Day 357: Cock Lane

Originally a coach stop between London and Cambridge, Hoddeston is a thriving community 20 miles north of London in the Lea River valley. Laetitia and her group went first to the Lowewood Museum to view its exhibits of local area history. Then they went for a walk down Cock Lane, a tree-lined thoroughfare in the borough of Broxbourne, partly residential and partly rural, that was made to order for a hike. The road also happens to be number 4 in Rude UK. The source of the road’s name might be John Cokke, who became High Sheriff of Hertfordshire and Essex in 1548 during the short reign of Edward VI, the son of Henry VIII and Jane Seymour. Edward became king at age 9 and died at age 15. When Henry confiscated Catholic properties, he gave an estate in Broxbourne to the Cokke family that had formerly belonged to the Knights Hospitallers, according to one account.

As Laetitia and her group walked down the road, they met Louise, dressed in a smock and carrying an easel and box of oil paints. There are a number of organic farms along the rural part of the road that, unlike factory farms, have flocks of chickens from older breeds that are magnificently colored. Louise loved to paint them, especially, the roosters. That afternoon at a pub, Laetitia recorded their meeting with Louise in a limerick.

Down Cock Lane went Louise in her smock
As she ardently searched for a cock
For she showed no restraint
When she wanted to paint
The best of the birds in the flock.

Day 353: Crotch Crescent

The settlement that became Oxford grew up around a place in the Thames River that was shallow enough for oxen to cross. After the Norman Conquest, a castle was built to control the river crossing and the surrounding countryside, but it was never very important militarily and was later converted to a prison. Described by nineteenth century poet Mathew Arnold as the “city of dreaming spires,” a reference to its churches and university buildings, Oxford has been a college town since Saxon times.

Most of the people in Laetitia’s group today were Laetitia’s group were young adults who found the campus ambience intoxicating. She took them to the Natural History Museum in the morning, turned them loose to mingle with the campus crowds for a few hours, and then collected them again for a walkabout.

Crotch Crescent is another Oxfordshire locale listed in Rude Britain. Located in the Oxford suburb of Marston, this half-moon-shaped street was named for an Oxford professor of music. William Crotch was a composer, organist, and teacher who was named professor in 1797 and remained so until his death in 1847. During the walkabout there, Laetitia talked to a resident who enjoyed the notoriety that his street achieved when Rude Britain first appeared on the market. Sadly for him, the phenomenon didn’t last long. Laetitia summarized their conversation in the limerick of the day.

Hugh relished the humor pubescent
Brought by his address, 8 Crotch Crescent
In which he took delight
But sad was his plight
For the fame it brought was evanescent.

Day 350: Golden Balls

Oxford is the oldest university in the English-speaking world. Its founding date is uncertain, but it dates back to at least the eleventh century. Prior to that, where Oxford is now, there were Roman settlements and later monastic institutions. During the twelfth century, the University of Paris kicked out all of its English scholars, and they brought the French university’s curriculum with them when they fled back to England.

Sipping from a cup of freshly brewed Guatemalan dark roast as she surfed the Internet in the Emerald Victorian library, Laetitia ran across an interesting piece about an Oxford scholar who was applying new imaging techniques to ancient codices (manuscripts bound in book form) from the University’s archives. He had discovered, among other things, a piece of Roman erotica that had been written over with a religious text. Parchment, made from specially treated animal skins with the hair removed, was costly and hard to obtain. Thus monastic scribes recycled parchment by disassembling old discarded texts, removing the ink, writing new text in its place, and reassembling the rewritten pages into a new codex.

The original text, from the Roman period, was written in Latin. It was a variation of the story of mythical Phrygian (Greek) King Midas. Midas was given the golden touch as a gift by Dionysus or Bacchus; mythical stories vary. In the recently discovered manuscript, the Midas story has been reset in England near Oxford. Midas’ wife, Queen Demodike, distraught because Midas can no longer touch her without turning the touched area to gold, takes a lover. Midas discovers them in flagrante delicto and takes his revenge on her young suitor. At the end of the story, the queen secretly has her servants erect a monument to her lover somewhere in the vicinity of Oxford.

Shortly after the discovery of the manuscript and its translation was in the local newspapers, a man from a nearby hamlet called Golden Balls called on the scholar and told him that the Midas love triangle story had been part of the oral tradition of their community for centuries. Part of the legend was that the monument was an anatomically correct nude male statue made of marble, except for testicles, which were made of gold. The gold parts were almost immediately stolen. Until recently, there was a badly eroded and unrecognizable piece of marble statuary in the hamlet that local folks thought might have been the one in the story, but unfortunately it was accidentally destroyed during the construction of a roundabout.

After reading the Internet piece, Laetitia took another sip of coffee and thought to herself, “I can’t believe Bailey and Hurst would miss a place called Golden Balls.” She looked and indeed they hadn’t. She found that Golden Balls was number 90 in Rude UK. Next to the text was a picture of the sign announcing the approach to the Golden Balls Roundabout. Laetitia decided she wouldn’t lead a tour today. She already had her limerick.

There’s a story around that appalls
‘Bout a King Midas curse that befalls
A bloke who was seen
Trysting with Midas’ queen
And the hamlet that’s called “Golden Balls.”

Day 349: Titup Hall Drive

On St. Giles Street in Oxford is a pub called The Eagle and Child. The name comes from a feature of the crest of the Earl of Derby depicting a family legend about a child of noble birth found in an eagle’s nest. When Charles I made Oxford his headquarters during the English Civil War, the building is said to have housed the Chancellor of the Exchequer. However it is probably best known as a place where C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkein, and their colleagues met regularly over drinks to discuss literature, philosophy, and religion when they were Oxford faculty during the first half of the twentieth century.

After having lunch at the pub, several members of Laetitia’s group wanted to visit the Kilns, the home in Headington where C. S. Lewis lived with his brother, Warnie, and where he and Joy lived after they were married. The house, so named because it was built on the site of a former brickworks, is not usually open for tours, but members of Laetita’s group took pictures of the house and grounds from the street.

Also in Headington is a street called Titup Hall Drive, number 45 in Rude UK. It was originally a place where extra horses were harnessed to pull loads over nearby Shotover Hill. The horses needed a prancing start to get up the hill, hence the word “titup,” meaning “prancing horse.” Since we now live in a mechanized age where most are unfamiliar with equine terminology, the word is now likely to be interpreted differently.

Today folks are likely to have in mind something like those resourceful folks at the Canadian Lady Corset Company were thinking in 1935 when they invented the push-up underwire brassiere that became known as the “Wonder Bra.” It soon began to compete with the whalebone corsets that had provided uplifting experiences for women in past centuries. Eventually it became so successful that in 2008, a survey of 3,000 women from United Kingdom voted it the greatest fashion innovation in history. This was the beginning dinner conversation of Laetitia’s group after visiting Titup Hall Drive in the afternoon.

Later the talk drifted to breast implants. Laetitia recounted one of Uncle Milt’s stories from the early days of breast implants about male scientists absentmindedly fondling the small bags of silicone oil that were on display at booths in the exhibit hall. Uncle Milt was a scientist who was involved with some sort of implantable devices. Every year he went to the annual meeting of a group called the Congress of Artificial Organs, a name that conjured in Laetitia’s mind an image of robots copulating. There was not universal agreement within Laetitia’s group about whether the move to breast implants was progress.

This was followed by a totally inane conversation about what sort of enhancements might be used by the women who live on Titup Hall Drive, a purely speculative subject since no one knew any of the women in question. Laetitia summarized the latter part of the evening’s conversation tersely in a limerick.

T’was wondered if ladies who thrive
On the high life of Titup Hall Drive
Like wire or whalebone
Or now want silicone
Or would rather stay jiggly and live.