Standard Issue writers are penning a letter to their hometown. For Sally-Anne Hayward her note to Oxford tells of a life-long love affair.
The spires I leaned against with a B&H fag (62-and-a-half pence for a pack of 10 from the hut on Gloucester Green bus station – before the flats and the French theme took over). I purchased them after advice from my friend Vicky: “For God’s sake don’t buy matches and cigarettes together – that way the shopkeeper will know you’re underage.”
In the same sightline, you can’t miss the Radcliffe Camera. The centrepiece of the city. We used to sit on it. Actually on it – you can’t even touch it these days – swigging from a bottle of pomagne pretending to be more pissed than we actually were. Walking in a zigzag so our friends thought we were uncontrollable. Then, walking in a straight line to be picked up by our parents.
Oh Oxford, I feel wrapped up like a warm coat when I venture down St Giles at Christmas time, past The Eagle and Child. Everyone will tell you that CS Lewis used to drink there. But there is more to you than rich academic historical facts.
Primark now sits on the ancient ruins of Selfridges. Selfridges, famous for its lifts, where my friend Tina and I would spend Saturday mornings going up and down, dressed for the occasion in our best grey berets and burgundy loafers.
“If you were a Habitat customer in the 1980s and ever asked me if we had anything in stock, I can now admit I used to just go into the warehouse and twirl around a bit, possibly have a go on the forklift, and come back out and say ‘No, sorry.'”
From the turrets of Selfridges and past the moat (the multi-storey car park), you can just make out the ice rink. Do you remember when that was built? Oh my, no more going to Bristol or Southampton for ice-skating birthday parties. We had our very own. I remember talking to a girl there (or a ‘rinkie’ as dedicated skaters were known) who had forgotten to put purple eyeshadow on both eyes.
We still had to travel to Swindon for the better swimming pool, though.
Turn to the right and there you will see where the Westgate pub once stood. The pub where I cleared plates on a Sunday lunchtime and put the same dirty gravy-stained shirt on every week and pretended I had only just spilt the gravy. While the Eagle and Child had C.S. Lewis, the Westgate pub boasts of Wardy and Belchy and Jugsy and Carl The God’s Honest Truth as previous ale consumers.
You might need to get your telescope out for this, but keep looking in the same direction and you will see where Habitat once stood. You can see the ghost of King Martin Green the manager. You might be able to hear him saying: “Sally, could you iron your shirt just once?” (I don’t really wear shirts anymore). You may mistake the loud banging as artillery fire, but it is just me and Rachel throwing millionaire shortbreads on to the floor so they can’t be sold and we can eat them in our break. If you were a customer there in the 1980s and ever asked me if we had anything in stock, I can now admit I used to just go into the warehouse and twirl around a bit, possibly have a go on the forklift, and come back out and say “No, sorry.”
Look slightly further on and you will see Iceland, formally known as Bejam. Just like Matthew Arnold learned so much at Balliol College, and became a world-famous poet, I learned all my customer service skills at Bejam. Dot Fleming, another cashier said to my dad about me, “best we’ve ever had.” I had totted up all the contents of the greengrocers basket before he had laid them out on the conveyor belt. He tried to headhunt me for his shop on the front of the parade. But alas, Habitat were offering a better hourly rate.
And there is Matthew Arnold School. Named after the man himself. My brother got his nose broken there.
You can put your telescope down now. There is too much to take in with this rich history lesson. I wish I could still be alive in 1,000 years when the students of the future will sit behind those famous stone walls, sourced from the Headington quarries, and study these times. Perhaps that city bus tour will take the future tourists on this route. Maybe the Oxford Union will use this information as they make political decisions.
I love you Oxford.
Notice how I don’t mention Cambridge throughout this?*