One of the most useful things I ever did at school was a 6th form “module”(or was it an “option”?) on local history. “Modules” (or “options”) were generalised non-exam subjects – we also had English, current affairs, art, music and sport, but in a sixth-formy way. This meant that they were generally more interesting than their main school versions (sport included such things as squash, fencing and archery with not a hockey stick in sight). It was all loosely connected with a concept called “education”. It was a long time ago.
Anyway, I did half a term of local history which, if you live in a hot tourist town, is a jolly a useful thing to have under your belt. The most memorable bit was visiting the Castle Mound. In those days, the remains of the Norman (and pre-Norman) castle were still within the precincts of the prison, so we had to be escorted there by a prison officer.
There are several tours. There’s the Brideshead-Morse-Lewis-Endeavour tour; the literary highlights tour and my special alternative tour for people who’ve seen all the touristy bits, which takes in the old marmalade factory.
And now, courtesy of my good friend Julian, who wanted to show his son all his old Oxford haunts, the completely esoteric personalised whilst trying not to get wet tour (not to be confused with January’s tour of notable Oxford building sites, past and present).
Anyway, we did the Nosebag (where I may or may not have had a cheese scone); the Oxford Martyrs; Blackwells (because it’s dry inside); the Turf Tavern (also dry, except for the beer), where I discovered a previously unknown (to me) Pre-Raphaelite muse; the Sheldonian; the Bodleian (useful arches to shelter under); more Oxford Martyrs at the University Church before doubling back to Queen’s Lane (classic Morse) and the oldest coffee house in England (actually dating from around 1970).
Thence to Magdalen Bridge; St Clement’s; the Old Mission Hall (once the site of an experiment in communal living); memories of long-disappeared chip shops, post-offices and Italian restaurants; a quick look round the church and an exploration of the disused TA Centre, complete with potted history.
Returning to town, we did the other half of the Brideshead-Morse tour, managing to get ourselves an invitation to wander round Corpus Christi College. This really is Brideshead territory.
A small quad and an exquisite jewel of a chapel give it a timeless quality whilst a modern terrace, built ow as a place to be quiet and think great thoughts, reeks of privilege – this really is a world apart.
As I had to get to a meeting in Jericho, we ended up on the Woodstock Road where we looked into an astonishingly large hole in the ground before entering an area with the largest concentration of postboxes in the country (how do people know this stuff?).