Staying in England

The Guardian has come up with a pleasant background piece on Blackwell’s Bookshop in Oxford.  I still have happy memories of visiting the place with my fellow students during our three-week trip to Stratford-upon-Avon, Oxford, and London back in the spring of 1980.  I picked up Penguin paperback editions of As You Like It and Romeo and Juliet.  A few days later, in London, I pilfered C.S. Lewis’s The Allegory of Love, English Literature in the Sixteenth Century, Excluding Drama, and Selected Literary Essays from Foyle’s.  I wish I had gotten Albert Baugh’s A Literary History of England, too–it was available–but I am happy with the books I did get.  They stood me in good stead for years.

I’m also very happy, looking back, to have seen Sinead Cusack (Jeremy Irons’s wife) in her prime performing in As You Like It at the RSC in Stratford, along with Sue Fleetwood.  And it was a privilege for all of us to see a young Jonathan Pryce (the High Sparrow from Game of Thrones and the Bond villain in Tomorrow Never Dies) doing a marvelous turn as Hamlet in a London production of that play.  The ghost of Hamlet’s father did not merely speak to his son in that performance:  for a few frightening moments, it possessed him, and spoke through him–a scene impossible to forget.

I wish–and everyone wishes this–that I could have somehow hung on to more memories of that trip.  Beautiful fragments are still there:  Winston Churchill’s Blenheim Palace and eating a piece of fudge on the lovely, manicured grounds; the delightfully-rickety staircase at the bed-and-breakfast where our group stayed in Stratford; my early, comic mistakes in mastering the roundabout on the way to a Shakespeare seminar there; my jaunty little British cap being blown off my head by the breeze on the bus, yet snared by the long arm of my friend Mike before it soared off into oblivion; freezing to death the morning we visited Stonehenge.

I wish also–something deeper, something more–that I had not been quite so young back then.  I was twenty-four, but far less confident and experienced than I wanted to be.  I could relate to several of my tour companions, but the intelligent and almost overwhelmingly sensual Lucretia Maddox left me in the dust.  She was on a level everyone could get to but me.  The trip was, of course, a great opportunity for growth, and all of us did some of that (even Lucretia), but I came back home feeling like I had missed as much as I had gained, that I did not see and hear nearly as much as I wanted to.  Yet I can only hope that my traveling companions, my instructors at Stratford, and my professors in college knew how much they meant to me during our time together.

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