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Summertime in Oxford

Yesterday evening, we had my birthday / leaving Oxford barbecue, and happily the weather was fine and sunny for it. In attendance were my sister, Charlotte, her boyfriend, Nicolas, edling, Cat, venta, James Rattue, Spiky Neil, Hugh and his friend Gary. We cooked silly amounts of food, drank lots of wine (but not enough not to leave me with about twice as much of the stuff after the party as I had before it), and listened to random and eclectic music until late into the evning (trad jazz, trance, Buddhist monk music and the Wicker Man soundtrack were all on the menu). I also got some very nice presents: a Schubert CD with the Trout Quintet and Death and the Maiden on it from edling, a huge big My Little Pony full of delicious-smelling bubble bath from Cat, a book on Hammer Horror films jointly from my sister and Nicolas, and from her specifically some MLP gel bubble baths things, an MLP sticker set and a pretty bracelet with pink diamante bits.

Charlotte and Nicolas then stayed over for the night, and today the three of us went off round Oxford for some sight-seeing. Charlotte has seen most of it before, but Nicolas hasn't been to Oxford for about 7 years, so was very much up for an eyeful of all the classic tourist spots. This made for a very gratifying day, since there are so many tourist-friendly places here that an Oxford resident can effortlessly guide visitors around a plethora of sights which are guaranteed to make them go 'ooh' and 'ah', and end the day with them saying what a wonderful time they've had, without even having to give much thought to the itinerary.

We went to Christ Church first, where as a former member of the House, I was able to wave my old University card, and get us all in for free. The Cathedral was closed for services at that point, as was the Hall for reasons which weren't entirely clear, but we looked round the rest, and Nicolas took several pictures on his digital camera (he's an enthusiastic amateur photographer, so had a field-day). Then we went round the meadow to see the cows and the river, where I explained about the divergent views on the correct way to punt held here and at The Other Place, and the right of locals to push people seen punting in the Cambridge fashion into the water with their punting poles. We came out of the meadow near Magdalen, and went for lunch in the Oxford Coffee House: sandwiches and a shared Mediterranean salad. Then we continued up Queen's Lane, had a brief glance at the Turf, admired the Bridge of Sighs, and peered in through gates at the Bodleian (which was closed due to it being a Sunday). After loitering around in the Radcliffe Camera Square for a bit, and more photos for Nicolas, we decided to climb the tower of the University Church of St. Mary the Virgin, and spent a while at the top identifying all the various colleges we could see.

Finally, we returned to Christ Church and saw the Cathedral and Hall, taking in delights like the tomb of St. Frideswide in the Cathedral and the Alice in Wonderland stained glass windows and portrait of Charles Dodgson (aka Lewis Carroll) in the Hall, and listening to a nearby custodian who was enjoying explaining to a tour group how the real Christ Church hall differs from the version seen in the Harry Potter films. I also noticed that there is a new portrait up in the Hall which, although rather modern and impressionistic, is I believe intended to represent the Dean who was there throughout my time at the college, and who retired about a year ago now. It rather stands out from the others, as it has a bright white background while everything else is dark and sombre. But I'm sure he thinks that's a great thing!

All the way round, I was able to pepper the tour with snippets about how old things were, what various buildings were used for, the bizarre myths and customs that pervade the place (like the right of Christ Church undergraduates to bring up their own cow and install it on the meadow, or circuits done with a dead duck on the end of a stick and a special song every 100 years at All Soul's), and so forth. This was made particularly easy by the amount of time spent in Christ Church, of course, but this is what I mean about how easy it is to host guests in Oxford, and have them go away thinking they've had the time of their lives. Over the years, you just pick this stuff up here, and you hardly realise how amazing or special it all is until you come to show it off to willing admirers. And of course these days, the Harry Potter element helps a lot, meaning that you can casually say things like, 'Oh yes, just here they'd set up a pillar with a Hogwart's owl on the top, and here there was a big screen with a photograph of the mountains and the lake around the school on it, so people could walk around the interior and look like they were really in the school', etc. Finally, on the way out of Christ Church (going in completely the opposite direction to the flow of tourists), we popped into the little room where they screen a video of the history of both college and Cathedral, which pleasingly confirmed most of what I'd been telling them as we went round, and also reminded me of a few details that had gone a bit hazy on me over the years.

From my point of view, of course, the whole weekend was like a kind of carefully-distilled nostalgia trip. Having guests to show around is an excellent excuse to enjoy a proper last look at a city before you have to go yourself, and in fact it felt a lot like a similar couple of days when my aunt and uncle came down to look about the place just before I left Bristol. First there was the barbecue, which meant time spent with my main (and some of my oldest) Oxford friends, and also reminded me of the similar gathering I'd had last year after my graduation: again, in glorious sunshine. And then the trip today, revisiting favourites haunts, and simply enjoying the feel of Oxford in the sunlight (as it should be seen). Perhaps more than anything, what really got the nostalgia flowing was the chance to do a proper tour of my old college for what will probably be the last time while I'm still an Oxford resident: seeing some of the old custodians; walking past doorways where I've visited friends, seen tutors, been for dinner and taught students; rediscovering the familiar faces of the portraits we could see each evening from the graduate table in Hall; peering in to the Masters' Garden, where I've lain on the lawn watching croquet matches; looming over the little fishies in the pond... I could go on.

The sunshine has been beautiful for the past couple of days, and I was certainly grateful for it for the barbecue. But it does make it all just a bit more of a wrench. Leaving a rainy, grey Oxford wouldn't be so difficult as leaving a sun-soaked, glowing Oxford, all glorious and perfect in its summer finery. It's not just that Oxford looks great in the sun: lots of towns do that. It's that it is essentially a summery city, with a history of garden-parties, Pimms, strawberries and punting, a local stone that seems to exist purely to reflect back the rays of the sun, and one of the major events in the local calendar being the May Day celebrations which welcome in the coming summer. Summer, therefore, must be the worst time to leave it: although I suppose it is also the time that more people leave it than any other. I just hope that by the end of August, it is miserable, rainy and cold here.

And now, having been in the company of others almost solidly since Tuesday evening, here I am all on my own, with my guests rolling back to London on the Oxford Tube, and nothing but a huge pile of work to plough through and a huge number of logistical hurdles to overcome during the coming month. :( It's my birthday tomorrow, but I just feel blue about leaving Oxford, blue about everything I've got to get done, and blue because I'm on a come-down from nearly a whole week of social activity. Dammit. :( :( :( And I am really going to have to start on it tomorrow, birthday or no birthday.

Still, as usual, I have my little indulgences to get me through. Yesterday, before shopping for the barbecue, I bought myself a birthday present from me (everyone should always buy themselves a birthday present, I believe): videos of Ben Hur and Jason and the Argonauts, and a DVD of The Three Musketeers, with Christopher Lee as Rochefort. I did look for Jinnah, which is Christopher Lee's latest DVD release, and in his opinion apparently the 'most important' film he's ever been in. But it wasn't in HMV, Virgin or Borders, so I plumped for The Three Musketeers instead, because jurious was praising it recently on christopherlee_, and I decided it was about time I had the pleasure myself. Looking at the box, I've a pretty strong feeling I've seen part if not all of it before, probably over a holiday or something on TV. But obviously not for a very long time, as I don't remember Christopher Lee's performance in it at all.

Anyway, this is to be watched tomorrow evening, with the company of a mini bottle of champagne which Holly bought me for my birthday last year, and has been waiting patiently for a suitable occasion ever since. Given that I've probably maxed out on social stuff for the time being, and that I will see several friends in the Chequers the following night anyway, this seems like an eminently suitable way to spend my birthday evening to me. Quiet, but extremely pleasant. I may even add in a bath in my new MLP bubble potion.

What's more, I came straight home from our trip today and ordered Jinnah on DVD as well. So I have been a particularly generous present-giver this year, and would like to thank myself heartily. :)

Yes, an enjoyable weekend. But like everything at the moment, just a little tinged by nostalgia and regret at having to leave. There's much to be said for moving on, and career-wise it's probably a Good Thing to be getting out into the real world beyond Oxford. But I do wish I could take Oxford along in a little box with me, so that I can get it out and play with it whenever I want to.

Comments

( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
stompyboots
Aug. 2nd, 2004 10:29 am (UTC)
That sounds splendid! I'm sorry to have missed your barbeque, as it sounds lovely. Reading about Oxford through your eyes gives me nostalgic tingles. I want one of your tours!
strange_complex
Aug. 2nd, 2004 10:44 am (UTC)
Yes, a shame you couldn't make the barbecue. Are you still coming up this next weekend? If so, let me know, as I'd love to see you.

The Leaving Oxford Blues are getting worse for me every day, I'm afraid, and I'll doubtless be in floods of tears by the time I actually have to go... Still, at least that just shows how happy I've been while I've been here.
stompyboots
Aug. 3rd, 2004 01:10 am (UTC)
I had the same. Oxford is a very difficult place to leave. But if you get the job in Brum, you'll just be an hour up the road, which means you'll hardly be gone at all!
diffrentcolours
Aug. 3rd, 2004 05:11 am (UTC)
Hmm, I guess it's true that you miss out on most of what Oxford has to offer if you weren't a student here...
strange_complex
Aug. 3rd, 2004 09:07 am (UTC)
Equally, though, I think you also only get half of it if you were only ever a student here.
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )

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