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Ruthe and I were in Oxford – Oxford, MS, and Oxford, England – last year. We love both places.

The Grove is like no other place I know. When Ole Miss played Arkansas at home, we headed toward The Grove behind some Razorback fans. One turned to the other as they prepared to cross the street and actually enter the Grove, “this is the epitome of fine culture.” So it is.

We were also across the pond, in Oxford, England. I proudly took my wife to one of the sacred places – The Eagle and Child.

James Emery White writes …

Often called the city of “dreaming spires,” Oxford is one of the more beautiful cities on the planet. Its medieval beginnings can still be felt when you walk down cobblestone walkways and through ancient colleges.

I have had the good fortune of being able to study there, and still do from time to time through various summer programmes. I enjoy any and every hour possible in its famed Bodleian library, particularly the Radcliffe and Sir Richard Humphrey’s library.

But most of all, I return to spend the afternoons writing in my favorite Oxford pub, The Eagle and Child (affectionately known by locals as “The Bird and the Baby”), largely because of who went there before me.

As a plaque on the wall reads,

C.S. Lewis, his brother, W.H. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Charles Williams and other friends met every Tuesday morning, between the years 1939-1962 in the back room of this their favorite pub. These men, popularly known as the ‘Inklings,’ met here to drink beer and to discuss, among other things, the books they were writing.”

You will recognize the name of Tolkien as the author of The Lord of the Rings trilogy. C.S. Lewis will, hopefully, also be known to you through the movie of his life titled Shadowlands, his seven-volume Chronicles of Narnia (also made into movies), as well as such works as The Screwtape Letters and Mere Christianity. Williams is lesser known to most in our day, but he was greatly respected by the others and was the author of numerous works of fiction.

Another frame on the wall contains a note, dated November 3, 1948, which Lewis and others wrote to the owner: “The undersigned, having just partaken of your ham, have drunk your health.” This was signed by, among others, Lewis, Tolkien, and Tolkien’s son Christopher.

And drink they did, adding to the lively conversation and the banter that did not let ego gain too much of a foothold, for as one landlady overheard Lewis say to Tolkien, “Oh no, not another bloody elf story to read?”

It reminds me how one day, as I sat at my favorite little table, and another stream of tourists entered – and left – I heard the manager muttering, “Bloody Christians.”

I was enough of a regular to feel comfortable asking him what he meant.

“Take a look at this,” he said, holding up a menu.

“They cost me two pounds each. Two pounds! I ordered hundreds of them, and now I only have ten because they keep getting nicked.” [I may need to explain – “nicked” means stolen.]

“You mean people are stealing them?” I asked incredulously.

“Yeah, the bloody Christians take the menus, while the bloody students take the spoons and ashtrays.”

Understanding the obvious need students have for utensils, I couldn’t help but ask, “Why the menus?”

“I don’t know, it’s what they can get their hands on, I suppose,” he answered. “It got so bad I started making copies of the menu that they could take – for free – but they still take the good ones.”

“I’m surprised they don’t try and take what’s on the walls, then,” I mused, looking at the pictures, plaque, and particularly the framed handwritten letter from Lewis, Tolkien, and others commemorating the day they had drunk to the barmaid’s health.

“Oh, those aren’t real,” he said, “just copies. They still get taken. I’d never put the real ones up.”

He paused a moment, and then said, “What gets me is that all these people who come in for Lewis are supposed to be Christians, right?”

Yes, I thought to myself, they are.

The irony is bitter; the manager of The Eagle and Child pub holds Christians and, one would surmise, Christianity itself, in disdain because of the behavior of the Christians who flock to pay homage to Lewis.

Christians who wouldn’t dare drink a pint, but would gladly steal.

As Lewis knew, loving Christ with your strength may have less to do with avoiding the beer, and more to do with leaving the menus.

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2 Comments

  1. Like folks over there (US) don’t understand what “nicked” means, it is clear from my living here (UK), the majority of England does not understand what “Christian” means.

    You and Ruthe MUST come back!

  2. I have also been to both. Was not nearly as impressed with Oxford, MS (I can hear the Ole Miss folks now)as I was with Oxford, UK. And I do know what “nicked” is – but then I have read alot of books – like Harry Porter. And it stills amazes me the way some Christians would NEVER drink a pint of anything, yet take something, or say something to hurt another’s reputation.

    I did learn a very important lesson while in Oxford (UK not MS) in regards to an American asking for directions. I was looking a Post Office close by. A very nice Bobbie looked down from his mount and said in a very kind, polite way, “Well first you should walk down to the end of this block and turn right, go to the end of the next block and turn left, then go to the end of that block and turn right, and it is just about ‘alfway up the block on the right.” OK, I am not a whiz with directions but I thought about what he said. “Excuse me, but if I understand what you’re saying, I should be able to just walk up this way and the Post Office is just a block and half on the right.” The Bobbie smiled and told me, “Ofcourse you can, but you won’t see near as much of Oxford that way, now will you?”
    And then he rode merrily on his way, very much convinced he had just done me the biggest favor of my life! I loved England and Scotland, and look forward to going back someday!


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