The other weekend was a slow weekend. Not, you understand, because we weren’t doing anything. Rather, because the quite-a-lot that we were doing could only be done slowly.
Diana and I had a weekend away in Oxford. The primary reason for going was the 42nd annual Orieladelphians dinner. Ordinarily I would go up to Oxford on my own. The dinner was founded a long time ago – 42 years, would you believe – with a fixed membership of the chaps, before any of us had wives, and it remains rigidly a dinner for the chaps, though there are only nine of us now.
But the dinner this year fell nicely to help younger daughter Tris move into a new flat with her friend Emily, so Diana came with me and we booked a double room in college and extended our stay by two nights through to the Monday. Since there were two of us travelling, it was cheaper to go by car than train, which I would normally do – to avoid driving home with a hangover, and possibly still over the limit.
Also, it was slightly easier, in the car, to take assorted crockery and cutlery, three chairs and a table, for the new flat.
So we set off at a reasonable time on the Friday morning, heading east on the avoid-Bodmin route. We have nothing against Bodmin as such, but for the last year and a bit there have been road widening works on the A30 there, the immediate effect of which is to narrow the road and cause traffic jams. So we have been going via Camelford, the road through which couldn’t get any narrower and still be called a road.
We planned to use the M5 and M4, but we noticed on the satnav that there were several traffic hold ups on the M5 south of Bristol. Last time I saw that, on my way up to Herefordshire to visit Mum, the delays cost me an hour or more. And on our way home from Herefordshire, the traffic was at a standstill in both directions for several hours due to a woman on bridge. That time we pulled in for an early lunch and waited for the blockage to be resolved, which it was while we ate. Twitter actually came in handy, seeing the Avon and Somerset Police tweeting that they had reopened the M5, and twenty minutes later tweeting that they were trying to get people back in their cars to get moving again!
So I was suspicious of hold-ups on the M5 and took an alternative route via Honiton, Shepton Mallet and Bath. This took about an extra hour. But it was pretty and scenic and all that, plus it was easy to get on an alternative route if there were more hold-ups.
In Oxford, we went first to Tris and Emily’s new flat, which Diana had visited once already. This was good, because the road, Roger Dudman Way, goes alongside the railway line, through what looks like a railway works area, and not at all like a residential road. The road also goes over vicious speed bumps, which Diana hadn’t really taken any notice of on foot, before reaching the university accommodation in which they have their new flat. It took me a few trips over the speed bumps to find the speed at which (most of the time) the car wouldn’t bump and ground. The road is marked with a 10 mph limit, so I reasoned initially that maybe 5 mph would do it. Not slow enough. The right speed turned out to be 2 mph, just enough to lift the wheels over the bump.
There are maybe three car parking spaces at the accommodation blocks, which have just over 400 flats. The spaces are reserved for disabled drivers, so Emily has one, but we pulled in front of her car on double yellow lines, disregarding a notice saying “authorised vehicles only”.
Well, we weren’t parking, we were unloading, which we did, grabbing a reviving cup of tea as we did so, and having done so, we headed for the Seacourt park-and-ride to leave the car while spending the night in Oxford.
After checking in at Oriel Lodge, and being assigned our room, I began to change for dinner and Diana headed back to Tris and Emily’s for a revival of the Double Six Club. Double Six was something that Diana started when the children were small. Each of them chose a course for the meal so that they could have something special at the same time as Daddy did off in Oxford. This time they chose a takeaway from Chutneys, the Indian restaurant in St Michael’s Street.
Meanwhile, back in Oriel, the Orieladelphians Dinner (the 42nd – did I mention that?) was excellent. Thomas, this year’s President, had ordered great food and left the choice of wine to Asefay Abera, the SCR butler, which proved a good move. I remember there being a great discussion about Brexit which ended without concluding, you might say, with no one changing their mind. We had the usual toasts – it occurs to me now that I missed an opportunity to propose a toast to “Life, the Universe and Everything” on this 42nd occasion…
After dinner we moved into the small SCR for (further) drinks, taking care to bring the port and red wine decanters with us on account of not wanting to rush into the brandy too soon. And after brandy we moved, separately, and none too rapidly, to our respective rooms.
Breakfast was served in Hall from 8-9 am. Six of us made it: Thomas, Christopher, Peter, Paul,
Mary, Ashley (and Rosie) and me (and Diana). Ranulph has developed the habit of leaving early, before breakfast, for reasons never properly explained. Steve generally misses breakfast. Neil is often at breakfast, but not this year. Diana and I, not having to check out like the rest, collected a few things from our room, such as rainproof coats and the suitcase I had brought my clothes in, now emptied, and headed for the 400 bus to the Seacourt park-and-ride. The bus route winds round and through the building site that is to be the new Westgate Centre, including a long stretch of one-way road now restricted to buses and taxis. The buses and taxis go both ways along this road – not at the same time; that would be silly. The planners have thought of that. The road is controlled by traffic lights, so there can be quite long waits at a red light before the bus can move along again.
We drove back down the Botley Road, slowly, amongst the Saturday morning traffic, and I decided to take Walton Street rather than St Giles to reach Tris’s old place on Woodstock Road. It looks more direct on the map. It is also slower, with speed bumps, and road narrowing – though after Roger Dudman Way, the speed bumps seemed pretty innocuous. Tris was already there, having taken a much shorter pedestrian route from her new flat.
We parked the car and went up to her room, taking with us the empty suitcase and numerous plastic and cardboard boxes for putting things in to move. It’s just the one room, but there was a lot of stuff in there, every cupboard, drawer, shelf, desk and – it seemed – square inch of carpet holding something. We filled the boxes etc and loaded up the boot; I forget whether it was three or four times down and up the lift.
Then it was back to Roger Dudman Way, over the speed bumps with a near fully laden car and into the yellow-lined space in front of Emily’s car. We unloaded and then Diana and I went to park the car somewhere legal while we had lunch. The place Diana had spotted beforehand was Walton Well Road car park, which meant a slow trip back along Walton Street, then down Walton Well Road, past the end of Southmoor Road where Thomas and I had lived in our third year at Oriel, and over the little bridge.
The car park was full of potholes which in the morning rain had filled with water, but there were a couple of spaces left free by people walking their dogs in Port Meadow, and it was cheap for three hours parking. The best thing about it was the foot and cycle path from the car park directly into the far end of Roger Dudman Way, very close to the flat. Which was good, because by now it was chucking it down.
Lunch was left over curries and rice from Chutneys – very pleasant. Then it was back to Woodstock Road and another round of packing and loading and transporting and unpacking. This time we left the car where it was while we had a cup of tea, before venturing out for dinner. We were aiming for “Pomegranates” on Cowley Road, a Lebanese restaurant. We took Emily’s disabled parking card, which didn’t enable us to park in the disabled spaces, because they were full, but did give us free parking. Pomegranates was full, also, so we booked for the following night and found Jin Jin, a Chinese restaurant, which we had been to with Ellie when it was the Oxford Thai. It turned out to be excellent, in both taste and price.
We dropped Emily and Tris off at their flat – more slow driving – and left the car at Seacourt again, getting a late 400 bus back to the High Street and Oriel.
High Table Breakfast Shock Horror!
Breakfast in Oriel on Sunday is 9-10 am, which in theory gave us longer in bed, but in practice it meant that we were in just after it started rather than a bit before it ended. The Hall was emptier than on Saturday, at first, at least.
Diana remarked that everyone observed the hierarchy in Hall, never using high table for breakfast. Then a couple of young people sat down at high table. Then some more young women came in and sat there, and some more, and a couple of older women, until the table was full. Almost at the end, a young woman came in wearing a flimsy bridal veil, the universal symbol of the bride-to-be on her hen party – a fact confirmed by the bottle of lurid blue alcopop that was thrust at her across the table by one of her friends.
A hen party. On high table.
Sunday echoed Saturday. Move another load of Tris’ stuff. Park in Walton Well Road. Lunch. Beginning to master Roger Dudman’s speed bumps.
The final load was a bit different. We had to move Tris’ desk, which meant taking it apart with an Allen key and carrying the top, legs and cross pieces separately down to the car. Then a last check round the room, moving the bed, finding a few more things buried under it, removing the last of the bluetack off the walls and hoovering round so it looked presentable. Then we were off in the car, while Tris took her bike through the Walton Well Road short cut.
When we got to Pomegranates for dinner, we found that booking had not really been necessary; the tables were mostly empty.
After dinner and dropping Tris and Emily off, we returned to Seacourt and discovered (after paying for parking) that the last 400 bus had left at 7.30pm. We thought about driving back into the vicinity of Oriel, but then Diana said there ought to be other buses, so we walked to the Botley Road and found that there were indeed other buses, which would also accept my return ticket, and after fifteen minutes or so, one came.
On Monday morning, there were no breakfast shenanigans, though Asefay was standing on duty in the entrance to Hall. I said hello. A little later he came to where we were sitting and said hello properly. “I didn’t recognise you at first,” he said. I guess that was the absence of DJ and bow tie, which I tend not to wear at breakfast. We checked out, returned to our car and set off for home, via Botley Road Waitrose where we bought some sandwiches for lunch.
All was going well until we were approaching Bridgwater on the M5. Then a couple of blue flashing lights went past us, one on the hard shoulder, the satnav indicated heavy traffic and we saw the vehicles ahead slowing up. Diana (driving) took an executive decision to move into the left hand lane. We came to a halt a bit before a junction, but then kept moving sufficiently to come off at the junction. Other traffic was doing the same, almost all of it keeping right to join the A38. The left lane was clear, so we took that, onto a narrow country lane that seemed to join on to the motorway by accident. The road curved back and under the M5, I mean right under it, was a wide, possibly unofficial, layby. We found we were right by the Bridgwater Canal, with a swing bridge just back along the road and thus a way on to the towpath and, possibly, a nice place to have our sandwiches.
We crossed the bridge and saw a built up mooring outside a pub, so we sat and dangled our feet over the water for our picnic. It would have been very noisy with motorway traffic, if the motorway traffic weren’t stationary.
We finished our sandwiches and went in to the pub for coffee. By this time, the traffic was beginning to move again, so after coffee (and use of the loos) we rejoined the M5 and were on our way. Taking it slow had paid off. The delay, it seemed, had been caused by cows, released from an overturned animal transporter.
The rest of our journey home was uneventful.
The following weekend, elder daughter Ellie came down to Cornwall, not staying with us but with friends at a holiday cottage in Tintagel. She had no problems on the M5 coming down, but on her way home was much delayed on the M5 near Bristol.
You just have to take life slower in the West Country, especially when trying to leave it.