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Oxford in October

October 16th, 2008 (06:38 pm)

I escaped from the Upper Reading Room for a little while, and sought to clear my head in the fumes of the High. Where once tweeded undergraduates and gowned dons had walked under clouds of tobacco, and later cars and rival fleets of buses had exhausted the city, now the streets are quieter and may be crossed with a little care, especially once Thames Travel have loaded their southward-facing commuters off the sporadically thronged pavement. Once they have gone, the roads regain their youth: thin women in shiny coats and curled hair facing their essay crises with pinched expressions behind their equanimity, who perhaps will not see nineteen before their prelims. Jolly young people who are fast and intimate friends with each other, smothering their uncertainty in rowing hoods and Freshers' Week sweatshirts, and who never admit to themselves or each other that they do not know, perhaps care, for these people at all. Above the whispering generation of bus engines, an echo of choral evensong; the chapel is investigated, but some rite strange to my nonconformist doubter's eyes is being performed in the centre, and I return through the quadrangle. Back in the Bodleian, a bell rings for dinner from a neighbouring college, as the call comes to succour the body after the spirit. The clock here ticks towards seven, and exults in the return of its companionable evenings, as until December its friends can stay until ten.