Oxford’s blaze of glory

by Stephen Tall on March 17, 2007

For the last three nights, Oxford’s Broad Street has been ablaze thanks to a spectacular fire installation known as Luminox, part of the celebrations of 1,000 years of Oxfordshire.

My photos do it scant justice: it was a magical, elemental event which attracted thousands, becoming the talk of the town. Beyond its ethereal beauty, two aspects struck home.

On the first evening, everywhere I went the same question was being asked: ‘What about Health & Safety?’

We were able to wander where we wanted, within touching distance of burning
braziers, and in between molten lanterns.

Everyone was amazed and delighted to be treated like adults (especially the children); to be trusted to realise that scorching hot things are dangerous. To the best of my knowledge, no-one decided to hurl themselves into harm’s way.

Instead, there was a visceral sense of liberation among the crowds at being left alone to enjoy the displays at our own pace in our own way: collective joy emanating from individual freedom.

Secondly, when I visited tonight, there wasn’t a single police officer patrolling, though there were thousands of people milling around.

And there was no need for one. Despite the squash, relaxed good humour abounded, bar the occasional ‘Tsk’ when someone accidentally obstructed a camera.

Folk munched on crepes, sipped coffee sitting outside cafes, browsed in Blackwells bookshop, kept their kids entertained and safe, snapped photos on phones and cameras, filmed videos, cuddled, chatted: enjoyed themselves.

When we started our walk home, we passed the St John’s Ambulance crew. They were sat inside, talking, drinking from a flask, relaxed.

It’s been that kind of event.

PS: there are many fantastic photos well worth a view on Flickr.