The end of June and the first couple of weeks of July are, most definitely, the rose time for South-East England. Roses are everywhere: blooming, opening, dropping petals, showing off at sunrise and dusk. Should you get distracted on your way home, reading that one photo story about Detroit in ruins, you run the risk of being smacked by a particularly large specimen of Rosemoor. There are countless shades and colours, from the palest cream to burgundy and ripe-yellow. There is more delicacy and a greater variety of fragrance than on the ground floor of Selfridges.
The plant in the picture grows towards the northern end of Marston Road, and I pass it every day. It is a giant heap of dark-green foliage and modest-sized magenta flowers, spilling over its fenced corner. The plant is a flower factory, with buds promptly taking the place of fallen heads, and in the deepest depth of the bush there is Elton John — hiding, quietly singing ‘The Circle of Life’.
On Tuesday evening Nat (hooray!) visited Oxford (hooray!) and, accompanied by Sam, we ended up at the usual hangout of the Victoria Arms in Old Marston. Victoria Arms once used to be called the Ferry Inn, after the nearby foot passenger punt ferry. The ferry stopped running in 1971, but the pub, albeit under a different name, still sits on the bank of the Cherwell.
An inn has existed in this spot since the 17th century, and some years before that Old Marston had served as the Roundhead quarters during the Siege of Oxford. Above the fireplace in the Victoria Arms there is a plaque reading, ‘In 1646 Cromwell sat here waiting to liberate the city’. That is one point of view for you, but liberate the city he did.
On Wednesday Lizzie and I went to see a recording of The Importance of Being Earnest at Phoenix Picturehouse. There is no photographic evidence of the fact, but there is my review, published in a state of slight confusion.
Since the launch of Chance & Physics had been scheduled for Friday, the time until then was spent in preparation. We might have staged an impromptu photo session in the bedroom (the best white wall in the house), and I might have eaten an unreasonable amount of chocolate bars. As, in the end, you are reading these lines, all of that was definitely worth it. The selfie is the one I took post-launch, in the new and happy capacity of a website-owner.
The weekend was dedicated to Ancient Egypt: Lizzie, also known as Dr. Brophy, had purchased tickets for me and herself to go and see the new ‘Sunken Cities’ exhibition at the British Museum. Early on Sunday morning I ate my granola and set off to St. Clement’s, where Lizzie would be waiting for me to take the coach to London.
On the way I passed a public building, looking like it used to be a school or offices in the late 19th century. On the side facing the main road, above a locked door, there was an inscription: ‘England expects every man to do his duty’. It is a paraphrase of Lord Nelson’s signal for the start of the Battle of Trafalgar. It also wonderfully echoes the mediaeval ‘Fais ce que dois, advienne que pourra’ (‘Do what you must, come what may’).
St. Clement’s greeted me with bright flowerbeds and still-closed cafés. I said hello to the elephant sculpture in the window of one of the narrow blue houses — some have got eccentric and colourful decorations. On the corner of Boulter Street I turned to look down the road. I had lived there last year, and I could just decipher the brick front of the right house.
Our trip to the British Museum was quick and full of the Ptolemies. Given that we were going to see a few treasures from the Hellenistic world, that was only appropriate. Lizzie, illustrating the main points with references to her doctoral thesis (a copy currently in my possession), described that the Ptolemies were like Game of Thrones, except in Egypt and real.
While it was not allowed to take pictures at the exhibition, I snapped this group portrait of Sekhmets and their admirers in a room next door. Sekhmet was the ancient Egyptian goddess of war and healing. That sounds like she kept herself busy.
After the exhibition and lunch, I set off on a walk from Bloomsbury to Islington. Tatiana L. and I had a cocktail date scheduled at Angel, and the evening was full of sunlight and anticipation. London was beautiful. London was beautiful and most responsive to compliments, and we kept winking at each other.
When, a few hours later, I was riding the coach back to Oxford, I wrote down the following:
I would like to take this opportunity to thank London for existing. The houses there are house-sized! The streets, of street width! The British Museum stores treasures from seven corners of the Earth, and the British Library has got more books than one can read. The Tube has all the adverts I actually want to see.
I forget how big cities make me feel when I don’t reside in one. They make me feel alive. There is constantly something happening somewhere, and you don’t have to be a part of it, but it’s there. It’s reliably there — stretch your hand, you’ll get the vibrations.
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Not a Day Without an Adventure. July 3rd, Day Thirty-Three: ‘Sunken Cities’ at the British Museum.
Dr. Brophy, alternatively known as Lizzie, and I went to the British Museum to see the results of the recent underwater excavations near Alexandria. Still ongoing, the excavations have brought up hundreds of artifacts from the port cities of Thonis-Heracleion and Canopus. Both had been major centres of culture and trade in pre-Alexandrian times and remained significant settlements during the rule of the Ptolemies.
Not unlike Pompeii and Herculaneum, Thonis-Heracleion and Canopus fell victim to seismic activity in the region and got buried. For centuries they were hidden several metres below the seabed, waiting for ingenious and resourceful archaeologists. And those arrived! Hooray!
Lizzie wrote her doctoral thesis on some of the statues exhibited, so seeing those for the first time in real life was akin to going on a date with an online acquaintance. The size of the objects can never truly be predicted, but one might be impressed.
Current album: Bat for Lashes, The Bride
Current book: Don DeLillo, Zero K
Current TV series: Scream Queens, Series 1 (2015)