Monday, November 25, 2013

Carfax, Oxford's city centre
At that early hour pubs were open for business. Some had been on the go all night as the crowds drank beer and celebrated till dawn.The aroma of an English breakfast – eggs, bacon, sausage, fried bread, tomato and freshly brewed coffee – wafted from more than one doorway as I passed.

At Carfax, where Oxford’s four main roads meet, street cleaners in orange overalls swept the night’s debris from around tired students lolling on the edge of the sidewalk.

By day this very spot is a maelstrom of double-decker buses. Weaving bicycles challenge the traffic, taxis hoot and jay-walkers take their chances between rushing cars. But in the early hours of that particular morning, the only sound was muted voices as walkers hurried toward Magdalen tower.

In the distance a sea of spectators gathered, waiting for that moment when the sun would tip the spires of the city.

The High, Oxford’s main street, is considered by many to be the finest thoroughfare in all of Europe. Among its centuries-old buildings – The Queen’s College, Oriel College, Pembroke College, Magdalen College, the Examinations School and the Church of St. Mary the Virgin – are some of Britain’s finest examples of architecture. Parts of St. Mary’s Church date back to the 11th century and the church itself is mentioned in England’s famous Domesday book. For me, walking to Magdalen tower that morning was like a walk through history.

As the sky coloured with the onset of sunrise, the throng of people swelled until they seemed to fill every space. Elevated positions, walls, steps and surrounding windowsills, were choice viewing points and had long been commandeered by earlier arrivals.

Many onlookers were dressed in elegant ballgowns and black tie from college balls the night before. And then there were the revelers from the May Ball at Shotover on the outskirts of Oxford. After a night of dancing and drinking, mayhem erupted on the main road as inebriated parties decided to walk back to Oxford.

On this particular occasion, punts are rented for champagne breakfasts. Punters with picnic hampers gathered near the bridge in their flat-bottomed boats where the chance of being tipped into the water or jumped on from above are hazards that go with the event. At a previous May Morning celebration two young men, overcome by youthful exuberance, dived from the bridge into three feet of water and suffered severe injuries.
More to follow tomorrow...
Photo copyright Anne Gordon
Posted by Anne Gordon on Monday, 25th November, 2013


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