Sunday, 20 September 2015

Oxford Weekend

At 8.30 on Thursday morning the week before last I left home with my clothes, speech and computer stuff for the weekend.  Also in the boot was a large glass and wooden cabinet and a big box of Lego – this contained an “Orthanc.”
It was murder getting out of Hull, although I did notice the local TV news anchor in my rear view mirror for half-an-hour.  The motorways weren’t too bad, although there were slow road works in a couple of spots.  I arrived in Oxford after a 3 and a half hour drive.  I went to see if I could find Tolkien’s grave, so I stopped off first at Wovercote Cemetery.  I accidentally parked next to a Tolkien sign-post, but after that for some reason I missed all other the sign-posts, and walked all around the cemetery before I found the right place.  The grave was very tidy with quite a lot of coins from different nations round the headstone a foreign edition of The Hobbit protected by a plastic bag and a rather alarming portrait of Tolkien.  At first it looked like the photograph from the front cover of the biography, but on closer inspection it was a drawing, and it looked alarmingly like an Orc!
Direction Sign next to my passenger door where I parked in Wolvercote Cemetery
 Direction sign I missed the first time in Wolvercote Cemetery
 J.R.R. & Edith Tolkien's grave
I’d never been to gawp at Tolkien’s former homes, so as there was some time before registration I had a look for 22 & 20 Northmoor Road & 76 Sandfield Road.  Number 20 had a high gable with a blue plaque, so was fairly easy to locate.  I didn’t forget to look at the much smaller and much more hidden 22 Northmoor road next door.  Tolkien had lived there first before moving to the larger property when the publisher Basil Blackwell moved out.  76 Sandfield Road didn’t have a blue plaque, but had a rather unusual sculptural plaque, (possibly featuring a dragon) and parts of the house seemed to have been made into smaller units, one of which was called “The Hill” and the other “Bag End.”
 22 Northmoor Road - The Tolkien Family Home (1926-1930)
 In 1930 they moved next door to the larger 20 Northmoor Road & lived there until 1947.
 76 Sandfield Road.  The Tolkiens lived here 1953 - 1968
I dropped off the cabinet and Orthanc, and then it was time for a pain-free registration, and then a look at my room in St Antony’s College.  This seemed much newer and cleaner than Lady Margaret hall, but there was no shampoo!  I freshened up, and then it was time to get ready for a tour of Oxford.

This was in the safe hands of Daniel Helen, who has just completed his masters at an Oxford college.  More than 20 of us made our way into the centre along Woodstock Road, stopping off first at the St Aloysius Oratory, and then a quick look at the Bird and Baby (aka The Eagle & Child).  I’ve never been on a proper tour of Oxford, so this was a bit of an eye-opener, and it was great to see all the varied colleges, and other sites.  
St Alyoysius, The Oxford Oratory.  Tolkien attended mass here when a student and when living in Northmoor Road (1926-47)
 The Eagle & Child ("The Bird and Baby") The pub where many meetings of the Inklings took place. 
 The door to 59 St John Street.  Tolkien shared digs here 1914-15
 50 St John Street.  The Tolkien family lived here 1917-18 when Tolkien worked on the staff of the Oxford English Dictionary
 "The Broad"
 Balliol College
 Monumental Statues outside the Sheldonian Theatre
 "The Bridge of Sighs"
 The Bodleian Library
 The Radcliffe Camera
 All Souls' College
 Exeter College.  Tolkien studied here as a undergraduate
Entrance to Merton College. Tolkien was a professor here from 1945
Merton College
 The door of 21 Merton Street. Tolkien's final home was at the top of this building.  I believe his CBE was stolen from this property
 99 Holywell Street.  Tolkien family home 1950-53
 Plaque on a Bench in University Parks, near the banks of the Cherwell
After the tour there was time for something to eat before the fiendish Tolkien quiz, devised and hosted by the Percivals. The following day a series of talks were given, including my own presentation of "Tolkien in East Yorkshire."  Although I ran out of time, people seemed enchanted by the views of the Cow Parsley in flower in Roos, and the other links between Tolkien's time in the area and clues in his writings.  I also attended and enjoyed "Rivendell and Shangri-La" by Irina Metzler, Bob Blackham's "Tolkien 1915: Graduation & Army Training".  However, the most amusing was Joel Cornah's "Tolkien & Doctor Who", and the cheeky photoshopping of Tolkien leaning against his TARDIS almost brought the house down.  I was really sorry to have missed the silver-tongued Murray Smith's  talk on "Diamonds, Gold, Politics and War: Possible South African Influences in the Hobbit", but hopefully it will be published before too long.   The following day there were some more presentations including the very popular Dr Dimitra Fimi's exploration of "Representations of Childhood in Tolkien's Legendarium." Other enjoyable presentations included Dominic Russell's "Portrait of Denethor", a speedy look at the massive topic of "Tolkien & Shakespeare" by Jessica Yates. and Denis Bridoux's comparison of "Sauron and Dracula: The Transylvanian Connection".

There was a fantastic art exhibition in another building, plus a first-edition Hobbit locked in the glass cabinet I brought down to Oxford, and some interesting art and books for sale in yet another room.  The quiz was the only evening activity I attended, so it's  someone else's task to write about those.  I woke early on the Sunday morning, had breakfast and made the 3-hour drive home on much quieter roads.  Every year the people attending seem friendlier than the year before, so it was a lovely way to spend a weekend if you are interested in Tolkien.

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