Between 2007 and 2011 I traveled to UK (for work) 5 times. I went through London Heathrow thrice and Manchester twice. From London I would then travel to Oxford. And from Manchester my destination has been Lancaster. I actually liked Oxford City a lot. I would spend sometime in London as well but I am not a big city person, I never have been. If I have to choose between Oxford and Lancaster Oxford is special for me.
All my flights to Manchester have been via Dubai with Emirates. There is no direct flight between Delhi and Manchester so we fly via Dubai. While this means I get a lot more time to watch back to back movies I do arrive very tired these days. When I said this to someone they told me that was because I was getting old. Well, they have a point!
Somewhere on a Flight from Delhi to Dubai
On the other hand Delhi London flights were direct, gave me ample opportunity to watch movies and didn’t leave me that tired. I have been on British Airways, Virgin and Jet Airways and all were fine. I am actually a big fan of international flights as I can drink a glass of wine and watch movies. While watching movies I try not even to blink but sometimes the wine defeats me and I do doze off.
But when it comes to the immigration experience Manchester beats Heathrow any day. I understand that Heathrow is one of the busiest airports in the world and the volume that they handle is staggering. But even then, the queues are daunting and the behavior of the staff unpredictable. I remember one visit where the lady seemed to be miffed about something. It was not a pleasant experience. I did not say the customary thank you at the end of it. She found no reason to stop me in the end.
On the other hand Manchester is a breeze. The staff is courteous and they seem to be more willing to smile at least in the end.
So even though I miss Oxford but if I have a choice of landing between Manchester and London I would pick up Manchester for its immigration experience.
It took me three visits to Oxford before I could go punting! When I saw those punt boats for the first time just ahead of the Oxford City Center on the Magdalen River, I wanted to try it. After all, who would not be tempted to view the historic Oxford buildings while gliding through the water?
When I finally got a chance it was just after a conference and I didn’t even have to time to get out of my formal attire! But I never let such minor things stand in my way to experience something new. We were 6 in the group and one of the local professors was a pro at punting. In Oxford if you need to hire an expert to punt your boat you have to give two week’s notice! At least that is what the websites say.
So I asked the professor, “how did you learn punting?” Pat came the reply, “by falling a lot in the river!” Even though it was May and officially summer in UK, I was glad that I was wearing a jacket. The idea of falling into the cold water was not tempting at all!
A punt is steered with a tall pole because the river bed is quite shallow. If it is not done properly the punt (boat) will get stuck on the shore along the trees and the overgrowth. But the good folks who run this activity have foreseen this possibility and they give you an oar as well to get out of a tricky corner! As we had an expert with us we didn’t use it much. But there was a group who was using the oar much more than the pole and giggling like crazy! Another group was wearing elaborate costumes and having champagne in the middle of the river.
The kind professor invited us all to try our hands at punting. One of our colleagues promptly got us stuck in a corner but we got of it in no time. Then it was my turn. I was really afraid that I will let the pole slip out of my hands and get everyone stranded. However, with the help of the pro professor I also managed to keep everyone on the punt and didn’t get stuck in the corner! I have to admit we were so caught in keeping things afloat that we hardly noticed the scenery! When we were about to disembark the professor casually remarked, even if you would have dropped the pole it would float on the water!
What was an insane adventure for me, is actually considered to be a very mild activity by the pros where you gently row along the river admiring the architecture and countryside as it rolls by!
I stumbled upon two very pleasant countryside walks in Oxford. I love walking. These were the kind of walks that just keep going straight, there was very little chance of getting lost. They were my kind of walks. What I wish to write about today though is them doggies.
Imagine walking serenely on a path with the Thames on one side and open fields on the other. You will meet people strolling, cycling or running from time to time. There are flowers to be clicked and admired, in that order. The weather was mild (gave me a mild sunburn later as I was not using sunscreen) and all is at peace in the world! Right? Wrong.
It was them doggies. In the countryside, people let their dogs off the leash. And that is a source of unmitigated terror to me! I am really truly completely afraid of dogs, even the tiny miny ones. So, on this walk when I faltered for the first time, predictably it was when I saw a huge dog let off the leash ( a labrador, deep down I know they are harmless). I looked to my right and asked a young lad if it would be alright to walk ahead and if the path leads somewhere? He gave his go ahead. Then he asked me something from afar and cycled around for a while but finally vanished. The dog owner could probably sense my tension and told me they were going for a dip in the river. The dog of course was running towards water without even sparing me a glance. That is the best thing he could do for me!
Then there was another man throwing a Frisbee to his dog, thankfully in the opposite direction. And of course the dog was quite interested in the game. Again I hurried past. This was the last of the doggies on the Oxford-Sandford walk. Lucky me? Not so soon.
The day after I did the Oxford Sandford walk, my original plan was to do nothing. That means walking around aimlessly around the accommodation in my lexicon. After wandering for a while I remembered a wooden gate that I gave a miss during my previous visit to Oxford. Not to make the same mistake twice (maybe not really a mistake as in October 2007 the sunset was really early around 4.00 pm and in June really late around 9.00 pm) I walked through the gate. The walk seemed promising till I encountered my nemesis.
On the narrow path there were two ladies on two high horses (literally) with their dog running ahead. Of course he was interested in me and I for sure was not. Not willing to offend anyone, I politely put my small shoulder bag in front of my legs and the intelligent dog understood my gesture. He went his way and I went mine, thanking my stars. Too soon, it turned out.
Can you see the serenity above? I was walking without a care. A few minutes later and then heard some footsteps running furiously. I turned back and my heart stopped. There was a dog taller than me (or so I thought) being chased by the dog with the ladies on the high horses! I was silently telling myself, “You had it, who the hell asked you to walk alone?” A moment later I realized the tall thing was a deer outracing the dog with an effort that clearly bored him to no end. Did I turn back? No, because as one of my professors aptly remarked that I like to “walk with a vengeance.”
Next were two really tiny miny dogs and as they bounded with glee towards me. I said in a croaking voice to their oblivious owners, “Please call them back, I am quite afraid of dogs.” Their faces contorted with surprise but they did call the dogs back. Was this the end? Did I turn back? Not quite.
I walked ahead for quite sometime and met no dogs. That gave me courage on my way back to venture into a forest like area to my left. I was desperately trying to remember the way full of mild turns. After a few turns I decided if I got lost my colleagues would have no sympathy for me. I turned back and there he was. He had a crooked front leg and a dirty color. The collar round the neck gave me some confidence, I resorted back to my shoulder bag trick but this one took offense. While he ran away, he let out blood curdling howls from a safe distance. Heart thudding in mouth, I negotiated my way. He kept barking after my shadow. After a long time he concluded that I was way too far away to do any more bag tricks.
The end of the country road was almost in sight. There were the two ladies on their high horses (literally, no pun intended) again. But these lovely ones had no doggies with them. What sweet ladies. I considered this a good omen and made a dash to safety of my room.