Monday, June 30, 2008

Oxford, City of Dreaming Spires

Imagine you are sitting in a train, six bags safely and expertly stowed in the luggage racks, a deck of cards decorated with adorable kittens splayed out on the table in front of you, mid- game of Norwegian Rummy. Soon, you think, you will be in Oxford, the city of Dreaming Spires, where you will be learning exciting and important things in a University established in the thirteenth century. Aaah, you sigh. Suddenly, a voice comes over the loudspeaker. You feel perhaps you have been inserted into a comedy against your will.

"This train has been canceled. Please proceed to Platform 3 and board the train to Reading. Passengers for Oxford will change at Reading."

You scramble to your feet, wait fruitlessly for someone to let you out, then finally push your way in to join the throngs headed for the doors. As you unearth your luggage from the racks, hundreds of people pass you. Your careful planning to be one of the first on this train means nothing now. You and your husband hoist your luggage onto your shoulders, backs, and any spare digit, and begin the fast walk that feels like a sprint across the station. You board. You stow. You cower in first class where there is actually room, waiting for a ticket agent to come and say you aren't allowed to be there, but he never comes. You hoist your luggage again in Reading, crawl down some stairs, under the tracks, up some more stairs, onto another train. Your husband, it must be said, helps a lot, perhaps even handles the bulk of the luggage with superhuman strength, though you still consider yourself heroic to be bearing up under the circumstances.

At Oxford the luggage boards a taxi and the two of you squeeze in with it. You call at Lincoln college for your apartment keys. Third Floor. Hmmm. The luggage laughs in your face. The taxi driver drops you off at a gate. Your special key card doesn't open the gate. You hurry back to Lincoln college for a new special card. Ha! Success. Bolstered, you walk through the courtyard, up the stairs, up the other stairs, and stand facing your door. You are about to enter your home for the next six weeks. Will it pass the test?

You open the door onto a small hallway with your first key. Your second key opens a single room, with a single bed in one corner. You and your husband consider the scene. It doesn't seem like married student housing to either of you. Ah well, at least you know the way to Lincoln College.

Back at the front desk, you receive a wary look. It seems just minutes ago you were there with a complaint, and now you're back? However, two scouts are dispatched with keys to another room next to yours and the three of you troop back through the streets, through the gate with your now working key card, and up the stairs to the little hallway. The scouts open the room next to the single, full of comfort about how they will just push the two single beds together in the first room and create a sitting room next door and voila! Married student housing! You feel unconvinced. Lukewarm, even. So does your husband. Your doubt increases when the room next door turns out to have someone's random stuff left in it and a very dirty floor.

You consider taking a train out of Oxford but remember what the trains are like.

You imagine what a funny story this will be someday when you and your husband look back on your very first apartment together. You do not laugh.

The scouts helpfully clean the room and the bathroom and kitchen which magically appear through other doors of the little hallway. You carry in the second bed to the first room. You unpack your suitcases, full of plans to get a real apartment the next day. You do not sleep much because you get a terrible sore throat and a head cold. What a surprise.

But at last it is the next day.

Suddenly things seem better. You walk your husband to school and go buy strawberries at the covered market. You arrange things. You peruse hidden spaces and discover small and pleasant surprises like silverware and pleasant views. You buy little orange roses and put vases full of them everywhere. You notice a skylight above your bed. You find tiny dishes at a thrift store for the soap and your jewelry, and buy the littlest jade plant you've ever seen. You play music and put pictures up in bare spaces. You take a walk and discover a secret meadow for picnics and ultimate frisbee. You do laundry. You blog.

Suddenly, yesterday is kind of funny. Ha ha. Ha ha ha. Oxford is pretty lovely really, once past the dodgy details of day one.


Colleen Smith said...

Oh, wow -- my sympathies. Reminds me of when Ashleigh and I arrived in Cambridge for our study abroad program at 10 pm at night, with so many suitcases that the first four taxi drivers we approached actually refused to transport us to our college. We eventually picked up our keys from the porters (at least our keys did actually work), unloaded our thousands of suitcases in the coldest attic room known to mankind, and set out in search of food. It was by then eleven thirty; we found only one dodgy-looking pub open, and elected to go back to my room, eat the few pieces of beef jerky that composed our collective food stash, and go to sleep in one single bed huddling together for warmth. Ah. Good times. And if it makes you feel any better, that memory actually IS funnier in retrospect. At any rate, your post about it is amusing and oh-so-relatable, and I do think you were both remarkably heroic under the circumstances! No tears = truly noble endurance. I hope Oxford is seeming friendlier now. Good luck!
PS So excited that the kitten cards made the trip to Oxford! :-)

Brett said...

Hey Colleen! We look forward to your visit. The kitten cards didn't just make the trip -- they have been essential to our sanity. Well done.