Oxford….

At the court of “King Bob”

On Sunday and Monday night we stayed at the Camping and Caravanning Club site in Oxford. This is brilliantly placed for visiting Oxford.

We have stayed here on many occasions including when we came for Bob’s 60th birthday party and also when we came for his memorial service in Balliol chapel 7 years ago.

The amenities are fairly basic and show their age but are well cared for and kept clean by the friendly site wardens. It truly is the “friendly club”.

All pitches are on grass and during wet weather most vans are parked by the wardens on the roads ….a bit bizarre… but it uses available space to the maximum and prevents vehicles getting stuck or churning up the pitches.

Due to our immense ages we are able to claim an age concession on the site fees and so each night was priced at a mere £16.

Just a couple of minutes walk away is a bus stop with a frequent service into the city…..an adult day return is £3. Or you can walk in….about 25 minutes.

We took the bus and were soon at Balliol college.

My brother, Bob, had lived in Oxford for most of his adult life and had worked at many of the university colleges as a philosophy lecturer. Balliol was the college he was working at when he became ill and the one he felt he had the greatest affinity with. Additionally, the college had been very supportive throughout his short illness.

In days past …..and in all weathers…Bob could usually be found sitting outside the Buttery at Balliol with a glass of red wine, fag in hand, holding court to students,friends and colleagues. Discussing life, philosophy and using his acerbic wit to entertain those who gathered at the court of “King Bob”.

He loved to shock as well as entertain and wasn’t beyond spinning a few tall tales. I remember, at his 60th birthday party being asked about our Native American heritage!

Apparently, he had told college staff that we were descended from a famous Apache chief and had done so, so convincingly that it was an accepted truth!

So on Monday we headed straight for the Buttery to see the bench which students and colleagues had placed outside there in memory of Bob.

The inscription reads:

Bob Hargrave 1949- 2012 “Amidst all your philosophy, be still a man.”

Which, as most of you will know, is a quote from David Hume – “An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding”

The view from the Buttery and Bob’s usual seat

We also visited Balliol chapel where the college held a memorial service for him. I can remember him planning that service one cold, wet miserable afternoon outside the Buttery, full of dark mischief and tongue in cheek.

Balliol chapel from the Fellows Garden

The small chapel is beautiful inside and all are welcome to visit it on days when the college is open to the public

The Ashmolean Museum is quite close by and well worth a visit, but the last time I was there I was pushing a cantankerous Bob around in his wheelchair and the memories are overwhelmingly too vivid and sad for me to wander round again.

Bob in deservedly cantankerous mood outside the Ashmolean, just a few days after his diagnosis of lung cancer

So instead we headed off for a wander through Jericho, which is a historic suburb of Oxford. It developed just outside the old city wall and hundreds of years ago as a place for travellers to rest if they had reached the city after the gates had closed. Today it has a bohemian arty feel and in 2017 was ranked number 11 by Travel Supermarket in a list of the UK’s most “hip” destinations. It also has several literary connections. Thomas Hardy’s novel “Jude the Obscure” has a scene set in St Barnabas Church and one of the pubs is called Jude the Obscure as a homage to that. Parts of Phillip Pullman’s Northern Lights trilogy are also set in Jericho which is home to the water-dwelling “Gyptians” and this in turn reflects the way the real Jericho is bounded by the Oxford Canal. There is a lovely walk along the canal which leads back into the city centre and you can admire all the houseboats decorated with fabulous artistic designs which are moored alongside the canal.

One of the places we were keen to visit was the pub called the Old Bookbinders which had been described to us as a “hidden jewel of Oxford” and “Oxford’s best kept secret”. The pub and surrounding area also has special resonance for “Morse” fans as the very first episode, “The Dead of Jericho” was filmed here and included the exterior of the pub which in the episode was called The Printer’s Devil.

The interior of the pub is filled with the most amazing and amusing bits of antiques and junk…..including an old toy railway complete with track and engines stuck to the ceiling!

But it was the food that had brought us….French bistro style and with a menu du jour of fantastic value £10.50 for 2 courses or £13.50 for 3.
Food was fabulous and served by a lovely  French girl. We really struggled not to speak to her in Franglais…and did mistakenly drop an automatic merci here and there!

What an end to a great day!

Next stop, Eastleigh!

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