Oxford & Two Conversations

So, last weekend we took the train down to Oxford.  Before I get into all that, let me just pause to say what an excellent public transportation system this country has.  It is clean, efficient (mostly), safe and inexpensive.  The train station here in Warwick is about a 10 minute walk from our house and it took about 35 minutes for the train to deliver us to the center of Oxford.  We briefly considered renting a car, but it is honestly a bigger hassle to drive to drive in England.  It’s the traffic circles.  I think traffic circles are where Dante got the idea for the Circles of Hell.  We all know the scene in the movie European Vacation where Chevy Chase gets stuck in the traffic circle.  Look kids, Big Ben . . . Parliament.  That actually happens here.  We have experienced it and it’s very stressful.  We rented a car for a few days when we first moved to assist with our hunting and gathering efforts.  This was after a traumatic trip by bus to IKEA that resulted in the 3 of us carrying two each of those giant blue IKEA bags, hauling them onto the bus, realizing there were no seats on the first level, hauling them up to the second level (Carolina crying at this point), and cramming them in the tiny spaces around our bodies.  So, yeah, we rented a car.  Only that kind of sucked worse.  Because of the traffic circles.  Now, we did have traffic circles in South Africa, but those were smallish, two lane, two exit, wimpy traffic circles.  The circles here involve anywhere from 3 to 5 lanes and they have many, many exit options, so that if viewed from above they would look like massive angry octopi.  And the roads are already super confusing, what with the changing names at each intersection and the combo name/number system.  For example:  A road might be labeled M16/Leek Wooton Road, but then you cross an intersection and suddenly it becomes M16/Regency Street.  WHAA?!  Then, you have the traffic circle exit signs.  Each one lists at LEAST 5-7 options.  So, if a circle has 6 exits with 6 destinations on each exit, that is a total of 36 possible options!  The worst part is that when we rented the car Will was the only listed driver, so I became the default navigator.  This is a recipe for divorce people.  Do not, if you can avoid it, come to England with your spouse, rent a car and only list one of you as the driver.  It is VERY important that you each get a chance to experience the stress and horror of both driving AND navigating, so that when you leave England, you are still married.  What’s that you say?  Why didn’t we get a GPS?  Here, I quote my husband, “Why would I spend “blah, blah” pounds on a GPS system, when I have a perfectly good map right here?!”  Uh - because a map is only as good as it’s reader maybe?  Below I give you a sampling of one of our navigation/driving conversations:

WILL:    Ok, we are coming up to a traffic circle.  What exit do we want?

BETH:    Well, we are headed to Stratford, so whatever one says Stratford.

WILL:      Wow, people are flying around this thing, I can’t even get on.  How many exits around is the Straford exit?

BETH:    I don’t know.  This is my first time on this traffic circle.  Just like you.

WILL:    Ok, here I go.  Doesn’t the map show which exit we take?

BETH:    Um, it looks like there might be a few different options for Stratford.

WILL:    Well, we need to know which one, because I need to know which lane of the circle to be in here.

BETH:    Just get in the middle-ish one, until I can read some signs.

At this point we have made two full rotations.

BETH:    Wow, these signs have so many options.  You are going to have to slow down, I can’t read anything going this fast.

WILL:    I am going as slow as I can.  People are already flying around me and riding my butt.  Seriously, where are we going?

BETH:    Ok, that sign says Stratford/A465.  Oh my goodness, it also says Sheepy Magna!  There is a town here called SHEEPY MAGNA!!  We should try to live there.

WILL:    Oh my god, Beth, please focus!  I can’t just keep going around this thing.

BETH:    Sorry, but that is just awesome.  I mean, if we have an opportunity to live in a place called Sheepy Magna, I don’t think we can pass it up, do you?

WILL:    Give me the map!

BETH:    No!  You cannot possibly look at the map and drive in this madness.  Have you seen how fast people are flying around this thing?

We are on at least our 6th rotation.


BETH:    Ok, calm down.  You don’t need to raise your voice.  I’m sitting right here.

WILL:    I’m getting over into the second to last outer circle to give us strategic placement for exit.

BETH:    Ok, let’s just take one of these Stratford exits and hope for the best.  Take this one.  Here, HERE!!  Oh wow, I think this is actually right, I think we are going the right way.  Ok, keep going we have about two miles on this road and then . . . oh crap.

WILL:    What?

BETH:    Another traffic circle.

So, in the interest of our marriage, we took the train to Oxford.

Well, I have to admit I knew very little (okay nothing) about Oxford before I arrived there on Saturday.  I didn’t really even research.  I just figured we would walk around, see the sights, eat, shop.  Will was attending a conference at the Said Business School, so it was just Carolina and me.  And sightseeing in an old British town is kind of a 12-year old’s worst nightmare, so it was pretty much all me.  Well, the town is so gorgeous.  Inside my brain, I have always thought there was this place called “Oxford University” and it was located in the town of Oxford and really smart people went to school there and that’s about it.  Mais non.  Oxford University is made up of thirty-six different “colleges” spread throughout the town and they are surrounded by incredible churches, castles, markets and waterways.  And everything is about 500 years old.  WOAH!  The total student population is around 20,000.  The individual colleges house smaller numbers of students and serve as the hub for their living, social and tutoring environment.  It’s an amazing system really.  We toured through some of the colleges and hit the markets and ate lunch.  Christ Church college was our favorite.  Founded in 1524 by Cardinal Wolsey and taken over a few years later by Henry VIII (I think he chopped off Wolsey's head or something), Lewis Carroll wrote “Alice in Wonderland” while teaching there and it is the home to the one and only dining hall of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft & Wizadry.  There were no floating candles though (disappointed).  We accidentally trespassed at Worcester College (not all of the colleges are open to the public) and got kicked out by a very cranky old man.  I will call him Cranky McMeanypants for ease and accuracy.  It was kind of the highlight of the day because, well, this:

BETH:    (gazing at the school grounds)  Oh, wow, Carolina this place is amazing.  I can’t believe people get to attend school here.  Can you imagine?

LINA:    Huh?  Yeah, awesome.  I’m hungry.

Cranky McMeanypants:  EXCUSE me, can I help you?

Let me just pause to note here how quickly the English accent can go from charming to condescending.

BETH:    Um, no, we are just enjoying the scenery, but thanks.

C McM:    Well, you are not allowed to enjoy the scenery.  You are not supposed to be in here!

BETH:    Really?  Oh, I had no idea.  I’m sorry.

C McM:    (points to rather large sign that apparently says something about us not supposing to be in there).  Didn’t you see the SIGN?

BETH:    No, I didn’t.  I’m sorry.  We will just be going.

C McM:    You did not see the sign?  How could you NOT see the sign?

BETH:    Um, I’m not sure.  It IS rather large.  I think I was distracted by the view.  I mean, is this place not gorgeous?!  Do you just pinch yourself when you realize you wor-


BETH:    Well, yes.  I see that now, but um, ok, . . . we are just going to go.

C McM:    I don’t understand how you could miss the sign?!

BETH:    Ok, you DID NOT just say that.

LINA:    (pulling my arm)  Mom.  PLEASE, let’s just go.

BETH:    (Lina is pulling me out the door)  No! this guys is nuts!  He is a total nutcase!  NUT!  BALLS!

And then, I swear to you, this:

C McM:    addressing a woman stander-by “How could she not see the sign?”

UN-REAL people.  Wow.  You just can’t top that.  So, we had a snack and called it a day.

Oxford I recommend.  Stay out of Worcester College.  Or, go and tell Cranky McMeanypants I said “Hi”.  Something tells me he might remember me.

Here is a link to Oxford pictures:  http://gallery.me.com/bskillman#100077

Can Opener Update!

I would like to thank all of you for your kind messages of comfort and offers to send can openers.  I went to buy a new can opener, but the only ones I can find are just like mine.  The good news is that it does open some cans - just not all.  I am imaging receiving a bunch of can openers and if that happens I have a plan.  I will have a can-opener sale/workshop at which I will offer, to the general public, can openers with free lessons on how to use them.  I figure it could be very healing.

Love to all,  Beth