Oxford snapshots

Oxford is not what it was
if that is, it ever was
it was ‘town and gown’ in 64
when I slept rough
in shop doors and bus shelters
nicking breakfast biscuits
from ramshackle stalls
to dunk in 6d a cup sour tea
at the Covered Market 
all-night cafe
the Market is now ethnic boutiquerie
antique emporia and wifi cafes
and the city?
‘town, gown, selfie sticks, and noodle bars’
touts’ shouts drown steeple bells,
‘one hour topless bus tours!’
‘bare chested? before Easter?’
this is a town
mad for cash
and girt for it
spotting fridge magnets –
a tourist ‘must have’ at 2.99 –
I snap up a bargain
four for a tenner
escaping the bustle
tramping ancient dream streets,
familiar from Morse and Lewis shows
I breathe a little easier
a pilgrimage to Magpie Lane
or ‘Grope Cunt Alley’ as they called it
when Tudor strumpets plied their trade there
a cluster of ‘Toon’ fan tourists, Japanese,
crowds the street-sign posing for selfies  
in Blackwell’s on ‘The Broad’
where ‘teenage homeless me’
lifted books ‘on order’
from well-heeled students
for doss house nights  
and pies and pints
‘established me’ bought copies
of  Paul Durcan’s Crazy About Women
and put them back on the shelf
for re-sale –
a symbolic replevin
in hope of expurgation
conscience cleansed,
right with god,
justified, and thirsting
for beer and culture
to the ‘Eagle and Child’
a mahogany varnished
sanctuary for the literati
where Morse drank
and Tolkien and Lewis (C.S.) too –
the latter a Tuesday regular
soft-core Euro-pop
insinuates each snug –
no sign of books
Carfax corner where in 64
I bumped into Kenneth Williams
and shook his hand
(and only his hand)
is now homeless central
a pavement ‘sleeper’
cursed as I tripped on his
‘spare change’ cap
and silver spilled over his Costa cups
and taco wrappers
into the gutter
the up-market outfitters
where in 64
I window-lusted after
a Prince of Wales check
three-piece suit,
and tried, and failed,
to smash and grab it
is now a ‘Sweaty Betty’ outlet
at St Aldate’s cash machine
an aggressive beggar
extorts a twenty
from a woman he harassed –
she hands the note over
and flusters away –
that it should come to this…

© coolhermit 2023
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You seem to know Oxford well. I used to live a 30 minute car drive away and was often there as a shopper and occasional tourist and I am ashamed to admit I know little about the place, but do remember how effing difficult it was to find a parking space. 🙂

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