Wednesday, June 13, 2012

in june i change my tune

I woke up in Stratford to birds singing outside the window, which is usually a good omen. The drizzle is gone! And I was right. The skies were blue and the sun was out and it was going to be the kind of day English people dream of but rarely get. Perfect for another day on the road.

Imet, who calls me “boss man,” went ahead and gave me TWO hams and TWO sausages at breakfast this morning. I don’t know if he heard me hinting yesterday or not; maybe he just felt my telekinetic vibes telling him that one of each wasn’t going to be enough. Lots of bald men speak a silent, coded language, the way twins do! Turns out, I have twins all over the world. And we give each other secret double helpings of food.

We hit the road around ten and drove through the most beautiful, green, winding countryside. Everything looks like a Thomas Hardy novel (not Tess) and it was so great to listen to my music and look out the window. I kept playing a Benjamin Britten song I downloaded after hearing it in Moonrise Kingdom last week. It’s a simple song called “On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring.” The lyrics go:

Cuckoo, cuckoo, what do you do?
In April I open my bill;
In May I sing all day;
In June I change my tune;
In July away I fly;
In August away I must.

I sort of identify with that. The beginning of summer is always so energetic, so refreshing, and so anticipatory. And then time goes on, and it’s beautiful and you’re happy, and then July hits and you start feeling it winding down. By August I’m back in my office, and students start knocking on my door again. It’s a summer cycle, I guess. I’m just happy it’s still June.

Today we visited Blenheim Palace, and I don’t know how it took me seven years to get here. Is it possible that Blenheim is my new favorite place in England?  It’s this sprawling estate, like Versailles but much more restrained and English. It’s where Winston Churchill was born and raised, and it’s also where they filmed Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (when Indiana meets Hitler!) Young Victoria, and Jack Black’s Gulliver’s Travels.  We were informed of this by our tour guide Antonia, who was a lot of fun. She didn’t seem bored of giving tours like some of these people do, and she politely and enthusiastically answered all of my questions about ghosts and bedpans.

I was relieved we had Antonia and not that tour guide lady who looks like a waxwork, or the lady in lavender who was a camera Nazi and was sporting a fuzzy white beard! I wish you could see it better.
In this same vein, we were followed along the tour by three old ladies in wheelchairs, who we insensitively called “stitchy” “hair loss” and “big mouth.” Big mouth had a lot of things to say, hair loss didn’t like to sit still, and stitchy had a lot of stitches in various places, including her eyebrows. It was an adventure to have these ladies hot on our tail!

After the tour I sat in the garden at the edge of a fountain and had some lunch. I had this visceral moment where I realized that, were I to have my beautiful wife and five children with me, this might be heaven. The weather was warm and perfect, everything was green and tended, and I just wished they could have been there with me.  But after a few minutes I was joined by  Topher, Alayna, Bonnie, Daniel,  Emily, Kaitlyn, Ally, and Nick, and I realized that, if I can’t have my real family here, I’ll settle for the next best thing.

This gentleman, like the dynamic threesome inside the palace, parked right behind our table and listened to everything we said. I hope he enjoyed it!

Alayna, who gets told frequently that she looks like Lady Sybil Crawley, here poses with Topher, who frequently gets told that he looks nothing like Sir Matthew.

We arrived in Oxford and I checked into St. Hugh’s College, which seemed fitting, especially since it’s located on St. Margaret street! I doubt that’s a coincidence. I’m staying tonight in real Oxfordian dorm rooms. On the inside they look like dorm rooms at, say, BYU Idaho, but on the outside it’s pretty much Hogwarts or something.  Lisa Hall Hagen booked the rooms for us, and she picked well. I assume it’s because she’s so into this book, A Discovery of Witches, that she keeps talking about. It’s all about a woman who is an Oxford Professor and she does research and analyzes things and has supernatural encounters! Lisa claims that it’s “Twilight for professor ladies,” and I would have to agree. The students are staying in a youth hostel in town. They seemed excited by that, but as I have said before on this blog, I’m too old to share a room with some random tourist. I snore and they smell bad, and never the twain shall meet.

We had a great afternoon visit with Tiffany Stern, who is an English Professor at Oxford’s University College. She took us inside the hallowed and extremely guarded halls of the college, and we visited dining halls, tearooms, chapels, and the grounds. She’s such a funny and insightful person. She was in Orem visiting UVU two months ago and I took her to In-n-Out for her first “wild style” and drove her to the SLC airport, where, along the way, she felt comfortable enough to ask me if I was wearing “magic underwear.” (It was no question to anyone that I was wearing them today, however, since my favorite purple H&M pants have split irreparably right up the bum. It’s time to say goodbye.) Tiffany answered all of our questions about Shakespeare and Oxford and was really fantastic. So great to see her!

After this I went with a group of students to the local Pizza Express, which Tiffany told us had been an original Blackfriers playhouse. It was fun to imagine that, and we found the original Elizabethan tapestries hanging on the back wall of the restaurant. All of this Shakespearean sleuthing made everybody hungry, and nobody wanted to pay that much for pizza, so we hit Wagamama’s where, for the first time in recorded UVU study abroad history, there wasn’t that much confusion about the bill.

After this we separated. I came back to St. Hugh’s. I tried to read in the garden, but I was too distracted by all this:

Also, I was starting to get cold. So I called it a night. Oxford. Could it be any more beautiful?