Quadrivium

In the late Middle Ages, students at Oxford were put through a syllabus known as the quadrivium. They studied arithmetic, music, astronomy, and geometry, the better to know God through the perfection of his (neo-Platonic) universe.


I came to Oxford in 1991 to study for a doctorate in Ecology, but being something of a medieval soul I tarried and kept to a quadrivium of my own. I couldn't tell you whether the universe is perfect or not (though it seems pretty good to me), but I've read a lot (not nearly enough!), and now that I've learned that the most important things can't be said in words at all it's time to graduate.

After twenty-odd years in Oxford, and nearly ten in our cramped little flat, it's time to look out of another window.









At the end of the month we're moving home, to Devon, to a village on the edge of Dartmoor that will be very familiar to readers in this neck of the blogosphere.

Oxford is a hard place to leave. I did it twice before and both times came running back with my tail between my legs. The third time will be for keeps. And so I've spent the last few weeks visiting my favourite haunts, saying good bye.

I shall miss the Bodleian Library, where I've been able to read any book I wanted, where I've pored over ancient manuscripts (William Stukeley's diaries no less), and where I've spent hours gazing into the middle distance.


I shall miss Blackwells, one of the great bookshops of the world, where I've frittered away more time and hard-earned cash than I care to mention.



I shall miss New College cloisters at the very heart of Oxford. A temple of peace (until the Harry Potter fans arrive).




I shall miss Oxford's other side, the gargoyles, grotesques and misericords who poke their tongues out at the agelasts, providing a necessary counterbalance to all that erudition.



Mandrake plant in the Botanic Gardens

The best that can be said about the Oxfordshire countryside is that it is inoffensive (no wild hills here) but over the years I've grown to love its gentle beauty.


I shall miss its folk customs and the calendrical rituals we've invented around them, like our May walk to see Eynsham Morris do their thing.




I shall miss the Catweazle Club, Matt Sage's enduring creation, where I've been playing for seventeen years and where I cut my teeth.

Photo by Richard Markham

I shall miss the wonderfully vibrant session scene, where I learnt to play my instruments (thanks, it must be said, to the forbearance of my elders and betters) and where I've had some extraordinary nights of communal music making.




I shall miss the canal and the Gyptians, more hardy than I, who live and work upon the cut.



I shall miss the wonderful alternative community - my tribe. I shall miss my friends terribly.


I shall miss my work colleagues, long-suffering all, and I shall even miss my students. But I shan't miss the traffic, the tourists...



...the ever-widening gap between rich and poor, the astronomical rents, the bland, stultifying homogeneity of the new-rich-commuters in their seven-bedroom new-builds and gated communities...





...the ever-lengthening reach of London.

But enough of that. Most of all, I shall miss the spirit of old Oxford itself, those moments when you round a corner and you're stopped in your tracks by all that age and beauty. 



No wonder that Tolkein, Lewis, Pullman 'n all flourished here. The never-never otherworldliness of Oxford suffuses my music too. I've thrived on it. I found my wife here (in truth, she found me) and it's fair to say that I found myself too.

The poet Robert Graves put it like this in his Oxford Addresses on Poetry

'Oxford' he said, 'happens to own a peculiar b├íraka, or blessedness - a kindly, non-doctrinaire, generous spirit, unmatched anywhere else in the world. Enjoy it, maintain it!'

As I prepare to graduate, I trust that's exactly what I did.




8 comments:

  1. Oh, brings tears to my eyes sweetling! xxx

    ReplyDelete
  2. Beautiful words echoing almost exactly my feelings when we left 16 months ago. Oxford for us has changed beyond recognition since we first moved there in 1976, but all things must pass, and I truly hope that your new life will fit you as well as ours has us. Love and blessings.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I left Oxford many many years ago, though I still go back sometimes to some of my magical remembered places - some the same as yours, some different. Port Meadow on a misty morning; the Pitt Rivers (where I used to escape when I was meant to be studying); and endless wandering walks.
    I too came to Devon, almost 40 years ago now, and welcome you both here so happily. I hope that it will prove as healing and nourishing for the two of you as it has for me. It'll be all the richer for having you both here. xxx

    ReplyDelete
  4. Beautiful place - we always feel the same about certain parts of Cornwall and my beloved Bodmin Moor. Good luck, lots of love and always stick your finger in the wind and walk the other way. Mel G ;) xx

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  5. Oxford shall miss you both terribly, but I'm glad that you've found somewhere else that can truly be a home. I'm sorry that I didn't get to know you both better, but if you ever want to visit we have a spare guest bedroom in Abingdon & you are always welcome!
    Vikki x

    ReplyDelete
  6. All the best to you both, for a new and wonderfully nourishing creative life in that magical little place on the edge of Dartmoor. There is a big
    move in our lives soon too, for many of the same reasons (though clearly there is much less to miss in Perth, than Oxford!), and we are heading for a magical little town full of music and art, on the edge of forest and the great southern ocean...about the closest I can find to Chagford within a several thousand km radius! A new life, quieter, greener, full of community, beckons.

    ReplyDelete
  7. My parents lived in Chagford for a while. I have fond memories of standing in the garage of a night, leaning hard against the door to stop the wind off the Moor blowing it in, stripping the tiles off the roof and into the front of the house. Ah.

    Be happy and joyful.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Good luck Andy ...give my regards to Scorhill when you get there, I'm sure it won't be long.
    Enjoyed reading your blog above.
    Maybe see you at the Blowout.

    George xxxx

    ReplyDelete

 

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