Saturday, October 15, 2011

Oxford, Heaven 17 and Exeter (UK Trip Days 2 and 3)

The last two days have been so busy, I've not had much time (if any) to sit down at a computer. Therefore, now that I am sitting in my room in a quiet Exeter neighborhood, I am going to try to catch up with myself.

At both my arriving and leaving Leamington Spa, I couldn't help but notice that the area was familiar. Then I realized that I was between Banbury and Warwick, an area I had been in around ten years ago. The university I work for has a satellite college "Near Banbury" (that is the actual postal location), and I had gone this way when I was there on an administrative retreat. I became quite aware on the trip just how large Oxfordshire actually is.

I went from Leamington Spa to Oxford, and that day was a whirlwind of activity. I didn't really get to go sightseeing in Oxford, which wasn't a total loss, as I'd been there sightseeing last year. I checked into my hotel and headed straight over to the Eagle and Child (or the "Bird and Baby" as C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien used to call it), and met up with my friends Rob and Paul for drinks (and lunch). Afterward we headed to Paul's house, and then picked up his wife Pip and headed back to London for the Heaven 17 show at the Roundhouse.

I am in no way qualified to comment on the Heaven 17 gig. I recall seeing Heaven 17 on MTV when I was a young'un, but I really remember nothing about them or their music. I am not really sure why; Heaven 17 was founded by Martyn Ware, who was originally in the Human League, and I love early Human League material. But I never made the connection. The show itself was excellent. I spent much of my time standing there listening to songs, seeing if any of them rang a bell (and trying to get a "vibe" for whether or not I liked them). Their big hit, "Temptation" sounded somewhat familiar, but I still couldn't swear that I really "knew" the song. For some reason my attention was focused on the dress of the female singer. It was an incredibly 1980s style, which is sensible considering the "retro" nature of the material. But I had a very negative association with it. I recall my brother once describing a woman at his company wearing a dress that sounded exactly like that one--to the office. I have blocked out this woman's name in my mind (no, wait, I haven't--it was Karen), but all I know is that she was a truly rotten person. This was at Drexel Burnham Lambert, a company that epitomized everything wrong with the 1980s. My brother said she was mainly hired because she was sleeping with someone in management, and really had no talent except "to stick her tits in someone's face". Because my brother did not respond to her advances, she looked into his background, and when she found out he was being treated for HIV, she managed to get him fired so he wouldn't have any health insurance. At any rate, that's a long time past, and has nothing to do with the woman in Heaven 17, but association is funny in that way.

Getting back to the gig--Heaven 17 performed the entire "Luxury Gap" album, and then went on to do some rarities, including some early Human League material, which made me very happy (and Rob as well). After the gig we were all knackered, and made the long drive back to Oxford.

It wouldn't really be a complete day in Oxford if I didn't learn something new. In this case, I learned several (mostly) new words. They are:

(the two preceding words are in no way to be confused with "Toppy").

The first one is my favorite. I plan to use it in a sentence when I get home.

The next morning I had a lovely breakfast in Oxford, but also not much time until my train. I went to my room, paid my bills for the rest of the month online, and headed over to Oxford rail station. My morning and early afternoon was spent on trains heading over to Exeter. To get to Exeter, I had to stop in Reading, where I haven't really been since I was in school there 18 years ago. Of course there was no time to go out and look around, but I've been assured that I'm not missing anything.

When I got off the train at Exeter and headed into town towards my hotel, I had a very good feeling. I passed St. David's Church, and marveled at the old graveyard--I will definitely be checking that out before I leave. The town is a strange mixture of the mundane, the old, and the pseudo-old. It is a university town, so naturally there are university students everywhere you go. I went for lunch after checking into my hotel, and everyone was involved in studying or reading at their tables. Not that it was quiet by any stretch. On a Saturday, though, I could hardly expect to find quiet anywhere except in my room.

I went into town, and naturally the first place I gravitated towards was the rare bookshop. It was in an odd place--inside a shopping center (read as: sort-of mall), on the second floor, in a mostly vacant corner near a music shop. I would have expected it to be in a creaky old building. The older gentleman who runs the shop told me about the fairies in his garden. When I made a purchase, he wrapped it very carefully, like a present. I hope he continues to stay in business. I noticed that there are two Italian restaurants in town, which just adds points in my book. My other stops were rather mundane, a run to the mobile phone store and to Tesco's (who actually had J.P. Chenet Merlot, a wine I like to buy when I'm at home, in individual serving bottles. You may think this is silly, but you won't find such a thing in the U.S.). I mainly wanted to get a first look around the town. There is a lot more to see, but I prefer to go when it's not so crowded.

I've had enough of night life for a couple of days, so I am staying in, catching up on writing, and going to bed early. I'm looking forward to more exploration tomorrow, and to curl up in the back of a pub with a pint of Hobgoblin and a good book.

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