Sunday, July 19, 2015

Time at Oxford

Finally the time for my Oxford trip arrived. I had done much to get ready for it, but still the last few hours were largely occupied with my packing, etc. From there it went smoothly. I met Shon Hopkin on the Front Runner train, and we enjoyed visiting with each other as we traveled to the airport together. The flights, etc., also went quite well. I got a little work done, enjoyed a few movies, and slept a little. We had no problems getting to Oxford via bus. As we got off the bus we found another person who was on it who was part of the research fellowship we were there for. His name is Rais, and he is from Wake Forest, though originally from India. He is a very nice man. We started out going the wrong way, but eventually made our way to Harris Manchester College. What a nice place.
the chapel at Harris Manchester

More of Harris Manchester College

I have to say that I am quite, quite taken with Oxford. I am loving my time here. The setting is simultaneously quaint, majestic, quiet, yet bustling with learning. Again and again I think that it would be wonderful to have my family here. Every turn reveals architecture that is somewhere between a thousand or several hundred years old. There is some bit of history everywhere you turn. Our college is centrally located near the Bodleian Library. As I walk out my door I see the house where C.S. Lewis stayed during his first week at Oxford. I can see the Bodleian spires out my window. On the corner is a pub (established in the 1600’s as opposed to one we saw that was established in the 1100s) where he and Tolkien sometimes visited. The libraries are beautiful and exquisite and useful. I think again and again about how I would love to do a Sabbatical here or a fellowship or something like this and come and spend some time here with my family. I am somewhat enchanted.
Spires of the Bodleian Library

The Sheldonian Theater
I particularly like Harris Manchester College, where my research fellowship is. The church is beautiful, the grounds charming, and the Principal is an outstanding man, a true gentleman and scholar. The camaraderie here is excellent. I have so enjoyed my time visiting with Shon and Fred, and we found another woman here from the Art-History dept. at BYU whom I enjoy. A law professor from the University of Oklahoma has such similar values as us and we spend quite a bit of time talking about laws and movements to support the family, to support marriage, and to promote freedom overall. We have also spent a great deal of time speaking of interreligious movements and the need for them. Her name is Robin and she is quite delightful.

I have been able to visit quite a bit with several wonderful scholars. Two are from Israel. Another works on the plight of religious minorities in Turkey. And so on and so on. 

The cooks are wonderful. Breakfasts are perfect and every meal is spectacular.

At dinner in the Harris Manchester College Dining Hall

 We stand behind our seats until grace, then we sit and eat as we are served, and a few words are said afterwards. It is formal yet delightful. I wear a sportscoat to every dinner, and you dress up at least a bit for every meal and every little drinks/juice mixer. The mix of cordiality and congeniality is delightful.

My work here has gone extremely well. We got settled in and ready on Sunday. Sue Killoran, the librarian here who has been so helpful, has become a good friend. That night she gave us a little tour of the library and the church, which has some of the nicest stained glass windows I have seen (apparently they were designed by a famous artist and created by a famous artisan). Shon, Fred, Rais and I then walked around to see some of the places Tolkien and Lewis haunted and just enjoy Oxford. The next day I woke up early. I went for a brisk walk in the refreshing air. Oxford is even more charming in the quiet morning hours than in the evening. I went all around Magdaline College and many other places, finding corner after corner of quiet, quaint, peaceful places. It was a delightful morning. I used the library and got myself all organized for all the different places I was going. 

Part of the Harris Manchester Library

More of the library

Then I went to the Griffith Institute archives in the afternoon. They were so very helpful and friendly. I found things I had never seen before, and found it to be a very, very useful visit. They are making many copies of photos for me. It was so very productive. That night Robin and another fellow we have met and Fred, Rais and Shon and I went for more walks and had a fabulous time.

The next morning I slept in a bit more. The sun is shining before 5 am here, and my curtains don’t keep the light out well, so I put on an eye mask I have for the airplane, and it made a huge difference. But I was still up early enough to go for a small walk, where I found a delightfully beautiful yet quaint quad in Mansfield College. I read my scriptures there and had a wonderful time. 

The View from my favorite little morning spot at Mansfield College

Then Fred and I went to London. The train was long but we had a nice time going together. The people at the Egypt Exploration Society’s archives were so very kind and helpful. I found several pictures there that were of great worth, and they let me download all of them for free. They were very useful and a pleasure to work with. Then I walked to the British Museum. I got things all set up, took a lunch (because they did) and then went to the archives. They had pulled out the wrong stuff for me, but we got that figured out and soon they found the right stuff and I spent a while going through and looking at some very interesting and useful stuff. Not amazingly useful, but fairly useful. I was able to tell them, as I had the EES this morning and the Griffith yesterday, that some pictures they had that they weren’t sure about were definitely the Seila Pyramid. When I finished my work there I spent just a little time in the museum and then Fred and I caught a train back to Oxford. We made it in time for the nice, formal dinner where we heard some inspirational speeches. I am very impressed with the principal here, Ralph Waller. I would like to get to know him better. He seems a very good man. All in all it was a very nice day.

On Wednesday I went to the Sackler Library and up to the papyrology room. There I was able to go through the papers left by Grenfell and Hunt, the two men who first excavated at our site. There were a few things that were quite useful, but for the most part I did not find anything that was of tremendous value. This was very disappointing because this is where I had the greatest hope for finding something of use. I spent the whole day going through letters, notebooks, photos, etc., and was glad I did because some things helped, but for the most part it was disappointing. I did meet a graduate student from the University of Texas who is from Utah and did her undergraduate degree at the U. She is looking forward to Lincoln and Thom’s book coming out. It was enjoyable to visit with her.
This evening I went with Fred and Rais for a long walk to a little pub that Fred likes. We visited and enjoyed ourselves extensively. I am really, really enjoying Fred, and Rais is a jewel. I am glad to have met him, and he clearly is enjoying our company. I also walked around a little on my own to make sure I knew how to get where I was going the next morning. I continue to be charmed by this little town and the university. What a wonderful place.

This morning, Thursday, I went to the Queen’s Library. It is a magnificent library. There are books there from 1100. The shelves and ceilings are magnificent. You feel like studying seriously when you are there, it induces that kind of atmosphere. They had set up a little study area just for me and had all the materials I was hoping to look at waiting for me.

Queens College Library

Queens College Library

My study place in Queens College Library

I spent most of the morning looking through letters sent to Arthur Hunt’s widow at his death. To begin with I thought I would find nothing of value there, and for my project I didn’t. But in reality, what I found was of tremendous value. It caused me to stop and think deeply about life. Here is a man whose career I have been studying all week. He reached the heights of academic achievement and was acknowledged for it worldwide. All week I have been noting the things he had done well and had been very frustrated with the lack of notes I experienced. His entire world seemed to revolve around his academic endeavors, and it was certainly how I knew him and measured him. Yet the notes I read after his death were about those achievements only a little. They were largely about the kind of man he was. People mentioned his academic standing in a passing way, but what was important to them was his kindness. I even read the note from Alan Gardiner, a giant in my field, who spoke about Hunt’s kindness to him when he was a student and how his encouragement had helped him to continue his studies and go into his field. Again and again I read about his gentleness, his caring, his affability. It really made me think. In the end we won’t be judged by our work, but by what kind of people we are. The lasting monuments we build will be through our acts of kindness or lack thereof. When people reflected on and took measure of this academic giant, they did it by the way he treated them. That is worth thinking about as we determine how we spend our time and how we treat others. It is worth thinking about the how caught up we can get in the world of academia and yet how little it really means in the end. It was a peaceful, reflective morning. It was a good, ponderous, important and delightful morning.

When I finished there I went to lunch. Linda Hulin, the Harris Manchester archaeologist. She has been working on maritime excavations at Alexandria. It was delightful to visit with her, I quite enjoyed getting to know her. She was as pleasant as could be and we had a lot of things in common since we both excavate in Egypt. I hope to continue to correspond with her and would very much like to visit her site in Alexandria someday.

I left visiting with her to go with Principal Waller on a tour of Oxford. He was, as always, delightful, and helped me get a better feel for the place and its history. There is so much history here, it truly is amazing. I really enjoyed doing that with him.

I left that early to go to the Sackler and meet with Elizabeth Frood, one of the Egyptologists here at Oxford (I have also frequently bumped into Richard Parkinson here). I have worked with Elizabeth several times via email, but never in person. It was nice to meet her in person. She is much younger than I thought, even younger than I am. She was very pleasant and I really enjoyed our visit. We talked about all sorts of Egyptological things, and I talked to her about my desire to come back and do a Sabbatical. She was excited about that and very supportive. All in all I felt like I had a good, solid friend in her.

From there I left to meet Janet and Steven Richardson. Janet is Jeff Bunker’s friend who has been struggling with her faith and whom I have been emailing for several years. We walked around Oxford a little together, and had dinner together. We talked about all sorts of things, including faith. We really had such a nice time visiting together, and I was glad to have finally met her.

Steve, Janet and I

When they were too tired to visit more they went back to their hotel, and I went back to find my friends. We decided to play a game of croquet there in the quad, and had such fun. Shon and Fred are really, really fun. Robin and a fellow named Roger also joined us. The game was relaxing and enjoyable.  On the whole it was memorable and picturesque.

The next day I went back to the Sackler and did some normal, hard-nosed research. At lunch time we had a nice lunch and then we went off to see some of the parts of Oxford that are closed during the day (everything shuts down at 5 pm here). We saw several of the places that C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien spent their time. We especially walked along Magdaline College’s nature paths where he was wont to travel and where Tolkien helped convert him to Christianity. We had a lovely walk and enjoyed ourselves.

The hall at Magdaline College where C.S. Lewis had his offices (second floor, the two windows just to the right of the protruding section.

Deer Park, where Lewis was wont to ponder

the wooded path next to his office where Lewis like to walk and think, and where Tolkien and others spoke to him of Christianity

More of that delightful path

Then we met the rest of the group and Principal Waller led us over to Christchurch Chapel, where we participated in their Evensong. I really enjoyed it, though I was so tired I fell asleep for quite a bit of it. Still it was wonderful. 

Chapel at Christchurch

Half of our group at Evensong

Then we went to see the dining hall and its steps, famed for the steps being filmed in Harry Potter and the dining hall being the model for the Harry Potter dining hall. We were disappointed to find it all fenced off for construction. We saw a worker and asked him if we could go in. He told us it had been under construction for 9 months, but he was going to open it the next day so we might as well go see it then. He moved the fences and in we went. While we looked one of the faculty members came to see and rejoiced in how nice it was now. I took pictures for Alexia’s sake.

Christchruch Dining Hall

Stairs to the Dining Hall, as featured in Harry Potter

Afterwards we had a very nice dinner. I sat next to a woman who is very non-religious but is writing about motherhood, and we spoke about the importance of motherhood. It was a very, very enjoyable conversation. I was also across from Principal Waller and enjoyed visiting with him. I wrote down several details from some of the wonderful stories he had shared with us. He is a good and remarkable man. Afterwards they awarded us all certificates for having been part of the summer seminar. It was quite formal.

The next day Fred, Shon and I headed off to see some other sites. We had looked into renting a car and had round one that would be fairly cheap. But by the time we walked to the place, they had rented everything they had. We walked from rental place to rental place, finding that all but one had rented all their vehicles, and that place was charging five times as much as we expected because of the demand. We walked about six miles in total looking into this. We found a nice couple from India (who now live in Florida) who were part of our group and who were also looking into renting a car. We decided it would be cheaper to split it five ways, and off we went. It was crowded and crazy, but fun. 

We went to a huge palace and walked around and around, then walked around and around the grounds, looking at garden after garden. We saw only a small fraction of either. This was the palace where Winston Churchill was born. It was quite nice.

Blenheim Palace

Rose Garden at Blenheim Palace

Then we went to Stonehenge. It was quite a drive, but worth it. The place was beautiful, and the lighting and sky were incredible, and I loved seeing it. What an amazing place. 



Then we had the long drive back. We were too slow to make it in time for dinner, which was sad because I wanted to say goodbye to people. But Shon, Fred and I stopped by a pub called The Eagle and the Child, which was the pub where Tolkien, Lewis and friends often went to talk about the things they were writing. We had a nice dinner of fish and chips there, and then went back to the college and played croquet. We had two quick, fun games and were joined by our friend Heather who is also at BYU. It was so very nice.

Me at the Eagle and Child under the Tolkien portrait where I ate my dinner

I have grown quite, quite fond of Harris Manchester College and would like very much to come back sometime. Principal Waller was also interested in my doing so. I would so love to share that place with my family in some way. I hope to make it happen, but am not quite sure exactly what form it should take.
On Sunday I got up, had breakfast, and off we went to the bus. The trip to London, then to Atlanta, and on to Salt Lake was uneventful. I got back at about 1 am, and was so glad to see Julianne again. It was good to be home, and already Oxford seemed a dream. 

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