Saturday, 5 July 2014

A day out in Oxford

This weekend is one of those rarest of moments - a weekend without the kids.

Now, you all know how much I dote on Ollie and Jamie but even I need a break occasionally. This is the first time for some months that they have been able to go and stay with the grandparents due to house renovations. So, we intend to take full advantage.

For once all of the cards have fallen into place - Claire has the weekend off, I don't have anything to do that's particularly pressing, so we can actually get out of the house and make something of the time.

A pity that it's started raining after several dry and fine weeks, but you can't have everything.

So the world is our oyster. Or rather anywhere within reasonable travelling distance and in today's case, that means Oxford, about 15 miles away.

I never ever tire of Oxford. I was born there, went to school there and conducted many of the ritual passages of my growing up there. Almost every corner of the city evokes some memory of some event of the past - a long lost girlfriend here, a carefree teenage night out there. And every time I come back, usually by bus, the sight of the dreaming spires takes my breath away. It's everything portrayed in Morse, Lewis and more. If you're reading this from far away and have never been to England, well, if you ever get the chance, come to Oxford. You won't be disappointed.

My memories of those teenage years are so strong still that I even set a couple of chapters of "The Time Bubble" within Oxford as a small homage to those years. I won't go so far as to say what Charlie and Kaylee did on that day was autobiographical, but it wasn't a million miles away from an experience I remember having a that age - particularly the bit about sitting in the cinema trying to pluck up the courage to hold a girl's hand.

It just so happened whilst we were making plans for this trip into Oxford that an invitation popped into my mailbox from my old school, inviting me to their annual end of term celebrations, "Commemoration" as it is known. This is an opportunity to go back to visit the school and enjoy a pleasant afternoon on the school field. It is right in the heart of Oxford, on a natural island between two branches of the river Cherwell where you can watch people on punts passing by. It's the quintessential image of the English University City and it never changes as the years pass.

A most pleasant way to pass an afternoon.

I have mixed feelings about this field as it holds both pleasant and unpleasant memories. The pleasant memories were of tennis (fun) and cricket (not too strenuous) in the summer time. The bad memories were of the organised thuggery that passed itself off under the name of "rugby" in the autumn term (or Michaelmas term as it was known in our school). If anyone remembers the scene with the Masters vs. the boys rugby match in Monty Python's "Meaning Of Life" movie - well, it was a bit like that.

It has been many years since I went back to the school and I am curious to see how it has changed - in particular, some of the strange anachronisms and traditions that used to prevail. I have already found out the answer to one of them.

Back in the summer (Trinity) term we all longed for a spell of hot weather come June as there was a very real chance that The Master might "declare summer". Don't be alarmed by my usage of the term "Master" as that was how the Headmaster was known. He wasn't an evil genius like The Master in Doctor Who but quite an affable chap really. At the school chapel service and assembly every morning during the hot spell we would eagerly await The Master's daily announcements at the end of the service, eagerly waiting to hear if he would declare. When he eventually did - usually a few days later than we hoped, we would be allowed to take our ties and jackets off for the rest of the term. This would usually be for about two weeks at the end of June.

It is quite amusing now to think that for us in that hallowed hall, summer didn't officially begin at the start of June or on the day of the summer solstice, but on the day that The Master decreed it. I didn't think this unusual in any way at the time. Anyway, when I got the invitation to Commemoration from one of my old teachers, still going strong after 34 years I emailed him back to ask if The Master still declares summer and it appears he does not. So one of our old quaint traditions has passed into history. However, I have decided to keep the tradition alive by modern means so from now on I shall be declaring summer on an annual basis on Facebook and Twitter.

After our visit to school we plan to go into Oxford for a meal and a few drinks. Such opportunities are rare so I imagine we shall be making the most of it! The kids are due back at lunchtime tomorrow so we've got a good recovery window.

Enjoy the weekend

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