Because the account of a year does not fall neatly between two arbitrary dates in December …

Last year went frighteningly quickly.

On a personal level, I did less writing and photography than I would have liked, although I still managed to spend an awful lot of time in coffee shops writing, thinking or both. I’ve seen a few plays, shows, exhibitions and concerts – some of which were a bit weird.

Here in Oxford, the new Westgate Centre has finally opened – it’s vast, taking in the area previously occupied by the multi-story car park – and awful – a wind tunnel with zero atmosphere. 2017 12 20 Westgate Library Makeover 006.JPGThe only light at the end (or, rather, beginning) of the tunnel is the refurbished library which reopened on 18th December, after a two year closure. They’ve made a really good job of it, plus there is at last somewhere warm to meet up with friends for after work coffee plus I get to have regular lunches with a friend who works there as she is now not being posted to Kidlington, Bicester or Timbuktu.

The other downside of the Westgate opening is that other areas – especially Cornmarket – have been blighted with shops either standing empty or being taken over by sellers of tourist tat – how many shops selling waving Queens and Big Bens does one town need for heaven’s sake?

The thing most obvious development in Oxford is the number of people sitting in sleeping bags in shop doorways – some are genuinely homeless and some are playing the system, but the fact is that the number of genuine rough sleepers (largely invisible) has
increased significantly over the last 12 months (from around 40 to around 60 on any one night). The Winter Night Shelter opened on 2nd of January in an effort to give at least some people somewhere safe and warm to sleep over the winter months. It was an enormous undertaking which went from a standing start in March to be fully operational in time for winter 2018. Whilst there is some satisfaction in having got it up and running on schedule, the fact that we are having to do it at all remains a scandal.

2017 12 23 Bolton Abbey 040

Bolton Abbey

Christmas itself was spent with a friend in Yorkshire,  which can most charitably be described as draughty (the county – not the friend). Highlights included walks at two abbeys – Bolton and Kirkstall. The first was on a cold, lightless day and did nothing for my vertigo. The second was on a bright, sunny Boxing Day and was mercifully free of heights. Once of the things that struck me about these ruins was how small and insignificant these buildings were in the landscape – you tend to think of abbeys as big, imposing buildings – which I suppose they are when they’re stuck in the middle of towns – but not when deposited in wide, deep valleys, next to fast rivers and under open skies.

Two moments of delight –

One was at Kirkstall, which was awash with children on new bicycles and enthusiastic dogs. One dog ran so fast that it tripped over, but, without a moments hesitation, turned a complete somersault and just carried on running.

The other was at a motorway service station where a bewildered toddler was overwhelmed by her first sight of snow, coming to terms with the fact that it was cold – not hot, as she had thought.


Bolton Abbey
Kirkstall Abbey