Apr 7, 2014
Jenny and I spent five days in Oxford, primarily to attend a reunion of Old Brentwoodians, many of whom I had not seen for over fifty years. Twenty old masters, knights, professors, Oxford alumni and Old Brentwoodians assembled at Keble College for the reunion dinner. Coming from as far Canada, Australia, Sweden, France and Italy as well as many parts of England it was a miracle that a everyone was able to check into Keble on time and then assemble for a tour of some of the Oxford Colleges before pre-dinner drinks at Magdalen College (spoilt only by the fact that I was told George Brandis was a Magdalen alumnus). Fortunately we did not go to Queens, we bypassed it, where our illustrious leader Tony Abbott pummeled a few people in his pugilistic days at Oxford, attributes which seem to have stayed with him in his later years.
The history and architecture of the colleges is very individual and most of them have beautifully manicured gardens and large areas of lawn with 'keep off the grass' signs everywhere. We arrived at Magdalen from Keble via Wadham, Hertford, the Bodleian Library, the Radcliffe Camera and Brasenose before traveling back to Keble for dinner in the great hall.
The great hall at Keble is magnificent. There is a long top table at the end of the hall and there are three tables that run the length of the hall at right angles to the top table. When set for dinner it looks spectacular. There are lights along the length of the tables which makes the whole ambience rather wonderful. We were at one end of the top table and had a three course meal, much wine and a lot of conversation. The conversation carried on when everyone adjourned to the Keble bar before finally heading to our rooms. The two masters who attended the reunion were both well into their eighties and as sharp as ever and it was a joy to meet them in an environment which was quite different from the student/teacher relationship which prevailed when I last saw them.
The next morning we met again in the Keble Hall for breakfast and after breakfast everyone said their farewells, looking forward to next year's reunion. For me it was a wonderful occasion and makes me feel that my only regret in having moved to Australia is the fact that I have lost contact with such a wonderful group of old friends.
Jenny and I stayed in Oxford. We toured the covered market, found a good place for morning coffee and then headed for the Ashmolean Museum to see an exhibition of Cezanne paintings. The paintings were on loan from a private collector in America and it was the first time they had been seen in Europe.
On the previous day we had past the Kings Arms which had a board on the pavement stating that they had rabbit pie for lunch. This sounded good so we decided to have lunch there. There's something about English pub food which sets an expectation which is rarely, if ever, met. The Kings Arms was no exception. Instead of having the rabbit pie Jenny decided to have fish pie and I had liver and bacon washed down with a couple of half pints of bitter shandy. The food was gross. There was far too much on the plate and the presentation was appalling. It was to be the same on the following day when we had our evening meal at the Head of the River. They advertised a 'Sunday Roast' with beef, lamb, pork or chicken and Yorkshire pudding. Now I'm a connoisseur of Yorkshire pudding and what was served was an absolute disgrace. It was almost burnt to a crisp and was about the size of the plate which had half a chicken, half a kilo of carrots, a couple of huge potatoes and a mountain of broccoli underneath the Yorkshire pudding, all drowned in thick gravy. If this sort of stuff was served in Australia they would go out of business quick smart. We mentioned the poor state of the Yorkshire pudding to the waitress and she brought two more which were only slightly better. Unfortunately there's no point in discussing the food quality with pub staff since they know no better.
Anyway, we waddled off to the Thames Four Pillars hotel which was a delight. We arrived just in time to watch the Grand National Steeplechase on the TV. There were horses and jockeys all over the track and a number of horses continuing in the race without their riders. The leader of the race at the three quarter mark was run off the course by a riderless horse and was lucky not to have run into the fence. My view is that racing horses over jumps is a disgrace and should be banned. I seem to be saying that things are a disgrace: pub food and now horse races over jumps.
After breakfast we drove back into Oxford to the Head of the River and dumped our bags. After a short boat trip on the Thames we had some lunch and then went to see Christ Church College, the oldest college in Oxford. We timed our visit to perfection since the Great Hall had just opened and we were amongst the first to walk through the hall. The walls were lined with portraits of many benefactors and students including Henry VIII and Cardinal Wolsey who founded the college in 1524 as Cardinal's College. This was only thirty three years before my school was founded by Sir Anthony Browne in Brentwood. The college has its own picture gallery which contains an important collection of Old Masters paintings and drawings.
We returned to the Head of the River and watched the Varsity Boat Race between Oxford and Cambridge amongst a crowded pub full of people supporting the Oxford crew. Oxford won after a clash of oars which saw the Cambridge number 2 almost fall out of the boat. It took a number of strokes before they got going again by which time Oxford had developed an unbeatable lead and eventually won by eleven boat lengths, the largest margin since the 1970s.
We stayed for dinner (which I described earlier) and the following morning we drove to Gatwick for the journey back to Mazamet.