Quilts and Other Stuff from Frances

Day 21 – Tuesday, May 15th

Merton College main quadrangle

Michael enjoying a pint at the Eagle and Child

Smushy peas

Street between Merton College and our house.

Today, Michael went to work and then had lunch with one of his colleagues. I met one of my online quilter friends and had a wonderful few hours with her. Ros Crouch was one of the contacts that I had been given for Oxford and I found out at the meeting on Monday that she was actually the head of the committee for the Oxford guild. We met at 11:00 at the Ashmolean Museum and had coffee and talked QUILTING!!!! I showed her photos of my recent quilts and she produced some quilted post cards that she had made to represent a trip to the Isle of Wight. She is a very talented art quilter and her work is fantastic. After talking for over an hour, she gave me a brief tour of the museum, pointing out her favorite pieces. The Ashmolean is the oldest public museum in England and contains a huge collection. They are in the process of renovating the inside of the building, so they have moved the best pieces into one collection (called “Treasures”) so we were able to easily enjoy the best that the museum had to offer. I particularly enjoyed Ros’ knowledge about the area and about the items that we were seeing. Since the rain had stopped, she suggested that we take a walking tour of Oxford. She grew up in Oxford, but lives about 15 miles away now, but she knew every little lane and building and showed me some wonderful sights. If she had left me at any point in time, I would still be trying to find my way out. We then stopped for lunch at a local café and talked yet more about quilting, family and life in general. We then went to a building that had originally been a castle and then turned into a jail. Now it is open to the public and is a wonderful architectural experience. She was wanting to take photos of bars to use in a journal quilt that she is making with the idea being one of bondage. Many photos later, we said goodbye…..it was a wonderful day and I am most grateful to her for being willing to spend the day with me!!!!

She answered several of the questions that we had. The first was about people who stand on many corners selling a magazine called the “Big Book”. We had noticed that there was quite a variety of people selling these and had wondered about this. Ros told me that this was a business set up to help the homeless and other charitable groups. The vendors buy the magazines for 75 pence and then sell them for 1.50 pounds. The profits are theirs to keep. The British government sees this as a way to give these people a viable employment and keep them from begging.

Also, when we were visiting the Crown Jewels, we noticed LARGE gold containers that were labeled simply as “salt”. We were not sure what these were for, but were sure that they didn’t hold salt. We were wrong!!! Ros said that the size and construction of the salt container represented your status in society. Apparently salt was not as available as it is today so only those in the upper class had access to it. She said that there is a saying of someone being “below the salt”, meaning that they are not as worthy as others.

She also told me of the origin of the “Town and Gown” term. It was due to the fighting between the town people of Oxford and gowned students and professors at Oxford University. This is NOT what I had thought it meant.

After leaving Ros, I walked to the train station to see about rail passes for Jenny and Jimmy and was pleased to find out that there is a pass for 20 pounds per day that will take them to London and also allow them access to the tube and other public transport while there. That is VERY cheap. The only caveat is that they cant travel prior to 9:00 am, but somehow I don’t think that will be much of a problem. After all they are young!!!!!!

I returned to our house and Michael and I took off to the Eagle and Child Pub (also called The Bird and Baby). This building has been a public house since 1650 and is one of the places that J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis used to visit often. There is a note on the wall that was written by them in 1949 that states that the have drunk to the proprietor’s health. We were sitting in the back room of the pub which used to be a pony yard. The floor was covered with large flagstones and the ceiling was made up of glass panels and windows. There was a loud thunderstorm while we sitting there and a very large leak developed in the middle of the room. This was not a drip, it was a stream!!!! The proprietor laughed with us about it and said that in most places we would have to pay extra for a “water feature”. One of the walls had photos of Tolkien and Lewis as well as a bit of biography information about each of them. Along the top of the walls were framed covers from many of their books.

We had not planned to eat, but decided to split a plate of fish and chips to go with our beer. The plate came with a small blob of “mushy peas” (that is really what they call them). My problem is that it looks like guacamole so I expect it to taste the same way, but obviously it doesn’t. Our first order came with a pint of English Ale for Michael and a Half-pint of Staropramen for me. This is a pale ale that is produced in the Czech Republic. I am not a big fan of beer, but this one was very nice. I have heard that you should always trust the bartenders suggestions and that proved true this time. As Michael had another glass of Staropramen, I order Chocolate Fudge Cake and a cup of Tea. This was the biggest piece of cake that I have seen in a long time. I ate and ate and ate and finally left some, which is not a normal occurrence for me.

We strolled back to our house, stopping in many places to take photos. When we arrived at Merton College we decided to go in and take photos of the grounds as well. The architecture is beautiful as are the many flower gardens and green areas. We were reminded again how fortunate we are to be living here.

My main impression for this day is that we really need to get out and SEE Oxford. It is so easy to stay in the house when we are here, but we MUST get out more.

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