January 25, 2009: Sunday and Robert Burns’ 250th Birthday


Got up this morning expecting heavy rain in and around Oxford.  But it wasn’t raining, and only a bit cool (7 C).  And so I got on me bike and headed north on Woodstock Road out of Oxford.  I cycled on an excellent bike path that runs along A 44 to the town (you guessed it) of Woodstock.  This part of England – called The Cotswolds — is gently beautiful.  Rolling hills, green fields, and limestone inns, houses and churches form the landscape.  This is where Chaucer hailed from, and the name places are of towns like Bath, Stratford upon Avon, Gloucester and Chipping Norton.

Woodstock is an ancient town, 15 miles from Oxford, where Henry I built a hunting lodge in the 12th Century and where old Geoffrey Chaucer lived for part of his life.  John Churchill was knighted (Duke of Marlboro) as well as given an estate here by the crown after his success against the French in the Battle of Blenheim (1704, The War of Spanish Succession).  He was also given the resources to build a palace that many believe is the most beautiful and grandest in all of the UK.  He named it for the battle, thus Blenheim Palace.  Sir Winston Churchill was born in a little room off of the grand ballroom, when his mother (dancing the night away) went unexpectedly into labor (Not the Labour Party, mind you.).  The Palace and gardens are closed until February 14, so I didn’t get inside (but had previously toured the place in 2005).

I turned home having taken only about an hour to reach Woodstock, and found, of course, the wind now against me.  Someday I’ll learn that if the cycling is really easy going out, it means the wind is likely behind you, and will be in your face returning!  It would seem that a sailor might know this instinctively.  About an hour and a half later I made it, exhausted, back to Folly Bridge.  The British are very skimpy in using hot water for baths and showers.  I was not.

Had lunch at the little “pan-Asian” (their word) restaurant that is just below my flat. Sitting in a window seat overlooking the Thames, I did an “all you can eat” meal of what appeared to be Indian cuisine.  Whatever it was, it was fine.  Returned to my flat and read more 17th Century British history.  With all the shit that went down in the mid 1600s (For instance, they killed that nice Scottish boy Charles I), it is no wonder that T. Hobbes was mostly in a foul mood as he wrote the Leviathan.

I walked to town late in the day to meet my friend Tom Tait at the Oxford Union for a pint.  We drank to wee Robbie; and the lassies; and the brave Scots who go into battle without underpants . . . and well, we drank too much.  Then I walked down High Street to the Quad Restaurant and had a Burns’ Night Meal: haggis, tatties, bread puddin’ and a glass of Drambuie.  The Drambuie was excellent.  And thus to home and to bed.  I should note that I didn’t look for the Beast very diligently today.  It was Sunday and Robbie Burns’s birthday.  But I did recall his wonderful poem about a lesser “beastie”: 

To a Mouse, by Robert Burns

Wee, sleekit, cowrin, tim’rous beastie, 
O, what a panic’s in thy breastie! 
Thou need na start awa sae hasty 
Wi bickering brattle! 
I wad be laith to rin an’ chase thee, 
Wi’ murdering pattle. 

I’m truly sorry man’s dominion 
Has broken Nature’s social union, 
An’ justifies that ill opinion 
Which makes thee startle 
At me, thy poor, earth born companion 
An’ fellow mortal!

I doubt na, whyles, but thou may thieve; 
What then? poor beastie, thou maun live! 
A daimen icker in a thrave 
‘S a sma’ request; 
I’ll get a blessin wi’ the lave, 
An’ never miss’t.

Thy wee-bit housie, too, in ruin! 
It’s silly wa’s the win’s are strewin! 
An’ naething, now, to big a new ane, 
O’ foggage green! 
An’ bleak December’s win’s ensuin, 
Baith snell an’ keen! 

Thou saw the fields laid bare an’ waste, 
An’ weary winter comin fast, 
An’ cozie here, beneath the blast, 
Thou thought to dwell, 
Till crash! the cruel coulter past 
Out thro’ thy cell.

That wee bit heap o’ leaves an’ stibble, 
Has cost thee monie a weary nibble! 
Now thou’s turned out, for a’ thy trouble, 
But house or hald, 
To thole the winter’s sleety dribble, 
An’ cranreuch cauld.

But Mousie, thou art no thy lane, 
In proving foresight may be vain: 
The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men 
Gang aft agley, 
An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain, 
For promis’d joy!

Still thou are blest, compared wi’ me! 
The present only toucheth thee: 
But och! I backward cast my e’e, 
On prospects drear! 
An’ forward, tho’ I canna see, 
I guess an’ fear!


So with thoughts of mice and men, plans and schemes, hopes and dreams, I lay me down.

1 Response to “January 25, 2009: Sunday and Robert Burns’ 250th Birthday”

  1. 1 peter Warren January 31, 2009 at 4:14 am

    Sounds like you might fatten up on Haggis?

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