Thursday, August 2, 2018

"The Oxford Experience - Bits And Pieces"

I was living a fantasy.

I did not know how to talk about it.

I did not know how to think about it.

It’s like staring into the sun.   I could not capture it directly.  

But I found a detectable consequence.  (A glancing response to my ineffable circumstances.)

I was showering every morning.  

(don’t shower every morning.)

I was shaving every morning.

(don’t shave every morning.)

I was making my bed every morning, my folded sleepwear resting comfortably on my pillow.  Nobody entered that room.  And yet there I was, smoothing the creases out of the bed sheets.

Once, I almost shaved twice.  I said, “Stop it!”

“Why is this happening?” I wondered, startlingly subservient to outward appearances. 

And then I realized.

I was doing it for Oxford.  

I was trying to impress a university!

With my careful grooming and my assiduous housekeeping.  

I wanted to be worthy of the walls.  Deserving of the bell tower.

Best available description.  

A reflected reaction...

To a dumb-striking circumstance.
Trolling for anecdotes, I elevated my room’s window to the maximum, stepping onto the narrow balcony outside, hoping – at least partially – the window would slam down behind me, leaving a stranded Earlo outside, calling “Excuse me!” to passing “Day-Tourists” below. 

Something to write about.

It did not happen.  

The window remained harmlessly open. Offering crisis-free access for my eventual return.

Ask any comedy practitioner. There is no exploitable “Ha-ha”, covering events that go smoothly.  What can I say about it?  “I opened the window and it stayed up”?  That’s planes that land safely.  When everything goes right, all you can write about is the chronicling difficulty when everything goes right.

Which, you may notice, I just did.
Walking distance from campus is a pub called The Bear, whose exterior announcement reads, “Oldest pub in Oxford – est(ablished)1242.” 

It’s unfathomable.  I wouldn’t be born for 703 more years.  And there I am, cradling  “ ‘alf a bit’uh” (a half pint of room temperature ale) where people who knew Robin Hood might have dropped in to wet their whistles.  Vikingswondering, “Did anyone hand in a horned hat?  I left it behind when I got plastered.”

Big doings that summer: The World Cup, in which England reached the semi-finals before losing to Croatia, which I believe is marginally larger than my backyard.  I was required at “High Table” that evening, but someone watching at The Bear later remarked,

“When the game ended (with an England defeat), the bulk of the crowd quietly filed out.  The ones who had rooted most vociferously, however, remained behind, then collectively rose, gratefully applauding their countrymen’s achievement.”  

That’s “England” in a nutshell.  Capsulized by a “Great Hall” employee the following morning:  

“Oh well.  It’s only a game.”

(Echoes of an Oval Office occupant going, “Losers!”)
An afternoon excursion to the town’s Ashmolean Museum (est. 1683), named after its original benefactor Elias Ashmole.  In a subsequent phone conversation, a concerned Anna observed:  “You have to be careful how you say that.  It sounds a lot like something else.”

"Idiots!  That one was old in 1687!"
My retired submarine commander classmate Jack mused about an arranged “Whisky-Tasting” he’d recently attended.  

“There I was, sampling the best whiskies in the world, remembering I once drank torpedo oil, filtered through a sock.”  (Torpedoes back then, apparently lubricated by alcohol.)
Primary lesson learned from my class (and my accompanying classmates)?

“Certitude is the enemy. An eager openness, the cure.”

Though I am not certain that’s correct.  (You see what I did there?)  Still, it seems a valuable direction.  I had heard myself in action.  A troubling element: 

An insufficiency of humility.

As an antidote to my questionable certainty, tutor Jim advised, “Reading and reading and reading.”  When asked “What if they all disagree?” he replied, “You have to think more than you read.”  

Left unmentioned was my concerning flawed and prejudiced mind.  My imagined answer involved a continuing interplay between reading and thinking.  Which came from a flawed and prejudiced mind, so it may possibly be wrong.   
My driver Basi arrived at Tom Gateon schedule.  He loaded my luggage, one appreciative look back, and my adventure was over.

Would I do it again?  

I don’t know.  It seems like I did it.

My 2018 “Oxford Experience” had been virtual perfection.  Why risk a comparative letdown?


I snuck a peek at next year’s announced catalogue of offerings?  

They’re doing “Pirates.”

That's the place.

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