The Bird Cried Out

The Bird Cried Out

The bird cried out, the cobble stone steps dug into their feet, and soon the bird’s cry fell in tune with a man’s and murder had been done at Oxford.

OxfordIn some way that was what I was expecting when I entered the city. I had seen the deed done countless times on Inspector Morse and Lewis, and I guess I was expecting life to imitate art. Though at the same time quite happy to go about each day not having to worry if I would be the next victim, which so often happens in these murders. The most unlikely is often the victim. Instead I had a wonderful time, I wish I could be back in Oxford and stay there.

The invitation to Oxford came from a family connection, (very similar in fact to how Emily’s invitations in England came to her) who invited us down to an evening of poetry reading and music, all from World War I. Unfortunately not having work yet, it was rather easy to take some time off from Edinburgh, and go down to the city of scholars. We were met with great hospitality; it was a wonderful weekend.  We have such gratitude for our hosts.

totem pollOn the first day in Oxford as we set out to explore the city, I saw a Totem Pole , here so far from its home in Canada. Though to be fair I saw other totems once before at the British Museum, but there how they stood, and how they were viewed I realized on looking closer, they looked dead. They were just two more artifacts that had been placed on display for visitors to see. That’s all they were and nothing more. So unlike the one I saw at the Pitt Rivers Museums in Oxford. To paint an image in your mind of what the Pitt Rivers Museum is like, it is very much like a curiosity shop found in the old part of a town. The displays are packed with all interesting sights and with little card labels some of which are written by hand,  it all seems so accessible, you almost ask, how much for such and such an item . In the centre is that Totem Pole, and it felt more like Canada than its brothers in the British Museum. Emily would have loved it. I find it interesting to see Canada behind glass, to see things so recognizable from home it can’t seem they would be artifacts. Yet there they are, with their little labels, explaining what we were taught as part of our heritage. And here they are for those just discovering these parts of Canada.

From remembering the forests of Canada in the day to going to the fields of France in the evening through the reading of poems written by soldiers during the First World War. Most who tragically died after writing them. Coming from Canada the War seems very distant. We know our history and we know how many men we lost who went overseas. But there is little reminder of destruction or graves filled with white crosses. We have memorials ,of course, and Remembrance Day ceremonies but we were never invaded, we were never attacked. The men we lost went overseas to Europe; their actual homeland was never under threat from invasion. Unlike the lands they died in. And from all the poetry that was read, it was clear that these men and women wanted one thing to happen, one thing to come from it all, Never to Forget.

Carr GravesThe following day, was an Emily Carr day, her parents were born in two small villages close to Oxford, and married in another that met in the middle.  Freeman is where Emily’s mother was from, and Beckley, her father. Both small little places, with a church at the centre, and a pub just down the street. It was in Beckley we found the graves of the Carrs. We found them only by printed record, the names are long since gone, covered in ivy, and sinking into the ground.  A cluster of them, buried close together. Not to be separated. I don’t think Emily ever went to these villages where her parents were from, a shame really, I think that she would have liked them. Both quiet and far from the city. Though there were more fields than trees, but then that’s just the English country side.

On the third day it was art and literature. The Ashmoleon is a wonderous museum, with wonderous objects, from all over the world.  Up on the top floor ,in a room of their own, are the paintings of the Pre-Raphelites. Paintings of children, crying over their dead mother, or birds, or biblical depictions. Hours were lost and gained going through that museum. Lunch was in full English tradition, a cream tea with Earl Grey piping hot. Right near the Bodleian Library, the small café, packed with students discussing their classes, and tourists consulting their guide books, and wi-fi for those quick checks of email. Tea tastes better in England, as Gelato tastes better in Italy, or Maple Syrup in Canada. Or books smell and look better in old libraries like the Bodleian. In a nut shell of what it was like… I know how Belle felt when the Beast gave her the library as a gift. I now have a dream of what my home library should look like. And I look forward to that day when it gets that old book smell, which personally I think smells better then new car.

photo 2And after visiting one of the greatest libraries, we went for a drink, at the pub where Tolkien, and C.S Lewis met to discuss their writings and their thoughts, “The Eagle and Child”. I now know that I have to go back there, with a paper and pen, and just write something. It doesn’t have to be much, an idea, a thought, the beginning of a story. It just has to be something that I keep and know I wrote in the same place as those other two great writers.

For now, I will just have to settle for writing about it on the train. Until next time.