Eating Oxford

Following on from my Oxford coffee-journal round-up, here’s a small selection of my attempts to eat my way through Cowley from back when I was funnelling my student loan directly into my small intestine. You can find other bits and pieces on my time at Oxford over here.

Big Society

I used to know Big Soc as that Screen Shot 2015-10-30 at 17.30.05hipster American bar with over-priced cocktails and a ping pong table in the back room – and yes, it does have both of those things, but it also has a pulled pork bun to die for and some of the best fried chicken this side of Tennessee. Big Soc has prime Cowley Road positioning to attract both the Oxford and the Brookes crowds, and does so by attempting to rock that Deep South vibe; milkshakes and hot dogs and mason jars are ubiquitous, as well as trendy IPAs from micro-breweries and weird graffiti across the walls. And it’s not doing badly. The food is incredibly reasonably-priced for the quality, even if the drinks prices make it nigh on impossible to drown one’s sorrows of an evening (unless it’s in a milkshake). They soak their chicken in buttermilk overnight before deep-frying, and their chips may well be double cooked because they’re crispy as heck – and will admit that I a great deal of time for an establishment that provides you with a whole roll of paper towels before you chow down. There’s a patio and a conservatory, as well as a main bar area that gets pretty buzzing of an evening, and many tables of mixed heights and sizes – as well as, of course, the ping pong and foozeball variety.

There are downsides; it’s a bit of a carnivore’s paradise and there aren’t many options for the rabbit-minded among us aside from their enormous (and delicious) haloumi salad. And arguably the disadvantage to hiring only good-looking hipsters to work the bar is perhaps a less friendly and accommodating service than you can find elsewhere. But it remains a go-to for comfort food that doesn’t break the bank, and a sweet taste of summer for someone who spent her’s between Alabama and Virginia.

Tick Tock Café

Oh Tick Tock. Bastion of Cowley Road brunch. Haven for the hungover. Restaurant for the regretful. I can’t imagine ever visiting Tick Tock for anything except revival after a horrible/amazing night at the Wahoo/Purple Turtle/drinking too many little beers with your housemates. The owner always stares at you with the same utmost disdain and pity that you’re feeling towards yourself. If you don’t choose to pocket your breakfast bap and shuffle home to eat it alone with your hazy non-memories then you’ll spend most of the time shunted from booth to booth as the waitresses make their best efforts to show that neither you nor anyone else is welcome to stay more than fifteen minutes. Old men taking up whole tables with a newspaper and a cup of builders’ is obviously included in this greasy spoon package deal. The ticking of the thousand mismatched clocks across the wall is deafening, although only about two of them work. The hash browns are always great.

Screen Shot 2015-10-30 at 17.29.16This is the ultimate morning-after-the-night-before hang, and the full English is obligatory.


Oxfork is run by the same crew as the Turl Street Kitchen, an Oxford coffee fave, and has only recently started serving evening food. And it’s gr8. It’s nestled in deepest Cowley and produces local earth-to-table fare, served by attractive young men with interesting accents in a kitsch candle-lit setting. There’s a chandelier made of forks. The menu is rotating and delicious, consisting of a variety of dishes in a Tapas crossed with comfort food format where everything comes out in small portions served in tea cups or on slates. There’s a decent student discount and all sorts of perks for ordering extensively – a free dessert with every three dishes ordered et cetera cetera. I can particularly recommend the walnut/squash/goat’s cheese salad, and the cheesy potatoes, and the fig and cream yoghurt pot. And the brownie. In fact I recommend everything, but most of all I recommend heading there for a hungover brunch because their charming waiters serve the best Blood Marys in the city. Really lovely eats and atmosphere, one of my top picks.

Atomic Burger

 An institution of the Cowley Road, you’ll rarely meet an Oxonian that doesn’t praise Atomic Burger. Having recently moved from a narrow little enclave in between Sushi Corner and a hairdresser’s, its new larger location explodes out of the Cowley Road line-up with its comicstrip facade and is beloved by townies and students alike. Burgers are listed on the menu by film character – my favourite is the Toy Story-themed Messy Jessie that boasts a killer pile-up of goat’s cheese and red peppers and other such deliciousnesses – and there’s a free side with every main. And though the burgers and hot dogs are pretty banging, it’s the fries that are the real stars of the show; the Sophie’s Choice between sweet potato fries and onion rings, or upgrading to the impossibly delicious mass of pulled pork, cheese and crispy onions that make up their heavenly Trailer Park fries is a regular dilemma. If spice is your thing then Atomic Burger’s signature (lethal) Fallout Sauce is worth a try – and if you’re really feeling brave, test your stomach against the Atomic Burger Fallout Challenge. Only three people have ever completed it, one of which I bore witness to. (I also bore witness to how he felt the next day, and I don’t think he’d recommend it.)

It’s a hot button debate, but I’d argue that Atomic Burger beats Big Soc, Byron and GSK to the title of best burger in the city; but, as with the true American Dining Experience, really it’s all about the sides.


I’m not sure I should really review Pomegranate, because I visited when I was so hungover I wanted to cry and/or die and the world seemed like it was going to end. Apparently the atmosphere here is delightful, but I was very hungover so all atmospheres seemed equally bleak and terrible. Apparently the food is delicious, but I was very hungover so it all filled me with nausea and despair. Apparently everything is reasonably priced, but I was very hungover so I registered nothing but the endless thumping in my brain. Apparently the staff are helpful and the tea lovely, but I was very hungover so everybody and everything seemed awful.

In short I hear it’s very nice, I should probably revisit some time.


When I lived in Oxford, I drank a lot of coffee. (One had to.) In my last year I wrote an extensive catalogue of every coffee spot I visited and why it was nice and/or nasty. It’s over on Bonjournal if you want to read the full whammy of twenty eight spots, but here I have compiled my top five, because ranking all things in life is important whether it is your preferred coffee corner or your children.

Truck Storew604_c7eb8ff7-aebf-4ba2-b118-33e74c4f4679

Truck Store is a coffee cum vinyl shop, and the sort of absurdly trendy establishment that I outwardly decry but in whose sunlit corners I secretly while away entire afternoons. The pros of such a hip establishment are a constantly evolving soundtrack of ambient beats and staff who really “know” their coffee (as well as presumably their 90s neo pop bands and their purveyors of vintage moustache trimmers). I still hold the top floor of Waterstones as home to the best chai latte in Oxford, but Truck Store’s comes pretty close, and its prices certainly reflect the student market it’s catering to in a way that central Oxford cafes do not. And although it’s true that the clientele is predominantly early 20s based, on my last visit I did get into an interesting conversation about romantic poetry with a very old woman in a dressing gown and slippers; unfortunately it swiftly evolved into an attack on language-censoring that left myself and the two Brookes students listening in desperately trying to reverse out of. The price Cowley pays for being a ‘real’ city is that it has its fair share of real opinions.

Quarter Horse Coffee

I’m always won over by an attractive barista, and this place has at least five. It’s an artsy little cafe always bristling with MacBooks, tortoiseshell spectacles, and hushed philosophical conversation. If you’re into caffeine products for the taste as well as the buzz, then this place is the dream; they have a constant rotation of exotic blends (this week’s is deathly strong and Ethiopian), and sell various fancy coffee-making products that resemble alien possibly-sexual accessories to the tea-drinking proletariat. There’s also a great selection of toast and pastries for the breakfast market, which you can eat perched on stools against the window and stare/be stared at by Cowley Road’s 9am zombies. It’s also not just a coffee place; there a host of events that go on in this space in the evenings, from wine and cheese and conversation to talks from big dog writers and artists – although I’m not sure I’m cool enough to attend any of them.

Zappi’s Cafe

Zappi’s is a recent discovery – mainly because of it’s in-the-know location so sneakily hidden away above one of the myriad bike shops of central Oxford. Always littered with laptops and men in very form-fitting gear, Zappi’s attracts both the trendy student crowd and the edgier end of town. As well as plenty of extremely keen old cyclists – late morning on a Saturday you cannot move for lycra, if that’s what you’re into. The service is delightful, if slow, and the quality of coffee and conversation is always top notch. A nice little coffee nook for when TSK and the Missing Bean are just unbearable.

w604_a719b878-0826-468a-ad69-4bf64dc0df1eTurl Street Kitchen

A go-to. Ideally placed in centre-town and opposite a bank of that rare Oxford breed of the ATM, TSK is a favourite amongst undergrads and professors alike. It’s got squishy armchairs and oak tables, great coffee and tattooed staff, and there’s an upstairs lounge full of sofas and sunlight for quiet contemplation – or surreptitious gossiping. I
don’t know, you do you. A long-established favourite for those who eschew the Rad Cam for the coffee-shop-studying experience, this cafe is a hub for constant charity and social events; fundraising and music-making evenings galore, and a varied selection of artwork and photography can be found gracing the walls of the dining area. On writing, the front room is taken up with an installation for the Oxford Photography Festival, and Student Minds have their HQ in the upper storeys.

The culinary credentials are just as impressive as the caffeine side of things, and the kitchen flaunts its delicious and regularly changing selection of home-cooked food and varied wines on giant chalkboards – but that’s all beside the point. Because if you want a quiet coffee in the centre of town, whether it’s for a date with a dishy dude or a date with your essay on postmodernism, TSK is the place.

The Missing Bean

The Missing Bean is a tiny one room cafe in the heart of Oxford – a hipster’s dream that on your average weekday is furnished with two MacBooks a table and almost as many horn-rimmed specs. You’ll also find it packed with middle-aged tutors discussing romantic poetry, business types on their lunch break, and everyone else you can imagine because the coffee here is absolutely divine. There’s not too much to say beyond that; the hygiene rating is dire, so don’t try the food, but the atmosphere is always buzzing and you will be too after caffeinating here.

So there you have it; go forth and caffeinate.

My Mega Mansion

Living out of college accommodation is a daunting prospect for every university student, but in Oxford it’s an especially rude awakening. We’re coddled from the outset at this ‘public school finishing school’ as a safely-graduated friend recently termed it; scouts take our bins out and clean our bathrooms, porters are on hand from midday to midnight to help with an emergency leak or a dodgy alarm, and you can go so far as to demand a lightbulb delivered right to your room post haste – hell, even a new lamp. People will cook for you, and serve you the food, and then take your plate away, and no one’s forcing you to deal with anyone else’s piles of dirty colanders in the sink. You can lock your room and ignore all human interaction for days save awkwardly bumping into someone on the way to the loo (or the shower, if that’s a thing you choose to partake in), and the library is but a ten minute stroll away. Given this seemingly luxurious and extravagant existence, it’s hard to imagine why anyone would opt out of a system that might accommodate them for their full degree, instead choosing to pay extortionately for lodgings an Oxford marathon from the centre of town, with a boiler that breaks every fortnight and must be repaired by a man who has to turn sideways to fit through your front door.

True, there are the obvious pros: we can throw massive parties that drag on until 5am without suffering the judgement of the porters (just those two noise complaints from the council). We can smoke without schlepping all the way across three quads and out through the main gate, to huddle five-to-an umbrella whilst shivering forlornly and suffering the judgement of the porters. We can walk five minutes from bedrooms, in our pyjamas, to any number of delicious and multi-ethnic cuisines – or indeed order them right to our door, without suffering the judgement of the porters. So yes, the number 1 reason to suck it up and make a decision on the living-out dilemma may quite clearly be that we want to behave in embarrassing and borderline-irresponsible ways, and we don’t want to be judged for it – which from what I can tell seems to be the main incentive of becoming a self-sufficient grown up anyway. It’s pretty understandable why one would choose the liberation of living independently over continuing to eat/sleep/party within the walls of the institution that controls both our work and our future and everything in between. Slightly less clear is exactly why one would choose to do this with eleven other people.


Summer in Oxford

Although it was bucketing it down on Saturday as I left Oxford to start my hols, it has always pained me that the academic calendar means we don’t get to experience the city in high summer. Oxford is made for summer sun, even if official guidelines direct us to secrete ourselves away from it in dark and dusty libraries; golden evenings in the centre make me fall in love with the city again and again, and I’ve managed to take more rolls of film in the last two weeks of term than in the whole of the preceding eight months – a solid indicator of joyful existence. Here are some joyous things to do under gorgeous Oxford summer sunshine.


Despite years of practice and family-ruining rows on my grandma’s lawn I still manage to be terrible at both tactic and technique in this most upper middle-class of sports. New College has a great little croquet lawn in its front quad, over-looked by the porters and any curious freshaz who want to peer down from their rooms and witness everyone’s sporting triumphs(failures). During my first summer in Oxford I enthusiastically entered into inter-collegiate cuppers croquet with an American friend who had never touched a mallet before; he still managed to wipe the floor with me and all the other Englishmen, which I suppose is a rather damning summary of our national sporting character, and also of croquet. But however futile in athletic terms it stands that bashing a ball around the college croquet lawn is a very entertaining way to spend the remains of a summer afternoon – especially when things get heated and someone kicks over a hoop. (Alright I admit I have yet to witness this at Oxford. My family is very competitive.)



Most Oxford colleges own a number of punts that their students can rent free of charge. New College’s vessels may not be as swish as Magdalen’s or indeed as roomy as Hertford’s, but they’re conveniently placed in a boathouse just off of our sports’ grounds and they get the job done – I mean presumably. When one is competent. The only time I have managed to go punting we made it about 100m from our starting point, got attacked by more branches and bushes than Harry in the Triwizard maze, and one of our number fell in… But as a means to an end of picnicking on a grassy riverside knoll surrounded by daisies and inquisitive ducklings, it does do the trick.

Balls (lol)

Getting all fancy and enjoying a 12 hour extravaganza of food and fun in a centuries old setting is an essential part of the Oxford summer experience, one that I wrote more about here.

B&W6-2Soaking up the sun in beautiful surroundings

Every city I have chosen to park myself within so far has been a beautiful one, lucky for me. Growing up in London was a convenient starting point, four months in Paris and then five in Burghausen, but Oxford arguably tops them all in general loveliness. Being able to laze an evening away in a setting as glorious as New College gardens, a stone’s throw away from our bedrooms, is a luxury afforded to students at very few other universities and one that we do not waste. Whether it be eating ice-cream in Magdalen’s back quad or chatting in Christ Church’s egregiously extensive grounds, even the most boring conversational partner’s company is improved by these surroundings; unless you’re at St Anne’s. Soz.


Ballin’ 2014


One of the great joys of the Oxford experience  is just how easy it is to find an excuse to get suited, booted, and tarted all the way up for a fancy event with your friends. Formalwear = instant beauty;  tailcoats and full-length dresses have transformative powers that make even the least glamorous of us instantly instagrammable – someone should have told Snow White’s stepmother to slap on a ball gown before heading down the poisoned fruit route, because it’s a surefire way to outstrip anyone in the aesthetics stakes. I proved my own point in this matter last night at Trinity College’s triennial commemoration ball, a night of glamour, glitz, and immaculately manicured lawns during which the rain mercifully held off and I made my £180 ticket back through consumption of candy floss alone. This year was a big one in Oxford for commem balls: Worcester’s tricentenary bash also took place, and Exeter is throwing a 700th anniversary event tonight that has half of Radcliffe Square closed to the public (to its rage). I chose Trinity over Worcester’s nightmare waiting list and headed over with a very select crew of friends and housemates – but balls being balls and Oxford being Oxford ended up running into about a hundred people I knew at the event, and chatting to many I didn’t. 

The evening started for us at 8 with a champagne reception on Trinity’s front lawns. The committee settled on a digital wristband system this year which made queuing up and cloakroom depositing incredibly speedy so we could move right on to fancy champers and chocolate coated strawberries; I had spent half an hour the day before helping committee members unload box after box of champagne so knew there was no shortage there, and we were definitely not disappointed. The rain had cleared up just in time and the college looked golden and glorious in the last of the evening sun, and obviously all the guests in their white tie did too. To add to the magic, dreams were made within an hour of arrival as I got to meet Oxford-based photographer Nasir Hamid whose Flickr feed I have followed avidly for a few years now, and who photographs many of the balls and Oxford life in general. Discovering that he follows me too was a delightful ego massage and a half, and he took snaps of us on both digital and our beloved 35mm film. A perfect start to the evening.

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 presetFrom the front lawns we moved through a second quad complete with painted blue lawn and onto the meat of the ball. Trinity is a college made for such events, and there was ample room for stage, marquees, and quieter wooded areas which were no doubt host to countless scurrilous activities by the end of the evening; there were at least four bars and countless food stands, and to be honest the committee really outdid itself as the whole event was a roaring success by all accounts. The array of food was particularly spectacular, and although the best thing I consumed was definitely a Bailey’s milkshake at the very beginning of the night, by the end I had eaten my weight in whitebait, fajitas, hog roast, poached pears and candy floss – a smorgasbord of feasting spread across three quads. The musical entertainment too was right up my street (and seemingly everyone else’s). Although we tragically missed Out Of The Blue’s unfeasibly early set both Aluna George and Clean Bandit gave syuper performances – the real stand-out was the Beyonce tribute band in the early hours though, followed by a less exhilarating silent disco as by that point dawn was breaking and birds chirping and I felt like I might expire from exhaustion.

In amongst all the standard ball activities was the quite novel installation of a giant Monaco-style makeshift casino by the back gates; I think it could have been fabulous if actual money/glory was at stake, but as it was the wristband scanners broke down so it turned into a less glamorous speakeasy serving the most disgustingly strong gin martinis possible. Abandoned half-sipped specimens littered the room. Disgustingly strong drinks were certainly a theme of the night – whoever was in charge of drinks clearly likes their liquor hard and their mixers sparse – but bizarrely I think that the undrinkableness of everything actually meant no one got too sloshed and everyone paced themselves a bit better. I certainly just cannot force myself into ingesting a G&T with a 50:50 ratio (no matter how awkward the situation), which probably served me better than endless delicious glasses that go down a charm. Luckily entertainments aside from alcohol abounded, and we busied ourselves with shisha, carnival swings, dodgems and walking hedges; there was a Jamaican steel drum band and a stuffed zebra, and to be honest the whole thing was so well-planned and executed that though our stamina failed at 4am I don’t think I would have run out of amusements by the final clear-out at 6.

I had a really lovely evening (that my mum tells me was well worth the extortionate ticket price for this selfie alone), and it was an apt summer “so long” to Oxford, finalist friends and New College Lane. My favourite moment was the truly fab firework display a few hours in that had me clapping like a small child – they never really lose their primal appeal do they? – and my one regret is not going back for that third helping of hog roast. Next time.

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A Lonely Degree

As my second year at university wraps up and I embark on the painful process of chasing up summer reading and wringing my hands over my thesis, I have been thinking about all those things good and bad that define studying history at Oxford. And although it’s an incredible learning experience that I value every day, I do think that it could easily be made that much more incredible. I do enjoy my degree. I love history – I love the narrative, I love the themes emerging centuries and continents apart, I love eureka moments when chronology slots together and I love recognising and empathising with people and things millennia gone. Studying history at Oxford, a place that wears its own so proudly and is home to the best and brightest historical minds the world has to offer is a unique experience that we all often take for granted. It’s amazing that every week I sit down for an hour or more alone with a world expert on my subject to directly converse about a piece of work I have produced – these are incomparable privileges that I’m well aware I am lucky to have. But sometimes I wonder whether I wouldn’t enjoy my degree a whole lot more if it was taught in a different way.

History at Oxford can often feel like a very lonely subject. I was very fortunate in my first year to choose three out of four of the same papers as someone who became a bosom buddy, who shared my enthusiasm for actually talking about our subject, comparing notes and touching base. But unless you strike gold in that respect it’s incredibly unlikely that a history student’s closest friends will end up being from their course – quite simply because you never SEE each other. When other subjects groups have several core modules they all take together and lectures they go to en masse, right from week one historians are scattered across lecture theatres and colleges throughout the university dependent on our module choices – and since many tutors still favour the one-on-one tutorial format sometimes you can go whole terms without discussing your work or your era with anyone other than the world-renowned academic that’s been assigned to improve you. Part of what makes the Oxford course so great is that it can be very self-directed and flexible – your tutor will choose essays for you that they’re most adept at teaching, or you will choose topics that you’re interested in – but this also means that nothing is standardised and a whole term of lectures can pass by with not a single one being relevant to what you’re working on. If you’re producing an essay in four business days then you’re probably not going to choose to spend an hour listening to something inapplicable, so only the most dedicated will turn up to the full lecture programme (and as if anyone actually TALKS to each other).

But it doesn’t have to be like this. Last term I did a paper on the viking world, which was taught in a format I hadn’t experienced before: weekly tutorials of two or three students for which we would submit an essay in advance, and a two hour class with all eight people taking the paper. This term I’m taking a historical disciplines paper that is entirely class-based, although with personal feedback on all work submitted. Both of these systems have been resoundingly more enjoyable than the simple lecture/tutorial format, not least because half the joy of being at university is realising that other people think and process things in a very different way to yourself. In an environment where we’re all still suffering the after-effects of the school playground notion that talking about your work and enjoying your intelligence means you’re an awful nerd, there is still not too much room to discuss your studies outside the academic setting; a class might be the only chance you get to see what and how others on your course are writing and thinking. But the class format also means doing presentations, group discussion, LISTENING to each other… when so many of us will be abandoning academia for the real world straight after our undergraduate degrees, are these skills not equally important if not more than getting used to churning out thousands of words a week about something you know next to nothing about?

So a resounding yes to the tutorial system – that’s not the enemy in my enjoyment of my degree. It’s the main reason that people strive to get into Oxbridge above other universities, and that level of personal feedback and interaction is invaluable. But also yes to structures of learning that throw you in amongst your peers, give you something to measure yourself against and encourage interaction. For a good chunk of us this degree is the end of our studies and after it we’ll be thrust right into the world of work which for most people does not consist of everything being achieved in a solitary bubble. If part of university study is preparing us for the real world, shouldn’t our studies be a bit more real?


#NewMayDays: Oxford is silly

My last two days of May I spent visiting a new restaurant (Las Iguanas, amaze), and experiencing the joy of trashing a finalist friend. Since the latter of these two things is a delightfully and stupidly Oxfordian practice, I thought I’d write about a couple of other sillinesses specific to my university.

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 presetTrashing

When Oxford students finish summer exams – particularly finals – their friends celebrate by ambushing them
outside the exam schools and pelting them with horrible things. #friendship. On Saturday I participated in the trashing of my musician friend Anna; I turned up very naively with confetti and a smile, her boyfriend brought the bubbly, and a Hawaiian lei and a party hat were provided by her housemates. Very tame – or so I thought. The proctors patrol the outside of the schools to make sure no food items are thrown in their vicinity and well they should, because by the time we hit Oriel Anna was covered head to foot in a mixture of shaving foam, shampoo, lentils, custard pie and birdseed. Thankfully someone decided the dogfood was a step too far, but strolling through Oxford on a packed Saturday and coating unsuspecting tourists who walked too close to our human dustbin with goo was a great Saturday activity.


Corpus Christi’s Annual Tortoise RacePhoto 01-06-2014 14 50 45

This is exactly what it sounds like. Corpus Christi’s annual tortoise fair and accompanying tortoise race is so popular that I struggled to catch a glimpse through the jostling of iPhones, but I do know that its victors were the aptly titled Zoom and Shelly – both from Worcester College, suspicions of doping abound. I did remark that the tortoise selection all pleasingly reflected their respective colleges: Sampras from Christ Church was unnecessarily massive, Oldham and Foxe from Corpus were very well-mannered if unengaged, and Balliol defiantly stood out from the crowd by sending a human representative whose handicap was to eat an entire head of lettuce before he could begin. The most impressive entrant was probably Regent’s Park’s Emmanuelle who is rumoured to be over a hundred and still going strong, but ultimately Corpus Christi’s tortoise keeper stole the show by rocking a green curdouroy jacket and a tortoise-encrusted bow tie. Aside from reptiles there was Pimms and ice-cream and even a bouncy castle; a very civilised afternoon out, if totally ridiculous.

Oxford is silly and we love it.

#NewMayDays Day 24: Scriptum

Processed with VSCOcam with g3 presetI always find that the more easily accessible somewhere is to me, the less likely I am to ever take advantage of it. Scriptum’s Turl Street shopfront full of globes and prints and bizarre masks has always called out to me and my love of dingy emporiums of brickabrack, but its air of a tourist snare has always put me off gracing it with my patronage. Today I sucked it up and went inside, to find that it is in fact not an eclectic mess of vintage bits and bobs but a carefully curated stationery-and-more store, with two impeccably dressed men that lurk around you on the ground floor soundtracked by ominous classical music . As uncomfortable as this alone-time with a tweed-suited Tweedlum and Tweedledee partnership made me, I was distracted by all the great things the shop has to offer – from the classy end of hand-engraved leatherbound notebooks and photo albums, to miniature hot air balloons and vintage travel stamps and stickers. And there’s an entire upstairs! I spent a good half an hour in there, and even made an extortionate purchase.

Scriptum is fairly expensive to be sure, but I really recommend it be it for 21st present fodder or just for a browse of all the random old-school stuff in there – I can already feel its mini watercolours of the Bridge of Sighs calling me back.

#NewMayDays Day 23: OUO

Today I played my first concert with the Oxford University Orchestra, Oxford’s premiere musical ensemble. We played a banging programme of Brahms Academic Festival Overture, Beethoven 7 and Sibelius 5 to a rammed Sheldonian (despite impending finals), and it was a real muscular work-out and a jolly good time. I usually devote my musical efforts to the Oxford Millenium Orchestra, the largest unauditioned orchestra at the university, because it has a great social scene containing many firm friends and also tours annually. And the main event of a rehearsal is going to the pub afterwards. This term I had to give OMO a miss as its concert date overlaps with a thespian endeavour, but our conductor Dave graced the audience tonight.

Although I did really enjoy playing in an ensemble in which everyone is a top notch soloist (and the whole viola section actually plays), I think I’ll be returning to my musical home of OMO next year. Half of the reason I have played and sung music in all shapes and forms these past 15 years has been because of the community and social aspect of the craft, which is sadly missing from OUO despite all its fantastic individual members. And to be honest two 3 hour rehearsals per week is really more than this lazy historian is prepared to commit to.

#NewMayDays Days 19-21: Cezanne and the Modern

0316-0230_stilleben_fruechte_in_einem_korbAnother couple of days of failed trying new things – my first ever yoga class fell through and a new dish I was trying out turned into an unparalleled disaster – so here’s a selection of very boring first-times that I happened upon organically:

  • I ate three bananas in one day – pretty crazy am I right?
  • I went out of my way to buy sports clothing.
  • I wrote a song on my ukulele – not a feat to be sniffed at I feel, but I refuse to share it with the internet so it can’t really count as having happened.

One thing I did manage was to finally go to the Cezanne exhibition at the Ashmolean. My last visit was for a coin-handling session with my Viking World class last term, and at the time I told myself that I really should hang around the Ashmolean more often seeing as I can access everything for free and it’s got such a gr8 spread of arts and artefacts. And two gr8 cafes. The exhibit was made up of deceased American intellectual Henry Pearlman’s private collection, and although Cezanne was billed as the headliner he was mainly limited to one watercolour-heavy room. I can’t say that I swooned over anything of his in the collection, as my favourites ended up being the above Pisarro (look at that delicate wallpaper!) and Modigliani’s portrait of Jean Cocteau (that the subject hilariously HATED – you can see why, it’s very Modigliani-ey). I also very much enjoyed Lipchitz’s big ole brass sculpture of Pearlman’s head, which was comically enormous.

I always find myself slightly underwhelmed by Ashmolean exhibits, although they do get big names in there. I wasn’t very impressed by the curation of the last Bacon/Moore selection either, which I resented myself for as Moore is a personal favourite. Never fear though, as clearly I am the exception because everyone else raves about them. Definitely worth a poke around.