WOMAN’S TURF

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics -

Not since its fa­mous alum­nus Bill Clin­ton launched his bid for the pres­i­dency nearly two decades ago has an Amer­i­can politi­cian been the sub­ject of so much cu­rios­ity among fac­ulty and stu­dents of Eng­land’s Ox­ford Uni­ver­sity.

Whereas just a short time ago we might have been re­fer­ring to Barack Obama, it is now the in­cred­i­bly un­likely per­sona of po­lit­i­cal new­comer Sarah Palin on the minds and lips of the world’s lead­ing thinkers and schol­ars.

While most “work­ing jour­nal­ists” were holed up in Min­neapo­lis-St. Paul to wit­ness the Repub­li­can Party nom­i­nate its sur­prise ticket to the White House, yours truly was duck­ing into an ex­tremely nar­row al­ley called St. He­len’s Pas­sage (for­merly Hell’s Pas­sage), twist­ing my way through a maze of me­dieval stone walls, and dis­cov­er­ing a rare empty stool at the Turf Tav­ern, its foun­da­tions dat­ing to 13th-cen­tury Ox­ford.

The in­ti­mate bar, con­sist­ing of low ceil­ings (peo­ple were much shorter in the 1200s) and tim­bered beams, is one of lit­er­ally dozens of col­or­ful pubs nes­tled within the nooks and cran­nies of the an­cient cam­pus, where sip­ping ale while de­bat­ing the world’s af­fairs have gone hand in hand since the pa­tron of ed­u­ca­tion, King Al­fred, first founded the his­toric uni­ver­sity.

On this night, and in­deed in the days to fol­low, whether at the Turf Tav­ern fre­quented by a young Mr. Clin­ton, or in a dark­ened booth at the nearby Ea­gle and Child, the fa­vorite han­gout of J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, all any­body could talk about was the un­ex­pected in­jec­tion of Mrs. Palin into the al­ready in­trigu­ing 2008 pres­i­den­tial fray.

It was no dif­fer­ent tuning in to Bri­tish tele­vi­sion and ra­dio, with English women from Bath to Birm­ing­ham flood­ing the stu­dio lines to say how dare the men sug­gest that it is a mother’s place to stay at home and raise the chil­dren while the fathers are out pur­su­ing their pol­i­tics.

Even Bri­tish men, par­tic­u­larly aca­demic types at Ox­ford comfortable in their black robes and pol­ished nails, are quite im­pressed that Mrs. Palin is able to hang a moose up to dry with her laun­dry. The ver­bal con­sen­sus while neck­ing their pints: Mr. Obama has much to fret.

Ad­e­quately filled with foam and fod­der, I de­parted the Turf Tav­ern through its walled beer gar­den, where on chill­ier nights pa­trons tra­di­tion­ally roast marsh­mal­lows over coal fires, re­sult­ing in a sweet smelling pil­low of smoke waft­ing through the low-hang­ing tree branches.

Or at least I as­sume that’s the aroma of marsh­mal­lows.

In the far cor­ner of the paved beer gar­den one finds a large his­tor­i­cal plaque of sorts ad­hered to the tav­ern’s wrought iron fence. It reads: “It is al­leged that it was here at the Turf that Bill Clin­ton while here at Ox­ford Uni­ver­sity dur­ing the 1960s ‘did not in­hale’ whilst smok­ing il­le­gal sub­stances.”

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