Saturday, May 31, 2008

Bless You!

I was looking for skirts today. I just don't suit those floaty, summery skirts that look like great fun on a trampoline, but that make me resemble the lovechild of a lampshade and a teacosy. So, I wanted a slimcut skirt that wasn't an office pencil skirt. Surely not so hard to find, but you wouldn't believe the trouble I had! Expensive designer shops, cheap as chips ethically dubious shops, young fashion shops, middle-aged shops - not a skirt to be seen that didn't make me look absolutely ridiculous! I ended up buying everything but a skirt, so not all was lost, and on the way I stumbled upon a shop I'd never noticed before that I thought I'd tell you about.

It's called Echoo. Now, is it just me, or does that sound remarkably like a sneeze? I thought so, and I must admit it's the only reason I decided to go in - their marketing department deserves a great pat on the back for tempting me in purely through a probably unintentionally amusing name.

The shop ( immediately reminded me of Camden Market in London: a cross between quirky colourful t-shirts and ruffled and sequinned bohemian dresses. The sizes are quite weird; most of the skirts I looked at were labelled L or L/LL - I assumed this meant 'large' or 'extra large', but this definitely isn't a good way to attract women, especially considering the lack of 'S' sizes. Still, I braved one of the few M/Ls I could find, and it seemed like about a size 12. The till is in the middle of the shop and I kept walking into it by mistake as it's on a tiny table! The sales rack had lots of things on it, but bright cartoon-style Japanesey t-shirts just don't cut it for me anymore, and I wasn't looking for a floaty transparent dress.

The changing room was through a velvety curtain and at first I thought it was one of those awful communcal changing rooms full of either offputtingly attractive women to make you feel bad, or women that you really don't want to see starkers. Luckily, it wasn't, although the curtains around each cubicle caused lots of entanglement and elbows poking into the next one along! The shop assistant seemed to be offering advice to everyone on what suited them. Luckily, I manged to avoid her, as I knew my skirts didn't suit me. The shame spared, I left.

It's an enchanting shop with a great vintage feel and it's very different to other places in Oxford. It was a real surprise lurking in the chainstore Clarendon Centre and I'm surprised how many times I must have walked past it. If anywhere, it would fit in best in the Covered Market , but hey, it's here and what a refreshing change. If only something in there had suited me!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Petulent protesters

Warning: another rant coming up. I do apologise for the perhaps excessive amount of moaning that appears here. It's not that I'm a particularly grumpy person, it's just that I rarely feel inspired to write about how everything's going know, isn't this average fineness, just, well, not bad really? If I'm really happy, I rarely want to jinx it by attempting to navigate my way round my rather temperemental computer, and if I'm in a less than ideal mood, this very navigation usually results in a full-blown rant.

Still, explanations aside, let the rant commence.

I remember the days when protests came in two forms. There were the quite serious, life-changing demos, like 1968 in Paris, or the suffragettes. These were idolised, hailed as human conscience taking a turn for the good and betterment of mankind. Then there were the students, the slightly smelly, slightly too hairy hippies waving signs around. You know, Save the Whales, Don't Cut Down The Tree on Campus, Rainbows as Prime Minister, you get the idea. They were tolerated; it was seen as part of growing up. Survive on a tin of beans for a week, go on a peace march, get worked, it didn't change the world, but photos and TV footage immortalised some excellent hair-dos and fashion disasters. Lessons were learnt, people moved on.

When I moved to Oxford, I expected similar. The well-meaning types on Cornmarket Street were encouraging, as were the odd bits of graffiti scrawled on toilet doors. What I wasn't expecting was the full-blown animal rights protests that seem to appear every weekend that I'm in town. 'Oxford - home of murderers' their banners say. 'Oxford University students should be ashamed'. Well, we'd better all move out then, and send all the students home. They're probably all the sorts who used to fry ants under magnifying glasses anyway. Heathens.

I wouldn't mind people protesting about something they believe strongly in, if only they didn't get in the way so much. I know that's kind of the point; a strike or a march is no good if it doesn't affect anyone, but what genius thought that blocking roads, using valuable police time and insulting pretty much every passing member of the public was a good way to win people over? They definitely need some help on the marketing side, but I'm sure not giving it to them. I don't know about you, but when I see mounted policemen, several squad cars and a riot van, I don't think 'Gosh, what sensible, lovely people protesting for a good cause; I should join then'. No, I think 'Arrrgh raving nutters who might hurt me if I tread on a bug!". When I see students who have spent three or four of the most intense years of their lives studying hard, their proud parents come to watch them graduate, and the once in a lifetime moment is ruined by a rabble of people calling them murderers, my instant reaction would have to be censored so much, it would be incomprehensible on here.

Regardless of how right or wrong they are in their claims, the Animal Rights group has claimed responsibility for vandalising building equipment and vehicles, for setting fire to Oxford college boathouses, for sending threatening letters, for having a 'hit list'. They seem to place animals above humans in their beliefs and their practises. Perhaps we should release them into the wild and watch the animals there gratefully thanking them.

Sandal shennanigans

I braved Oxford city centre on Saturday because I needed some flip-flops. This put me in a bad mood to begin with - flip-flop shopping definitely does not come under the fun female shoe shopping category. For a start, flip-flops really hurt me. I want to like them, I really do, but do they really, truly have to be such agony? I envy these laid-back types who stroll around in the beasts in midwinter, apparently oblivious to the excruciating agony of having a piece of material wedged between their toes, like a fat kid forcing a divorce between two things that really should not be separated.

Until now flip-flops came in two categories as far as I was concerned:

1. Foamy, sporty ones that only suit the most laid-back of people and get a nice brown footprint moulded into them, accompanied by a rather hippyish smell...

2. Pretty but oh-so-flimsy beaded beauties, which come with the warning that they are for occasional use only. Not much you can do when a strap snaps: as they say, there ain't no flop without a flip.

(3. Alternative sandals: either high-heeled fashion items that can't get wet, see mud or be worn if anyone can see your grimaces, or 'practical' monstrosities that your mother would be proud of)

Bring back jelly shoes, I say. Glittery ones with that smell of childhood holidays.

Still, there is a happy ending. I eventually found some beauties in
Free Spirit of all places. They're supremely comfortable, with a silky slip of fabric gently caressing my toes and some pretty flowers. They have truly enlightened me. And now the weather's decided it's winter again. Typical. I've resorted to wearing socks in bed again. Oh well...

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Mobile madness

WHY oh why is the mobile phone coverage so awful in Oxford? I just changed from pay as you go to contract, with the aim of not feeling incredibly guilty every time I make a call to another mobile. I must have been having a blonde moment, seeing as it is near on impossible to do such a thing in Oxford. This would rely on two phones both having sufficient signal at the same time. Practically unheard of!

Perhaps it's the dreaming spires getting in the way; perhaps it's a conspiracy to maintain the so-called Oxford bubble, or perhaps some greater power above thinks there should be some places free from the irritating bleeping of ringtones and the tedium of having to listen to strangers' conversations. The funny thing is, this still seems to happen. Cyclists, in particular, seem to have no problem chatting to their friends, generally while on their bikes, and usually when cycling very slowly in front of me or veering onto the pavement when I'm walking. Not that I'm grumpy or anything... Perhaps the key to beating this mysterious block is to move faster than it...

It does at least give me a good workout leaping around trying to rescuscitate a conversation that's been crackled out mid-flow, or waving my phone out of various windows in the naive belief that this will actually make a difference. The most frustrating thing is that the signal can be full until the second someone picks up, at which point it withers the second I've said 'hi'. I swear I can hear it giggling in its rebellion. On the plus side, it has led to some rather amusing delayed text messages, eg:

Me: "Hi watching a film tonight. Fancy coming over?"
Friend: "Sounds great. What's it on?"
Me: "It's about Aids and suffering"
Friend: "Awesome!"

At least, I assume these are caused by delays...


I have a confession to make. I am about to join the ranks of the great wheeled. Yes, that's right, the 'murderous' car drivers who I rant about when I'm on my bike, the polluting motorheads who roar down the road when I'm trying to sleep, who honk their horns in a medley that rivals Girls Aloud in its lack of musicality.

Oxford is definitely not a car-friendly place. Hideously complicated one-way systems, massive queues in rush hour, suicidal cyclists, drunk students, road works, bus lanes and, of course the parking...

The Park and Ride is all well and good, but those bus queues can get ridiculous, and it's no good if you want to stay several days. The same applies for local buses: fantastic for travelling around Oxford itself and the nearby villages or Bicester, but if you want to go further afield you're often looking at very convoluted bus journeys or expensive trains that go through London. So, I'm taking the step. Prepare to see me whizzing around in my Porsche (well, hey, this is the internet - you'll never know!), the sun on my back, my hair flying gracefully backwards as I whizz past future world leaders and the great thinkers of the day. Or, more likely, swearing profusely as I once again fail to parallel park, choking on bus fumes as I get completely lost in roads that are suddenly restricted when you're not on a bike... I'll keep you updated!

Friday, May 9, 2008

Sweet Success

I have discovered a wonderful website that embraces the essence of childhood fantasy (no, not that sort of child fantasy, you twisted so-and-so...). I'm talking about the sweetshop!

It's called A Quarter Of and it's basically an online version of those great old-fashioned sweet shops with walls lined with jars of bonbons, sugar mice, fudge, millions, sherbet...the list goes on! They've got some real gems there that I'd forgotten about: white mice, jelly worms, space dust (that stuff that pops and crackles in your mouth), those little white chocolate buttons covered in coloured much and so yummy. They do some mean chocolate bars as well, including most Ritter bars, Frys mint bars and they are even rumoured to have stocked some rare Wispas, although I'm not sure if they're still there or have been preserved by collectors for a desperate, hormonal hour of comfort-eating need.

It made me think about sweet shops in Oxford. Now, I'm sure I'm wrong, and I certainly hope I am, but Oxford really seems to be missing a decent sweet shop. Sure, there's
Chocology in the Covered Market, and lots of shops doing posh gourmet chocolate. But I'm talking about big glass jars with unhealthy, sugary, E-number-ridden balls of delight. Places where you get a little paper bag that's weighed on scales, where you have no idea how long that fly's been trapped in amongst the sweets, but you just don't care. Places with Pick'n'Mix, places with queues of schoolchildren trading sticky, gummy, melting delights. Perhaps I'm living in the past, but it really is something every town should have. Some corner shops/convenience stores stock millions and jelly babies, but in sanitised pre-packaged plastic. The best place I've found so far is the Odeon cinema which does a satisfactory pick'n'mix, but it's still hideously overpriced and only open when films are on.

If anyone knows of a shop I'm missing, please do fill me in! In the mean time, I'll be filling up on internet-order sweets.

May Merriment

Yes, I know I'm late, but hey, it's officially summer now. We're allowed to be slack about things now the sun is (sort of) out, the days are longer and summer holidays are well within ice-cream licking distance.

So, yes, May Morning. It was great fun. I went last year and for some reason got up at 4:30. Wise from the memories of yawning constantly for the following week, I got up at *whisper* 5:30am this year and trotted off to Magdalen College to hear the choir sing and join in the general merriment. The bridge was blocked off after the events of a few years ago: although people jumped in anyway, so I really don't know why they bother. I think it makes it more of a challenge now, more tempting.

What was also annoying was that the police had set up barriers so anyone arriving late couldn't get anywhere near Magdalen. Still, I was cheered up by free hot chocolate from G&Ds (at that time in the morning I don't actually care if it's an imposter plying me with drugs) and a cheery Morris dancer chap with a flashing smiley face badge on his hat.

The choir chirped, the dancers doci-doed and we ate breakfast unhealthily early.
Eccentric? Yes. Fun? Yes. Would I do it again next year? No way. Have I been saying that every year? Yes...

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Cold Turkey

Sorry for the lack of updates recently - I was *shock, horror*...without internet!! Only for a couple of days, I admit, but I hadn't realised quite how addicted I had become.

It progressed in several stages:

Denial - frantic refreshing of long-dead webpages, frantic attempts to send the same emails over and over, wondering how to contact friends to ask if their internet was down when I couldn't just email them!

Anger - WHY was technology so rubbish? Why didn't swearing at the machine, restarting it and bargaining with it work?

Despair - How would I ever procrastinate again?

Liberation - I went for a run round Port Meadow, I did all my boring chores like going to the Post Office, tidying my bedroom, sorting out my post. Then I phoned some friends - yes, actually heard their voices! I picked up a book where I had to turn pages rather than click on a link. I tuned my analogue radio to pick up noise and it worked fine!

Security - Then, like the addict that I am, the internet came back and there I was, frantically catching up on emails, searching the news sites for anything happening the other side of the world that I'd missed, and scouring messageboards for similar experiences.

The internet...what would we do without it, eh?