In Jericho

A poem

Posted - January 05, 2003

When there are Carr's wheat meal biscuits with afternoon tea, I invariably think of Geoff's squat on Great Clarendon Street, in Jericho, Oxford.

Memory wakes my post-meridian ghosts. I remember Rory Forsythe with whom I shared those communal digs. Settling in front of his coal fire, we'd brew a proper pot of Earl Grey, eat "bickies", anticipate dinner and the inevitable pints at the pub.

Rory with Rossetti hair, a bassoonist and composer, had a choir boy face that hid his randy hetero heart; a dandy who worked as a janitor. He was one of the friends I found a home with in Jericho, trying to find Elusive Life.

Home truly is where you find your heart. 21 Great Clarendon was home. Rory and the rest were part of home. Geoff was the heart.

One of a group of decaying Victorian row houses, always beautiful during the late day gold mist light, in town, not gown, Oxford, 21 G.C. had a crooked wooden door painted canary yellow; two stories of less than solid floors; papered over holes in hallway walls; heat provided by paraffin lamps, and hot water supplied by kettle. No shower. No bath.

Electrics were regulated by a jerry-rigged meter that ate ten pence pieces like a glutton at a banquet. A small gas range cooked grand holiday feasts of goose, pheasant, and plum pudding. We got to the outdoor loo by a cobbled stone walk in a brambled back yard.

And over a garden fence vined in Spring with rambling roses, we'd chat with Mrs. Jacobs, our neighbor o.a.p., who thought we were all such nice young people. Well, we were young. Other than Geoff, my compatriot and contemporary, the others all younger than me.

Autumn dusk announces tea and I remember Mike McB: intense, psychotic, aspiring poet, who keened as darkness became his poetry. And Peter G.: his pitch blue black waist length hair and dense full beard hiding the quiet, gentle Scotsman who relished fresh salmon, daily litres of sweet Martini, and cigarettes rolled with hash.

And Sonia: more than the Sally Bowles of Somerville she pretended to be, a former actress, and very much the saloniste she hated being called; later, I heard she married well, went unhappy, and then insane.

But most of all there was Geoff. We knew each other from our pre-sex sixties college and Catholic days. Then went quite different ways. But when I, during a long, dark time, seemed able to grasp hold only of straws that quickly ignited to flame,

I thought of Geoff; and the idea of an exile in Oxford naively appeased whatever ache ached. I wrote and asked he open his home to me. He wrote back a warning about his poor squat. O how my heart stumbled over itself when that crooked yellow door was opened by wild eyed, wild haired McB.

My so comfortable Jesuit blood froze at the poverty of a dark and broken hall. But when Geoff arrived home bearing filched eggs and butter from work, welcoming me with a wary, though warm smile, wondering what he had let himself in for with this dazed lump of a man with luggage, who ate self doubt like candy, all things were well.

We quickly took up our old lives as friends puzzled by vocation, by sex, by experience that confused, not clarified, by who we were, and at how our so long separated lives led to Jericho.

Geoff, lover of Henry James and Tolstoy, and the perfectly made genoise, believed in porcelain words as guards against the hostile world. He mirrored me by too often nuancing life into diurnal inaction, and also in strong choices made, then fled from.

Rejected for entrance by the Jesuits because of a" latency" indicated in psychological tests— the same tests I took— he was at first an Air Force ROTC lieutenant; then onto Johns Hopkins, but was unhappy and left; then to Oxford and Wadham College for philosophy and left; apprentice chef work at a local bistro; finally after a make up year of math and chemistry, med. school in San Francisco, graduating with honors and onto Yale, and a prestigious psychiatric residency.

Two years into the program he died of AIDS. Friend of my heart, your death is still the most difficult for me. We grew to love each other, and to understand each other, and I remember you most of all in Jericho; not in your last dim phone calls across a continent, as I heard your mind grow more distant with each fading, broken word; until that last call which was almost all silence across 3000 miles, except your plea not to be seen by any one.

But I grew to love you in Jericho on Great Clarendon Street, across from University Press and far too near The Gardeners (all too welcoming) Arms. A symbol must be complete, and life, with its own inevitability, completes: those walls in Jericho did come tumbling down.

When I returned some years later, still searching for whatever it is I search for, the squat had become St Barnabas playground.

But in Jericho there was still the afternoon luminescence that creates the shadow of memory: of Rory and his bassoon, or Geoff talking about The Golden Bowl, or my boyfriend Colin wretchedly drunk at midnight mass, or Bob and Caroline, or Jill and Penny and John; Nick, Helen, or great hearted golden haired Greg; ghosts—all ghosts waking in the afternoon, all hidden from a future that would come as such a complete surprise.

John Niespolo lived in Jericho for two years in the mid-1970s. After 18 years of wandering he has made his home in the High Mojave desert of California.

Did you know?

What kind of households we have?

According the to 2011 Census, almost half of Jericho households – 46% – consisted of only one person, 24% consisted of couples with or without children, 7% were student households, and 11% were other multi-person households, while 6% were single-parent households.

Where we work?

According to the 2001 Census, in Jericho 28% of those working were self-employed, while 18% worked part time. Around 20% were in higher professional occupations compared with 14% for Oxford. We also tend to work nearby: 72% of people worked within five kilometres of their home; 18% went to work on foot, 13% by car and 6% by bike