Wednesday, 21 May 2008

Ode to Oxford

Earth has not anything to show more fair, wrote Wordsworth - and although I know he was talking about London at the time, today is one of those days that I feel it could be applied just as well to Oxford.

I love this city so much. It's grand and glorious buildings in that soft stone, that when cleaned of the grime of centuries, are so warm and welcoming; the narrow winding streets between colleges, through which one can meander and hear various college sounds; the fact that with very little effort you can be out into the countryside, in a little known pub or village. I find it so magical that I can be looking at buildings like the one above almost every day.

Tonight I was privileged to view the Botanic Garden after it closed, and have a tour, learning a few things along the way. Did anyone know, for instance, that the man who caused it to come into being was actually a murderer? He wasn't prosecuted because in the 1600s it was legal to kill a man, if that man had killed your servant!
The lower part of the garden belonged to Merton (whilst the rest belonged to Magdalene), and was offered in the 50s, when it had been flooded many times - the rent was offered at 2 and 6, and those wise gardeners paid 100 years upfront! Just think how much rent that would be now!
We stood by a great black fir tree, which twisted it's way up to the sky, looking for all the world like it was about to shake it's branches and settle in some new position. This was the tree that Lyra and Will sat under in 'The Amber Spyglass' and promised to return to each year. But it was also Tolkien's favourite tree ... and truly it did look like if one sat under it for too long, it might try to swallow you up!

There are times, of course, that I dislike Oxford. When it's been raining for two long, and you think the water meadows are going to take over the city; or in the summer, when I wish that what Pullman wrote was true, and there was another city above this one, where we could banish all tourists and mothers with small children! But these are small and insignificant things, and pale in comparison with how much I love this city, and the joy and inspiration it gives me.

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