So, my month of May and beginning of June has been incredibly busy, and I think we’re all starting to feel that we are rapidly approaching the end of our stay in Oxford.
Most of May has been dedicated to studying for our tutorials. Mine is on book and print culture in the Victorian period, and I can say (with some relief) that I seem to be meeting the expectations of my tutor. So far I’ve looked at the text and illustrations of Dickens, Gustave Dore, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Beatrix Potter, Kate Greenaway, Lewis Carroll, and JM Barrie. Most of my sources are from Oxford’s Bodleian Library, and every week I’ve gotten to look at first editions of my authors and illustrators. Most of the texts have to be read at Weston library (which is part of the Bod) in this reading room that’s quite tedious to get to: you go through several security checkpoints,leave all your stuff except your computer in a locker, and sign in with a guard before you go into the reading room at all. But once you get past all that, you can spend your time thumbing through all sorts of texts, no big deal if they’re from the 1800’s or earlier and are extremely fragile. I saw this one girl reading what looked like a handwritten book while simultaneously on Facebook. Only in Oxford, right? If I’m not in Weston, I’m usually in the Gladstone Link, which is basically an underground part of the library with movable shelving (there’s little steering wheels on each shelf to move them back and forth–it’s quite fun); you just have to make sure you don’t squish anyone between shelves. And then I go off and write my paper, and every Friday I meet up with my tutor and we discuss what I’ve studied during the week. Super simple, but I’m learning so much! Preparing for my tutorial usually consumes my week (what am I going to do when I have 5 classes at PLU next semester?!), but there’s always fun things going on.
Some weeks back I found this bookseller that appears in Gloucester Green’s outdoor market every Wednesday, and he always has really nice old books, which of course I can’t resist. I found a copy of Persuasion from 1901 and it’s really quite pretty, as well as a copy of The Importance of Being Earnest and A Tale of Two Cities, from 1906. I won’t be having any regrets until I try to bring home all my newly acquired things with me. We also attended Regent’s Park’s college tortoise, Emanuelle’s, birthday party. It’s actually a charity event, and it was super fun! They also brought over other Oxford colleges’ tortoises to visit with Emanuelle. Christ Church’s tortoise kept trying to eat, or at least, climb over, a baby tortoise (that was absolutely adorable!). More recently, there was another tortoise-related charity event at Corpus Christi College–a tortoise race. They make a circle of lettuce and put a bunch of the Oxford Colleges’ tortoises in the middle, and whichever tortoise gets to the lettuce first wins. I’m proud to say Emanuelle got 4th place.
We also went punting for the first time! Basically you start at Magdalen Bridge and end in Christ Church Meadow. It was a beautiful day for it. However, the ducks expect you to feed them and they’ll steal your food if you’re not careful. But other than that, it’s a wonderful way to spend a few hours on a sunny afternoon. As long as you don’t crash into the banks or other punting boats. Also, there’s ducklings that follow you on the river. Too cute.
A couple weeks back, another girl and I took a train and a taxi to get to Highclere Castle, where they film Downton Abbey! It’s a hassle to get to, especially on a Sunday, but as it was the last weekend that the castle was open, it was our only opportunity. But it was definitely worth it! The house inside (you can’t take pictures) looks exactly like in the show–the same furniture and everything! Also, the grounds are HUGE. As in, the fields surrounding Highclere just keep going in every direction. You can’t even see the town it’s closest to, Newbury. Lots of people probably have to maintain all that, and it really puts Downton Abbey into perspective–the issues about tenant farmers and land and stuff discussed in the show makes so much more sense.
And, this past Saturday, eight members of our Oxford group (including me) went to Snowdonia, which is a massive national park in North Wales. The Oxford Mountaineering Club owns a little house that we were able to rent for very cheap. Problem was, it was in a teeny village named Pentrefoelas (as in, there was a convenience store, a pub, and a chocolate factory, and that’s about it), where, upon getting to a neighbouring town, we found that there were no busses to Pentrefoelas (internet was inaccurate on this) and we almost had to walk nine miles there, as most taxi services were busy. But we finally found one, and after tramping through several farms, fields, and even climbing over some barbed wire, we found a little stone house that at first we thought was abandoned but realised it was the right one (later, we found the footpath you’re supposed to take from the main road). You have to walk for a good ten minutes or so from the road to even see the house–it’s just surrounded by fields and fields of sheep and cows. Anyway, the house was super cool, complete with a little fireplace, massive bunkbeds (think five bunkbeds conglomerated into one long one), and magazines from the 1980’s. It was really nice to fall asleep to the sound of baa-ing sheep 🙂
The next day (Sunday), we headed out to Mt. Snowdon, the tallest mountain in Wales and the highlight of Snowdonia. It’s about a 9mile hike, and the first four or so miles are uphill. But the view was absolutely breathtaking–just miles and miles of mountains and lakes. One of the lakes we passed to put our feet in is, according to legend, where King Arthur threw Excalibur at the end of his life. It certainly looked magical enough to be part of the legend! Anyway, this hike was probably the hardest I’ve ever done, and the fastest–we climbed to the summit of Snowdon in about two hours. I’m still sore from all the walking, but I’m proud that I made it and didn’t wimp out or anything. On Monday, we also took a bus to Carnarfon, to see the beach and Carnarfon Castle, which is where the Princes of Wales (as in, Prince Charles) get validated or something when they are 17 or so. Another thing that’s really cool: most people in the northern Wales area actually speak Welsh–when I was in Cardiff and Tintern, I barely heard any, but here, we actually met someone (a bus driver) who couldn’t answer a question because he didn’t understand enough English. So, Welsh is definitely not a dead language!
So, that’s me up to date. This week, I’ll be finishing my tutorial (I had two essays this week), and then I’ll be doing some last-minute travelling for the rest of my time here. This Saturday is Final Fling, which is kinda like prom, at Regent’s, so I have that to look forward to. I also have a ticket to see Shakespeare’s King John at the London Globe on the last week of June! So I guess there’ll be one more blog post, presumably when I get back to Hawaii. Have a wonderful month of June!