“Very nice sort of place, Oxford, I should think, for people that like that sort of place. They teach you to be a gentleman there. In the polytechnic they teach you to be an engineer or such like. See?”
I went to university in Oxford, did you know? Oh yes, twas quaint. I’m very smart and a gentleman apparently. Ok really i should be an engineer, like my pop. Unfortunately i have a math handicap so those dreams were dashed, sigh.
Truthfully, I went to the former polytechnic which had already evolved into Oxford Brookes University long before my time there. Amidst most conversations i’d usually leave the Brookes part out. I figure it’s one hundred percent their assumption, i’m telling the truth though a bit swiss-cheesy. In fact, I’m proud of emerging from the number one modern university in the UK thank you very much. I’ve always had a thing for the publishing world and at 21 while living in Qatar i decided i was going to reapply to schools in the UK that offered such a program. I’d left my previous Alma Mater in Canada due to us not being very compatible. I felt really bad about it, let’s not explore.
Oxford Brookes was a dream of mine from around 17 years old when my English grandpa took me to a Uni Fair at the Trinidad Hilton. I sat in on the Oxford Brookes presentation and thought, yup.
To paraphrase a conversation some time after;
“Why the hell do you want to live in bloody England?” Said English Grandpa.
“It’s my dream, i love England.” said I.
“Well alright then.” Said English Grandpa.
Four years, three countries and a few harsh life lessons later i was there amid the spires of Oxford. The dream realized.
Coinciding with this realization was my best friend Jenn, attending the real Oxford University for her Master’s in Economics. She’s like a genius, but i only love her for her good looks.
It took me a minute to figure out; the city, it’s cobbled roads, that Radcliffe Camera doesn’t involve a lens, punting has nothing to do with golf, and most importantly the transportation system. Oxford Brookes had it’s own buses and stops. Funny little anecdote in reference to this; The smart asses at Oxford felt it necessary to christen Brookes with the title of Early Learning Centre as one of our bus stops happened to be in-front of the children’s store; “The Early Learning Centre”. Bastards.
My publishing class became a little troupe of sorts, it was lovely to be surrounded by students with the same lettered goals in mind. They were all impressive people and hard workers, some became friends for life. My professors were still involved in the publishing industry and while my loud mouth got me in sticky situations with a few of them, they were all brilliant and magnetic folks. They’d go into long diatribes about the state of the scholastic fraternity and the evil behemoth that was online sellers, like amazon crushing the fates of traditional bookstores. Admittedly i became, team book shop. Still am. The classes were small and intimate, we had long conversations about the weight of paper, Victorian advertising and other facets of the industry that i didn’t know were so interesting. My academic advisor, Dr. Potter was and is a heroine of this grand journey i’m on. She introduced me to Jean Rhys and her wide, Sargasso sea, another champion of my escapades. I’ll forever be grateful to her for that.
Obviously all this was helped by living in Oxford, the centre for literary excellence and of course; The Oxford University Press. I’d walk by it many times while there. It looks like Hogwarts, with it’s large, ancient walls and arches looming over an entrance guarded like Fort Knox. The only hint of the times being the glass, automatic gates. There’s an enchantment to Oxford, walking down the streets older than time itself. Helps that part of Harry potter was filmed there. But truly, So many have walked those paths, so many i revere, especially now as a writer and a reader.
Speaking of, I wandered into a pub with a group of friends one night, called the Eagle and Child. We retreated to the back where portraits of C.S. Lewis, Tolkien and others hung on the walls with a plaque that read;
“C.S. Lewis, his brother W.H. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, Charles Williams and other friends met every Tuesday morning between 1939 – 1962 in the back room of their favorite pub. These men, popularly known as the “inklings,” met here to drink Beer and discuss among other things, the books they were writing.”
I reeled in awe. You’re telling me i’m sitting where one of my bookish heroes sat and formulated my favorite series of all time? This is where Narnia was born? Middle Earth? That pub is still my most favorite part of Oxford, for personal reasons obviously. Correction, that pub and the tree in Christ Church Meadow where Lewis Carroll allegedly took opium and went down the rabbit hole; resulting in Alice, Wonderland and that blue, drug-infused caterpillar. Allegedly.
Aside from my literary fanaticism, I also had great fun living as an Oxford student impostor. As my best bud was at University college i’d often visit her there and attend “bops” as the Oxfordians call them. I became chummy with many a smartypants and we’d usually converge at the prime
Jamaican pub on Cowley road. If there was a Williamsburg of Oxford, Cowley would be as close as it could get. The owner was a Jamaican man named Andy and he grew weed in the backyard, or at least we thought so. I walked through his doors one night with a stomachache and he perked up, claiming a remedy. He scuttled to the back and returned with a steaming cup of “mint tea,” well it was the best damn tea I’ve ever had and did the trick, did all the tricks. Andy was the place for all your herbal needs. I recall one night, a bunch of us were celebrating a birthday. It was packed, reggae blaring and rum flowing. I swayed to the bar for a refill and bumped into a small girl surrounded by tattooed, musician types. I recognized her as she’d just come out with a single in the UK; Starry Eyed. It was Ellie Goulding, way before she was a big deal in the US. In my supreme, chemical confidence i exclaimed, “Ay Ellie, Welcome to the Caribbean!” She laughed and imitated my accent, obviously enjoying my revelry. We chatted for a minute and i lurched off, pretty unawares. Andy attracted most stars passing through Oxford, he had the best “mint tea” after all.
On another occasion i’d met a rower at a “bop”. The most beautiful men in tertiary education are rowers. I being awkward and possessing no game, royally screwed up my chances with him; i hiccuped in his face during a make-out session. I hiccup when i’m nervous, plus sparking wine. We had some fun though, we snuck into Balliol college grounds and stomped on the forbidden grass at 2 o’ clock in the morning, then were immediately chased out by a porter. Despite this, It was over before it began, he invited me along to a rowing party one night. By the time i got there they were all wasted including two very familiar duplicates; The Winklevoss twins. The Facebook twins. Enemies of Mark Zuckerberg. Fifty million dollars or so, drunk off it’s face. One of them poked his beer bottle at me, not sure why. At the end of the night, we all stumbled out into the morning light. One twin ran into the road and hailed a cab by falling in-front of it. Twenty-five million on his ass. I had to go home, this was too weird, plus i was weird and apparently very bad at flirting.
During my last two years at Brookes studying Publishing, i decided i wanted to be an actor. Britain really is the best place for that. Shakespeare and all. I was going to audition for drama schools, not just any schools, oh no. I was aiming for the big leagues. I decided after attending a two workshops at RADA that i’d found my niche in the world. RADA and LAMDA it was! Honestly, I had little to no experience in this regard and although my dreams were lofty i needed to be practical. So i Google’d acting teachers in Oxford and chose the first name i saw; Lucy Hoult. She lived above her mum’s hair salon and we practiced Pinter among the hair dryers. She was a fiery redhead, effervescent as soda water. I learned a great deal working with her.
I didn’t get in to any of my schools, i however did make it past a few rounds at RADA and LAMDA. My nerves got the better of me in the end, but still a huge confidence boost for someone with no experience. The first day i ever set off for RADA i asked English Grandpa for directions, he emailed back: “take the tube to Goodge Street where we hid from the bombs during the Blitz.” He’d lived near that station on Gower street, serendipitous-ly opposite RADA. I remember walking up the formidable winding stairs in RADA looking out the window onto my Grandpa’s childhood home as well as my mother and her sibling’s summer retreat. It felt familiar and easing, helped my jitters tremendously in that moment.
To pay for lessons i got a job working at The Hat Shop in The Covered Market, A roofed shopping area built in 1774. My boss was a tough broad, Gill. She was a no nonsense, stocky attractive woman with tight, blonde ringlets. I wasn’t very good at my job. I worked there three days a week selling fascinators and wool berets. Being a traditional market, there was a butcher or two i’d walk past on my working mornings. One day during the Christmas season, I noticed a white-coated, butcher in the window, looking like bloody Sweeney Todd. He’d stare at me as i walked by, chopping an animal appendage and never averting his gaze from my form. I mean, terrifying. Needless to say, I changed my route for the new year.
My time in Oxford was a series of tales, i could go on and on. Thank goodness for that Oxford comma, quite fitting i think. I grew into myself there, i started filling out the spaces inside and found somewhere that felt like another home. I embraced my British roots and a dash of pride. I met friends who i adore to this day, thank goodness for Facebook and those drunks twins or we’d never be able to keep in touch. I’ll always love Oxford, always.
I wonder anybody does anything at Oxford but dream and remember, the place is so beautiful. One almost expects the people to sing instead of speaking. It is all like an opera