Wedded bliss and rugby blues

Went down for breakfast at 8:30ish. Full English breakfast, with the world’s smallest tomatoes. Thus fortified we set off to explore Oxford. First stop a chemist for an ankle strap for Mirinda, Tie Rack because stupid me forgot to bring a tie and BHS because stupid me forgot a belt as well.

The first truly amazing thing we saw was the barley sugar spirals framing the doors of St Mary the Virgin church.

University Church of St Mary the Virgin

St Mary’s is where Cranmer recanted then recanted his recantation before being taken outside to Broad Street and toasted in 1556. There is a pillar in the church called the Cranmer Pillar which, for some reason known only to the Tudors, someone cut partly away in order to build a platform for him to recant on. Why he couldn’t have just used the floor I have no idea. The pillar was subsequently repaired as it is now in one piece. We climbed the narrow spiral stone staircase (127 dizzying steps) to the top of the tower for a brilliant view of Oxford – some say the best. Unfortunately it was raining so everything was a bit bleak and puddly. On the other hand we more or less had the viewing area to ourselves. Mirinda once again surprised me with her tenacity as she made it to the top even with a sore ankle.

St Mary’s is very important in the history of Oxford as it was the beginning of the university. The earliest part of it dates from around 1280 – the tower – with the spire added from 1315-25. The church stands in the physical centre of the walled city and the university grew round it. By the early 13th century it was the seat of university government, academic disputation and the award of degrees. It was continually used for university business until the middle of the 17th century and now is still the place used for worship by the university.

John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, once preached here (1741). In 1744 he denounced the laxity and sloth of the senior members of the University. After this he was never asked to preach at St Mary’s again.

Mirinda outside the logical library

Then, after our tour of the Church we wandered round Radcliffe Camera and on to the Bodleian Library where we tried to join a guided tour but it was already full. So we wandered around the gift shop but managed to keep closed our wallets. Unusual I know!

Well, by now it was about time for a coffee and cake stop so we popped into a cute little cafe with a delicious window display. Apart from the Italian waitress, all was happy and jolly and we enjoyed our lattes and pastries. I waited an hour for Mirinda to go to the toilet: felt just like Harrison Ford in France. Actually, she waited 59 minutes for the people already there to do whatever people find to do in cafe toilets. Eventually a guy came out and Mirinda went to the men’s. Apparently a woman is still in the ladies.

Gardens in the rain

Once more we set off into the drizzle and found the Botanical Gardens. A wonderful place, originally set up in the 1600s for the purpose of growing medicinal plants. It is very big with quite a few very impressive trees and attractions for immense flocks of birds. The River Cherwell runs along one side with a whole bunch of punts taking shelter beneath a bridge.

At some stage, while in the garden, England beat us in the Rugby World Cup, after extra time – we could tell as many drunken voices joined together in the victory chants from the road. We started our walk back to the Sportsview, among drunken revellers swigging French beer and sporting St George’s Crosses – an odd combination.

Rabbit holes and mirrors

It was then, finally, time to waste some £s in the Alice Shop. Oh heaven! We bought a looking glass clock and a tie and a table tea cloth and postcards… but could have bought so much more. They have a website so who knows? It was then a slushy, laden walk back to our room.

Incidentally, this shop was originally a sweet shop where Alice would buy her sweets. When Tenniel drew the picture of the sheep in the shop in Looking Glass, he drew the sweet shop but in mirror image. Nothing seems to remain of the sweet shop but the gift shop is great. It’s also just up from Folly Bridge where Lewis Carroll would take her and her sisters punting.

A lot of traffic was choking the single lanes of Abingdon Road into Oxford Centre. It reminded me of Canterbury and is repulsive. There is a massive bypass around Oxford and I reckon there should be no transport allowed within this circular boundary during daylight hours. Just electric buses and bicycles. This would make a huge difference.

Sat in our room watching a murder mystery of which we will never know who done it. We then stepped once more into the damp, now in our glad rags, and started the walk back to Pembroke College. The traffic didn’t appear to have moved in the hour and a half we’d been resting.

At the lovely Pembroke College, the masses were gathering. The college boasts Dr Johnson (he of the dictionary fame) amongst its more celebrated alumni. Apparently it has recently had some rowing success as well. This is Ben’s old college and it is in the college chapel that he will wed Monali for the second time (they have full-blown Indian wedding yesterday in Watford). The chapel is lovely. The congregation sit facing each other across a narrow aisle and it isn’t hard to imagine the place full of students on Sunday mornings snoozing through sermons as they try prayer as a possible hangover cure. The walls and ceiling of the chapel are beautifully painted with various (I assume) saints and their Roman labels.

3:30 came and went with no sign of the bride. Ben was beginning to look a bit concerned then, at about four, she entered looking lovely in an art nouveau inspired dress, dotted with pearls and swirls.

The ceremony started typically sombre but then the vicar, Hugh W Bearn, started a brilliant address beginning with his reminiscences of his last time in Pembroke College, back when he worked below-stairs. Among his axe-grinding memories was this one: During the toast to her Majesty in her Silver Jubilee year all the servants were kicked out of the hall and the doors locked.

After a few class-conscious comments like this, he started going on about the rugby obviously unaware that at least two Aussies were present. Actually we were sat next to a Kiwi in the chapel and he, at least, commiserated. Coincidentally, he moved to the UK in the March after the February that we did. He is a barrister who married an English girl.

The ceremony went off without any hitches, apart from the essential one and we all filed out and moved to a room across the quad for pre-dinner drinks and nibblies. In groups, we were all then marched back to the Church to be photographed along with the happy couple. In years to come little fingers will point to a particular photo and asked daddy Ben, “Who is this man with the tweed jacket looking inappropriately casual?” to which Ben will reply “to be honest, I have absolutely no idea“.

After the pictures it was into the college dining hall where anyone stupid enough to have a partner was swiftly separated by three chairs and a table. This created a couple of situations with guests (like me), who really had nothing to do with neither bride nor groom seated surrounded by close friends, school chums and/or workmates. At least I was sat next to someone interesting. I felt sorry for poor Del (Anne’s husband) as he had the drunkest wedding guest snoring beside him for the entire meal.

Opposite me was a chap who looked remarkably like a young John Major and, as Ben is a member of the Tory party, do we assume this is why he was invited? Because John couldn’t make it? Bet he was hired from Political Lookalikes Inc whose motto is obviously “any party member as a member of your party“.

I had Chris (from Mirinda’s work) on my left but he was absorbed with whatever Anne (on his other side) was relating. Mirinda was sat next to JC. He did nothing but talk about work and himself without realising how ridiculously boring that can be. It’s a big world, there’s lots to talk about. And Mirinda says this man is clever? Go figure.

The best man tried a few jokes in his speech but was a little too drunk to manage without stumbling on the not very good punchlines. Ben and Monali both gave lovely speeches with Ben saying “It was the happiest day of my life and when Jonny Wilkinson kicked that penalty…” very funny.

The food was lovely, the wine free-flowing. After dinner we went into the bar for beer while the music was set up. We went outside and ended up chatting with Kirk, one of Ben’s students. He is Swedish, looks Turkish and sounds very English. Also met some girl called Isabel who thought I was a drug dealer.

We sneaked away before I got so drunk I’d go walkabout and wind up in Cambridge and dawdled back to the Sportsview, stopping briefly at the Folly Bridge Inn for a 6X night cap.

A lovely day, even if we were damp for most of it!

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