Our Month in Oxford
Jul 23rd, 2017 by Dr Karma

The Boy and I left Oxford today.

We are knackered.

In addition all the colleges we visited and the Harry Potter Studio Tour, we enjoyed the following pubs:

Bear Inn; Old Tom; The Trout; The Mitre; The Eagle and Child; The Cow and the Creek; The Head of the River; The Oxford Retreat; Turf Tavern; White Rabbit; The Crown; Chequers; The Oxford Democrats Club (where we played Aunt Sally) (I may be forgetting a few, but I got to try some nice gins and the boy got to try some nice ginger beers). 

We at at many cafes and restaurants, notably these: Oxford Grill (fresh Turkish food); Kazba (Spanish); Shanghai 30s (a Michelin rated Chinese place near where we were staying); Nandos (a longtime favorite, although the Oxford one we visited wasn’t great); The Opium Den; The Old Tom (really great Thai food); Shezan (wonderful Indian); Chutneys (they did our closing feast–and it was great); and Cafe Loco.

We spent a lot of time in book stores, including Waterstones, opened by Phillip Pullman, checked out The Oxford Museum, did a sunset river cruise, peeked around the Modern Art Gallery, were overwhelmed at the Pitts River Museum,

A small part of the Pitts River Museum

watched an orchestra rehearsal at Saint Mary’s Church (and had scones in the cafe there–in basically the oldest college building in all of Oxford),

St. Mary’s

had a Sunday Roast, toured Blenheim Palace (the ancestral home of Winston Churchill),

My favorite spot at Blenheim

Mr Churchill

part of the palace

found our way into the Picture Gallery at Christ Church, got a fun and informative guided tour of Oxford Castle, took the students on a guided literary tour of Oxford, including the walkway that influenced CS Lewis and the Divinity Room, where many Harry Potter scenes were filmed,

CS Lewis walked by this every day; there’s a lion on the door and a lamp post a few feet away.

The Divinity Room

spent an hour an a half at the Rollright Stones (though our bus driver anticipated we’d only need fifteen minutes),

The Whispering Knights

As featured in Doctor Who: Stones of Blood

Students & I in a piece of art in the woods by the Stones

The Rollright Stones

gaped at The Ashmolian,


Athena at the Ashmolean


adored The Botanical Gardens,

Botanical Gardens

Botanical Gardens (or Wonderland)

took a bus up to the Oxfordshire Museum in Woodstock, saw scientific instruments galore at the History of Science Museum, failed repeatedly to stop a global pandemic in a board game cafe, experienced Alice Day

Getting ready for an Alice Day performance

The Story Museum

Alice Day!

. . .

Oh, and we read.

Lots and lots of books.


In London, I got to tour the Beefeater Gin factory, see The Philanthropist, Queen Anne, and Our Ladies of Perpetual Succor (meh–this is the first thing from The National Theatre of Scotland I haven’t loved), visit the Charles Dickens House, and check out the Gay Life in London exhibit at the British Library.

An amazing class–with wonderful, smart, invested students–got taught too.

at Jesus

Oxford: Portal to Fantasy 2017

The most dapper on-site coordinator

Oxford–we’ll miss you.

And we’ll be back.





Oxford: The Colleges
Jul 16th, 2017 by Dr Karma

Oxford University has 38 colleges. The different colleges, from my understanding, are mainly about accommodation–you take classes with everyone at the University, but your college is where you live and eat and play. You apply to a specific college within the larger umbrella of Oxford U–and they want you to be a good fit; in addition to high scores, you have to pass an interview at the college–and they interview three times the number of people they’ll take.

My students are staying at Jesus (this allows for much wordplay–“Jesus doesn’t want you bringing strangers back to your room,” etc.). I’d once stayed at Mansfield for a conference, and I’d toured Exeter before because an ex went there.

Me at Mansfield

Tolkien’s bust at Exeter

Each college has its own beauty, its own style. I was excited to sneak into All Souls because of the Deborah Harkness Triology (I just taught the first book). All Souls doesn’t have any undergraduate residents, and reportedly has the best wine cellar, but the grounds are not the most beautiful. My favorite thing was the view of the next door Camera.

The Radcliffe Camera (viewed from All Souls)

We toured Christ Church as a group–with a lovely guide, Felicity. Even though she’s not a Potter fan, she dutifully showed us the places they shot three Harry Potter scenes there. The hall at Christ Church is what the hall at Hogwarts is based on. They didn’t let the movie people film there–the hall is old, and the pictures are priceless.

One picture, of a man named Strange who had a fondness for Father Christmas clothes (he was likely going for a different look), has eyes that follow you all around the room.

Christ Church is built on the site of a nunnery. The nunnery of St. Frideswide was the first place to be recorded in writing about Oxford, though people had been there for at least a thousand years before. Cardinal Wolsey first started this church; Henry VIII finished it, after he finished Wolsey.

Lewis Carroll (Charles Dodgson) was a tutor here (of maths and logic)–he was friends with the head of the college–John Liddell. Alice Liddell asked that a tale he made up for her on a river trip be written down–and thus we have Alice in Wonderland. Many people, places, and situations of the college are figured into the tale, including Dodgson the Dodo and Alice’s chronically late father.

Christ Church from the street

Christ Church

He sees you when you’re sleeping–or wherever you are in that room!

St. Frideswide

Balliol was a delightful surprise–lovely gardens and grotesques (they’re only gargoyles, apparently, if they have water drains).

I’m a dragon, disguised as a tree.

Shhh. I’m reading.










Oriel (like many of the colleges) was a few minutes’ walk from our place. We went in one beautiful overcast day.

Seeing this view from the gate made me want to visit.

Closeup of the Oriel main view.

roses on the Oriel wall

This lion has very visible dick and balls. After I saw this at Oriel, I saw it everywhere.

University College is the oldest–the first with a land grant claim. It’s also the college with the Shelley monument. Shelley was actually kicked out of this college for refusing to answer questions about an atheist pamphlet he wrote.

University College Library

Shelley, worn out after exams. Or drowned. Or something.

We also went to Merton.

Me at Merton

This is one of the few pictures of me from this trip. The boy makes this face and sound when I ask him to take one:

Corpus Christi, according to the website, was open to visitors. Although the website was wrong, I talked our way in, with the help of a porter, who was eager to let me do so, even going so far as to say, “I’m trying to help you here,” when I started to back off the request.

We don’t know what this corner of Corpus Christi is, but we like it.

A few students and I went across the street to Lincoln, where we got to see its jaw-droppingly beautiful library. You can all see it in the new Transformers film, apparently.

My favorite college so far, however, has been Magdalen. We toured it as part of our exploration of CS Lewis, but its famous alumni are many, including Oscar Wilde, Dudley Moore, Cardinal Wolsey, and former UCD Campus Author Nick Kristof.

reminds me of home in Florida

We are convinced there are puzzles of this scene.

the duckery


There were carved wooden thrones along all the paths.



Harry Potter Studios
Jul 15th, 2017 by Dr Karma

I’m sorry in advance for how awesome this is.

You see, most people can’t say that they’ve been able to take a group of university students to the Harry Potter Studio Tour as just another day on the job.

When you get there, you see this: 

And then you wander around and see so much more!

The Way to the Common Room!

Dumbledore’s staircase!

sleeping headmasters!

The Potions’ Room!

John Cleese’s head!

Size Technology!

An elusive Dante smile!









Cardiff 2017
Jul 4th, 2017 by Dr Karma

On the way to London from Swansea, I stopped in Cardiff for a day.

It was hot–too hot–and bright, but I still headed to the Cardiff Castle, where I learned about its history, including the fact that it was only in the Victorian era that Cardiff discovered the castle was built on a much older site–a Roman legion fort. They cleared away centuries of dirt to uncover the old walls, demarcated by the red line in the brick.

Richard III, for Vanessa

The library at Cardiff Castle












Monkeys are a popular decoration in castles.

For a little longer, Cardiff is also home to the Doctor Who Experience, which I’d visited in London years ago with Courtney. The guide told me the experience was significantly different here. It wasn’t, but I still took some pictures.

Monkey went with me.

Cardiff is also the home to the Torchwood Institute. And Ianto’s Shrine.

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