The problem when I come to write in a public place – like here, in the restaurant on the rooftop of the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, is that as soon as I open my laptop to type, a large portion of the English language floats lazily out of my head, along with my impetus to write. I don’t know if it’s the pressure of having people around me, or the noise, or my internal critic telling me that I’m shit, but public writing is never as romantic or inspiring as I think it’s going to be. Hence why I’m writing this blog. Kind of like a warm-up lap; a few metaphorical star-jumps before I (probably never) get into the long-distance run of my novel.
Actually, just like my own writing, Oxford isn’t living up to my expectations. The main streets are almost Piccadilly-Circus-level-busy: that level of busy where it’s impossible to stop or turn around suddenly without creating an angry human pile-up behind you, so you end up marching way too far in entirely the wrong direction until you can safely dart behind a lamp post, or a bin, take a deep breath and plunge gallantly into the other stream of people going the opposite way.
Is there anything more pleasant than wandering aimlessly around a massive museum looking at spotlit cabinets full of ancient junk, without having anywhere to be, or anything too pressing to do? So far today I’ve looked at bits of junk from ancient China, Rome, Greece and the Near East. Some of it is fake junk – like Roman statues that are actually just hollow casts, but there is real junk here too, like an actual grippy a woman wore in her hair 2,000 years ago, which is pretty cool. History is reassuring in that way, because nothing much changes. Women still like to slide pretty little nick-knacks into their hair today and maybe 2,000 years from now, the few remaining human women sleeping in incubators on whatever Earth-like planet we’re forced to inhabit will also have hair grippies.
A fun* game to play in Oxford is spot the academic. It’s a futile game, because of course unless I ask everyone for a full education back-story, I can never really know if I’m right or not. But I think I can tell. Oxford students and alumni have a certain look. Attractive, stylish, slightly edgy and artsy but in a considered, intentional way, like they know what geniuses are supposed to look like but they can’t quite bring themselves to do the whole not-ironing-or-washing-much thing. It’s a hint of dishevelledness. A murmur. Anyway, I should be thinking about more important things.
I have two more floors of old junk to look at and I’ve already paid my bill and my table is being eyed by the staff so I better get going.
*It’s not that fun.