None other than the house of God

In a life spent mostly on the road, it is important to get out of the taxi and walk around. Not least for physical exercise, but also because it enables me to see things which I would never otherwise have seen.

Getting out and walking offers a much more enhanced perspective to very familiar streets. For ten years, I have worked in and around Abingdon and Wantage. Every day, on my way driving to and from work, I have spent a lot of time, mostly sat in traffic, on Saint Clement’s Street, said by the county and the city councils to be Oxford’s most polluted street.

But instead of driving through on Monday night, there was an opportunity to park up and to walk around the tightly packed, terraced streets delivering invitations for the parish church’s upcoming open days during the Oxford Open Doors weekend.

Billed as “a celebration of Oxford…its places and its people”, Oxford Open Doors is a weekend of events and openings of venues, many of which are routinely closed to the public. Oxford is a remarkable place in many respects and much of its most remarkable life enhancing architecture and even sacred spaces are closed, for most of the year.

The renowned architectural authority Pevsner doesn’t have all that much to say about our building, whereas he devotes more than twice as much space in his Buildings of England to another more recently built local church, which worships in a much higher up the candle style than we do.

We are not the most decorated church in Oxford, nor even the most architecturally remarkable. We are not even that old; nothing functioning in our church is older than two hundred years – although we do have on the floor in our narthex what is said to be the oldest bell in the city, cast in the thirteenth century.

But we are none other than the house of God and we are open not just for Oxford Open Doors, but faithfully worshipping every Sunday and serving the local community throughout the week, across a whole range of parish facilities.

Walking, rather than driving, offers a wholly different and more detailed perspective, to very familiar streets. Monday night’s short walk around the parish saw two attempted dog bites, some properly artistic guerrilla crochet, two gentlemen coming to their doors in an intoxicated state and a fellow engaging me in conversation as to whether I believe in the physical resurrection of Jesus – I do.

And inscribed on the parapet of a small knee level wall outside an unremarkable block of 1960s flats in Saint Clement’s Street is an inscription ‘WE WALKED EVERYWHERE WE DISCOVERED PLACES’, with no other explanation as to why it is there, nor whom it commemorates.

Or, as G K Chesterton once put it, “There are two ways of getting home; and one of them is to stay there. The other is to walk round the whole world til we come back to the same place…”

As published in the Herald Series on Wedneaday, 11 September 2019

  1. Oxford City Council, Working group established to improve air quality in Oxford’s most polluted street, 30 October 2017, as retrieved 10 September 2019

  2. Buildings of England

  3. G K Chesterton, The Everlasting Man, 1925

When the wheels are not turning

“If the wheels are not turning, you're not earning,” so said a London taxi driver friend in 2015, one of many sayings which encapsulated the work ethos. In a busy metropolitan environment that is even more the case than it is here in the provinces, where more than half the time spent on shift is spent waiting around for work.

But with a vehicle off the road, it is almost impossible to earn any money as a taxi driver. And on two separate occasions in the last ten days for me, a relatively minor technical issue caused a chain of investigations and work over several months.

Back in February, a slow puncture resulted in a call to the breakdown service and the spare wheel being exchanged for the defective one, in order to complete the journey. Modern vehicles have transmitters fitted behind the air valves in the tyres, the sole purpose of which is to communicate with the dashboard, to illuminate two lights when the air pressure is low and to inform you which tyre is affected. It is supposed to enhance safety, though in reality, for someone who checks tyre pressure daily and visually inspects them, it should be unnecessary.

Since the 2018 MoT rule changes, a vehicle is no longer compliant if a warning light is illuminated on the dashboard and so it was for me, when three months after my spare wheel was exchanged, five new tyres fitted and the spare returned to the boot, the light appeared again.

Subsequent checks showed there to be nothing wrong with the tyres themselves, but that one of the transmitters had been damaged, probably in the earlier transition between puncture and new tyre being fitted.

Trying to find a local mechanic with the necessary equipment and cheerful willingness to change the transmitter and reset the codes, took three days. There were journeys to Abingdon, to Wheatley and to Cowley, to obtain four second opinions, before finally ending up in Oxford, where a diagnostic test alone cost £47, but “it’ll be another five days before we can fix it, mate, while we wait for the part to be delivered.”

Anybody in the taxi business will tell you that going to a manufacturer’s dealership is the most expensive way of getting work done on your vehicle. On this occasion there was no choice and the chain of diagnostic investigations, parts and labour ended up costing £737, inclusive of lost income.

WEstgate shopping centre, oxford

WEstgate shopping centre, oxford

However, the benefits of leaving my taxi at the dealership for two mornings were quite something, as I walked into Oxford city centre and took a stroll around the Westgate, which replaces many of the streets and buildings I knew in my childhood and where one of the rooftop garden restaurants has some interesting black and white photographs of the brave new world of the 1972 Westgate on its walls.

And a slogan on its menu which reads “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

As published in the Herald Series on Wednesday, 15 May 2019

  1. Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency, MOT rule changes: 20 May 2018, last updated 20 May 2018, retrieved 14 May 2019