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. [↩]