Tuesday, March 31, 2009



I've been busy nosying around for details of this year's Edinburgh Fringe Festival. I've never been and it sounds really exciting; the only problem is it's just so far away. Imagine my delight to discover that Oxford has its very own Oxfringe festival, and that it starts tomorrow! From April 1st to April 13th, Oxford will host a spectrum of musical, theatrical and literary events in venues around the city.

I don't know how I've managed to miss it in previous years; probably inconveniently timed holidays to exotic destinations (I wish!), but it's been running since 2007, albeit in a much smaller, more literature-focused form. Last year's event ran alongside the Sunday Times Literary Festival, which was spectacular, but being a bit of a literary geek, I didn't see the comedy and music events of the Fringe. This year, however, I'm informed, and I feel it my duty to pass on the info:

- For the programme of events, visit: http://oxfringe.com/programme/

- Events are spread throughout theatres in Oxford, including the Oxford Playhouse, Burton Taylor Studio, Old Fire Station Studio and the North Wall.

- Most events are pretty cheap and some are free.

- Check out the 'Oxfringe Outside' event this Saturday (4th April) from 10am to 4pm. There will be music, circus skills and performers, previews of some of the festival's shows and an assortment of market stalls, all in the dramatic setting of Oxford Castle.

- The headline performer is John Hegley, who offers an impressive combination of poetry, music and comedy. Sounds too intriguing to miss!

Oxfantastic Book Fair

Put aside all pre-existing negative ideas about charity shops and second-hand book sales, because both in Oxford are a little different from normal. Oxfam originated in Oxford and its standards are even higher than normal here. Its books are generally in very good condition and a whole lot more than the usual Readers Digest or Mills and Boon 20p offerings at church fairs. I can't think of anyone who wouldn't benefit from a quick browse:

- Parents: pick up book for your children - old classics that you loved as a child, or modern books at a fraction of the price if bought new. And if they don't like it, you can always donate it back for the future.

- Students: you're probably well aware of how much academic texts can cost; Oxford is bursting at the seams with rare copies, specific editions, textbooks and literary guides. Old students have been donating books for years and you're bound to find something of interest here.

- Children: there will be lots cheap enough for pocket money, and a book's great for taking on boring car journeys or for holidays.

- Everyone else: cheap books of all varieties and you're helping save the world by buying them. Not bad for a weekend.

Here are the details:

Date: Saturday April 4th
Time: 9:30am - 5pm
Location: Wesley Memorial Hall, New Inn Hall Street

Hinksey Heaven

Now that the weather's getting nicer, there's only one place to be: Outside!

Oxford's a great place to enjoy the Great Outdoors without too much effort. Sure, there are the gloriously quaint and quintessentially British Cotswolds within easy driving distance, and the Chiltern Hills for more active pursuits, but there are also hundreds of parks. I've already given my low-down of the best parks to be in, but the one I feel the urge to discuss today is one with a rather special feature.

If you've not heard of this place, that's because those who have already visited Hinksey Park are either still there, enjoying themselves, or want to keep it a secret. I think, the more the merrier! This place needs all the publicity it can get.

So, what's so great about it?

Water! From the 'Splash' water feature, which is akin to running in a fountain or water sprinkler, to the heated outdoor swimming pool, this is the place to be. There are sun-loungers for those who prefer to make the most of being warm, and ice cream for everyone. When it's open in summer, the pool is free for under-17s and very cheap for everyone else.

If (as if!) you get bored of that, there's a lake with some unusual wildlife, tennis and lots of walks.

Bring on summer!

Monday, March 30, 2009

April Folly

It's nearly April Fool's Day! I shouldn't really be publicizing the fact, but I'm always a little over-excited by this most merry of days.

If you're planning on a prank, here are a few useful places to find props:

- Party Mania: a whole host of practical jokes, fancy dress costumes and silly toys.

- Ann Summers: for the naughtier pranks!

- Sainsburys: grab some food from the Basics range and have fun swapping ingredients at home. Salt instead of sugar never fails to get me.

- WHSmith: Post-It notes on someone's back...it's not big, it's not clever, but it's still rather funny!

I'm off to plot...


Remember playgrounds when you were a kid? Rickety old slides with all the legendary tales of what had become of kids who'd fallen off, a roundabout that you spun so fast it made you sick, and a see-saw that launched you 3 feet into the air... Those were good times. If only kids had such opportunities in today's health and safety obsessed world.

Hold on, though - maybe the outlook isn't so bleak. Oxford has its fair share of decent parks and some of them have some really fun things in them!

Here's my pick of the bunch:

Best view: South Park - a very photogenic view of Oxford, actually made better when it's slightly misty and the spires rise out of the cloud.

Best for young children: Cutteslowe and Sunnymead Park - have a ride on the miniature railway followed by ice cream in the sun.

Best lake: Hinksey Park pedaloes are a brililant way to have fun with friends, and a whole lot easier than punting!

Best climbing frame: Florence Park has an excellent, health and safety denying spiders' web frame.

Best slide: Quarry Hollow - this still seems big to me, so imagine how big it must look for little children!

Best climbing: Yes, you read it right: there's a big boulder with a range of climbing problems at Frys Hill Park. It's low enough not to be dangerous, but watch out because there's sometimes broken glass and litter at the bottom.

Friday, March 27, 2009

On your marks...

It's that time of year again: the Oxford Vs. Cambridge boat race! Once again I'm not going to be there in London, but that doesn't mean I can't cheer along! There's bound to be a great atmosphere in Oxford, especially if the Oxford crew wins.

The race dates back to 1829 when Cambridge challenged Oxford but is nowadays one of the most widely viewed sporting events worldwide. Pretty impressive, considering it just involves two universities, rather than countries (although the crews are often quite diverse in terms of crew members' nationalities). The race should be on in every pub with a TV, and the radio in various cafes around town. The action kicks off at 15:40 this Sunday, and it's the 155th race this year.

If you're able to make it to London, you can buy all your Oxford-related paraphernalia from the tourist stand outside the Westgate Shopping Centre, or from The University Shop if you're after proper clothing. Oxford won last year and seem to have a good chance to win again and to even out the overall results (currently 79-74 to Cambridge).


Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Sunday Shopping

News is out today that the Covered Market will be opening on Sundays next month in a 3-month trial. It's only ever been open on Sundays over the Christmas period before, so this is a big change for it. Much as like the tradition of having a day of rest, I really do think this is a big step forward. Many's the time I've had the urge to wander around the traditional stalls and little boutiques on a Sunday afternoon, only to find the whole area firmly shut. In such a major tourist city, where the majority of businesses are open on Sundays, I really think it would be a great thing for the Covered Market to follow suit.

Of course, the decision wasn't taken in order to please me, but because of the financial threat facing many of the smaller businesses. A promised £50,000 from the council was cancelled last year, leaving important refurbishment still on the to-do list. Last year rent for businesses there went up extortionately and this year is hardly easy for businesses, especially those seen as luxurious and non-necessary, which pretty much sums up the Covered Market in today's cheap and convenient supermarket age.

I for one will certainly be making an effort to visit on Sundays. Let's hope it's a permanent change!

Monday, March 16, 2009

The Luck of the Irish

It's that time of the year again, when everyone in the UK, Europe and even some parts of America unite to celebrate...being Irish. I don't know if it's the beer theme, the good luck or just the love of novelty leprechaun and four-leaved clover hats, but St Patrick's Day has really captured the public imagination.

Oxford is certainly no exception. Here's my pick of the top events:

Oxford Irish Society (Over-50s)

Where: Lord Nuffield Club, Cowley

What: Lunch of bacon, cabbage and apple pie, traditional Irish music and dancing.

Rosie O'Grady's

Where: Park End Street

What: Irish music from 2pm, with three bands playing. Special Irish food, including Irish stew and Ulster fry.
Rumour has it that Rosie O'Grady's will soon become an English pub, so make the most of it this year!

Special beer!

Witney's own Wychwood Brewery will be distributing 'Paddy's Tout', a special beer for the day. You can try it in pubs around Marston.