Through the wardrobe… (with Rosie)

The day before I started my new role as Aoife O’Higgins‘ Research Assistant at University of Oxford; I stayed at St Stephen’s, a theology college founded in 1876.

In the room was a huge wardrobe and I couldn’t help but step inside, just in case it was the entrance to Narnia.

Ever since I was a child and read The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe (1950), I have never been able to resist checking the backs of wardrobes and being a little frightened if they happened to have fur coats and moth balls in them – though that has been quite rare.

I’m usually staying somewhere and they are empty.

I slept well and as far as I remember there weren’t any ghosts, though I thought I might have met a bishop or two. I shared breakfast with lots of silent people until I was joined by a German chap from Bavaria and his son who had just finished studying medicine. They were on a flying visit to Oxford and then on to the Cotswolds. They asked about my research and I explained the background, my care experience and the public and private attitude towards unmarried mothers in the 1950s and 60s. They didn’t think that unmarried mothers in Germany were forced to give their children up for adoption, but they couldn’t be sure.

Time flew and I left to meet Aoife, at Magdalen College.

Aoife, took me through the long, stone corridors where I expected Inspector Lewis to pop up at any moment. Up a tiny stairwell past the Senior Common Room to a space for refreshment. From there we climbed more stairs and sat in a room both ancient and modern with glass doors and talked. Aoife wanted to make sure I felt welcome and to reassure me I belonged. If ever my confidence gave way, I was to speak to her.

From there we crossed the quad towards her office in New Building, built in 1733!

Joy of joys, we were located in what was once C.S. Lewis’ study. The magnificence, the splendour, the history -I was suddenly overcome.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, had been such an important book in my childhood. I knew it was a powerful story. I loved Aslan. When I eventually found out the book was an allegory of the crucifixion of Christ, it made sense. In those days I was a made-to-practise Catholic. I confessed my sins every week. And I knew about Christ’s suffering.

All the characters from the novel still have a place in my heart. They helped me through sad days. I’ve never forgotten them and occasionally they still enter my thoughts and I think of the story. And now, I was about to enter the author’s rooms. To stand at the window where he would have stood and stared at the beautiful deer only half seeing them whilst his mind drifted through furs to Narnia.

After I’d recovered, we spent some time in the recently built, Longwall Library where we discussed our project Conversations for Care. We plan to facilitate conversations around improving the way research is carried out with care experienced people as well as investigate what support works for children in care in education. We will do this by bringing together young people, social workers, foster carers and others, and researchers.

In some ways it felt as if I’d come full circle. I remembered my first day at university in 1992. I was 34 years old and completely overwhelmed. The previous year I had gone to college to take GCSE Maths and English. I could not speak without blushing bright red. And yet, without education I would not be the person I am today. Without education I would not have been a Research Assistant at Magdalen College. 

I thought of my lovely friend who owned a bookshop and night after night he would take me through my essays, line by line. Explaining what I could do or might have missed. He introduced me to ‘quintessential’ and many new words. He went to Oxford but sadly never finished. Things went wrong for him and were never really put right. I hope that quintessential gentleman was with me as I entered the gates to Magdalen.

After many amazing discussions with Aoife, it was time for lunch. There was a choice: Thai, sandwiches, salad, or pie, mash and mushy peas with or without gravy. We settled in Pieminister and had organic pies – I was ‘with’ and Aoife was ‘without’. They were delicious.

Lucky for me Aoife has a sweet tooth and so we walked the streets of Oxford until we found one of her favourite cake shops. I had chocolate pecan tart and she had a gigantic cookie.

From there we headed to the Department of Experimental Psychology. I had imagined another Hogwartian building, but it was in fact, a prefab; the washrooms were very nice.

HR gave me lots of forms to fill out and did lots of photocopying of certificates and ID things. The usual difficulties of why do you have so many different names had all been smoothed over and explained beforehand. So there were no awkward questions and I felt for the first time relaxed and able to get on and do what I needed to do, like have my photograph taken and *excitement*, complete my application for a library card. I would be going to the Bodleian the following week, for training so I can learn to be Aoife’s, amazing Research Assistant.

The day ended and I took a short cut back to the station. Only it wasn’t a shortcut. I passed a lamppost – could it I wondered be the one that inspired Lewis?

I eventually found my way and ended up puffing along the canal pathway, all the time hoping I would make the train in time and not have to spend horrendous amounts on a replacement ticket.

I made it, just; red-faced and sweaty, but with a table all to myself in the air-conditioned carriage and time to reflect on my first amazing day at University of Oxford.

 

 

 

2 thoughts on “Through the wardrobe… (with Rosie)

  1. Dear Rosie
    Loved this account. How fantastic. To be in CS Lewis study. Wow. I loved all the Narnia tales and read them to my kids.
    You must be so proud of yourself. Hope your writing goes from strength to strength. Anna x

    Like

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