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Tales from an Oxford Bench

The series of scenes presented here were written over a couple of years, sometimes in sun, sometimes in rain, but most of them on a bench in Broad Street outside Trinity and across the road from Oxfam. It's a favourite spot, not always available because I expect it's a favourite of others too, but I have come to think of it as mine as you will see in the first of the chapters. Students sometimes hurry by, and sometimes they amble. At end of term they haul large cases on uncooperative wheels over kerb stones as they move out; and at the start of a new year they carry plastic bags from Blackwell's a few doors down filled with the new knowledge they plan to acquire. A walking tour starts from here and as I sit I can watch business being drummed up and hear tourists begin by telling where home is for them. I sit close to the Bodleian, the Sheldonian, and the White Horse Inn, only one of which I should add serves pies, and all of Oxford seems to be within reach. The chapters that follow are as much reflections as anything else. They all take their starting point from some observation or Oxford experience, but often end up somewhere else entirely. If Oxford is about anything it is about thought. And this jumble of streets and colleges and people always makes me think. And any visitor, either in reality, or through the pages of this book, should come prepared to join the game. What this book is not, is any kind of formal guide book. There are lots of those already and any will provide the visitor with the requisite background and maps to be able to spend a lovely day or two in Oxford. Instead, this book is about what Oxford does to your soul; how it gets under the skin and lingers long enough to change you. It has been doing this for centuries to its students, but it also makes a fair attempt with its casual visitors too. It is hard to leave Oxford unscathed and unaffected by what you will see and feel there. It is a special place as well as being completely absurd; it is absurdly beautiful as well as being absurdly traditional; it is ancient and long dead as well as being as alive as its thousands of young students. The tales from my bench that I recount here are an eclectic bunch. There are obvious stories that you will hear on any walking tour of the city's sights that I don't even mention. As I said, this is not a guidebook. Instead, I have concentrated on those odd moments and small discoveries that have made me stop and think and that along the way allow me to paint a truer portrait of the city than any formal guide. If you already know and love Oxford, perhaps you will hear these tales in the voice of an old friend - a kindred spirit; if you are a newcomer, or have yet to walk along Broad Street or peer through dark gateways into sunlit quads, then these stories may bring the city to life for you. Whatever the case, I hope you enjoy sitting on my bench as much as I have.
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About the Author

Allan Gaw, MD, PhD, FRCPath, FFPM, PGCert Med Ed is a Scottish writer and educator. He has been a clinical academic for more than 25 years. Most recently he was Professor & Director of the Clinical Research Facility at Queen's University Belfast, and he previously worked at the University of Glasgow and UT Southwestern in Dallas, Texas, none of which were built of honey-coloured stone. He is passionate about the need to develop those key writing and presentation skills that are essential in professional life. In addition to over twenty books, he also writes and articles on a range of subjects and a blog entitled The Business of Discovery ( If you would like to learn more about him and his work, visit his website or follow him on twitter @ResearchET.

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