My Alma Mater Revisited

I always feel a little strange returning to Oxford. It was only six years ago that I graduated, but my life has changed almost beyond recognition since then. Being back in the city of dreaming spires awakens all sorts of memories for me – not all of them good – and despite visiting Oxford at fairly regular intervals, my heart invariably starts to beat a little faster as I draw closer to it. I visited Oxford yesterday for a client meeting, and as I arrived early, I had time for a little wander beforehand.

I went first to Radcliffe Square, where I was reminded of the time when, at the end of my first year, I had two solid days of exams, known as “Mods”. Those two days were horrific: a three-hour exam in the morning, a three-hour exam in the afternoon, and the same again the next day. I think each three-hour exam entailed writing four essays answering various impenetrable questions. In the hour or so between exams I sought refuge in the Radcliffe Camera – part of the Bodleian Library – frantically cramming for the next exam whilst trying not to beat myself up about my performance in the one that I’d just come out of.


The church spire you can see in the background is from the University Church. A happier memory associated with that: my sister Helen – now at Oxford herself – came up to visit me one day when I was there and we climbed to the top of that tower to admire the amazing views of Oxford.


The so-called Bridge of Sighs. It’s part of Hertford College and I’ve not actually been in it, but just beyond it – where the brick building is – is a tiny passageway leading to the Turf Tavern, a characterful pub where I first tried cider and spent many an evening toasting marshmallows on outdoor fires.


The Sheldonian Theatre, where my matriculation ceremony marked the start of my Oxford days, and my graduation ceremony – in which I had to speak Latin – the end. After university I went to see the Marriage of Figaro there too.


Part of the river up by St Catherine’s College. Punting is the quintessential Oxford summer activity. You can see some moored up in the distance, but I mainly took this photo as there were some adorable ducklings, which are probably too small for you to make out in this picture.


After my meeting I met up with Helen and we bought sandwiches from Green’s Cafe (another former haunt of mine) and took them into the college gardens. I went to St John’s College, the same one Helen is now at, which is certainly a place I hold dear as my former home.




It’s hard to imagine that these tranquil gardens are right in the heart of Oxford. They’re surprisingly peaceful considering the traffic trundling past their perimeter. This was our view from the bench we sat on for lunch. It was so nice to hear the wind in the trees and chat and not think too much about work for a while.


The bluebells were out in force.


This is the view across the lawn to the college library, in which I spent many, many hours studying. I often chose a seat with a view over the garden, which was pleasant though rather distracting! When I was there we were treated to a firework display on the lawn on Bonfire Night.



A closer view of the library, which has a gorgeous tangle of wisteria growing up it.



This is Canterbury Quad. It’s been found to be one of the quietest urban spaces in the whole country.


And this is Front Quad. I once saw Margaret Thatcher in Front Quad. I was returning to my room for some lunch after a morning revising, when the Porters told me to stop for a moment without explaining why. Then a little frail old lady was escorted through the quad by several people, including our then-President, Sir Michael Scholar. I think he was an adviser of hers when she was Prime Minister, or something. We hadn’t known she was visiting and a fellow student onlooker said to me, “Is that who I think it is?” It was!


This is the view from the other corner of the quad. My tutor’s rooms were off this quad, and the grand door you can see on the right is the President’s Lodgings, where we had our end of term reports (“collections”) read out to us and words of encouragement (and reprimand to some, I daresay) given to us by the President. The door under the clock leads to a series of other quads, all of which I had a room in at various points in my time at St John’s.


It was really nice to visit St John’s again and I still can’t believe how lucky I am to have been to university there. It’s by no means the first time I’ve been back since I graduated, but it was such a nice, sunny day that I couldn’t resist the chance to take some photos of this supremely photogenic place.

2 Comments on My Alma Mater Revisited

  1. MonaM
    May 25, 2015 at 1:55 am (5 years ago)

    Replying here as the other thread is closed ;) Yes you had mentioned your reason for closing the comments, I was just chiding myself for getting so far behind ;)
    I was thinking, as the years have gone by I’ve added a few bloggers as Facebook friends. A couple of whom have even turned into real life friends! You guys seem normal enough!! I could send you a friend request? I believe then you can see my profile, and decide if I’m normal enough for you ;) And accept if you like? Then you can see my travel photos too!

    • Rachel McCombie
      May 25, 2015 at 7:28 am (5 years ago)

      That would be lovely, Mona, please feel free to add me!