It starts with the voices. A choir on Magdalen Bridge. You can just see the conductor’s hands over the parapet, you tell me.
We watch the crowd. Try to determine whether the pair in front of us–a pale-haired girl in an ochre coat, a nervous boy in too-tight jeans–are dating yet. I’ll lift you up so you can see, he says, but she makes a demure motion with her head, steps aside, brushes his hand with hers.
More of the crowd: a boy in a golden tracksuit, a girl in pop socks and a cute little dress. Short skirts, high heels, painted faces. Velvet blazers paired with the bin man’s yellow trousers. Stolen bottles of milk, a man dressed as a cow handing out vouchers for free coffee or tea. After awhile the police on the bridge get tired of standing there, cross the barrier and start emptying cans of Stronbow and Carling into the street. They let the other side across first, just as the sun is starting to shine on the river. A few boys in suits and slim ties sprint the whole way, arms raised. Chariots of Fire, they say.
We walk down the middle of the High street. We know longer know where we are going or why, or how long it will take us. At Radcliffe Square you tell me I should lock my bike up and we pause to watch a languid group of Scottish dancers. The bells ringing out now, competing with the bagpipe for attention. We follow a man dressed as a tree down Catte Street in search of Morris dancers. I try, but they just look like men skipping around with bells on their ankles, I say. Shh, it’s the sword dance, you tell me. You point to their belts; they have tankards for ale, you say, and I gain a bit more respect for the old men in the hats decorated with flowers and ribbons. One of them escorts the man dressed as a tree down the street.
Near the Bridge of Sighs, a girl dressed as a cow strikes poses on the roof of a car. When she puts her foot through the open window the alarm goes off. Around the corner, on the steps of the Clarendon building, a band dressed all in green plays to a scattered audience.
The clock on St. Mary’s says nearly eight when we run into a friend, who offers us a bite of a fresh croissant while we suck on cups of coffee. I go and stand by the gates of All Souls, gazing into the silent quad, bathed in hazy light. Now the square is empty and it has never looked so beautiful, I think. Nearly two years since I last saw it at an hour like this one, the day still in its infant stages, the stones still aglow in the aftermath of a warm dawn.