The other side of Oxford; its golden light. Lots of places have golden light but if the sun happens to shine like mad in the middle of a rainy day in a place where the stones are dull and the pavements grey . . . and you (oh so surprisingly) have your camera to hand . . . well, what do you do? You look for street plants, that's what.
I'd arranged to meet a friend outside the Ashmolean Museum but was a little early. I could have gone in - seen the Rembrandt Paintings . . the Viking Hoard . . masses of things bound to be special. A notice outside says it's the oldest museum in the country. (And of course, as we know, it's one of the best) . . . BUT . . if I were an exhibit, although I'd be proud to be there . . . I'd probably be a little vain by now and wouldn't be too chuffed if a scruffy woman in worn-out shoes came and stared into my eyes. And however famous I was, I reckon I'd be a little overwhelmed too. All those visitors; in-out, in-out. All day. No peace for a statue or a painting! So, respectfully, I decided to leave them alone and potter around looking for plants instead.
My world is somewhat divided into places where weed-killers are used . . . and places where they are not. The area in front of the Ashmolean must be a killing field. Could I find little seedlings between paving stones? No. Little trees up on the rooftops? No. So, having walked up and down the courtyard for a while ( 'courtyard' is probably the wrong word because it has a side missing) . . . I wandered under an arch, down a flight of steps, into the street.
By every second, the light was losing day. The clocks have already turned to winter and autumn is settling in. But an odd and brilliant shaft of golden sunlight had landed in front of the museum. Here (above) you can see what I mean. Looking back up the steps . . . you can see that tourists gathered outside the main doors are unfairly standing in summer. And for all that my socks are soggy where the rain has crept through my shoes . . a little bit of summer is leaking down the steps onto the wet pavement and has almost reached my feet.
Retrospectively, I should have gone and stood in summer and imagined it was there specially for me - but I think it was really trying to get to these particular leaves. Some leaves are . . . some leaves are . . . some leaves are as good as anything you find in a museum. I'm not turning ridiculous. If I had to chose between preserving a Rembrandt or an autumn leaf, I would, definitely, definitely, chose the Rembrandt - though with regret. Because for all that leaves are ephemeral and plentiful in a way great paintings are not, they are still absolutely and marvellously incredible. Actually . . . a leaf is more incredible than the very best, the very most beautifullest and insightful painting. It's obvious how a painting came into being (someone picked up a paintbrush and made it) a leaf just is. And if I were in a scientific mood I'd go into paroxysms of praise for its complexity. And how, when I was at school, words like 'zylem' and 'phloem' were magic. (And 'ox-bow lakes' - but that's geography.) (And 'chlorophyll' is pretty good too.)
Oh, my goodness, where am I?
Yes. So. While paintings were busily being protected in the museum . . . I was searching for plants beyond attention.
Back on the terrace (better description than courtyard?) the golden light had vanished (it does!) but a few foot from the main doors; look! a cracked paving stone and a little garden!
A magnificently rebellious garden. And the most rebellious, the most defiant of all, a little grass plant in flower. See it? Oxford has it in for grass. University authorities must have arranged for armies of gardeners to keep grass under assault. There are acres and acres of lawns . . . mowed and mowed and mowed, battered into uniformity and into wearily precise, ultra-green stripes. Ne're a daisy to be seen. You can't even walk on most of the grass! What do they think grass is for if it's not for growing daisies in and picnicking on? But there you are. Back to big brains missing the point yet again - and tiny plants re-seizing their world.
And, by chance . . . (it can't really be chance? more that I can't think of a reason?) - one plant on a window sill. A bit of a dead plant admittedly. But that's what most plants ultimately are - dead. It's what they eventually do - die. This one is a real mystery though. Why was it the only one there? How come other window-sills didn't have dead plants too?
And one last walk under the arch before tea at the top of the museum . . .
If you have ever wandered between state schools and public ones . . . or FE colleges and wealthy universities . . you notice things like doors. And handrails. The more money a community has to spare, the more it has to live without interesting scratches. Being a bit of a grump-box I tend to think there are better ways to spend money on than polishing doors . . . but . . . Now. Here's a really important question. Why don't statues smile? This isn't the beginning of a joke. I really ask - why it is that citizens in public sculptures stare straight ahead or thoughtfully frown? Cherubs blow out their cheeks and grow fat. Dancing children look dizzily happy and smile past each other as if they've been drugged and frozen mid-prance.
Yet . . . under the arch . . . where the doors are polished and clean . . . looking out and smiling . . . the bust of a smiling man. Does anyone know who he is? Why he is there? Why he is smiling? I took his photograph with a wink of complicity. I doubt many people notice the garden in the broken paving stone . . . or a remnant of summer on a window-sill . . . But he and I shared something. I was looking for a world-un-noticed and he was looking un-noticed onto a world where a little bit of golden light had got itself left behind under an arch.
(Of course, he may turn out to be a mass murderer, chortling cheerfully over his crimes. Let's hope not!)