Papa Bouilloire Chapter the Second

Originally planned as one of the largest cloisters in Europe, Cardinal Wolsey got distracted and it never came to be. This lovely summer's day in Oxford showed it to perfection.
The vast courtyard at Christchurch was originally planned as one of the largest cloisters in Europe, Cardinal Wolsey got distracted and it never came to be. This lovely summer’s day in Oxford showed it to perfection.

Papa Bouilloire Goes to Oxford

Chapter the second

Our first true glimpse of Oxford came as the coach drew in next to Balliol College, where we all debouched and escorted the group of our students to the porter’s lodge for registration. I barely had time to marvel at the beauties of the building before the students were whisked from our sight by some pleasant and efficient tutors and the remainder followed us on foot, their cases rattling on the cobbles to St Catherine’s college. Wonder after wonder passed our eyes, and as each step passed my desperation to see the students off and get to our own accommodation at Magdalen grew inordinate.

St Catherine’s, an ultra-modern building by the Arne Jacobson, creator of the egg chair, was an unpleasant surprise as there was not a crenulation to be seen. I was told they also use Jacobson cutlery in the college which they all find most inconvenient as it is more like surgical implements than knives and forks.

The second group of students safely delivered we sauntered to the porter’s gate of Magdalen. An extremely polite porter treated us with great deference (Had our kind connection told them that we were some renowned academics with a Nobel Prize or two?) and we passed through the beautiful grounds alternately pinching ourselves to check that it was really true.

It was!

Imagine a colonnade of pointed arches behind which stood massive studded oak doors with mullioned window and slated roofs and you are picturing “The Grove”. All alone, we two were to dwell in this place and my colleague offered his High Five in celebration of our great good fortune. Up the stone staircase we ran and flinging wide the portals to our separate rooms we simultaneously gave forth expressions of great delight. The noble proportions, the deep set mullioned windows, the oaken desk, the bar fridge! Peering through the gothic casement, absent mindedly twiddling the ornate window furniture I espied a little field but a stone’s throw away where two deer completed the pastoral symphony before me. I was later told that the building was built in 2001 but I feel that our informant may have been wrong there. 12th Century if it is a day. We were also informed that the deer had been there for 300 years which was most obliging of them.

Rapidly pressing the buttons on the ancient mobile phone obligingly provided by the tour company I called  Our Noble Benefactor (hereafter known as “The Don”) and we arranged to meet at Carfax Tower!

All glowing in the sunlight were the buildings; all dappled in the shade the gardens. Every corner revealing a new wonder and my camera had already overflowethed when The Don met us. I suggested that we would like to buy him a coffee as a small thank you for the kindness he had already shown, but no, he instead invited us to drink coffee in the Christchurch Common Room. What a beautiful room! All oak panels with engravings of the Prime ministers of England staring down as we sipped our coffee in the comfortable armchairs, wondering at the view through the bay windows. I was appalled to see an entire set of William de Morgan Lustre tiles of extraordinary rarity still located in the fire place, picturing their deterioration with every fire lit. Why can’t we have all these things in our common room?!

After coffee, The Don took us on a wonder walk around Christchurch and the grounds.

The sun obligingly remained shining and The Don remained tolerant as I went photo mad. Everything was so picturesque, so perfect that it would have been criminal not to have taken them. It is rather nice to stroll casually past the masses of plebs queuing for the more “common” attractions and straight past the huge metal sign marked “Do Not Enter”. I did actually almost knock it down by walking straight into it but luckily the noise drew even more looks of hatred and envy so I did not repine. We saw the Alice tree and so many of the beautiful walled gardens all bursting with flowers that only the camera can do justice to it. A walk past fields covered in cows to the Isis sent us again into raptures and we meandered along the river as hire punts filled with inept punters veered erratically into the path of dedicated Oxford rowing teams. Swans and geese flocked about and all the while The Doctor kept us entertained with his phenomenal knowledge of the history of Oxford which he imparts with such charm and wit that we were enthralled from beginning to end.

Alas, duty called and we had to bid our benefactor adieu, but not before he invited us both to dinner at Christchurch, petrifying my colleague, who instantly decided to get his suit pressed and I to somehow procure a suitable jacket.

On the way home I espied hanging on a rack in the window of Sheppard and Woodward, purveyors of fine mens and ladies countrywear,  an Irish woollen jacket of a lovely sky blue with a canary yellow lining (last one and in my size too!) that was not only a joy to behold but was reduced from 199 pounds to a mere 29.95! I sauntered in and took it from the rack and straight to the counter.

It was as if I had knocked all the manikins down in the shop!

“One cannot remove items from the window sir!” said the venerable salesman in obvious horror.

“But one would like to buy it.” Says I

“We cannot remove things from the window until tomorrow at least sir!”

“Might one enquire when one might be able to procure the jacket?” I said in my poshest accent, feeling as though I was in some strange British comedy from the 1970s

“One might come back after we open at 9 tomorrow and we could possibly sell it to sir then.” says he looking at me as if I were some sort of philistine who had just asked permission to debauch the shopgirl.

Did I…

  1. Fling down the wretched garment and march indignantly from the shop never to return.
  2. Succumb to the irresistible sartorial charms of the Irish woollen goodness and went back next day.
  3. Debauch the shopgirl.

Alas dear reader, if you have got this far and wish to know more you must wait for the next unbelievable instalment of your friend,

Papa Bouilloire

Click here for Chapter the First


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