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.


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.