A curious thing happened yesterday, it wasn’t planned nor expected, which I typically like, but all the same, I found myself speaking up for a city I no longer live in.
When I first came to England five years ago, I had no plan in mind (much less an idea of where I would settle), but Oxford turned out to be the place where I landed. Situated in the central-south-east of the country, this city grew to be my home – but not without its share of (continued) growth. Moving house four times, spending an average of a year-and-a-half (sometimes less) in several different areas of the city, I’ve come to appreciate Oxford’s offerings, the variety of people I’ve met and the activities I get to do within it.
I notice that wherever I am, whatever I do, and who I get to know to along the way, I am loyal to the city, cause or people I surround myself with for that particular amount of time. Oxford happens to be one of those places. As well-known as it is for its beautiful buildings, winding rivers , legendary dreaming spires, pristine college quads (and the awesome amount of privilege and power the university gives and holds), rarely do visitors see the parts of the city that lie outside of what I’ll call the “tourist zone”.
These are the areas where the real heart of the city exist, you might think the heart is typically at the centre of whatever body it is part of, but outside the bubble that is the university and its presence in the centre of the city, there is much, I believe that exists outside the centre than within. And it’s taken my moving away from the city to get clear on that. I’m not that far away at all these days, only 10 miles to the west of Oxford, and I still visit it often, but I actively create intentions for what I want from my time while there, because eventually I have to get home to my new community, tucked quietly away in the Cotswolds.
I want to share a recent conversation I got involved in online (that I hope my friend won’t mind, and I’ve taken the step of removing the names), but our recent meet-up, on a Saturday afternoon prompted my comment on his Facebook page:
With all that said and the varying experiences Oxford holds for a great number of people, the city has grown on me, or I have grown to be at peace with it. Where I once didn’t really have much feeling towards it, I now see it for what it is (and always has been). A community.
And where people get that feeling varies greatly and it matters greatly to me . I don’t have any plans to scurry away from Oxford (or England) for that matter, but I urge anyone who visits the city to venture beyond the open-top bus tours, colleges and museums. Walk down Cowley Road, the student-centric corridor, but where the flavours, language and smells of many ethnic cultures collide; or travel up the hill to the local shops in Headington with its narrow passages off the London Road and quiet pubs that make you feel as much a part of the countryside, as they do a bustling city; and Iffley Village with its quick access to the riverside.
These are all areas I’ve lived in one time or another, and each part contains a little bit of my own story for me.
What might they hold for you?