Oxford

One of our planned excursions outside London was to Oxford University, that esteemed place of learning. It was always somewhat of a joke in my family to “go to Oxford” for college, but actually being there was something else. It absolutely was not like a usual college in America, for several reasons. It felt more like a college town, but even though it serves that purpose, it also felt like an active, thriving city in and of itself. Also, while in the US we might have just the “College of Arts and Sciences” within a larger university, at Oxford, “King’s College” has a whole curriculum and full college of all subjects within itself. Of course some might be better known for some subjects, and you might have a particular affiliation to one or another, but in general they are independent, fully functioning, complete schools. That was a strange concept to me and for many of my peers as well. I asked our tour guide about the “admission process,” but he was very vague. In many ways the process of getting admitted into these elite schools like Oxford and Cambridge, among others, is very hush-hush. You can still feel the class distinction and from what he hinted, it’s still very posh and familial. I asked how one knows which college to apply to, and he said, “Well maybe your father went there, or your grandfather.” And that was that.
 Our tour guide himself did not actually attend Oxford himself, but he was very knowledgeable about it and the city, and has even published several books about it. Ironically I think, the allure of such esteem and prestige is very powerful, so if you can’t go there yourself, you might as well surround yourself with it. Distinction by proximity, I suppose?
He gave us a very lengthy tour (almost 3 hours walking) and while I’d like to say I remember all of it, that’s not the case. The bitter cold and tired feet tend to impair my memory a bit ..
But of course how could I forget the Bodleian library? Iconic in its own right, but also known for its filming locations in the Harry Potter series! The hall on the ground floor was used for the infirmary.
 There are many other Harry Potter locations in Oxford, but we didn’t get to see all of them. The library which Harry enters with the invisibility cloak for example, is the Duke Humphrey’s library, and the Great Hall is actually Christ Church College.
After our tour, Morgan and I, along with three other friends went to lunch at the Eagle and Child, the well-known restaurant that was frequented by J.R.R. Tolkein and C.S. Lewis, both Oxford students in their time. It was there, in their favorite corner of the pub, that they would meet and discuss ideas, later to become beloved stories. Their club was called “The Inklings,” and was comprised of Lewis’ brother and other friends. It was amazing for me to really sit in history and be immersed in the magical and almost spiritual profoundness of the effect that these writers have had on English literature. It only deepened the already great admiration I have for those men and their stories.
On the recommendation of my uncle, who lived in and taught at Oxford for a period of time, we then went to the Botanical Gardens. Of course since it was winter, most of the outdoor gardens were bare and what was left was wilted. But the conservatory / greenhouse was full of things to see, and the controlled heating gave us a welcome respite from the wind and cold.

 

 

As we went throughout the day we saw of course many students walking or riding their bicycle, and I just couldn’t stop imagining what it must be like for them to actually attend Oxford! I wondered what their day-to-day life is like, what it must be like to be in class in these gorgeous old buildings and look out on the square or on the green. I probably wouldn’t stop daydreaming if I went there, just getting lost in the heritage and the tradition that is continued with each generation. Despite the loftiness and potentially snobbish population, I do believe that Oxford merits all the distinction and reputation it is given, if only for the filming locations it provides! 😉

 

 

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