Friday, November 28, 2008

Circus silliness

I know it's a bit early to get excited, but a quick browse round the New Theatre website has revealed that the circus is coming to the Ford!

It's coming next year, in August, so start planning your holidays around it!
Tuesday 18th Aug - Saturday 22th August.
Tickets: £11 - £27.50. Quite expensive compared to a fiver for a traditional circus, but it should be worth every penny.

I'm not sure how it's going to work in the New Theatre...I suppose it will be a bit like Cirque du Soleil. Still, should be good fun and more accessible than a big tent in a muddy field in the rain (although I quite like that side of things!).

Check out their website for more info:
http://www.legrandecirqueshow.com

Why bother?
- Over 50 world champion acrobats
- Sold out shows worldwide
- Played to over 10 million people
- Think lights, costumes, performance, spectacle, breathtaking...

I, for one, can't wait!

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Arty Oxford

There's a great exhibition on at the moment at Modern Art Oxford. It shows the work of Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller and is intriguingly entitled 'The House of Books Has No Windows'. Never heard of them? Nor have I... That doesn't stop it from being interesting, though.

There are 7 pieces of art, including:

The Dark Pool: a room full of books and machines, with strange bits of sound chasing you through the room.

Opera for a Small Room - one of their most critically acclaimed pieces of work, involving more strange noises that seem to move...

The Killing Machine - cheerfully, as the name suggests, about capital punshment.

The House of Books Has No Windows - their most recent production - this one's without strange sounds.


Things to check out
- The piece of art using over five thousand books (!)
- Late night opening on Friday 28th November until 10:30pm: galleries and cafe are open and there are free tours.
- Saturday tours: 3pm and free!
- The book that accompanies the exhibition and explains it in more detail.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Thanks Frank

Fans of Frankie Boyle will be delighted to hear that he's coming to Oxford. Personally, he doesn't really float my boat, but I've been strictly instructed by friends to spread the word.

Here are the essentials:

When:

Saturday 29th December
8pm - 10:10

Where:

The New Theatre
George Street

How:

Tickets: 01865320760 or http://www.newtheatreoxford.org.uk/prod-productions_details.asp?VenueID=103&pid=1102

£17:50

What:

Ramblings and comedy

Support act: Martin Bigpig

Friday, November 21, 2008

Economical Anxiety?

We've all noticed that the big wide world of money isn't going too swimmingly at the moment. Whether they're greatly affected or not, most people seem to be either Complete Experts on the issue (yet all with different opinions...) or Know-A-Little-Bit-But-Would-Rather-It-Just-Sorted-Itself-Out.

Whichever category you fall into, or if you're not either of these types, it might be worth popping along to a free talk given by the Oxford School of Economic Science this Saturday (22 November) where experts will be discussing such cheery matters, particularly the important once of What Went Wrong. Then we can have something to blame - excellent!

It sounds interesting too, not just a repetition of 'oh, it's all to do with American mortgages...' or 'Well, it's all about oil really', but an intelligent analysis into taxes and why they might be causing problems. There will be lectures and the chance for discussion, so if you've got strong feelings but nowhere to vent them, now's your chance. If not, there are refreshments to entertain you!

Details are as follows:

Saturday 22 November
8:45am - 12:30pm
Maison Francaise, 2-10 Norham Road, Oxford, OX2 6SE
Free entry

For more info:
01865 741116
info@ses-oxford.org.uk


Chlamydia Confidence?

Apart from being one of the hardest words on the planet to spell, chlamydia is also a rather nasty disease that's apparently highly rampant in Oxford. It's causing problems all over the country, so no point running away now. What's important is that everyone knows what it is and how to prevent it. Or at least the latter, although it's always fun to know the meaning behind a big word.

The OCSP (Oxford Chlamydia Screening Project) is for everyone in the local area, and provides free information and tests to help you out. It's got a promotional flurry on at the moment, so you may have seen its adverts around. If you're still not sure quite what's going on, here's a quick guide:

What is chlamydia?
The most rampant sexually transmitted infection around at the moment.

How do I get it?
Contact with sexual fluids.
Or passed from mother to baby during birth.


Sounds nasty - what are the symptoms?
Often: nothing at all, which is part of the reason why it spread so easily.

Why the big fuss then?
It can cause fertility problems and other nasties.

How do I know if I have it?
See the website above to pop in for a visit or call 01865 234526 for info on a free self-test kit.

What if I do have it?

It's easily treatable by antibiotics, so no worries!

It might be worth asking at your workplace if they are able to spread the word.

Ashmolean Dash!

Panic!! The Ashmolean Museum (you know, the one always covered in scaffolding on Beaumont Street) is going to close! Not forever - that would be a BIG PANIC - but for a year. The closing dates are:

23 December 2008 - November 2009 (date to be confirmed nearer the time)

Good news, though: the shop will still be open! Sadly, the cafe will be shut. Time to check out one of the yummy cafes on nearby George Street or Little Clarendon Street.

So why the closure? Well, in case you hadn't noticed, the Ashmolean is undergoing a lot of expansion work at the moment. They've finally had enough of dangling blocks of bricks from cranes over temporary walkways and are having to finish by shutting the inside. The new building will double the existing display space, providing 39 new galleries, an education centre, and, most excitingly perhaps, a rooftop cafe.

The theme will be 'Crossing Cultures Crossing Time', which will break away from the traditional museum style of dividing displays by location or point in time (eg: a room for the 1600s, or Anglo-Saxon times, and a room for South Africa and a room for North America). Instead, it intends to show how different cultures are connected, how they have influenced each other and travelled. The rooms will be themed under categories such as money, reading and writing, and intepretations of the human image, and will show how such things have developed across the world throughout time.

Sounds exciting - bring on November 2009!

Fabulous Philosophy

This week sees the dawn of National Philosophy Day. What better place to celebrate the unknown than in the academic capital of the UK, if not the world?

Philosophy was one of the first subjects to be studied at Oxford University. Back in the day there weren't separate sciences, but philosophy (aka the love of knowledge) encompassed what is now known as physics, astronomy, chemistry and 'nonsense'.

Famous philosophers who went to Oxford include John Locke and A.J. Ayer, and many current philosophy professors are famous in their field.

Philosophy is still enthusiastically studied today, with questions that will probably never be solved including the age-old:
- Do we see the same colour when we say we see something 'red'?
- How do we know we exist?
- Are you the same person you were yesterday?

Check out the Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy for more info, or simply browse round Blackwells in their philosophy section. The 'very short introduction' series has been very helpful for me, and makes you sound really intelligent if the subject ever arises!

Monday, November 3, 2008

Firework Fun

It's that time of year again: jacket potatoes, neon glow sticks, mittens, sparklers and burning a model of a man on a giant fire...

The place to be this bonfire night (or rather Saturday 8th Nov) is South Park where the Oxford Round Table is hosting its annual firework extravaganza. Of course, the great thing about fireworks is that you can see them for free, but nothing quite matches the atmosphere of huddling in the cold with friends, squealing 'ooooh' and 'aaaaah' as the display unfolds.

There will be nosh and drinks, and, rumour has it, some fairground rides to play on afterwards. And, of course, a giant zooden man to be burnt for your pleasure.

Tickets cost £5 in advance, or £12 for a family (2 adults, 2 children), or £6 (£15) on the door. Not that there's much of a door to speak of... Under 8s go free.

Enjoy!

Friday, October 31, 2008

Spooky Soirees

It's that time of the year again, when pumpkins adorn doorsteps, chocolate and sweet sales soar, and fancy dress shops get really excited.

Here are my top tips for enjoying Halloween in Oxford:

- Looking for fancy dress? Try Party Mania in Summertown for costumes ranging from traditional witches to quirky furry cartoon characters!

- Fancy some spooky music? Head on down to the Carling Academy to see House of 101 Corpses.

- Prefer to hit the clubs? It's Halloween and a Friday night, so most of the big clubs are celebrating. Check out the posters around town for which ones are doing special offers if you turn up in fancy dress.

- After something more chilled out? Head on down to The Cricketers Arms for the Halloween Party. It all kicks off at 9pm.

- Just want to hang out and watch the ghouls and ghosties? There's always G&Ds! Open until midnight, it's a great place to go before, after or during your Halloween fun.

Have a good one!



Sunday, October 26, 2008

Free for All

I've been speaking to some foreign tourists in the Oxford area who were shocked at prices in London and Oxford. They were under the impression that the UK was experiencing a financial meltdown, meaning everything was much cheaper. If only!

Luckily, I was able to point them in the direction of free activities in Oxford which are still great for tourists, but which don't cost quite as much as the
bus tours or buying a book on the area. We really are spoilt in terms of free museums here, and it's all too easy to put off going if you live in the town. I know they're always there, but who knows if they'll always be free, and they certainly don't always have the same exhibitions.

Here are some of my favourites:

The Ashmolean
The oldest public museum in the UK, and long may it be so! This is like the British Museum and is equally exhausting to take in in one go and to navigate around. Lots of anthropological displays, with history spanning from the Stone Age until today. There's a lot of information on how the artefacts were found and transported to the museum, which is fascinating in itself, and there are quite a few local discoveries.

Museum of the History of Science
Always neglected in tours and forgotten by locals, this lovely building has work from Einstein, a great collection of instruments for measuring time and space, some magnificent telescopes, and some utterly terrifying old medical gadgets - think surgeons' knives, anaesthetic kits and so on. Absolutely fascinating and completely free!

Natural History Museum
This is a great one for the kids, and for grown-up kids too! Easy to take in, spacious and full of fascinating life-size animals. It's very hands on and accessible Again, there's local emphasis, with a special section on Alice in Wonderland.

Pitt Rivers Museum
My absolutely favourite. A real mish-mash of human civilisation and culture, with clothes, tools, jewellery, religious artefacts, instruments and everything you could possibly think of from a multitude of different eras, countries and cultures. Absolutely fascinating, all crammed in in a wonderful display of colour, sights and information, and definitely worth visiting as many times as you can still learn things.

Yes, you could definitely do worse than spending a few hours in one of these. Make the most of what's on your doorstep.

Experimental Excitement

I keep seeing posters, internet adverts and flyers for Oxford University Psychology Studies. I'm not deliberately looking out for them, but I can't surely be the only person to have been enticed by attention-grabbing titles such as:

DEPRESSED?
Well, if I was, thanks for remindind me about it. If I wasn't, I now feel like maybe I'm missing out on something...

Others are similarly intriguing, wanting people who are right-handed with perfect vision, or left-handed with corrected vision, or any number of intriguing combinations. Sometimes there's a very complicated description, such as:

Left-handed, non-native English speaker with children under the age of 5 who has previously suffered from bulimia, with no history of depression.

Followed by a request for control subjects:

Or any other combination.

So mysterious, and so deceptively open to all!

Intrigued by all these adverts (it's probably all some giant experiment to see who falls for advertising!), I've done a couple. One was just like an old-fashioned Pong-style computer game and was good fun. The other involved looking at disturbing images and having my eye movement measured. Very interesting stuff, you get paid a bit, and it goes towards interesting research. Who knows, you might end up in one of those quirky BBC News stories with weird statistics.

Scrumping Silliness

Happy Apple Day! You may not have realised it, but today is Apply Day. Who knows who thought it up, its historical origins or quite what you're meant to do, but what better way to celebrate than an apple scrumping day near Oxford?

Now this sounds a bit strange to me...apple scrumping is traditionally the act of stealing apples from a farmer or someone else's garden. Unless this is a rather well-publicised mass illegal scrump, I think it may well be more like apple picking.

Anyway, there's lots going on, with cider pressing demonstrations and tasting for the adults, apples and other fruit and veg to buy, and apple quizzes and bird-feeder building sessions for all the family. You have to pay for each thing, but it sounds pretty casual - just turn up and see what you fancy. It's all run by the Northmoor Trust, which you can learn more about by going, and it sounds like an excellent way to spend a lazy Sunday afternoon. Here's hoping for good weather!

Hill Farm,
Little Wittenham,
Abingdon,
Oxon OX14 4QZ

Time: 10am - 5pm

Monday, October 20, 2008

Price of a pint

So apparently we're entering another depression. Hopefully that's of the financial sort, rather than the emotional sort, because I feel quite cheerful at the moment. Still, even financial depressions are far from ideal. Oxford is rumoured to be second only to London in terms of prices, and it certainly shows in the important things in life:

The average pint of beer in the UK: £2.64
The average pint of beer in Oxford: £2.88, although I've seen up to £3.50 in some pubs. Truly shocking, especially for a student town with two universities.
Apparently the cheapest place is the Oxford Union, where it's around a pound a pint for members. Sadly, membership costs well over £100, and even the most hardened drinker would do well to get their money's worth out of that.

On the plus side, Oxford does have some excellent real ale pubs, and some gorgeous traditional pubs.

Incidentally, one of the cheapest places is the mysterious 'Ossett', where pints seem to be 90p!
There also seems to be a town called Nerdsville, where pints are £5...definitely not a good place to be.

Statistics from this wonderful website: http://www.pintprice.com/region.php?/United_Kingdom/
Very useful if you're thinking of moving house or changing job or university.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Attracting Alumni

Various leaflets, emails and posters inform me that this coming weekend is the University of Oxford's Alumni weekend. Immediately, to me at least, this conjures up images of 15th century scribes, 19th century princes and even 20th century prime ministers all gathering for a big booze-up in their graduation gowns. Sadly, even the great boffins of Oxford have not yet managed to bring people back from the past. I guess the University, with all its quirky traditions, is sufficiently rooted in the past and does not need many more reminders of its history.

With T. E. Lawrence, A. J. Ayer and others out of the question, I need a new image of this spectacular gathering. The slogan is 'Meeting Minds - Global Oxford'. Hmm...lots of wrinkled, ball-of-worms brains wiggling at each other as they form the circumference of a spherical Oxford? Or maybe just lots of great thinkers from around the world meeting in Oxford. After all, even that is pretty exciting.



Oxford students are always seen as quite a novelty, but once people leave the confines of the university, they become known for who they are, not where they studied. This seems especially true for the scholars of the past.



Anyway, there are some great events on, some of which are open to the general public and many of which are fun for all the family, so check them out.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Gay Times?

With its fair share of famously outed alumni, public schoolboys and kinky sub fusc, Oxford could well be an important place on the gay map of Britain. I'm talking Soho, Brighton and Manchester.

It's not just the university, though; Oxford always seems so closeted, so behind closed doors, so...potentially full of extravagance and frustrations. There's theatre, fancy dress, cheesy clubs, and also sophistication and class. It's metrosexual and forward-thinking yet equally traditional and conservative. It's the sort of place where a man can walk the streets in make-up and a tutu without a second glance, but where two men holding hands would be muttered about; two men kissing is near unheard of.

So what exactly is there for Oxford's gay community? Well, quite a lot, it turns out!

Oxford Pride
A big parade every July with flamboyant costumes and rainbow flags galore.

OLGCC
This catchy abbreviation is for the Oxford Gay and Lesbian Community Centre in Northgate Hall on St Michael's Street.
It's open Thursday - Saturday from 10:30pm, and costs between £1.50 and £4 depending on membership and the night.


Gay pubs and clubs

- The Castle Tavern - check out the Rainbow Room downstairs. The best nights are Thursday-Saturday.

- The Coven II - some Friday nights. This has had problems with homophobic attacks after some big nights, but is apparently getting better security.

- The Jolly Farmers oub has cabaret, quiz nights and entertainment and has been an important part of the Oxford gay community since time immemorial.

- Old Fire Station : Check out Flirt nights on Mondays. It's cheap to enter and a fun night out.

Pubophilia

I just want to say how much I love Oxford pubs. There's such a good range and for some reason today I'm overwhelmed with gushing love for them in all their beery glory. I'm talking about the cosy alcoves of the Royal Oak, the literary history of the Eagle and Child, the sheer delight at finally finding The Turf , the delicious veggie food at the Gardeners Arms, the Friday lunchtime carefree crowds at the Kings Arms and, of course, the glorious Pimms by the river summer experience of The Trout.

Pubs are such a wonderful British tradition; it's great that Oxford still has old-fashioned ones with board games and quiz nights, and no blaring Sky TV or intrusive music. Some of them even have dogs wandering around! Pubs are, after all, public houses, and it's ones that make you feel at home that are great. Pubs where you don't feel pressured to leave once you've finished your drink, that don't tut when you ask for water, and where you only need look at the bar to be given your usual.

Cheers!

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Fantastic Freecycle

On the subject of useful local sites found on huge procrastination efforts and internet explorations, I discovered Oxford's Freecycle group today: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/OxfordFreecycle/

If you've not heard of Freecycle, it's basically like a massive, free car boot sale. People give away things they have but don't want. This can range from fridges (which cost loads to get rid of anyway), to pianos, to CD racks and unwanted presents. Other people arrange to collect them, and the world's a better place. Person A gets ride of their unwanted item for free; person B gets a free thing that they've probably been looking for for ages, and the Earth is happy too, as there's less rubbish being thrown away.

It's really useful if you're moving house, or have just moved house, or if Ebay isn't proving too succesful. Just bear in mind that Oxfordshire is quite a large area, and not everything can be carried on a bike or a bus!

Making money

Having had some rather extravagant holidays this summer (including unplanned extravagances like missed flights, bus fines and so on!), I'm feeling the crunch. I thought I'd have a look around for some extra money-making opportunities in Oxford. My options:

> Shops
Most places are happy to take CVs and some, especially sandwich shops, always seem to be advertising for more staff.

Pros: discounts!
Cons: probably not good hours for me with my other work, especially over Christmas.


> Restaurants and cafes
Always on the look-out for waitresses, servers and cooks. Flexibl(ish) hours and very sociable.

Pros: good food!
Cons: I'm very clumsy, so waitressing is probably out; I've no cooking qualifications, so cooking is probably out; I compulsively eat whatever's in front of me, so serving is probably not going to work...


> Bar work
There are usually adverts up outside places like the Royal Oak.

Pros: sociable. Flexible hours.
Cons: All seem to require experience. A vicious circle, if you ask me!


> Something else...
So what exactly could I do? It was at this point that I turned from wandering the streets to perusing the internet. I came across the website http://oxford.gumtree.com/ which I thought was just for London, but there's an Oxford section. You can search loads of jobs there, from full time marketing or teaching positions (is there really nowhere official to advertise teaching jobs? They're all over the place here!) to casual work helping someone do gardening or paint their house.
My favourites included an advert for 'A Depressed Person' to carry out a psychology study, and 'Man with a van' to transport some boxes, 'no questions asked'...mysterious stuff!

So, if you're strapped for cash in Oxford and can offer your services as a masseuse, language tutor, strongman or ironer, I recommend a browse on that site, as it's really useful.

Phototastic

For fellow Port Meadow fanatics (like the American I just met who still has fond memories of jogging round Port Meadow in his Oxford days), there is a fantastic photo exhibition on at the moment in the Oxford Castle. It's there until the 19th October, so plenty of time to see it, and if you're like me, to go several times! Entry is free and it doesn't harm to have the impressive castle there and the lovely restaurants nearby (not forgetting Krispy Kreme!).

The artist the local photographer Roddy McColl. I've not heard of him before, but I don't really follow photography or local art normally. This 'Year in Photographs' really is impressive, though, even if most of the beauty is from the meadow itself. It's interesting, because it's not just about wild nature, but also shows bits of the city behind, which is how it actually looks. It is a place with horses and cows roaming free and uncut grass, but it's also right next to the canal and railway, and part of is used as allotments, so it's very much a place in use. In a way, I think that makes it more attractive, as it's valued as a haven of nature so close to the city. Clearly, the photographer thinks along similar lines. The photos are very evocative and seem to reflect the different moods that Port Meadow has, from restful to full of life, misty and moody to symbolic. One of my favourites is called 'Aristotle's Sunset' and has an amazing pattern of clouds in the sky.

In fact, I think I might go to Port Meadow now...

Piano Perfection!

I've seen posters up for a series of piano concerts by people with impressive sounding names! I've never heard of the pianists, but there's an impressive array of composers they're going to play: Schubert, Bach, Chopin, Brahms and Schumann to name but a few. The performances are on Fridays at 8pm for some of October, at least, and tickets are on sale at www.ticketsoxford.com. It's £9 full or £6 for concession.

It's definitely worth checking out, although I must admit, I find that piano performances don't give me the same feeling as hearing an orchestra play or a choir filling the air with harmony in the Sheldonian. It's always quite hard to see the pianist's expression, and there's only one person to watch.

Still, for a relaxed evening, it's definitely worth checking out. Certainly beats the noise and sticky popcorn-ness of the cinema, just as a one-off.

Art Achievements

As a kid, I used to love art: drawing, painting, sketching, modelling - just making a mess and being creative. Now, it's really hard to find the time to do things like that, but the other day I saw someone sitting on Broad Street painting a watercolour of Oxford, and it made me really want to start up again.

I had a quick browse on the internet for shops selling art materials, as I was only really aware of The Works. Whilst I didn't find much in the way of information on shops, I did find a list of art clubs in Oxford. Most seem to be run by Lisa Jayne Art Studio in Chipping Norton, but they're on at a variety of different times and buses run there, so I think I might check them out.

If anyone else is interested, there is:

- Painting and Drawing
- Watercolour
- Creative art for 5-8 year-olds.

I really want to go to the creative art one, but I'll try to resist!

Rumour has it that the Ruskin School of Art (part of Oxford University) does life drawing classes, but information is scarce and I have a feeling it might not be for amateurs like me!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Nifty North Wall

I finally got to visit the North Wall Arts Centre last week, to see Precarious Dance Theatre (http://www.p-dance.co.uk/) perform 'The Factory'.

Here are a few snippets of my thoughts on the experience...

- First off, why is it so very, very hard to park even in such an out-of-centre part of Oxford? Few people will go to the theatre by bus, and it's all very well paying and displaying, but it's a bit offputting for a woman to have to walk back to the carpark down dark roads. Because it was an evening performance, we managed to find one remaining spot on the heavily restricted road, but had to drive the whole circuit 3 times because of the one-way system!

- The gallery inside is a great idea. When I went there was a display of Bob Nicolson paintings. I can't believe the price of some of them - several grand for a painting of a red pepper, or even for a nice picture, but surely it's not worth that much?!

- The staff were really friendly. I had a lovely chat with the man behind the 'bar', who was quite knowledgeable about the gallery displays. It was really nice to have approachable, human staff who volunteer information and don't see the staff/customer divide that exists in places like The New Theatre and even The Playhouse. Heck, even the cinema seems to have that divide.

- The whole theatre managed to avoid being snobbish. Some of the audience wandered around with noses in the air and received pronunciation, but the theatre itself was equalising and down to Earth. It felt very different from the ICA (Institue of Contemporary Arts) in London, where I was once startled by bizarre pieces of art and even odder people, when going to a gig.

- The toilets are truly shocking. Don't get me wrong - they're clean and well-kept. It's just that they're, well....gold. Think gold lame spandex, Red Light district eyeshadow, Boy George's body shimmer. It really doesn't fit in with the rest of the place. I can't speak for the men's toilets, but don't think I want to find out.

- The theatre itself is great, except for a slight spacing issue that means everyone kicks everyone else's seat. Maybe I'm just overly twitchy, but I find this Really, Intensely Irritating. Add to this the earthquake feeling as the floor shakes whenever anyone walks down the aisle, and you feel very involved in the performance. Still, the views are good wherever you are, and the sound fills the room. The seats down the side create a cosy, Globe-style atmosphere, and it's easy to slip into whichever world you're being coaxed into.

All in all, well worth checking out, but it's a shame it's blighted with problematic parking. It's nice having a theatre this end of town, and it's all very homely and local. The performance I saw was fantastic, and has encouraged me to sample more of the contemporary end of the spectrum.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Jolly Jiving

I'm feeling fat and unfit. I think it's a combination of post summer holiday laziness, unappealing weather and a certain smugness that I had got vaguely fit a few months ago, which was my long-term excuse for subsequently gorging myself and my sole recent exercise consisting of lifting my laptop from the bed onto my lap. Oh dear.

So, in a one of those fatal moments of overenthusiasm, I have started looking into dance classes. I know this smacks of a New Year's Resolution flashback, and yes, it may have partly been prompted by watching Bridget Jones and seeing the future me air-singing 'All By Myself' while rolling around on a dirty sofa in pyjamas, but I think this sort of optimism should be embraced and gently 'yes dear'-ed until it collapses or flourishes.

Have you ever looked into dance classes in Oxford? For some rather prejudiced reason, I thought it would all be ballroom dancing or ballet, but there's actually an impressive range. There are all the traditional ones you learn as a kid: ballet, tap and modern. Then there are the ones your mother would tut at: belly dancing, pole dancing and salsa. As if that's not enough, there are some rather exotic ones ranging from folk dance (okay, maybe not so exotic but it sounds fun) to Irish dancing to Cuban, to modern jive and the intriguing sounding 'Zumba'. I might try a sample of each, see which has the nicest outfits, the most tolerable music and the most attractive teachers and make an informed choice from there. And if it all goes wrong, at least I'll be able to pull some suitably embarrassing moves on the dancefloor when I'm having my Bridget Jones style mid-life crisis. All the better for embarrassing the future kids with, I say!

Tradition or Tat?

At some point I seem to have signed up to the University Of Oxford Shop's newsletter. I don't recall ever having bought anything from there, but nonetheless, every few months that delightful Outlook envelope pings up and there it is, my entertainment for the next few minutes. At first I decided to unsubsubscribe, but as usual I procrastinated, and I now relish these amusing bundles of marketing.

What puzzles me is who exactly the shop is aimed at. Tourists must make up a fair amount of the business, but why would they want cufflinks or a scarf advertising the uni? The hoodies seen sportingly worn by tourists in London screaming 'Oxford University' are garish enough. But then why would students want toys or games about their own university? All current students seem to favour college merchandise, rather than generic university labelling, and I don't know many who would be caught dead throwing around an Oxford University frisbee. (Although it is undoubtedly a great symbol of tradition and academic brilliance...er?!) Perhaps, then, it's for the parents of students. I can't imagine anyone else wanting to buy an 18ct gold graduation ring with the university logo engraved on it. You can also get a wooden plaque with the university symbol on, as if as a prize for surviving the gruelling workload. Personally, I'd rather have an enormous cake and a bottle of bubbly, but whatever floats your boat.

Anyway, pop in and have a goggle and a giggle; it's great for a laugh. My favourite items:

* Cuddly toy dodo
* College crest teatowel - polish your finest crockery with your favourite college and the inside of the old teapot with your rival one.
* Botanic Garden teacosy - how did you ever live without one?
* 'Tiny Oxford' baby bib - talk about pressure from an early age!

Open Doors Galore





I've just found out about an exciting event in Oxford, called, rather mysteriously, Oxford Open Doors. It sounds like quite a refreshing change from the usual tourist traps, although some places sound more interesting than others. The general gist is that it lets you see places you'd never normally have access to, like:

- The Oxford Bus Company depot (I think this might come under the category of 'don't knock it 'til you've tried it...then knock it for all it's worth', but hey, maybe I'll be proved wrong.)

- Oxford fire station - shiny machines for men to goggle at, shiny firefighters for women to goggle at, undeniably cool for kids. An all-round winner.

- Church towers - it's got to beat paying to join the queues at University Church, and the views are bound to be good. It's all a bit Dan Brown...

- Conveyor Tunnel in the Bodleian - definitely what I'm most excited about - an ancient underground tunnel leading to rare manuscripts and leatherbound tomes. Wow!

- A local eco-home - I'm not sure whether this is just a few solar panels and a compost heap or a total Good Life experience, but it'll either provoke us into helping the environment or make us feel rather happy with our comparitive home comforts.

There's also a rare chance to visit university buildings such as Exam Schools and college barges, chapels and so on. Check the website for dates of what's open when: http://www.openingdoorsopeningminds.org.uk/index.html

Maybe I'll bump into you down a hidden passage somewhere....

Monday, August 18, 2008

Fag Failure

Remember when the smoking ban was introduced? A rhetorical question, perhaps: how could you not? The media told us it would happen for months leading up to it, all local pubs were doomed to shut, basic human righs were being violated in a democratic society...we were, apparently, one step away from an armageddon equal only to the arrival of the 24-hour license.


Well, life continued as normal: grumblers found something else to grumble about, smokers shuffled outside and air freshener businesses thrived as pubs turned out to smell pretty foul without the disguise of smoke.

My gripe is with Oxford smokers who gather in annoying places to blow smoke in my face. The top spots I've found so far have been:

- Outside the train station - which makes it extra annoying when you're standing inside and it all comes wafting in.

- Outside The Royal Oak - I swear the cloud of smoke extends right to the other side of the road. If I wanted a smoked Ali's, I'd ask for one!

- Bus queues - as if they're not torturous enough! Huddled outside Sainsburys or on Queen Street, with thousands of shopping bags with legs whacking you on their way past, small children howling and the roar of smoke-producing pollution machines. Cue someone blowing their fag-ash riddled CO2 in your face. Lovely.

Okay, so perhaps the last place isn't a result of the smoking ban, and yes, I am grateful that the insides of buildings are now relative havens, but it's hardly a solution moving everyone to the entrance of places which are unavoidable. I'm not proposing a solution, just going to grumble. Because sometimes that really is the most satisfying thing to do.

Referencing Revolution?

In the midst of yet another 'where-have-I-put-my-car-keys-oh-god-they're-lost-forever, someone's-stolen-them-and-will-murder-me-in-the-night-oh-right-they're-in-the-car...I'm-driving-it' panic the other day, I stumbled upon a rather wonderful idea.

Wouldn't it be great if the world was library referenced? I don't mean google maps, although that is a wonderful invention (have you tried the walking down the street thing? Scary genius.). I mean tracking objects. Not in a scary, stalker Big Brother way, but in a personal, private panic way. I was inspired by Oxford libraries. With the Bodleian holding nearly every book every published in the UK, and other libraries holding a magnificent collection of titles, some of which probably deserve to be relegated to dark and dusty corners, others of which are justifiably worth thousands, they need a good cataloguing system.

Here's how it works: Let's say you fancy getting the book 'A History of Oxford' out. You can nip onto Oxford's library website and search by author, title, publisher, keyword or date. Usually this comes up with hundreds of irrelevant titles, but better skilled people than me seem to be able to get it to come up with their chosen title, all the info related to it and its location (library, section and shelf number). Finding it within that library is a game in itself, but locating it to a room rather than 'somewhere in Oxford' is pretty good. The other method is to get a librarian to do the search for you, although it's not always worth the pitying looks.

Now, imagine if that happened with the objects you lose in daily life. I frequently lose:
- My keys
- My car when it's parked
- Money (although admittedly I might just be spending it...)
- Glasses
- Anything I need in a hurry (coat, brolly, credit card, things I've borrowed from others, hairdryer, mobile)

Of these, the only thing that's easy to find it my mobile as I can ring it. Imagine if you could go to an Oxford object catalogue, type in your username and find the location of your possessions, and a list of details about each item:

Search for: Going-out coat

Results: Location: 3rd hanger from the left, back of wardrobe in spare room
Age: Too old - get a new one
Colour: Faded black
Condition: Some unsightly stains on the shoulder and second button down is loose
Bought in: Next (in the sale...tightwad)

Even better if you could do the equivalent of a stack request and collect it from an area of your choice!

Not a Little Litter

Coming back from a holiday in Greece, where the summer heat and rather vintage plumbing lead to dubious odours on most street corners, I was hoping to return to a spangling, sparkling and generally rather clean Oxford. I was actually a bit disappointed.

Sure, the smell's not too bad, apart from outside The Bridge after a student night, but the littler situation is far from great. Interestingly, the sort of litter varies depending on where you are:

> The station - newspapers and those cardboard cups commuters glue to their noses at peak times.
> Jericho - champagne bottles, ribbons (bizarre but look and you'll always find one!), Co-op bags.
> High Street - depending on the time of year: cigarette ends from bus drivers and queues, eggs, flour, balloons, cheap champagne, silly string, confetti from exam schools trashings, or bits of bush and clothing from May morning.
> Cornmarket Street - a whole spectrum of fast food packaging. Mcdonalds bags are particularly annoying to extract from your shoe.
> Queen Street - dead balloon. Where do these come from and why are they there? A great mystery.
> Magdalen Street - ice cream and bits of food. This seems to be the ultimate ice cream graveyard. Brings back those awful memories of dropping your 99 when you were a kid.

So what's the solution? More bins? Would certainly help. They are there, but try crossing the streams of Friday afternoon pedestrian traffic to reach one. Edible carrier bags, balloons and more stable ice cream carriers seem to be the way forward.
One impressive attempt at reducing the problem is Oxford's Big Tidy Up, which is due to take place in September: http://www.oxford.gov.uk/news/news.cfm/container/current/pagenum/1/item/2925
The last one saw 11.5 tonnes of litter tidied up in one weekend.
Why not pop along and help if you're free for a few hours?
http://www.oxfordshirewaste.gov.uk/wps/wcm/connect/OWP/Home/

Monday, August 11, 2008

Mamma Mia Madness

I went to see Mamma Mia the other day. I'm not much of an Abba fan - in fact, I start wanting to gouge my heart out with a spoon after three songs, but I'd heard it was good and so thought I'd give it a go. What I didn't bargain on was it being sold out. It's been out a month! Granted, Oxford's got a lot of people and not many cinemas, but still - a month! I hate booking tickets on the phone because it takes so long to get through all the menus, and booking online is a hassle if you get a discount.

The Oxford Odeon's annoyed me for a while, mainly because of its silly opening hours. Fair enough, it's shut when there are no films on, but I always like to buy my tickets at lunchtime so I can eat dinner before popping over in the evening and avoid the horrible queue that's sometimes spilling out of the door. I hate looking like I'm fanatically queuing for a film. I swear I can sense everyone walking past thinking 'What a saddo, queuing for that long just to see a film. Sheesh, get a life...' So, given the impossibility of buying tickets in advance, I figured that seeing a film that's been out for ages would be no problem.

I was wrong.

I know it's not the cinema's fault that a film's so popular, but you'd think they could arrange a few extra showings. There's the wonderful Phoenix Cinema for artsy films, so no need to have them in the Odeon quite so often. There's also this wonderful thing called The Day Time, which people in Oxford seem to experience a lot more than the average. Most cinemas charge less during the day, but the Odeon could still make a hefty profit by showing films in the morning or more films in the early afternoon. There are enough students, tourists, and other people who don't necessarily work 9-5 to fill a few screens. And let's face it, the extortionate ticket prices in the evening more than make up the difference in cost.

And don't even get me started on the annoyance of having the listings for the George Street cineam in front of the Magdalen Street cinema, and the cramped area to buy food...

Still, problems aside, I eventually got to see Mamma Mia and thoroughly enjoyed it. I'm now sat here, merrily singing along to the soundtrack in defiance of the rain and general gloominess of the British summer weather.

Oxford's Own Olympics?

I've just watched the Olympic Opening Ceremony for the second time, this time on BBC iplayer. It really was rather good. I must admit, the first time I watched it with a group of friends and we talked over the BBC commentary. It's a lot more impressive when you hear the facts behind it, but I can't help but wish they'd got Terry Wogan in to give an alternative version of events Eurovision-style. The drummers, the fireworks and the giant globe were all amazing. The people rolling around on the floor creating a Big Art Attack (anyone else remember them?) were more amusing than impressive, and the puppets were downright scary!

It all got me thinking what on earth the UK will do in four years' time. We've got Shakespeare, Vikings and the Beatles. And, of course, we've got Oxford. Oxford itself could do a mini ceremony with its own history: the town walls, famous alumni, the great split with Cambridge, and maybe a re-enactment of all the bizarre ceremonies like May morning bridge-jumping, or the Time Ceremony at Merton College. All Souls College even has a ceremony involving ducks - sounds intriguing and like something the world should know about! I can imagine the fireworks over the dreamy spires already. Not sure where a giant stadium would fit though, or whether Oxford would produce many athletes, unless rowing, croquet, cricket and punting count...

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Towering Toblerone

I am very, very excited. Really excited. And very disappointed. A rollercoaster, you could say. If I was a bit younger I could blame it on hormones; a bit older, on old age. Instead, I'll blame it on my inner child.
You see, I've found The World's Biggest Toblerone. Sadly not in Oxford, but while I was on holiday. This beauty weighs in at 4.5kg and is a proper chocolate bar with 12 triangles; not some funky packaging just containing lots of normal Toblerones. It's available in selected places in Europe - in my case, I saw it on sale in a mountain resort in Switzerland. I can't quite see a mountaineer grabbing his lightweight 500g triangle from his bag, or a skiier stopping for a nibble, but hey, it certainly appealed to me! Sadly, it cost 95 Swiss Francs, which is nearly 50 quid. And my friends were only joking when they said they'd split it.
So here I am, back in the land of normal-sized Toblerones, full of regrets. Incidentally, a little-known fact: the mountain on the side of a Toblerone packet has a bear standing up in the blank part. Apparently it was part of the original design but hardly anyone noticed it!
I'm on a campaign to get this Toblerone in Oxford now. There are lots of them around, so no excuses. It's too specialist for any old supermarket; would probably fill all of Hot Chocology and isn't Thorntons own brand, so no good there. No, I think it could go well in Maison Blanc, although that's quite tempting enough as it is. Perhaps it should be in some obscure corner shop that gains a legendary reputation and is sought out by Toblerone fans Oxford-wide, like the shrunken heads in the Pitt Rivers Museum. Still, there's only one way to find out...spread the word and join the campaign!

'Snot on

I've got a cold. Bleurgh. In summer. Urgh. It's bad. [Insert rhyming onomatopoeia for feeling GROTTY]. It is utterly ridiculous to have the sniffles in mid-summer, let alone Man Flu. And I most definitely have the latter. I know, I know, technically I'm not allowed to have Man Flu, being of the other species. Still, I think I've put up with enough bouts to justify a case of my own.


Oxford is rubbish for having a cold. If I venture outside to any of my usual comfort spots, I look like I have extreme hayfever. No jogging, no picnics, not even any moping on a graveyard bench trying to look artistic. There is a pharmacy across the road from me, where I'm sure the staff recognise me a mile off just from my sniff. They keep reassuring me there is no miracle cure, but I'm sure it's a conspiracy... The shops are too hot, the streets too full of tourists. England in general is pretty rubbish at dealing with the heat, so there's not even any air con to ease my itching eyes. I feel too self-righteous to inflict my snorting and sniffing on a cinema or theatre full of people, having been annoyed by similar actions myself, and I really don't feel like being cultural and looking round museums or sightseeing when I know I won't appreciate it through streaming eyes, nose and bunged up ears.

Okay, enough of moaning. I guess there's always Youtube...

Fish'n'Chips




Okay, enough is enough. Why is there not a single decent chippie in Oxford? I'm not talking about people who work with wood and whistle as they work; I'm talking about that lard-loving British institution of the good old fish'n'chippie. I like them all: fresh, seaside offerings, Chinese takeaway combos with the whole family working behind the bar, and the village local with the same old boy muttering behind the counter who was there when you were a kid, and your dad was a kid, and your granddad was a kid...


But what I don't like is Oxford's attempt. Fair enough, Oxford's not the fish'n'chippiest of towns, but its surrounding villages have made a good effort and tourists and students would happily guzzle greasy chips covered in newspaper print and some deep-fried delights.


Oxford chip shops fall into one or more of the Bad Categories of fish and chips:


- Trying to be too posh - greasy lumps of potato just aren't sophisticated. They're meant to be hoovered up from the paper and shovelled into hungry mouths with grubby fingers, not poked at with a posh little fork.

- Trying to be healthy - the whole point of fish'n'chips is to be decadent and forget about the usual calorie-counting. Fish and chip shops should never have seen a salad, let alone try to sell soggy lettuce.

- Actually being a kebab van - kebab vans sell kebabs, burgers and fries. Fine in their own right, but definitely not to be confused with proper chip shop offerings.

- Actually being a greasy fast food shop, even if not a chain - fish and chips means just that: battered fish, chips, mushy peas and maybe a couple of sausages and pies. Baked beans and curry sauce are acceptable. I'll let chicken nuggets slip through as they're pretty yummy, but burgers, jacket potatoes and skinny fries are completely unacceptable.


The fast food places in Cowley fall under many of these categories. The chippie off the high street is at least trying, but still far too touristy, and Posh Fish just can't quite cut it with expensive prices, too much variation and too many staff. Still, it will do for those late-weekend cravings.


In the meantime, the search must go on...

Knife Life

I've just got back from a holiday (I wonder how much longer I can keep saying that without sounding like I'm in denial at being back in the Real World...) to the news of yet more stabbings in the grimy inner cities of the UK. Except it's not just the grimy inner cities; apparently the problem is nationwide. Wary as I am of media fear-mongering, this does make me feel slightly concerned. Are all those nice, middle-class, blazered children wandering round the sweet shops and parks of Oxford on weekday afternoons actually knife-wielding potential murderers? Are those lovely child actors in the local theatre productions actually producing a double act? What about those angelic choirboys who sing the Lord's praises from Magdalen tower on May morning? Surely the statistics can't apply to them as well?

In general, Oxford doesn't seem too bad for crime. I'm sure someone will come along and correct me now, but violent crime seems to be limited to the odd attack on a canal towpath, the not-so-odd sexual attack on Cowley Road (okay, so that's a problem), and fights with bouncers at Filth. Despite all the community bulletins about carrying personal alarms, never going out alone, etc etc that hark back to Victorian times, I rarely feel at risk in Oxford. Perhaps that's because I cycle, and I cycle fast, so I can generally escape any potential danger, if I notice it at all. Perhaps it's because I'm usually back home before all the trouble starts - Oxford at midnight on a Friday night is still full of hustle and bustle. Or perhaps I just don't go to the dodgy areas, if there are any.

Sod's law says I'm now going to get mugged, but for the meantime I'll stick to being uber paranoid that someone will steal my bike lock (undoubtedly worth more than my battered bike) or that I'll leave all the food I just bought on the till as I merrily leave the supermarket.

Atrocious Attacks

Question: What was the second biggest cause of death amongst British soldiers in World War One?

Answer: Ticks.

Okay, I might have made that up, but I know it did cause a far higher number of deaths than expected. Soldiers commited suicide from the sheer annoyingness of the infuriating, irritating, blasted things.

Why this topic all of a sudden?
I have been bitten. On the souls of my feet, on my toes, on my fingers, on my ear, on my armpit, in places that few humans, let alone insects should see.
Now, some of this happened on holiday in Florence. But that's okay; it's one of the expected damages of going on holiday. When people ask me about the unattractive red blotches (and oh, they are red and blotchy) forming complex constellations on my legs, I can tell them 'Oh, they must be from Florence, darling', with that wonderful 'I've just been on holiday' look of superiority. You've got to make the most of it before your supposedly in-awe friend replies with 'Oh yes, they were awful in Barbados too, but my skin's just too good to attract them'.

Anyway, holidays aside, I have also been bitten in Oxford. I don't know quite when or where it happened, but the suspects are:
- University Parks while eating ice cream
- Town while trying to get into Sainsburys
- The canal while jogging
- Cornmarket Street while listening to Duelling Banjos
- Iffley while at a barbecue

All perfectly reasonable ways to spend a summer evening or weekend, and all now activities of high suspicion.

I'll keep you updated on my investigations, but watch out for these notorious gangs which swarm the streets in the evening, attacking indiscriminately and viciously, with long-lasting effects...

Variety Violations?

There was an article in the news today with political correctness gone mad. Apparently pre-school children are to be told off for making derogatory comments about spicy food, as this is a form of racism. Now, call me backward-thinking if you like, but in my experience if you give a young child some food that they're not used to, then they are highly likely - almost definite, in fact - to say 'yuk' and pull a face. Give most adults new food and they will do the same. I'm not talking about a variation on a theme here: petit pois instead of garden peas; raspberry jam instead of strawberry jam; I'm talking about a completely different sort of food.

For the average British child brought up on fish fingers, Turkey dinosaurs, jacket potatoes and roast dinners, a curry or an onion bhaji will assault their taste buds and cause a reaction. They might soon grow to like it, but initially they'll protest.

For the average British child brought up on rice, curry and naan, put a plate of beans on toast in front of them and they too will shout 'yuk' and protest.

Neither is being racist and neither should be told off or they will learn that it is bad to have a non-standard opinion of something, and that trying new things should be avoided if there is a chance of a negative reaction.

When they're older, they will learn that eating out in restaurants and trying new food is fun. Since living in Oxford, I have eaten the following sorts of food:

Chinese (a lot)
English (fish'n'chips and gastro and proper pub grub - The Gardeners Arms is my favourite)
French: Chez Gaston crepes are the best.
Italian
Polish
Greek
Moroccan
Thai - Chiang Mai is totally justified in its amazing reputation.
Japanese
Indian

And probably an awful lot more that I can't think of. I still don't really like Polish food, and I'll still always stick to korma when having Indian food, but it's exciting having a bit of variety. And if I don't like something, I will consider it part of the wonderful variety of human taste.
So there.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Tent Tribulations

As the current economic whoopsie carries on, I've been thinking about saving money. Inevitably, this has led me to create a huge list of things I want, rather than the productive list of costcutting attempts that I was aiming for.



I'm a bit of an outdoors bunny, so near the top of my list is a new tent. I've looked round Cotswold Camping, the North Face shop in Bicester and even Go Outdoors, which is a big step for a camping snob like myself. There's a terrifying range, but nothing quite right. It's either big, budget jobbies where you can sleep the whole family plus pets in the back garden, but to be avoided in anything other than sunshine; or heavy duty expedition beasts that can survive an avalanche without waking you up; or lightweight backpacking tents which will fit about a toenail in before you burst out feeling claustrophobic.



This all got me thinking about the future and how we might all end up living in tents when the housing market here goes haywire. I'd like to stake out a spot out on Port Meadow, wake up to gorgeous sunrises and birdsong. Then again, it's a bit bumpy and prone to flooding. Maybe Cornmarket Street - party until sunrise, then grab a pastie and sit in my tent serenaded by bagpipe music from that busker. I'd probably get targetted by charity collectors though...maybe I should just set up camp in an Oxford college. Busy academics would barely notice me, students would see me as a novelty item, and eventually film directors and news reporters would be queuing up to have me as a hallmark of Oxford genuinity, along with the bikes, the books and the V-neck jumpers.

Goggling at Glasses

I've been looking for new glasses. Mine are what you might call 'retro', 'vintage', 'classic'. They're more of the secretary or librarian school than off the catwalk, but they do the job, and hey, it's not like I have to look at them. Still, they're starting to go a tad flaky round the edges and contact lenses make me look like I'm been smoking something pretty strong when I've been glued to the computer for several hours.

This all running through my mind, I popped into Specsavers to have a look at the frames. You know the sort that are fashionable at the moment: big, dark frames, quite rectangular, there to be noticed and, unfortunately, completely and utterly incompatible with my head. The assistant was very helpful and tried all sorts on me, shaking her head in despair and slight astonishment that I could be so incredibly unsuited to them. She tried her best, but to no avail. Frameless glasses were suggested, and Specsavers in Oxford at least have a pretty good range of them. But aren't they flimsy! My specs go through a fair amount of abuse, so I'm reluctant to spend £150 on some pretty things that can only be seen if you look at the right angle.

The assistant reassured me that they had a two for one offer on, so if I wasn't sure, I could get two frames for different occasions. Fantastic - two frames that don't suit me.

I tried kids' frames, designer frames, value frames, even some grannyish glasses, all to no end.

I think I'll just stick with blinking fuzzily at anything more than a few metres away - who needs to see all the cracks and blemishes when the softly blurred outlines are so much prettier anyway!

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Oxford Eccentricites

As the summer weather brings out the good and the bad, I've noticed quite a few rather odd happenings around the place. It's definitely the people who make Oxford.

The tourists

- French schoolkids - all let loose on the streets and excited to be away from home.
- OAP coachloads - all walking veeeery slowly just where I want to cycle, but friendly, so makes up for it.
- Foreign tourists - telling me all about where I live and asking questions I can't answer! A very good source of knowledge, and they make me feel very cool for living somewhere they've come to photograph.

The locals

- The people queuing for buses - they're everywhere! No idea where they're going, but they're prepared to queue to get there.
- The schoolkids - often clad in blazers and munching on sweets, or playing in the park. Good times.
- The bohemians - often found in Jericho cafes, looking uber cool.
- The Cornmarket Street musicians and charity collectors - it wouldn't be the same without them.

The academics

- The students - love 'em or hate 'em, they're part of what makes Oxford the place it is. At this time of the year they all crawl out of the libraries and turn into party animals after finishing their finals.
- The academics - still wandering around discussing the great and the noble, sounding scarily intelligent and apparently oblivious to the sunshine as they stubbornly wear their woollen jumpers and gowns.

The observers

-Aka people who goggle - people like me. I'm a sort of hybrid category. I'm sure you could categorise me, but for the meantime let's assume I'm a cool external being, observing from outside and happily categorising.

Pretty Good

I'm in one of those floaty, summer moods at the moment. Oxford is lovely in the sun. My ideal picture postcard day would go as follows:

Sunrise by the Radcam: the sun behind it, the streets still sleepy.

Breakfast on Christchurch meadow - maybe a champagne breakfast for true prettiness!

Punting in the morning - a bit of morning exercise down the Thames can't be beaten.

Lunch in Magdalen Meadow - a picnic treat, accompanied by rare flowers and deer.

Frisbee in the University Parks - ice creams, crepes, and a river to dunk your feet in. Not to mention ducks to feed!

Dinner: barbecue in Port Meadow, followed by a beautiful sunset. Aaaah....

Wheelie good

I've been getting pretty fed up recently with fighting against lorries and cars parked in cycle lanes in Oxford. Not to mention the slow cyclists, or people who insist on cycling abreast - very annoying! I love mountain biking and cycling in the countryside, so I decided to do something about it and go for a bikeride. I found a great website called Mapmyride (http://www.mapmyride.com/) where people have marked routes in the Oxford area. There are the canals for starters, and a surprising number of bridleways. The roads aren't too bad, although definitely steer clear of the ring road! We stopped off at Waterperry tea rooms, which were really nice on a summer's day.

There's a surprising amount of countryside around Oxford - just watch out if you have hayfever because my eyes were streaming and I'm normally fine! Oh, and definitely don't bother with the bridleways if it's been raining the past week - nettles, mud and brambles aren't such fun after an hour...

Strawberry Shocker

There seems to be a serious shortage of strawberries in Oxford at the moment. I keep making dramatic plans to go punting and to have summer picnics in scenic places like Christchurch Meadows, but it's just not the same without strawberries. I thought the supermarkets would be bursting with them, but no: Sainsburys on St Giles didn't even have a gap on the shelf, and the Co-op in Jericho was looking a bit sorry for itself in the fruit department in general. Maybe I should have ventured to the big Sainsburys, or even followed my own advice and gone to a greengrocers stall, but the hassle of rushing around trying to find strawberries really goes against the implied chilled-out-ness of lazing around in long graze delicately nibbling at the red beauties.

I had a think about the reasons for this calamity: the poor economy, bad harvets, rising fuel prices meaning luxury goods are lower priority, a mass strawberry buying craze...and then it struck me: it's the uprising of smoothies! Look at a bottle of Innocent smoothie: it'll tell you how many hundreds of strawberries have been ground to a pulp for your pleasures. Go to one of the many smoothie shops in Oxford and watch ten strawberries getting crushed and squeezed to produce a measly drop of liquid. Much as I love smoothies, this is not worth the sacrifice! Bring back strawberries and cream!

Friday, June 13, 2008

Objectophilia

My kindly friend had a wonderful procrastination discovery the other day. Apparently she watched a programme called 'The Woman Who Married the Eiffel Tower'. Sadly, this wasn't a euphemism for a well endowed spouse of hers, nor was it a hippie protest; this woman actually married the Eiffel Tower.

You've heard of paedophilia? 'Phil' means love, and 'paedo' is to do with children, so literally 'children love'. Take a guess, then, at what objectophilia is. Yep, that's right: the love of inanimate objects. Not just a fondness, or a strong liking. I'm fond of my bike - it's seen me through some tough times. I'm quite fond of my new summer dress. I even quite like my computer when it's cooperating. But I'm certainly not erotically attracted to them!

There's an excellent article on it here:
http://www.spiegel.de/international/spiegel/0,1518,482192,00.html

Some of my favourite bits:

- A German guy describing his "emotionally and physically very complex and deep relationship, which lasted for years"...with an organ! He later had an affair with a radiator. I kid you not.

- Then there's Sandy K who has a giant metal model of the Twin Towers. Luckily for her, it doesn't rust when she takes "a pleasant bath" with it.

Seeeing as there seems to be no size limit, with people marrying the Eiffel Tower and the Berlin Wall hither and thither, I've been thinking about the eligible inanimate objects and buildings in Oxford. I reckon the Westgate centre might turn out to be an unexpected stud - contemporary and unattractive to many, but maybe it can seduce in its own language. Or how about the RadCam for a bit of Oxford tradition? A bit crumbly round the edges perhaps, but definitely the rich and powerful sort.

The mind boggles...

Trashing Tradition


It's trashing season again. If you've never experienced this tradition-that's-not-actually-that-traditional, now is the time to explore the relationship between trashers, trashees and trashings. For those not in the know, the ever omniscient Wikipedia has quite a good definition:

Trashing is used to describe the practice of students of the University of Oxford when contemporaries complete their exams. This involves throwing items such as confetti, champagne, flour, eggs, shaving foam, "silly string", raw meat and octopus at said students. This is a relatively recently adopted tradition originating in the '90s, which has caused complaints from the public.

It's not just students who do this, although suffice to say parents and unknown tourists would not be welcomed! Friends from other walks of life come to join in the festivities, particularly at weekends. It feels like being part of a riot to begin with: police all around, barriers, procters (university police), lots of people waving things in the air and yelling. Except the things being waved are giant helium balloons, bottles of champagne, confetti, party poppers and Mexican hats. There's a great feeling of tension, like waiting to charge in battle. The first bleary-eyed finalists emerge from Exam Schools and the charging cry is sounded: suddenly chaos ensues, with the sub-fusc adorned warriors struggling to find their allies in the brightness of day. Silly string is fired, party poppers brandished and balloons fill the air as they bob their way down the cobbled alleyways.

Officially, throwing any food item is now a finable offence: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/education/3652825.stm . This must have been great for the stalls and shops selling confetti and silly string, but the temptation and implied rebellion is too much for students, who end up throwing champagne, washing up liquid, flour, eggs and similar on each other in nearby alleyways instead.

Go along and have a goggle: there's still time. It's the ones in red carnations who are soon to emerge for the last time, and exams usually finish at around 12.30 or 5.30, including Saturdays. Just watch out for stray celebratory food!