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 ( 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


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:,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: . 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!

Man Hugs (mugs? hans?)

When it comes to greetings, Oxford's got it all: stiff upper lip handshakes, moustachioed nods, uber(un)cool high fives, girlie squeals, romantic entanglings, camp mwahs and manly punches. But, what we definitely need more of is...

The humble man hug. I found a great video on the net that explains it perfectly:

The basic gist is:

1. Go in for the kill but make it clear what you're doing.

2. Both go left, no windmill arms, no nose bashing.

3. Clasp! Hug! Enjoy! No nuzzling!

4. Three manly slaps or punches on the back to show you're still men.

5. Spring apart! Play fight or manly conversation to ensue. No awkward scracthing or coughing.

Quintessentially British, and apparently remarkably close to the continental view of our gents, this celebrates metrosexual, class-uniting, triumphant man-hugging. Excellent.

I'll keep my eye out for more.

Sahara deserted

Having successfully persuaded my other half that my new dress needed wearing out, last weekend we decided to brave Oxford on a Saturday night and dine in style. Being summer and a graduation weekend, The Trout was fully booked, so we tried Sahara on several friends' recommendations. It all started out well and good: looked at the website, menu looked tasty, setting was nice, location wasn't too painfully far and involved no awkward parking. Phone up: yes, they definitely have tables free tonight, pick our own time, brilliant. We strut our summery stuff down to Blue Boar Street and walk straight past the place. This happens all the time to me; no worries, double back. No one's there, and I mean no one. Must be the wrong door; try another one. Peer through the window: see a tin of paint and DIY stuff. Hmm.

Phone the number I booked on: "Hi, I'm a little confused as to where you're located"
Helpful guy: "Okay, not to worry: tell me where you are and I'll give you directions"
Polite me: "Well we're stood outside a restaurant called Sahara on Blue Boar Street, but perhaps we have the wrong one..."
No-longer-so-helpful guy: "OH!! Hahahaha...chortle...snigger...etc..."
Slightly annoyed me: "Are we in the wrong place?"
Trying-to-be-apologetic guy: "You're booked in at Reading - we're all ready for you!"

It turns out the restaurant's being used for some TV show - Gordon Ramsey or the like. It's only for one month, and the only way to find this out is to click on a picture of Gordon on the website, which then pops up a little message to tell you. I'm not in the habit of clicking on pictures of Gordons on the net, and there was no mention of it anywhere else or when I phoned. The Oxford calls are being forwarded to Reading, where the guy was delighted to have a table ready for me.

So, rather annoying, but the guy did turn into friendly-and-apologetic guy, even if he didn't offer me a free meal or anything. The upside was that we arrived at
Chiang Mai just in time to sneak in between two reservations, completely unaware of its popularity and respective excellence.