There and Back Again

The McNeeses Return from a trip abroad with mountains of memories…and film

 

By Chrystal Houston

 

It was the trip of a lifetime for an English scholar and an historian: 18 days in the land of Shakespeare and Austen and a 1000+ years of history. An invitation to a prestigious conference convinced Tim and Bev McNeese to take their dream trip to the British Isles in celebration of their 35th anniversary. They recently returned from their trip abroad, and they are still reeling from all they saw and experienced while in England.

 

“It was like culture overload!” said Bev, recounting their tour, which took them to such historic landmarks as Big Ben, The Globe Theatre, Tower of London, Warwick Castle, the White Cliffs at Dover, Stonehenge, Canterbury Cathedral, and many others. The first six days of their trip were spent traveling around to different sites in “the midlands”, the central part of England.

 

The second week of their trip was spent at Oxford University, (the 2nd oldest Univ. in Europe, dating back to the 1100s) where Bev participated in The Oxford Roundtable, a forum for the promotion “of human advancement and understanding through the improvement of education”.  The session she attended was entitled “The Two Cultures: The Current Debate”, which focused on the de-emphasis of the Arts in education since the Industrial Revolution. She was one of 40 educators from the U.S. invited to participate in the week-long event.

 

She presented a paper at the conference called “Philosophers and Technologists: Vicarious and Virtual Knowledge Constructs”. The premise of her paper is that as technology continues to dominate our culture, young people are losing the ability to think critically.

 

“As we advance in our civilization, are we really advancing?” Bev asked rhetorically, discussing technology as an aid and useful tool, as well as a hindrance to autonomous thought. “Everyone needs to be a thinker…you don’t have to have a college degree to be a thinker,” she said. The Arts, a discipline dear to both of the McNeeses, was a focus for the Roundtable. “Fact finding is only one thing in the puzzle that makes us human,” said Bev. “How do you measure the genius of Michelangelo or Leonardo Da Vinci?”

 

After leaving Oxford, the McNeeses spent several more days in the London area. They had planned to travel north to Scotland at the end of their trip, but decided there was plenty to see in the area they were in.

 

As wonderful as the trip was, it was not free of turmoil. The McNeeses were warned by a taxi driver on their first day in England to be on their guard. “This is a dangerous place for Americans right now,” he told them. Evidence of this was seen while they visited many historical attractions that were patrolled by police carrying semi-automatic weapons. Also, they were twice involved in evacuations due to bomb threats.

 

“You can really feel the fear of the British people,” said Bev. Part of that fear was due to the anniversary of the bombings of subways and buses that took place in London last July. Bev recalls being in Marylebone Station and observing two minutes of silence with the other commuters to commemorate those that were killed on July 7, 2005.

 

Some of the highlights of their trip were attending a Baroque concert in a candlelit chapel on the Oxford campus, and seeing Anthony and Cleopatra at the Globe Theatre. Tim was impressed with the special effects at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre where they saw Julius Caesar, but he appreciated seeing a show at the Globe. “You’re on the spot where Shakespeare was. You’re in that historical context, and it’s very evocative,” he said. Tim enjoyed using his photography skill by documenting their trip on 15 rolls of film.

“Big Tom” Bell tower in the quadrangle at Oxford’s ChristChurch College.  Lewis Carroll used to take children up to see the bell when he was a mathematics don at the college.  (Big Tom refers to the bell itself, just as “Big Ben” refers to the bell in the tower, not the tower itself.)

ChristChurch Cathedral, the smallest cathedral in England.  It is the church at ChristChurch College


Bev in the gardens at Blenheim Palace, where Winston Churchill was born

Gardens behind the old Stratford-Upon-Avon church and the house that belonged to Shakespeare’s daughter and her husband