Saturday, February 28, 2009

Pitt Rivers Postulation

The Pitt Rivers Museum is currently shut until May 1st for renovation. A great disappointment if you were planning on going, but it's only a few months away, and it sounds like it's going to be a really exciting improvment.

The basic aim seems to be to bring the museum back to its original state after everything was moved around a bit in the 1960s:

- When you go in, you should be able to see right through to the huge totem pole at the back.
- Original display cases will be at the front.
- There will be new family acitivites and holiday workshops in the Lower Gallery.
- The entrance will be the same height as the Natural History Museum and there will be a big lift for wheelchairs and pushchairs.
- The shop and reception areas will be different.
- An environmental control system will be in place to help keep all the strange items in good nick and help to eliminate that rather stuffy museum smell (although I quite liked that!).
- There will be 8 new displays on painting, with items that haven't been on display for decades.

This is all costing around £1.5m - pretty impressive for a museum that's free to enter.

I'm looking forward to exploring when it re-opens!

Museums for le Monde?

I just heard on the news that the French president, Sarkozy, is bringing in a new law in April that makes all museums and 'monuments' free to under-25s. This got me thinking: what if Oxford did the same?! Imagine that; free education, culture and art for all young people. What a brilliant idea in a town so full of students.

Well, yes, then it occured to me that, actually, there are an awful lot of free museums in Oxford, especially if you're a student and have access to university buildings.

- Even for normal people, there are an awful lots of underrated college chapels, such as Keble College Chapel, with its famous artwork.

- There's Oxford University itself, which makes the town of Oxford into a living museum. Loads of lovely old buildings, gargoyles, cathedrals and the like.

- Not to mention the actual museums:
The Ashmolean
The Natural History Museum

- And the smaller, but equally interesting players:
- The History of Science Museum
- The Pitt Rivers Museum (currently shut until April)

Simply Sarnies

I just wanted to take a minute to praise the wonderful sandwich chain 'Mortons'. Okay, so it's not the cheapest place to buy a sarnie, but really, is it ever good value to buy a sandwich in a shop? When a loaf of bread costs around a quid (well, I'm going to stubbornly live in the pre-financial-doom days!), it's hardly good value to buy two slices that are filled for three or four times that...

But, oh, it's so worth it! Mortons doesn't just stop with sliced bread. Oh, no. It does baguettes, paninis, wraps and all sorts of different types of normal bread. Whoever knew there was so much choice?! The fillings are brilliant as well - enough variety and combinations to last a lot of lunchtimes, if you can get past your favourites. I just love the chicken and mango chutney baguette. It really shouldn't work, but somehow it does! The staff are always willing to personalise your sandwich a bit, so no worries about being fussy, and if you pick one of the eat-in cafes, you'll get a side salad and maybe even some nachos as well. Awesome.

And I haven't even started on the cakes! Just think: award-winning, chocolate, filling. Yum. Just don't eat them all before I've got there!

With several Mortons dotted around Oxford and even an office-delivery service, it's a lovely independent service that hardly fills a gap in the market, but shows why it's so popular.

Student Shennanigans

The Oxford student paper the Cherwell is in trouble again. I'm not sure why the local media is so interested in the student press, but I suppose it's always exciting when supposedly intelligent and well-educated middle-class students do something stupid or are in trouble. This time they've been forced to resign after a spoof copy of the paper was released with pornographic and racist images and comments. The website I read it on (as a cutting headline!) tells me that students' face were superimposed onto rather scandalous images and jokes were made about a busking bagpipe player (you know the one!).

This story shocks me in several ways. I'm not in the slightest bit surprised that students made a satirical paper. I'm not surprised that their company felt it best to chastise them, especially when it became public. What I am surprised about is that it's seen as something scandalous. Surely that's what students do; they do silly things, they joke around with their mates, and they're not afraid of being a bit non-PC. The other great surprise is that it came up on my search for Oxford news. Not university news, just general news for a city with lots going on. Surely a student prank should not take priority over more widespread news? Or has it really been such an uneventful week in Oxford?

Wednesday, February 25, 2009


If you've been following University Challenge recently, you might have seen Oxford's Corpus Christi team with 26-year-old Gail Trimble blazing an incredible trail of general knowledge. It makes you wonder if Oxford makes you brainer. Obviously the university has a huge effect on the town, but I do get the impression sometimes that just living around here makes me smarter.

You can barely walk 10 metres down a street without seeing a poster for a special lecture or for a highbrow cultural event. Even modern shops are set in old buildings, so you feel like you're absorbing culture with every step.

Let's not even get started on all the bookshops! Even non-academic cafes are crammed full of people studying, reading and writing. There are academics wandering around deep in conversation, and you can bet some of those joggers in the park are listening to lecture notes.

If my theory is correct, and Oxford makes us smarter, all the more reason to not feel guilty about lazing around. Education!

Friday, February 13, 2009

Paper Chase

I've been thinking about the journalistic side of Oxford. Oxford's an eclectic mix of students, academics, inhabitants and industry. Lots of people commute to Oxford to work, lots of people go to school in Oxford and an awful lot of people live in Oxford. It must be pretty hard to get a local newspaper to fit such a range of audiences. I must admit, I normally buy nationals and only read the locals when I'm skimming the news in newsagents or waiting for a Chinese takeaway.

So, what have we got?

Oxford Mail

Oxford Eagle

The Oxford Times

The Oxford Star

These are all actually run by the same company, 'This is Oxford' hence the frequent repetition of stories. Perhaps surprisingly, some of them actually have the tone of a smaller town local newspaper, with stories of bin fires, lost cats and Boy Scouts winning awards. It's enough to bring a warm fuzzy feeling into the coldest of hearts. They've all got information on local events and so on, so it's really just a matter of choosing the writing style. The names give them away; think local version of the national equivalents to choose between the more tabloidy prints and the more broadsheety editions, although none of them are quite the Financial Times.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Impish Evenings

Have you ever seen the Oxford Imps perform? If not, why not? They're great fun, and it's a cheap night out. I first saw them at a ball and was much more impressed than I expected. The basic idea is improvised comedy. There are standard games or formats to some sketches, such as different people reacting to different words, or a rather amusing one where at all times one person must be standing, one sitting, one lying and one off-stage. It is genuine improvisation and they ask the audience to give names, words and other ideas to spark ideas. Sure, there are a few awkward moments and it doesn't always work, but it's very clever, and when it does work it is genuinely funny.

Catch them at the Wheatsheaf on Mondays 8-10pm: £3 entry. It's sometimes adult humour and it often seems a lot funnier after a few drinks. In case you're feeling like it might be one of those closet Oxford things, fear not: they've performed at the Edinburgh Fringe festival and in America, Bosnia and Holland!

Have a look at their website if you fancy joining them! They're a young, friendly and welcoming bunch, if a little eccentric!


"This is the best improvised comedy that I have ever had the pleasure to witness" Three Weeks August 07

"The Oxford Imps pull off something which is both very clever and very funny; with plenty of style, energy and not a little bravery, the effect is not only massively entertaining but also rather charming." Oxford Theatre Review May 06

"Genuinely funny, laugh-out-loud moments... it is a superb night’s entertainment" Cherwell June 05

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Public loos in Oxford...what a calamity! If you've ever been caught short in the city of dreaming spires, you'll be able to sympathise with my cross-legged crisis. Granted, public toilets are never particularly nice, but they certainly seem to be short in Oxford!

There are some incredibly dodgy looking underground offerings on Magdalen Street, but these are always shut when I go past and I certainly wouldn't want to attempt the leaf-covered slippery steps without at least three bodyguards! Who knows what creatures of the dark lurk down there!

In the town centre itself, there are plenty of cafes and stalls, but unless you're actually sitting in a cafe or pub, it's a bit rude to pop in just to sneakily use the toilets. So what are we supposed to do?! Perhaps there are some public toilets I'm just missing. They're not really the sort of thing you notice unless you're desperate! Last time I was cut short, I ended up popping into Oxford Town Hall, where I at least discovered the lovely cafe there, but such a lovely old building really shouldn't be reduced to that sort of public facility!

I reckon somewhere like the Clarendon Centre should host a few toilets. Maybe it does, but I certainly couldn't find any when I was desperate! Or how about a few more underground offerings, but this time well-kept ones. I'm sure I can't be the only person to have had to cut short a shopping or culture trip for such an inconvenient reason.