Column: Stonehenge, Bath, aliens and mini skirts


Griffin Neal 
Oxford Stories

I’m writing this from a new location – my residence for this semester, a four-story apartment in Kilburn Park, Northwest London. Laying on my couch, I’m surrounded by what could be considered a rough characterization of what a fraternity house might look like.

As I hack away at my keyboard, I hear the distinct crack of a virtual semi-automatic machine gun, obscenities thrown in between gulps of cheap beer as card games intensify, and a faint thumping coming from the top floor where our resident disc jockey and roommate, Tucker, throws together beats. It’s a standard Sunday evening in Westburn Flat 5.

Our flat – however ironically named considering every apartment in London is an erect vertical slice out of the skyline – is nothing to be marveled at. In fact it’s rather drab. Pasty walls, barely-functioning appliances, and a curious heating system, yet it suffices.

In fact, that was unfair. It’s not the Taj Mahal, but it adequately accommodates eight xenophiliac college students, and that’s all we ask for (“xenophiliac” is a made-up word; xenophile is a word for people attracted to foreign cultures).

Just for a brief aside, imagine our house. Upright, bland, four-bed, three-bath, sleeps eight, in a safe neighborhood and roughly 30 minutes from central London. Let it simmer. Now predict how much it would cost you to own this apartment? According to our Uber driver, who moonlights as a real estate agent, north of $10 million pounds. I’ll stop complaining.

These roommates I mention are quite the bunch. Bobby and Jorgen are from the University of Utah. Kevin is from the University of Minnesota. Clay, Baylen, and Tucker are from Pittsburg, and Mitch is from Kansas. We are eight guys interested in collective debauchery as our studies.

It’s perplexing how, in situations of relative uncertainty, personal connections are the easiest to forge. It’s as if we all signed an invisible agreement to forge the awkwardness of new friendships and just be bros. Merely 72 hours after our introduction, a random passer-by would have thought we were old friends reuniting for a vacation in London. Good friends have made the transition to a new culture almost seamless.

Now that I’ve buried the interesting stuff 400 words in, for those of you who are left reading, you’re in for a nice description of what my trip to Stonehenge and Bath consisted of. 

Stonehenge was as prescribed: a hoard of enormous rocks – placed by aliens – where yuppie teens could snap selfies, and guys named Brad could take gnarly videos shotgunning beers in front of it. All jokes aside, it was astonishing to witness such a feat of human achievement. To fathom that a collection of ancient Britons could cut and transport these roughly 25 ton stones, then place them with such precision, is exactly the opposite. It’s unfathomable. It’s even more incomprehensible that they did so without a plant-based diet or access to barre workouts. The resolve.

Weather cut our trip to Stonehenge short, but I wasn’t upset. I was more excited about the second leg of our journey, a visit to the small English town of Bath. We bused in under thick clouds and rain cover, but the dreary weather only enhanced Bath’s allure. Our coach weaved through the narrow, stone-laden roads up to the high road. Along the way were a flurry magnificent homes, complete with thatched roof sheds and finely manicured hedges.

The charm of the city is rooted in its comfortability. It’s sleepy sleepy and provincial – a direct repudiation of London’s cosmopolitanism.  It was home to Jane Austen and Charles Dickens, among other influential English authors. It was also where London came to play.

Since the 18th century, Bath has been the countryside capitol of London’s elite. It was described as ‘a seat of amusement and dissipation,’ where ‘scenes of extravagance in this receptacle of the wealthy and the idle, the weak and designing’ were habitual.”

Bathians also claim the mini skirt in their coffers. They contest that in the 1960s, when London fashion icons would make their weekend trek to Bath, they’d often display revelations in fashion here first – and in this case, the people of Bath claim the mini skirt as theirs.

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While Bath’s history as a getaway destination dates over 300 years, it’s history as a cultural and religious hub dates back to roughly 50 AD. The main and nominal attraction of Bath is the strikingly majestic Roman bath house. It was the modern day equivalent of the country club, sans the class stratification.

Bath was the place where influential Roman thinkers, government leaders, and religious figures came to socialize. However, the common man was also welcome. It was a spot “where slave and aristocrat were equal.” People traveled from all over to take a dip in these soothing waters.

Amidst all of this breathtaking architecture and history is a rather bustling city centre fit with restaurants, pubs and shops. We needed to grab a bite before our bus ride home, and instead of eating a traditional English meal or snagging food from the pleasant aromas emanating from the food market, we settled on a chain for chips and salsa, burritos, and beer. I must stop writing. I think too much of my American is showing.


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