Saturday, 21 July 2007

Oxford and the Bodelian Library

Return to Oxford

Thursday (July 19) we returned to Oxford for our tour of the Bodelian Library at Oxford University. The library is the main research library at Oxford University and is administered by the university unlike the other libraries which are administered by the individual colleges. It is one of the oldest libraries with the current building and collection dating back to the 1602 when Sir Thomas Bodley a fellow of Oxford from Merton College offered to develop the declining library by providing books from his own collection and soliciting other donations as well as taking the cost upon himself for the restoration of the building and furniture.

My most memorable impression

The library is quite grand to be expected. But my most memorable impression of the whole visit will be of the bathroom. Why the bathroom you ask? Well, you may or may not know that in England, library patrons are referred to as "readers". Very appropriate. So naturally, the bathroom or toilet is labeled "Women Readers". I love it! I had to take a picture of it. I thought I was being discreet but our guide was lurking behind the pillar and caught me in the act. Oh well crazy Americans.

C.S. Lewis Tour

While in Oxford, we had the afternoon free so some of us signed up to take a "C.S. Lewis Tour" graciously arranged by our classmate Mike. The tour was interesting and our guide was quite a character. It was a little subjective though. Our tour guide claims to have been friends with C. S. Lewis's stepson and to have known the man himself. He was also adamant that there should be some kind of monument to Lewis in Oxford of which there isn't. So he provided this tour as a tribute to Lewis since none according to him exists. We did visit some interesting places, amongst them his house "The Kilns", his church
and grave site and the home of J. R. R. Tolkien a friend of Lewis's and one of the famous "Inklings" who used to gather at the "Eagle and Child Pub" to discuss Christianity and other philosophical ideas I'm sure. As I said it was interesting and entertaining. A little longer than I would have preferred however but our guide provided a certificate for each of us with our names stating that we had participated in the tour, somewhat odd but nice. Unfortunately, we were too late to visit Christchurch but I took pictures anyway.

C. S. Lewis grave site

Friday, 20 July 2007

Beatrix Potter Lakeland Tour

On Wednesday July 18, I and fellow classmate Mary set out with Dr. Welsh and Ms. Wright to the Lake District for a tour to Beatrix Potter's Hill Top Farm. We had to meet the tour guide in Euston Station at 6:15, ugh. It made for a long day but well worth the time and effort. The Lake District is picture postcard beautiful. I'm writing my research paper on Beatrix Potter so that made the trip all that more meaningful. We visited Hill Top farm and Hawkshead as well. The Lake District was a special retreat for Miss Potter or Mrs. Heelis as she was known in the area.

Beatrix Potter purchased Hill Top in 1905 with the money she made from her book "The Tales of Peter Rabbit". Beatrix had visited the Lake District often with her family during summer vacations. Hill Top is a small 17th house which still contains many of Miss Potter's furnishings. When she died she left Hill Top to the National Trust which now runs it as a museum open to the public. She stipulated however that Hill Top should not be sold and remain much the same as it was when she lived there. The house is furnished much like it would have been and Beatrix Potter's china, furniture and drawings are all on display. The house is very quaint and the surrounding garden is just beautiful. It's quite impressive to see that not much has changed since she lived there and to have see her personal drawings and belongings was quite special.

We also visited Hawkshead the hometown of Miss Potter's husband William Heelis. It's a 17th century village with small winding cobblestone roads which reminded more of a small Swiss or Bavarian village than English. The poet William Wordsworth was also educated at the Hawkshead grammar school which now operates as a museum. Unfortunately, we were not able to tour the school because a private tour was taking place. I enjoyed an ice cream instead and walked up the winding road and found a small store dedicated to all the is "Beatrix Potter". Lots of lovely trinkets but only so much room in the suitcase so I only looked, sigh.

St. Paul's Cathedral Library

A Special Privilege

The St. Paul's Cathedral library was another special treat. To get to the library we had to ascend a winding back narrow staircase which added to thee special secretiveness of the whole visit. The staircase led us to a room containing a large wooden model of the Cathedral designed by Christopher Wren. This model however was initially denied because King Charles thought it looked too much like the Vatican in Rome and being a protestant church that was not acceptable. Mr. Wren was pretty sneaky though, he agreed to change the design but during the construction he provided the original design and got his way anyway.

No pictures allowed

Our librarian guide, whose name is befittingly Joe Wisdom was charming in his own way. He certainly fit the stereotype of the stuffy librarian. No pictures were allowed in the library, that's how secret it is! The doors to the library are large wooden castle looking doors a little deceiving since the library itself is rather small. Once inside the familiar smell of musty old books was the first thing I noticed. Though small the library is still quite grand with high ceilings, pillars and two floors.
This is Winchester Cathedral, not St. Paul's.

There was a large book displayed on one of the tables. Mr. Wisdom asked us to take a look and guess what it was. I was able to determine that it was from the Bodelian Library from the heading on the page but that was it. It turned out to be a catalog record from the Bodelian library at Oxford University. He pointed out the similiarities of cataloging today, the tediousness of it. Thank heavens for computers though.

We descended a different winding staircase when leaving the library. All in all an interesting visit, made even more fun by the winding staircases. This is the front of Winchester Cathedral. We weren't abel to take pictures as St. Paul's Library.

Museum of London

Museum of London a Brief overview

On Monday morning July 16th, our class journeyed to the Museum of London. The building itself is nothing to write home about. Rather modern looking , it was established in 1975 from a merger with the Guild Hall Museum. It is part of the Museum of London Group which includes the Museum in Docklands, Museum of London Archaeology Service and the Museum of London Archaeology Archive. The museum is remarkable however, for its collections and because it is the largest urban history museum in the world. On site are 150 staff.

My Impression

Our guide Joe Cotton is the senior curator of the prehistoric period collection. First thing, he had us view a prepared slide show which he narrated and informed us there were handouts. This was very helpful. I've found it difficult to take notes while trying to listen, look and walk at the same time. So, I was much relieved when he said there were handouts provided and we would be sitting. After the slide show, he took us to the prehistoric exhibit. An interesting note, a few years ago the museum surveyed people and asked what the term prehistoric meant and most answered "dinosaurs". This was after they had viewed the exhibit which he pointed out did not include any dinosaurs. A few answered along the lines of the time before recorded history the answer the museum had hoped would have been evident from the exhibit. I found the prehistoric exhibit interesting, but I fear I may have also mentioned "dinosaurs" when asked what "prehistoric" meant. It's all those old bones, makes me think of dinosaurs. Actually, I preferred the exhibit on the London fire. It was a dark room with scenes flashing of the fire and a booming voice narrating the action. Very theatrical!!

Sunday, 15 July 2007

Stonehenge and Winchester

Welcome to Stonehenge

I finally made it to Stonehenge. One site I just had to see! And what a sight. Right there next to the highway, can you imagine driving by Stonehenge on any given day. I always pictured it in some far off field with just a winding road or footpath leading to it. It was amazing to see it in the distance from the bus. You could see the stones of course and a large circle of people standing around them, eerie. It looked like an ancient ceremony was taking place. Mike (a classmate) commented that it looked like Druid priests, spot on Mike!! But reality set in when we approached the car park area. There were masses of people trying to get in and masses of people walking around. It was sort of organized chaos but it worked and we pushed our way in. Once in, we had an excellent view of the stones from a distance of course. People are no longer allowed to touch the stones so the area is encircled by a rope intending to keep the humans out. It was still incredible to view. The weather was a little overcast which made it all that more mysterious. I kept hearing this ominous deep voice in my head saying "welcome to Stonehenge" and of course, the scene from the movie Spinal Tap (dancing around the miniature Stonehenge on stage) kept popping into my head along with the voice. I think sleep deprivation may have entered into this equation. Another remarkable site!

Our next stop for the day was the historic city of Winchester know for of course for the Cathedral (yes the song was going the my head the whole time) and the Great Hall. The Great Hall is the only remaining part of the Winchester Castle (above ground) and contains the famous or infamous round table from King Arthur's Court. The names of all the knights are painted on the table as well as King Arthur on his throne. It is hanging on the wall to the right just as you enter the hall. On the opposite end of the hall are Prince Charles's iron wedding gates.

The Cathedral from what we could see was beautiful. They were having services so we were not allowed to go all the way to the vestibule area. It is one of the largest churches in England and has the longest Nave. The current building dates back to 1079 however the church origins date back to the 7th century and it was part of a monastic settlement in the 900's . Another factoid, Jane Austen is buried in the Nave of the church.

Dover and Canterbury

The Lucky Few

Today, I was lucky enough to go on the Dover and Canterbury tour. Apparently, a highly sought after tour. This tour only had one bus reserved so many were waiting to see who wouldn't show upon that early Saturday morning. It worked, I think all who showed up without a reserved seat were able to get on the tour.

Dover was very picturesque. The sea was a wonderful sight and to finally see the white cliffs of Dover that have been immortalised in song and film. Immediately I thought of my mother singing the White Cliffs of Dover. The cliffs would have been better viewed from across the channel but a view from the bus window would have to do for now.

The castle sits atop a hill looking out over the town as most castles do. Actually, this particular castle is know for its defensive location. Of course there is the first line of defense the location on the cliffs, then the moat or valley surrounding the castle and another incline and finally the surrounding castle wall. So needless to say a lot of stairs to climb and uphill walking in this place. The castle has a long history starting in the 12th century. The Keep of the castle was my favorite area and the medieval tunnels. We had little time to explore and as it turns out way too little time for me and classmate Mary. We arrived twenty minutes late back to the bus. We just had to climb all the way to the top of the Keep. A fantastic view and well worth the effort, but my apologies to those waiting for us on the bus. We would have made it back a little bit earlier had we not passed the entrance and had to back track. But we made it and met up with the search party they had sent for us at the entrance. Other than the walk of shame back to the bus it was a very good day.

Canterbury Street Scenes

The United Kingdon House of Parliament

Friday the thirteenth we had a tour of Parliament. Very proper of course lots of protocol. We entered through the "sovereigns entrance". The queen only comes to Parliament once a year to give a speech and actually it's not her speech but the Prime minister's speech. The Parliament is made up of two houses-The House of Lords and The House Commons.

Members of the House of Lords are mostly appointed by the Queen with a fixed number elected internally. The House of Lords also is the highest court in the land with full time judges known as the Law Lords who carry out the judicial work. The throne is in the House of Lords and this is where the Queen gives her annual speech.

Members of the House of Commons are publicly elected every five years and referred to as MPs. The party with largest members forms the government. The main function of the House of Commons is to debate political issues and propose new bills. Sovereigns are not allowed in the House of Commons and MPs are not allowed to speak in the House of Lords.

Lasting Impressions

Our guide was entertaining. A gray haired older gentleman with plenty of dry British wit. The thing that impressed me the most or maybe didn't impress me was the size of both the Houses . Both are really small, nothing like what they appear on TV. There is barely enough room for members. Also learned that The House of Commons main color is green and the House of Lords main color is red. Not sure the reason for this, I don't have that in my notes. Maybe a coincidence.

Thursday, 12 July 2007

93/4 Kings Cross Platform and British Library

One of us almost didn't make it ;-).

Along the Way

On Thursday (July 12) we made our way to the British Library via the Tube taking time of course to stop by the famous Kings Cross 9 and3/4 Platform for the special entrance to the Hogwarts Express. Very exciting to finally view the Platform and have a picture made. A brief moment of panic in the Tube Station though when we got separated from the group. But never fear we had "London Libby" to guide the way, or maybe not so good when LL is talking and misses the stop. We did finally catch up to the group however, at King's Cross so all was well.

Inside the British Library

The British Library was amazing. Having been there the day before on our London Alive walk, I felt somewhat of an expert knowing where the bathroom was located. The library has 2300 employees, imagine that! The total collection is 174, 000,000 volumes with 35, 000,000 housed at the library itself. Most of the books excluding the King George collection, more about that later, are kept under the library (in the basement so to speak) which has four floors of shelving. Our guide, Kevin, explained that the length of the collection would be equivalent to driving 8 hours at 100 miles per hour and seeing nothing but shelves of books. He also said the collection grows by 8 miles of shelving every year. The three main goals or mission of the library are 1)to acquire all national bibliographic output 2)to keep all national bibliographic output (archive it) and 3)to make all bibliographic archive available (accessible). Librarians sound familiar ; ). The library processes one million requests per year and 40,000 per day. The collection is only accessible to those who have a Reader Register's pass. There are special procedures set up for the whole process. For instance, I am interested in a certain book or collection and I don't have a pass. I would have to go to the Reader's Registration Room where I would fill out an electronic information form and wait to be called for an interview with library staff where I should receive my Pass, barring any international incidence. To request material I could go to any reading room and make my request. The process is so precise the the state government proposes target time limits for each step. The library has 20 minutes to get you your card and 70 minutes to get you your requested item if it is on site. Who said librarianship was a low stress profession!! Wait till I tell our ILL staff this tidbit of information. Another interesting fact about the collection is that they classify according to size. This is because of the limited space. Something to suggest at the next staff meeting : 0.

I seem to be running on and on here about the library but it does seem to go on and on and on....

Oh yeah I forgot about the King George Collection. Right in the middle of the library is this long glass tower with books lining all the windows. An awesome sight. This is the phenomenon King George Collection, 90,000 items. King George left the collection to the country with the stipulation that it had to be displayed and it had to be used, hence the large glass tower. Amazing that I could actually request something from the collection and put my grubby little hands all over it, shudder. Kevin (our guide) explained that since most of the books our bound with a leather cover, the oil from the hands actually keeps them from drying out so no need for the white gloves. Well that is the highlights from the library visit or at least my highlights. So amazing and too much information. The library of course also has a cafe, book shop and exhibit rooms for displaying special collections. There is the British Libraries treasure room which among many other things holds the Magna Carta as well as the Sacred Collection exhibit going on until Sept. 23rd. This collection has a piece of the Dead Sea Scrolls on display. Just one more thing to mention before I close, touch screen book viewer/reader. I loved this contraption!!! A touch screen provides a menu of book selections and you just have to choose a book and touch the screen as if you were turning the pages with your finger to go through the book. Now that electronic book I could handle. No more scrolling down the page on a tiny computer screen. I imagine we are not far from curling up with our electronic readers. I think I could get into that. Thank you Bill Gates!

Wednesday, 11 July 2007

Oxford and Stratford day trip

The First Stop

Today (July 11) was our first class trip to Oxford and Statford-upon-Avon. Oxford was very quaint, the quintessential English village I had imagined. We left before the rooster crowed though, 7:00 in the moring. The bus trip was rather uneventful. Plenty of beautiful scenery, I'm sure. I tried to keep my eyes open but the lids were weighing heavy. What I saw when I did manage to peek out from under my eyelids was just lovely though. Upon entering Oxford, I was jolted awake by a blustery voice, excuse my prose but we are getting closer to Shakespeareland. The Professor from the theater group graciously explained the meaning of the colleges at Oxford. My understanding is that when someone said they studied or read at a certain college at Oxford it would not have to do with the subject he/she studied but rather what family legacy or home they were from. I hope I got that right. Please feel free to correct me, anyone. He also mentioned the continuous controversary surrounding the legitimacy of Shakespeare as a playwright. He explained that there are those Oxfordian theorists who feel that proof to the contrary lies in the fact that the 17th Earl of Oxford, Edward de Vere an Elizabethian playwright and poet had on his person athe the time of death the Bible that had underlined passages which correspond to Shakespeare quotations. This somehow gave proof that this particular person may have been the real shooter oh I mean writer, sorry. Kennedy, Shakespeare will we ever know?

Anyway, moving on. We had a couple of hours to explore on our own in Oxford before setting off again to find the real Shakespeare. First on the agenda was to find Blackwell's. I never thought I would be so excited to find a bookstore and have my picture taken in front of it. Wait till the folks back home see this!!! Just time for a coffee and a snack before heading back to the bus. Those bookstore will really take it out of you. Well here we go on to the final destination.

If you can believe it an even quainter English village than Oxford. I liked that cars were only allowed with a special permit in the main walking area. We were provided a ticket which allowed us to enter three Shakespeare houses his birthhouse, the Nash house and Hall's Croft.

Each house of course was more impressive than the first. The Nash house is where Shakespeare lived from 1597 until his death in 1616. The most impressive house however was Hall's Croft. This house was especially built for Shakespeare's Eldest daughter Susanna and her Husband Dr. Hall. Apparently, from the guided tour Shakespeare got along well with Dr. Hall and bequeathed him the Nash house. Dr. hall was ahead of his time using natural herbs and plants for ailments such as scurvy which was quite common even among the wealthy due to their hearty meat and virtually no vegetable diet. The Hall house was really impressive, furnished with period furnishings, just beautiful. Hall's Croft is not far from Trinity Church where Shakespeare is buried so how could we pass that up. The Church still holds services and is supported from donations including those who would like to view Shakespeares grave. The headstone is actually inside the church which I was not expecting. There is also of course a nice little gift shop as you walk in. I was tempted but prevailed. I had just spent £39.00 on a new memory card for my camera. A little glitch in the journey I forgot to mention. I'm new to the digital camera game, yes a "mature" student and I assumed the memory card that came with my camera would hold a sufficient amount of pictures for this little excursion. Apparently 10 is the magic number. I couldn't believe it when the screen read "sorry memory full". Luckily Libby, again London Libby to the rescue, spotted a camera store. I was able to buy a new memory card but I think the salesclerk kept my precious card with the 10 photos, yikes. So those 10 precious memories gone forever : (. Well I forged ahead unknowingly, just so pleased to find a new card.

Our Secret Find

Perhaps, the most exciting find of the day though was the Shakespeare Library. We knew of its existence but not sure of its accessibility. A simply inquiry though got us in, who knew? Libby asked the salesperson at the shop of Shakespeares birthhouse if we could possibly go into the library. His response, "If you ask the receptionist nicely she might let you in". Well I guess we were nice enough. Actually, come to find out the library is open to the public so not really all that difficult or secretive. The woman at the front desk though was very helpful providing brochures and handouts and even gave a demonstration of the online catalog which goes back to September 2001. Everything before that date is in the card catalog. We spoke briefly with the librarian Sylvia, who was just as helpful. She gave all of us her card and offered to set up a tour. It was a great little find and someplace I would like to research further. Hopefully I can get back there, but if not thank goodness for email.


After spending the day exploring shakespears birthplace, we of course had to stop by the Royal Shakespeare Theater for their production of MacBeth. I found the seats a little uncomfortable but I liked the view from the top (and I mean the very top). The play was very good. I usually prefer something a little lighter, but Macbeth is one of my favorite shakespeare plays. Actually, it's the one with which I'm most familiar so that's why it's my favorite. The costuming or dress was interesting. The male characters all appeared to be wearing leather trench coats giving it a "Matrix" look. The sound was excellent in the theater, very loud but effective. Apparently there was a sign, which I missed, outside the theater warning of the violent and graphic nature of the production. It was graphic and violent, but then again it is shakespeare.