Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Weekend at Oxford - Sep 2008

It was to be 10 days: a weekend for the TE Lawrence symposium and five days survival training at Heckfield. Only Heckfield was canceled - long story - and is now rescheduled for a session in Virginia late January; so more on that next year.

But the long weekend at Oxford was well worth the long trip over. I stayed in rooms at St. John’s College where AE Housman and Robert Graves had been, saw the West End musical Seven brides for Seven Brothers (good, though I did miss Howard Keel), traveled to Dorset to TE Lawrence haunts, and then had two days of talks about TE Lawrence, then and now. About one hundred fifty attended, a surprisingly number from the US and Canada. Interesting bunch.

Got into Heathrow early afternoon Thursday September 24 and promptly caught the airport bus for Oxford which took little over an hour. The bus station was close to the campus, so walked over and registered. Then picked up a ticket for the evening performance and had supper. Performance was good and the audience was an enthusiastic bunch of the gray haired set. Nice choreography though not up to Michael Kidd’s - since seeing this, I checked out some of his work in the film on You-tube.

My room was large, really large, but with a small single bed tucked in one corner. I had a sink and counter, small portable refrigerator, chairs, desk and book cases. Facilities? The toilet was across the hall and the shower upstairs. With the room went access to the computer lab and the bar - yes, St. John’s has it own pub. Lovely old college with magnificent spires.

Friday was spent with forty others, traveling to Dorset. First, to the Bovington Tank Museum. TE had spent two years there as a ranker before getting back into the RAF, all following his Lawrence of Arabia exploits. There were some memorabilia but I was impressed with the tanks: WW1 and WW2 vintage with various armed cars including the WW1 Rolls used in the desert. Tanks are big suckers!

From there, it was a short journey to Clouds Hill TE’s garden cottage: small, basic and charming. Two Broughs (the motor bike used by TE) were parked there; one may have been an old one of Lawrence’s. The bikers in our group - and there were some - were impressed. I had my picture taken astride one. It was a moving experience, the thought of walking about where TE had been.

From there to Moreton to the local church and TE’s grave and finally, to Wareham where the Kennington Effigy is housed in the ancient Saxon Church of St. Martin-on-the-Walls. It was a full day and a great prologue to the two days of talks.

There were eight presentations, some outstanding. I had been enticed to this gathering by two speakers: Neil Faulkner who was the co-director of the November archaeological dig I had volunteered for, and James Barr, author of a recent book on TEL and the Brits during WW1. They both lived up to expectations and I had a chance to talk with them during the weekend, at length with Dr. Faulkner at the college pub.

Faulkner talked about Lawrence’s precepts of guerrilla warfare and the impact the Arab Revolt had on the desert campaigns during WW1. The Great Arab Revolt Project is an archaeological effort that, so far, supports the military importance of the Arab efforts. Barr talked about TEL and his influence/relationship with the French and its impact on Middle Eastern history.

The other presentations ranged from Lawrence’s relationships with various friends, publishers and writers; his love of the Brough bikes with a hypothesis about the final fatal crash; the Metcalf collection, and a discussion of the Imperial Camel Corps - the later was one of the more interesting reports.

People in attendance were varied: several had been at the Huntington Library gathering last year - I had attended and. surprisingly, was recognized by several. One man was from Georgia, had been a Chief Probation Officer and was into motor bikes, really into them owning six and restoring others that he sold at swap meets. Another rather dapper man, small boned and an inch or so taller than me, dressed in shirt, tie, brown suit and vest, shave d head and with Kaiser Wilhelm waxed mustache, was in the Security business, spending most of his time in the Emirates.

There were two retired servicemen: one with twenty years in the Engineers, twenty with a private firm and now considering his third life - he was also a diver who had a home near the Red Sea in Egypt and gave me good information about arranging a trip to St. Catherine’s. The other had just retired after 26 years as a Warrant Office in the Navy and was interested in museum work. Then there were the two men in their late seventies, one living in Seattle and the other still in the UK, who met sixty years ago in Germany while in the service; they have continued their friendship and meet yearly.

Coming home was a delight! I was upgraded from mid-middle back of the aircraft to business class! All because I had asked to be switched to an aisle seat. Turned out it was easier to switch me up front.

Glad I went, even for just the weekend. Next time, will add on a couple of days to bum about Oxford and take the Morse tour.

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