Wednesday, 7 April 2010

binsey polar bears

This morning I walked to Binsey church (see photo, above, and, where we were married back in the nineties.

It was one of the rare mornings nowadays when I have the time to do an Oxford walk like that, heading from Summertown to the canal, across Port Meadow to the Perch and Binsey village. To get to the church you follow a lane--along which I and my best man and ushers walked from the pub that far off day. It's a magic part of Oxford that feels quite out in the country, even though the ring road is half a mile away and the city an equal distance. As I walked through the village--a hamlet really--a woman was sitting on her doorstep smoking a cigarette, the tiny front garden either side of her already alive with colour.

The church is medieval and has no tower, only a low, narrow arch above the nave from which hang two bells. The building is on the site where the patron saint of the city, Frideswide, founded her nunnery and beside it is her sacred well (see photo). Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon are said to have visited in the hope that the water would help them conceive. This well was also made famous by Lewis Carroll in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland where it is described as a 'treacle well'.

In one of the legends of St Frideswide she escapes the attentions of an unwelcome suitor, who she has blinded (quite a woman, Frideswide), by sailing off up the Thames to Bampton, which was then a wilderness. Prophetic--the flight to Bampton--I like to think.

There is also a story about her seeing masses of magpies in a field near Osney and deciding on the strength of this to found an abbey (or some such). Well, I once saw some sixty magpies in a field near Binsey... And no, I wasn't on my way back from the Perch. And no, I didn't decide to found an abbey (or some such).

Meanwhile, I'm looking forward to hearing the Front Row piece on Mark Haddon's play Polar Bears, which is on at the Donmar Warehouse until the end of May (which we taped--while we escaped to the Bell at Langford). See

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