The main purpose of this trip – apart from seeing family – was to take part in the 50 year Upper Fisher Row reunion in Oxford
Upper Fisher Row is a scruffy little cul de sac in a practical and picturesque location. Half way between the town centre and the station, tucked away behind Worcester College gardens, it borders onto a tributary of the river the end of the Oxford Canal which is separated by a towpath from the end of the Oxford Canal.
In the Sixties most of the inhabitants had lived there for decades, if not generations. I remember that the old woman who lived in a tumbledown house at the end of the road – Miss Jones, I think – was the granddaughter of a Victorian poacher, famous for being able to punt faster than the Salters paddle steamer – and thence escape from the police.
Then suddenly there was an influx of alien beings: Oxford graduates, mainly doing postgraduate degrees. At number 13a there were three girls, who included Jane Caplan, an old, old friend responsible for my moving to the street. Then there were three boys at number 9a, and more old friends, George and Teresa Smith, at number 8a. Through them and Jane I managed to get number 8, which I shared initially with Pat Laverty, an anthropologist. All four flats were owned by the same landlord, all in bad shape . I reckon mine was one of the most inconvenient, with the bath under the kitchen table, and the loo at the end of a passage, its walls dripping with moisture from another tributary trickling behind the house. Later, when George and Teresa moved to Durham, Chris (now on the scene, sharing my tiny room and bed) and I took over 8a.
It was a great life. We were all in our early 20s, embarking on interesting careers, living in Oxford in at a time of change (Chris and Mike Rosen were actively involved in student politics of 68, while I was reporting on events for the Oxford Mail, but also as a stringer for the Guardian and other nationals). We were in and out of each other’s flats. I remember, for example, some great communal lunches at 13a, though I have no idea how we fitted to in. And other interesting people passed through or visited.
Since then this core group of about ten people has remained friends and in touch. A few years back – none of us can quite remember when! – we met up again. A pretty impressive bunch by then (apart from me), mainly academics, with several professors and one vice chancellor, plus a World Bank economist, one national journalist and Michael Rosen (harder to categorise!) .
And then this year, thanks mainly to Jane Caplan, we met again – roughly 50 years since this semi- communal life in UFR began. The programme: lunch at Jane’s house in south Oxford, a visit to Upper Fisher Row, and then tea at George and Teresa’s house in North Oxford.
What was great about the day was the appreciation that this was still a very special bunch of good friends. There were 11 of us, including some partners. There was lots of talking – about education and politics, for example – and plenty of reminiscing. But virtually no mention of health problems or grandchildren! Quite an achievement for a bunch of pensioners.
The ritual visit to Upper Fisher Row was dampened by the relentless rain. What I found fascinating was how little the road had changed. How come, when all the land around has been redeveloped or gentrified, UFR seemed unchanged? Still dilapidated, still with its lace curtains, the only sign of change was that the house of Miss Jones was no longer there.
Presumably our old landlord, Mr Delamare, is no longer around. But how come the bull dozers have not flattened the place. Some detective work was agreed on. And we have to come back in a few years, Maybe to celebrate this era, which came to an end in about 1971/2.