Our birthday weekends always have the same format. Carefully refined over the last twelve years there is almost no discussion on the process, just on content. Lola and I always start our weekends on the Friday night, and D joins us on the Saturday morning.
We choose our B&B on location and price, but there used to be a time when we would question the presence of a trouser press. Though we never had any intention of using the trouser press, its existence somehow lent an air of glamour to our accommodation. “And it has a trouser press!” would be the deciding factor.
Sometimes the triumph of Lola and my arrival is accompanied by a surprise. I mentioned the sushi surprise in my previous entry, but the other I remember is when Lola met me at the station with icing sandwiches.
When cakes were made in our younger days, leftover icing was used to make icing sandwiches. Why wouldn't you? One birthday weekend, Lola surprised me with an icing sandwich in the station car park. The flavour certainly took us back to Childhood Land. Sadly, it also took us to My-Goodness-I’m-Not-Sure-I’ve-Ever-Eaten-Anything-So-Sweet-And-Now-It’s-Stuck-to-The-Roof-Of-My-Mouth Land.
This year we met at Oxford station and I brought the surprise; straight hair!! I thought I’d give it a go during my Birthday Eve haircut, and delighted in Lola’s expression when I appeared from the crowds looking “grown up”, so she said. So I won’t be doing that again.
We ended up for dinner in a small Japanese restaurant Lola remembered from a past visit. Fantastic food and I highly recommended it. In fact, we returned for Saturday lunch (well, we had to introduce it to D) and Sunday lunch (quality testing for consistency).
Present swap back at the B&B – ski socks for me for everyday use because of my constantly cold feet in the British mild winters - sweeties and a fridge magnet for Lola that reads “I’m smiling because you’re my sister. I’m laughing because there’s nothing you can do about it”.
The next morning, as I finished quizzing Lola on the nutritional content of the fun-size cereals on the breakfast table, D arrived. Just because Lola is having a mini-holiday, it shouldn’t mean that she neglects her studies. Also, I’m trying to guarantee a dedication at the start of her dissertation.
Off we went to the tourist office for Weekend Itinerary Setting. No tour of the colleges for us, but yes to a tour of the Bodleian Library. Plus we always go to a classical music concert on the Saturday night. We found one playing Tchaikovsky, Bizet, Berlioz and, I found out at the concert that evening, a couple I had not heard of before called Can’t Play In Tune and Can’t Conduct Properly.
The tour of the Bodleian was very good. The guide had an intriguing hard-to-identify accent and a lovely amount of enthusiasm, only dampened slightly when no-one admitted to being a fan of Harry Potter. The Divinity School, pictured below, was built in 1483 for the teaching of theology, and used as Hogwarts’ Sanatorium. The library itself was used as Hogwarts’ library. He highlighted items of interest on the ceilings and walls using his trusty torch.
There we were, a group of about 15 sitting on the benches, when all of a sudden my dangly earring popped out and fell straight down through the heating grate, beneath our feet.
“Any questions?”, the splendid guide man asked. I waited until I was sure no-one was going to ask something related to what he was just talking about, and then put up my hand. The guide looked noticeably pleased. “My earring has fallen through the grate and you have a torch…”. The earring was saved.
“A tradition, still zealously guarded, is that no books were to be lent to readers; even King Charles I was refused permission to borrow a book in 1645. But the number of users should not be overestimated; in 1831 there was an average of three or four readers a day, and there were no readers at all in July. With no heating until 1845 and no artificial lighting until 1929, the Library only opened from 10 am to 3pm in the winter and 9am to 4 pm in the summer.”We were told that the Bodleian was the first place to ever use the shelf. Up until then books were stored lying down, often in trunks. And the other fun fact is that an Italian book from the 1870’s was requested not so long ago, and when it was opened the pages hadn’t been cut. It hadn’t been opened since it was made over 100 years ago!
Bodleian book storage has now expanded into a big building across the road from the library, with underground pneumatic tubes and a conveyor belt linking the two. Written book requests are placed in canisters and fired over to the other building. The book is then placed on the conveyor belt and, bob’s your uncle, there’s your book! I think it takes a couple of hours, but still.
Naturally Lola felt very at home being in an academic institution, surrounded by books and lots of clever people. D and I were very happy to let everyone else in the group know this by responding to our guide’s question “Does anyone like exams?”, by vigorously pointing at her in a proud, yet apologetic, way.
What smell was over-powering?
Why is there a severed finger in Oxford's Natural History Museum?
Which of the world's oceans did Lola resemble?
Read the final Oxford instalment, coming soon.