It was a hot day yesterday. I was walking through Oxford, jostled by overheated bodies and overwhelming sweeps of perfume and overloud voices. I was staring up at the way the sun glinted on the windows, when a question slid unbidden into my mind. If I was to bring someone here who had never seen my hometown before, what would I show them? And following fast on its heels, the realization that almost stopped me in my tracks: I had no idea where on earth to start.
The names and places swirled round my head in a dizzying mess. Do I start in City Center? The tourist places would be a good place to begin, I guess. The museums! The Ashmolean, the first public museum ever to be opened in Britain, with its collections of art and archeology; floors and floors of history. To wander through the open, cool rooms for an afternoon.
The Oxford University Museum of Natural History, with its towering dinosaur skeletons and glass cases of iridescent butterflies.
The Pitt Rivers Museum, with its dark wood cases lining the walls, drawers and drawers of ethnographic items. Dark and cold, with grinning masks hanging on the walls and wooden statues crouching in shadowy corners. You could spend a week walking these museums and not have seen everything.
Then there's Biscester Village, a 45min bus ride away, with outlet stores of dozens of designer brands. Christ Church College, with its gardens stretching alongside the river, where parts of the Harry Potter films were filmed.
But that's impersonality, right there. The stories and memories are what makes this town so special. But do I tell them all?
Do I sit them in Bonn Square, and tell them of the recent renovation? Of the fact that it sits on the graveyard of the first St Peter-le-Bailey church, demolished 1726. That the digging up of the old square unearthed a few remaining graves of those buried there hundreds of years past (listed here), which were then re-buried under the new paving of the square. Do I describe to them how it used to be before, dark and damp with half a dozen huge trees shadowing the area? Do I tell them of the plans to fell all the trees, which were followed through, and of the protesters who camped in the largest of the trees for eleven nights before being removed and arrested?
Do I take them to climb Carfax Clock Tower? The only remaining part of St Martin's Church, the rest of which was demolished years ago. Do I tell them of the suicide committed there only last year, the shock of which still reverberates through any mention of the tower?
Do I show them the cross of smooth cobble stones in the road of Broad Street which marks the place where Protestant Martyrs were burned at the stake for their faith, and the Victorian memorial that stands in St Giles in remembrance of them?
Do I take them to The Eagle and Child in St Giles, to sit in the same rooms as the members of "Inklings", the writing group that included both JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis?
How about the vintage clothes shop, The Unicorn, tucked away down a side street off Cornmarket Street? Chock-a-block full of piles of vintage clothes, hats and accessories (there is literally no room to move - only three people can fit in this shop at one time), just the sight of the bowler hats and satchels and lace dresses in the window makes me happy. And the vintage and antique market on every Thursday in Gloucester Green.
And then there are the food places! The Big Bang restaurant in Jericho, that serves almost only bangers and mash, all of a local origin. And the GandD’s Ice Cream Café in St Aldates, with its homemade ice cream and sundaes. Then there’s my favourite Café in Gloucester Green, Café Combibos, with sofas lining the walls and the best Chai steamer I’ve tasted.
Hell, that's two weeks worth of stories and places, and that's only Oxford City! I pity the eventual one to come to my hometown and have me show them round if they're only planning on a day visit..! Too many stories. But maybe someday I'll get the chance to tell them all.