Thursday, 18 November 2010

The University Museum Escape Committee

From the front room of The Eagle and Child, St Giles, Oxford.

The Eagle and Child is commonly referred to as the "Bird and Babe" (other, less palatable variations on the name are known). About fifty yards away to the left of the front door, is a very good second-hand bookstore, run by Oxfam.
The pub belongs to St John's College, (as does the Lion and Lamb,  on the other side of St Giles). It's been a pub since about 1650, just after the civil war.
In more recent times its claims to fame include having had me as a regular customer in the mid seventies, and prior to that, being a regular meeting place for a group of Oxford folk who enjoyed writing; they were known to each other as "The Inklings". The best known of this group were C.S. Lewis, writer of, amongst other things, The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, followed by a host of other Narnia stories, and J.R.R. Tolkien, best known for The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit.
I can report that it still serves a good pint of beer.
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  1. 1650? Amazing. But tell some more about St. Johns. You intimate you may have been inside once or twice.

  2. 1650? Why, that's almost new. The Bingley Arms, a few miles from me, claims the title of britain's oldest pub. An older part of the present building is recorded as having been, in 953 a.d., the brewhouse of one Samson Ellis, who may have been continuing an existing trade, as the stonework is dated at 905 a.d.

    Time now for disambiguation. I was not a student of St John's college ever. nor do I hold an Oxford degree.
    I was a student at Westminster College, on Harcourt Hill, affiliated to the University as part of the Oxford University Delegacy for Education and Science.
    I had originally planned to take the Bachelor of Education Degree in English Literature, but, in my first two years at college, I became more and more drawn toward fine arts and ceramics. If I carried on on the B.Ed English course, I'd have had to abandon my parallel art/ceramics course.
    My English tutors were quite vocal in trying to persuade me not to drop the degree course, but my art tutors were equally vociferous in encouraging me to make art. And, the clincher! They said they were in the closing phases of talks that would see the university ratify their course as a full degree course, and hat by the time I finished year three, I'd be back on the B.Ed track.
    Guess what? It did not happen like that, and my financial resources were getting a bit too thin for me to commit to re-doing year three's english, then a following year toward the batchelor's degree.
    I'd funded my college years by an in between year of working and saving, and vacations doing the same, and a bit of help from my parents. And the money was running out.
    So, I spent three years in and around Oxford, had friends in many other colleges, drank in a lot of pubs, lived the life, but didn't get the medal.
    I'm not sure I'd do any different if I could live it all over again.
    Maybe I'd have had a completely different life path, gone into teaching, became a headteacher, took early retirement a couple of years ago, who knows?
    Maybe I'd have had a complete breakdown after a few years in the stupidity of state education.

    One thing I do not regret is the time spent in Oxford. The place itself is steeped in history, some of the greatest minds ever have passed through there. As you walk through Christ-Church, above one door on the quad, there's a pomegranate carved into the stonework. It's said that that marks the rooms where Catherine of Aragon stayed, in her visit to pray at Christ-Church cathedral, when she was desperate to conceive a son to HenryVIII. All of Oxford's like that, unimaginably steeped in history. And as you know, I love history.

  3. Oh... Can't go back into comments and edit.... I did, of course, leave with my teaching qualification, I didn't fail, or anything, just did not get that ptestigious B.Ed Oxon. to put after my name. It does, allegedly, open doors around the world. That being said, Hey, I've been invited to a party, personally, by the president of Iceland, so maybe I don't need extra letters after my name.


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