of course. Enough said!

From the Ashmolean we popped over to the Playhouse to book tickets to the play on tonight then wandered up and around a bit, eventually ending up at the hidden Turk Tavern.

Before I left work on Friday, David, my boss who spent a lot of time in Oxford when he was student, gave me a list of pubs I HAD to visit. The Turk was one of them. This was also recommended very highly by Ben (he works with Mirinda and we went to his wedding in Oxford a few years ago). The Turk is a brilliant pub. A great selection of real ale (I had two lovely pints of Brain’s Bread of Heaven while Mirinda had a half of Weston’s Old Rosie Scrumpy which started melting the glass it was so strong!

Gaz outside the Turk Tavern, Oxford

The Turk is a series of higgledy piggledy rooms with low beams and a number of outside drinking/eating areas. We decided to have lunch and I supped on a delicious Cumberland sausage and mash while Mirinda claimed her scampi and chips was perfect. A brilliant pub that I wouldn’t recommend…for fear it would get far too crowded! Suffice to say it’s not that easy to find.

From here it was but a spit to New College for a nosey around. It was founded in 1379 (so not all that new then) by William of Wykeham, Bishop of Winchester. If you’re interested, there’s some nice biographical information here.

We sought out the mysteriously sign-posted Long Room only to find, when we ascended the stairs, it was just a long room…used for social functions. There were nice oak beams and the toilet was pretty impressive. Leaving the Long Room, we went into the Front Quadrangle. Someone was having a great old bash on the chapel organ which gave a rather eerie feel to the quadrangle.

After the chapel is the cloisters with some rather spooky statues lining the walls. We wandered around then back out into the real world. In the college garden is a very impressive mound called, imaginatively, The Mound. It looks like some sort of burial mound but, although some black death burials took place in the area, this wasn’t used for any. The Mound is actually just decorative! Around the garden are some of the original city walls. Interestingly, the college has the responsibility to maintain this section of the wall – this was a condition of the original building permit.

Statue in New College cloisters, Oxford

Leaving the college, we then followed the city wall to Magdelan (pronounced Maudlin) College which Ben had recommended. Chalk and cheese, I have to say – with new College you wander aimlessly as you want and can make up all manner of history whereas at Magdelan you pay a fee and are handed a small guide…that will be a printed guide rather than a dwarf.

It was really quite lovely. In the chapel is a 15th century copy of the Last Supper and very good it is to, though I’m not sure what Dan Brown would say. There was also a very annoying Italian woman with the noisiest camera in Oxford. A great way to ruin a bit of ambience. Looks like it’s not just watches and mobile phones that annoy me with their intrusive chimes, it’s cameras as well!

Up in the hall, which is now the college refectory, were two outstanding busts. One was of Oscar (Wilde) and the other of that great judge and formulator of laws, Lord Denning. Nice to put a face to a name I’ve heard SO many times. They were both members of Magdelan College. They stare across the room at each other, the one who defied and died because of the law and the other who made and changed the law, living to be 100.

Possibly the most impressive thing about Magdelan is the great tower where, every May Morning, the choir climb and sing in the dawn. Thousands apparently gather for this wonderful recital. Obviously, being a cold and wet February afternoon, the choir was somewhere else today so we had to make do with a photograph of an empty tower.

It was then time for the long walk back to the hotel. So long, in fact, that we were forced to stop off at the Head of the River pub for a pint of Jack Frost (tea for Mirinda…not a pint) before the final leg along the Thames.

Back at the Four Pillars Mirinda read while I watched the Winter Olympics until it was time to leave for the theatre.

We saw the Tabula Rosa Theatre production of a Spanish play by Lope de Vega called Fuente Ovejuna or The Sheep’s Well. The title is the name of a village which is also the central character of the play. Anyway, Tabula Rosa is an AmDram group of uni students.

At the risk of sounding snobbish, I’d forgotten how bad it can be. In a cast of 26 actors, one was very good, one was ok and one was passable. The rest were all having a great time. The director (the pretentious Poppy Burton-Morgan) seemed intent on set and costume without giving her actors any depth. But then again, maybe she had.

A classic moment was when the manic Mengo (Paul Tosio – an actor of diabolical characterisation) made a remark as he exited the stage which Mirinda misheard as “We must fight the dreaded salmon steaks!” I had to stuff my fist into my mouth to stop from laughing! This could have been like the “keep your tongue in your pocket book” line’ in Bernada Alba, as a little later he compared his whipped backside to a salmon steak but I can’t make any real sense of it and it’s such a delicious line as Mirinda heard it anyway.

The actor who stood out most of all was Owen Findlay as the evil commander. He had great charm and an evil glint in his eye. He’s studying English at Brasenose College but I reckon he could easily be a professional actor – could see him as a master criminal in The Bill.

The same could not be said for Harry Ullman. Poor Harry. He tried and tried but as an actor he makes a fantastic cupboard. But then he IS studying maths at Wadham. Heather Oliver was very good as Laurencia, the female lead.

For some reason they all attempted northern accents – some had success with this. I think it’s a shame that any old play that features peasants or workers, a director seems to believe they should all sound like they come from Yorkshire. I mean why not have them all speaking with Japanese accents? They have peasants.

Overall it was not exactly boring and we managed to last the entire show – Mirinda had already taken me through her signal for leaving and my signal in response should I wish to stay as there was no interval.

We were very naughty after the play and had KFC for dinner then walked back to the hotel to sup on our bed. We watched most of My Big Fat Greek Wedding which was disappointing. Then I watched Match of the Day – Chelsea had their worst defeat in four years!!! 3-0 loss to Middlesborough! What’s that all about? Apparently they used some sort of voodoo dolls…

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