Camchain and tensioner seen up close in a cutaway bike engine

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A Few Hours In Oxford

Visit Date 28 May 2021

By Ren Withnell

I'm at father's place, daaan on the saaaf coast. Why? Of course I do enjoy spending some time daaan saaaf with him but this time there's a little more to it. We are still enduring lockdown restrictions and the notion of actually booking ANY kind of trip that could be cancelled at 5 minutes notice with a new rule just scares me. At least if BoJo cocks everything up once more I only need to call pops and that's that. This is a "safe" way of getting away for a few days. 

I have however ventured a small risk. I've booked a Travelodge for my return leg, throwing open my wallet and adding the £2 "Cancel up till 1200 on the day of arrival" option. This means if it all goes wrong I'll at least get my investment back. £2 extra, I tell ya, I'm spending like I'm Jeff Bezos.

Why Oxford? Well it is, give or take, about half way home and it'll break the 270 journey up nicely. Also - Inspector Morse (along with Endeavour and Lewis). Starting in 1987 at the age of 15 going on 16 I've been following the series and I've wanted to see the setting for myself. Well now is my chance.

Bearing in mind I'm now 30-odd years older and just a tiny little wiser than that young lad, I'm also cautious. I've learned the hard way that Television lies, the camera also lies and the bitter cynic in me is sure Oxford's council will have steered the production company to the pretty and scenic parts, avoiding their slums and their ramshackle industrial estates. I am braced and my loins are girded.

As I approach Oxford on the A34 northbound, the nice lady in Google Maps warns me of traffic ahead and steers me off the big dual carriageway. I think she knows me well, she leads me a merry dance along country lanes, narrow and twisty. I think she knows I'm on a bike. 

Lovely, quite lovely. Cottages and hamlets, green fields and small farmyards, stout trees and long hedgerows. It's trying to rain but failing. My ass is ready for a rest but Google lady assures me we're almost there and I make a note to myself, this could be another of England's places I really ought to explore more.

The Travelodge is way out of town, making it cheaper. As with all Travelodges the location is nothing special, next to an Asda but this means cheap fuel and food right outside the front door. The welcome is friendly, the room same as all the others ie. clean and suitable and soon I am settled in just fine.

I'm sure I'll meet some grumpy plonkers eventually but my experience with Travelodge staff has been positive. Ideally I do not wish to ride the bike into town - this would mean finding a place to park in a city I don't know with godawful one way systems. Then I'd have to walk around with all my kit. I enquire about buses. There's a stop about 100 yards away and the buses run "regularly". The receptionist is most helpful and a passing manager chips in with his advice.

I put my USB powerpack under the bike seat to charge and catch my bus. On the bus we haven't gone far when I check I've got everything. Phone - check. Sucky stick (vape thingy) - check. Wallet - check. Bus ticket - check. Keys - errr..., errrrrrmmm, OH POOP!

I get off the bus as soon as possible. It'll be a walk back to the hotel but this is important, way to important not to fix NOW! Yeah. I've left the keys, all the keys, in the seat lock of the bike. That includes the bike key and the disk lock key. Oh god. Oh no. I can see phone calls. I can see insurance claims. I can see hiked premiums for both bikes and my car. I can see police. I can see costly train tickets to get home. I can see shame and ridicule. I can see hell. I'm almost running now.

It only takes 10 minutes to walk/run back but it is a painful and angst filled 10 minutes. Point 1 - the bike is still there. Oh sheez, oh my god, thank all that is good, the worst is over. Point 2 - the keys are dangling from the seat lock. I feel the weight of the world slide gracefully off my shoulders. I berate my foolishness relentlessly as I return to the bus stop. My ticket is still valid, all in all the outcome is good. 

And yet I continue to admonish myself relentlessly all the while checking I have everything, time and time and time again.

I am, after all my self chastisement, glad I caught the bus. I have no idea where we are going, I'm not even sure where to get off. But it matters not as I'm not driving and I'll wait until I feel I'm in the city centre. I alight behind a regular modern glass and brick shopping mall. So far? It's a city like all the others.

I've not thought this through have I. I have no idea what I'm looking for, but perhaps that's the point. I want to see what Oxford is really like, not the TV glorification of a grumpy bachelor policeman's idyllic home town. 

It. Is. A. City. For the most part I could be in Leeds or Preston. All the familiar shops and fast food joints. All the familiar street furniture and architecture. All the familiar hustle and bustle as people do their important things as fast as possible. 

It's obviously a university town as the populous has an excess of late teens and early 20s. They're an eclectic lot, from all countries and colours and cultures although there's a strong far eastern count. Pretty young ladies talk on phones, handsome young men push each other around with exaggerated laughter and nerdy types try to pass by invisibly. 

While small in number they stand out. "Eaton types" I'll call them. The boys wear blazer and scarf or rugger top and shorts, floppy hair, nose in the air and walking like they've a rod up their rear. The girls walk in the same manner but wear designer dresses and heels. I'm aware of clichés and often find them to be outdated or simply wrong, but this small select group are indeed a cliché. 

I find "Morse". Well, I find several of the buildings and places used for filming. They are, unquestionably, as they are on TV. The Bodlian Library, Jesus' College, a glimpse into a quadrangle (not at £7 I'm not) and Merton Grove. It's all here, just as it's shown on telly. But you'd be wrong, completely wrong, to think the whole town is ancient stone colleges, punts on the river, spoiled rich kids and professors in gowns. 

The Bodlian. A large round and ornate stone building
The Bodlian, a place to ponder the mystery.

A small arched covered stone bridge between to large stone colleges at Oxford
Oooh it's like Venice without the water.
Metal railings and gate then a footpath and grass down the side of a stone building
I think there was a murder here.

It's a city. A city with some beautiful old buildings and wonderful architecture snuggled between brick and glass office blocks, McDonalds, Tesco and Wetherspoons.  After 2 hours and a Covid safe culturally appropriate McDonalds happy meal I catch the bus back - when I finally find the right stop. 

I'm glad I've been. Save for my own stupidity regarding the keys it has been an education and a good way to break up my return journey. I won't be rushing back to Oxford city centre. More importantly I think the Oxfordshire countryside is worthy of my time if I'm passing through. It'd be good to find a lovely campsite hereabouts.


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Reader's Comments

Upt'North ¹ said :-
Ed, Cities.......strange ain't they.
I've visited many of the worlds "great" (?) cities.... POWER CUT....2120 TO 0300....and feel very fortunate for being able to do so, BUT.
When I arrive I'm hungry to indulge in city life, shows, sights, food, the energy etc, but it usually doesn't last long. Also of course when travelling by bike they can be tricky to negotiate albeit easier to bust through traffic, if you dare. We generally steer clear of them whilst touring but occasionally get drawn in to the bright lights.
Whether it's flying out, or riding out, I always feel better leaving than arriving.
But we'll still visit more, strange innit.
Upt'North.



18/08/2021 09:14:13 UTC
Upt'North ¹ said :-
This is your fault Ed, I'm now missing riding to a city :-(.
Why wouldn't you want to ride here, again.......and again....

Posted Image
18/08/2021 09:40:44 UTC
Ren - The Ed¹ said :-
We are all different Upt'. I know folks who LOVE going to cities. They love the hustle and bustle, they thrive on the culture, they want to wander around every shop and mall and they enjoy the shows and museums and bars. That's absolutely fine but for me? Culture grows under my toe nails, shopping is something you do when you've run out of food and I have zero interest in watching a musical which translates to "The Miserables".

I like a small town. Millau in France was just right for me. Large enough to have the things you need and to offer that experience of being in France, but without the bewildering road system and staggering traffic noises. I adore Ullapool for it's beauty and size and yet remaining mostly self contained. Potes in Spain too, shops and buildings and things to explore without being overwhelmed. Bury St Edmunds manages to retain a sense of character and history too.

There is one city I like - St Davids in South Wales, but that's smaller than most villages anyhow.
18/08/2021 15:15:45 UTC
Ian Soady¹ said :-
When I worked designing systems for Austin Rover I spent a lot of time in Oxford and often stayed overnight. I don't think of it as a city - it's not like Birmingham or Manchester. There used to be a brilliant burger van on St Giiles called Bretts Burgers - their ailoi was out of this world. Infinitely better than mcdonalds. Actually, a quick duckduckgo tells me that the people who ran it may still be around. There was also a fantastic Caribbean restaurant in Cowley where the walls were covered with speakers blsting out Reggae. No menus, just a shouted list of what was "hot" tonight. Washed down with real Red Stripe an experience to savour.

Oxford is small enough to walk around easily - the riverside areas are lovely even if you don't fancy punting. And yes, the edges are pretty nondescript but the centre is pretty. The covered market is another good place to visit.
18/08/2021 15:56:50 UTC
nab301 said :-
Nice write up as usual Ren , I almost fancy a visit myself.
Nigel
19/08/2021 20:08:30 UTC
Bill said :-
Ren if you are going again you can go on a Morse walking tour, takes you to some bits you can easily miss and full of info for fans. You can park you bike for free at the bottom of St Giles in centre.
Bourton on the water nice ride, again free bike parking opposite to good fish and chips.
Bibury is also nice with good roads on the way and many other nice biking roads and lovely small towns and villages in the area.
19/08/2021 20:23:47 UTC
Bogger said :-
From reading your report and the fact you left your keys in your bike. I take it you were not educated there?

Bogger
19/08/2021 20:59:49 UTC
KiwiJeff said :-
Bogger your comment was priceless I await the response from Ren! Cheered me up no end as we are locked down again the pestilence has escaped from Sydney to Auckland. We have had a good run so just have to hope we get rid of it again. Second covid shot in a couple of days so have some protection. Enjoy your rides I have plenty of gardening and house maintenance to catch up on so plenty to occupy the time. Had lunch in Oxford a few years ago enjoyed the old bits parking the car was a challenge!
20/08/2021 01:19:27 UTC
Upt'North ¹ said :-
I'm convinced Ed's key faux par would almost guarantee he was an Oxbridge educated twerp.
Bungling key miscreants the lot of em.
Anyone seen my bike keys?
Upt'North.
20/08/2021 12:50:55 UTC
Ren - The Ed¹ said :-
Bill - I used to be most reluctant regarding things like walks and guided tours. They felt "cheesy" and false and far too touristy for a wild, zany, out-there dude like me. I've come to realise I'm a nidiot (...I know...).

What a walk or bus tour or even a boat tour (Amsterdam) can do is put some meaning into the things around you and point out many things I would normally miss. They can be enlightening and really bring a place to life. I still have a desire to see both sides of a place though. Indeed a tour, particularly a Morse focused tour, would be great - but I also want to see the everyday bits, the mundane and even the rough. I want to see beauty and wonder of course, but I want to come away from anywhere I visit with a balanced and rounded feel of the place.

My key "event"? I'm inclined to agree with Upt'. You only need to watch the news to see what a bunch of over-educated and over-privileged nidiots can un-achieve when running a country. But let us not paint all OxBridge students with the same brush. Much science (including Astra-Zenica jabs) comes from the noggins of well educated folks. It's a balance thing, being edumicated don't necessarily make you smart but it don't make you stupid either.

As for my edukayshun? I'm entirely self taught at the school of life. You can work out how well that's going for me.
20/08/2021 17:25:23 UTC
Bill said :-
If you go to Oxford by car use the park and ride. They are on all sides of the city so doesn't matter where you are coming from, very convenient and cheaper than parking in city and the busses drop you right in the centre and are very frequent.


22/08/2021 12:01:33 UTC
Ren - The Ed¹ said :-
Another good call Bill. When you hate city traffic as much as I do I think Park and Ride is the way to go. I'm not seeing any mention of motorcycle parking but I'd struggle to imagine you couldn't park a bike there.

I'll link to Oxford's Park and Ride page.
https://www.oxfordshire.gov.uk/residents/roads-and-transport/public-transport/pa...
23/08/2021 09:27:04 UTC
Ren - The Ed¹ said :-
And if you ARE brave enough to take on the city then, according to the council's own site, motorcycle parking is free save for one place where bikes aren't allowed. More details in the link.
https://www.oxfordshire.gov.uk/residents/roads-and-transport/parking/where-park/...
23/08/2021 09:29:15 UTC

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