Somewhere on this blog, back in the beginning, I said that living in Oxford is as close to living in a fantasy world as a person can get while still kind of inhabiting real life and sanity.
Well, here’s a quirk of Oxford in the Spring and Autumn which you don’t tend to see talked about nearly enough; in the mornings the whole of the Oxford-basin area gets completely filled with this thick fog that hangs around and won’t shift until about 11am. As the season for this weather is so short and comes around only twice a year, I always forget that it’s coming and so am always surprised anew when it comes seemingly out of nowhere.
And what’s amazing about that is, because Oxford has such a high proportion of Gothic-style architecture and old trees, my walk to work in the morning immediately feels like I’m walking through the set of an old Universal Studios’ horror film, all black-and-white atmosphere. Growing up, I’d never seen anything like it, and as an adult experiencing it for the first time, I suddenly got in a way I never had before why fog is inherently terrifying to humans.
The way it deadens sound and people accidentally end up ‘jumping out at you’ (otherwise known as ‘innocently turning a corner’) without warning because you couldn’t hear or see them coming.
The way that you absolutely know that there’s a huge set of buildings just on the other side of that wall, but you can’t see any trace of them. But you know that they’s there, right? They must be. You’re sure that they were there yesterday…
It’s mornings like this when I think of old stories I was told as a child, and even older ‘ghost stories’ written down in medieval saints’ lives.
The Anglo-Saxons held a belief that there was this world, a world of humans, and logic and natural law, where up was up and down was down, and another world, a world where monsters and demons and magic lived. A world separate from ours, for the most part, but held so by major landmarks and physical things which you could clearly see and touch and know to be true. You know that the next village over is just past that tree and turn left. You know, that tree there, that you can see.
But in the heavy fog, or at night, when you can barely seen four foot in front of you, is that tree still there? After all, you can’t see it. No, of course it’s there, you know it’s there! But… But it’s not there. Not that you can see, anyway.
It reminds me of the stories of vanishing villages, of which Brigadoon is the most famous. The legend of Brigadoon, for the uninitiated, is the story of a village in the Scottish Highlands, which became enchanted centuries ago to remain unchanged, stuck in time, and invisible to the outside world except for one day every hundred years when it could be seen and even visited by outsiders. Growing up in Cumbria, which has lots of little villages tucked away in between mountains and lakes, it always seemed far pretty plausible that one of two could get … lost in some magical mishap.
Oxford in the fog gives me that same feeling, of areas that have been lost, stuck in time perhaps, but also perhaps were purposefully hidden away for safety (ours of theirs?) and might, if one were not very careful, be stumbled into in the fog. And then what?
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