It always feels a bit strange going back to Oxford. Some of it has changed a lot in the nearly thirty-five years since I started there as a student. Most of it, however, is much the same. One of the things I noticed on this occasion, when we went back for a Bentley and Rolls Royce car event organised by my father-in-law and his friend (who once gave me a Zulu Wars period assegai so is a very sound man indeed) was how little traffic there was in the High Street.
Oxford has successfully managed to almost get rid of cars from the centre of the city using its (excellent) Park & Ride system and draconian parking and access regulations. Forty per cent of journeys into Oxford are now done by bus. As a result the High is now pretty much like it was in the nineteen fifties (maybe even emptier). In the late seventies and early eighties you literally took your life in your hands trying to cross the road from college to Oddbins, because C was demanding more claret. It wasn't dubbed the City of Screaming Tyres for nothing when I was there. Now you just have to dodge the odd bus and the inevitable cyclists. The Legatus didn't cycle when a student as he didn't learn to ride a bike until he was 33 years old!
Here is the Old Bat and my "little boy" Guy next to my father-in-law's car parked outside Brasenose's seventeenth century library.
It is a 1961 Bentley Continental S2 Flying Spur; the last one of 125 built. These were built in the old fashioned way as a chassis only. The customer then had to commission his own coachwork. This is one of fifteen with an HJ Mulliner body. It still goes like a rocket although the 6.23 litre engine gets through about a gallon of fuel every twelve miles.
Here is a better view of my college. Today, academically, it ranks second on the Norrington table; the controversial measure of academic excellence for Oxford colleges. In my day it was well down in the bottom six. For many years it was more well known for its sporting achievements (and linked drinking activities) than any academic excellence. Eveleyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited contains the phrase "pub-crawling hearties from BNC" which pretty much summarises the college image for many decades. William Webb Ellis, the inventor of Rugby, went to Brasenose as did the cricketer Colin Cowdrey. The Boat club is one of the oldest rowing clubs in the world and is credited with winning the first modern rowing race, against Jesus College, in 1815. Six years dilution by women, when the Legatus joined, saw the boat club in a pretty sorry state but the women's first eight were altogether a different proposition.
BNC Ladies Boat Club's magnificent M. Wouldn't have propositioned her, as she was far too scary (and tall)!
Brasenose is also credited with the invention of the coxless four although this came about due to a nifty piece of improvisation (or cheating as the unimaginative authorities would have it). Walter Bradford Woodgate was the Steve Redgrave of his day, winning eleven Henley titles in the 1860's. He would undoubtedly have been a gold medal winning Olympian if they had had the Olympics in those days. At the start of the 1868 coxed fours at Henley, Woodgate, as stroke of the Brasenose boat, got the cox, Frederic Weatherly (later an eminent lawyer), to jump out of the boat (whereupon he nearly drowned after becoming entangled in water lilies thus almost saving the world from endless maudlin performances of Irish favourite Danny Boy for which he later wrote the lyrics ). Without the weight of Wetherley on board the boat won by a hundred yards and was promptly disqualified. Nevertheless, Henley created an official coxless four race the following year.
L to R: Radcliffe Camera, Brasenose, Brasenose Lane, Exeter College Gardens
The first floor windows in the centre of the shot are the Principal's rooms. I think we all got invited there for tea in our first term but never went inside again! Just over forty years ago the Beatles met the Brasenose principal there. Jeffery Archer (who didn't actually attend Brasenose as a student but was actually a junior groundsman at the BNC sports ground) wrote to the Beatles manager Brian Epstein and asked if the Beatles would support the 21st Birthday of Oxfam campaign he was working on. Epstein, worried about an avalanche of charity requests, said no but Archer pushed his way backstage at one of their Liverpool concerts and asked the Beatles directly, promising them dinner at Oxford with former Prime Minister Harold Macmillan. In the end Macmillan wasn't available so they went to meet Brasenose principal Sir Noel Hall instead.
Brasenose March 5th 1964 L to R McCartney, Harrison, Archer, Hall, Lloyd (student) Starr and Lennon
Exeter College gardens overlook Radcliffe Square and the end of Brasenose Lane. They are raised up above ground level and give a good view of the square so have been a popular location for Inspector Morse shoots. Brasenose has appeared in the series too, more than once, where it is dubbed Lonsdale College.
Between the college and Exeter Gardens is Brasenose Lane. Another thing about Oxford today is that it is a lot cleaner and tidier than in my day. Brasenose Lane runs between the side of Lincoln and Brasenose on one side and Exeter on the other and takes you from the central Radcliffe Square to the main part of the town. Brasenose Lane always used to reek, mainly because it passed Lincoln kitchens (why did they have boiled cabbage every day?). It has the last remaining kennel or medieval central gutter in the City and maybe Oxford City Council are better at keeping it clean these days. It was very poorly lit and late at night (or early in the morning) was quite a good place for spontaneous vertical intimacy (usually after too much port), provided you had a young lady who didn't mind the cabbage smell.
C, who didn't mind cabbage at all
In Brasenose Lane I once literally ran into C (another C not the one above), who was a famous model at the time, munching on a baguette which she had bought in the covered market. Market Street, which continues on from Brasenose Lane was where the Co-op was (it's no longer there) which was where everyone at BNC got their milk, although there weren't many fridges in college - probably about the same number as bathrooms. You had to keep your milk on the window ledge which sometime made it perilous for passers by if you weren't concentrating when trying to place it there.
The covered market is a lot cleaner today as well and is full of trendy little shops selling useless things for girls, largely, although there are still some food stalls. There are no cars in Market Street either!
Fortunately, I did get to watch the Eurovision Song Contest on Saturday, although it wasn't quite the same without Charlotte's trenchant comments on the contestants' costume choices. We did enjoy the talented Polish ladies despite their quite horrible song. The Eurovision vote from each country is currently split 50/50 between a panel of "experts" and a public telephone vote. Interestingly, the British experts put Malta in their top spot. The song finished 23rd out of 25 so it makes you wonder about their actual expertise. Perhaps they were the same experts who selected our dismal entry this year, Molly Smitten-Downes (whose name sounds like a character from a Jilly Cooper showjumping and shagging novel) who finished a gallant 17th (out of 25). What was more interesting was that the 12 points as awarded by the British telephone voters, rather than the experts, went to Poland. Which either shows quite how many Polish people we have in Britain now or how much British people like girls flaunting their busts. Or maybe both.
Anyway, after the comparative calm of the weekend (and too much food) and a little bit of painting yesterday evening (the next couple of Afghans are coming on well) it's back to the noise of the builders. At 6.15 AM this morning this lot turned up in our front garden. Now we have a digger, a dumper truck and a pneumatic drill going. Maybe I should just head back to the dreaming spires for a rest.