Friday, October 31, 2008

Spooky Soirees

It's that time of the year again, when pumpkins adorn doorsteps, chocolate and sweet sales soar, and fancy dress shops get really excited.

Here are my top tips for enjoying Halloween in Oxford:

- Looking for fancy dress? Try Party Mania in Summertown for costumes ranging from traditional witches to quirky furry cartoon characters!

- Fancy some spooky music? Head on down to the Carling Academy to see House of 101 Corpses.

- Prefer to hit the clubs? It's Halloween and a Friday night, so most of the big clubs are celebrating. Check out the posters around town for which ones are doing special offers if you turn up in fancy dress.

- After something more chilled out? Head on down to The Cricketers Arms for the Halloween Party. It all kicks off at 9pm.

- Just want to hang out and watch the ghouls and ghosties? There's always G&Ds! Open until midnight, it's a great place to go before, after or during your Halloween fun.

Have a good one!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Free for All

I've been speaking to some foreign tourists in the Oxford area who were shocked at prices in London and Oxford. They were under the impression that the UK was experiencing a financial meltdown, meaning everything was much cheaper. If only!

Luckily, I was able to point them in the direction of free activities in Oxford which are still great for tourists, but which don't cost quite as much as the
bus tours or buying a book on the area. We really are spoilt in terms of free museums here, and it's all too easy to put off going if you live in the town. I know they're always there, but who knows if they'll always be free, and they certainly don't always have the same exhibitions.

Here are some of my favourites:

The Ashmolean
The oldest public museum in the UK, and long may it be so! This is like the British Museum and is equally exhausting to take in in one go and to navigate around. Lots of anthropological displays, with history spanning from the Stone Age until today. There's a lot of information on how the artefacts were found and transported to the museum, which is fascinating in itself, and there are quite a few local discoveries.

Museum of the History of Science
Always neglected in tours and forgotten by locals, this lovely building has work from Einstein, a great collection of instruments for measuring time and space, some magnificent telescopes, and some utterly terrifying old medical gadgets - think surgeons' knives, anaesthetic kits and so on. Absolutely fascinating and completely free!

Natural History Museum
This is a great one for the kids, and for grown-up kids too! Easy to take in, spacious and full of fascinating life-size animals. It's very hands on and accessible Again, there's local emphasis, with a special section on Alice in Wonderland.

Pitt Rivers Museum
My absolutely favourite. A real mish-mash of human civilisation and culture, with clothes, tools, jewellery, religious artefacts, instruments and everything you could possibly think of from a multitude of different eras, countries and cultures. Absolutely fascinating, all crammed in in a wonderful display of colour, sights and information, and definitely worth visiting as many times as you can still learn things.

Yes, you could definitely do worse than spending a few hours in one of these. Make the most of what's on your doorstep.

Experimental Excitement

I keep seeing posters, internet adverts and flyers for Oxford University Psychology Studies. I'm not deliberately looking out for them, but I can't surely be the only person to have been enticed by attention-grabbing titles such as:

Well, if I was, thanks for remindind me about it. If I wasn't, I now feel like maybe I'm missing out on something...

Others are similarly intriguing, wanting people who are right-handed with perfect vision, or left-handed with corrected vision, or any number of intriguing combinations. Sometimes there's a very complicated description, such as:

Left-handed, non-native English speaker with children under the age of 5 who has previously suffered from bulimia, with no history of depression.

Followed by a request for control subjects:

Or any other combination.

So mysterious, and so deceptively open to all!

Intrigued by all these adverts (it's probably all some giant experiment to see who falls for advertising!), I've done a couple. One was just like an old-fashioned Pong-style computer game and was good fun. The other involved looking at disturbing images and having my eye movement measured. Very interesting stuff, you get paid a bit, and it goes towards interesting research. Who knows, you might end up in one of those quirky BBC News stories with weird statistics.

Scrumping Silliness

Happy Apple Day! You may not have realised it, but today is Apply Day. Who knows who thought it up, its historical origins or quite what you're meant to do, but what better way to celebrate than an apple scrumping day near Oxford?

Now this sounds a bit strange to scrumping is traditionally the act of stealing apples from a farmer or someone else's garden. Unless this is a rather well-publicised mass illegal scrump, I think it may well be more like apple picking.

Anyway, there's lots going on, with cider pressing demonstrations and tasting for the adults, apples and other fruit and veg to buy, and apple quizzes and bird-feeder building sessions for all the family. You have to pay for each thing, but it sounds pretty casual - just turn up and see what you fancy. It's all run by the Northmoor Trust, which you can learn more about by going, and it sounds like an excellent way to spend a lazy Sunday afternoon. Here's hoping for good weather!

Hill Farm,
Little Wittenham,
Oxon OX14 4QZ

Time: 10am - 5pm

Monday, October 20, 2008

Price of a pint

So apparently we're entering another depression. Hopefully that's of the financial sort, rather than the emotional sort, because I feel quite cheerful at the moment. Still, even financial depressions are far from ideal. Oxford is rumoured to be second only to London in terms of prices, and it certainly shows in the important things in life:

The average pint of beer in the UK: £2.64
The average pint of beer in Oxford: £2.88, although I've seen up to £3.50 in some pubs. Truly shocking, especially for a student town with two universities.
Apparently the cheapest place is the Oxford Union, where it's around a pound a pint for members. Sadly, membership costs well over £100, and even the most hardened drinker would do well to get their money's worth out of that.

On the plus side, Oxford does have some excellent real ale pubs, and some gorgeous traditional pubs.

Incidentally, one of the cheapest places is the mysterious 'Ossett', where pints seem to be 90p!
There also seems to be a town called Nerdsville, where pints are £5...definitely not a good place to be.

Statistics from this wonderful website:
Very useful if you're thinking of moving house or changing job or university.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Attracting Alumni

Various leaflets, emails and posters inform me that this coming weekend is the University of Oxford's Alumni weekend. Immediately, to me at least, this conjures up images of 15th century scribes, 19th century princes and even 20th century prime ministers all gathering for a big booze-up in their graduation gowns. Sadly, even the great boffins of Oxford have not yet managed to bring people back from the past. I guess the University, with all its quirky traditions, is sufficiently rooted in the past and does not need many more reminders of its history.

With T. E. Lawrence, A. J. Ayer and others out of the question, I need a new image of this spectacular gathering. The slogan is 'Meeting Minds - Global Oxford'. Hmm...lots of wrinkled, ball-of-worms brains wiggling at each other as they form the circumference of a spherical Oxford? Or maybe just lots of great thinkers from around the world meeting in Oxford. After all, even that is pretty exciting.

Oxford students are always seen as quite a novelty, but once people leave the confines of the university, they become known for who they are, not where they studied. This seems especially true for the scholars of the past.

Anyway, there are some great events on, some of which are open to the general public and many of which are fun for all the family, so check them out.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Gay Times?

With its fair share of famously outed alumni, public schoolboys and kinky sub fusc, Oxford could well be an important place on the gay map of Britain. I'm talking Soho, Brighton and Manchester.

It's not just the university, though; Oxford always seems so closeted, so behind closed doors, so...potentially full of extravagance and frustrations. There's theatre, fancy dress, cheesy clubs, and also sophistication and class. It's metrosexual and forward-thinking yet equally traditional and conservative. It's the sort of place where a man can walk the streets in make-up and a tutu without a second glance, but where two men holding hands would be muttered about; two men kissing is near unheard of.

So what exactly is there for Oxford's gay community? Well, quite a lot, it turns out!

Oxford Pride
A big parade every July with flamboyant costumes and rainbow flags galore.

This catchy abbreviation is for the Oxford Gay and Lesbian Community Centre in Northgate Hall on St Michael's Street.
It's open Thursday - Saturday from 10:30pm, and costs between £1.50 and £4 depending on membership and the night.

Gay pubs and clubs

- The Castle Tavern - check out the Rainbow Room downstairs. The best nights are Thursday-Saturday.

- The Coven II - some Friday nights. This has had problems with homophobic attacks after some big nights, but is apparently getting better security.

- The Jolly Farmers oub has cabaret, quiz nights and entertainment and has been an important part of the Oxford gay community since time immemorial.

- Old Fire Station : Check out Flirt nights on Mondays. It's cheap to enter and a fun night out.


I just want to say how much I love Oxford pubs. There's such a good range and for some reason today I'm overwhelmed with gushing love for them in all their beery glory. I'm talking about the cosy alcoves of the Royal Oak, the literary history of the Eagle and Child, the sheer delight at finally finding The Turf , the delicious veggie food at the Gardeners Arms, the Friday lunchtime carefree crowds at the Kings Arms and, of course, the glorious Pimms by the river summer experience of The Trout.

Pubs are such a wonderful British tradition; it's great that Oxford still has old-fashioned ones with board games and quiz nights, and no blaring Sky TV or intrusive music. Some of them even have dogs wandering around! Pubs are, after all, public houses, and it's ones that make you feel at home that are great. Pubs where you don't feel pressured to leave once you've finished your drink, that don't tut when you ask for water, and where you only need look at the bar to be given your usual.