3 Representations of Time in Oxford

St. Mary's/All Souls I.

It's that time of year when the rose hips near our front gate reach ripeness. I know it also by the sudden quiet, like a vacuum, a pause, after the tourists, before the frenzy of term-time. A new set of students moves in on either side of us; we feel like the constants, the clear, steady lamp post amongst a blur of pedestrians in a time-lapse photograph. There's a softness in the light. I never know whether to be nostalgic or optimistic; all that summer (punting, picnicking, sweating in summer dresses) gone, all that autumn (wood fires, thick jumpers, ale in pub snugs, leaves like paper) still to come. And if we're not yet in either place, where exactly are we? Suspended in September. Both waiting and not-waiting for something we both want and don't want to come.

II.

Now is the time to appreciate the green of the trees: soon they will be the colour of fire and then they will be bald in preparation for frosts, for a heavy dousing or two of snowfall.

III.

But then in Oxford, it's always the end of an era, the start of another. It's a transient land. Nobody stays here or intends to stay here for long, so you can really only end up staying without meaning to.

Things change at a faster pace than they do elsewhere. Your friends from three years ago are not always people you know anything about now. It's like being dislocated in time and space every time you leave and come back again. Very briefly disjointed, disowned, expatriated from everything. London is not just another city but another time zone, no, another universe. The trains are like rocket ships out of this town.

So here I am in the stagnant and yet not stagnant waters. Floating with Sebastian Flyte and Charles Ryder, Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane. The tension between what's preserved in aspic and what's not is always the most beautiful part. Time is so confused here. Jan Morris writes: "Summer is more summery here than anywhere else I know; not hotter, certainly not sunnier, but more like summers used to be, in everyone's childhood memories."