Christ Church College, Oxford, England.
I enjoyed my work as a lawyer. I loved the law. Retirement had never been high on my list of desirable lifetime experiences. I was quite shocked when it became apparent that at some point I should consider a life after law.
In part, my horror at the thought of retirement, came from my observations of life after retirement. Admittedly, I did not have a very large group to observe, but it seemed to me that retirement was akin to entering “god’s” waiting room. Apparent relevance deprivation seemed to be a very real concern.
So, how to deal with this inevitable progression of my life? I spent a couple of years before retirement researching possible life after retirement activities which would provide intellectual stimulation, adventure, excitement and fun.
I love travel, and had travelled a lot. I was always interested in ancient history. I enjoyed photography – on an extremely amateur level. Archaeology, also on an extremely amateur level, sounded like a good fit, as I had over the years visited many archaeological sites in Europe and Asia, and enjoyed learning about ancient civilisations.
My research yielded several interesting possibilities to take my interest in archaeology further, one of which was “The Oxford Experience” consisting of a week long summer class in numerous topics at Oxford University in England. Advertised as offering “authentic experiences of life at world famous universities” it sounded like fun, with a little learning thrown in for good measure.
I enrolled in “Archaeology of Medieval Palaces” at Christ Church College, Oxford, and booked a single student room in the Meadows residential building at Christ Church.
Having completed the pre-reading, I arrived at Christ College on the appointed day, ready to learn and more than ready to enjoy the Oxford experience.
Entering the college through the main entrance, off St Algates into the Tom Quad, I felt as if I had fallen down Alice’s rabbit hole into a whole new world. Tom Quad is flanked by the Tom Tower (a bell tower) at one end, and the entrances to Christ Church Cathedral and the dining hall opposite and to the right. A beautifully mowed splendid green lawn with a huge waterlily pond in the centre set off the buildings around the quad perfectly.
A porter took me to my room in the Meadows, despite my request to just provide directions, and I could find my own way. I loved the building, my room, and the view over the meadows.
The medieval palaces tutor was very engaging, interesting, knowledgable and fun. Each morning’s lectures provided the opportunity to learn a little, and to hear about the tutor’s experiences on various sites. He had been involved in excavations of the moat around the Tower of London. The findings were fascinating.
He had also been involved in the Windsor Castle restoration after the fire there in 1992. He related an incident, after the fire. He and his team were working on restoration projects, Elizabeth and Philip were strolling by – Philip was heard to say “oh, I say, what are those chaps doing” – as if “those chaps” were deaf.
Field trips to various archaeological sites bought the lectures to life. The first field trip was to Wolvesey Castle (old Bishops Palace, Winchester). The Bishops of Winchester were powerful and wealthy. They had several palaces, including one in London – a great advantage of wealth is to have one’s own abode in the places visited.
The ruins of the old Bishops Palace in Winchester date from around the 12th century. The history of the palace, its brief period of fortification as a castle, and the events which occurred at the old Bishops Palace, Winchester are worthy of a great deal more time and study – alas, an afternoon only scratched the surface.
We visited the most impressive Winchester Cathedral after exploring the old Bishops Palace. The cathedral is of Norman construction and was built from 1079 to 1532. It has an early Norman crypt, renaissance chapels and one of the longest gothic naves in Europe. I felt that I had some connection with Winchester cathedral – tenuous, but a connection nevertheless. My “sister” cousins were Winchesters. Quite obviously a connection!
A field trip to Bishops Waltham Palace, a medieval palace used by the Bishops and senior clergy of Winchester, as they travelled through their diocese, continued our practical studies.
Bishop’s Waltham Palace as built around 1135, and was a grand medieval palace and one of the finest residences of the Bishops of Winchester. It was destroyed in 1644. The ruins are impressive.
Academic, lite but interesting, was only a part of the Oxford experience. The fun parts provided a very small glimpse of the life of a privileged person attending Oxford.
Strawberries and champagne in the Cathedral Garden on a beautiful July evening, chatting to people from around the world, was a perfect way to end an afternoon.
Dining in the Great Hall, occasionally seated at the High table, provided a Henry VIII Tudor atmosphere. The Great Hall was completed in the 1520’s – a magnificent renaissance hall. The walls are lined with portraits of illustrious persons, predominantly white males. Wider diversification of portraiture would render the walls more interesting. A start was made in 2017. A portrait of Professor Judith Pallot has joined the boys on the walls – the first female Fellow to have her portrait hung in the Great Hall.
The Buttery, one of the student bars, was a nice spot to enjoy pre-dinner drinks. Rather an odd name for a bar I thought, given that there was no butter in sight. A Buttery had never featured in my Antipodean life. I discovered a Buttery has a significant history – store room in cellar, second storeroom to store and decant wine and ale (as opposed to a pantry storeroom, in which food was stored.)
The Master’s garden was a lovely place to stroll around, or to sit and read – one of those beautiful gardens which England excels in. The Cloister Garden was another beautiful space – a medieval style garden, containing medicinal plants, and a lavender lined lawn. There is a fountain, and a planter, containing an olive tree.
Having walked and cycled along many parts of the Thames Path over the years, through London from Greenwich to Richmond, and a little beyond, I could not leave Oxford without exploring the Thames Path at Oxford. I decided to walk from Oxford to Iffley. Come join me on a that walk.
I have travelled far and wide, several times a year, visiting archaeological sites in many countries and learning about the people, history and cultures past and present of the places visited.
I return from each adventure invigorated, and spend a lot of time reading and learning more about the places visited, and the history of those places, and writing about them.
I have to admit to a little soul searching early in retirement, to stave off the relevance deprivation feelings, but a reality check of my relevance bought the realisation that no one is particularly relevant in the big scheme of things, and everyone is relevant in one way or another.
Covid has been trying to nudge me into “God’s waiting room”, and has occasionally had me on the threshhold. It has been nearly three years since I have had an adventure, but god’s waiting room will have to wait. An adventure beckons.