Monday, August 13, 2018

"Because I Can't Quite Let Go..."

During an open afternoon while attending “The Oxford Experience”, I signed up for a tour for “The English Civil War.”  The involved history was fascinating.  Though our assigned tour guide was less than a “natural” at communicating it. Disappointed by her perfunctory performance, when we were done, I, of course, tipped her substantially more than I had originally intended to,  the prepared two pounds suddenly ballooning to five.

Why tip a person more for a substandard presentation?  Because her desperate delivery suggested she was secretly aware she was “bombing” and I felt uncomfortable confirming that (accurate) belief.  

So I rewarded her handsomely for doing a “so-so” job, hoping she would fail interpret my dishonest generosity.  Though her guarded “Thank you” said,

“Five pounds!  I get it.  He thought I was terrible!

Oh well.  You can do only so much to spare somebody’s feelings.
I found valuable “Learning Moments” in my tutor Jim’s most trivial pronouncements.  

He was talking about… I forget what he was talking about… arriving at the philosophical judgment, “Life is not fair.”  Some disgruntled socialist probably said it though I am uncertain which one.  

Upon hearing this, I reflexively mentioned that even President Kennedy asserted “Life is not fair”, adding gratuitously, 

“And he had Marilyn Monroe and millions of dollars.”

To which my tutor Jim immediately replied,

“There was the back pain, I suppose.”

The joy of my “Oxford Experience” in a nutshell.  In issue after issue, there were holes in in my cherished pronouncements I had neglected to fully explore.  That time, the reminder was presented as a joke. Meaning, it more memorably sank in.

“Knee-Jerk Reactions ‘RI.”

Something to ponder when I got home.
I think of Oxonians– students attending Oxford, like me – from earlier centuries, such as satirist Jonathan Swift (1667-1745) and economist Adam Smith (1723-1790) walking the same halls and quadrangles and I did. And even thengoing,

“This place is old!

Imagine discovering a scribbled memo in my dorm room, reading,

Note To Myself: ‘Combined solution for Ireland’s population and famine problem:  ‘Eat the babies.’  ‘Too much’? I don’t think so.”  

What, I wondered, would that fetch on Antiques Roadshow?  A pretty penny, I would imagine. 
Heading from “The Great Hall” back to my dorm room during my first day, I came to an official painted sign reading: “Private”, so I went the other way and immediately got lost.  It turned out that, for that week at least, the direction that said “Private” meant “Private” for me.
This one’s about competence.  You can skip over it if you wish.  I’d just like it immortalized on “The Cloud.”

I am riding the Underground south on the Northern Line from Hampstead, headed back to our apartment, near St. Paul’s “Tube” station, when I look out the window at the arriving station whose posted identifying sign reads, 


Which instantly tells me one thing:

I am traveling on the wrong subway.

Galvanized by this sudden awareness, I quickly exit the train, find the platform going in the… well, the platform doesn’t go anywhere.  But the subway pulling into it does.  I board the incoming train and head in the direction I had previously come from, retracing two stops.  I get off at Euston Station, and, choosing from eight available platforms, put myself – literally – back on track.  No confusion.  No muss.  And no fuss.

Lesson learned:  

Navigating the London Underground?

I still got it.
Three anecdotes, filed under, “The English Are Different”:

When their country’s team got knocked out during the semi-finals in soccer’s international World Cupafter advancing further than anyone expected them to, an English newspaper headline proudly proclaimed:

“Glory – Yes.  Immortality – Denied.”

From an American standpoint it felt like the England lost because they’d unconsciously settled for “Glory.”
Lunching at a pub, my original selection from the posted menu is the “Chicken, leek and brie pie.” Told they were sold out of it, I instead order my second choice,  “Steak, ale and mushroom pie.”  

“That’s our most popular item,” I am informed.

Making me immediately think, “Then why is the other one sold out?”

I don’t know, are the English naturally more gullible?
They drive on the left. Turning on the overhead lights, their light switch flicks down.  Their First Floor is our Second Floor. The positioning of their sink’s “Hot” and “Cold” faucets, at least in our apartment, are the opposite to ours.  Making me think,

Who exactly is being “difficult”, them or us?

I guess that’s why we travel.  

If it was all the same, we could happily stay home. 

As many understandably do.

On their original visit, they probably turned on what they thoughtwas the “Cold” faucet, got horribly scalded, and they never came back.

(Or looked the wrong way crossing the street and couldn’t.)
Okay, the trip’s out of my system.  I can now comfortably move on.

Though be prepared for the occasional relapse.

Possibly soon as tomorrow.

I loved that trip!

This is my class.  (Tutor Jim is three down to my right.)  That adjacent door is supposed to be the door that inspired "Alice In Wonderland."  But when someone else told me that story, they were equally sure it was a different door.  But it's definitely one of those doors.


Wendy M. Grossman said...

When I first came here, I had a theory for a long time that when the convicts and riff-raff left for America they decided to make everything opposite, just to prove they weren't British any more.

Your tour guide may simply have been taken aback by being tipped, let alone so much. I've never seen anyone tip a tour guide in this country.


JED said...

I, for one, will look forward to more Oxford stories as you remember them.

I heard an apocryphal story about a hotel in Canada that tried to be language impartial by putting 'C' for Cold on one faucet handle and 'C' for Chaud on the other.

FFS said...

Well Wendy my wife and I were on a coach tour in 2000 and the tour company guide who was English used local guides wherever we went. His comment before we set out on each local tour was that we show the “appropriate appreciation” for the services of the guide. This included the city tour in London. Sounds like Earl’s tip met or exceeded what was appropriate.

Rebecca said...

You can keep telling as many anecdotes about the trip as occur to you. I love the country, and have thoroughly enjoyed every single one of your posts about it, this trip and when you lived there decades ago.