Thursday, November 5, 2015

OXFORD







October 2014


I am awakened at 5:33 a.m. by a demon.  

It makes its presence known in the form of a dream, real as can be, made more real because the “dream” takes place right in my Sherbourne bed, where I am rudely awakened by a demonic beast under the covers, to my right.


The demon—gargoyle-like, the size of a small pig—snarls viciously and I am panic-stricken.  I jump out of bed, in darkness, believing the demon is in pursuit, make it to the other end of the room, struggling to find light switches, and cannot, in a high state of terror.


And then I awaken, still in bed, heart thumping.


It is still dark, inside and out outside, that last dark hour before dawn. 


Returning to slumber-land is not an option with the beast only a dimension away.  A demon awakened me, pure and simple.  It did not want to share its bed with me, told me to get the hell out.


Old English hotels are rampant with this kind of thing.


So I potter around and take a long hot bath, as the Brits do, and arrive first for breakfast downstairs:


A frothy cappuccino, then another, as I scribble into my leather journal, catching up, until the arrival of smoked haddock with poached egg.




This day we drive to Oxford, where Piers reserved rooms in Malmaison, Oxford’s ancient prison.

Now it is a hotel, but it enjoys prison theme, with cellblocks, and cells converted into rooms with their original doors—and original windows, too (if no longer barred).




As if to deepen the wonderful gloom, it is now pouring rain, though this does not deter us from a walk into town where we happen upon Ede & Ravenscroft, furnishers of fine men’s clothing and academic robes since 1687.  

I try on a lightweight tweed jacket with elbow patches and leather buttons and it feels like something I’ve been wearing for decades.  


Still, I am not hasty.  I need to let it percolate, sleep on it, see if we are the perfect fit.


Further on, we dip inside All Souls College, secret roots of the modern Establishment, and onward still, upon cobblestoned streets, past handsome cathedrals of knowledge in The Education Capital of the World.

In a sensational little shop called Objects, I find a small pair of dice made from real bone.  I spring for it, with a plan to carry the bones around and offer people the opportunity to dice with death.



We are soaked to our own bones by the time we return to Malmaison, another hot bath to keep the damp and dank at bay, before slipping into my new sweater.



The bar is on the lower ground floor, adjoining a brasserie offering New York strip steaks cooked to perfection in a convection oven; with English mustard and mashed potato, a feast.


Later, I embark on a solitary walk around town, following my footsteps from earlier to experience Oxford in the dark.




It is raining harder now, but no matter.  

The streets and sidewalks glisten, and I pass Ede & Ravenscroft, where the handsome tweed jacket I so liked is their display window’s star attraction.  


Now I know for sure I must have it—and also the silk hankie tucked into its breast pocket.



Down a low lit alley I take a photograph that produces an orb more astonishing than those that appeared for me over Ernest Hemingway’s grave in Ketchum, Idaho four years ago.



Thus follows the longest, sweetest sleep of this trip.  

At 8:45 a.m. Piers phones to see if I am still alive.


I rise, shower, and hoof it to Ede & Ravenscroft, claim my prize, from a city where this type of tweed is worn as a kind of uniform by wise old dons.  


Just wearing it raises your IQ fifteen points.


On my way back, I happen upon a shop called Scripture whose window display of journals and inkpots lures me into a nether dimension between past and present. 


I purchase a brass owl for my bar.  


The owl… that symbol of knowledge, a creature of the night…  And my new book from Daunts in Marylebone, as yet unread:  At Night.



Therein my inspiration:  Reverse the day-night cycle of wakefulness and sleep, rise at sunset retire at sunrise, and take a nocturnal road trip...

Piers drops me back at The Langham, about the same time I’d arrived six days earlier, to a London now dreary, gloomy and sad, for me, worsened by a nostalgic stroll through my old neighborhood, where my family and I lived for two years, and from which I commuted to Monaco for an ungrateful prince. 

I hadn’t eaten all day, an antidote to having stuffed myself stupid since arriving. 


So I conclude this adventure in the rhetoric of epanalepsis (beginning and ending the same way):  


The Chiltern Firehouse:  dinner at the bar.


My first novel about a road trip has been acquired by Skyhorse Publishing in New York City.

It will be published in Fall 2016.