Sunday, September 30, 2007

Large Scary Bugs

You can't really see him properly, but Katherine was brave enought to capture an enormous spider that was wandering around our house. I'm impressed that she didn't kill it - she had misgivings later about her kind gesture to nature but decided she did the right thing after considering how crunchy this one would have been.

Our house seems to attract large bugs. One of the first nights we were here, two of the biggest Daddy Long Legs I have ever seen were buzzing about my room. Could have been because my window was open and my light was on...

Regardless, Mr. Spider provided a small spark of excitement to a house mostly silent except for the tap tap of computer keys as we all write our essays.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Twelfth Night in Stratford-Upon-Avon

After a full day of sight-seeing (Warwick Castle, Anne Hathaway's cottage, Shakespeare's birthplace and grave) we saw Twelfth Night directed by Neil Bartlett at the Courtyard Theatre.

Twelfth Night is one of my favorite Shakespeare plays and was on our required reading list for the introductory course at OOSC. Overall, I wasn't too thrilled with Bartlett's interpretation. I'm kind of a traditionalist which could have swayed my reaction to this play. Bartlett cast a man to play Viola as well as having women play the drunken pose of Sir Toby, Sir Andrew, and Fabian. In a play already saturated with mistaken gender and subdued sexual tension, those reversals were over the top. The cast also used mirrors to portray a sense of introspection that I found distracting.

However, the play had one shining character that makes seeing this production well worth the time - Malvolio. John Lithgow (Just the fact that I saw John Lithgow on stage in England would have made me happy) gives a phenomenal performance as Olivia's steward who is endlessly tormented and tricked by other members of the household. The vision of him in cross-gartered yellow stockings will be etched in my mind for quite a while.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Jon Whiteley

One of our lectures this morning was on Pre-Raphaelites in Oxford, given by Jon Whiteley. During tea, Penelope informed us that Mr. Whiteley was actually a famous child actor. He is one of the few youngsters who ever received an Academy Award. He gets embarrassed about it, so the Warners didn't mention it when he was introduced. Whiteley stopped acting around 12 and later perused a career in art history.

Here's what it said on Wikipedia:

"Jon Whiteley (born February 19, 1945 in Monymusk, Scotland) was a briefly successful child actor in films. Whiteley appeared in five films during his brief career, and it was for the second of these, The Little Kidnappers (1954) that he, along with co-star Vincent Winter, was awarded an Academy Juvenile Award for this film. He only appeared in three films after this, including The Spanish Gardener (1956), before his acting career ended. Whiteley is now a respected art historian at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, England."

Wednesday, September 19, 2007


Rachel, Katherine and I grabbed dinner out a couple nights ago and ended up at a little cafe right outside of the Covered Market. Puccino's turned out to be a very off-beat establishment - not in a bad way though. The menu, walls, and cups are sprinkled with odd hand-drawn characters and funny sayings. We were there just before closing so the place was virtually empty. When the owner showed us to our table, he took some home spray and spritzed it about the room, I guess to freshen it up a bit...

The menu was small but relatively comprehensive - mostly devoted to "jacket potatoes, cibatta, baguette or panini" but Puccino's also serves breakfast. For the former, you pick the filling, mainly named after locations like Alaska, Manhattan or New Orleans) and your desired carb option.

I had a New Yorker Panini - chicken, bacon, sweet corn and mayo on toasted cibatta bread. The bread was great; the filling was a little dry and would have benefited by some salt, but the overall effect was appetizing. It came with a side salad of romaine, some other red hard lettuce, cucumber and tomato with honey dijon dressing. Great dressing - made with whole grain mustard. Had the perfect blend of spicy and sweet flavor. Rachel had carrot cake which I condescended to eat the dregs of. More like a spice cake with cream cheese frosting. Okay but I wouldn't spend the money for it.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Carfax Chruch Font

This font used to reside in St. Martin's Church (the Carfax tower is the only remnant of the church which was demolished to improve traffic flow) on the corner of Cornmarket and Queen's Streets. It now lives in St. Michaels, a church down the road connected to the oldest building in Oxford.
The reason I'm touching it (I know, my hand looks kind of creepy) is because Shakespeare once stood next to it and touched it at the christening of his godson, Sir William Davenant. William is rumored to be more than his godson. Some circles believe he was Shakespeare's illegitimate son.
Font (according to
1. a receptacle, usually of stone, as in a baptistery or church, containing the water used in baptism.
2. a receptacle for holy water; stoup.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Oxford Daily Photo

Check out Oxford Daily Photo - a site that shows a photo of Oxford (taken within 5 km of Carfax Tower) every day. I found it a month ago while I was searching for blogs about Oxford. Now I actually get to participate in this great blog. Percy, the blog's original contributor, is off for a few weeks so I'll be posting pics every day while he is gone.

Have a look...

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Sung Evensong at Christ Church Cathedral

I've never been to an Evensong service before, which could account for my accidentally stealing the program. I'm guessing since it says "please do not take away" on the front that they reuse them. So, most of the service must be the same everyday?

The service was beautiful, albeit different than what I'm used to. Because it was an open day, the cathedral was packed and we couldn't get a seat in the main area. Regardless, the acoustics carried the choir so it surrounds you.

A short explanation is printed on the front flap inside the program. It reads: "Worship in the Cathedral continues a long tradition in which the choir sings much of the service. Yet our participation is not limited to those occasions when we are doing or saying something. We may listen, follow the words and respond to God in many different ways."

Although I am not Catholic and really don't consider myself Anglican (I just keep it a simple relationship with my Savior), I found many parts of the service very worshipful. I plan to make it back during the week to experience the whole thing when it isn't so crowded.

The photo is of the Cathedral's ceiling.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Christ Church Open Day

Today was Christ Church Open Day. Normally, only the grounds surrounding Christ Church are free and open to the public (you can tour the inside for a price). Christ Church has the largest college in Oxford and also has a functioning church body. As witnessed by the surging mass of humanity that swarmed the grounds today, it's necessary to keep them closed for the sake of student's ability to live and study.

It was very difficult to pick a picture for this post. The weather could not have been better and the church and grounds are beautiful. What you see is Tom Tower and in the middle of Tom Quadrangle is Mercury Fountain. Multiple old men with bowler hats were stationed all around the middle lawn to prevent access to the fountain.

After walking around the extensive gardens, we toured the actual cathedral and hall (where parts of Harry Potter were filmed - filled with portraits now, it looked nothing like it does in the movies).

Many special programs were planned for today that I mostly avoided to just wander but I'll be heading back for Evensong at 6 - probably along with the multitudinous amounts of other tourists who came to visit Christ Church today.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Fish and Chips

Appropriately named, this fish and chips joint serves up freshly made fish and chips as well as other standards like bangers and mash and pucca pies.

I must admit I was fairly sceptical about this place. F and C is located off of High Street, down this dingy alley (see pic). With only a small street sign to entice hungry patrons, F and C caught our attention by sheer availability. We were hungry and it was the first place we came upon.

A typed paper at the end of the menu informs customers that items are made (in my case with the fish and chips, battered and fried) to order for "extra" taste. My small fillet of cod was relatively tasty, but mostly hot and greasy. The chips were good, crispy outside, melty center. You do have to pay 20 pence for a small packet of ketchup.

The ambiance didn't seem too British - just three tables crammed in a fluorescent lit room painted a light yellow (or was that grease residue coating the walls?...). English soaps were playing on the tube. The owner was quite friendly and a steady stream of customers were in and out while we ate.

I'm planning on trying fish and chips at multiple other places. I did overhear Penelope (OOSC coordinator and Oxford resident) say that the best place for fish and chips was down an alley off of High St... I'm hoping that isn't the case.

My First Oxford Fish and Chips

Eaten at Fish and Chips (see above pic).

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The Five Senses of England: Touch

Some odd touch sensations here in England:
  • The Currency - Paper money is made of a different fiber than in America. It's crisp with a waxy undertone. Plus, it has shorter and stubbier dimensions. One and two pound coins are quite heavy and the pence system does not go by size.
  • Greasy Food - I had fish and chips today that were the greasiest things I've ever had in my life. My fingers were slick with grease, I can only imagine what they were doing to my gullet.
  • Cobblestones - A free foot massage wherever you walk.
  • History - Go to evensong in Christ Church or sip a pint at The Eagle and Child and know that famous people did famous things there.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The Five Senses of England: Taste

I've only had two meals in England so far.

Dinner: The Crown, a pub on Cornmarket St. It was 8:45pm by the time we found this place. Aside from another small group having a few beers, we were the only occupants. Without inquiring into the flavor, I asked for the soup of the day. It turned out to be a carrot puree with flecks of parsley. Appetizing texture and semi-sweet carrot flavor. Usually I would have been revolted at the thought of carrot soup but I recently have turned a new leaf with carrots. The soup was served with a piece of hearty white bread, slightly cold and hard around the edges. Our waiter forgot to give me a spoon and pleasant about me asking for one.

Lunch: La Croissanterie, sandwich and pastry shop on St. Aldates. On recommendation, Rachel and I went here for lunch. They obviously do a hoping business in this small shop. I wasn't quite clear on how to order a sandwich so I went for something in the display case - a mushroom and cheese croissant. The man behind the counter (owner, I believe) warmed it up in the micro and then toasted it on a panini press. Croissant was tender and flaky, mushrooms were firm and flavorful. I can't quite put my finger on the type of cheese. A couple I think - something sharp and grainy with cheddar. After sitting at their small bar for awhile, I am now clear on how to order. You say what type of meat (chicken and mayo) on type of bread (baguette, ciabatta, etc.). They ask you if you want salad (lettuce and tomato) on it. I will definitely go back. The pastries looked amazing.

Friday, September 7, 2007

The Five Senses of England: Smell

As of July 1st 2007, there is one thing that residents and visitors in England will be smelling much less of - tobacco smoke.

The new smokefree law, introduced this summer, iterrupts life as England has know it for quite a while. Smoking was a huge part of England's social and cultural history. Now, smoking is against the law in almost all 'enclosed' and 'substantially enclosed' public places and workplaces. Which means no more smoking in taxis or lighting up in a pub.

According to Smokefreeengland the majority of reasons behind the new law are health related. Key factors are:
  • a person's right to be protected from the harm of secondhand smoke and to breathe smokefree air.
  • providing supportive smokefree environments to help people trying to give up smoking.
  • reducing illness and the number of deaths from medical conditions caused by secondhand smoke.
  • improving life expectancy because fewer people will take up smoking in the first place.

Opposition to the ban believes that the law infringes on a person's right to choose where and when to smoke.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

The Five Senses of England: Sight

Nothing beats seeing a place with your own eyes, but thanks to an electronic world and a techno-savvy generation, we can view the world from our computer chair. is the source of over 5,000 travel videos. From tourist to amateur director, these films are made by real people from around the world not travel industry executives. Some are wacky, others educational but they all give a slice-of-life picture of the location.

Scroll over the map on travelistic's homepage to pick a location (where you're traveling or where you want to see). For my purposes, I checked out
Europe (929 videos) and then narrowed my search to the UK (96 videos). At the bottom of the UK page, there is a list of videos by city or you can search all.

Here are a few of my favorites for the UK:
  • A Street in London - Shows the dichotomy between the upper and working class as well as great views of Portabello Street and Notting Hill.
  • Tube in London - Short clip of what everyone experiences in a tube station.
  • Oxford Graduation - Real students at one of the most happy events in their lives.
  • A Viking Barbecue -How the Vikings used English mead to fix everything from poultry to cake.

Not only can you watch other people's videos, Travelistic allows you to upload your own.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

The Five Senses of England: Hearing

I don't pretend to be music savvy. It's almost a guarantee that the lyrics I blare forth with in the car are nothing close to what is really being said. Luckily, my brother is a wealth of musical knowledge. He also happens to love England. So naturally I went to him for recommendations on how to acclimate my eardrums to the Brit's way with sound.

He set me up with a great playlist of highlights per decade/music movement (with a little history thrown too - he can't help it).

Early 60s: Merseybeat a.k.a. the Mersey Sound or the English Beat - named after the River Mersey running through Liverpool were the movement originated.
  • "A Hard Day's Night" The Beatles, A Hard Day's Night
  • Michael and the Messengers

Late 60s/Early 70s: in London

  • The Kinks, The Kinks Are Well Respected Men - perfect little slices of Englishisms
  • "Waterloo Sunset" The Kinks - consistently voted the best song of all time by Brits
  • My Generation, The Who
  • The Rolling Stones

Glam Rock (70s):

  • "Ziggy Stardust" and "Rock and Roll Suicide" David Bowie, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars
  • T.Rex
  • Roxy Music

Punk - Late 70s:

  • "God Save The Queen" The Sex Pistols
  • The Damned
  • The Clash

80s New Wave: was inspired by punk rock. Began in Manchester.

  • Happy Mondays
  • "Love Will Tear Us Apart" Joy Division
  • Depeche Mode

Early 90s: Brit Pop

  • Pulp
  • "Don't Look Back In Anger" Oasis


  • "LDN" Lilly Allen
  • "A Grand Don't Come For Free" The Streets
  • Pipettes
  • Long Blondes

For a Slice of English Life:

  • "Song Two" Blur, Park Life

Also Recommended: radiohead. franz ferdinand. coldplay. the rakes. the kooks. doves. keane. damien rice. stranglers. buzzcocks. the easybeats. ladytron.