So. My plan today was simple. Drop off some laundry, take a tour of the Bodleian Library, get a look inside the Sheldonian Theatre, see the exhibit of Bodleian treasures at the Weston Library, grab some lunch, and spend the rest of the day wandering through the Ashmolean Museum before picking up my laundry and returning to the hotel.
This mostly worked out, with one minor hiccup I’ll get to.
I got the laundry dropped off and an assurance it would be ready this evening. That was a load off my mind, though it was also somewhat expensive. They know when they’ve got you over a barrel, don’t they? Still, I needed clean pants, so there ya go.
After that, I walked back to the Bodleian Library1 and bought a ticket for the hour-long tour.
While I waited for the tour to start, I grabbed a couple more pictures.
The tour was fascinating, but a little unsatisfying. Because the Bodleian is a working library, and exams are coming on, we had to be very quiet and careful to stay out of everyone’s way. Also, except for the School of Divinity, we weren’t allowed to take photographs.
The tour even took us inside the Radcliff Camera, that I’ve talked about previously. What I didn’t know was that, originally, the ground floor of the Camera was open to the air, with open arches, providing a small sheltered area that was used for public gatherings, small markets, etc. The arches were closed up in the 18th century, when the library started needing more room for storage.
The Weston Library, where I went next, is hosting an exhibit called Marks of Genius. They are displaying a number of books, documents, and artifacts from the Bodleian’s collection. These were all available for photography, and I might have gone a little nuts in there. Here’s is a limited selection of my pictures.
After that, I walked back across the street to the Sheldonian Theatre. This is another building shared by all the colleges, and it’s used mainly for matriculation and graduation ceremonies.
The cupola of the Sheldonian gives a nice panoramic view of the city. Unfortunately, the windows are about five feet off the ground, which limits the view somewhat.
I grabbed a sandwich and a drink, then, and walked down to the Ashmolean, where I sat on a bench and ate my lunch before going in.
Which is when I learned that the Ashmolean is closed on Mondays.
By this time, I was tired, and my knees were twinging, so I decided to take an afternoon off2 and rest up. Besides, I had The Imitation Game on my computer, and really wanted to see it after my tour of Bletchley Park yesterday. Quick review – fun movie, but the history of everything was… simplified. An interesting starting point for learning about Bletchley Park, but shouldn’t be the only source.
And then I went and picked up my laundry and some dinner.
Tomorrow, I’m off to York. Oxford was great, and I could spend another couple of days here, but I’m starting to think that’s going to be the same at each of my stops.
Guess I’ll have to come back.
I should specify that this is the Old Bodleian Library. There was a New Bodleian Library, but it was renamed the Weston Library. People still refer to the old Bodleian Library as the Old Bodleian Library. I dunno. [↩]
I say take an afternoon off, but this was like 3:00. So, take part of an afternoon off. [↩]
This morning, I went on the Oxford walking tour I had booked. The day was a little overcast, and windy, and cool, but that’s okay. There were also a lot of people in the Oxford gowns, along with well-dressed family members, roving the streets, which made me think there was a graduation ceremony in the offing1. Nothing wrong with that, of course, except that it meant some places were off-limits to us tourists.
But we set off as folks gathered, and saw some very cool things.
The stark contrast between the forbidding exteriors of the colleges and the sumptuous, well-groomed interiors really struck me. More than most universities I’ve seen, it was a profound delineation between the closed, pampered collegiate life, and the rougher, more earthly life in the real world.
Not that I consider academic life to necessarily be the ivory tower that this sort of display makes me think of. It’s more that, looking at this, I understand where that sort of idea comes from.
Anyway. We left New College, and headed back to a couple of other stops. The crowds prevented some of the pictures I took to be much good.
After the tour, I stuck my head in a couple of pubs, looking to find some lunch, but they were all packed solid with graduation celebrants. So, I wandered down the street to the Natural History Museum and the Pitt Rivers Museum.
Honestly, I wasn’t too interested in the Natural History Museum, but you need to go through it to get to the Pitt Rivers Museum. Still, there were some cool things in the Natural History Museum. For example:
Through the back of the gallery is the Pitt Rivers Museum.
But this was the thing that totally blew my mind and convinced me of the basic surrealism of the world.
So, here’s how those came about. Apparently, the hill tribes of the interior of Papua New Guinea made these big war shields. They painted them with images of ancestors and helpful spirits, binding the power of those things to aid them in war. When they started running into Europeans armed with firearms, the shields turned out to be less than useful in combat.
But they got their hands on some Phantom comic books. The idea of the Phantom – The Man Who Cannot Die, The Ghost Who Walks – as a defender of a native people against pirates and other exploiters resonated with them. They started to paint the Phantom on their shields to invoke his power, though they became items of ritual and ceremony rather than war against the Europeans.
That just made my day.
After that, I managed to have lunch in The King’s Arms, a pub that may2 have hosted the first performance of Hamlet outside of London. Shakespeare himself, while he was with The King’s Men, may have drunk there when he was in Oxford, which was not uncommon.
It was a good chicken and bacon pie, and a nice pint of cider.
Then I wandered a bit, feeling a little tired, and found the Oxford Martyrs’ Monument.
I was tired, then, and saw that I was right near a movie theatre, so I went and saw Avengers: The Age of Ultron again. Then, back to the hotel to do up this long post and plan for tomorrow.
I’m planning to head out to Milton Keynes tomorrow and see the Bletchley Park museum. Just as well, because apparently there’s a fun run going on in Oxford tomorrow, and it’ll shut down a few things. Then, on Monday, I’m going to hit the rest of the things I want to see here.
Oxford is awesome.
Turns out there were at least two: one for Trinity College, and one for Wadham College. [↩]