27 September, 2014

Getting under the bonnet

I experienced an interesting incident the other day.

I had cleaned my new car and then, still on a roll, decided that it would also be a good idea to fill up the wash wipe and check the oil. I duly opened the bonnet and checked the manual in order to locate the wash wipe reservoir. This was the first time I’d opened the bonnet of my new car, and I really didn’t want to ruin things by putting water and screen wash in the wrong place, so I was taking the time to get it right.

While I was studying the manual, the dustmen appeared to empty the bins in our road. I don’t know if it’s just my perception, but I always get the impression that these guys like to be noticed. My impression was confirmed when one of them called out to me, ‘Do you need a hand?’ I smiled and politely declined. He followed up with: ‘Are you sure? My friend here’s a mechanic.’

‘I think I can manage the wash wipe,’ I replied, laughing.

All in good humour, of course, but do I really look that much in need of help? The car was parked in my parking space, in front of my house, so I clearly wasn't stranded. And it wasn't as if steam was billowing from the engine or something. If I had been male and in the same situation—studying the manual with the bonnet open—would the dustmen have offered their help? I doubt it somehow.

While I’d be the first to admit that I'm no mechanic, I do feel vaguely uncomfortable that just because of my gender it is assumed straight off that I can’t be competent in the car maintenance department...

21 September, 2014

The Maharajah's Well and the church at Checkendon

We enjoyed the late summer sunshine a couple of weekends ago by taking a walk to the Maharajah's Well in the Oxfordshire village of Stoke Row. The well has an interesting history.

Edward Reade, Stoke Row's local squire, worked with the Maharajah of Benares in India for many years during the mid-nineteenth century. During his time there, Reade sunk a well to help the local community in Azimurgh and, when he left the area in 1860, he asked the Maharajah to ensure that the well remained available to the public.

A couple of years later, the Maharajah decided to make an endowment in England, in recognition of his many years of collaboration and friendship with Reade. Remembering his friend's generosity in Azimurgh, and also his stories of water deprivation in his home area, the Maharajah decided to build a well in Stoke Row. The well is lovely--very ornate with a colonial look and feel to it.

We ate our picnic lunch on the grassy area surrounding the well and, while we sat there, a couple of other groups came to view the well, so it's clearly something of a local attraction.

On the walk back to the car, we stopped off to visit the Church of St Peter and St Paul at Checkendon. Built in the 12th century, this grade 1 listed building boasts some beautiful 14th century wall paintings. These were plastered over around 1500 and only discovered recently during restoration work.

We had a great day out -- this area of Oxfordshire is definitely worth a visit!

06 September, 2014

St. Margaret's Church, Binsey

Last weekend, we visited an important Oxford site. Surprisingly, despite having lived in and around Oxford for the past seventeen years, we had only just become aware of its existence. What drew our attention to it was the mention in the Author's Note of Alison Mercer's novel 'After I Left You'.

The site in question was St Margaret's Church in Binsey. Binsey is a tiny village, just to the west of Oxford. You can reach it by walking along Binsey Lane, which links Botley (Oxford's western suburb) to the village. Binsey itself boasts the church, a pub and a handful of houses. Although the church is little visited and very peaceful (you reach it via a lane leading away from the main village), it is flanked, just a few fields away, by the A34, and you can hear the muffled roar of traffic as you approach.

The church is beautiful -- rebuilt on the site of a Saxon church in the 13th century, with additions in the 14th and 15th centuries. Although tiny, it still hosts services, weekly during the summer, and monthly at other times of the year.

Legend has it that St. Frideswide, the patron saint of Oxford, built an oratory at the site in Saxon times. In the churchyard stands St. Margaret's Well. The story goes that a spring appeared here in answer to St. Frideswide's prayers, and the well subsequently became a focus for pilgrimage in medieval times.

After having soaked up the tranquil atmosphere of the church, we retraced our steps to Binsey's pub, The Perch (which is far more touristed than the church!), and enjoyed a drink sitting in the sunshine in the garden there.

On the walk home along Binsey Lane we picked lots of blackberries, which we used to make a blackberry and apple crumble -- lovely!