Of Oxford and protests elsewhere in Britain


LONDON : Malala, Mexico, murder mystery, MI5, movies, music, milk of various kinds, hurrying mothers pushing buggies and herding toddlers -- that's Oxfordshire in Merry Ol' England for you this summer.

Malala Yousafzai has tweeted she is "so excited" to get a place at the University of Oxford, where the 20-year-old Nobel Peace Prize winner will study philosophy, politics and economics. Alan Rusbridger, a former editor of the Guardian newspaper who is now principal of the university's Lady Margaret Hall, has in turn tweeted: Welcome to @lmhoxford, Malala! Not surprising.

The country is into a summer of activism and protests in solidarity with the "Black Lives Matter" demos in the US. Protesters recently took to tony Oxford Street in London to march against the killings of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling, one in Minnesota and the other in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, by white policemen.

One night, dozens of protesters brought much of Brixton, in south London, to a halt, waving banners and placards in outrage as a video of one of the shootings went viral. In Wimbledon, tennis star Serena Williams, expressing anguish, said: "In London, I have to wake up to this. He was black. Shot four times? When will something be done -- no, REALLY be done?!"

Believe it or not, even at the august Globe Theatre, "Much Ado About Nothing" plays out not in the Sicilian town of Messina but at a Mexican border town, with all the gender binaries set amidst American flags draping box cameras and cinema wheels, such that no one can miss the reference to the Trump-caused Mexico-US tensions. There couldn't be a more obviously classic British protest.

Theatrewise, "Mama Mia" and "Matilda" are still a rage. "Mousetrap" is still playing and at Covent Garden, the rushing crowd invariably stops at the Agatha Christie memorial at the intersection of Cranbourn Street and Great Newport Street by St Martin's Cross.

Close by is Baker Street with its make-believe reality. Houses where Sean Connery and Roger Moore lived are also attractions, as are all the Christie houses in London, Devon and elsewhere -- along with the MI5 office and New Scotland Yard.

But it is to Oxford one needs to come for a real taste of murder, especially if one is a movie or book buff of the bloodthirsty kind.

In the words of Martin Edwards, author of "The Golden Age of Murder", Oxford famously supplies the backdrop for the television series "Inspector Morse, Lewis and Endeavour", as well as novels by Colin Dexter. Both books and TV shows gain their flavour from the local landscape -- especially the pubs. The Perch Inn is a favourite haunt of Morse and Lewis, while "The Dead of Jericho", the first episode and one of the best, saw multiple deaths in the vicinity of Canal Street.

Guillermo Martinez's "The Oxford Murders", filmed in 2008, concerns an Oxford logician and cryptic clues to a series of killings. During the "Golden Age of Murder" between the two world wars, several classic mystery novels were set in the city. "Gaudy Night" by Dorothy L. Sayers, with poison pen letters and obscene graffiti desecrating a fictionalised version of her old college, Somerville, remains the best-known.

Again in 1931, David Frome's "The Body in the Turl" (the clue is in the title) started a vogue for Oxford mysteries. Two years later, "An Oxford Tragedy" by J.C. Masterman (later Vice Chancellor of the University), saw an unpopular tutor shot in the rooms of the Dean of St Thomas's College.

While media reports talk of Oxford farmers being forced to sell their cows due to falling prices of milk, there's choice aplenty for the buyer -- British whole milk, semi-skimmed, skimmed, one percent fat, organic, flavoured, special -- in jerrycans off the shelves at Sainsbury's.

You see tiny babies in buggies all over Oxfordshire and hundreds of youngsters brought by Chinese, Japanese and Spanish parents and schools to tour Oxford; even the "experience" of being taught by an "Oxford" student is sold here -- but one never catches anyone drinking milk.

From Lambeth Bridge to Piccadilly Circus, much of London's Westend is absorbed in Harry Potter tourism, where quite a lot of the filming was done. However, Oxford takes the cake for Pottermania.

At the Divinity School at the Bodleian Library in Oxford, you will recognise Hogwart's Infirmary and Library. The cloisters at New College were used in the film "Harry Potter & the Goblet of Fire" and, of course, one cannot miss the Christ Church College dining hall which is Hogwart's Hall.

Then there is Alice. In 1862, the writer Lewis Carroll, who was a math teacher at Christ Church College, on a boat ride on the Thames, told her sisters and Alice Liddell, the 10-year-old daughter of H.G. Liddell, the dean of Christ Church College, the story of Alice in Wonderland, where a little girl named Alice follows a White Rabbit down a rabbit-hole into a magical Wonderland.

July 1 is celebrated as Alice's Day. There are thousands of children walking through Oxford every day. Looking at Dodos, going on ghost walks and scurrying along the Potter trail or following Alice on the boat.

All in the wonderland of Oxford.


All Comments