A walk through Oxford. A personal moment of crisis in the midst of a continuing national and international one. And a pathway to hope and enchantment. Writer Yang-May Ooi reflects on change and letting go of the past.
Rose Lane, Pathway to Enchantment ¦ Oxford Moments
We’re all in need of some enchantment at the moment.
Oxford as a city has always had an enchanting air with its famed “dreaming spires” and beautiful historical architecture at every turn. But it is also a living, modern city with buses and traffic buzzing along its busy streets and a bustling town centre full of the usual chain stores.
I walked through the city in the early winter, after the second lockdown and just before Oxford went into Tier 4, and eventually this current Lockdown 3.0. Work and life were going on at every moment, along every street, in every corner. People were doing their best to go about their daily lives.
Despite what seemed to be normal comings and goings, there was a sombreness in the air. Faces were mostly masked. Some shops were closed, possibly never to re-open.
I had a feeling of un-ease, or perhaps it was dis-ease?
Relentless Forward Motion
I had been in my new house in East Oxford for around two months. Yes, it was starting to feel a bit more like home. But although a sofa and dining table set were on order, I was still making do with garden furniture. I had had to downsize to move here and had thrown away loads of clothes, notebooks of writings and story ideas going back to my childhood, most of my hard copy photos (retaining only scanned versions) and all kinds of bits and pieces that make up over 50 years of a life.
I was feeling a pang for my beloved house in Dulwich that I had imagined would be my “Forever House”.
There had been the edgy energy of the late summer preparing to move. The excitement of finally arriving in Oxford in October. And the focus of setting up my house to my liking over the recent few weeks. I had not had time to look up beyond this driven determination.
And now I had a moment to take a breath.
No Going Back
Beneath my focus on what I could make of my circumstances – on making a new home here, taking on the adventure of a new life in a new city – I had a sense, suddenly, of being adrift.
Nothing would ever be the same again. My notebooks, photos and clothes were in a landfill somewhere, along with most of my old furniture and knick-knacks. My Forever House in Dulwich belonged to someone else who was in the throes of knocking through walls, pulling up carpets, tearing down the kitchen and bathroom.
There was no going back to what I had had – to what life had been.
Looking around me at all the people walking by in masks, seeing masked faces through the windows of buses, noting all the social distancing signs on the pavements and in shop windows, I realised that none of us would ever go back to the life we had had.
Whatever may come from the vaccine and however much freedom we may yet recover in our uncertain future, life would be different. Not just for me but for all of us. Not just for Oxford but the whole world.
I felt heavy and darkened as I turned off the High Street down Rose Lane.
Memories of a Boy I Loved
Rose Lane is a quiet cul-de-sac off the High Street just after the Botanical Gardens. It is quiet and pretty but not especially remarkable. I followed it away from the buses rumbling by on the main road. The lane felt familiar and comforting.
A lifetime ago, when I had been a student here, my boyfriend Jean-Paul* used to park his little Renault down this lane – in those days when you could drive a car into central Oxford and park pretty much anywhere you wanted. Rose Lane felt like the same narrow street he and I had walked down so many times – and yet, it was not the same. I felt like the same girl who had been in love back then and who had dreamt of becoming a writer – and yet, I was not the same. That love had ended. In the thirty plus years after that, I had discovered joy and heartache, success and loss, achieved some of my dreams and seen others slip from my fingers. And I had loved again too.
That day, walking down Rose Lane, I was the me I was in that moment, the result of countless other moments of change I had lived – in the act of becoming the me of the future. I felt my mood lift. I smiled, wondering what moments life had offered Jean-Paul and where that had all led him.
That day, the world too was in flux, in perpetual transformation, moving ever forward. Life would never be the same as it was before the pandemic – but then, life never can be the same at any given moment anyway. The world too is always in the act of becoming.
Stepping through the Threshold
At the end of the lane is a set of forbidding black iron gates. A narrow opening allows pedestrians through, one at a time. There were only a few people about and we each took our turn to make our way through, some going in, some coming out, all of us keeping an appropriate social distance.
As I stepped through the gates, a vista of trees, river and meadow opened out in front of me. The rumbling city, the masked people coming and going, Covid, lockdown, my old life in London, what I missed and could not let go off – they all dispersed in the dappled light of the autumn morning.
I had walked into Christchurch Meadows…. an enchanted bucolic idyll in the middle of city life…
=>> Read more in my next blog post, coming soon
*not his real name
Oxford Moments is a multimedia blog by author Yang-May Ooi, exploring the city of Oxford, its people and places. “Oxford inspired me as a student and infused much of my life over the last few decades. I have now moved back here and this project is my multi-faceted rediscovery of a city that I have always loved.” Follow Oxford Moments at bit.ly/OxfordMoments
Author: Yang-May Ooi
Yang-May Ooi is a writer & podcaster. Her creative work includes The Flame Tree and Mindgame (novels), Bound Feet Blues (theatre) and Creative Conversations (podcast). ¦ www.TigerSpirit.co.uk