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Dominic’s Oxford Brookes

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Dominic studied at Oxford Brookes University in the early 1980s where he did a joint honours degree in English and History on their famous modular degree programme.

My Oxford Brookes Modular Degree

I had a great time in Oxford Brookes, where I studied at the Gipsy Lane, Headington Campus. I loved the modular nature of the course (which they still do) as it allowed me to select areas of study I fancied; this included options to take modules completely outside my degree areas and I took photography and the history of art as additional subjects. I also enjoyed taking a joint BA – I chose History which, despite my misgivings, was as compelling as my first subject, English Literature. I was a mature student with a diploma, so I had to attend and interview, but the approach Oxford Brookes took was positive, friendly and welcoming.

I had a great time in Oxford Brookes… I loved the modular nature of the course.

My first meeting with Oxford Brookes.

It’s a long time ago, but I remember an interview with an informally dressed member of the Department of English and Modern Languages – I think they wanted to interview me because I had a business studies diploma rather than A levels – and he seemed both interested in, and impressed by, my two years’ work history and I felt that I was rather waved through on the basis of that. But the memory plays tricks, so perhaps there was more to it but my memory isn’t at fault when I remember how open, welcoming and encouraging everyone was that I encountered at Oxford Brookes.

I remember how open, welcoming and encouraging everyone was that I encountered at Oxford Brookes.

Lecturers that left a lifetime legacy

In English, we had a range of different lecturers with very distinctive styles. I remember a jointly-taught lecture in which one tutor made fascinating cross-references between Hamlet, The Tin Drum and All Along the Watchtower, which the other lecturer humorously derided as hippy nonsense. Another lecturer brought in a bunch of grapes – I think it may have been Caroline Jackson-Houlston – in order to demonstrate how difficult it is to ‘burst Joy’s grape against his palate fine’. Her love of Keats and the Romantics lingers with me still and the fact that this happened 37 years ago shows what an impression it made. We all gave it a go and it was, indeed, trickier than it sounded. I think my most inspiring tutor was a neat man called Colin Pedley – his lectures were fascinating and his lead on our little tutorial group studying Joyce’s Ulysses opened up that difficult book for a lifetime of revisits. Another lecturer who, I think, specialised in Shakespeare, was able during his lectures to quote extraordinarily long sections from the plays, bringing those texts to life in declamatory brilliance.

Her love of Keats and the Romantics lingers with me still and the fact that this happened 37 years ago shows what an impression it made.

My international life in the heart of England

Studying within a truly international environment while based in the heart of England was a wonderful combination. I shared a house in Cowley, and my housemates included a Malaysian, a Yorkshireman and a cider enthusiast from Somerset. Even back then there was a strong sense of internationalism at Oxford Brookes with people from all over the place which added to the overall sense of broad vision. The student bar brought a lot of us together – the Guinness was excellent – and my afternoons tended to blur and fade as a result; I don’t think I took a lot away from afternoon lectures. I used to drive an old Morris Oxford in those days and it was great to have a car to beetle around the countryside – Woodstock and Blenheim Palace, Abingdon, the Slaughters and many other places provided pubs and chill-out options although Oxford itself was hard to beat.

We used to use a pub called The Isis, located right on Iffley Lock on the Thames, quite a bit – a great spot for bucolic drinking – and I think I had my first Oranjeboom at the Magdalen Arms one cheery sunny day.  My girlfriend, Clare, was a vegetarian (still is!) and such was the power of her influence (although the chicken factory job before I came to Oxford might also have had something to do with it) that I converted and remain one today. We used to eat in a tiny Chinese restaurant on Cowley Road.

There was a strong sense of internationalism at Oxford Brookes.

My night-time rambles and poetic awakenings

I was studying the Romantic Poetry module and this may have been the impetus for the long rambles I took in the truly lovely countryside around Oxford. Sometimes I’d walk at night along the river, listening out for owls and writing poetry (I’m grateful that none of that is still extant). I recall returning in the early morning, walking across Christchurch Meadows, soaked with dew and veiled in autumnal mist, and as I approached Christchurch College heard choristers’ voices floating plangently into a romantic scene. It had a peculiarly powerful effect on my over-excited state of mind in which ‘the dull brain perplexes and retards’.

Coming into the deserted city and watching it come to life while sitting quietly on the step of a closed cafe, and waiting for a coffee to revive me in time for early lectures – these are the moments that you remember and that make the student experience so wonderful.

I recall returning in the early morning, walking across Christchurch Meadows, soaked with dew and veiled in autumnal mist, and as I approached Christchurch College heard choristers’ voices floating plangently into a romantic scene.

Exploring my Oxford

Oxford must be one of the most vibrant and diverse centres of culture in the world. I wasn’t much of a clubber but you don’t have to be in Oxford, which really is an amazing place to be a student. The level of culture is unfeasibly high, and along with august institutions like the Bodleian Library, Ashmolean Museum and all the colleges of Oxford University, there were numerous small venues for music, cinema, literature clubs and comedy. I remember being awed at watching Body Heat at Not the Moulin Rouge and irritated by the audience participation in The Rocky Horror Show – was that at the Ultimate Picture Palace? A lot of the entertainment came through Oxford Brookes – they attracted big names and I’m sure they still do. The late Ian Dury and his Blockheads were one of the acts, and I saw Alison Moyet at some point.

Oxford really is an amazing place to be a student. The level of culture is unfeasibly high.

My Top 5 for Oxford Brookes University

  1. The degree – fantastic (modular) course with great tutors, excellent library facilities and real flexibility in study choices.
  2. Living in Oxford – what a place! If you like culture, you’ve got every part of the spectrum here. For classical music and architecture, it’s superb and the whole place is steeped in student-related activities. Invigorating.
  3. The location – an hour from London to the east, less to the Cotswolds to the west and surrounded by sublime countryside.
  4. The student bar – I know, but I can’t help it; the Guinness was spot-on and the extended lunchtimes, drinking and discussing literature and life, were a highlight.
  5. The music scene – ever heard a top-flight quartet play a late Beethoven string quartet in the Sheldonian Theatre? Worth going just for that!

If you like culture, you’ve got every part of the spectrum here.

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