Friday, December 14, 2007

Driving me crazy

Urgh I just had to deal with Hotsons Eurodrive minibus company on the phone. My rock-hugging addiction to mountains and far away crags sadly means I frequently need to use such services, but do they really have to make it so painful?

I've had my fair share of part-time jobs in the past and would definitely not have earnt my fiver an hour if I'd adopted Hotsons' idea of customer service. I was kept waiting on the phone while they discussed whether they wanted to talk to me; apparently unaware that hold buttons exist for such purposes. When someone finally came on the line again, she (or he? Hard to tell when they're just grunting at me) let me get through my whole explanation of what I wanted again before telling me I was speaking to the same person and that I'd have to call back next week. Next week?! What if I wanted to hire something tomorrow? Why can't they take my details or give me an email address?

It's times like this I wish I had a more authoritative Indiana Jones type voice. A tone that says 'no nonsense - I've just fought off a tiger, don't tell me to come back next week'. Instead, I just mumble and stutter an 'er...okay' and sit fuming to myself.

It brings back a flood of memories of other places with awful customer service: the guy at the ice cream counter in the Milton Keynes Cineworld. I don't care if he's eaten all the sold-out flavours, I just want my ice cream as it's advertised and not shoved aggressively in my face as if I'd just told him to castrate himself. Similarly, I don't care if the Hurrah Henry behind the counter in the Jericho Cafe has a polo logo carefully embroidered on his Jack Wills shirt. It doesn't really bother me how carefully tousled his hair is; I just want my toastie and drink, not a sigh and a 'Is anyone else in the queue going to want a hot drink?' as if it's the most outrageous demand in the world. If you're working in such industries, you're there to serve, whether you like it or not. Imagine if the 999 operator answered the phone with a grunt then told you to call back next week; or a firefighter stood, arms crossed, before a burning building, rolled his eyes and asked if anyone else would want rescuing today.

I'm going to stick to nice, happy places with smiling people this month. Whether they're genuine or not, it's still nice to have bubbly waitresses like at The Big Bang or the irrepressibly cheerful ladies who work at Lush. Smiles are infectious and spread quickly, as do bad reputations. Companies like Eurodrive would do well to bear that in mind.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Festive Frolics

Freezing drizzle, houses lit up like Las Vegas, the merry jingle of the same old songs...There's no denying it - Christmas is nearly here. Whether you're a snowy Scrooge or the epitome of the Christmas spirit itself, all your seasonal gripes and needs can be met in Oxford.

Personally I'm a bit of a mix - I love to don the intellectual stance, curling my lip in quasi-sophisticated disgust at the meerest wiff of commercialism, yet excitedly trotting out to get some shiny bargains; rejecting any offers of mince pies before mid-December, and yet enthusiastically writing present lists throughout the year. I think most people are like me - we love to hate Christmas and hate to love it. Love the lights, the warm, fuzzy feeling, the ever optimistic wait for snow, the trees, the carols...hate the queues, the tackiness of inflatable Santas and chocolate Jesus models, the pressure to Have Fun, the sheer distance from long summer days.

So here's my mini survival guide for being around Oxford at this time of year:

To escape the madness:
- Port Meadow - gorgeous on a frosty morning and not even a sprinkling of tinsel

To embrace the festive spirit:
- Clarendon Centre - lights, bargains, hot drinks and sugary snacks: escape the rain, embrace the warmth, and forget about the credit card bill

To catch up with friends:
- Jericho Cafe - a healthy but yummy place to meet people. Save the calories for Christmas day and catch up with old friends or make exciting plans for next year with current ones.

To play in the snow (yes, it will snow. It has to!):
- University Parks - giant snowmen, erotic sculptures, snowball fights, ice on the river, pretty frozen trees...*sigh*

Look out for various Christmas markets - Gloucester Green sometimes has them. Enjoy the festive season, whatever your Christmassy inclinations, and enjoy the snuggly feeling, the hustle and bustle and the huge variety that Oxford provides.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Welcome to Wellies Weather

It's raining again. Not even properly raining, which makes it all the more insulting. It's drizzling, showering, spitting...pretty miserable really.

All in all, not the greatest time to start my blog about Oxford, unless you count dodging the spray from passing cars by Magdalen roundabout or taking an unplanned swim in Port Meadow as the event of the week. I wanted to talk about the hidden side of Oxford; the pretty lanes and glimpses of countryside; the hidden nooks and crannies where you can escape the tourists and the quiet reading spots where time seems to stand still.

But these shall have to wait. Instead, this is a week to splash around in puddles; to run, shrieking in the rain, brolly held aloft like a tour operator on speed, leaping from cafe to shop to restaurant to club, discovering places you might never have ventured into had it not been raining. This is a week to spend exploring the miles of books in Blackwells, to catch up with friends or meet strangers in cafes and to resoundingly announce your denial of winter to the world by indulging in a G&Ds ice cream.

Wear your brightly coloured scarf with pride, ditch your sensible shoes for some funky wellies and enjoy the choreography of umbrella dances as you dodge past bus queues and shoppers. This is Oxford at its most traditionally English - in a shower of rain.