We travelled South to Oxford and decided to stop for the day in Stratford-Upon-Avon to prepare for the experience by getting some culture into our pleb minds – after all that salt-of-the-earth-nonsense we swallowed in that Liverpool.
Stratford, for those of you who skipped English at school, is the birthplace of William Shakespeare. That’s the poet no-one understands and everyone pretends to like.
It’s a pretty enough place – but it was obvious from the over-inflated prices that we were in tourist-ville. Three quid for a single scoop of ice cream that tasted 90% of ice, 10% of the last ice cream scooped and 0% of cream.
And to see inside Shakespeare’s house? To enjoy the privilege of seeing the writing desk of the man who tortured several billion school children over three or more centuries, you had to part with £20 of the money you earned doing a job that did not involve any requirement for you to say ‘verily I comeft from far lands to unblocketh thy loo’ or ‘I amft afraid, verily, that thy automobile needeth a new carburettor.’
You could say we ‘suffered the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune’.
Anyway we got our picture taken in front of the house instead.
We then wandered along to the riverside in search of greater inspiration for our culture-hungry minds and were torn between exploring the Royal Shakespeare Theatre archives for his lesser known soliloquies or sitting on our arses in a boat for forty minutes.
So it was a lovely boat ride up and down the Avon looking at houses we will never afford, healing our jealous dignity by assuming them to be drug-dealers or, worse, bankers.
We finished our day with a quick visit to the Holy Trinity Church where Shakespeare was interred along with his wife Anne Hathaway and some other relatives that did not star in The Devil Wears Prada.
Being inside a church you did not have to pay to get in – as long as you had the gall to walk past a very large church elder whose quiet voice and reverent smile belied the 20 inch forearms he bore, tattooed with the four Horsemen of the Apocalypse each drinking Guinness from the skull of a Scotsman.
If you couldn’t do that it cost £6.
So having seen the grave we skipped town just before our three hour parking ticket ran out and we headed to Oxford, brimming with culture and theatrical luvvie-ness.
Our campsite in Oxford was just a mile and a half from the city centre, which was great as we could walk in and not pay for any transport. It also allowed us to walk through the lower rent area of the city, where most of the houses had been given over to student lets or abandoned to the homeless. Looking at them you could not tell one from the other.
Now whatever subjects they are teaching at this elite University, I can absolutely assure you that none of them require any knowledge of cleaning dishes, clothes or windows. The sights we saw!
There’s a stark contrast when you get into the city though, the male students are wandering about in dark suits, shirts and ties and sporting roses in their lapels. This is a tradition, we were told. Students on their final exams wear suits and display a different coloured flower depending on what stage they are at.
At first I thought the females students had to wear dangerously low cut dresses and skirts so short you could carry out a cervical exam just by bending down to tie your shoelace. But it seems these young ladies were just the guys’ hookups. The female students were similarly business-attired, they just didn’t parade around the town with underage girls in tow.
Dinner on the first night was at Byron Burger which is far better in England than in Scotland because they are permitted to cook their burgers pink. In Scotland we have to eat them well done because we are NOT English. Yes?
For lunch next day we went to the Covered Market and ate some very nice flat breads with smoked salmon and cream cheese.
Next we visited the Bodleian Library in Oxford because a) it is a very old library full of culture and stuff, b) it let us have a look inside the University and – most importantly c) it was where Hermione worked out what Fluffy, the three headed dog, was guarding in the first Harry Potter film.
I cannot show you a picture of this library because we were not allowed to take pictures and the beady-eyed librarian had spotted me and my devious ways the second I entered the room. He never took his eyes off me til I left.
This was at the entrance though.
And this was just inside before the photo ban kicked in…
We then wandered over the street to see an exhibition of J.R.R Tolkien’s drawings of Middle Earth including the original of his dust cover for the Hobbit. This was a real thrill because I am a genuine fan of the books.
The films? Nah.
Tolkien was a student and professor at Oxford and the exhibition gave a great insight into what a true geek he was. The original geek I would call him. He spend his life creating Middle Earth including the construction of Elvish languages and detailing the landscape in very technical mapping terms. A mad genius.
And speaking of made up languages.
There are lots of people who come to Oxford I am certain, from all walks of life. But it is fascinating to discover that, while not required to wash anything ever, they are required to learn a new way of conversing with each other in the pub.
The Oxford language has only three letters – A, F, H and W. It’s most common word is
It is so common that the unlearned ear can only ever make this word out, repeated incessantly – fwah fwah fwah fwah fwah fwah fwah.
There is a strong nasal quality to the accent of course and, if you listen long enough you can make several distinctions.
Sometimes, when laughter is called for, they mix up the letter and there is a burst of – HWAF, WAF, WAF, WA. It quickly settles back to fwah fwah though.
There is only one interrogative pronoun – a wha?
They never miss the ‘a’ in front – it is lengthened slightly and the voice pitch rises a little. You can easily tell a joke is being told by an Oxford Student in a pub. It goes:
Joke teller – A wha fwah fwah fwah fwah?
Audience – A wha?
Joke Teller – Fwah fwah fwah fwah ….
Audience – HWAF, WAF, WAF, WA!!
The HWAF section is usually led by the joke teller him (or herself) and it is louder than anything else in the pub – as a rule.
Like some of the ancient languages there are clearly some words that don’t exist and, very occasionally, you can grab a snippet that makes sense. Common words you might recognise are archaeology, pint of cider and apple mac.
We ate dinner at the White Rabbit (C.S. Lewis was also a student at Oxford). This pub is a student and professor filled backstreet pub with amazing pizza. £25 for the two pizzas, two pints (diet coke) and a side salad!
To finish our Oxford day we saw ‘The Final Curtain’ at the local theatre. This is a new Sherlock Holmes story starring Robert Powell who was Jesus of Nazareth if you are of my generation and was in Casualty for the rest of you; and Liza Goddard who was in Give Us a Clue for those of us who saw the eighties, and also in Casualty for everyone else.
It was not very good.
What was fun was that we got to sit after the show and listen to the actors talk rubbish about all their luvvieness and thespian achievements while we sat lapping up all the stardom in front of us. An after-show chat with the stars!
My wife banned me from asking if Liza Goddard thought she or Una Stubbs was the better captain in Give Us A Clue, so I had to try to think of a better one. Also banned was asking Robert Powell if he was up for a sequel to Jesus and I was not permitted to flirt with Liza Goddard (that woman is as enchanting as ever).
There were some crap questions for others so I am not so sure my ideas were so inappropriate. One guy asked the actor who had clearly had ripped off Dr Dawson from Basil the Great Mouse Detective for his portrayal of Watson if he had used any other actor for inspiration. No, he lied. It was all his own. Like there was never going to be a member of this Oxford audience who had watched the Disney film! Poor gamble – I saw right through him.
And Robert Powell made more mention of his Shakespearean credits than address the huge plot holes in this current offering. ‘What was going on in the last scene?’ someone asked. ‘Ah yes! We mean’t to cut that out. It doesn’t make sense does it?’
Nope! You should have stopped at ‘the game’s afoot!’
Now I finally worked out a great question to ask. It had lots of insight and would have drawn out some interesting takes on the theme of the play, but the interview wifey called a halt to questions just as I was about to overcome my shyness and blurt it out.
I seethed all the way home.
Una Stubbs was clearly better!