Punting in Oxford, and banjos

Last night’s blog post was a marathon effort, I didn’t get to bed until 1:45am this morning but I wanted to get down all the details while they were fresh in my mind. Still up reasonably early. Cereal, a strong cup of tea, and then I opened J’s letter to me. I was in tears by the second or third sentence. More on this later.

Mum, Carl and Rebecca called in having checked out of their local hotel. Poor Carl is really uptight about the impending Hurricane Irene, which is due to arrive in New York at pretty much the same time as his inbound flight. Said goodbye to them, especially Mum which prompted the first of many tears from me today.

Jeremy & me and the girls had a curious but tasty lunch of party leftovers; cheese & onion rolls dipped in slightly brown guacamole, that sort of thing. Then off to Oxford for some punting, something we do from time to time, like every five years or so. Parked at Richard & Margaret’s house – free parking – then took the bus from Headington. Alex also came along. A sunny, blustery day with very heavy rain showers, which started up as soon as we approached the punt hire at Magdalen Bridge.

Damp punters

Damp punters

Nevertheless we jumped aboard, yours truly not feeling quite as confident as I remembered. However I picked it up again, punting being one of the things I claim to be able to “do”, and we were soon smoothly heading up the River Cherwell. Not in a very straight line, it has to be said. I was punting from the “Oxford” end of course, i.e. inside the punt (actually the bows) as opposed to the “Cambridge” end where you stand on the raised platform at the stern. So the Oxford method involves propelling a backwards-facing punt forwards. If you follow me.

The rain showers soon eased off, and I was working up quite a sweat. Alex and Jeremy both had a go and did very well. It was not completely my fault that when I took over during the final narrow section we also encountered an extremely shallow section of river – probably less than a foot deep. With five people aboard we kept grounding – and getting stuck – on mudbanks. More sweating to get us off. The secret was for me and the other “crew” to move to the opposite ends of the punt to allow the middle section to float clear.

Totem pole

Totem pole

Quintessentially English

Quintessentially English

Alice feeds the ducks

Alice feeds the ducks

Guess what we did?

Guess what we did?

Managed to berth (? moor? park?) the punt with some difficulty due to the many amateurs milling around the landing-stage. Well that’s my excuse anyway.

Rather nice

Rather nice

After disembarking, we headed up The High.

View of The High

View of The High

The High Street is one of the world’s great streets. It has everything.” – Nikolaus Pevsner. Well it doesn’t have the usual crappy retail chain stores, so that helps for a start.

The High in 2011

The High in 2011

We turned into the Covered Market.

The Covered Market

The Covered Market

Here things started to go a bit wrong. I had spent many, many occasions with J walking the streets of Oxford, from our “courting” days to quite recently. The Covered Market is always a great place to visit, with some of our favourite shops and cafes inside. So that set me off weeping. The girls looked after me, parked me with tissues and inspected the window displays of The Cake Shop. We then went back into the High, turned left at Carfax and down St.Aldates, past Christ Church and along the side of the same, entering the Long Walk.

The Long Walk, Christ Church Meadow

The Long Walk, Christ Church Meadow

More memories and more grizzling.  By the time we got into Christ Church Meadow proper, I started to feel better, the air was fresh after the rain showers and we could watch people punting again, this time downstream of Magdalen Bridge.

Punting on the Cherwell. He's standing at the wrong end.

Punting on the Cherwell. He's standing at the wrong end.

I was fine until we got to the Botanic Gardens right by the bridge, and then more memories, more tears, sorry it’s boring.

Magdalen Great Tower

Magdalen Great Tower

Magdalen Great Tower from the Botanic Gardens

Magdalen Great Tower from the Botanic Gardens

Punts at the end of the afternoon

Punts at the end of the afternoon

Back to Headington on the bus again, a cup of tea with Richard and Margaret and home to our house.

In the evening Jeremy and I opened a bottle of red and several photo albums (or was it several bottles and a single album?). Anyway, we looked at some old photos of our student days and tried to add some more detail and dates to the photos. We found more nice photos of J – I need to do even more scanning, zooming and cropping and there’ll be a whole batch more photos to show here.

Still getting messages about J, tonight there was a lovely email from our former childminder and Facebook messages of condolence from former IBM colleagues in South Africa and Italy.

There’s no photo of J in today’s post. Instead there’s a photo of some banjos.

Banjos

Banjos in Bristol

J’s letter to me this morning was “just” an old-fashioned love letter (like we used to write to each other in the early 1980s, pre-email, text messaging, Facebook, etc.). J had written it in January 2010, soon after learning of her terminal prognosis. In the June of that year we’d been visiting Bristol to check out the university with the girls. We went into a music shop in College Green and I examined a banjo. “I’ve written about that to you in my letter” J confessed. She wouldn’t reveal any more details but over the years I’d idly commented several times that I’d fancied having a go at learning the banjo. That was one of the few times I cried before she died, there and then in the shop.

In her letter J revealed that she’d planned to buy me one for my 50th birthday.

About hodders

Husband and proud father of two daughters. Now a widower. Trying to balance between not dwelling on Juliet's death, but telling the world how much I loved her. Tricky.
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