My first visit to Oxford was in the summer of 1990. I was playing tourist that summer and after seeing the sights in London I took a train up to Oxford, hoping that it was far enough away from the big city that I’d be able to hitchhike from there up to Edinboro. I kept a journal of my travels that year and I happened to unearth it just recently. My comment on Oxford was “Pretty town – overrun with tourists” -- an accurate description for this time of year.
Admittedly, Oxford is a nice town to see, with all of its beautiful ancient architecture and historic sites. But now with the added draw of “Harry Potter Tourism” (as well as “Golden Compass Tourism”, “CS Lewis Tourism”, “JRR Tolkien Tourism” no, we don’t have hobbits, “Inspector Morse Tourism”, and the list goes on), it seems the natives (meaning me) can’t catch a quiet moment in the summer. It reminds me a bit of being in New York – but without the subway.
Anyway, on my visit in 1990, I only stayed in town for a mere few hours (during which I ran into no less than three other fellows students who were also playing tourist that summer – such was the density of American tourists at that time). Mainly my time here was spent trying to figure out how to get out of Oxford and on my way north. I remember asking around as to where a good place would be to hitch a ride. No one seemed to know. Eventually, some rather shabby looking homeless guy named Nick told me that I should walk to the ring-road north of the city and flag a lorry from there. My memory of the long walk to the ring road (carrying a very heavy pack) does not completely match up with the geography of the city. Probably my memory is faulty after almost 20 years. Or maybe the weight of the pack prevented me from seeing it correctly in the first place. Nonetheless, if I had followed Nick’s directions properly, the path would have taken me right past both the Physics department and Somerville College, my current homes.
On my long walk out of town, I remember stopping to watch a cricket game on the way. Probably this was at the pitch north of Somerville College on Woodstock road. The game absolutely mystified me then – and I understand only a tiny bit more about it now --- except to say that the games go on really forever and are even more boring than baseball (if such a thing is possible).
Finally, being completely exhausted from carrying my pack (which I later would reduce substantially by throwing “unnecessary” things out), I did catch a ride out of town from a random Oxonian – actually, a physicist as luck would have it. If I am not mistaken, this very physicist is now emeritus faculty at University of Sheffield, not so far from here. Hopefully soon I will have a chance to visit Sheffield and I intend to take him out to dinner to thank him for his kindness almost 20 years ago.
I did not return to Oxford until the fall of 2007.