A Wrinkle in Oxford

We spent three nights in Oxford, house-sitting for adorable twin cats, visiting the famed University and its town, and getting our laundry stuck in a washing machine.

The first part – the cat sitting – was fun! If it hasn’t become abundantly clear, we love cats, so having their company for a few days was lovely. Sweep and Pepper were curious, playful, and constantly hungry. They loved hanging out with our panniers. Less so with us (unless we were feeding them).

The second part, exploring Oxford, was very interesting. The University itself is an imposing and beautiful collection of very old buildings. We stood in the courtyard of Balliol College, which is the longest continuously running institution of education in the western hemisphere. Though it was officially founded in the 13th century, instruction dates back to early in the 11th century! It’s kind of amazing to think the same institution existed through the Crusades, the Renaissance, the ‘discovery’ of the New World, multiple revolutions and world wars…

After Balliol, we visited the Oxford University Press bookstore, which had a mind-boggling collection, laid out in an aesthetically pleasing rainbow of spine colors. We also paid a few pounds to climb up to Oxford’s church tower, which provided great views over the town and campus’s building stock, including the famous Radcliffe Camera library:

As we explored, I was both quite surprised (it’s 2019) and unsurprised (it’s Oxford) to find that the campus seems to be still very much, in many ways, an old boys’ club. Visible veneration of this homogeneity can be found in things like the enormous framed portraits of dead white guys crowding their dining hall walls. There is one dining hall which has – in a very out of the way corner and smaller than the rest of the paintings – a portrait of the University’s first female Vice Chancellor, who assumed her post in 2016. There she sat, in a sea of men, literally taking up as little space as possible. You kind of had to laugh.

Case in point. This also happens to be the room in which they filmed the Great Hall scenes in the first Harry Potter film, hence the other visitors taking photos. Don’t ask me about the Magritte Bowler Hat guy on the left. He was just as baffling to us in real life as he is in this photo.

We did find a small but good exhibit on the White Rose resistance – in which students in early 1940s Germany wrote and disseminated leaflets calling on Germans to resist Nazism. The students were eventually caught and killed, but their story is a powerful one of courage and resistance. Though this didn’t happen at Oxford, there is an effort by some Oxford faculty to ensure their story is remembered and more broadly known.

We also took the rare non-selfie photo before enjoying a vocal performance at the local chapel, so I am sharing that here. We were as cold and happy as we looked!

And finally, about our laundry. When we arrived in Oxford it was a Saturday, and all our clothes were dirty. We eagerly put the majority of them into a load of laundry, let it run, and 3 hours later, went to retrieve them for drying. The door of the washer refused to open. We tried everything: jiggling the handle; pulling as hard as we could; sliding a butter knife through the lock area; slipping dental floss between the door and machine and yanking. Many Google searches were made, many YouTube videos were consulted, but to no avail.

Three inches of glass stood between us and the majority of our earthly possessions. And it was a Saturday afternoon; the next day was a Sunday, followed by a bank holiday, which are taken very seriously by most professionals in England, including but not limited to washing machine repairmen that might have come to our rescue.

We were able to schedule an appointment for Tuesday morning (a lifetime away) and in the meantime, got quite creative with the remaining clothing items we had, cycling them through rinses in the bathroom sink. By the time a gruff repairman appeared with his toolbox at 10am on Tuesday, we could have kissed him! He spent about 30 minutes removing the entire washer from under the kitchen counter, extracted our somewhat fragrant and quite wrinkled clothing, replaced the washer’s broken door hinge, reinstalled the washing machine and went on his way. Only a few hours before we ourselves had to get going to our next destination, we gave our clothing as much sunshine disinfectant as we could (dryers aren’t really a thing in the U.K.) and packed them away with new gratitude for their tangible existence. Next stop: Salisbury!

2 Replies to “A Wrinkle in Oxford”

  1. Kudos on trying to resolve the washer issue with dental floss – very resourceful even if not successful! Maybe next time (which of course there will not be a next time) try dental tape – a bit more tensile strength than floss.

  2. Salisbury! William Golding, who wrote Lord of the Flies, did a book on Salisbury Cathedral. It was a great read after visiting the Cathedral where I picked up the book in the bookstore there. I think the name of the book is “The Spire”. Great historical fiction. And what a story.

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