Friday, August 15, 2008

Oxford on my mind

Ten years ago today, I was preparing to say farewell to one of my favourite places: Oxford, England.

I am a university geek. I probably should have been a professor, but that's not an option when you live a thousand kilometres away from the closest university. My first encounter with Oxford University occurred towards the end of my English degree with Athabasca University; a history prof and an English prof decided it would be fun to hold three-week summer courses in Oxford, so I signed on for the English course.

It was, sadly, a credit course, so I spent much time in my room labouring over my assignments. It occurred to me later that I needed to return and see everything I'd missed, so in the summer of 1998, I attended the University of Oxford International Summer School for six glorious weeks.

Five mornings a week, we attended lectures. We had four tutorials per week. The rest of the time, we read, wrote, went on tours (I think I saw four Stratford productions that summer), and explored the heart of the oldest university in England.

The best part was that I belonged to the university. I had a library card, so got to see the inside of buildings that were closed to mere tourists. One memorable day I sauntered into the Radcliffe Camera, a beautiful round building that is one of University's libraries, and ordered a book written by Julia Briggs, a professor who had delivered one of our morning lectures. The lecture was probably about Virginia Woolf (as was every second lecture, for some reason), but the book I requested was called Night Visitors, a history of the English ghost story.

Oxford is a national repository for books, and most have to be stored underground, because there's (clearly) not enough shelf space. So I waited as my book chugged up from the depths on a conveyor belt, then took it upstairs to read. Excited as I was to have the book in front of me, I spent more time staring out the window at the spires of neighbouring All Souls College than perusing Night Visitors. I've spent the intervening years trying to find my own copy of that book; I finally tracked one down on eBay a couple of months ago.

So 10 years ago today, the lectures had wound up, the assignments marked and handed back, and my bags were half-packed. Right about now I would be sipping champagne at a farewell "drinks party" in the Rector's private garden at Exeter College, before sitting down to the closing banquet in the dining hall.

Do I think about going back? Oh, yes. And guess what? They now offer a summer course in creative writing. :-)

1 comment:

Robley H said...

My favorite places were two: The Fellows' Garden, where I went every morning between breakfast (the box cereal and white toast grew on me) and the lecture and The Tow Path. I long for Oxford and Exeter, as you know.