by Marcus Kahn, Greenheart Travel Homestay Participant in England
My day in Oxford, England started off alone, jet-lagged, and hungry. After a spotty nights sleep I woke at an early 6:30 a.m. I hung around fiddling with the hostel’s DVD player, talking with an Australian traveler named Bernice, and thankfully, and around 7:15, eating breakfast. At a quarter to eight I left to explore the town with my valuables strapped to my back, and a pair of Gabe’s sunglasses blocking the morning glare.
I saw some magnificent colleges, and the Radcliffe Camera which simply blew my mind. At about 10:00 I stopped in at a cafe and read a little while sipping on piping, hot coffee. I’ve just crossed that bold tick in the timeline of one’s life where bitter coffee becomes a warm friend on a cold morning. Anyways, at the cafe I met a nice New Yorker. At one point I asked “Do you go to the college?” She helpfully responded in the classic New York manner: “Not to sound like an asshole but we call it the University since there are more than 30 different colleges.” I suppose it answered my question.
After I left the coffee shop I went to the nearby Office of Admissions where a disarmingly helpful young woman in her early twenties explained the admissions process as well as the nature of History and History/English majors at Oxford. But it was nearing 11:00 and I had to check out of the hostel. With the help of a pretty French receptionist I made it in and out of there in 10 minutes, meeting a merry Finnish guy along the way. I trudged with my overlarge backpack to the station, and boarded the 11:37 to Didcot Parkway.
At Didcot, three girls came and sat down next to me. As it turns out one was Austrian and two of them were from Arizona. A strange group I’ll admit, but the Austrian girl explained that their parents knew each other from work, and that her dad was teaching at Princeton, which impressed me. As I rode the train closer and closer to Stroud my heart rate crescendoed. I silently pumped my fist every couple of minutes because of some meandering stream, ancient church, or grassy hill. The train pulled up slowly to the Stroud station and I nervously scanned the small number of people for Cindy, my “mum for a month.”
At first things were a bit stiff as they always are when recently introduced people know they have a scheduled amount of time together. But when we got back to their very nice house in Ebley we sat on the back porchy-patio thing and familiarized easily. After I unpacked and made myself a PB&J we went to pick up Adam and Jack from school. I brought the basketball with because I was jonesin’ to shoot some hoops and we went to the park and played for an hour and a half. A couple of Adam’s (the 11-year-old) friends hung around. One of the girls who he insultingly calls “Doris” has a sort of Helga Pitacki-Arnold relationship with him. Adam and Jack were impressed by my playing, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t bring out the good stuff. They taught me a game similar to knockout then I showed them how to play H.O.R.S.E. Though I must admit it’s a lot less gratifying to own an eight and 11-year-old than it is to own your 6’2 best friend in a game.
When we returned home they showed me their XBox 360 with Call of Duty World at War on it. When you’re sitting in a kid’s dream room, with a picturesque view of the Cotswolds and a freshly baked contingent of Nazi zombies to kill, you know you are as far away from “roughing it” as it gets. I found a pretty nice keyboard in their closet, and pulled out most of the songs from my shamefully limited repertoire. Eight-year-old Jack promptly showed me up with a perfectly played tune. It turned out to be one of the keyboard’s pre-recorded songs but apparently it gets everyone so I don’t feel too bad about getting mentally walloped my someone nine years younger than me. About two minutes after that Rob came upstairs. He’s a hilarious guy who specializes in victim-based humor. He chatted for a while chided for a little while longer, then warmly praised his son’s drum playing. Rob’s best bud John came over for dinner. He’s a pretty quiet guy but I liked him. There were a lot of questions about America of course. I ended up talking so much that when everyone else was pushing their plates away from their full stomachs I was hardly halfway finished with my meal.