Pam and I took a walk the other day which I don't think we've done since we were undergraduates. We strolled along South Parks Road, to see how the devotees of Natural Philosophy are getting on. And the verdict is: splendidly! Readers will recall the 1938 chapter of Let Dons Delight, where Roberts, the venerable and aged science don at Simon Magus College, is inclined to complain that "the labs are being starved". Not any more, they're not. Unbelievably, a great brutalist monstrosity on the corner of South Parks Road and Mansfield Road, temp. 1970, which in a sane world would be demolished, is being refurbished for another phase of its misbegotten life!!
We hurried past it to revisit the redbrick building with pretty Queen Anneish gables on the other side of the road: in our, happier, times a convent, but now describing itself as Linacre College. I was wondering what has become of all the clever nuns who were such an adornment to intellectual life in the 1960s ... when the penny dropped in my mind: clever nuns are now largely a thing of the past. The Spirit of Vatican II has phased out such unwanted anomalies.
So we passed the desolate site of Parsons' Pleasure, where Sir Maurice Bowra once so famously adjudged his os to be magis pudendum than his inguina, and approached Mesopotamia. But lo! there is a new path on the West side of the Cherwell ... which led us to S Catherine's College, a building described by 'Bauhaus' Pevsner in 1974 as "a perfect piece of architecture ... if young people don't like it, that may be an argument against them rather than against the college". Ah ... the facile arrogance of a cultural elite ...
The Medieval monks, in their crabbed way, devised the concept of the quadrangle or cloister, wherein the members of a scholarly (or any) community can most comfortably relate to each other, and enjoy the shelter afforded by this enclosed design against the worst demonstrations of our weather. In so devising they were, of course, simply reinventing the old Roman convention of the urban house looking inwards to its sheltered interior peristyle garden.
The Enlightenment of the 1960s knew so much better than monks and Romans. "Cat's" follows a quadrangular design but wisely leaves open the North and South ends of its neo-quadrangles, thus skilfully chanelling cold North winds so that they sweep refreshingly down through the entire complex.
We returned to Mansfield Road hoping to pass by the little house where, six decades ago, Pam used to go for tutorials with Miriam Griffin. Horror!! Not only have nearly all those coy little donnish houses been demolished, but the entire site of Shrewsbury College has been flattened!
"Shrewsbury College" ... its very dedication calls to mind a happy era of strong and clever women, long before the advent of the whinging Sisterhood. "... Mary Countess of Shrewsbury ... the queer, strong-featured face, with its ill-tempered mouth and sidelong secretive glance ... Bess of Hardwick's daughter ... a great intellectual, indeed, but something of a holy terror: uncontrollable by her menfolk, undaunted by the Tower, contemptuously silent before the Privy Council, an obstinate recusant, a staunch friend and implacable enemy and a lady with a turn for invective remarkable even in an age when few mouths suffered from mealiness. ... Her husband, the 'great and glorious Earl of Shrewsbury', had purchased domestic peace at a price; for, said Bacon, there was 'a greater than he, which is my Lady Shrewsbury'".
On the boarding surrounding the demolition site, there is one of those deliciously deceitful "Architects' Drawings". It demonstrates what is even now being built in place of Shrewsbury College. In the middle there will be Scone College Cricket Ground, and round it accommodation for undergraduate and postgraduate members of that eccentric collegiate institution. The drawing shows men in white, vigorously playing Cricket within, er, a few feet of plate-glass windows.
Ah, well, I'm sure the Master of Scone ("First come I. My name is Jowett / There's no knowledge but I know it") knows best.
We scuttled off down Jowett Walk ("I am the Master of this College / What I don't know isn't knowledge") to the Covered Market, and stocked up with Levantine goodies ... no; not in Palm's delicatessen; that, like Fuller's Walnut Cake, now only exists as a Platonic Idea ... but at Manos's Greek Restaurant (admirable, but not as admirable as his magnificent first emporium still flourishing up in Jericho).
That cheered us up enough to enable us to stagger to our 'bus-stop outside Cardinal College.