Johnny Frenchman sits on top of the Castle Mound, dreaming of his ideal city, thinking about Ruskin and William Morris, utopian socialism and capitalism, work and leisure, wallpaper and Cary Grant, Van Gogh and Jimi Hendrix, Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair, Jerome K Jerome and Lewis Carroll. Soon his great great grandfather arrives in the past from France, armed with crates of absinthe, ready to change Oxford for the better.
Cockaigne is an imaginary land described in medieval literature where "roasted pigs toddle about with knives in their back to make carving easy, where grilled geese fly directly into one's open mouth, where cooked fish jump out of the water at one's feet. The weather is always temperate, the wine flows freely, sex is readily available and all stay forever young " [from Dreaming of Cockaigne by Herman Pleij].
Oxford Cockaigne is based around 2 historical events in Oxford:
In 1873, John Ruskin attempted to build a road in the village of South Hinksey using undergraduate labourers, one of whom was Oscar Wilde.
In 1934, the Urban Housing Estate which had built private housing on land purchased from the Council constructed a wall across two public roads to prevent the Council House tenants living on the other side from being able to use them to reach the main road. The "Cutteslowe Wall" was not demolished until 1959.
The Ruskin Road symbolises the aspirations of utopian socialism even though Ruskin himself was a conservative.
The Cutteslowe Walls which symbolise the worst aspects of capitalism remained in place for over twenty years.
It is only in the real world that utopian socialism seems doomed to failure.
In the world of Cockaigne the Ruskin Road will triumph while the Cutteslowe Walls will never prevail.
Read The opening of Oxford Cockaigne
Read A Short Extract parodying Three Men in a Boat and The News from Nowhere.
Contact Oxford Cockaigne
Please click onto the link above to ask to see more of Oxford Cockaigne or to ask for more information.
All photographs (c) Oxfordshire County Council Photographic Archivewww.oxfordshire.gov.uk/heritagesearch