Living on the Cowley Road

When I found out I would be moving to Oxford, my mine immediately filled with images not unlike what you may be imagining when I say the words “moving to Oxford.” You know, things like this:

or maybe like this:

or, then again, maybe like this:

I knew intellectually that Oxford, like the rest of England, has (at least to a certain extent) left the nineteenth century behind, but there was nonetheless a part of my imagination that still assumed that Oxford would be filled mostly with posh white people and maybe some horses.

But this is, of course, most certainly not the case. Without a doubt, there is no shortage of posh white people, and though I haven’t seen them, the existence of a riding club suggests there are horses at least in the vicinity. The truth of Oxford in 2017, however, is far more excellent than the images offered my imagination by a lifetime of nostalgic media and romanticism.

As chronicled in a previous post, bringing the cats from California curtailed my housing options more than a little bit, and as a result, I have ended up living far from the yellow stone fortresses of dark wood-panelled learning that comprises the entirety of most American’s understanding of this city. The neighborhood I find myself in is named after the road that takes you out of Oxford and into nearby Cowley. Cowley Road is in East Oxford, and is by far the most interesting part of the city I have yet discovered.

Not only is it one of the most ethnically and economically diverse parts of Oxford, it is densely packed with a wide variety of markets, shops, places of worship (at least two churches and three mosques), venues, theaters, restaurants, and pubs. It’s amazing.

One one walk from my house into the city center, I counted the markets along the way. Not including a Tesco, a Sainsbury’s, and a tiny Co-Op market, Cowley road is home to at least two halal markets:

a self-identifying Oriental Food Store:

two Polish markets, a Lebanese market, a Moroccan market, a Korean and Japanese market, an Italian market and deli, an Indian and Pakistani grocery, and an English butcher’s shop:

I will clearly be cooking All the Food.

This is not the Oxford that people like me come to visit, and it’s a part of the city that many tourists probably never see. Which is a shame. Coming from the San Francisco Bay Area, I have found myself more at home in Cowley Road, where I routinely overhear conversations in Arabic or Farsi or Mandarin than I often do in the city center where I have occasionally struggled to follow a conversation with someone from Manchester.

Cowley Road also shows up some of the reality of Oxford behind the curated beauty of the old colleges. It is an expensive and unequal city with tensions between town and gown and virtues that have nothing to do with the scholarship and research that go on in the labs and libraries. I have a lot to learn about the city in general and my neighborhood in particular, but I am currently grateful that my unthankful and always hungry cats brought me into a part of the city that I might not otherwise have had much call to visit.

Though I spend most of my time here dodging buses on my way up the Cowley Road to the library or my college, I look forward over the next three or four years to learning more about the life of a place that is not the Oxford I had imagined, but is the Oxford that I have found and have found to be at least as wonderful as the Hogwartsian splendor of Christ Church College’s Tom Tower and long-tabled dining hall and certainly tastier.




Inside, listening to heavy rain fall.
Though I have no doubt this sound will become more and more familiar the longer I live in England, it will always remind me of those few, precious, rainy days we had when I was in elementary school.
In third and fourth grades, my classrooms were in thin-roofed temporary buildings, and on those rare days in winter and springtime when the much-needed rains would come, it was like sitting inside a drum.
s meant hope and life. I know that for some rain has been destructive beyond imagining in the wake of two powerful hurricanes. In the very different climate of the dry southwest, rain was always something different. Because water is so precious in California, a fact of which I was aware even then as we toiled through a nearly decade-long drought, that pounding sound on thin rooftops and splashing against windows evokes a sense of safety and comfort.
In a strange way, as I sit in this small backyard guest house in an Oxford suburb, listening to the rain come down, I feel more at home in England than I yet have, bringing to mind memories of a blessedly happy childhood.
Rain bringing life and signifying hope for things to come.

Always we begin again

I am an in-order completist. When I watch a TV show, I want to watch it from the beginning all the way to the end. The gods of media have been kind to me in this age of binge-watching and streaming video. Sometimes I will get a hankering to watch some specific episode from a show that I have already seen, and after it’s done, I inevitably begin the series again, sometimes from the beginning, sometimes from where I had re-entered the season. What can I say? I like a good story well-told.

With lapels wider than his goofy smile, Kenneth brings us to the end of an excellent series.


The hard part always comes at the end of the series. A good series finale is a powerful thing. Great ones leave you satisfied (30 Rock, for instance), and bad ones leave you wanting to punch a wall (How I Met Your Mother, for example). Sometimes they just leave you wanting more, because the series didn’t actually get to finish (I’m looking at you Firefly…). But however things end, they always leave room for the next thing: a new show, maybe, or maybe just going outside for once, you lazy schlub!

But the most potent endings leave something like an echo or a reverberation that stays with you into whatever it is that’s coming next. So it is as I begin again, leaving the US and the Episcopal Church (at least for a time) to start a DPhil at Oxford this coming fall (or autumn, as I guess I have to start calling it now). One thing ends and another begins.

I began again when I left home for college. Then I began anew when I started my life in the church, going to seminary and into parish life. I began again when I was married, and I begin again now, leaving friends and relationships and the plans that I had had for my future. It would appear that that series is done and a new show is ready to begin.

Perhaps it’s significant that this is starting in Eastertide. It’s the Easter way. Death and endings try to have the final word, but God says, “No. Only life, please,” and begins again undaunted. As we who would follow Christ along the cross’s way face endings that seem final, we are given the assurance that God is not finished yet: there is always more to come. Always we begin again.