Alice's Oxford | Peter Hitchens | First Things

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Alice's Oxford | Peter Hitchens | First Things

Peter Hitchens writes (beautifully)of the Oxford of the past, the Oxford of the imagination, and the Oxford of today.

"So as I walk along the riverside pathways, or slip into the college gardens at dusk, as autumn turns to winter, I am seldom free of the fictional Oxford, or of the small part of its immense, intricate past that I myself have seen. Here I watched England change from being one sort of country to another. That parking lot was a cattle market, fragrant with the smell of damp livestock, herded by suspicious, terse men in brown tweeds, with boiled red faces, for whom the market pubs stayed open all the day. That apartment block was a brewery, whose yeasty stink perfumed the whole city every Wednesday, as that week's mild and bitter, brown and pale ales were made by the methods of the middle ages. That tourist café was a used bookshop, room after room of tottering piles of aged volumes, its uneven staircase climbing upwards almost to the rafters, classics read, sold, reread, and resold over decades by forgotten students. That university building was a grammar school where girls from housing project estates were introduced to Shakespeare and the sciences. Now only money can buy you that, and the children of the poor know nothing of these things. That pretentious hotel was a prison, where men had been hanged for murder and buried in the precincts, within living memory. Now we have none of that sort of thing, but we have more murder, and if our trauma surgeons were not as brilliant as they are, we would have even more of it, for the knife is now a horribly common weapon.  And these colleges, now so modern, gender-fluid, multicultural and progressive, were stern all-male institutions, whose doors were barred at night against the opposite sex and whose walls were savagely spiked to stop adventurers climbing in (and out) on feline expeditions."

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