PARDON MY MEANDER

Blow UpFour days tends to be the average maximum between posts on here, though I have nothing to really say today – nothing concerning the usual suspects, that is. I haven’t been sufficiently motivated by either Covid-related stuff or Identity Politics to compose a post since the last one; and that’s how it usually works – I never intentionally sit down and think ‘I must write something about coronavirus transgender racism.’ Whatever gets written usually just appears; it’s rarely premeditated, but I know when a post is on its way. Inspiration when it hits is a bit like seeing the Bat Signal in the sky; suddenly, without warning, it’s there and I spring into action. Well, when there is no Bat Signal hovering over Gotham City that’s generally when we get to the four-day mark. I can’t even default to my familiar standby of reviewing an obscure TV series from the 70s today, as I’m not currently watching one of them that I haven’t already written about on here. However, rather than this ending up being the shortest Telegram from the Winegum of all time, I shall instead ramble and meander a little, just as I sometimes do when I venture outdoors.

Of late, I’ve found ‘the walk’ that we were all encouraged to indulge in during Lockdown Mk. I (as a means of presumably preventing the nation from sinking into couch potato obesity) has become something I succumb to maybe just once a week, mainly because I’ve more or less been everywhere within walking distance now. I suppose I’m more amenable to the idea when it’s a nice day, naturally, and after a few drizzly and chilly interludes bearing a closer resemblance to October rather than August, the weather feels summery again. Therefore, today I decided to embark upon a stroll with no specific destination in mind; I did, however, find myself being drawn back to a location I’ve walked round several times this summer – the empty grounds of a nearby university campus. I say empty only in relation to its term-time tenants, for most students are obviously absent this time of year. Indeed, much like the hospital staff on the episode of ‘Yes Minister’ who don’t feel the need to fill their workplace with actual patients, I can’t help but note what pleasant places campuses are without students getting in the way.

With the majority of this particular campus having being built in the 19th century, it does have an easy-on-the-eye aesthetic appeal in terms of its architecture, and the vast expanse of greenery surrounding the buildings also adds to the ambience. The grounds border a public park, which means the whole site conjures the illusion of being somewhere a long way from an urban environment; the fact it’s not much more than ten minutes on foot from my front door proves that it’s a lot closer than the serene mirage suggests, however. What also plays its part in making this place such a pleasant spot to stroll through is the fact the absence of students reduces the noise levels. This time of year, the campus is like a benign vortex, a silent oasis that it’s hard to believe is just a stone’s throw from a ridiculously busy thoroughfare; living on said thoroughfare means most of the day the only sounds that penetrate my den are manmade: car engines, car horns, car alarms, in-car sound systems, and more than anything else, sirens – bloody sirens. I therefore notice it when I’m somewhere that has none of these sonic abortions, and the campus in question has none of them.

The phrase ‘Whispering Grass’ may evoke memories of Windsor Davies and Don Estelle if you’re of a certain age, but it also fits this place. That’s how lovely it is when all you can hear other than birdsong is the gentle ripple of the lawns in the breeze; what we would call silence can only really be referred to as such when it has something to be compared to; and when compared to the cacophony I’m accustomed to most days, this is silence. But, of course, it’s not silent; it’s merely softer than the norm, and it’s blissful. There are tennis courts in the grounds, but they’re all bolted up and packed away until the more sporty students return; there’s also a space that looks big enough to contain a fair-size football pitch, though the whispering grass there isn’t currently short enough for a proper kickabout and there’s no markings present; I suspect that’ll be attended to by September. That none of the areas catering for students into sporting pursuits are maintained as such when they’re away means these areas are amongst the most quiet and utterly deserted on campus. Anyone familiar with the scenes in seminal Swinging London movie ‘Blow-Up’ when David Hemmings’ photographer character wanders through an empty park without any dialogue or background music getting in the way will recognise just how striking the sound of ‘silence’ is; in fact, this part of the campus reminds me a lot of those scenes bar the bit where he finds the body in the bushes.

The only other people I tend to see out and about up there are either mothers with pushchairs and toddlers who are at that age when they want to walk rather than be pushed, or dog-walkers. I saw a walker with a six-strong pack a couple of weeks back and laughed to myself when I spotted the one dog that every pack has, the obstinate bloody-minded one in possession of selective deafness, the one who always drifts just that little bit too far from the rest, the one whose name is called out more than any of the others; he had a bell on his collar precisely for that reason, I guess. He also caught my eye on account of him being a miniature schnauzer, which happens to be one of my favourite pedigrees; this breed usually produces memorable characters and I used to know one who was indeed just that. It didn’t surprise me that the pooch in this pack stubbornly doing his own thing happened to be a miniature schnauzer.

A cartoon in the last issue of ‘Private Eye’ pictured a man walking a dog being asked by another man what breed it was, to which the dog-walker replied ‘Dunno, I only got him so I don’t look like a pervert when I’m down the park.’ I got the joke because it is true one can feel a tad self-conscious when walking through a park alone and without even a canine companion; I probably feel this more so because there have been times when I’ve had dogs and my presence in the park has therefore seemed ‘legit’. Bereft of a dog, I ordinarily wouldn’t be there, but ever since the first lockdown there’s been a greater impetus to be out for reasons other than simply shopping. That said, self-consciousness when one doesn’t have a dog matters less when strolling through a quiet campus; for all anyone knows, I could be a post-graduate drifter with no home to go back to – or even a slightly eccentric tutor.

There’s a definite out-of-season seaside town vibe to a campus in the summer, though I should imagine anyone else who ventures into this delightful vacuum in July and August will be as conscious as me that our little secret garden won’t be secret for much longer. Once the gates of academia are reopened, the character of the campus will inevitably alter and it’ll cease to be such a tranquil retreat till next summer. I feel a bit like Looby Loo, knowing she can only dance around when Andy Pandy and Teddy are elsewhere; the minute she hears them returning, her brief window of self-indulgence slams shut and she reverts to a lifeless ragdoll. Never having been a student myself, I’ve only understood the appeal of dreaming spires as I’ve matured; and though this campus isn’t Oxford, it nevertheless has a similar atmosphere I’m partial to, as long as it’s empty of students. Hope you didn’t mind this meander, by the way; I’ve never considered travel writing on account of not doing much in the way of travelling (bit of a hindrance, that), so this is as near as I’ll get for the moment.

© The Editor

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