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!) 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:

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:
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?

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...