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The city of dreaming spires and desires
LOOKING for love? Then at least you’re in the right place.
Two recent surveys found that Oxford is a hotspot when it comes to finding romance.
Dating website misstravel.com asked its users to name the most romantic cities in the world, and Oxford came fifth – behind Bali in Indonesia, Phuket in Thailand, Austin, Texas in the United States, and Barcelona in Spain.
Meanwhile, supermarket chain Morrisons revealed that Oxford is the UK city “with the most pulling power”.
It questioned 2,000 shoppers, and found 27 per cent of them regularly spotted someone they fancied in the store, with one in 10 saying it is where they met their partner.
Oxfordshire wedding planner Georgina Webb is not surprised at the city’s status as a love destination.
- Oxfordshire wedding planner Georgina Webb
“Oxford is such an inspiring place romantically,” said the marriage guru, known for her quirky, personalised stylings.
“The stunning architecture, picturesque views, riverside location and scholarly associations, especially its literary connections, make it the ideal place to fall in love.
“It brings people together who would otherwise not have met.
“At the moment I’m planning a wedding for a couple who met at the university. She’s American and he’s Polish – and they have connected here, which is lovely.”
Over at County Hall, the marriage business is booming.
Oxfordshire County Council’s superintendent registrar Alicja Gilroy said: “Despite the recession there has been no let up in the number of marriages.”
- Oxfordshire County Council’s superintendent registrar Alicja Gilroy
“On average there are 2,500 marriages in the county a year. Around 20 per cent of those are between couples from outside the area.
“And today, on February 14, we have 14 weddings in the county – a wonderful romantic coincidence. We have five teams out performing the ceremonies.”
Some argue that Valentine’s Day has become too tacky – that romance is subject to too much commercial exploitation.
But it’s not a view Mrs Gilroy shares: “You hear people say romance is dead, but not here in Oxfordshire. I see people bring very personal touches to their marriages: writing poems or even involving their pets in their ceremonies. Recently I had a couple use their snake as the ring bearer – it did curl up in a knot so they struggled to get the ring off, but it was fun.”
What people call ‘love’ is not always a splendid thing, says Dr Edward Harcourt, a philosophy fellow at Oxford University.
“When we define love we tend to think of ‘good’ love to do with intimacy, selflessness and taking pleasure. But instead of enriching lives it can also enslave people and becomes about dependency, not giving space and possessiveness. Love comes in all shapes and sizes – not all of it has a straightforward romantic profile,” Dr Harcourt said.
“Hearing that Oxford is being thought of as a key romantic destination is surprising – you tend to think of Paris, Venice or Bruges first,” he added.
“But you do hear of fellows and students loving the city and the university — ‘he married the college’ is a phrase said of bachelor lecturers.
“Aristotle ridiculed this idea that you could love a non-human thing as the relationship cannot be reciprocated. But Oxford is a loveable city, students often go into mourning when it is time to leave it,” concluded Dr Harcourt.
BOWLED OVER FOR 70 YEARS
THEY have been married for 70 years, but he says he is still bowled over by his beautiful bride.
Former blind bowling champion Madge Morgan, 89, was coached throughout her career by husband Walter, known as Mal.
After a career which saw her tour the world and win more than 100 medals, she received an MBE for services to lawn bowls and visually-impaired people.
She is now blind and partially deaf, but he still says she is the most wonderful lady in the world.
On Wednesday the couple celebrated their platinum wedding anniversary at home in Alvescot Road, Carterton with Mr Morgan’s two brothers.
- Madge and Malcolm Morgan from Carterton who are celebrating their 70th wedding anniversary
Mr Morgan, 91, said: “The secret to our long marriage is that she is a lovely lady.
“I am very proud, she is a wonderful woman. In 70 years we have never fallen out, and never had a cross word.”
Mrs Morgan said it was a “marvellous day”, and she had a “marvellous husband”.
She said: “He looks after me and does everything. It is all about give and take.”
The couple met as teenagers growing up in Rugby, Warwickshire.
As a teenager, the young Mal was a keen boxer but gave it up the day his 18-year-old brother was killed in the ring by a punch to the temple.
He met Madge Gamble in 1940, joined the Navy, and they were married in a naval ceremony on February 12, 1944.
- On their wedding day in 1944
After the war the couple moved to Oxford, he working at an insurance firm and she at George Street Co-op.
They learnt to bowl together at Oxford lawn bowls club in the late 1960s just as she was beginning a battle with glaucoma, which saw her registered blind in 1976.
Soon she was winning competitions across the country and internationally. She became the blind bowling world champion at the 1996 Atlanta Paralympics, and was awarded an MBE the same year.
They moved to Carterton 38 years ago. Mrs Morgan retired from national competition in 2000, after an accident in which she injured her leg and face.
In 2010, Mr Morgan sent The Queen a signed copy of the biography he wrote of his wife’s life, Lawn Green and Gold, and received a letter from Buckingham Palace, thanking them for the gift.
They adopted two children, Keith and Maxine, both at two weeks old.
Keith worked at Jesus College, Oxford, for 44 years, retiring as head of catering aged 60, while Maxine now works for the Environment Agency in Devon.
The couple received a letter of congratulations from the Queen on their anniversary.
Len and Peggy: A love story
OXFORDSHIRE couple Len, 84, and Peggy Rixon, 81, celebrate their 61st wedding anniversary.
Here they reveal the secret of their enduring love:
Peggy: “We met in 1949 and married in 1953. It might sound like a long courtship, but it was romantic and seemed to fly by.
“I lived in Chinnor and Len lived in a village near Watlington. I didn’t know him but I knew of him.
“There was Saturday night dance in Chinnor and I went to meet up with friends in the Crown pub. As I was about to go in the pub, Len opened the door to come out and I fell in. He literally scooped me up and we went to the dance and that was it. We clicked — it was love at first sight.
- Les and Peggy Rixon who celebrate their 61st wedding anniversary today
“I worked at a cake factory in Princess Risborough and Len worked at Pressed Steel.
“We were originally planning to get married in June. We met with the vicar the Rev Sammy Day at Chinnor church, who suggested a Valentine’s wedding.
“For the wedding, I had white figured taffeta dress with white train and flowers in my hair and fushcia pink taffeta muff and headdress.
“It was a very snowy day. When I arrived at the church in the car, they had to sweep the snow from the path; and when we left the service the path needed sweeping again.
“After we were married, we lived in Chinnor with mum for six months then we got council house in Lewknor for six years, then had a bungalow built in Horspath, where we stayed for 41 years.
“We’ve lived in Bablockhythe for the last 14 years. Because of the floods we were evacuated this week and are staying with one of my granddaughters.
- On their wedding day
“When we lived at the house in Horspath — Len built me a wardrobe and he made the mirror a big heart. And he said now you have the heart, that’s your Valentine’s forever.
“We had two daughters, four grandchildren, and now have two great grandchildren.
“We have a great marriage. There’s no boss, we are equals and we give and take.
“We love more or less the same kind of things — and are together 24/7 and never fall out. We might disagree but we never go to bed on an argument.
“The things we like to do include gardening, watching old films, listening to 1940s big band music and Formula 1 — we used to go to Silverstone a lot, now we watch it on TV.
“For our 60th anniversary the family treated us to a trip on the Orient Express down to to the coast. We had a five-course meal with champagne and oysters. It was just magic.
“If I had to name ‘our song’ it would be There’s a Place for Us, from Westside Story.”
Len: “Peggy is a wonderful person, a very honest person. We never argue — we have made it a wonderful marriage.
“We’ll celebrate our anniversary and Valentine’s celebrating with a meal tonight at our local pub, The Ploughman — just the two of us. Although the family do like to join in, so it might end up with 20 of us!”
WHERE IT ALL BEGAN...
Valetine’s has its roots in several different legends: a Christian named Valentinus was martyred on February 14 late in the third century A.D; and, in the 14th century Chaucer wrote of finding a mate on February 14 in his poem Parlement of Foules, believed to be the first reference to Valentine’s being about lovers.
Cards began to be given as love tokens in the 18th century and began to be massed produced in the 19th century.
In rural Oxfordshire, poorer people made their own cards and gifts, including jokey or smutty ones, such as a shrivelled pig’s tail with a note on it saying ‘you’re the one’ (from Oxfordshire Folklore, by Christine Bloxham). Children would be given sweet treats or halfpennies in villages around the county.
In the early 20th century, youngsters in Chipping Norton were left piles of pennies by shopkeepers, who heated them up to stop them grabbing too many – a practice stamped out in the 1950s when a local schoolteacher objected.