Tonight I sat by the Thames and read from The Subtle Knife. I think it’s a fitting way to spend the evening before I meet the man himself—Philip Pullman. All of my classmates are excited to meet him, and I’m sure I’m not that much more excited than they are, but I may be a little. After all, I have been a fan of Pullman’s since I first read The Golden Compass. He was the first modern writer to really pull me in, and we share a lot of the same philosophies, which makes the connection that much stronger.
I’ll hopefully pull (ha, ha) myself together tomorrow and sound reasonable in my questioning. We’ll see….
As for today, we started with a wonderful lecture by Peter Hunt (British children’s lit. guru) on Alice and Wind in the Willows. He is one of those darling British men who mumbles under his breath and spouts brilliance every five seconds. It was a great experience, and he accompanied us on the next phase of our journey which was to travel to Henley on the Thames and experience our first Regatta.
Apparently, as a part of the British “seasons,” aristocrats travel to Henley at the beginning of July for a five-day regatta that features 4 and 8-person rowing teams from all over the world. The men wear their college blazers that can be all shades of the rainbow and some even have lovely vertical stripes. The women dress up and wear little flying things on their heads. We were a little out of our element and it was blazing hot, but we got through it and had tea in one of the tents. I did try the hot tea, with one sugar cube and some milk; I, unsurprisingly, did not like it. I did also have some tea sandwiches and my first scone. Was not expecting it to be like a biscuit. However, the cream and fruit inside were much better than a Bo’ Berry. I also tried Pimms which is a famous English beverage that tastes like orange soda.
We made it through tea and ventured inside a rare bookstore which had a 1st edition of The Hobbit for a mere 45,000 pounds (around $75,000). We also saw a 1st edition of Peter and Wendy and some original artwork from The Wind in the Willows. It was a neat surprise.
Then we caught the train, and I went for my little reading excursion. The Thames portions near my hostel are interesting. There is graffiti all along the walls of the townhomes on the river but the bank is covered in wildflowers. The bench I sat on was surrounded by trash and cigarette remains, but in front of me were two adult swans, two young swans, and a dozen ducks of various colorings. I did a little bird watching and saw a duck eat out of an elderly man’s hand on the bench next to me. All that nature and all that destruction in one small place. That is Oxford in a nutshell. There is so much beauty here but so much commercialization. You have to learn to watch the swans and ignore the trash.