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Oxford

7 December 2004

I was away for a few days, the back end of last week. Oxford, Henley, and a day in London to have lunch with my US agent. Itís always odd, meeting someone in the flesh after a correspondence at distance; takes a while, to find the familiar mind in the utterly unrecognisable body. Good when you get there, though. We had lunch in the Blue Print Cafe at the Design Museum, with a table in the window, looking out on Tower Bridge and the river; fabulous to watch, if death to conversation. Rivers, seas, lakes are like real fires: hypnotic, seductive, liminal.

What was stranger, though, was being back in Oxford. I grew up there, and left twenty-five years ago; havenít been back for twenty. Walking through town was a constant double-take, between déjà vu and bewilderment. Half the city is bedrock, unalterable, the colleges and mediaeval buildings all looking exactly as they did throughout my childhood; the other half is as constantly revisited and remade as any city centre in the country, and unrecognisable to me. I stood by the church where Cornmarket meets St Giles, and St Giles looks exactly the same as it has for the last forty years, and every single shop on Cornmarket has changed. It was like that everywhere, all the time.

Then I came to my own patch, where my old friend Helen is now being a GP in the exact same building we used to go to when we needed doctoring. And the main drag again is almost entirely changed, and even some of the streets are different; the old hospital has become a mosque, and there are whole estates where there didnít use to be. But the house I grew up in is still there, still shabby, let to students at a guess; and the house I was born in is still there, and tiny, unbelievably small for five of us. But that was generic, the whole city felt small. Which is famously the case when you revisit childhood haunts, because youíve grown so much bigger since you saw them last; but I left Oxford when I was nineteen, this same height I am now, more or less. Which means that actually the nostalgia-kick I get when I go back is not related to my last years there, it ties in all the way back in my childhood. Back - if I may be maudlin for a moment - back when I was happy. Which I think is really, really interesting...


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© Chaz Brenchley 2004
Reproduced here by permission of Chaz Brenchley, who asserts his moral right to be identified as the author of this work.