Oxford, Reviewed

Part in fond reminiscence, part in painful catharsis, Sophia Cerullo reviews some of Oxford's most well-loved landmarks.

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The Radcliffe Camera

The pièce de résistance, the joire de vivre, the petit filous, the jewel in Oxford’s mighty, mighty crown. You’ve posted the shit out of it on your story, WhatsApp’d pictures to your dad so he can say how proud of you he is again. You’ve coerced friends into making a ‘little detour’ on the way back from Bridge so you can make a profound speech about how lucky you are and that these are the best days of your lives.

Other than stalking someone you know will definitely be in there (trying to do a nonchalant lap of the upper camera is no mean feat), what else do you actually do in the Rad Cam? Get a book? Actually do your work? Your library companion appears to know every single person sat in there – ‘oh, you know, Neave from OxWib!’ You spend your time desperately needing the loo (you’ve decided to go up the windy stairs which means it’s a 40 minute walk to the nearest lav and quite frankly you can’t be arsed), staring over the shoulder of some really quite old gentleman working on some sort of research and wondering if that’s what you would end up looking like if you did a panic masters. 

Finally, is the variety in chair type quaint or extremely jarring? 

The Bodleian Library 

For the first few weeks (term… year) of your degree you think this is just the square bit, but actually when people refer to ‘The Bodleian’ they mean the rad cam as well. And the glink, apparently. 

The square bit (does it actually have a name? please let me know) tiptoes the line of enjoyable and incredibly stressful– you think you know the route to go for a wee/fill up your Chilly’s/find a friend, but when you turn the corner you are actually in somewhere completely different to where you thought you were. Only to be smirked at by a fourth year linguist, you surreptitiously dial your lost pal: ‘right so if you look forward you should see the Rad Cam. And you’re in the lower reading room?’ ‘Yeah obviously, I’m not stupid.’ You look out the window ahead of you to see the Weston Library and the lift door which says ‘upper reading room.’ You sack off this whole charade and head back to the Rad Cam; at least there you know vaguely where you’re going.  

The Bridge of Sighs

You mistakenly refer to Oxford’s masterpiece as the Bridge of Spies to a group of Year 12s on an access tour; they write on their feedback form, ‘Hertford was nice, but I didn’t get to meet Tom Hanks or Mark Rylance.’ Do people actually use the bridge? Or is it just fodder for Hertford’s admissions brochure? You’ve got a ball/matriculation pic there sure, but the angle required to get both you and the bridge in the image results in an unfortunate double chin. Upon smattering your facebook with the pictures you receive comments (and the odd direct message!) from Italian relatives accusing your university of stealing its architecture from Venice.

Christ Church Meadows

Really nice, summery. Bit of a schlep but quite good for welfare and Summer Eights, which is essentially a day of screaming louder and louder as you have more and more Pimm’s. Stumbling back towards college at 5pm, sunburnt and with red and blue face paint stinging your eyes, you spy Keble M1s who you recall were in the bid to win: ‘GO ON BOYS!! KEBLEEEEE! KEBLEEEEEE!’ Before breaking into a slurry rendition of ‘Angels’, you are met with the cox’s stony expression: ‘the race is over ladies.’ You hiccup though a smile and walk away, tail between your drunken legs.  

Jericho

Dubbed ‘Trendy Jericho’ by I imagine many, many groovy and hip youngsters. The threshold for trendy Jericho is probably Gail’s, or if needs must Taylor’s at the top of Little Clarendon Street. Upon entering Jericho you can adopt your Trendy Jericho walk, which is essentially a slow-placed, laid-back rhythmic saunter, a ‘sway’, letting your knee-length leather coat flap in the breeze. 

Probably will only enter if you have a GP appointment or going to bday drinkipoos at Freud (Freud’s? Frevd?), in which you spend a terrible amount on tiny little cocktails and humiliate yourself by over-enthusiastically throwing shapes to DFO whilst everyone else is making do with a subtle knee bend and one arm in the air.

The Ashmolean

You’re either a CAAH/ Arch & Anth student, or any humanities undergrad having your 2nd year crisis of intelligence. You need to be more cultured, take advantage of this wonderful university to happen to find yourself in. ‘I’m just going to take myself to the Ashmolean this afternoon’ you announce mid-sausage at Saturday brunch, only to receive confused looks and the odd giggle. 

After experiencing the ego-stroking thrill of flashing your Bod Card and getting in for free, you plug in some classical music (slash the soundtrack to Call Me By Your Name), and swan in, ready to have your cultural senses awakened. 15 minutes later you buy 2 postcards, one of a Raphael sketch the other of some very ornate, very niche Japanese sculpture, and head back to college via Najar’s to go and play table tennis in the JCR. 

Cornmarket 

As a mate, don’t bother. There’s the electric ‘Oxford hustle and bustle’ which comes to the fore at May Morning, and then there is the teeming fresh hell of Cornmarket Street. You should only have to look upon it at a safe distance, eg. when going to Tesco’s. 

Don’t get me wrong, nabbing a post-Parkers maccies is fine, but in the inky depths of night you are shielded from the atrocities of such a place. The following morning, deep in an inexplicably horrible hangover, you are carried in the swaying swarm from WHSmith to Pret a Manger, not knowing your arse from your elbow. 

Should only traverse when necessary, ie mid essay-crisis you want to be soothed by the unwavering constancy of Stand by Me, when you’re late for something down St Aldates, or need to nip to Westgate. But for the latter, surely, shirley, you could carve out a route down the high-street to avoid this claustrophobic hell hole? 

The Sheldonian 

Quite nice? I think? Quite a confusing shape. Will enter the actual building max 3 times: matriculation, graduation, and once for your friend’s first concert with OUO (‘Don’t worry, we’re only playing 4 symphonies’; thinking that a symphony is probably the length of your standard Ed Sheeran song you enthusiastically agree to show your support, only to sacrifice four hours of your Saturday night). Josh, you’re an extremely talented violinist and I very much enjoyed the performance. 

Uni Parks

Quite a useful one to have in your arsenal, especially for the northern Oxfordian. ‘Going for a welfare walk’ can be used to procrastinate, inadvertently ask someone on a date, or to go and stare at rugby boys for half an hour (obviously I’ve never done that). The space also seems to have its own unit of time: ‘how long will you be?’ ‘2 laps of uni parks’. 

Covered Market

The culinary Bodleian library, if you will: excellent and aesthetically-pleasing in theory, but in reality a panic-inducing nightmare. Structured like the final maze of the Triwizard tournament or similar. Stifled by ornate jewellers, ice cream shops and independent cafes, you try to remember the name and location of that exotic eatery to impress your friend from home before throwing in the towel and getting pesto pasta from Taylor’s (again).   

North Parade 

Again, fine. Quite a frosty response when you ask your friends from Magdalen if they want to meet there: ‘are you clinically insane?’ You take the college family to The Rose and Crown for adorable family drinks at the start of Hilary, but it’s only when you say to the kids, ‘get anything you want, it’s on us!’ you remember its 8 pounds for in all honesty quite a crap gin and tonic. But at least the outdoor bit with the lights looks nice. 

Broad Street/Catte Street Roundabout

You thought Cornmarket was bad. ‘Oh, a key location!’ you think, ‘The King’s Arms to the left of me, Blackwell’s to the right of me!’ But let me ask you this, have you ever felt safe, truly safe, traversing that roundabout? Your corporeal existence on earth is in the hands of either an unsettlingly clean BMW wanging round it at high speeds (when they were filming The Crown in Michaelmas you’re sure you saw Olivia Colman give you a little wave through a blacked out window), or an unruly cyclist, no helmet and riding his bike standing up to demonstrate a command of the road, calling you a fuckwit and screaming at you to get out the way. ‘It’s Oxford, not the Tour de France!’ you shout back in an attempt to disarm them, only to no avail: they’ve already got to the high street and you just get weird looks from passing tourists. Yet again you’ve risked your life to go to the library, but such is the dynamic Oxford lifestyle. I’m sure we’ll be back before long.