My curiosity about tour guides was sparked as I was heading towards the 2011 Oxford Literary Festival which, as regular readers know, is held at Christ Church College. When not holding literary festivals, providing a suitably gothic backdrop to student wizards or even (whisper it not) educating people, Christ Church does brisk business as one of Oxford’s top tourist attractions.
It is therefore unsurprising that on one of those wonderful sunny pre-Easter days that the Festival seems to attract (must be all those wizards), I found myself trying to negotiate a path through a group of youthful tourists who were taking a guided tour.
“This”, the guide informed his attentive listeners, “is Christ Church – one of Oxford’s richest and most prestigious colleges.” So far: so good. “Former students include John Wesley and the famous British prime minister, William Penn.”
“Hmmm”…., I thought, “… that’s interesting. Interesting, but wrong” (Wesley was at Lincoln and Penn was too busy founding Pennsylvania to be prime minister (though as a Quaker he wouldn’t have been able to either attend Oxford or be prime minister, even if he’d wanted to)).
Can you just set yourself up as a tour guide, relieve tourists of their holiday dosh and spout any old rubbish?
As a 6th former, I once did a local history option (“options” were short courses that you took to pad out your timetable) and I reckon that I could still do a decent, if basic, tour of the centre of Oxford. Perhaps this was a career opportunity? (One of the more bizarre features of the course was the visit to the Castle Mound, which involved being escorted by a prison officer as, at that time, it was still within the precincts of the prison).
And so it was that I started noticing just how many tours were available and, finally, booked myself in. It may not be the start of a new career, but it’s a potentially interesting journalistic project and has the bonus of providing some much needed exercise.