Ridiculous title I know, but it wasn’t of my invention. It was the last lecture that I attended in Oxford before the ‘great intellectual desert’ began. This is something that happens regularly at the end of the academic year when Oxford is transformed. The city is then invaded by youngsters from all over the world who come here to learn ‘Oxford English’. Funnily enough there is no such thing. As I often observe, the people of Oxford talk, “like what I do when I be ‘appily speaking in me properrr coun’ry accent with no ‘h’s and lots of ‘rrr’s”. And, of course, the people of the University itself are from all over the place. I suppose the myth derives from that phenomenal creation The Oxford English Dictionary, but I won’t bang on about that since I put all I know of it in my book.
Yes, for a few months the streets are full of young people often clad in the colours of the many language schools that sprout like mushrooms around the city, and then lie dormant for nine months until the next big influx. Added to that we have a massive peak in the number of tourists visiting the city (yearly around nine million and growing) during the months of July and August. These are the months when I am filled with both guilt and shame through my association with the Oxford tourist industry.
It’s funny, but the ‘great intellectual desert’ begins with music – classical music. I have never understood why, but the number of concerts held in the city seems to reach a peak as the student go off for their long break. And there is also an outburst of outdoor Shakespearean plays, many held in college gardens. So maybe it’s not a desert at all, but for me it is since there are virtually no public lectures.
My pitiful life in Oxford is mainly controlled by a website called Daily Information where I zoom straight into the What’s On section, then to the Lectures and Meeting bit, followed by the Gigs and Comedy bit and finally the Concerts. Sometimes I have a hard time choosing which lecture to go to since they are mostly bunched in the five until seven evening slots of the day, but meeting tend to be later and gigs later still. So, in August, I am starved of thought provoking lectures, but I still have music and the last few days have been particularly good. On Thursday night I cycled down to the Cape of Good Hope pub on Oxford’s busy roundabout The Plain. There were not many players or listeners around, however one guitarist was brilliant. He could really belt it out and started his spot with a reggae number and stuck to that as a theme through a series of songs which were not actually reggae.
On Saturday night I took Margaret to the Tree Hotel where Pete Fryer was celebrating his 70th birthday by playing a gig. This place was packed and Pete sings great oldies with verve and passion. He is backed by his brother Phil on lead guitar, Phil’s partner Sue on bass and on this occasion the son of Pete’s partner Liz’s son on drums. These people are legendary in Oxford having entertained the populace in various ways since the sixties. I particularly liked Another Brick in Wall and decided that night that I would like to rewrite the lyrics to emphasise the dark supremacy in today’s classroom, but wonder if my near namesake, Roger Waters would approve? All in all, it’s just another kick of the ball.
On Sundays we usually go the Harcourt Arms in Jericho for open-mike which is always good fun. But instead we walked a little further to the Bookbinders where the beer is better and the musicians often of higher quality (imho). It was almost deserted and the barmaid tried to overcharge me for drinks, so this was not a good start. Then two fellows took the stage, one with harmonica, the other with guitar and vocals, and magical music poured forth and the beer was great and there was nowhere I would have rather been. I suppose they played six or seven songs, all excellent and everything from Blue Moon to Willie Nelson, and the entirety played their own special way. The harp was the best I have ever heard and singing and guitar playing excellent.
Now I’m sure you're thinking what has all that got to do with China saving the planet? Well, the speaker at the lecture told us that China has the most solar power in the world and the most wind turbines. Unfortunately it also burns the most coal. So all they have to do is stop burning coal and start playing music instead.