Saturday, September 29, 2007

Martyr's Memorial

Being in Oxford is like stepping into a storybook in some ways. I’ve read about so many of these places and colleges that they feel about as real as something out of Lord of the Rings. Ironically, being here feels like stepping into a legend or myth rather than making everything here come to life and feel real. I would only be slightly surprised if I ran into Gandalf down the street.

One of the exceptions to this is the Martyr’s Memorial. This is the memorial erected in the early 1800’s by the Evangelicals of Oxford, keen to demonstrate the un-English and un-Protestant character of the burgeoning Oxford Movement. The monument was built of three of the key English martyrs of the Reformation, burnt to death for their commitment to the belief that only faith in the Lord Jesus’ death can give us the certain hope we need that the problem of our sins is resolved. These three, Latimer, Ridley and Cranmer stand at the top of the monument with an inscription at the base, and look down over the bustling traffic in one of the busier intersections of Oxford.

I’d read about this monument and seen pictures of it. Read about how it isn’t the actual site of their death but is a few hundred metres from the actual site (in the middle of the road not far from there). Read how it was built in the nest of Oxford Movement churches and other hotbeds of Tractarianism (and still sits just next to a church which religiously says High Mass regularly). Read how important it was in the psyche of the early Evangelical Anglicans as a protest against a movement which stood for all they most feared and hated… I remember reading the service of the opening of the memorial and realising just how important it was in its time for the Evangelical movement.

But when I actually saw it, what struck me the most was the weary, lined faces of Ridley, Latimer and Cranmer. These were old men, not burning with the zeal of youth, like Frith and some of the other martyrs of the time (whose deaths were no less tragic). But Latimer, Ridley and Cranmer were men at the time of their life when they should have been honoured and treated with civility and respect. And I could suddenly think of several men and women I know who would be around their age (or older) and who would make the same choice as Ridley and Latimer, and ultimately Cranmer, if the same history were played out today.
It wouldn’t just be a tragedy for me if these people were killed for their faith; it would be an outrage and a scandal. I couldn’t imagine hearing of their having died for their faith, let alone being part of a crowd watching them being treated so shamefully.

So the men at the top of the memorial are more than mere legend for me. They were real, old men, who probably had aching bones and failing eyesight, and yet valiant hearts and clear minds in the face of death. The memorial to them and their bravery for the cause of Christ is as valuable now as it was in the day it was built. JMB


Jennie and I just finished watching the last of the Morse movies the other day – the new mini-sound system gave it a much better quality than listening to the laptop’s inbuilt speakers. It was a perfectly melancholy finish to the series (much as I remembered from when I saw it on TV).

However, the real pleasure should prove to be watching the first series of four Lewis movies. The O’Briens had assured us last year that a series focusing on Lewis set a few years after the Morse series was in production. Jennie and I had scoffed—how could you create a series around Sergeant (Inspector at the end of the Morse series) Lewis? Well, we are about to find out—the first four movie episodes are sitting on our bookshelf. I’m hoping they’ve managed to make something different (as befits the shift from Morse to Lewis) but sharing the same values. Such a feat would be even more impressive than the original Morse series (which would be saying something). MDB

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Weather II: Politically Incorrect Weather

Apparently the English can enjoy their weather, in moderation (of course). But only if the weather is sunny, warm, and dry (so not that much). The problem, as those who know us can testify, is that we enjoy weather that is raining, cool, and cloudy. We like the wrong kind of weather, and we like it in the precise opposite order of priority.

The English like weather in the following sequence:

Sunny is the best thing that can happen, rain the worst. Warmth comes in next place; a sunny day in winter is better than a cloudy day in summer.

Baddeley weather fits the following values:

We love rain (Jen more than I), and any day with rain is a good day. We dislike sunshine; while not quite vampires, we are good candidates for Vitamin D supplements. And cool is always appreciated – a slight chill in the air makes us feel invigorated, while warmth tends to knock me around.

The irony is that we have (for the first time since our trip to Tasmania) the perfect weather for us. And yet our taste in weather is considered a form of pathology here in England. (The one time we let slip that we were enjoying the cold rain the conversation ended and had to be restarted). So we are going to have to find a way to dissemble about the weather – as not even being Australian seems to be able to permit us to like the ‘wrong’ weather. MDB

Weather I: Reflections on a Week of English Weather

It had to happen. We had to do a blog entry on the weather sooner or later. Everyone knows how terrible the English weather is.

Except we’ve really enjoyed it so far. Admittedly we’ve been here less than a week and it isn’t winter, but it has been really refreshing. It’s been mostly cool, with rapid changes from sunshine to gloomy clouds to pouring rain to light rain to wind to sunshine. In less than three hours. Basically the weather is in transit all the time and if you were bored you could just watch the weather change, which would no doubt prove more interesting (not to mention more edifying) than daytime TV (presumably, we are not prepared to pay for a license to watch TV at this stage).

But there is a crispness and dampness in the air which characterises Sydney weather at its absolute best but seems to be fairly standard here. This is one of the reasons we enjoy it. The other reason is that we particularly take pleasure in gloomy weather, and actually derive energy from it.

We have learned not to share our enjoyment with the English, who are perturbed by anyone appreciating the weather (or the squirrels, but that is a matter for another time). The weather is always bad to the English and the only possible reaction is to complain about it or commiserate with their complaints. As we can’t in all good conscience do this we are in the process of coming up with socially acceptable ways to respond. This is still a work in progress but, given the number of weather conversations we have had in the past week we will need to invent some responses quickly! JMB

Monday, September 24, 2007

First Thoughts

We made it. We're here. Thanks to all the people who helped us through the last three or four days, and particularly to the fine folk at MooreWest who made evening meals for us in the week before we left, played tetras with our furniture and helped with some unexpected crises in the 24 hours before we left. The last stages of the job were bigger than we anticipated and what we had anticipated being a relaxed (and slightly smug) tying up loose ends in the two days prior to our departure turned into a 72 hour marathon that finished at 3:30am the morning we were due to fly out, starting the jet lag process some 12 hours early.

We were met at the airport by Michael Jensen and his daughter and he and his family took great care of us in the first jet-lagged weary day, even buying some groceries for us and feeding us! We hadn't thought much beyond leaving the country and flying to the UK, so it was a pleasant surprise to have these things taken care of.

We've settled into our new place, which we really like. It's bigger (almost double the size we expected), has more character (the view is tremendous - with an enormous tree directly in front of the lounge room and balcony and a great view out over Oxford around the sides of the tree) and is an easier place to live than we expected (despite the fact we're on the fourth floor, there is a lift, and a rubbish chute). But we've already been to London (to set up a bank account), and taken on British Telecom to get a landline connected (they're winning)... so being Baddeley's we've had heaps to analyse...

Three things stand out from our first couple of days in the UK.

1. When walking through London we came to an intersection where there was a 'no walk' traffic light and yet it was perfectly safe to go. The traffic moving parallel to us had right of way, and were not allowed to turn into our lane. Nonetheless, no-one walked across the intersection. We stood there for twenty seconds looking carefully at the traffic, trying to figure out where the cars might be coming from that would mean that no one would risk walking across the intersection. At the end of this process we concluded that our initial impressions were correct. It was safe to cross. Nonetheless, only we (and one or two other, presumably reprobate, English) jaywalked. The other thirty or so pedestrians on both sides of the road waited patiently and gave off a faint air of disapprobation in our direction as we passed them.

Then we came to several intersections where there were no signs for pedestrians. Having been lulled into a false sense of security by the previous encounter when the English wouldn't cross the road even when it was perfectly safe to do so, we followed the crowd of pedestrians onto the road. And almost died. Three times. Apparently people thought nothing of walking across the intersection despite the fact that the traffic travelling perpendicular to us had right of way and there were cars already entering the intersection. For their part, the cars tended to use the horn rather than the brakes as the instrument of choice to avoid collisions.

In Sydney people would have acted exactly the opposite in both cases. No self-respecting Australian would obey a 'do not walk' sign if it is safe to walk. And no Sydneysider with even nominal survival instincts would challenge Sydney traffic by walking into oncoming traffic just because there is no sign to say that they can't do that. We're glad we didn't die experiencing the many splendoured thing that constituted that little piece of cultural difference.

2. The bus from Oxford to London cost $45 each return for a 1 1/2 hour trip either way. However, the buses came equipped with a toilet, powerpoints for laptops, wireless connection and a hot breakfast served up until 8:30am. It's more expensive, but it has more 'bells and whistles' thrown in. I suspect a comparable Australian service would cost less but offer nothing but the trip and a seat (and maybe not even the latter). This seems to fit with the general shopping flavour here - a bit more expensive (at least with the exchange rate) but with almost as many "3 for 2" signs as there are standard signs for products.

3. The English shop differently. No shopping centres. Minimal restaurants of an ethnic flavour - both in London and in Oxford it has been a rare sight to see a Thai or Korean or French restaurant. Multiple versions of the same set of chain shops: The Body Shop, Carphone Warehouse, Currys Digital (doesn't sell Indian styled electronics, despite the name). And then there is Argos. We've never experienced anything like it. It is a shop that sells (almost) everything - the catalogue must weigh close to 5kgs. There is almost nothing on display in the shop. You fill out a card listing the items you want (by catalogue number to remove any vestige of romance from this transaction) take it to the customer service officer (the person at the register) pay for it. You then wait while the order is pulled together in the warehouse out the back and then sent to the pick-up point via conveyor belt. It is nothing if not frightening efficient. Within an hour and a half of walking into the store we had almost everything we needed to set ourselves up here - some 19 different items (with a set of saucepans counting as one item). Even with the two hours of pouring over the catalogue that went before, it was an amazingly quick way of getting on our feet.