A poet named Matthew Arnold described Oxford as “that sweet city with her dreaming spires”, a phrase that is probably quoted in every guidebook around. But after spending a day up there, that line runs through my mind whenever I think of it. In fact, I would even go so far as to say that Oxford is far and beyond the most beautiful town that I’ve visited in England. It has rivers, stately colleges, beautiful churches with magnificent stained glass windows and gargoyles – just to name a few of the fine features we came across.
Gargoyle outside Magdalen College (pronounced ‘Mawdlen’ – weirdly enough)
Oxford University has a certain mystique because it is one of the oldest universities in the world, and I’ve always had this vague idea that if I had been born and raised in England, I would have done my migrant parents proud by scoring five A-levels and going off to ‘read’ at Oxford. (Of course, I only got just enough marks to get into my course at Sydney Uni, so Oxford would more likely have been a blighted dream…!)
Oxford Cathedral is attached to Christ Church College – a really beautiful cathedral which featured stained glass windows by pre-Raphaelite artist Edward Burne-Jones (below).
When we arrived in Oxford there after a relatively short bus ride from London, we encountered a group of science students holding a small and uncertain demonstration in favour of animal testing – “Pro-Test: Animal testing saves lives”. This was later followed by the weekly demonstration by animal rights activists – “Vivisection is murder”. Now I don’t have particularly strong feelings on this subject but let’s just say that one thing I’ve learned in Britain is that animal activists get pretty scary here. And in fact, animal rights are taken pretty seriously in Britain. As Bill Bryson wrote in Notes From A Small Island: “Did you know that in 1994 Britain voted for a European Union directive requiring statutory rest periods for transported animals, but against statutory rest periods for factory workers?” Such a funny country.