Tag Archives: ox4

Advent 10: East Oxford Snow Day

IMG_6531Obligatory festive stomp to South Park. Remaining undergraduates have bought up Tesco’s baking trays for sledges; small dogs in dog-Barbours circle. One northern slope has been designated best for sledging; a husky howls and then barrels off into the flurry.

Subsequent festive stomp round the St Mary & St John Churchyard: lucky wife gets to join me on never-ending quest to locate grave of grocer’s wife who murdered entire family in 1909. Enormous teenage snowball fight develops on western side of graveyard.

IMG_6538Make chilly progress down Manzil Way. Pass the East Oxford Health Centre, surely the only health centre in Britain with its own kebab shop on the ground floor. Behind the mosque, the Asian Cultural Centre is running a Christmas Mina Bazaar which, although much incommoded by snow, includes many small Asian children in Christmas jumpers, colouring in pictures of festive trees and snowmen. For £1.50, eat enormous bowl of chana chaat; try to answer organisers’ question ‘Is it spicy enough?’ without tears. Promise to come back for the Women’s Festival in March. Downstairs, see the burned-out oven from Mrs Smith’s Oxford Community Soup Kitchen; the oven exploded some weeks ago after twenty-five years of service – for a video about Icolyn Smith’s soup kitchen, watch the video below.

Back on Cowley Road, one of the unclassifiable quasi-hardware stores is selling plastic sledges for £12 each. A slowly-cruising, very ancient car boasts a snowman on the actual bonnet. A boy in football-strip pyjamas has been locked out of his shared house, to the great joy of onlookers and indeed his housemates. A snow-plough gritting van zooms down the road towards Cowley centre, plough well above the ground and no grit spraying.

IMG_6539When we return to the front of the flats, a group of boys is building a snowman on a sledge, complete with hat and wine bottle. They are ecstatic to be noticed. The snowman’s name is Inigo, after a friend who is apparently ‘a bit of a wino’ and ‘has been to Siberia’. When I ask if they’re students (they are implausibly pink-cheeked and wholesome), they say ‘Yes’ and ‘Well, sort of’, then confess to being sixth-formers at a local school (the snowman’s name should indicate which). They pose with alacrity for photographs and would probably do so for hours.

Tomorrow it’s library times to read about severed heads and painted faces (oh yeah), but until then, enjoy a much more serene version of snow-based fun with this gorgeous song from the best Christmas film not to feature Muppets, White Christmas (1954): ‘Snow!’.

Oxford: drop off donations and help the Syrian refugees at Calais

This post is aimed at Oxford residents who want to help the Syrian refugees by sending supplies to refugees at Calais. I’m making it in hopes of reaching an audience beyond Facebook! An Oxford group is taking donations down to CalAid’s London drop-off point on 20 September. The list below (which I’ve taken from the Facebook group) tells you what supplies the refugee camp at Calais does need and what they don’t currently, need.


  • Trainers, Hiking Boots & Wellies: only sizes UK 7-9, EU 41-43
  • Tents (covers, tarpaulin)
  • Jackets: sizes S, M only
  • Travelling Bags
  • Socks
  • Candles or any other lighting
  • Belts
  • Tracksuit trousers
  • Blankets
  • Jeans (sizes 28 to 32)
  • Smartphones with SIM cards
  • Sleeping bags
  • Soap and shampoo
  • Toothbrushes
  • Toothpaste
  • Plastic bags
  • Woolly hats
  • Pants
  • Pots
  • Pans


  • Women’s clothes or shoes
  • Children’s clothes or shoes
  • Jumpers or sweaters
  • Nappies, baby wipes etc.
  • Tampons or other feminine hygiene products


  • Sheets or pillows
  • Suits
  • Formal shoes

Donors are asked to sort their donations by type, so they can be easily stored & distributed to the refugees once the donations arrive in Calais. I’d also suggest using your imagination slightly on the above categories – remember that children need different-sized toothbrushes and types of toothpaste, ditto shampoo. Picture trying to look after your dentures in a refugee camp (other suggestions welcome!). Bulk-buy offers are also your friends (Boots has 3 for 2 on shampoo, and a lot of offers on dental products; many places will also be having kitchenware sales as the university terms approach).

In Oxford, donations can be left at the Turl Street Kitchen (I went there this lunchtime — ask a staff member to show you where you leave your things), Oxfork, the Magdalen Arms, and the Star pub (21 Rectory Road, East Oxford). The Facebook group gives contact names for additional drop-off points at Brookes uni, Kidlington, South Oxford Community Centre and South Oxford Farmers’ Market.

More information can be found on Facebook, or at the CalAid website. Cash donations to CalAid, used to help the refugees, can also be made (from anywhere, obiously) via JustGiving. Please share this post!

Attack of the killer robin.

I am currently in the process of moving house – into my first proper shared house! I am aware that being 24 and having lived exclusively in college-owned rooms/flats indicates the kind of moral solubility that makes people hate Oxbridge students. Accordingly, I’m looking forward to becoming a proper, landlord-dodging, milk-sharing, sex-life-overhearing housemate/human being.

The house is BEAUTIFUL. The house is not beautiful. The house is exquisite in its entirety, with the exception of the kitchen to which my father is lovingly adding a skirting-board (one of my housemates didn’t know what a skirting-board was, and she has a PhD and has lived out, so clearly I’m not that far behind in life skills). The skirting-board is white, but the kitchen’s terracotta. Confessions of the perverse: I love terracotta. I have also always, absolutely always longed to live in a terraced house. My only regret is that we don’t have a cellar.

We do have, however, A DINING ROOM, and three decent bedrooms, NONE OF WHICH are in fact on (or below) the GROUND FLOOR. There is abundant natural light in every room. My room is the loft conversion! I have skylights! The bathroom suite is not only white but relatively new. The garden will look infinitely better when more of it has been lopped, bagged, and taken away. The front path is a deathtrap and the hedge is dead, BUT the floors are beautiful, the hot water is abundant and I feel happy every time I cross the threshhold.

There’s only one problem. We have a killer robin.

a really lovely robin, totally unlike the one in our garden. the one in our garden hates us.

Housemate, mother and I were in the garden yesterday (loppin’, baggin’) when what we thought was a delightfully tame, Frances-Hodgson-Burnett-type robin started leaping about in a twiggy, festive fashion amidst the debris/refuge/other vegetable matter.

Then it hopped even closer and became so witlessly tame we assumed it must be brain-damged.

Then it started hovering, not so much near as at us, doing its best impression of a murderous humming-bird and with an unmistakeably psychotic look in its tiny eyes.

It did this three times, each with visibly killer intent, staging an aerial wardance and/or audition tape for a Hitchcock remake.

I have known for years that robins aren’t the fluffy boodlums one coos over on a Christmas card. Second only to blackbirds in the garden’s guerilla hierarchy, they have marked personality problems and would benefit from anger management. Nevertheless, this shook me.

Our killer robin isn’t even red, but orange; lean and hungry-looking, it seems unnaturally elongated in the body, and looks so scary as it skydrives near, round and at us that all three of us admitted later that, had we been alone, we’d each have dropped the loppers and made a dash for the house.

I don’t know what it wants from us.

Nevertheless, the dimwitted festival sentiments persist. Last night housemate and I started researching bird feeders and discussing them via facebook. Apparently, robins prefer bird tables and baths to vertical/cage-like affairs. Unconsciously resigning myself to a year spent fulfilling the whims of an abusive bird, I decided it could have a bowl of water on the garden table I’d spent part of the afternoon scrubbing. None of this seemed unreasonable. What DID seem unreasonable was the information I found on types of feeder/bath. Apparently, all robin-feeding/bathing apparata must include a RAMP UP and a SHALLOW EDGE so that small  birds can easily climb out and not drown. First off, it’s a robin not a penguin and, therefore, can fly. Secondly: rubbish to the tray idea. That bird can clearly cope with any scavenging opportunity that presents itself. Personally, I suspect it likes to eat its meat straight off the bone. Preferably our bones.

We should all be permanently in the house before too long; self, two housemates, and/or this robin which  I keep wanting to christen Sidney Poitier (housemate can do a very bad impression). Just down the road, excitingly, is Alex of More Books, Please, so it’s practically a literary enclave. Between us and the Cowley Road, we can boast a convent, a tattoo parlour, a burned-out pub, a wiring-money-home shop (no idea of the technical term), and a charity shop. The tattoo parlour is undoubtedly the poshest of the lot. I have been inside the convent only once. I think one of the nuns has a lava lamp.

ION: Brogan, my guinea-pig first student got a 2:1. This makes her completely awesome, and me a very relieved and happy practising-teaching-paper-8-before-I-start-doing-it-for-money tutor. HURRAH.

Free Stuff: Free Comics @ Videosyncratic, Cowley Road

I did not take this picture, kamshots did. I would not have included the badly-dressed girl. But crucially, this is what the shop looks like. GO GO GO. 101 Cowley Road.

I did not take this picture, kamshots did. I would not have included the badly-dressed girl. But crucially, this is what the shop looks like. GO GO GO. 101 Cowley Road.

In homage to Broke-Ass Stuart’s Goddamn Website, my current obsession & that which makes me want to live in the Mission

Videosyncratic, aka my next-door neighbours on the Cowley Road, are having a FREE COMIC BOOK DAY today (2nd May) until 6 p.m. with HUGE PILES of comics absolutely free. Titles include Avengers, Green Lantern, Star Wars, Simpsons, Wolverine, Archie, Manga, Transformers, Aliens/Predator, Batman and more. ALSO, apparently they have special guests including

JOHN CHAPMAN (Star Wars Actor):

DAN ABNETT (2000AD, X-Men, The Punisher, Doctor Who, Torchwood) – blogging about the day here.

RICHARD ELSON (2000AD, er and lots of other things including THE BEANO, dude)

SIMON DAVIS (2000AD, Justice League of America, Spawn)

All graphic novels, posters, toys and t-shirts are also 25% OFF. I, personally, do not care about graphic novels, comics or indeed most of the above (except, er, Doctor Who and sayitquietly Torchwood),* but that does sound like A LOT OF FREE STUFF and A LOT OF COOL PEOPLE. Go and spend little or no money and yet heap yourselves with SWAG.

Seriously guys, get down there, the two boys who run the shop are dressed as Spiderman and Superman, and last time I saw them they were being laughed at by the little veteran in a kilt who has no teeth and is often covered in poppies. Go on. East Oxford Community Centre is also running a Chinese Charity Day with a lot of very good and very cheap Chinese food (on til 4), so go GET AND NOT BUY a comic, then eat some noodles. I do love the place where I live.

*note: this is not an assertion of superiority. I care deeply about detective fiction and musical theatre.

bus etiquette: disability vs parenting on the city 5


Since I am trying to take an internet-hiatus while finishing the great Kane-Ravenhill-Aristotle-tabloid-press-of-the-1990s-Book-of-Isaiah opus, have some real life questions. As I’ve written elsewhere (in Gaza & city 5, in fact), I take the City 5 bus from my Cowley Road home into the city centre, and sometimes I overhear interesting things. Overhearing things on the Cowley Road is actually one of my favourite pastimes. A nighttime perennial is the fighting, which is usually not-quite-distinct but seems to consist of fourteen men shouting COME ON THEN at each other in various iterations, occasionally interspersed with M*********** (counting the asterisks & mouthing the letters for accuracy there, a technique that used to lose me a lot of points in hangman…). Or there are the rugby/drinking songs. Or the occasional screaming, terrible rows that make me worry I’ll find a body in the morning. Or, now the nights are milder and there’s a breeze blowing East, the bells from Magdalen Tower making their way across the river.

Anyway, for the past few days, the buses have been inordinately bad. In terms of timing, that is – in terms of passengers, they’re always a bit variable, and there’s usually at least one drunken pervert, one misanthropist who wants nine hundred seats for themselves and their shopping, and (my least favourite), one steel-haired gentleman with pointy glasses and a sadistic tie, who seems to have come straight from the Third Reich and who invariably makes pointed and offensive remarks about other passengers, addressed to whichever minority of bus users he identifies as being Members of the Great British Middle Class and thus Likely Allies. I got into a shrieking row with one of these, last term. Overall, though, the buses are pretty good and the city 5 is property of Oxford Bus Company, more environmentally sound. On the other hand, they can only accommodate one pushchair/pram or wheelchair at a time, and this is the subject of my question.

Yesterday, a young able-bodied mother (looked a bit younger than me, but probably 17-23 allowing for my inability to age people) with a GLORIOUS BABY in a pram (possibly I enjoy taking the bus merely to squidge the chubby fists and play endless games of glasses-on glasses-off who’s-a-beautiful with darling little bundles of – god, I’m sorry, I’ll get a grip now). She was near the start of a mammoth Sunday queue of people boarding at Queen Street (actually a perfectly nice, if bus-choked street – since the remodelling, the nastiest thing about Bonn Square, adjoining, are the New Road Baptists..). She was white, blonde, tiny, and showed some sort of pass, asking for Blackbird Leys – not in feasible walking distance. She put the pram into the space, leaving the GLORIOUS BABY inside, as it was sleeping fatly and cutely.

About five minutes back in the queue was a man in a wheelchair, and his wife. He was probably in his late 40s/early 50s, greying, tanned; wife was similar. I have actually seen them before, and although not sure where they live, it’s further down the Cowley Road than me, so quite a distance. He had a tartan blanket over his knees and I’m not sure what his disability was, although there was a crutch stowed in the back of the wheelchair which suggests he had partial mobility some of the time. When they got to the bus door, the bus driver realised the situationa and said, sorry, mate, wheelchair space is full, have to wait for the next bus, be along in ten minutes etc etc. The couple looked nonplussed for a second, said oh right, right – though somewhat annoyed, understandably – but then, as they were backing out of the bus, the man glanced right, through the window, and saw the girl and her pram.

And went ballistic.

He was disabled, she wasn’t; she should have to get off for him, that was a space in which wheelchairs should clearly take priority over prams/pushchairs etc, she should fold her pram up, she could walk, he couldn’t etc. She didn’t want to fold the pram up (to be honest, it was a big old mean bugger of a pram and I suspect that it would have eaten her fingers) as it would wake the baby; the driver said the space was equally for pushchairs and wheelchairs, but after a minute the girl started to capitulate. At this point, however, things shifted abruptly – a young mixed-race guy just behind the couple in the queue attempted to intervene (whether to get them to stop holding things up, or harassing the girl, I’m not sure), and the wife said something so disgustingly racist that the driver threw them off the bus at once.

Now, this man is representative, mercifully, of neither disabled people or bus users in general; I have seen a similar exchange played out without the shouting and accusations in other permutations (space filled by wheelchair & wheelchair turned away / pushchair turns away pushchair / wheelchair turns away pram), although on Stagecoach, and had never considered there was anything to object to in it. In this particular case, of course, the woman’s language forfeited her right to travel, and so her husband couldn’t/didn’t travel either. But I’m wondering if there’s something I’ve missed. There’s no question that more people should give up their ‘normal’ bus seats to those less able to stand, or at least offer it as a courtesy. The pram/wheelchair space is a unique case, though; pram-pushers and wheelchair users usually have equal need of it in that, without the use of such a space, they are equally unable to travel. I think it should be a case of first come first served; I don’t see why a mum or dad with a pram/pushchair should have to give up the space to someone in a wheelchair, if they got there first – and vice versa. If the buggy can be very easily folded, a possible compromise can be found that way (in which case I think it behooves someone nearby to give up a seat/luggage space so that the moved parent can sit down and stow their stuff), but in the case of double buggies, huge amounts of shopping, sleeping babies/children, additional kids on laps, there’s no way they should be expected to move. But I’m open to the possibility that a) I’m wrong, and b) there’s a good reason why. So I wondered what people thought. So I procrastinated on the internet for a bit to ask you. Thoughts please, hive mind.