Tuesday, March 09, 2004

ENGLAND FOUR. Last night was Oxford. Now there's something I don't see every day, so right after load-in I took a long walk. Liberal education, foreign travel, and life in New York can somewhat innoculate you against overawe at European landmarks, but Jesus Christ: this University was founded in the Tenth Century. A lot of the buildings are far, far older than our Republic. All those spires, crenelations, and scarred oaken doors in one place! Yet the students are thoroughly modern in dress and manner. I thought they'd all be wearing green robes and mortarboards, and talking in Middle English. They do still favor bicycle travel, though: I must have seen eight hundred bicycles in a 90 minute walk. The Bodleian Library was closed but I accessed its courtyard through a five-foot-high opening in a tremendous wooden gate that seemed built to repel Barbarians. Oxford makes Columbia and Yale look like midwestern agricultural colleges.

Oxford had the smallest room we played, upstairs at a pub called Port Mahon. The pub is quite nice, warm maroon walls and a gas fireplace and Greene King IPA, and pretty quiet. Even in the side room with the pool table and the jukebox, sound didn't bounce and bang as it does in the bars I'm used to: I don't know if this is an acoustic function of English interior decoration, or just its psychological effect upon the patrons. Shaggy elders gathered at the wooden tables and some of them crouched over pints and books in the dim light and posed for my mental cliche image of British academic life. Showtime was early but last orders came mid-set, so Billy and I asked Steve from the stage to bring us pints; Lach told the band to stop playing and the crowd to freeze in place when he reentered; Steve, bless him, simply zipped through the surreal scene, deposited the pints, ran back to board, and shouted "Right, carry on." Small as the venue was, the crowd was attentive and Lach played them well. It could have been a rec room in America. No matter, all shows are special.

Billy got into the Scotch on the ride back. He told the radio, "Stop talking over the music, bitch." He challenged at length my assertion that the earth does not revolve around the moon. He was more agreeable when we got home and we watched together a bizarre film called The Journey, with Deborah Kerr, looking rather peaked, trying to get out of resistance Hungary against the amorous and outsized desires of a hardass Russian officer played by Yul Brynner. Bill's quite good at spot-the-actor so we discussed the careers of E.G. Marshall, Anne Jackson, and Robert Morley, among others. We should have gone to bed earlier -- Nottingham today -- but such moments make these tours even more fun than they should be.

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