What do you suppose the chances are that there would be a place in both Oxford, Ohio, and Oxford, England by the name of The White Rabbit? Last week I would have guessed pretty long odds on that happening. But today I have learned that the author of Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll, (whose real name was Charles Dodgson) was a prominent figure here, having lived for 47 years at the Christ Church college, first as an undergraduate and then as a maths ‘don’. He created the Alice stories for the daughter of the dean. I am now thinking his white rabbit character may be inextricably linked with the place name… Or not, I really don’t know.
The White Rabbit shop that I knew many years ago, in Oxford, Ohio, was a gift shop, whereas the one in Oxford, England is a pub. Still, it was a bit of a shock to look up and see that familiar name after all these years. I saw a rather large rabbit in the street and should have asked him but he seemed very busy at the time.
Just after I wrote the above paragraph I put on my tourist hat and headed for the Oxford University Botanic Gardens. On what day do you think I arrived? Well, besides July 6, that is… it was ‘Alice Day’. I’m not making this up! I know they are referring to Lewis Carroll’s Alice, but I mean really, what are the chances of someone from Alice Springs turning up on Alice day? Come to think of it, this whole Oxford experience is starting to feel a bit Alice in Wonderland-ish!
Some lovely specimens in the Botanic garden, it goes without saying, but the human specimens were really so varied and spectacular, I was pleased I was wandering the streets alone so I could study them all. I have few photographs to show you but the snapshots are mostly in my head. Seated on a bench early one morning was a very sad, battered and bruised homeless couple, holding on to each other, as if they had nothing else left. I witnessed another homeless woman eating from a discarded takeaway container as she stood over a rubbish bin. We see these scenes everywhere nowadays, sadly. Another lady walking down the High street lovingly cradled her frail, old, tiny Chihuahua in one arm, designer handbag on the other arm. People were in every fashion style, from every culture, speaking every language possible, and in varying stages of undress on a warm summer day. A crowd had gathered on Cornmarket Street to watch three young, very fit ladsperforming hip hop dance moves and gymnastics to appreciative onlookers. There were a number of student groups, but one took my notice in particular, a group of probably 14yr old Italian students. All must have been related to Sophia Loren as they were without exception the most gorgeous group of young people I have ever seen, like young gods and goddesses in training.
My most enduring memories will be the stunning college architecture steeped in hundreds of years of history, the green and peaceful gardens, the smell of locust trees in blossom shading the crosswalk outside our college, and the most idiosyncratic toilet I’ve ever used! And I will remember the cheers that went up around the campus when Andy Murray won Wimbledon! There is nothing like a University town for vitality and diversity. And there is nothing like Oxford, the original!