I had never been to Oxford before – and the above photo that I took, not long after we arrived is pretty much what I expected to see in Oxford. From the little I knew – it is a University town. It is old and historic and the two things I really wanted to do when we got there? Browse all the bookstores and have a pot pie! Simple pleasures.
But Oxford, Oxfordshire, UK was so much more than that. There was an air of hope and promise. Maybe it was being surrounded by libraries (my favourite), bookstores and lots of studious souls – or maybe it was just all in my head. Whatever it was, it gave me that feeling I remember from when I was in University.
That feeling that I could do and be anything. That the more I read, researched, talked, discussed and questioned – the better a place the world would be – the more I could contribute. I know it sounds naive, but being back in that mind space, even for just a weekend – a freezing cold weekend back in March – was a blessing.
We ducked in and out of laneways, alley ways and cobbled stoned streets. We got lost and found our way again. We pounded the pavement until our feet hurt – which only meant we had to stop for coffee. Friendly people from all over the world were there, smiling, rugged up in hats, scarves and beanies – I counted hearing 6 different languages one day. My trusty sock monkey Clive was along for the ride – like he usually is when I go somewhere, who also brought the locals a little giggle.
In reality, most of the students from the many different colleges there were packing up and shipping out for Spring break. It was quite amusing watching them cart all their personal belongings out of their dorms and into the street – in any way possible. Some packed boxes, some packed suitcases – others piled wagons high with very unstable looking mountains of books, clothes, pillows and stuffed animals – with the odd shoe being left in their wake. Dutiful parents double parked illegally anywhere they could, to help said student pile, stuff, throw their things into the car, with the inevitable slam of the boot to hold it all inside. Quite different to the university experience I had.
There were two very distinct things that made Oxford a special place for me.
The first was that is was the inspiration and writing place for Lewis Carroll, author of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. I plan to read the book again now (only 1€ on kindle) – having grown up with the animated disney film from 1951. Walking along the river banks and seeing the landscape first hand, it was almost like you expected to see a white rabbit running late with a little girl in a blue dress chasing after him!
Every year on July 7th, the city of Oxford celebrates Alice’s Day and this year marks the 153rd anniversary of the first publication of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Nestled on St. Aldates is Alice’s Shop – you can’t miss the red door. This is the very shop where Alice Liddell (the real Alice) loved to buy her barley sugar sweets. A delightful, tiny little shop – with everything Alice! Don’t miss it if you’re in Oxford.
In the tiny Holywell cemetery, adjacent to St Cross Church in Oxford, is the resting place of Kenneth Grahame, author of The Wind in the Willows. The second reason that made Oxford so special for me. It was a privilege to pay my respects and thank him in person for the impact he had on my childhood with his amazing stories of Ratty, Mr Toad and Mole. I still have my book of Wind in the Willows, that was given to me when I was 7 and hope to share it with my children one day. Standing quietly in this serene setting, with only time and space to think and reflect – gave me a much needed pause in the middle of this busy weekend.
It’s amazing how stories, people and places can have such an impact on our lives – as children and adults isn’t it? Here I was, nearly 30 years later – still remembering those stories, those illustrations and standing at the grave of their creator saying thank you. Thank you once again Mr Grahame. May your stories continue to inspire and delight.
Apart from all these little details, Oxford is full of wonderful, quaint little pubs – some of which are famous for having served Tolkein and C.S.Lewis on a regular basis back in the day. But this place is more than those famous stories. It’s a little like stepping back in time and trying to listen to the walls and the streets talk. Like there are so many memories here, I just wanted to open the lid and dive in.
Go there when you can and let me know if it makes you feel the same.
Thank you for letting me indulge a little on this post,