Sunday, April 17, 2011

Retro-Blog #4: A Visit From Mum and Dad, Part I


On the night of C-essay submission I met with my M.St. strand-mates for celebratory dinner at Zizzi on George Street, a colourful, relaxed Italian restaurant that had a giant purple wood-burning oven in the back. I ordered an antipasto siciliano (roasted peppers, aubergine, artichoke, olives, mozzarella di buffalo and two chewy bread sticks) and a small bowl of gnocchi gorgonzola (both appetizers, as my meal), and followed it with a torta cioccolato, which had hazelnuts in the crust and an amaretto mascarpone on top. Uh-mazing. And, thanks to Seirian, who had printed a discount coupon, it was all for about £13 each. We had a lot of fun discussions, ranging from literature ("prose before hoes") to politics ("Obama's a puppet, but he's usually pretty good at hiding the strings") to film and dramatic performances ("the old knife-in-the-vag thing") to clothing ("The lady who runs the Unicorn makes up prices on the spot, and they're entirely random. She's called Eva." "Like in WALL-E???") to racism ("My nan is afraid to say 'coloured' in public, so she replaces it with 'darkies'--as if that's a more acceptable term!") to unusual jobs ("I think I would make a great personal escort") to inappropriate sexual activities ("I popped into the loo in there [the Four Candles] last week, and there were two people shagging in the next stall.") to past times ("Those lovely Victorian houses used to be where the dons kept their mistresses." "I was so born in the wrong era...I would have made a great don's mistress!"). To protect the innocent I won't reveal who said what, but in all it was a delightful way to detox from paper writing.
The next day, my wonderful parents arrived for a week-long visit. They got off the bus, and I immediately made them walk across the city to their hotel with all their luggage, which in retrospect wasn't very thoughtful of me, but it was only 15 mins away, and I am so used to walking everywhere! Once they had settled in, we went over to the New Bodleian print workshop, where they got to experience type-dissing, hand-pressing, and label making. They also got to meet Paul Nash, whom they adored, as I do. After that I showed them around Lincoln--though for some reason the chapel and hall were locked, so we planned to go back another time--and then took them to my flat, where they met Jackie. We had an early dinner in the Bear, because Daddy looked like he was about to pass out and he wanted to eat and go to bed early (as you can probably tell from the photo!). He got the lamb special, Mom got fish & chips, and I had a mushroom and goat cheese burger, which was very messy, but tasty. Mommy and I had Pimm's, too,
which I recommended because I knew they weren't going to make her an appletini, hehe. She liked it! Then I took them back to their hotel, where they gave me a bag of goodies from home: TWO packages of chocolate chips, and Peanut Butter M&Ms (!), plus a few random personal items I had requested from my room. I didn't stay long, because they were tired and I had to prepare for the Editing Donne conference I was attending the next day--my first Oxford conference! It was run by Peter McCullough and Sebastiaan Verweij, both of whom I have worked with (read: pestered with emails or in person) before, and I got to meet some important Donne critics like Janel Mueller, who was sitting next to me for most of the day, and Kattrin Ettinhuber and David Colclough. It was wonderfully informative, and I got some good suggestions for my dissertation. I met my parents for dinner after the conference. They had had a nice day of wandering and sight-seeing and shopping and people-watching (my mother thinks the short-shorts-with-tights trend is ridiculous, as I do!), and we tried to go to the Turf, because some shopkeeper had recommended it to them, but it was really crowded, so we went around to the King's Arms instead. I got a venison burger, Mommy got the goat's cheese and spinach tart, and Daddy just HAD to try the "faggots," which turned out to be lamb meatballs in a dark sauce. Such odd names the British have for relatively normal things...

We decided to go to church the next morning at the Catholic Oratory, where they had Latin mass at 8 a.m., and regular parish mass at 9:30. Daddy always prefers Latin, but they didn't think they would get up in time (they were still a little jet-lagged), so he was extra excited when they had the Latin prayerbook for him to follow along with even though the mass was in English. He wore his three-piece suit all day (his "uniform," as Mom calls it; and truly, I can hardly remember a day of my youth when he was not wearing one), even though the front desk had forgotten their wake-up call, and they got up only an hour before we were supposed to leave (this is not enough time for either of them, especially Daddy, who takes great care with his appearance). Mom had thrown on clothes really quickly, but she decided in the cab (the cab driver, by the way, was a really sweet and amusing Albanian guy who was talking about the crazy driving rules in this town, and joked that driving in Oxford with your wife in the car was a good way to cause marital problems!) that her shirt was too low-cut for church, and it was really funny when the priest got up in the pulpit to give the homily, because we were sitting right below it, and she was mortified to think that he could see down her shirt. Then when Daddy went up with me to take communion, he wasn't sure if they dispensed it on the tongue here, as in most churches, because he saw everyone holding out their hands, so he held out both hands (usually you put the left on top of the right, so you receive in the left and then use your right to put it in your mouth). The priest got all confused, and said, "which hand?" and Daddy didn't know what he meant, so the priest finally just gave it to him, but he looked uncomfortable, and they were both so discombobulated that Daddy forgot to say "Amen," and instead said, "What? What did I do wrong?" Poor thing! I could hardly stop myself from giggling; it was highly entertaining.

After church we had a lovely breakfast at Brown's, where both mom and dad were very pleased with the excellent tea, which they got to pour through strainers and enjoy with lumps of brown sugar. The plan had been to walk across to the parks after that, but it was still a bit chilly and Mom and I weren't dressed warmly enough, so we went over to the Natural History Museum. Outside there was an exhibit on EDIBLE INSECTS. There was a banquet set for some food critics and other important people, and they were selling crispy crickets and chocolate-covered ants...I took photos, but didn't taste! Then we went inside, and my parents became children again while looking at all the animals and skeletons with excitement and curiosity. They haven't been to museums like that since their own children were very little. I think they had more fun there than in the Pitt-Rivers, my favourite museum, which we also visited--though Daddy really liked the weapons on the top floor.
It was quarter to three by the time we left there, so we walked back toward town thinking we would have high tea somewhere, but then I decided I wanted to take them to the G&D's on St. Aldate's, so we had ice cream sundaes instead! (Yes, I brought my Daddy in his three-piece suit into G&D's, hehe.) It's certainly not an every-day thing to do, but they were on holiday, and really, so was I. I got a banana split with pistachio and chocolate ice cream. Daddy got one, too, but with banana and crème anglaise, and Mom had a brownie sundae with banana ice cream. They wanted to walk after that, so I tried to take them into Christ Church meadow, but we got about twelve steps in and Dad complained that his nice shoes were getting covered with dirt, so we left by the Merton Street gate, saying we'd come back when he was in trainers. They had these huge white pavilion tents erected all along the back wall, and more set up in the garden, which I later learned were for the Oxford Literary Festival, but that was happening the week after they left.

We walked up to High Street and crossed over to St. Mary's Church and paid to climb up to the top--but we did NOT read the teeny-tiny sign that warns you not to go if you have claustrophobia! Mommy and I were both hyperventilating and crying by the time we got out of that extremely narrow spiral staircase...and out onto the extremely narrow (and crowded!) balcony. Neither Daddy nor I had known Mommy was claustrophobic, too--I guess that is where I get it. She said she felt like hurling herself from the top, or like staying up there forever rather than going back down that same way. But there really is no choice, and after we had spent some time taking photos and deep breaths, and calming down, we steeled ourselves for the descent. I counted the steps to give myself something to focus on...there are fifty from the top to the first landing. I didn't count after that, because the lower staircases were much wider and more comfortable. We did mention to the girls at the desk that they might want to make the warning notice more clear and obvious!

Dinner that night at Quod on High Street was delicious, and the service fantastic--best I've ever had in Oxford. Not only are there real English people working there (not Russians or Romanians or any other background that one finds often in the service industry, trying to learn English), but they are charming, friendly, knowledgeable, and eager to please. The bartender, Will, actually went into the kitchen and got some apples and tried his hardest to make my mother an appletini. He also helped me settle on a drink by asking what flavours I did and didn't like, and he came up with something a lot like an amaretto sour that was quite tasty. Our server, Joe, is an aspiring screenwriter (under the awesome pirate name J.P. Blackbond (!!) because Joe O'Connor is too common a name) and actor who did a law degree at Keble
(he knew Diane Purkiss) and then decided he hated lawyers, hehe. He was very enthusiastic about the food, and could accurately describe everything we asked him about. I had a goat-cheese-and-spinach risotto starter, then duck confit with artichoke mash and greens, followed by treacle tart (which was very different from the one I remembered having in Devon, but still tasty). We also had some great table-neighbors, an older couple from Yorkshire who were on their way to the Isle of Wight. They chatted with us quite pleasantly, and encouraged my parents to go explore the world, as they had done (the woman had recently gone to Peru with her daughter to take a textile class, for an example!). It was a really pleasant night, and everyone was very happy.

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