There’s an assumption of a great Cambridge/Oxford rivalry. It doesn’t exist, anymore than Uttoxeter and Doncaster are daggers drawn because both hold horsey races. I don’t know anyone who watches the boat race, and even on trips to the Manor or Kassam Stadiums I doubt many United fans bothered to set foot in the centre.
In 2005, wild celebrations of Shane Tudor’s injury time winner at the Abbey were disrupted by a tap on the shoulder by a plummy-voiced reporter called Hugh from the Oxford Whig Standard wanting to know who took the throw-in. Stuck with me, that.
I get to visit once a year, to track down a studenty pub new to the Beer Guide with NBSS 2.5 beer and be moderately impressed by the architecture. Particularly this;
On Friday night I combined a gig at St John the Evangelist with TWO new studenty pubs, and was again struck by the contrasts with my own fair city.
Beerwise, Oxford used to be a treat, introducing me to the joys of 6X, Youngs and Palmers in the ’90s. The Lamb & Flag and Kings Arms are still the pick of the pubs for me. Getting past bikes to the pub beats getting past barflies to the handpumps.
Nowadays half the places seemed to be Greene King in their various forms, even more so than in Cambridge.
The White Rabbit is tucked down a very self-consciously trendy little side street.
It manages to combine my three favourite things in a pub; pizza, prosecco and posh people. Words fail me (but probably won’t fail Simon), but I have to tell you the Siren Liquid Mistress was so good I bought Newbury Tim a bottle of it the next day.
My other tick was close to the gig, and despite similar characteristics I’m giving it the big thumbs-up. The barman at the Chester would win an award on Simon’s blog if he were female, but don’t read anything into that.
Some pubgoers like staff who speak when spoken to, call you Sir, and offer you tasters. I like staff who offer you a straight glass and tell you their views on Stoptober. More dining than food here as well, but decent Gunners Gold amongst an impressive local craft keg collection. Lovely Halls tiling I might post later too.
I then watched Anais Mitchell perform a politically charged set to the sort of donnish audience who might otherwise be at a lecture called “Jawa and it’s hinterland” at the Bodleian. One chap with a cravat was making notes in pencil. Polite society and I are uneasy bedfellows, as you may have gathered. They had Shotover beer in bottles at the interval, which is telling.
So in summary here are the pros and cons of Oxford vis-à-vis Cambridge from my totally unbiased perspective.
- Urban walks* – 8/10 each. Easier to get lost in Cambridge, though I never have found the Turf Tavern.
- Architecture – 9/10 each. Oxford has the Sheldonian, Cambridge the Abbey Stadium.
- Gardens – 7/10 each. Cambridge has the better Botanic, Oxford the better parks.
- The big museum – Oxford 9/10 for the Ashmolean, Cambridge 2/10 for Fitzwilliam, which is just old stuff.
- Cheap hotels – Oxford 1/10 – the worst B&B on TripAdvisor and no budget hotels, Cambridge 8/10 is stuffed with the blighters now.
- Speed of walkers – 0/10 for each, seen faster snails,go to Brescia to see how to walk.
- Football grounds – Oxford 1/10, Cambridge 8/10 (bacon rolls aren’t what they were)
- Musical heritage – Oxford 1/10 (Radiohead), Cambridge 9/10 (Mammoth Penguins)
- Cheap eats – cheap ?! Marco Pierre White v Jamie Oliver really.
- Pubs – Oxford 3/10, Cambridge 9/10 – see above
You do the math, as they say in Oxford.
You’ll know I’m no great fan of Cambridge and its suffocating middle-class pubs, so let that be a warning to you.
* Yes Oxford, I know you’ve got a house with a shark in it. And ?