The Friday Frame {17} Monkey Nuts

On a recent visit to Oxford — almost a year to the day since I finished finals — we rapidly found our way back to our favourite pub in Jericho, the part of town near college. They have a huge barrel of monkey nuts that you can help yourself to, and tall plastic cups to carry them back to your table.  Cracking the husks and shaking out the nuts is a great way to pass the time, merrily showering yourself, your companions and the gingham tablecloths with flakes of dusty shell.

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All content is © Rebecca Daley and ohtogoawandering, 2015.

Set to music

‘In memory, everything seems to happen to music.’

These words are spoken by Tom, the character who narrates much of The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams, as he retells the story of the life with his mother and sister which he has left behind. I studied and performed part of the play during my A Levels, and this line always struck me as fairly spot on. In the play, Tom’s reflection is tinged with regret about the family he has forsaken: the apartment where much of the action takes place has a ‘Victrola’, a wind up phonograph which plays slightly grainy, mournful music. To me it always seemed that this alone could have been the music in Tom’s sad memories: an appropriately melancholy soundtrack.

I too have found that memories tend to play to music, and that, in turn, music tends to bring back memories. Sometimes that’s a lovely thing, but sometimes it has the unfortunate side effect of reminding us of things we’d really rather forget. So I thought I’d share some of my most potent memories in which music plays a central role, or to borrow from Williams, in which things ‘seem to happen to music’.

American Pie, Don McLean, 1976.

My Dad loves music, and growing up our house was always full of a huge variety of sound: a lot of the music I love I discovered through my father, and it’s one of the things I’m most grateful to him for. Don McLean’s American Pie album was one we’d always listen to when my brother and I were eating the porridge Dad had made us before we left for school, and as well as being an awesome song, this takes me back to school ties and the kitchen counter more than anything else. Every day we’d listen from the beginning of the album, and so we never got much further than the first two or three songs!

What’s Shakin’ on the Hill, Nick Lowe, 1990.

Another result of my Dad’s musical influence: I still struggle to listen to this one. It takes me right back to that feeling of being left out of something which you so desperately want to be included in: I think most people experience this at some point growing up, and it’s not a nice feeling! But I guess it always made me feel better that somebody as completely cool as Nick Lowe knew how I felt.

Kiss Me, Sixpence None the Richer, 1997.

During our last years at high school one of my best friends and I used to get off the school bus at the end of the day and head to her house to make milkshakes and dance around her blissfully deserted kitchen before her parents got home from work. I had my first heartbreak at about this point, which took a lot of getting over and I felt awful for a long time afterwards, but it was during one of these dancing sessions that I suddenly realised I felt truly happy again. Every time I hear it that surge of pure happiness and contentment always comes back strong.

You Didn’t Know Me When, Harry Connick  Jr, 1991.

When I first went to university, Dad wrote to me all the time. He also sent me several compilation CDs: this song was included on the first one, and reminds me of my first term in Oxford when everything was new and exciting and terrifying. I used to listen to it on my iPod walking through autumn wind and rain to the library.

Girls Chase Boys, Ingrid Michaelson, 2014.

I loved Ingrid Michaelson’s music from the moment I discovered it: this one is a bit different from her older stuff but I became completely addicted to it during the my last year at university. One of my best friends, who lived above me in college and was too fond of using her speakers VERY LOUDLY also fell in love with it and used to blast it and then text me saying ‘this is for you’, which always made me smile. A nice change given that her noise pollution usually elicited extreme grumpiness on my part! This take me back to writing my thesis, and living altogether in university with so many of my friends for the last time.

Which songs bring back memories most strongly for you?

And by the way, if you’ve read this far, the image at the top is of the noticeboard in my university room in first year: the things I stuck on it still bring back memories of the time that I chose them to decorate my walls. In case you were wondering. Which you probably weren’t. Totally worth reading this far for that, I know.

All content is © Rebecca Daley and ohtogoawandering, 2014

Blenheim, Burgers and General Bumbling

Once we’d finished our exams, we found ourselves in the unfamiliar situation of being in Oxford with two weeks to go before the end of term and nothing in particular to do. Being in college with no essays to write and no exams to revise for was very weird, but with every intention of making the most of it, we set out to enjoy our last few days of university in the sunshine. I love a good list, so here are my three favourite things that I got up to in those last few weeks, with lots of photographs.

1. Blenheim Palace

I’ve loved visiting historic homes since I was little, and Blenheim was really interesting: it’s the birthplace of William Churchill so that’s a big focus of the exhibitions, but the guided tour also included lots about other residents of the house. There were collections of Churchill’s letters and diaries, giving an insight into his personal life and not just his well- known wartime persona. I was especially taken with the story of his life long love affair with his wife Clementine, including how he was so nervous about proposing to her that she had to be taken on a ride around the palace grounds by another member of his family while Winston worked up the courage to ask. Given that the main image I’ve always had of the wartime leader was of a rather gruff, forceful man, it was nice to see a different side to him. It made me like him more.

His iconic World War Two speeches were also playing throughout the exhibition, and although I don’t tend to think of myself as especially patriotic, his speeches, and the amazing sense of unity which they inspired, really get to me every time. The grounds were also amazing, complete with their own lake, a huge stone bridge, a chapel and a rose garden.

2.  Burgers

One of the places I’ve wanted to visit since I got to Oxford is Atomic Burger on Cowley Road, a burger place famous for its American style burgers, fries and milkshakes. I’ll admit that things like ‘Diners, Drive- Ins and Dives’ on the Food Channel may have contributed to me wanting to try it! So when my brother came to visit for a few days we headed down there, and we definitely weren’t disappointed.

My brother had ‘The Garfield’, which was basically a burger with lasagna on top: the menu describes it as ‘so wrong but oh so right’, which just about sums it up! I had the ‘Audrey Hepburn’, which was topped with a fried egg, bacon and an onion ring, plus fries and the BEST strawberry milkshake I’ve ever had. My boyfriend had the ‘Dead Elvis’, which was topped with Swiss cheese, American cheese, bacon and onions. He also went for the ‘Dirty Fries’, which were loaded with beef chilli, aged cheddar sauce & jalapenoes: he was pretty much in heaven with those.

So lunch was awesome, and the surroundings made it even better: the menu describes those behind Atomic Burger as pop culture junkies, and that sums up the place. A TV plays loads of old music videos, the cornier the better, and the walls are filled with geeky sci- fi memorabilia. My brother said that eating there was like being in ‘Pulp Fiction’, which he reliably informs me was a positive thing. They also had cool ketchup/ mustard bottles: tick, tick, tick.

3. General Bumbling

What do students do when they finish their exams? Go to pubs. Lots of pubs. Well we did anyway. One of my friends has a pub crawl poster with about fifty pubs on which she’d been ticking off gradually throughout our degree, but in the last two weeks she went on a one woman mission in a bid to visit every single one. We also spent a lot of time lying on the quad in the sunshine, sleeping, and going to formal dinners. At times it was quite emotional, since we knew this was the last time that we’d all be in Oxford together, but I really tried not to let it all get too much. I knew that once I let the emotion overwhelm me I’d be useless, and I really wanted to make the most of my last few days. The photographs below are from a lunch I had with two of my best friends in a beautiful pub by a meadow just outside Oxford. It was quite a long walk there, which we spent setting the world to rights and laughing a lot: exactly what friends are for.

All content is © Rebecca Daley and ohtogoawandering, 2014.