Friday, 18 March 2011

Snakes in the grass

My time on this island began in Oxford nearly a decade ago. I arrived in my early twenties with my beloved by my side and not much else.

I quickly discovered the particular fish-out-of-water-feeling that comes with landing on foreign dirt - like that first cold step outside after a swim - a lonely, shivering kind of uncomfortable that starts at the pores and ends up in the bones. Thankfully (somewhat) temporary.
Travel with me alone towards Iffley. 
Like many before me, I discovered that England is expensive. Especially Oxford. Especially since we were already broke. So my beloved and I cultivated free hobbies, like walking.

One day we left Jericho and wandered into Port Meadow, an ancient common northwest of Oxford. We passed The Perch, the Trout (pubs), the ruins of Godstowe Abbey and kept right on walking. Quite unplanned, we walked 35 miles that day. By chance we bumped into a self-proclaimed recovering journalist called Linda Ellerbee who was trekking the length of the Thames for her 60th birthday (and later wrote about it). She walked with us for a while before hitching a ride on a narrow boat. It was from her that we got the bonkers idea to walk the length of the Thames, which we later did.
Return to dust. 
Iffley lies down the Thames Path in the other direction, south of Oxford, past Christ Church Meadow. There is a 12th century church there called St Mary's. It is so old that the faces protruding from the stone have returned to blank slates. Accross Iffly lock, there is a meadow, and in the springtime the meadow is full of an unusual-looking native flower called snake's head fritillary.
Rose by another name.
We spent our two Oxford springs searching out snake's heads in the grass; skint, foreign, blessed with companionship and sturdy feet. A less lucky twenty-something called Keith Douglas wrote this about Iffley four years before he died at Normandy in 1944:
What sudden fearful fate
can deter my shade wandering next year
from a return? Whistle and I will hear
and come another evening, when this boat
travels with you alone towards Iffley
as you lie looking up for thunder again
this cool touch does not betoken rain
it is my spirit that kisses your mouth lightly. 
This ramble into yesteryear's photo album was inspired by Flashback Friday, hosted by the lovely Cafe Bebe.

14 comments:

  1. The snake's head flower is amazing! It sounds like you did some amazing walks.

    Take care.

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  2. And I need a thesaurus to come up with words other than amazing...

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  3. That flower looks like pepperoni or salami too!
    Oxford is a very historical city and sounds like you had a great time exploring it. That piece of prose is very moving but goes well with your post x

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  4. oxford is a place I am still yet to discover, glad to see its not all universities!

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  5. Wow, that flower is very cool, a salami look-a-like indeed :)

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  6. This was so interesting. I've had a look around, and you've really inspired me. Glad I stumbled here from Soule Mama.

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  7. You always write so beautifully and always so interesting. Whenever I read your posts I let out a little sigh of happiness :)

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  8. Thanks for the lovely comments guys - I always thought of it as fuchsia snakeskin, but I am totally with you on salami-flower now.

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  9. I never knew there was a 12th century church in Iffley. The faded stonework reminds me of temples in India.

    The snake's head fritillary is such a disturbing looking flower!

    Love

    Truffle

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  10. And you guys walked the entire length of the Thames? Must hear more.

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  11. Cool comparison Truffle - it is a really different church from most anything you see in England - clearly from a different, more frightening time. There are all manner of scary creatures popping out of the stonework, and the design around the door looks like a shark's jaws.

    The Thames Walk is AWESOME - I highly recommend it. We didn't do it all in one go, but in chunks here and there, on sunny weekends. Long muddy walks are a thing I really miss from my BC days.
    ~M

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  12. Cool comparison Truffle - it is a really different church from most anything you see in England - clearly from a different, more frightening time. There are all manner of scary creatures popping out of the stonework, and the design around the door looks like a shark's jaws.

    The Thames Walk is AWESOME - I highly recommend it. We didn't do it all in one go, but in chunks here and there, on sunny weekends. Long muddy walks are a thing I really miss from my BC days.
    ~M

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  13. This was so interesting. I've had a look around, and you've really inspired me. Glad I stumbled here from Soule Mama.

    ReplyDelete