I am reading a book that was sent to me by another poster in aue. The sender will remain nameless (but appreciated) lest others here get their noses out-of-joint because they have not been sent a book. The book is set in Oxford in the late 1950s and written by an American woman in the first person. Some comments/questions about the book.
Her son refers to his father as his "Pop". I recognize it as an established term, but have never used it or even heard it used in person. It's something television characters call their father. Would it even be a recognized term in the UK?
The author rents a house in Oxford and is told by the house's owner to clean the Rayburn's flue once a month and that the stove blacking is in the cupboard. I've seen "stove blacking" before, but what is it and how is it used? From the familiar phrase of "shoe black", I assume it's polish, but I can't picture polishing a stove.
She is also told that the Rayburn is good for making Melba toast. We purchase Melba toast in packages, but it never occurred to me that it would be made at home. I thought Nabisco or someone was the maker of Melba toast.
She refers to stores that have "early closing" on Thursday. I was quite aware of this when I was in the UK, but I wonder if it was ever a practice in the US. I don't remember it. Is it still a practice in the UK?
Someone points out that Magdalen College is pronounced "maudlin". I wonder if people in Oxford are still laughing at this American who repeatedly pronounced it "mag-dell-en" when he was there. That's what I don't like about the Brits....they are too damn polite to correct you. I expected problems with Balliol, and quickly mumbled through it, but I didn't expect problems with Magdalen.
Things I didn't know: Anyone that teaches at Oxford is a Don, short for Dominus. I thought a Don was a level of teacher. Hot milk is sometimes provided with tea. That a British male, when dancing, leads with his right foot (We lead with the left). "Oxbridge" means both Oxford and Cambridge. I thought it was a term about Oxford. I'm still not sure about "Oxan".
Things I wonder about: Do pay phones in England still have the "B" button? Do they still build buildings in England with the water pipes on the outside walls? I understand what "U" and "non-U" mean, but what does the "U" stand for? Do the Brits still refer to business as "custom"? A company here is pleased to have your business.
Words/terms that I hadn't come across before: Maizie, for what the English call what we call a frog (for holding flowers in a vase). Drawing pins for what we call thumb-tacks. A doom painting as a description of a painting of the Last Judgement. 7:45 for 8:00 on an invitation. "Faults and Service Difficulties" for what we call simply "Repair" at the telephone company.
Things I found almost extraordinary: A discussion about "bilateral" schools. I thought I understood the public and comprehensive school divide, but "bilateral" is a concept that is a bit much.
Things I missed when I was in Oxford: The Carfax. I'm so used to congested intersections that Oxford's seemed rather ordinary.
Things that struck me: It seems that most of the aue regulars that are from the UK do not practice a religion. Yet, so many of the UK tourist attractions are churches, cathedrals, abbeys and other religious buildings. Each of the colleges at Oxford have a chapel. You seldom read a book about the UK without one of the characters being the Rector or the Vicar or the woman that does the flowers in the church. A British tourist could do the whole of the US and might visit only three religious buildings: The Old North Church in Boston, St Patrick's Cathedral in New York, and the Mormon Tabernacle. If you read a book set in America, you might read about a Rabbi or a Priest, but seldom anyone with a religious title. It's America, though, that is associated with religion.
I find, after reading this book, that I am more confused about Oxford (the institution, not the city) than I was before. I knew that Oxford consists of several colleges, but I had no idea there were so many. Thirty-nine? "Oxford University" doesn't seem to exist other than some sort of blanket term that encompasses all of the colleges. I've visited Oxford, but only recall (what I would call) the major colleges. If someone mentioned Nuffield and Keble, for example, I wouldn't have associated them with Oxford.
As an American, I think of a university as an entity of colleges, but that a student at a college is a student of the university. I'm not sure that's clear, so I'll rephrase. I attended Indiana University. I have a degree in business from Indiana University, so I suppose I attended the college of business. Yet, I don't even know the name of this college or that it even has a name. I took journalism courses at the School of Journalism at Indiana University. Often, we use "school" instead of "college" even though the school is one of the colleges that make up the university.
I consider myself a graduate of Indiana University. I gather that an Oxonian (right term?) Graduates (right term?) from Merton but says he was at Oxford. President Clinton was a Rhodes Scholar and it is written that he went to Oxford. But, it seems that he really attended University College. Most references to his experience, though, just say he attended Oxford. I wonder if UK newspapers use University College or Oxford when they write about Clinton.
Another point raised in the book is the House. The author's son lives at home (or in the house that the parents have rented for the year) but is a member of Wilkinson House. I have always thought that the House is where the student lives and that day students wouldn't be in a House. Would all of the members of Wilkinson House attend the same college? ObAue construction: Heads of House. I'd normally say "the heads of the houses."
The UK reader of this is probably thinking that I'm thick as two short planks by now, but you have no idea how totally different this Oxford thing is to the American university concept. You guys attend Jesus College, but you row for Oxford! And I didn't even cover the seven Halls.
It was a fascinating book for me. I've read hundreds of British novels, but when you're immersed in a plot you just absorb the terms in context. This book is without a plot, and is just a recounting of an American's experiences living in Oxford. Kind of a "A Year in Provence" with rising damp and chilblains.
And, finally, a quote from the book: "Cricket's no game. Somebody has to *move* before you can call something a game."
The book is "These Ruins Are Inhabited", Muriel Beadle, written in1958 but published in 1961.