Frivolous Excuses

A week last Tuesday, the venerable members of the unofficial subsection of the Shell Pensioners Association known as the Shell Old Gits convened in Shell Centre for the traditional lunch, a tradition which will soon be two years old. Ten members were expected, following frivolous excuses from the others, such as watching tennis at Eastbourne, exam invigilation, on holiday in Turkey, working in Calgary and Houston (though presumably not simultaneously), on holiday in Spain, and having laser eye surgery. The excuse from Ian that he was working in his new three day a week post as Secretary of the Shell Pensioners Benevolent Association was accepted as entirely unfrivolous; you never know when you might need the SPBA. I almost emailed Ian saying if he was already going to be in work that day, why couldn’t he just pop down and join us, and then it clicked – he’d be in work at Bank Street, from which Shell Centre is five stops on the Jubilee Line, and I wouldn’t want to inflict that on anyone.

By noon, nine people had turned up – Jeremy, Malcolm, Nigel V, Geoff, David, Keith S and myself, plus first timers Gary and Gerry. Notice I use the term ‘first timers’, not ‘new members’. Gary and Gerry have been on the list for quite some time, but have always had frivolous excuses before. This time they made it, which was excellent. Also, it is quite hard to be a ‘new’ SOG. Many former employees of Shell are already Old Gits without necessarily realising it.

The missing tenth person was Adam and no one had a phone number for him to check whether he was on his way, so at ten past twelve we went up to the restaurant. I usually like to get up there early so that everyone can sit at the same table, but this day there was lots of space, so much, in fact, that two separate tables at opposite ends of the room were occupied before everyone could be corralled back together. About halfway through lunch, I realised that I could contact Adam via Twitter, since we both Tweet (him more than me), so I sent him a direct message. A few minutes later, my phone told me the message could not be sent. I seemed to have signal, but my phone insisted on using the office wifi network instead, to which I didn’t have a password, so nothing was getting through. After remonstrating with the phone and telling it to ignore wifi, I re-sent the message, and a bit later got a frivolous excuse from Adam about an urgent job coming up. At least we hadn’t left him moping and alone in the Shell Centre reception.

After lunch, a few people went to see their old departments. I couldn’t do that. The emotional turmoil would be just too great. Also, and possibly more so, my old department (a) went to Bank Street and (b) was disbanded. Makes you feel useful, that. The rest of us went to the Camel & Artichoke. We found the outdoor seating full, so sat indoors until everyone else arrived, at which point there were a few outdoor tables free and we moved. I emailed Alun to express the hope that his eye op (perhaps not so frivolous an excuse, after all) had gone well and he seemed to think it had. We drank beer in the sun until it was time to go. I caught a train, managed to remember that I had cycled in to the station and should find my bike, not a bus, and failed to fall into the canal from the towpath whilst riding home. A most satisfactory day.

Where’s the boathouse?

For various reasons, Diana and I found ourselves wandering around Oxford a couple of weeks ago. We parked at Thornhill Park and Ride on the eastern edge of the city, finding a space even though there had been a sign saying that the car park was full and we should go round the ring road to the northern Park and Ride. We got off the bus in the High and immediately looked for coffee. We bypassed the High Street coffee shops and went to Brown’s in the covered market. I have fond memories of Brown’s, since that is where we used to go for breakfast after Orieladelphian dinners, in the days before we were allowed to stay in college for it. It did an immensely good greasy fry-up, just the thing for a hangover. It also allowed a ten o’clock breakfast, instead of an 8.30 one, just the thing for a hangover. Brown’s is still doing fry-ups, but it was too late for breakfast and too early for lunch, so a cup of filter coffee for a reasonable price was just right.

We went from the market to the Broad, looking for the Oxford Museum of the History of Science, and found it next door to the Sheldonian Theatre and opposite Blackwell’s book shop. It’s not a big museum, but does pack a lot in. There are globes and stellar globes, astrolabes, quadrants and all manner of delicate brass astronomical apparatus from unfeasibly early periods. There are clocks, early experiments on electricity and radio and some slide rules from the 17th and 18th centuries. I had used a slide rule at school and university (in the days before electronic calculators, my dear children) and had always assumed it was a relatively recent invention to avoid the use of log tables. I had always assumed wrong.

We had lunch at the restaurant in the University Church of St Mary the Virgin and then went for a walk through Christchurch Meadow, where we discovered that the price for entry into Christchurch College, through the Meadow Gate, was exorbitant. As a good Oriel man, whose idea of entry into Christchurch was a post-Bump Supper mass rampage in black tie, I was not going to pay. We walked down to the river (Isis in Oxford, Thames everywhere else) and along the river to a footbridge, which led to the college boathouses. This was the first time in several decades that I had been to this part of Oxford. When I was an undergraduate, and even for a year or two afterwards, the boathouses were the destination of a twice a year pilgrimage to watch the inter-collegiate rowing, known as Torpids and Eights. Oriel was a mighty rowing power. We went head of the river at Torpids in 1972 and held that position until I went down and beyond. The boathouses, at those times, thronged with spectators. It could take half an hour to fight your way up the stairs to the bar to buy a pint, and by the time you’d got back down to the riverside, you’d have drunk it and needed to go back for another. (That was the reason that one year I had to walk away with a pint glass; I just couldn’t get back up the stairs to return it.)

The thing was, returning after so long, I couldn’t remember which precisely the Oriel boathouse was. At first, it looked promising; there were college crests on the first half dozen boathouses, so I walked along looking for Oriel’s, but couldn’t see it. We got to the end boathouse and turned back. I was still looking, in case I’d missed it first time, but I hadn’t. Was it really one of the scruffy-looking ones without a crest?

We walked on round the Meadow, alongside the river Cherwell, with a clear view of Diana’s college, St Hilda’s. We emerged onto the High by the Botanical Gardens and stopped off at the Oxford Rendezvous for afternoon tea, tempted by the array of cakes in the window. From there, we crossed the centre of town to the Ashmolean museum and got lost looking for the modern art. And lost again, later, looking for the exit. And then we went home.