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Sunday in Oxford with Tolkien 2005 (or a fragment thereof)

August 16th, 2005 (10:37 pm)

current mood: accomplished
current music: Speech radio in background: BBC World Service

Well, I wasn't the person who did the putting together, I have to admit. Rustica did all that, before passing on final co-ordination responsibilities to me. Rustica had sorted out the itinerary in such a way that ten groups weren't in the same place at once, except perhaps at lunchtime, and even then things worked so that there were effectively two sittings. I did organize a final rehearsal on Saturday - I'd been able to go on half of the previous one, organized by Rustica - but this was rained off and we ended up in emily_shore's room to talk through the itinerary.

I only slept for about four hours on Saturday night - without warning I developed a strained back which was most painful when I lay down, and I was also anxious about the walk. I consequently had little difficulty getting up, having got to sleep not long before dawn, and I was in Oxford at the Queen's Lane Coffee House by 9.50am, where I was soon after joined by Stonechild-Beruthiel, who hadn't slept either. We had cooked breakfasts, joined after a little while by Maledict, watching while others, including emily_shore and shanith assembled outside, before joining them.

I did a final briefing on the steps of a little-used gate of University College, making the final allocation of tour routes, learning that someone didn't know where the crypt we were visiting was (another member of the group escorted them across the road to show them - they had been intending to take a group to St Mary's rather than to the fortmer church of St Peter in the East, now part of St Edmund Hall) and leaving documents for the auxiliaries (three doughty souls ready to look after any emergencies that might have transpired, from looking after the sick to taking over parallel groups at short notice) to pass onto the second group. I had decided to take one of the first groups at 11am so I could accompany the first coach to Tolkien's grave at the Wolvercote Cemetery and say goodbye to them; the second coach was starting at the cemetery and was not scheduled to reach central Oxford until 11.45am. Having been waiting for a coach marked Apex, the one which arrived turned out to be from a firm named (I think) Solara. I buried thoughts that this might prove to be a bad omen.

The first coach party poured out onto High Street soon after 11, among them drievertel, who was hurriedly issued with a folder including her itinerary. Thanks to Rustica's pre-planning, the groups were already sporting their coloured stickers. I seized a party, but they were rapidly slimmed down when it was realised that my first port of call, Merton College, would only accept groups of ten people or less according to our letter of permission. I'd provided everyone with a copy of the letter from Merton to say that we were allowed in but realised as I led my group round to Merton (taking them through Logic Lane to introduce them to the college system and one of the other claimants to the status of oldest college, Univ) that I had left my letter behind on my copier. Thankfully Merton's porters were terribly relaxed and there were all manner of other tourists there as well.

My group was, at this point, entirely made up of members of the Greek Tolkien Society, including their president who effectively acted from time to time as a second guide, providing her own Hellenic commentary for her party, all of whom had some English at least, but only a few of whom were fluent. One of the party seemed obsessed by the idea that the college quads must all have been served frequently by horses because of the width and height of the gateways into the quads. I said that this wasn't necessarily the case for the inner portals. I pointed them to the site of Tolkien's room in Merton, and there was much photography. We went into the chapel as well, where I explained a little more about colleges, explained that Merton's chapel had been planned on an even grander scale than it now enjoys, and reminisced about Sir Arthegal of SocA and his wish that Merton refuse to renew Corpus Christi's lease and then demolish their smaller sixteenth-century neighbour so that the chapel could be completed as originally intended.

To be continued!