Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Daytripping: The Tarnished Old and the Shiny New. . .

About ten years ago I spent three weeks taking a summer course at Oxford in their Continuing Studies department.  I loved everything about it.  My room was on the top floor of a tower and climbing seven stories of stairs several times a day was completely worth it. I'd open the windows to the summer evening and gaze on the spires and listen the the choir practicing in the chapel next door.  During the day I'd be reading Jane Austen or Virginia Woolf in the Bodleian Library and working on an essay in-between lectures and tutorials. I went punting, saw lots of theatre and popped into London on the weekends. It was one of the best "vacations" I'd ever taken and the experience totally inspired me to go home and get my Masters in English Lit.  So I was very much looking forward to returning for a day trip.

Oh dear. . .

Yes, the beautiful buildings are still there and the cows are still grazing on Christchurch Meadows, and the students and faculty still whizz by purposefully on their bicycles.  And it seems ridiculous to say a place that has existed for centuries has changed in the last decade.  But I went not just to wander old haunts, but to browse the bookshops, in particular some of the quirky used bookstores I remember.  And they are ALL GONE!  Oh, the Blackwells is still there and as extensive as ever, but two used bookshops in particular (I've forgotten their names but definitely not where they were) that I used to frequent are no more.  How utterly sad because if Oxford of all places can't support a couple of used bookshops, who can?  Apparently the rents have risen so high that they've had to close. Rising rents also seem to be threatening some of the independent businesses in the covered market, although you can still get a good meat pie for lunch.  It was all rather depressing and I think I have Oxford out of my system now; I really don't have any desire to go back.

I had to change trains in Birmingham and with an hour to kill, I ventured out towards the markets and to see this rather iconic building which houses the Selfridges department store and certainly a complete contrast to their flagship store on London's Oxford Street.  As unique as it is, I have to say I prefer the London shop; this building looks fab from the outside, but inside it reminds me very much of the duty-free shops in airports.  Rather soulless.

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