Friday, 9 July 2010

Visiting Oxford

I've had a lovely few days in Oxford, catching up with lots of old friends, especially my little god-daughter, who doesn't really count as an old friend because she's only two and three quarters. She's lovely, and has an air of responding to the world in quite a considered way which is very reminiscent of her mother. Also she loves books, and can even read a bit already, which is luck for me -- I am figuratively rubbing my hands planning birthday after Christmas of interesting book presents. She now has a little sister who is one of those babies who looks at you very steadily for a long time in a way which is oddly flattering and disconcerting at the same time.

It would be fatuous beyond words to say that the Bodleian Library is an old friend, but as libraries go it's certainly a grower. Once you get used to its ways, and find out about its unusual resources, it's one of the best places I know to do research. Almost all the manuscripts are currently in a temporary reading room at the Radcliffe Science Library. A science library is a bit of a quaint thing, and it was very quiet, though I suppose it is out of term. Contrariwise the special collections area was packed. Now, the Science Library has free photocopying to a USB stick or e-mail (unlike the UL which charges 8p!!!! per incorporeal sheet), and it's very easy to print things out, and get books ordered there, etc. But it was nice that my work also took me to Duke Humfrey. I may not have many more chances to read there, because eventually even the Select manuscripts and the reference resources will be moved out, and in a few years' time it won't really be a reading room at all, but part of the tourist tour. No more sitting by the shushing gargoyle; no more Selden end. You're allowed to take your own pictures of manuscripts now, after filling in a form to say what you require, so while I was trying to get a good image of an original ninth-century limp binding (very exciting!) I took a picture from the window, out across the gardens to the Radcliffe Camera and St Mary's Church (where you can get nice teas).

And it's a lovely building inside too, full of paintings I never look at properly.

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