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I turned 32! The day was heralded by a call on my mobile that woke me at 5am…I thought it might have been someone calling to wish me a happy birthday but it was the NRMA. Hmm. (update on the car: it’s been written off, sadly, but it means we have enough money from the payout to pay the Bs for it, and we also have the use of my dad’s car while he’s living overseas so it all works out okay) Wide awake, I blogged my 32 year autobiography and chatted to G on instant messanger.

After breakfast, Jen, JD and I headed out. It was another rainy, grey Oxford day, but we didn’t mind. Jen was very excited that I wanted to see the Martyr’s Memorial, and she talked me through it as we looked at it. She knows her history, and I’ve never known anyone who has gotten so excited about sharing church history with others; she really makes it come alive. If you ever want to learn more about church history, she’s the gal to talk to.

She took a photo of me beside the memorial, but I wasn’t sure what kind of expression you’re supposed to adopt when standing beside something commemorating the fact that three men were burned at the stake for their faith. It doesn’t seem right to smile in a touristy way. I’ve settled for faintly ridiculous.

Around the corner, in Broad Street, is the spot where the men were actually burned. It’s so strange, looking around Oxford, to think that anything like that could happen here. I understand that this part of Oxford was actually outside the city walls at the time, a rubbish tip. But even so, to think that it happened at all, here…that the monarchy ordered people to die for believing the same things I believe, and that they faced their deaths so squarely…it’s mind-boggling. And humbling.

The spot is marked by a cobbled cross in the street, and a stone plaque in a nearby wall. The thing that got me is that the day before I’d been wandering around here, and actually walked over this without even realising what it was. Somewhere like Oxford is so full of history that something as extraordinary as this is just there, on the street, to be walked over by tourists and ridden over by students on bicycles. I find it fascinating.

We went to the Covered Markets and bought some berries for my birthday cake. Then we tried to go and have a pub meal at the White Horse Inn, but were turned away before we even got in the door. JD’s pram isn’t the biggest pram in the world, but it’s kind of unwieldy and most places just don’t seem equipped for mothers with babies. Aisles and doorways are very narrow, and people don’t seem to be able to cope that well with babies in public generally. We ended up having lunch at a cafe called The Buttery, which had fairly indifferent food, but I was quite startled by the attitudes of the other patrons. We were openly stared at by most of the people in the room, especially when it came to JD’s feeding time. It was as though they had never seen a baby before. It’s not like he was crying or being difficult or anything; he is a very, very quiet baby. But I noticed one guy staring at Jen and when I turned to look at him, his girlfriend stared at me. And the thing is, in Australia if you met someone’s stare they’d either look away or say something to you. In England, they just stare back at you. So we ignored them.

JD wasn’t fazed by it at all.

After lunch we went to Blackwell’s bookshop, Oxford’s biggest bookshop and an institution in its own right. It looks like it’s just a little shopfront, but it has three storeys up, and a massive basement “of over 10,000 square feet housing 160,000 volumes on over three miles of shelving. The room is under Trinity College and was opened in 1966. It gained a place in the Guinness Book of Records for having the largest display of books for sale in one room anywhere in the world.” (source) It’s pretty impressive. And they have a great cafe, that actually has room to park a pram. And when I sat with JD in some comfy chairs and felt an old woman’s eyes on me, I was expecting some stern lecture, but she just smiled and said “What a placid, lovely baby!” So definitely our kind of place, for sure.

After coffee we walked back down to the area I’d been wandering around the day before, to look inside the Bodleian. In the foreground of the photo below is one of the many massive carved heads ranged around the outside of the Sheldonian. This is the theatre where all the Oxford students go to matriculate, and is right beside the Bodleian, which you can see in the background. I love how all these magnificent buildings are just all lumped in together in a relatively small space. Doors open as you walk past colleges and you get a glimpse of green quadrangles and spring flowers; it’s like there are worlds within worlds here, just waiting to be explored if you can find the way in.

As a visitor you can’t go into the Bodleian itself, but you can wander around the courtyards and gasp at the gorgeousness of the architecture.

We went into a small exhibition on John Milton, called Citizen Milton, which was quite interesting. I didn’t know much about him, but was taken by his passion and how he struggled against the monarchy, censorship and the oppression of his time –

Advocate of freedom of the press, transparency in government, public debate, education for liberty, the right to divorce, the disestablishment of the church and the abolition of monarchy, Milton espoused positions radical even by today’s standards. The cornerstone of Milton’s concept of liberty was the virtuous citizen, an individual endowed with reason to make choices and to act freely in the world. . . This exhibition gives an account of this remarkable writer, with especial focus on Milton’s concept of citizenship and the ways that later artists grappled with the complex legacy of his powerful words.

It was only a very small exhibition, but had lots of interesting source documents, including ‘pirated’ versions of Milton’s banned works that had painstakingly been copied out by hand, even Percy Bysshe Shelley’s notebook with his notes on Milton (he had terrible penmanship).

After this we wandered down to Magdalen Bridge and watched some people punting despite the dreary weather. The English have this strange stoicism when it comes to the weather – “it’s spring, I don’t care if it’s six degrees outside, it’s spring and we are going to conduct ourselves accordingly.” (This is especially apparent in the shops; even though it’s cold enough to still warrant scarves and gloves outside, you cannot buy a long sleeved top in any of the shops. It’s all frilly light cotton blouses and spaghetti strapped dresses…delusional.) So a few people were punting, though most of the boats were unused.
I then went to Neal’s Yard and had a wonderful, wonderful birthday massage. I left feeling light as air.

The Bs had organised Chinese takeaway for dinner, and Jen’s marvellous chocolate and berry cake. We kind of failed at taking a good birthday pic, but this kind of sums up how we are when we’re together:

Totoro explored the bookcases but came to disaster when he encountered Barth and Brunner.
We were all greatly revived by Jen’s marvellous cake, though.

We had a pleasant evening, though after dinner I rapidly went downhill, especially given I’d been awake since 5am. Massages can have a downside too, releasing all the nastiness in your muscles and leaving you with a dreadful headache. So we played a little WoW, I drank a lot of water and then I slipped away to bed.