Wednesday, September 24, 2008

England, part 4: The conference, a castle, random Oxford


The conference, an interdisciplinary meeting on the topic of madness, went very well. The range of presenters -- both geographically and in terms of the kinds of work they were doing -- was remarkable, and at the same time the conference seemed very coherent, as everyone was concerned with the same broad set of questions relating to mental illness and its troubled connections with agency and creativity. This is not an academic blog, though, so I'm going to talk more about the building and the food. The building was Oxford's Mansfield College, a late-Victorian neo-Gothic structure that would not look out of place on U of T's St. George campus. Dinner on the first day, and lunch on the subsequent days, was included with conference registration, and was served in a dining room with vaulted, painted ceilings, halfway up the college's central tower. The food was marvellous: roast lamb with mint sauce, chicken-and-mushroom pies, piles of steamed vegetables, golden roasted potatoes, and for dessert: bread-and-butter pudding with stewed apples and little pitchers of clotted cream. I have nothing bad to say about English cuisine.

Post-conference on the second day, some of us went for dinner at The Big Bang, "Officially the Finest Sausage and Mash in Britain." They serve nothing but mash (potatoes and/or turnips), and sausages. If you are vegetarian, you can have vegetarian sausages. It's a small place, and about a dozen of us descended on it unannounced and were served by a flummoxed but cheerful waitress who seemed to be channelling Emma Thompson circa 1990. I have no idea whether the sausages were indeed the best in Britain, but they were good.

What else did I do in Oxford? I visited Oxford Castle. Its central tower was built by the Normans in 1071, but as I learned on the tour, archaologists now believe there was already a Saxon structure on the site which the Normans took over and built up, and that the Saxons in turn had built on a pre-existing, pre-Saxon burial ground. So: Really old building. It was a castle & a keep, then it was used as a jail for 700 years, decommissioned only in 1996. Now it is partly a museum and partly a "hotel and leisure complex"; you can stay in a jail-cell-turned-hotel-room for up to £300/night, and there is a posh restaurant and a Krispy Kreme Doughnuts.

All my Oxford photos are up now. Next: On to London!

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