I left the reading and stress
of my newly begun MA behind this weekend, journeying to Oxford, an hour on the train2 from Paddington, to see an old friend. As I pulled out of Paddington, tourists pausing for a photo beside a “Paddington Bear” stand, my head felt heavy from the night before, and I felt tired and drained. Still, my spirits lifted once I got to Oxford. Its only an hour away from London, but a world away. We walked amid the gothic spires, the ancient colleges and well groomed lawns, past the Bodleian Library, and its reading room modelled on the Roman parthanon. It was good to reminisce about my days in Nottingham, and good to escape the hustle and bustle of London; at SOAS the temptation to partay, or at least to drink, is strong, with Soho and the nightlife of London just around the corner. But in Oxford there’s an academic ambiance everywhere, as if everyone should be diving inside the nearest library to read. This is an exaggeration of course, and Oxford has plenty of “townies” to go with its “gownies”. Still, it was nice to escape.
In the evening, we went to my friend’s friends birthday do- Brie cheese, crisps, baguette and humous dips in their Oxford student residence, before a journey out to a cheap but delicious cocktail bar in the centre of Oxford. I had a nice discussion about the decisions involved in doing a Phd, as well as the various students you get on a Masters course- the quiet, note-takers, the loud, academic-sounding “intellectuals” with their geek bravado, and the shades of grey in between. The cocktails had their effect, and soon enough it was time for the train back. I lost myself in my Paul Theroux book. Maybe it was that Paul was in Wakkanai, the northernmost town on the Japanese island of Hokkaido, or the strong Mojito I’d drank, but as I turned the pages, drinking my M&S canned gin and tonic (a glorious invention), I was transported back in time. I looked out the window to the blackened fields, and could almost see the scenery transform, from rural England to the countryside between Kurashiki and Okayama, a journey I often took while commuting to Seishi High School in Japan. My mind flicked between various thoughts and emotions- missing Japan, missing travel, loving literature and the turning of the page, and more immediate thoughts from the day in Oxford, comfort in my own academic confidence yet unsure of the path ahed of me.
It was a perfect journey back, punctuated by strange events. Then, on the Circle line train back to Liverpool Street I made room for an Asian girl’s boyfriend, moving to the seat to the right to let him sit down. She looked distinctly Japanese, but when she spoke an Eastend twang came out- the multiculture of the modern world. As the train pulled into Farringdon, my friend texted me: “Im in a bar in farringdon now 🙂 Are you home yet? Wanna come out?”. Struck by the bizareness of this coincidence, I stopped mid-sentence in Theroux and stepped off the train. I called- we had a conversation, but I decided it was time for a return home. At Liverpool Street I had a much needed Malboro menthol, then got the 48 to Hackney Central, and the 232 to Homerton. Back home.