Where the gargoyles play

It is a dear friend’s 40th birthday celebrations this weekend. I know. 40. She’s barely out of short trousers. An evening of conviviality is planned, after which a group will be retiring to an Airbnb. I will be retiring to a one-woman tent, because there’s a limit to my appreciation of conviviality and it’s about four hours. Which I think will be stretched to six this evening but I already settled my get away plan because I shall drive. This seems a better idea than clip-clopping around Oxford on my own in search of a cab, and I don’t Uber because, well, that company is dodgy as fuck.

I did have my own Airbnb booked (see how Airbnb has become the brand name for B&Bs, like Bic used to be for pens?), in a nice little canal boat somewhere in Jericho. They suffered an arson attack so had to cancel my reservation, which is the least of the concerns in that scenario. Who sets fire to a boat? Bastards. Anyway, I don’t know if you have checked the price of accommodation in Oxford during the summer, but it’s ridiculous. I mean, the Malmaison, which I think we can agree you might go to £150 on for a special occasion and if it was a particularly nice Mal, charges £400. Pull the other one, mate, it’s got tourists on.

Hence, I am camping, for £20 a night. My friend’s horror at this prospect is matched only by my horror at the thought of sharing a 3-bed house with 9 people. We have tacitly agreed to disagree, each confirmed in their own conviction that the other is a bit nuts. But we love them anyway.

I thought I’d get down early, get the tent set up and spend a few tranquil hours wandering the ole dreamin’ spires and hoping for a sighting of Peter Whimsey. Then I remembered. I don’t miss Oxford. Ms Just Turning 40 and I had this conversation, because both of us lived there for years and moved away, and really only remember the horrible inconveniences. The city is undoubtedly beautiful but only at dead of night or very early in the morning, when the gargoyles climb down to play and before all the bloody tourists wake the poor spires from their only-too-rare opportunities to dream. One day, they will set the gargoyles on the tourists and then we’ll see a proper Dr Who Christmas Special.

Now, I do have to go to Blackwells. Genuinely, because the new Mick Herron is out and he did a signing and I couldn’t make it and tweeted my sadness and Blackwells said they could get me a signed copy and keep it for me. And they did, because a bookseller’s word is his ‘Have you seen this new edition of Bond?’ Admittedly, that is only Baby Blackwells in Westgate but it’s also only a hop and skip to the mothership. And I have 6 inches of space on the TBR shelf (add own joke here about the most pleasure a woman can get from 6 inches), if we don’t count the three books that arrived from Blackwells yesterday, which we don’t. Because… we don’t want to.

So my plan is basically to yomp through town, collect books, retire to my tent with my preciouses, and NOT start reading the Herron or I’ll be late for dinner. At some point I have to squidge into a dress and heels and chuck mascara at my face, but that’s all of 10 minutes.

Right then. I’m off to pack the cafetière.



We love you Oxford, we do

Hello, I’m back! And the trip was very good. On my one really free day, Oxford got all dressed up in spring clothes to welcome me as I walked around. Let’s see. I walked up Botley Road, along the canal, through Christ Church Christ Church

up the high street High Street

and pitched up in my favourite cafe for morning coffee.

Grand Cafe

I also bought a small stack of books from Blackwells:


  • Sweet Danger – Margery Allingham
  • The Village in the Jungle – Leonard Woolf
  • The Third Mile – Colin Dexter
  • The Secret of Annexe 3 – Colin Dexter
  • New Grub Street – George Gissing
  • A Passage to India – E. M. Forster

I’ve read all of them except New Grub Street, but that will have to wait because now I’m back to the Hermione Lee biog of Virginia Woolf (as a direct result of which I bought A Room of One’s Own at Posman’s last night).

It was great to catch up with my friend S, albeit all too briefly (and, er, sorry about that rear view mirror thing. It came off in my hand. Honest.) and it was very relaxing simply to be home. And then the work part kicked in, which was anything but relaxing but was good in an entirely different way.

It seemed a long week because almost as soon as I arrived I could scarcely believe I had ever left.  I thought ‘Well, of course this is what home looks like’ , and realised that when of late I began to believe that New England scenery looked like England, I was utterly wrong.  I also realised that there is something very strange about being a visitor in a city in which you have lived, and venturing out into it from a hotel so that one’s whole identity is as a guest. It was rather like being there in a dream – mostly familiar but with some odd changes.

So, all in all, marvellous to be away, but also good to be back. And also, good to know that I’m travelling again in about a month’s time!

(Acknowledgements: to various people on Flickr for the photos, since I don’t take photos.)