Of taxis and trains and change

On Saturday, 27 July 2013, we left Oxford.

It was wrenching. I didn’t want to leave Oxford, neither did any of our Company. We had come to love the place. It was home. I know that sounds remarkable as we were only there for a short time, but we’d been reading of the Inklings in OXFORD all summer. Everywhere we went, everything we saw, connected to them and their works. It was like living in a book, like living in a very specific history, not visiting history or appreciating history, but actually being in the history, being in a book. We saw Middle Earth everywhere. We saw Narnia everywhere. We saw Niggle’s tree. We tasted the last wine of Lewis. We walked upon the paths between Hobbiton and Bree. We felt the weight of where we were and what it meant to the Inklings, and now to us, the Re-Inklings of 2013.

Our Company at The Kilns, one wizard, one elf, and four hobbits, in Middle Earth, in Narnia, beyond ourselves. Goodbye, Oxford. We hope to return some day.

Our Company at The Kilns, one wizard, one elf, and four hobbits, in Middle Earth, in Narnia, beyond ourselves. Goodbye, Oxford. We hope to return some day.

Some trips are vacations. One relaxes and rests. Some trips are business. One accomplishes great deeds (if one is lucky and/or works hard). Some trips are magic. This is magic. Just read our blog posts to see what it’s been like for us. I posted in Facebook that everything is amazing and everyone is happy. I wasn’t lying and I’m not wrong. We laughed so much and learned so much and enjoyed so much, it’s almost too much to consider, too much to take in. It’s overwhelming and grand and delicious–like a giant meal we cannot stop picking at… even though we’re pretty full, over full, too full. And I can prove how over-the-top this experience has been/still is:

We have uploaded over 2,500 photos to Facebook. I know that isn’t counting about 200 I didn’t upload and that is not including one of our Company who hasn’t uploaded any pictures yet. ALSO that doesn’t include any pictures of London we may have taken yesterday or are taking today. Two things about this: 1) we saw a lot that we believed was worth chronicling; 2) we’re shutterbugs. And this too: we loved Oxford. We felt connected to our Inklings and to each other as Re-Inklings. To have walked in the footsteps of the men (and women… well, mostly men) is something stunning that few consciously do. We met groups in Oxford who were taking literary tours or who were mildly interested in literature or authors of or from Oxford, but we were IN it. We were part of it–connected in very deep ways through texts our Inklings had written, through reviews we’ve read of their work, through biographies we’ve read, through our research in individual Inklings, through our creating poetry about the “place” of Oxford, through out commitment to Inklings’s walking tours, through our commitment to our learning together.

Magic. I comes not because of some trick of a magician, some illusion, but comes from beyond us, a kind of magic that is well past us that we occasionally glimpse that sometimes colors a moment that we cannot forget ever, a magic that makes us aware of that moment at that very moment–we know it’s magic as it’s happening. Metamagic.

We cried. We were moved by our words of toast for our Inklings. We were moved at the Kilns. We were moved at the graveside of Lewis. We were moved by all of it.

We laughed. We have been so funny–as a Company of travelers will be when much together. We developed phrases that trigger laughter immediately though no one else would understand: “ALL the ___________.” and “IN. YO. FACE.” and “You’re special.” We’ve laughed at it all.

But we had to leave Oxford, no matter what we wanted.

Jess, Kelhi, and Cat--jammed in the far back of the taxi with lots of luggage--headed to the Oxford train station, on our way to London.

Jess, Kelhi, and Cat–jammed in the far back of the taxi with lots of luggage–headed to the Oxford train station, on our way to London.

We loaded all our luggage and our six selves into one taxi–who knew it was even possible?–but our cabbie was a master. We could have been in a terrible crash or the cab could have rolled over and none of us would have been hurt–we were protected by bags and bags and bags. Our driver really needs to consider a Guinness record at some point in his life. I was utterly certain we’d have to call for another cab. He said no. No way. Learned to keep my cynical non-packing skills mouth shut.

And thus we sardinely headed away from the metamagic that was Oxford.

Our time in Oxford was truly ended by the time we were packed onto the train to London–again like sardines.

On Saturday, 27 July 2013, we arrived in London.

As we arrived at Paddington Station it was clear we were in another whole world–wall-to-wall people, but our lovely hotel was just two blocks from the station and the beautiful people at Hotel Indigo had arrange for our early check in so we could get in our rooms and refresh a bit before jumping into the wild world of London on a Saturday in summer at the height of tourist season. London is a big city (over 8 million people–compare that to the 150,000 in Oxford!) made even bigger by the throngs of tourists in matching t-shirts or with matching bags–and tour guides with matching placards or umbrellas leading groups around like cattle. We were deeply grateful for our small group–who are all so lovely to travel with.

Here’s a perfect example of how wonderful our group is: we’re in line to enter Westminster Abbey with about 80,000 other travelers (or it felt that way) with long, long lines in the sun mostly.

1000s wait to get into Westminster including us.

1000s wait to get into Westminster including us.

Then, even when we hit the shade, there was still a ways to go before we got into the Abbey proper. One of our party said, “I’m having a hard time practicing patience.” Another said, “I might be annoyed by this long line soon.” All said with sardonic smiles (or sardine smiles, if you prefer, and if you can picture that!). But no ill humor. We were hot and perilously thirsty and crowded and footsore, but we were kind and generous to each other. We’d thought we’d been very big and cute all week, even good-looking at a few locations, but at the Abbey, we were melty and pale and wee.

And thus–we were rewarded by a marvelous culinary sojourn, by what might have been a horrific and miserable meal but wasn’t at all. If we had been ships, we would have been listing to the scuppers at that moment; we were NOT ship shape. Starving and thirsty (possible suffering from scurvy), we decided to eat at the Abbey cafe. These “location” cafes sometimes are terribly expensive and don’t always have the best food. But I truly believe this, we didn’t utter a cross word to one another when we said we had to eat here or die at sea, and it all turned out beautifully. The food was not unreasonably priced for London and: 1) the chips were the best the girls had had yet–rosemary sea salt chips (fries perfectly done); 2) my tomato/mozzarella salad with pesto was the BEST salad I’d have in a very long time (a

The cloister at the Abbey was cool and peaceful and beautiful.

The cloister at the Abbey was cool and peaceful and beautiful.

surprising combination of herbs like dill, pesto, lemon, olive oil, crunchy sea salt, tomatoes that tasted just like real tomatoes, and mozzarella that was clearly fresh and so creamy). The only drawback was that Matt and I kept hoping the girls would leave some of the fries, I mean chips, for us to munch on. We watched them closely through the meal (it was so crowded we had to be seated at separate tables) to see if there would be leftover chips. (BTW, they wondered why we stared at them through the whole meal and appeared to be talking about them incessantly–now they know.) Did we get one chip? Not one. We could have asked for a taste. Our company is VERY generous with tastes, but we wanted to give them a break from the professors… Ha. They started to make faces at the us… which we did not understand at the time. We thought: silly Hobbits. But we get it now: if you want a chip, you must ask for a chip, or you will not get a chip–no chips for you. And don’t stare at people. Don’t point fingers. Don’t stick out tongues and make big bug eyes. Folks will misunderstand.

Caitlyn riding the Big Red Bus.

Caitlyn riding the Big Red Bus.

We traveled via the big red/blue bus around London (how we got to Westminster Abbey). The sun was blazing for a good portion of the trip–and I got even more tan–who goes to England to get a golden tan? Me. Finally the weather cooperated with a light rain on and off for some of the afternoon. Finally. We had been really getting heated.

After the Abbey, we took a boat trip up the Thames to see the Tower of London and the Tower Bridge. It was all just magnificent. We took another couple of bus rides through town until we headed back to Sussex Gardens, the neighborhood where we are staying. But before I launch into our marvelous meal, here is a list of all we saw as we traveled around London on our first day in town (we only had time to really tour the Abbey):

  • Hyde Park (beautiful, enormous park right by our neighborhood)

    National Gallery in Trafalgar Square.

    National Gallery in Trafalgar Square.

  • The Marble Arch (many folks had been hanged over the centuries)
  • Baker Street (where a certain and very famous fictional detective resides)
  • Marylebone Church (where Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning were married)
  • Madam Tussaud’s
  • Regent’s Park
  • The BBC studios
  • All Souls
  • Oxford Circus
  • Hamley’s Toy Store
  • Piccadilly Circus
  • Green Park
  • Carnaby Street
  • Regent Street
  • Trafalgar Square (insanely crowded–but it was great to see Nelson’s Column again–so so so columny)
  • National Gallery

    Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament from the boat.

    Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament from the boat.

  • Admiralty Arch
  • Horse Guards
  • No. 10 Downing Street
  • Big Ben
  • Houses of Parliament
  • Buckingham Palace
  • St. James Park
  • Wellington Arch
  • London Eye
  • Lambeth Palace
  • Wibbly wobbly bridge (look it up AND see it in HP and the Half Blood Prince)
  • The Tate Modern
  • Replica of the Golden Hind
  • Replica of The Globe
  • HMS Wellington docked on the Thames
  • Blackfriars Bridge
  • Royal National Theatre
  • The Shard
  • City Hall
  • Tower Bridge
  • Tower of London
  • The Monument (to the great fire of 1666)

    The Tower Bridge from our boat trip on the Millenium Diamond. We said Falcon would have been better than Diamond.

    The Tower Bridge from our boat trip on the Millenium Diamond. We said Falcon would have been better than Diamond.

  • St. Paul’s Cathedral
  • Cleopatra’s Needle (the other one in NYC, the honors freshman comp travelers saw this spring on our trip there)
  • Belgrave Square (dozens of embassies are located in this neighborhood)
  • Victoria Station
  • MI6 and MI5

And that’s really all I can think of–there was more–historic and important buildings, pubs, warehouses, businesses, and more–too much more. By the time we started to walk home from the Hyde Park bus drop off, we were starving again. Can you believe it? As Caitlyn pointed out: Hobbits eat a lot all day.

I chose the Sussex Gardens location for a couple of reasons: 1) Dickens wrote part of Our Mutual Friend at one of the local pubs here: The Victoria Pub; 2) there are several great Indian restaurants nearby; 3) The Dickens Tavern (great fish and chips); 4) The Hotel Indigo is clean and lovely and relatively a good deal with a great breakfast and free sodas and water in every room; 5) many shops nearby with souvenir goodies but lots of good produce and cheese and several places with pastries and great coffee; but mostly for 6) The Villa Rosa Italian restaurant around the corner from our hotel. I’d raved about this Italian place since May: “I hope we can eat there. I loved it when I was in London last.” and “They had the best spaghetti Bolognese I’ve ever had outside Italy.” and “I love this place, the people are wonderful and the food is utterly exquisite.” and “Please, please, please can we eat there?” “I loved it so much I ate there two nights in a row–totally against my usual rules in traveling.” and on and on and on I went.

I’d built this up like nothing else and then it hit me: what if we eat there and it sucks? Oh no. My street cred could go right down the drain.

Cleaned our plates at the Villa Rosa restaurant.

Cleaned our plates at the Villa Rosa restaurant.

So. We’d been sunburnt a bit, running for about 12 hours straight, and finally were close to getting a final meal for the day, and Jessica really wanted Italian food. No one else really had a preference, so off to the Villa Rosa we headed. I couldn’t actually remember the name–though I knew it had something to do with “rose.” A kind shopkeeper pointed us in the right direction.

Everyone LOVED what they ordered: Cat, spaghetti with pesto; Caitlyn, Alfredo with mushrooms; Kelhi, salmon with tortellini; Jessica, penne carbonara; Matt and I both ordered the spaghetti Bolognese (the pressure was really on for it to be great). Turns out everything I remembered about this gem was true, in fact, perfect. Of course, we all tasted everyone’s everything. All good. But my favorite was Caitlyn’s reaction to the spaghetti Bolognese: “OH MY GOD.” She started back from the fork and opened her eyes wide, “OH MY GOD.” She expected it would be good, she said, but not OMG good. We ate every bite of everything: prosciutto and melon, all our meals, and dessert. I am at peace.

Dessert at Villa Rosa: chocolate inside pistachio ice cream inside chocolate. Oh my.

Dessert at Villa Rosa: chocolate inside pistachio ice cream inside chocolate. Oh my.

I can’t say I was in love with moving from Oxford to London, and the train ride was hot and generally unpleasant (though the immediate company was, as always, super fine), the day was good, and as usual, felt like three or four days in one:

  • Oxford morning–day one.
  • Travel–day two.
  • London by bus and the Abbey–day three.
  • Perfect dinner–day four.

But we said yes to the adventure and found that being open to the joy the universe might throw in our way turned out to be the right move. Again.

~Elizabeth D. Woodworth

Categories: Having Magic, London. IN. YO. FACE., Oxford Forever, Re-Inklings in London | Leave a comment

“This is my disdaining look,” said the cheeky waiter.

“It looks like your adoring look,” said Caitlyn. Our favorite waiter at the Eagle and Child is both rude and charming. We had been applauding each other’s work and he said they didn’t go in for applause at proper English pubs, and thus walked way saying the above. But Caitlyn was all about the pithy American comeback. He secretly loved us and wanted to be part of our group.

Friday started off very much the same as any other day: with breakfast. Breakfast is always a feast at Keble College, and I think I will forever be disappointed with any breakfast I make for myself from here on out. Something special happened. It was Matt’s birthday, his 36th birthday, to be exact. We wanted to make this special for him, especially since he’s done so much for us this summer and even more during this trip. We girls had an idea: we would ask Brendan (Breakfast Boy) to tell Matt happy birthday. How awesome would it be to say that Breakfast Boy aka Lord of the Breakfast told you happy birthday while you dined on marmite in Keble College, Oxford? I’ll answer that for you: it would be AMAZING. Anyway, we asked Brendan as soon as we walked in to the dining hall. As we got up to leave and start our day, Brendan uttered the phrase we had been waiting for, with a twist…

“A little birdie told me that it was someone’s birthday.” Brendan spoke in the greatest British accent I think I’ll ever hear. We all burst out laughing and mutually agreed that, not only is this guy incredible, but our day could not be ruined after that moment.

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Me on the famous HARRY POTTER staircase.

After breakfast, we all came back to our rooms for a while to upload pictures and lollygag on Facebook. After allowing myself a short little nap to make up for the lack of sleep, Catherine and I made our way to Christ Church. Our reason for visiting this particular college is quite obvious to our fellow Re-Inklings, but for those of you who don’t know, there are several scenes from Harry Potter films that were shot here. HARRY POTTER, GUYS! Cat and I are the only hardcore resident Harry Potter fans, so this place was a must. And let me just say that it did not disappoint. Christ Church was by far the grandest place we had visited thus far in Oxford. It was enormous and elaborate in a very different way from the other places we had been. And did I mention that Harry Potter was filmed here? I walked in the same places at Daniel Radcliffe. Holy cow! Despite my fangirlness (new word, Kelhi!), the place really was beautiful. Leaving was certainly hard, but I can now leave Europe happy because I visited a location that was in the movie.

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Christ Church College

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Me and Kelhi outside Oxford Castle.

Cat and I decided to go our separate ways after meeting Kelhi and Caitlyn, but not before stopping for a fabulous gigantic croissant and a cold Diet Coke. Here’s a random fact about myself: I love Diet Coke. I love cold Diet Coke; a whole lot. So after being satisfied by such a great drink, we continued on to the Oxford Castle. Kelhi and I decided to take the tour; a tour of which we were the only two in attendance, which made it so much better! Our tour guide/prisoner was absolutely great and very funny. I’m so glad I decided to stay and take the tour with Kelhi because it was a great lesson in history. It was also very interactive; we even got our “mug shots” taken! The mug shots turned out pretty great; we both got them on magnets to take home to our moms! I’m sure they’ll get a great laugh out of it.

Once we finished exploring the castle, we moved to the Ashmolean to meet back up with Caitlyn and Catherine. We walked around a little bit more before deciding to check out the violin exhibit, Stradivarius. Even though I’m certainly not a musician, the violins were absolutely beautiful. The craftsmanship was stunning. It is absolutely amazing to see the detail that one man put into things that were, for the most part, very small. We also watched a video about how to make a violin. Violin-making is certainly an art form. I don’t think I could ever make anything so beautiful, no matter how long I tried! After the Stradivarius, Kelhi really wanted to take another look at the Anglo-Saxon section. Knowing Kelhi, this is certainly not surprising. After being told that we had to make our way towards the door because they were closing, we left the Ashmolean behind and made our way back to Keble College.

Kelhi and I decided to go ahead and start packing for our trip to London in the morning. Packing isn’t fun at all. It’s certainly not fun when you’ve bought tons of extra stuff, stuff that is kind of heavy. We packed and relaxed until going to The Eagle and Child again.

It was very busy that night; I guess everyone really wanted fish and chips! The waiter remembered us from Tuesday lunch. He was still a little snarky, but the sense of humor is great. We were told there was an hour long wait on any and all food, so we decided to just recite our poems and get going. Before we could even start with the poems, we met a group of British friends (and one American from LA). After an exchange of questions pertaining to our hometowns and cultural differences, they headed out and we began with our poems. First went Kelhi with a beautiful description of The Rabbit Room in The Eagle and Child after being inspired from our Tuesday lunch. Cat followed with a not-quite-ready version of her poem about Oxford overall. Caitlyn then recited her poem about St. Mary’s Church. I came last out of the four with my poem about Magdalen College. I was greatly inspired by the sheer beauty of the college. The hydrangeas are what really won me over. I absolutely loved those flowers and how beautiful they made the courtyard look. Addison’s Walk was also just as beautiful. It was very easy to see how Lewis and Tolkien were inspired on their walks here. Elizabeth wrapped up the poetry recital with her poem on Queen’s Lane. We ended the session with a round of applause and great memories in mind. We left The Eagle and Child for the last time of our trip.

While Kelhi and I were at the Oxford Castle, Cat and Caitlyn decided to go off and do their own thing. First up was lunch at Nando’s, where they both decided on Peri Peri chicken. To be quite honest, I’m not quite sure what kind of chicken that is, but the way they described it, it sounded delicious. Lunch was over and they then decided to head back to Blackwell’s Bookshop to ooh and awe over the multiple story bookstore. Even though we had been in there twice before, this place still had to be explored further. Nerds like us greatly enjoy our books. Even though this store is huge, they did not have Between Heaven and Hell by Peter Kreeft. This book was recommended to us by the resident director at The Kilns. The book is a dialogue between John F. Kennedy, C.S. Lewis, and Aldous Huxley after their deaths on the same day on November 22, 1963. Cat and Caitlyn’s day ended much the same as mine: we visited the Ashmolean and The Eagle and Child again and trekked our way back to Keble to pack.

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A real afternoon English Tea at the Randolph Hotel.

Elizabeth decided to do some things on her own day, as Friday was our designated “free” day. While the rest of us were out and about, she had a strong desire to go back to the Ashmolean for another look around. What struck her the most were the Chinese landscapes and the Indian exhibits. However long she wanted to stay there and explore, High Tea started at 4:30 with Caitlyn and Catherine. After hearing their description about everything they had, it made me want to go, too. Obivously, High Tea is nothing without tea itself, and lots of it. There was more than enough tea to go around and apparently it was pretty amazing! They also devoured the sandwiches and sweet treats laid out on their table. There were five different types of sandwiches for them to share: salmon, ham, cucumber, egg salad, and chicken salad. Next came the sweets; my favorite part of any meal. Too bad I didn’t tag along for that! Scones and other petite desserts decorated the tea table. All this delicious food was almost too much for them; they didn’t even want to eat dinner! Elizabeth and the girls then made their way to The Eagle and Child to recite poems with the group. Retiring early seemed to be on everyone’s mind as we all needed to pack that night.

While the girls were all doing their own thing, Matt went on a little adventure. I’m sure being told happy birthday by Brendan started his morning off on a high note. The girls absolutely adore Breakfast Boy, but I think Matt does, too. Matt soon took off on a walk to meet Michael Ward, author of Planet Narnia, and chat over tea. Most of the conversation was about C.S. Lewis and theology. From what I heard, Matt had a great time and was very pleased to meet him. I’m sure he also had a great time being able to converse with another man after being stuck with all of us girls for a week. Nap time followed tea, and soon after followed another little journey.

The kind of rustic scenes Matt witnessed on this epic walk to the closed Perch.

The kind of rustic scenes Matt witnessed on this epic walk to the closed Perch.

Matt decided to make his way to The Perch, a pub that the Inklings used to visit, to celebrate his birthday with a nice meal. However, after walking for miles, The Perch was closed, so he decided to do some souvenir shopping for his family back home. It was soon time for poetry at The Eagle and Child with the group. Disappointed that they didn’t have sticky toffee pudding, he set out once again in search for food. The search ended at The White Horse, where he celebrated his birthday with his sweet treat.

Although there were many things we still wanted to see and do in Oxford, it was time for everyone to retire to their rooms to start packing for the journey to London. It was a sad time that was. I certainly wasn’t ready to leave this magnificent city, and I don’t think anyone else was ready either. But we got to packing and talking before making it to bed much later than we should have. I can easily speak for the group that Oxford was absolutely amazing. If any of us ever have the chance to come back, we would shout YES in a heartbeat! For now, we will wish the city farewell and forever remember the magical memories we made here.

~ Jessica Defee

Categories: Always a Re-Inkling, Oxford Forever | Leave a comment

“Thank you…”

On Thursday, we became – in the most truest sense yet – the Re-Inklings.

If I may, I should like to recount the epic of the day, so that you too may share in what we have known and seen and felt.

But like any story, one must begin at the beginning. So, breakfast. As ever before, Brendon, Lord of the Breakfast, greeted us as we entered the grand Keble dining hall. While the majority of breakfast was as delightful as ever, two of our fellowship had a particularly delightful exchange with Brendon. “How are you doing this morning?” one AUM student asked. Brendon’s response: “Super fine.”

Needless to say, on all accounts, Brendon is the essence of “super fine.” Thus, our morning began far better than we could have ever imagined.

Yet our imaginations would never have been able to foresee the rest of the day.

The Ashmolean.

The Ashmolean.

As Matt retreated to some café to engage in professor-ly work, the ladies in our fellowship ventured to the Ashmolean. We were only able to spend an hour and a half meandering through the halls, but if you are ever in Oxford, please stop by. As I have the delight of being a student worker at the Alabama Department of Archives and History, I have developed a great appreciate for museums. I learned so much from their display techniques, and shall bring some of this English grandeur back with me to my job. And we all had a place we enjoyed the most, something we were drawn to and transported by. In fact, we four Hobbits, (that is, the students in our group), have decided to return tomorrow. The whole museum has several floors and one would certainly have to spend about three days there just to look at and read the descriptions. Personally, although I spent about three minutes in the room, the area of Anglo-Saxon History is tugging on my heart strings. I will return and see this, and spend more time gazing upon the King Alfred Jewel.

The King Alfred Jewel

The King Alfred Jewel.

But we had places to go, and people to see! The Kilns was calling our name, and so we left behind the visions of history and beauty, stopping into the Randolph Hotel for refreshment and an internet connection. I jumped onto Facebook to chat with Matt, because we needed to find how, when, and where to meet up with him for our ride to the Kilns. Alas! Matt was not online, so we had naught but to do but return to Keble and wait for him there at our previously appointed meeting time: 1 PM.

We waited. We waited a bit longer. I was about to go into Big Sis mode, as I was getting worried about where in the world he might have been. Finally, after waiting for about forty minutes, we found a note from Matt in the Porter’s Lodge. We found the note quite too late to follow his instructions, so we improvised, ordering two cabs.

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First Cab Ride.

In the first cab, Caitlyn, Jessica, and I headed straight for the Kilns, which is not far outside of Oxford. We arrived just on time, finding out on the way that Elizabeth and Catherine had found Matt. He was with them, safe and sound, not far behind us. Reflection of this event – in which we lost our fearless male leader and feared whether he would be reunited to us – reminded us instantly of Gandalf fighting the Balrog, for he was returned to his friends after a long absence in which they thought he was dead. However, as I sit here and write, I realize that while Matt remains a manifestation of Gandalf, we actually placed the LOTR connection much too late in the story. We journeyed with swift purpose to meet Matt at our original meeting point, and it was urgent that we arrive at our location on time. Matt left a note for us at our meeting point, but we found it too late. We then went ahead, forming our own plan, and miraculously found him just in time. He was working on grading papers and a presentation for later that day, wresting apparently with his lack of internet connection. If you have not seen the proper LOTR connection yet, I’ll spell it out for you: the Porter’s Lodge was the Prancing Pony and Barliman Butterbur, and Matt was dueling with Saruman, struggling to find his companions as he had promised.

However, in my narrative, we have just arrived at the Kilns, and I ought to stop with the LOTR talk and turn to the Lewis brothers.

The Kilns is beautiful – but it is only beautiful because it has been painstakingly and lovingly restored. The Lewis brothers used the entire house as an ash tray, and the house was owned by others after their deaths, others who mutilated the house, “renovating” it in 1970s style. But all has been set to right, and the Kilns is now a working house, where Lewis and Inkling enthusiasts can come for scheduled and guided tours, and where scholars are able to live and study.

In our tour, we viewed the rooms where Warnie Lewis and Jack Lewis, Joy, Maureen, and Mrs. Moore worked and lived. We stood in the place where Jack wrote his Narnia books. It happened, it really did; we were there. Our tour guide, Cole, shared excellent stories and his deep appreciation for these individuals.

After our tour, as planned, our group was able to use the added library wing of the house for an hour (although it was a bit longer than that). As a part of the package, we enjoyed tea and biscuits. While the food was good, it could not compare to what we did in that room at the back of the Kilns.

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Matt Jordan, with C. S. Lewis behind.

Matt Jordan prepared a lecture for us entitled “On Reason and Belief in God.” But it wasn’t just a lecture: in true Inkling’s fashion, he read to us a portion of one of his own works-in-progress. What an honor that he should include us in the scholarly/creative process! The reading was, in my opinion, fantastic. Matt: thank you, thank you for sharing and I cannot wait for the end result of your current endeavors.

I feel that now, more than ever, we can truly, truly say that we are Re-Inklings.

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At the Kilns.

Yet the day had not concluded, for after having our photo taken in front of the Kilns, we walked out back to visit Jack’s very icky pond, sit on his bench, and enjoy a walk through this backyard Narnia. Quite magical, although Jessica and I were concerned about poison ivy, as we spent sometime in the woods.

Yet the journey was not over. We walked from the Kilns to the Parish Church of Holy Trinity, where Jack Lewis and Warnie Lewis were both interred. We wandered around for a bit, and congregated around the grave of the brothers. Matt left a bit of pipe tobacco by the grave stone, a tribute far more fitting than flowers. Catherine suggested that we say some words of thanks. Elizabeth thanked Jack for his imagination. One of Caitlyn’s thanks was, “Thank you for searching for truth and sharing the truth you found.” I thanked him for the showing to us “the beauty of faith and reason together.” Not everyone spoke, some engaged in mere silence, some surely in prayer.

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At the Lewis Grave.

As we each slowly made our way back towards the little church, away from the grave side, several of us were overcome with our emotions. Tears were shed, and a now popular Re-Inkling group hug commenced. But this Re-Inkling hug was like none other. I so long for the language to express the love amidst our fellowship at this time, but I have only begun this journey as a Re-Inkling, and I have so much to learn.

Post Script

The day was not over. The journey had begun. We boarded a bus, and Matt, Cat, Elizabeth, and Caitlyn went off to find some dinner. If my sources are correct, (Caitlyn; I am not a tagless freak. IN. YO. FACE), they had some excellent and necessary discussion following up on Matt’s sharing with us.

I have more authority when addressing the rest of our group. Jess and I jumped off the bus at the next stop and “booked it” to a store that was closing in 15 minutes. It was quite the epic adventure, and we made it just in time to purchase the suitcase that I need (my checked bag is of carry on size…). We decided to stop at The King’s Arms for a quick supper (I had this blog post to write). We tried to order “take away,” (not the American “carry out), but they were out of boxes. So Jess and I decided to sit and eat our fish and chips quickly. Only, we did not eat quickly. I’m not even sure if I ate. We were there for almost an hour and a half, having a very deep, very personal conversation. It was so good, just the two of us, although there were many folks nearby who could easily hear my loud voice.

While I cannot go into details of either discussion, I’d like to note something very important about the discussions and the day as a whole. Here, in an incredible way, I could see God working. Not everyone will share my perspective, but I offer it with grace. The Inklings had something; they did not just discuss their writing, their languages, and what it is to be “Northern.” They also discussed the ever important, life-changing questions concerning God, expressing their doubt and their faith. This is what we did today. We have become the Re-Inklings.

Thank you to all of the Inklings, for what you did and wrote, for who you were, who you became, and through us, what you are still becoming.

Thank you to Matt and Elizabeth, teachers and friends.

Thank you to my fellow Hobbits and Narnians, Caitlyn, Catherine, and Jessica; thank you for your openness and sincerity.

As when I read any Inkling text, I am left fulfilled yet longing for the fullness I have tasted today. And for that, I thank God.

Post-Post Script.

Caitlyn offered this late-night reflection: “The only thing that could have capped this off would have been meeting C. S. Lewis…. That’s really the only way that this day could have been better.” Someday, I pray, someday. “Further up, and further in.”

Post-Post-Post Script.

Did anyone notice that my blogpost has multiple P.S.’s, just like Gandalf’s letter that he left at the Prancing Pony for the Hobbits?

We are the Re-Inklings.

Categories: Always a Re-Inkling, Why I'm a Re-Inkling | 5 Comments

“Strangest student sit-in I’ve ever seen”; We were waiting for pizza

So this morning when we made it to breakfast, to our utter delight, our favorite Beautiful British Breakfast Boy was there to greet us. He even remembered us! Once again we teased Matt “Beardly, Duke of Wellington”-henceforth known in this blog as “Beardly”- about marmite. We removed all the jelly and marmalade from the baskets and put as much marmite as we could find in the basket and left it by his plate. To our amusement the man sitting three seats down was searching for the marmite and hunted through the baskets we had just emptied. After giggling about that for a while and finishing breakfast, Senator Woodworth walked up to our lovely breakfast boy and asked him if he’d be willing to take a picture with us. He said yes! And so we now have the most adorable picture to ever grace the interwebs!

Breakfast Boy, and then, when we learned his name, Brendan, Lord of the Breakfast.

Breakfast Boy, and then, when we learned his name, Brendan, Lord of the Breakfast.

He was kind enough to tell us his name, Brendan, a lovely, lovely name! We were so excited His named starts with a B! Continuing our alliteration, he was dubbed Brendan, the Beautiful British Breakfast Boy. We then changed his title to Brendan, Lord of the Breakfast. It is vitally important that he have the proper title to convey his importance. All in all, breakfast is not only the most important meal of the day, but also the most enjoyable!

Caitlyn “Starbucks”, Jessica “O Loud One”, Kelhi “Jescribe” and I wandered down towards the shopping district after breakfast with the intent to visit two shops and hurry back to the university. However, we ran into an unexpected hurdle. A street fair! Now I love street fairs and we all had our eyes on a particular. Bright colors, lovely scarves and all sorts of fascinating woodcarvings were sheltered beneath the white awning and we allowed ourselves to go and have a look. It was just as fantastic as it looked! There were all sorts of wonderful things and the young woman manning the stand was very personable and we enjoyed talking to her. In fact, because we were so polite that we got free soap! We finally got to the shopping that we had meant to do, despite the earlier delay were able to get back just in time to set out for punting!

Now, punting is not easy, but it is incredibly fun! The best full body workout I have ever had! To start out, Beardly and Senator Woodworth punted us out to the little area where we had a pleasant lunch. Sitting in a boat while hearing other boaters laughing and talking while the sun is out and a lovely breeze blowing, is just the most relaxing experience ever. After some excellent knot tying by yours truly, we set out the scrumptious food for our lunch. Beardly found the most British food he could possibly find. Cornish pasties, pork pies, scotch eggs, vegetable pasties, some plums, cherries, strawberries, iced buns, morning buns, lard cakes, and a nice loaf of fresh white bread. It was delicious!

Punting is super fine.

Punting is super fine.

Especially the scotch eggs and the plums! When we were finished and had packed up the remaining food, we went back to the punting boats and first O Loud One valiantly attempted to punt, but handed the punting pole over to me. Surprisingly enough I was able to actually stand upright and accomplish something quite similar to punting. It was exhausting, but I felt a great sense of pride in myself for actually getting all the way to the punting parking! I did pretty much fall over once the crew took over the parking job.

After our little punting adventure, we traversed to Magdalene College, a mere ten feet from the punting pace I must admit, and began to explore the most beautiful of the college campuses we have ever seen.  Disappointingly, we were not allowed on the grass, which was a shame as it was the loveliest and most manicured lawn we had ever seen. We meandered over to Addison’s Walk, a lovely park that resembles a Hobbit footpath. There were so many lovely trees and long grasses and flowers. And just like the grass, we were not allowed on the trees. This affected me more than anyone else, as I dearly love to climb trees and was particularly upset about this. I did, though climb up one tree for a picture before being scolded by Beardly and Senator Woodworth. Along with the beautiful plant life, there were some majestic deer roaming a deer park located inside the Walk.  Beardly, O Loud One, Starbucks, Jescribe, and I went to the Fellowship Garden, which was beautifully landscaped and had the most lovely water feature. It was a large circular pool surrounded by large slate and with a statue of a crane bending to take a drink from the pond. The pond had white and yellow lotuses floating in the water. After we came back from the garden, we walked over to the dorms and in our usual display of nerdy giddiness we located the rooms that C.S. Lewis stayed in while he taught at Magdalene and managed to get several wonderful photographs while we were there.  We then took some time to get some water and tea and relax for a few minutes before heading out again.

While Beardly and the Senator decided to go back to the university, we decided to hit the covered market to check out a lovely smelling shop full of bath bombs, candles, and incense. We all ended up buying something yummy smelling from the store before boldly sauntering off to visit the Scriptum, which was filled with antiques and fancy writing supplies. On the way there we passed the pigeon whisperer again. I am positive we all wanted to buy the whole store. When we finally got out of the store, we decided to head back to change and prepare for the Evensong at 6pm. Though we did get to the chapel on time, the service was actually only performed “In Term” so there was no service and we had all dressed up for nothing. However we did get all our receipts sorted out and had a great time chasing flyaway receipts and juggling coinage.

Once we had that all done, we decided some dinner was in order. O Loud One wished for pizza, but I declined, as I do not like pizza. I instead made my way to the King’s Arms accompanied by my Hobbit companions, to get something else to eat. I originally ordered a veggie burger, but upon being told there were none available, I decided on a chicken and bacon salad. The look on the cashier’s face was priceless. After receiving my food, I went on a desperate search for useable cutlery. This was only after joining my friends to sit and wait for the pizza delivery man to show up. This lead to one of the best comments we heard this week. Before I showed up, O Loud One and Jescribe had been sitting in front of the university and an older man and his granddaughter came out of the doors, and upon seeing my lovely friends sitting there said to his granddaughter, “Strangest student sit-in I’ve ever seen!” We were highly amused by that comment and have been laughing about it for at least 3 hours now. As I had ordered my food To Go, I could not take silverware with me from the pub, as they had no plastic ware. So I journeyed to the Porter’s Lodge to inquire where to find cutlery, only to find out that I had to make my way to the Bar located on the university grounds. I made my way to the circular glass building, only to be told that there was no cutlery to be found and that I must make my way up to the dining hall. Fearlessly I wound my way up the staircase to the dining hall and retrieved my long sought after silverware! Then, I was finally able to join the others and eat my dinner at last!

We laughed and shared our favorite moments and food from the trip so far as we ate. We discussed families and told anecdotes and discussed living in Oxford. It was quite wonderful to sit down and eat a very informal meal and simply enjoy the good company and many laughs. After I finished my salad I went back to the dining hall to return my silverware and was quite surprised to learn that most of the time that silverware is loaned out, it is stolen. Yes, it is lovely silverware, but at the same time, it belongs in Oxford! It looks much better in the grand, ornate dining hall of Keble College at Oxford than it would ever look in someone else’s house. By the time I returned the other were finishing their meals and it was time to retire to our rooms to make phone calls, skype family members, and do some writing! We did spend quite a fair bit of time giggling and joking around, but much work was also accomplished and many people were contacted! So now, it is time to sleep, so that we may rise early and catch a glimpse of our lovely Brendan, Lord of the Breakfast, eat some toast, drink some tea, and start off on our next adventures!

~Catherine Walden

Categories: Always a Re-Inkling, Day 4 (or week 11) | Leave a comment

“Desperate or Something?”

“Rather.”

This exchange was a quintessential moment for this group today. Today is Tuesday, which means we would be at The Eagle and Child. For those who don’t know, this pub was the weekly hangout for The Inklings. Tuesday was the day they would meet. Desperation does not adequately describe our feelings toward being there at 11 a.m. on the only Tuesday we would be here.

Unfortunately, our morning began with not quite the ideal start. In an unusual turn of events, Cat and I were the first to arrive at breakfast. If you’ve met Cat and I, you understand. If not, I’m sorry I cannot now adequately explain this. We wondered where our less than punctual group was. Elizabeth arrived after we began eating. By the time Jessica and Kelhi arrived, we all began to wonder where the man of many changes was. We had decided to bring him a banana, apple, and Marmite for a late breakfast. However, Matt walked in. As our group assembled over breakfast, we fell into lively discussion and playful banter.

After breakfast, we attempted to visit the Divinity Room at the Bodleian. Due to unforeseen events, we had to explore until we made our way to The Eagle and Child. We were caught in a store during the sudden downpour that led to brief flooding. After the rain, we continued exploring.

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Photograph by Kelhi DePace

However, we began running late and quickly booked it to The Bird and The Baby. We arrived moments before 11 a.m., which was when it was scheduled to be open. Due to the rain, they were unable to open on time. Truly dedicated, we chose to spend the hour outside, waiting to enter the pub of our beloved Inklings. During this wait, many people passed by giving us befuddled looks. One woman questioned, “Desperate or something?” Matt wonderfully responded, “Rather.” It was clear by another observer, who commented that this was “like any other pub,” most people did not understand our inexplicable love for a place we had never been. When the door opened, we were even questioned if it was common in our country to wait on a pub, we responded with a no. Quickly explaining our reason for being there, we sat at the table dedicated to the Inklings. We immediately were overwhelmed. The wonder and glory of being in a place they spent so much time is sheer joy. This group, we have come to love and cherish, in spite of never meeting them.

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Photograph by Kelhi DePace

After our lunch was served, we began our toasts.

The most famous Inklings were toasted first. Matt started us off by reading “The Last of the Wine” by Jack. This poem asks us while others are “drinking the last decanter” to think of the last Atlantean coming to greet us. It explains what he recalls as he drinks a phial, “holding the last of a golden cordial.” Finally, it asks the reader how will he be received in Europe as prey or a god and which would be worse. Matt did a glorious reading. I could not help thinking about the things we place stigma against without fully knowing the good and beauty that can come from it. Elizabeth then followed with her toast to Tollers. Her beautiful toast thanked the talented man, his accomplishments, and their effect on her life. I agree with her pledge to “always say yes to adventure, to say yes to art and writing and learning all my life.” I also truly hope that she is right that we do always find the Inklings and they find us.

The next pair was the age extremes. Kelhi then toasted Charles Williams, the oldest Inkling. She toasted his prolific works and brilliant mind. She beautifully reminded: “There’s a place for us all in this world, whether we’re on time or we’re late, whether join by choice or by circumstance.” Whether it was choice or circumstance, Christopher Tolkien was also an Inkling. He was the youngest and the son of Tollers, but earned his place. I toasted him and his blessed personal life.

The final pair to be toasted was a pair of unlikely friends. Cat toasted Hugo Dyson. She praised his lively personality and well-loved personality. Jessica then followed with an ode to Warnie Lewis. She talked of his imagination, love of reading and writing, and love and admiration of his brother, Jack. This jovial man had her brilliantly question, “What is a good man without good humor?”

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Photograph by a Wonderfully Cheeky Waitress

The toasts were all well written. It was agreed that the assignment was a resounding success, which was a great relief to the students and the teachers. One even admitted, “I was terrified you guys were gonna suck. But you didn’t!” We were terrified of that too. The Eagle and Child was also agreed to be an enchanting pub that will never be like any other place with a charmingly rude staff. Their comments had us rolling with laughter. They also seemed to enjoy our vocal group. It was an amazing lunch. We left on a high note and with a group hug, which smelled of pipe tobacco due to Matt smoking above our feminine Hobbit heads. As we made our way to Balliol College, Elizabeth explained, “I was so transported by your toasts that I forgot about my fat ankles.” I’m not sure which was better: that or Matt’s face when I said I was speechless.

We arrived at Balliol College and walked through the doors to the courtyard. It was beautiful. I did not know a garden could be so fair. The grass was soft, thick, and green. Matt probably spent the last hour we were there rolling in it. The flowers were fully bloomed. The smell was delightful. It was not overly pungent of grass or blossoms, but an earthy blend. The gardens were so peaceful, despite the number of people there. We arrived at about 2 p.m. and we left shortly before they closed at 5 o’clock. We spent those hours walking through the gardens, talking quietly, sitting and enjoying the serenity, reading The Place of the Lion, or napping. I do not know how I can return to Montgomery and not be disappointed. With all I have seen here, home seems as if it will never be nearly so beautiful. Leaving such beauty aches a traveling heart.

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Photograph by Kelhi DePace

From here, our group separated. Matt returned to Keble to finish Til We Have Faces. Elizabeth went to the Bodleian, recounting memories of her past visit and enjoying this one on its steps, before she returned to Keble to count her many blessings and read The Lord of the Rings. The four of us students continued to see Oxford, enjoying friendship, ice cream, and, after meeting the Pigeon Whisperer, the unlikelihood of exploding pigeons.

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Photograph by Caitlyn Barnes

Today was filled with beauty. Our breakfast filled with the loveliness of laughter. Our adventuring held the excitement of new and the refreshing rain, ending a surge of heat. Our lunch contained the wonder of words, unexpected humor, the gratitude towards unmet friends, and the blessings of known ones. The Balliol encased the excellence of earth and secrets of serenity. Upon reflection of today, I realize that this group has embraced the beauty around us. Complaints are not often on our lips, but exclamations of awe and astonishment and the delights of laughter are frequently heard. I encourage you too to find the beauty in your life now. While you may not have the good fortune of being in Oxford, England, there is beauty where you are. Simply find it; say “yes.” Cast off the thoughts of malice and complaint, instead appreciating the good that something can bring. The Atlantean has approached you.  As Matt read Jack’s words, I too ask you: “Will [you] make him [your] spoil and prey / Or salute him as god and brutally fawn at his feet? / And which would be worse?”

~Caitlyn Barnes

Categories: Always a Re-Inkling, Day 3 (or Week 6), Go Travel, Waiting on the Inklings | Leave a comment

“If I Ever Lose My Mind, I Hope This Trip Is One of the Things I Remember”

Day 2 in Oxford — Monday, 22 July, that is (here in Great Britain, of course, we put the day of the month before the name of the month when we write our dates) — brings to mind Steve Martin’s The Jerk. Specifically, it brings to mind Navin’s words to Marie at 0:40 to 1:50 of the clip you can watch right here.

It’s really been three days. The first day began with breakfast in the Keble College dining hall. Interestingly, the Keble College dining hall bears a striking resemblance to the cafeteria at AUM. Or rather, it resembles what you might get if the AUM cafeteria fell in love with the dining hall from Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardy and had a baby with it, and the baby inherited pretty much all its genes from the Hogwarts side. It looks like this:

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Breakfast was a traditional English spread: eggs (poached, fried, or scrambled), bacon (proper English “rashers” rather than crispy American-style pork belly), sausage, baked beans, roasted tomatoes, hash browns, toast, and pastries. There was also an array of cheeses and fruits to enjoy, and both coffee and tea to drink. With one exception, it was not bad. But I do need to tell you about the exception.

Have you ever heard of Vegemite? Vegemite is very popular in Australia. It is also the single worst thing I have ever tasted. About a year ago, I had the chance to sample some. Being a fairly adventurous eater, I was excited to give it a try. I’d heard for years that it was absolutely awful, but only from Americans, and hey, twenty million Australians can’t be wrong, right? Actually, it seems, they can. Vegemite is beyond awful. Words cannot describe how bad it tastes.

Well, on the plane to London, someone in our group read something about an English product called Marmite. It’s a cousin of Vegemite: in the same family, but not the same kind of thing. (Any of my cousins who read this post may infer what they please from that sentence.) So, maybe it’s good. After all, the English are the law-abiding folks who gave us the world of Downton Abbey, not a penal colony whose principal cultural export is Crocodile Dundee relative newcomers to the global cultural scene. They deserve a fair shake. So, when we found a little container of Marmite in amongst the jellies and jams available for our toast, it seemed only proper to sample it. 

THIS WAS A BAD DECISION.

Marmite is the second worst-tasting thing I have ever eaten. Like Vegemite, it’s some kind of weird yeast byproduct — they slough it off while making beer, or something. Anyway, avoid them both. Avoid them at all costs.

And now, back to our regularly scheduled blogging.

The first of the three days that were today involved some serious walking. We began near Keble College, which is both our home base and the college where C. S. Lewis completed his officer training during World War I. From there, we meandered through a park and made our way to the ugliest building in Oxford. There aren’t many ugly things here, so things like this really stick out:

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The people who work in this building study anxiety disorders, which, when you think about it, really kind of fits.

But most of what we saw today looked more like this:

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And this:

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And, of course, this:

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except not sideways.

We took the footpath out to a bend in the River Cherwell, to a beautiful spot known as Parson’s Pleasure. We then walked to a house that had been owned by J. R. R. Tolkien, where we wrestled with what decorum mandates when one is face-to-face with the former home of a beloved author (conclusion: it mandates staying on the sidewalk and not taking pictures on the front step or knocking on the door), and visited the nearby Holywell Cemetary, where three of our beloved Inklings are interred: Hugo Dyson, Austin Farrer, and Charles Williams.

All of the above took about two hours, and left us hot and thirsty. (Today, you may be interested to know, was the hottest day in England in the last six years. By Alabama standards, it was merely a bit too warm. But still…)  So we went to the White Horse pub for lunch, and there ended the first of the three days that were today.

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The second day that was today was all about books. The White Horse is next door to the Blackwell bookshop.

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See?

Blackwell’s is reputed to be the largest bookstore in the world. Much of it is underground, spanning the better part of a city block. It is truly remarkable. What Marmite is to horrible things to eat, Blackwell’s is to bookstores. There might be a better one somewhere, but if there is, it’s probably not in this hemisphere.

Just around the corner from Blackwell’s is the Bodleian Library, which, in a happy turn of fate, is currently running a special exhibit titled “Magical Books: From the Middle Ages to Middle-Earth.” Our boys Jack Lewis and Ron Tolkien dominate the collection. We were able to get a close-up look at several of their original manuscripts and a number of illustrations they created for The Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings. (If you click on the link, you’ll find a website with images of all the items in the exhibit.) Our group of bibliophiles really enjoyed it — in fact, Kelhi, Caitlyn, Cat, and Jessica decided to round off our afternoon of books with another visit to Blackwell’s. Others took a self-guided tour of Wadham College, while some retired to the dorm to rest their weary, compression sock-ensconced feet.

The third day that was today was dinner: a gourmet three-course meal at the high table in Keble’s dining hall, featuring smoked duck with mango salsa, guinea fowl with fennel gratin, and, for dessert, Eton mess, which Google confirms is in fact a thing. I will not say more about it here, except to note that, even though we learned that not everyone in our group enjoys smoked duck, I think that we’re all in agreement with Caitlyn, who gave us the title for this post. It’s been truly extraordinary. And we’ve got six whole days to go.

~Matthew C. Jordan

Categories: Always a Re-Inkling, Oxford Forever, Why I'm a Re-Inkling | Leave a comment

How to travel one week in 24 hours: Just say yes

When we left Montgomery, AL on Saturday, July 20 at 9:30 a.m., it was hard to think about how it might feel one day later when we arrived in Oxford on Sunday morning, July 21, 2013 at 9:30 a.m. It wasn’t 24 hours exactly since we’d left home, as there’s a significant time difference (about six hours), but according to LOCAL time, it was a 24 hour journey.

Now, it’s Monday morning, and I can say with assurance that it felt like we lived one week in that one day. I don’t want to know how long we actually traveled between Montgomery-Atlanta-London-Oxford, because it was exciting. Travel is always exciting. Some folks say things like, “it’s not about the travel, it’s about the destination,” or “the travel is hard, but the trip is worth it.” But I say, “embrace the getting there” part of the experience. We saw amazing people, ate strange things, suffered through the horror of nonstop cable news broadcast in waiting areas of terminals (who said it was good to have noise pollution while waiting to spend time in a submarine that flies?), watched funny movies, read great books, talked, shared stories of our lives, and laughed a lot. Being with others while traveling, even while trying to get comfy on the floor of an airport, is fun.

Why else travel with companions? Getting into the spirit of the thing–the adventure of the journey–always better with people who are fun, funny, and in turn, laugh at your jokes. C’mon. While travel can indeed hurt (one look at my fat ankles will confirm this), it can heal, too. Just yesterday when I thought I was going to cry from fear (I hate heights), I turned a corner atop St. Mary’s tower in Oxford and came upon a graffito: “YES.” I had been feeling weak and tired and sore (with really fat, unhappy ankles), and frightened by the stairs and the height, but there was the one word I needed to see to tell me it was going to be just fine.

Re-Inklings 2013. Just say "YES"! From left to right, back to front: Elizabeth Woodworth, Catherine Walden, Matt Jordan, Kelhi DePace, Jessica Defee, Caitlyn Barnes. Yes, we all wear glasses. We all look super smart.

Re-Inklings 2013. Just say “YES”! From left to right, back to front: Elizabeth Woodworth, Catherine Walden, Matt Jordan, Kelhi DePace, Jessica Defee, Caitlyn Barnes. Yes, we all wear glasses. We all look super smart.

“Yes” is a special word. It is universally understood with a nod of the head. We all do that, don’t we? It’s the one word we are almost always happy to hear in response to, “I’d like to ask you a favor” or “I need your help” or “I want your attention” or “Do these pants make me look fat?” (wait–not that one!) or “How about we take a trip to Oxford and London to study the Inklings in more detail?” “Yes” is a word that heals us when we hear too often and too loudly: “No.”

Travel is inherently about “yes”–I will do it, see it, taste it, try it, go there, and be one with the new places and people I encounter. When I travel, I am always about the “yes” (except I will NOT eat Marmite). I think “yes” always. Why not? Life is too short to be bogged down with a constant barrage of “no.” Right? (Just say yes.)

AND in just the first full day here we worked it walking all over Oxford to get oriented. All up and down Parks Road, Broad Street, High Street, Cornmarket and through small little alleys and byways to find our way around–taking 100s of pictures and bobbing and weaving through crowds of tourists and natives, by lots of the colleges, in and out of pubs. It was a whirlwind: here’s-Oxford-where-we’re-staying-and-everything-in-between-now-we’ll-go-slower-tomorrow. We ate great food, listened to lovely accents as we eavesdropped on just about everyone possible, wandered around the best corner in the world: Broad Street and Parks Road and Holywell Street. Our first meal in Oxford was at the Kings Arms Pub (licensed since 1607, though it was the site of a Priory before that from 1268). As we ate al fresco we gazed up the Sheldonian Theatre and the Bodliean Library. As well, we could see a bit of All Souls’ College and the Radcliffe Camera and just a peek of St. Mary the Virgin’s tower. And right across Parks Road from our table was the New Bodliean which is being refurbished and surrounded by signs advertising this incredible exhibit we’ll be going to see: Magical Books: From the Middle Ages to Middle Earth. Oh boy. Couldn’t have planned it better if we’d actually planned it this way.

Yes. We just needed to say “yes” to the universe. “We’re off to Oxford, University. Could you do something special for us, okay? We’ll be there on July 21–so make it beautiful for us, please. And be sure we get to see lots of special things all about the Inklings, please. We’d be ever so grateful. Thank you.”

Travel unhinges the “no” that keeps us in stasis and releases the “yes” we need to be free, to fully realize who we are, to understand our place in the world. “Yes” fills us up and helps us figure out how to flourish as humans. I hope this for all my friends and students, but especially for my students. Professors should be about the “yes” when they are guiding, coaching, teaching–”YES for all the students!”

"Yes" from the tower of St. Mary the Virgin Church. So right. So perfect. So... yes.

“Yes” from the tower of St. Mary the Virgin Church. So right. So perfect. So… yes.

So. No getting around the fact that travel is hard and the seats are uncomfortable and it’s easy to get dehydrated and sometimes the food is just okay, but if for just a moment we can forget that some days traveling feel like a week, then we can remember the joy of being with others and discovering that there are so many moments worth embracing, that really, traveling for a full day that feels like a week is a blessing, a gift, an extension of the experience of traveling. More adventure=more good.

And remember, the greatness of the age we live in helps us to see travel as a gift, too–we traveled at least 4,200 miles in less than six months. Think about if we had walked that distance? Perhaps we’d need a year to make the journey. And some of us might have died along the way. I bring this up because I recently watched the documentary of Lewis and Clark who, I think, traveled about as far as we did, only it took them a year or so and it was considerably more difficult for them–uncharted territory, uncertain encounters with humans and wild life, unsupported by any modern travel network of any kind once they left the East well behind them. What they did was extraordinary, and I’m not comparing what they did to what we are doing–that would be silly in the extreme–but I am comparing the human flourishing that they experienced WITH their companions to what we experienced in even this very sort time we have been on our adventure.

Lewis and Clark and their companions were named The Corps of Discovery. We are the Re-Inklings. They were after a water passage across the North American continent. We are after an understanding of where the Inklings lived and worked. We are re-discovering this fine band of brothers (mostly brothers, a few sisters), this literary corps. And we have bonded already and will continue to bond. Like all groups, we’ve already established some exclusive phrases, gestures, and so on. Only we will have experienced this (whatever it is) exactly as we have. Only Lewis and Clark and their Corps did what they did–they could write about it and share stories, but only they know what they did, went through, saw, were frightened or inspired by–they grew “insider knowledge” among themselves.

And perhaps like all traveling groups, we “Re-Inklings 2013″ will find that the bonding we experience emerges as something special and wonderful and amazing and remarkable… and leads to each member of our group flourishing as humans in ways heretofore unexplored. And that is why we must say “YES” to the travel, the destination, and the experience of it all.

It’s always about the quest, isn’t it? But it’s always about going on the quest, too.

~Elizabeth D. Woodworth

Categories: Go Travel, Looking Good In Glasses, Travel Can Heal, Travel Can Hurt | 2 Comments

So. This is what we really think.

Wordle.net is magnificent for helping humans see the value of their words in ways that mere lists cannot.

LOTR themes in five minutes or less. Or themes for everything?

LOTR themes in five minutes or less. Or themes for everything?

Categories: At the Board, Wordling | Leave a comment

LOTR Themes Away

LOTR Themes. We put a lot of what we saw in the book up on the board. I’ll include some of that thinking below. What we’ll do with it is the BIG SYNTHESIS, or we’ll compare LOTR to Narnia and think about everything else we’ve read and are reading in these terms. I have a feeling I’m going to need to go back to Tolkien’s bit on fairy stories again.

Also, I think I might like to hurry up and get into Barfield’s Worlds Apart: A Dialogue of the 1960s. I’ve just begun looking at it, and I think I’ll love it. Here’s what the back of the book says:

World’s Apart is a fictional conversation among eight people: a physicist, a biologist, a theologian, a philosopher, a teacher, a rocket scientist, and a lawyer. Energetic, wide-ranging and deeply penetrating, this brilliantly witty book points toward a solution to a major problem of our time, the gap between specializations. As the sheer bulk of human knowledge demands ever increasing specialization, is man losing sign of the wholeness of life?

And when I think about how all these Inklings came together, drifted apart, and met again, what kinds of conversations did they have, what did they feel of the themes that erupt and emerge in the two biggest works we’re read this summer? Surely the words we jotted down on the board about LOTR connect to much more than that one book. Surely. This work at the board can help us focus on how to connect, at least, LOTR to Narnia. For all the ways these two works are different, could there be GREAT similarities? Yes. I think so.

Screen Shot 2013-07-05 at 9.22.17 AMThis is a cobbled together image of the whole board because I cannot remember that I have a panoramic function on my phone camera. It’s a problem for me in more than just a few ways. BUT this is still better than a polaroid. Below are shots of bits that will be easier to see.

And in the meantime, here’s a word list of what we jotted down in five minutes without over thinking it and all together (I’ll repeat words as I’m writing down what I see rather than trying to edit). Words: storytelling, environmentalism, love, friendship, love, adventure, willingness, risk, duty, destiny, loyalty, protection, greater good, struggle, hope, temptation, evil, trust, sacrifice, mercy, pity, awe, destiny, willing, bravery, friendship, sacrifice, choice, feat, loyalty, adventure, love, duty, desire, trust, home, mission, quest, journey, good, evil, lore, destiny, desire, glory, good, friendship, loyalty, temptation, home, desire, sacrifice, journey, hope, willpower, determination, perseverance, exhaustion, sleep, love, friendship, journey, adventure, destiny, personal growth, inevitability of time, loyalty, magic, good, joy, something greater than oneself, evil, grief, strength, power, loss, longing, overcoming fear, bravery, loyalty, betrayal, desire, heroism, women, pity, quest, hero, calling, virtue, courage, loyalty, manliness, natural, mechanical, wisdom, struggle, burdens, nourishment, refreshment, good, evil, sacrifice.

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Categories: At the Board | Leave a comment

Reading a lot, I mean, a whole LOT

So, if we wanted to add up all the pages we have been reading, it’s a LOT. I like the idea of doing that. Quantifying our work can be powerful.

In this class, at minimum, we are reading both The Chronicles of Narnia (767) and The Lord of the Rings (1112 including the appendices because I always read these). Just those two alone would put us close to the 2,000 mark, but we need to include The Company They Keep (248) and the packet of extra readings (80 pages maybe). Oh, and we also read The Great Divorce (160), The Problem of Pain (176), and The Screwtape Letters (209).

So far we’re up to 2,750 or so.

And that’s not counting Owen Barfield or Charles Williams (both of whom we have lined up), nor does that account for what we each may read while in Oxford (we’re each picking a book by an Inkling–a book we have not read as a group–that will round out our exploration a bit). Neither does this count the extra reading any of us might have done to prep for the course (professorial reading) or additional reading from joy or curiosity by students (biographical info online, The Hobbit, other works by Lewis and additional bits by Warnie Lewis, Hugo Dyson, Christopher Tolkien, and Charles Williams).

And over dinner, we watched The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. (Somehow I think a film counts for something. And we’re talking about an LOTR marathon at some point–though time is running out.)

Let’s get back to numbers, shall we? Let’s say we’ll end up with 4,000 pages for the course–that seems actually pretty reasonable to me given our very ambitious agenda. If class meets for 8 weeks that’s about 500 pages a week, or something like 72 pages per day. Of course, we know it doesn’t work that way. We binge read–sometimes 300 pages a day or the opposite of that, no pages a day. (I’ve had a few days like that, when I got zero reading for this course handled, then, naturally, I had to really get on it in subsequent days.)

The point of this post: it’s a LOT of reading. We should take a moment to consider what that means–all that reading, all that thinking (we’re doing a lot of thinking, too). It means that we are engaged in scholarly endeavor. We are in the middle of higher education. We are doing it bigger than we did in previous educational experiences. (At least I KNOW for a fact that I never read that much over the course of a high school class. And I never taught a high school class with this much reading.) The university encourages this sort of deep immersion into a subject, a determination to master something of a topic.

This kind of dedication also means something else: we are truly following in the footsteps of the Inklings. They READ a lot of pages. All the time. Every term. Every year.

Besides reading about them and reading their works, to celebrate their friendship and literary fellowship, we are also writing and going to share that writing with each other–by reading some of our own work aloud. In Oxford.

We are re-inklings.

 

Categories: Reading like a Beast, Why I'm a Re-Inkling | Leave a comment

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