Wednesday, June 04, 2008

"Well, I reply, I gave it all I had to give"

"Well, I reply, I gave it all I had to give"

It is almost midnight, but it is still curiously warm in the way that I always forget that Oxford is curiously warm. History Boy explained the reasoning behind it once - something about geographical positioning and possibly some kind of basin like situation - but I didn't attempt to understand.

I think I like midnight in Oxford more than I like midnight in any other place in the world. The city is more alive tonight that I would like - the calls of students, the regular sound of bicycles, voices distinct from their owners. If I had my way it would just be me, sat on a bench, looking down St Giles. But even with the interruptions this place is beautiful. So beautiful that it makes me ache a little.

Ever since I stepped off of the train this afternoon I have been re-tracing footsteps. It was Eliot who said it, scrawled in a first year essay:

"What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.
Footfalls echo in the memory
Down the passage which we did not take
Towards the door we never opened”.

I sat for a while on Broad Street, washed by the late afternoon sun, wishing that I were a Poet so I might express exactly what it felt like.

"I'm feeling a little emotional" I had said at the end of the gig.

"Oh, I know" had been the reply "That's the tour over for us".

I nodded but that wasn't what I had meant at all.

This place has a lot to answer for. And not just my occasional arrogance and obsession with the boat race. It clouds my judgement this city.

There has been, I am aware, too much alcohol and travelling and too little sleep in the past five days for there to be rational thought.

I do not attempt to stop the tears as they arise. I am not even particularly sure what I am crying for. Some reason long since lost. Or a thousand different small ones, stitched together by my imagination.

Out of the corner of my eye I see a sudden movement. I turn to look and realise that there is a mouse sitting next to my foot.

Instantly my body propels itself from the bench, an involuntary noise emitting from my mouth.

The mouse, undoubtedly surprised by my undisguised horror, darts back into the darkness from where it came. The spell, I realise, has been broken.

By a mouse.

I cannot help it - I feel laughter, hot and sweet, gurgling in my throat. It is the kind of bathos of which Byron himself would have been proud.

As I start to move I feel this - whatever this is - dripping through my fingers. I am mining my experiences so they can appear as words scorching a blank screen, just as I have before and will again. Not compelling myself to feel exactly, but not stopping myself either, allowing the chain of association to continue - backwards, to this evening, to a casual moment days earlier, to a solitary email in the first bursts of spring, to last summer and this very street, to the days when I walked this route so much that I hardly noticed it, to a day where I noticed it so vividly that I thought my retina might burst, to the beginning when this was simply another unfamiliar street in an unfamiliar city.

By the time I reach George Street, there is nothing left within my grasp.

As I glance backwards, I feel oddly content.

I love this city.


soubriquet said...

I liked that, it made me laugh, made me remember warm nights, wading waist deep in mist across port meadow, and of that calm of Oxford nights, those distant sounds, lit windows in warmstone colleges, those glimpses through gates, curmudgeonly porters asleep on their dimly lit lairs.
The Oxford in my head is one of the mid-seventies though, it's probably just a myth, like Inspector Morse.
My time there was as part of... but not part of... I was at Westminster College, on the top of Harcourt Hill, the view from my window was a golden panorama, would be worth a king's ransom.
On a night, I'd cycle down Willow Walk, from The Fishes at North Hinksey, I can smell the blossom as I think of it.
School friends in various colleges, Blackwells various bookshops, the bustle of the market... yes, last time I looked, the market was gone, no more fruit and veg stalls, eggs and cheese, burly serial-killer butchers... instead, full of tourist tat shops. Sigh.
But the mice are still there!
we used to sit at the martyrs memorial and feed them.

Corinne said...

I'm not sure my Oxford is any less of a myth than yours - but you made my stomach thump a little. I wish I'd had enough time to wander up to Port Meadow, or to visit the ducks in the University parks (my feeding of local animals was confined strictly to them!). But Blackwells...I know they're now in most University towns but they just scream Oxford to me. Far too many hours wasted (and student loan spent) 'browsing' in them.