10 July 2006

Winning Gaol

Last weekend was rather more interesting than the one just gone. Saturday involved a trip to Oxford, to coincide with the brief return from their Californian exile of the Sybil and Dr Cosmos. Sadly we couldn't manage to see their Cosmic-Sybilline offspring, young C., who was with some grandparents somewhere while her parents visited Brightybot and Hatmandu, but it was still very lovely to see the two of them. It happens all too rarely these days.

We met them (and a stray Fr Maniple) at The Jericho Café, which I remember happily as the site of many fine breakfasts when I lived a short distance up the road. The afternoon was spent happily pottering around secondhand bookshops together, dropping in at Borders and fortifying ourselves at George and Danver before investigating the new development on the site of what was once H.M. Prison Oxford, and before that Oxford Castle.

The castle visitors' centre didn't seem quite as ready for visitors as it presumably will be, but it was fascinating to walk around the intact prison buildings and courtyards. Most of the space is being used for one-size-fits-all eatery chains and an open-air theatre, but there is a rather marvellous hotel which we managed to sneak into.

As some of the images here suggest, it's a bizarre environment -- brutalist metal-and-concrete architecture overlaid with plush upholstery and deep-pile carpets. We didn't get to see inside a guest-cell, but the main staircase area looked as if some mad billionaire had made a home inside the sets of Porridge -- which was, predictably, playing on continuous loop in the lobby.

The publicity material plays up the prison angle for all it's worth ("daring escape destination", indeed), but the leaflets mention one aspect which the website doesn't go into. Apparently there's a "House of Correction", rather more expensive than the standard rooms, which is said to be reserved "for the very very naughty". One can only speculate... but I suppose, if you're going to convert a prison into a hotel, you may as well cater to a specialist clientele while you're at it.

Climbing the castle mound gave an unusual perspective on the city -- except for Nuffield College library there are very few tall buildings southwest of the centre, where the castle / prison / hotel is, so there was a sense of sneaking up on the dreaming spires from behind.

Our train journey back to Bristol was lovely and quiet, apparently because everybody was at home watching some game of soccer or other.

Sunday B. and I mostly spent lounging around in The Coronation, it being too bloody hot to do anything else. Oh, and we also finished our epic rewatch of Buffy, which deserves a post of its own at some point soon. But not today.

We've started on Ultraviolet now.

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