Archive for July, 2008

Summer in the small city

Wednesday, July 16th, 2008

Ah here comes summer. And here come the summer visitors – huge groups of teenagers from all over the world who take over the streets of Oxford. I swear there are more this year than ever before. I hate to be someone who moans about tourists – I’m planning on being one myself shortly – but with the best will in the world (which I don’t actually have) it would be difficult not to snort a bit when plastered like a flattened fly against the walls of Christchurch as a group of about 90 Spanish kids flooded down the pavement toward me as I attempted to walk into town.

Many of them come for the language schools which is good for the local economy but not always good for the locals. Just like that bulging financial section in London. It does sometimes occur to me that just because you can transport hundreds of kids from country to country doesn’t mean you have to.

Several of the groups are given a sort of Oxford quiz when they arrive to orientate them. They are meant to find out facts about the town and university. This means that hordes of Chinese girls and Spanish lads ambush locals like me with a seemingly innocent question – “do you live here” which they then follow with a slightly harder one “which college is that” and then proceed if allowed to ask every question on the sheet “when was Balliol college founded, where is the Martyrs memorial” and so on. The culmination this week was looking out of the window by my desk on the ground floor to see about 10 faces crowding it several of which were shouting through the narrow, open gap “how old is Balliol College.” I know that travel is said to broaden the mind. I hope it broadens theirs because it sure as hell is narrowing mine.

If the groups aren’t finding out facts about an ancient university, they are moving in great groups often with identifying clothing or accessories. The pics are just two of visiting groups which appealed.

Strangely, for July, the sun has been shining and this is the anniversary of the great summer floods of Oxford. Last week the colleges had an open day and even — gasp, began to draw attention to themselves. Jesus actually had a banner outside which said, I hope, welcome to Jesus but I thought Lincoln college had a nice Oxford touch (it’s the picture in the middle). When I first moved here it would take a lot more than rushing up to passers by asking which college was which to find out – many colleges had no name plates as far as I could see and it took me a good year to find out. I’m glad it’s changed but there is a challenge for a town like this, between the working university, the commercial town and increasingly the entrepreneurial university which also entertains large numbers of people in the summer. For the moment, I’m quite glad I live in the unfashionable part of the town, south of the river.