An advantage of an early start to the work day is the chance to see London before it properly wakes up. It’s a bit bleary-eyed, needs a shave and a haircut and another coffee wouldn’t go amiss.
No. Wait, that’s me. But the principle holds, and just after sunup is a good time to change focus and look up rather than at the pavement. Things catch your eye.
The reflection of a street in a car hood, and the way the attention is drawn down a bleak alleyway to a white tower in the distance. Two office blocks, squat and menacing, guarding the way into Oxford Street. Or a jet trail, catching the light in just the right way, lancing into a department store by Leicester Square, sending out a plume of statues like surrealist flowers.
Looking at these three together, I suddenly realise how much sky there is in them. As I work in a dark room all day, I’m sure there’s a reason for that.
Yesterday saw Oxford light up, as their annual Night Light festival ushered in the Christmas season. The town was heaving as the colleges and museums opened their doors to the curious, and markets filled the labyrinthine corridors around Oxford Castle and filled St Giles’ wide boulevard.
It was great fun to wander about and catch unexpected moments and photo opportunities. Mummers wandered through the throng. A drum troupe set up on the Monument and shook the air. Belly dancers gyrated in the halls of the Ashmolean, the sinuous music a fitting soundtrack to the new Egyptian galleries. TLC and I sat in the great hall at the Bodleian Library, and felt 2 IQ points smarter just by osmosis from all the learning that had soaked into the narrow benches we sat upon.
I had been there earlier in the day, looking at an exhibition of some of the Library’s greatest treasures. I stood wonderingly in front of an original page of Mary Shelley’s manuscript for Frankenstein, complete with corrections and additions from Percy Bysshe. An edition of the Koran from the 15th century glowed in gold-leafed perfection, and I could see where Craig Thompson’s obsession with Arabic calligraphy came from. An illuminated Gutenberg Bible, one of less than 20 left in the world, came close to giving me the chills. The fact that these documents still exist is amazing enough. That they are such beautiful artifacts in their own right is nothing short of a miracle.
At its best, Oxford is a magical place, filled with history and wonder, with new delights down every narrow alleyway. Yesterday it shone, lit up like a beacon of civilisation and knowledge in the darkness.
“I hereby undertake not to remove from the Library, nor to mark, deface, or injure in any way, any volume, document or other object belonging to it or in its custody; not to bring into the Library, or kindle therein, any fire or flame, and not to smoke in the Library; and I promise to obey all rules of the Library.”
All sounds fair enough to me. This is the Radcliffe Camera, part of the Bodleian Library. One of the oldest in Europe, the main depository for the University Of Oxford, and one of those buildings that gives Oxford it’s Harry Potter vibe. The quote above is the formal declaration for new readers, which has to be recited out loud in a ceremony at Michelmas before they’ll let you near the books.
And people wonder why I get swoony about libraries. I’d happily swear an oath of fealty to mine!
TLC is famously camera-shy, especially when it comes to whacking photos of her up on the interwebs.
Who can blame her. I hide behind a cartoon rabbit avatar, after all. There’s a lot of discussion around about privacy on the net, and how far that extends into how we present ourselves online. Should we be compelled into an internet profile that consists of our own faces, our real names? For the kids growing up with Facebook, privacy seems to be a thing of the past. Everything about you is shared, without a second thought. All your indiscretions, your saddest, silliest moments, those face-pulling pics, the whole shebang. Your life in all it’s wobbly-eyed, crazed magnificence.
If you want to do that, fine. Not my bag. I cringe and run for my privacy settings whenever Facebook roll out a new feature. I know a few people that are moving to Google+ for that very reason, one because Facebook would not allow him to post under an pseudonym. The point is, freedom of expression also means freedom to express yourself as much or as little as you want, and the presentation of your online self is a vital part of that. Identity can be currency in the 21st century, and I think it’s good to be careful.
Your pseudonymous life doesn’t have to be completely fictional, of course. That way can lead to disaster. A carefully chosen avatar, a handle to which you’ve given a little thought, can give a flavour of your character. It’s up to you how much, or how little, you choose to show to the world.
With that in mind, then, here’s a pic which sums up TLC and her sweet, gentle nature perfectly – to me, at least.
The Weather Gods finally grace you with a clear evening, so you hurry down to the beach, camera in hand.
The sun has touched the horizon line as you get there, and you begin to snap away. And then, you stop. This is something new, and not an event to be witnessed through a viewfinder.
The sun is sinking as you watch. Over thirty seconds it shrinks to a half-coin, a sliver, a dot, before the sea swallows it and it winks away. There is no record that you can show people of this. It doesn’t matter. You have it, warming a corner of your memory in coral pink and Florida orange. This one’s a keeper. This one is safe.
You walk back to your cottage in the dimming light, hand in hand with your wife.
The Storm Giants come at us from a thousand miles away. That’s one hell of a run-up. They hurl their fury at the coastline with brutal, unforgiving force, and also with a dreadful patience.
We can do this for millennia, the cannonade of the surf declares. Eventually, your castle walls will fail you.
But the defences at Bedruthen are strong, and built to last. Better yet, they are manned by invisible creatures, twice as tall as we are. The steps carved into the battlements are much too steep and wide for we puny humans. They fling rocks at the storm, and have done so for a very long time.
We are simple observers to a war that has raged since we first whispered around campfires. A war that will continue long after we are sketches and memory.
TLC and I have gone into the west, where stories bloom between the rocks like strange, glorious flowers, and all the beasts have TALES.