It involved a cat, as usual. I was determined to find the latest incarnation of Simpkins. For the uninitiated, that’s the cat who resides at Hertford College, Oxford. The one with the bridge – college not cat. I caught a glimpse from my bedroom window, but resigned myself to preparing for the lecture ahead. I looked out from my window onto the serene quadrangle. A decade previously I had left Oxford, frustrated, angry and as though I had been within reach of riches, only to have them snatched away. My dreams of a book-lined room in a quiet college had died and I faced the reality that it wasn’t for me. I had wonderful memories of extraordinary experiences and interesting people, of High Table dinners, passing the port and conversations with some of the most eminent minds in their fields. Yet I felt I had been tested and found wanting. When I arrived for my viva only to be told that I needed to resubmit, I felt crushed and resentful.
Now ten years later, I have completed the doctorate, published the book and returned to Oxford with a love of all the good times. I retraced steps, lingered in the shadows of special memories and giggled at past indiscretions. A decade later and I have a life in London, a son and the book habit I always had. I can’t stop myself from indulging in a quick trip to Blackwells and a few random titles leave for London with me. The overwhelming feeling is of passing the city on to the next generations. Thousands of young and not so young people have matriculated and graduated in the venerable hall of the Sheldonian, trooping in and out, swapping gowns and status. I was there, I enjoyed it and was a part of it, but only for a while and then my time was up. Now I return with love and affection and everything is the same and yet different. The History Faculty has physically moved, electronic keys now get me throughout the Hertford gate after just the right amount of cocktails and my friends and flatmates are now lecturers and post holders. After all, I myself am here as a guest lecturer.
And yet in the quiet of early morning, after breakfast in Hall, I was rewarded with one of those serene moments in life. In the mist of morning, I sat on a bench in the quad. All fell quiet and Simpkins jumped onto my knee. What’s more, it was the same Simpkins I had known, loved, occasionally cat-napped and loved a decade ago. Contentedly, we sat in harmony, cat and woman.