My town and my gown: Gloucester

Sam Sheppard discusses the differences between his life in Oxford and his life in Gloucester.

There is a saying: absence makes the heart grow fonder. In my case, at least, this is untrue; the time I’ve spent in Oxford has only made me realise that I regard my home city with indifference at best.

Gloucester is not a particularly exciting place to live. When it comes to culture, heritage or visual appeal, Oxford definitely has the edge. In the city of dreaming spires, you’re constantly surrounded by beautiful, historic architecture and striking reminders of Oxford’s famous alumni, from J.R.R. Tolkien to Tim Berners-Lee. In contrast, Gloucester offers a host of spectacularly underwhelming views which range from supermarkets and drab industrial units to derelict warehouses and an abandoned Royal Mail sorting office. The rather horrific icing on the cake is that Gloucester’s best-known citizen is Fred West, the notorious serial killer. With this stain on its record, it isn’t hard to see why Gloucester doesn’t do as well as Oxford in the history stakes.

In fairness, it isn’t all bad. Gloucester can boast the splendid Gloucester Cathedral (which avid movie-goers will recognise from its use in the first two Harry Potter moves) and a smattering of Tudor architecture. But the fact remains that vast swathes of Gloucester are grey, dismal and a little bit shit. Coming back from Oxford is like waking up from a fantastical dream-world and arriving in a cold harsh reality.

There is also another, much more personal reason for my lukewarm feelings toward Gloucester. I went to school not in Gloucester but in Cheltenham, an affluent spa town about eight miles away. As a result, I don’t have any non-Oxford friends who live in Gloucester – they all live in Cheltenham, a town with which I’m far more familiar.

For me, this is pretty much the fundamental difference between Gloucester and Oxford. My social life in Oxford is far healthier: here, I’ve made plenty of amazing friends, and I can see most of them almost every day. In Gloucester, I’m left feeling isolated and bored. Even my best friend, who I’ve known since primary school, was born in Oxford; when it comes to my social life, it seems that all roads lead to Oxford.

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I do have considerable affection for the street I live on – the one where I grew up – and it’s always nice to come home. Even then, there’s no denying I spend most of the long vac looking forward to my return to Oxford.