Friday, 20 July 2012

When (Headington) Sharks Attack...


I still remember the first time I saw the Headington Shark - I was in my first year at Oxford Brookes university (for the uninitiated, an ex-poly and not part of the Oxford University) whose main campus is in Headington, where I lived in halls.

However they have a second campus at Wheatley and I had to get the university bus there for some lectures - the bus goes up London Road and I was vacantly staring out the window, somewhat hungover (okay, very hungover - this was Fresher's Week after all) and looking down the side streets as we passed. Down one of the streets I saw this:



To be honest I wasn't used to being so massively hungover (I am now) and it was one of the few times in my life I genuinely thought I might be hallucinating. Understand I only saw it for a second at most as the bus passed the top of the road.

All these years (and hangovers) later it's still one of my favourite things about Oxford, and recently I read The Hunting Of The Shark by Bill Heine, the chap whose house has the shark crashing into it. It's an interesting story, both about how the shark come about, and about the years-long battle with petty bureaucracy to keep it in place. It went almost all the way to the top of the Tory Government of the time, where bizarrely Michael Heseltine saved it, with these words (which remain the most sensible words I've heard from a Conservative MP): 
"...it is not in dispute that the shark is not in harmony with its surroundings, but then it is not intended to be in harmony with them. The basic facts are there for almost all to see. Into this archetypal urban setting crashes (almost literally) the shark. The contrast is deliberate... An incongruous object can become accepted as a landmark after a time, becoming well known, even well loved in the process..."
 “It is beautiful, it’s surprising, it’s funny, it’s poetic; it cheers me up whenever I go past it.” Phillip Pullman
And so it came to be. When I lived in Headington, giving directions was always done in relation to "the shark"; local shops and pubs sold postcards and key-rings of it, and some tourists even came to see it first rather than the dreaming spires... Despite all the dire predictions about house prices at the time, they actually went up a good few percent more on this street then others around, and local Estate Agents proudly mention  if a property is in view of the shark now...

I won't give the book a proper 'review' as let's face it, unless you've seen the shark in the flesh, you're unlikely to want to read it. But if you have and it's stuck with you as much as me, rest assured - it's everything you'd want a book about the shark to be.

(I created the Headington Shark Appreciation Society on Facebook, back when Facebook was cool, if anyone is interested.)

5 comments:

Dan Holloway said...

MArvellous - it's one of the biggest cult books in Oxford. I love the shark - I also remember the legs at the Not the Moulin Rouge cinema

James Everington said...

The legs were before my time Dan, young whippersnapper that I am!

Alan Ryker said...

That's delightful!

JO said...

Love the shark - like you, it still makes me giggle.

James Harrison said...

Nice one. Please feel free to do a full review James.
It's coming up to its 26th birthday on 9th August - things are afoot in Headington.....