For those of you who haven’t been to Oxford before, this is Oxford’s train station…
It’s not the most glamorous place in the world is it? I remember hearing when I first moved down here that the town wasn’t at all keen on this whole ‘train’ idea, and many people were sure it wouldn’t catch on at all. So rather than build a nice swanky train station like London has in spades or York, they just sort of… shoved it out onto what was at that time the outskirts (ha! Oh, urban sprawl, you aggressive weed…)
And for a long time I sort of believed this story too…
No more shall we calmly accept this mundane tale! No indeed! We shall instead acknowledge the battle of a brave soul who has for so long gone unrecognised!
For if you go to Oxford’s train station, and you walk into the main hall and look up, you will see a small figure, sitting above the main doors…
She’s only small, and you can easily miss her, but there she is… the Guardian.
There she sits, watching over us all. No matter the season, the time, or the weather, she remains at her post through it all, unstinting in her duty of care.
If you ask a member of the station team, you may be given a name for her. But if you ask more than one for her name, you will find that you get a different name every time. This is only sensible, I suppose, for Names are Important, as we have discussed here before.
Now you may say to me, ‘Cameron. You’re being ridiculous. She’s a plastic owl to ward off a few pigeons; this isn’t a big deal.’
But that’s where you’re wrong!
For one thing, if she were there to simply ward off a few pigeons, she’d be hilariously bad at it! I didn’t actually manage to get a photo of the feathered terrors perching on top of our girl, contrary creatures that they are, but I assure you that there were plenty of them doing so! And the good people of Oxford train station wouldn’t keep her around if she didn’t function! What do you think she is? One of our ticket barriers?
So she must be there to ward off another threat, a bigger threat than mere pigeons…
Now you might wonder to yourself, what possible dangers are there hanging around at train stations, but I urge you to remember your folklore for a moment…
What are the places you must be most careful of, the places where a moment of unwary complacency can cost you all that you hold dear?
Graveyards, yes, ruins and standing stones, sure, but also? Crossroads.
Nothing good comes of being too relaxed by a crossroads, does it?
And what are train stations but big, modern crossroads? Oh, sure we don’t tend to bury our unquiet dead there, but train stations are where large groups of strangers are pressed closely together, no one looks too hard at another’s eyes, nor do we count their fingers. Everyone’s in a hurry, no time to ask enough questions, lots of quick decisions being made. And then we’re off! Never looking back, never sure who the person we just spoke to was or whence they came…
Train stations might fool you with their florescent lighting and their pop-up coffee shops, but think about it even a little and suddenly they look much more Otherworldly, no?
But fear not!
For at Oxford, there is one who stands guard against the Lord and Ladies of the Otherworld! The silent sentinel figure of the owl…
She is an apt choice in many ways. In the North of England, my own place of origin, it is said to be good luck to see an owl, and if you’re are at either the beginning or the end of a long train journey then I can assure you that you’ll take any piece of good luck you can find!
On a less … owl-friendly note, owls have long been associated with evil and wickedness owing to their nocturnal habits and liking for the quiet of graveyards and ruins. In Kent it was said that the owl kept to the nighttime hours because she had once won first prize in the animal kingdom’s beauty competition and the jealous losers punished her by only allowing her to come out at night. Poor love.
More to our purposes here, since the early Roman times and continuing right up and into the 19th Century, it was considered that nailing a dead owl to the door of a house or barn would ward off evil and ill-fortune (I think out of the idea that an owl caused the ill-fortune so an owl could jolly well take it away again.) And while that’s clearly awful and you should never do such a thing to the noble and majestic owl, a plasticowl is a perfect modern replacement, don’t you think? Can’t get more dead than being made of plastic now, can you?
All around the world, owls are often credited with powers of prophecy, wisdom and being the messengers between this world and … others. I can certainly think of no better guard against the inherent evil of public transport terminals than our dear Oxford Owl! She’ll see through any mischievous being who tries their luck on the unwary, that’s for sure! And any who have seen the talons and beaks of an owl will know that her vengeance will be both swift and vicious indeed!
So when you next pass through Oxford’s train station, look up on your way out and tip your hat to our noble guardian. She’s doing a hard and thankless job up there, but we are all safer for her presence.
Does your local train station have a guardian? What is it? As I travel around the country in the coming year I’ll keep an eye out myself…
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Hello everyone! I’m very happy to say that today is the Here Be Wyverns’ Blog’s 2nd birthday!
*Cue Wild Applause!*
Thank you to everyone who has given me encouragement, advice and most of all their own time for reading this blog. I couldn’t honestly say that I’d have made it through even so much as the first year without you, and certainly not two!
There have been a few milestones, especially this past year, and I know that they are small ones but I’m proud of them and I wanted to share! I don’t know whether it’s not the Done Thing to talk about these things, but I’m a big advocate for sharing things that make you happy and that you’re proud of and encouraging others to do the same. If we cannot share our joy then how will we ever see anything but sadness, and all that?
May 2018 I didn’t even know that WordPress did these kinds of little stickers until this popped up in my Inbox one morning! It’s strange, because I’d never thought to count up how many views or likes I’d been getting, but the idea that so many people had liked whatever nonsense I’ve been putting out enough to click and tell me was strangely validating! definitely was an encouragement to keep putting out content!
June 2018 Alright, so this is pretty old and I’ve put up a few more since then, but I’m still a little impressed that I’ve managed to find so many things to talk about in 2 years! I hope I’ve not slipped too often into tedious territory!
August 2019 I am neither too old nor too proud to admit that when this little sticker popped up for me, I may have sniffled a little bit in my armchair!
When I first started out blogging, for the first two months or so I definitely knew every single one of my followers personally, which was a little strange as I’d post something and then get a text message from a friend telling me what she thought! The idea that I almost certainly don’t know you all from my daily life is a strange and wonderful thought! Hello internet friends! May we meet in person one day!
August 2019 August was a big month on the blog, it seems! Once again, thank you to everyone who took the time to interact with me here, either with your lovely and insightful and funny comments, or with clicking the ‘Like’ button! I know it’s a common thing for us writers to be constantly unsure about the quality of their work, and I certainly find it very encouraging to have something tangible to beat those doubts back when writing just seems too hard and nothing I type reads as anything other than garbage!
Sharing happiness aside, I know it’s a common thing around this time to share advice or shine a light on interesting blogs that are out there, but I never know if I have enough insight into either to really add anything right now. Maybe next year, if I can?
In lieu of anything of that nature, I cannot recommend enough checking out The Orangutan Librarian’s series ‘Bloggers Who Deserve More Attention’ (Part 5 to be found here). I have found so many really interesting and lovely blogs through that series, which I’d never have heard about if it weren’t for them!
But I would very much like to share a few things that I have learned in the past two years, especially for new bloggers or those of us who’d really like to have a blog but aren’t quite sure about it either. Because I learned all of these lessons the hard way, and there’s no reason that anyone else should have to cry and shake to learn them too!
1. You Don’t Have To Have A Plan I know, I know. All the advice out there says that if you want to be successful, if you want to, well, ‘make it’ and all.
And planning’s fine, but if you’re anything like me and thus a dreadful over-thinker? You’re never going to get anything done. I was a mess of notebooks and post-its and ‘but what if’s for months before a friend finally lost her patience and kidnapped my laptop to make this site. I flailed in the background while she did it, in hindsight it was hilarious!
Everything about my life is just so dignified, no?
Anyway, you know what I learned from this? Well, lots, but mostly what I learned was this: if it’s not right straight away? The world doesn’t end, you don’t lose your blogging license and sometimes you don’t know what you’re good at until you try, you know? We over-planners, we worry constantly about what happens if we make a wrong choice, and yeah, sometimes we’re right and that decision is genuinely really important or you’ll have to spend ages and possibly money unpicking a poor choice and all, but with a free blog?
Go for it! Throw yourself in at the deep end! Recklessly abandon your fears by the wayside! Panic is temporary and meaningless!
Maybe this isn’t how million-viewer blogs with sponsorship deals are born, but neither is staring at your notebooks until 3am while you’re too scared to move either. Give it a try and if it’s not your thing then you learned that much about yourself for free! There’s a life-coach out there who could have charged you £100 to tell you that!
2. Be honest with yourself about what you want out of this whole venture Look, there’s no shame in admitting that everyone blogs for different reasons, and that’s both entirely natural and 100% OK. But a lot of advice for bloggers out there very much assumes that you are blogging in the hopes of getting a huge following, as quickly as possible, and preferably going to monetize and/or use it as a platform for self-publishing.
Which if that’s your goal, cool! Plenty of people do very well at blogging that way and I really enjoy reading their blogs. Just the thing is…
That’s not why I blog.
I blog to encourage myself to write even if I can’t think of anything especially poetic to write for stories, the force myself to branch out in what genres and styles of writing I can do, and to find people with similar interests. I’m much better at thinking about writing and talking about writing than actually setting fingers to keys, and having a blog helps me marry those two things together much better. Typing out my thought processes forces me to think more coherently and to face up to weaker areas in my own work. And that’s all very helpful, even if it’s not ever going to attract enough readers to make any kind of career out of it!
I know one photography blogger who uses her blog mostly as a way to store and sort her photos, and to be able to share them with her friends more easily since she hates Facebook. Ditto a friend who uses her food blog like my grandma used her cookbook. Again, highly unlikely to take off into a profitable venture, but perfectly suitable for what they wanted to get out of it.
So I guess, my advice is this; sit down and be totally honest with yourself about what you actually want here. Don’t feel like, just because some people can make lucrative careers from blogging, that you have to do so or you’ve somehow failed at blogging. there’s no righto or wrong way to do this, only right or wrong ways to go about achieving certain ends. So even though #1 on this list was ‘You Don’t Have To Have A Plan‘, knowing what you’re actually reaching for will help you a lot.
3. If it’s not fun anymore, take a break. Again, I know; all the advice says that you have to post at least once a week if you want a following and if you don’t do that then you’ll never get anywhere, and that’s the same thing as failure, right?
I get it. I’ve absolutely been there!
And yes, if you want a large following, you need to be regular and frequent with your updates. You need to be reliable.
As previously noted, I’m writing more to chat to you lovely people and to make myself write at all than to become …blogging-famous? Is that a thing? And we all have lives and things that we want to do that get in the way of blogging, and it can be really stressful to try to juggle both.
Do you try to blog while you’re on holiday? I should say that I know some people for whom writing time is their only peace and quiet while away from home, so maybe keep that in mind! It can definitely work for some, not to mention assist in preventing a meltdown.
Do you work extra hard in the weeks heading up to your break to build up a backlog of posts to be released slowly? What if you need a break unexpectedly?
Look, we all get it, life is messy and complicated and tiring. If writing posts for your blog gets to be exhausting or difficult or stressful… just take a break. If you’re more responsible than me, you could put up a notice saying you’ll be away until whenever. But when the fun has gone out of keeping up with your blog, it’s time to take a break, breathe for a bit, and come back to it refreshed rather than burn yourself out.
4. Follow your interests, not trends
Again, it’s tempting, especially if you want to get noticed and attract followers to your blog quickly, to look up what’s especially popular and just do that. Marketing companies do it all the time.
And it’s always nice if your interests line up with what’s popular, but there’s no guarantee. Trends are always moving and so can be exhausting to keep up with all the time.
Besides, what else are you interested in that you’ll miss out on? No trend out there says taking pictures of a tiny dragon is going to be popular, but I’d never give up Ivan for anything! I’m probably the 5 millionth person to remark that Oxford is a weird and wonderful city with only the most tenuous of grasps on reality, but I live here and it continues to amuse me no end, and I like to share that. I know that book reviews are always popular, but I have tried and I just can’t write reviews of books for anything. They just come out as an unhelpful mess of randomness and even I can’t stand to read them over again.
Writing takes so much time and effort, at least for me, that it’s much easier and healthier for me to just write what I’m interested in, try to make it somewhat useful or entertaining for others and go.
I promise that whatever you’re interested in and find writing about to be fun, someone else out there will love reading about it too! They’ll tell you about it, and you can chat about your shared interests. It’ll be so much better than banging out stuff that you don’t really like but feel the need to write because they get good stats.
5. Fluke days are not the norm, don’t expect them all the time
Some days, and you might not even know why, you’ll have a huge spike in views out of nowhere. Maybe you just posted something that really took off? Maybe someone linked to you and it got popular? Maybe you’ll never find out what it is!
But you’ll have a huge number of views one day, and it’s really exciting. Here’s the thing I learned the hard way; that spike is likely to drop back off to normal levels sooner or later, and that’s normal. You try to keep up that kind of momentum, especially if you aren’t entirely sure how you got it in the first place, and you can easily burn yourself out.
Think of days like these as a bonus; it’s lovely to have it, you can probably learn a lot from it – what totally new people are drawn to on your blog, what they never seem to see, whether they have been adequately encouraged to comment or ‘like’ something, that sort of thing – but just as your bonus is not your salary, so too is this unlikely to be your new situation: normal. Relax!
6. Don’t measure yourself up against others: In that game we all lose This one’s a piece of advice that will definitely serve you well in all aspects of your life: You are the one and only expert in being you out there in the world, so why waste that talent and energy trying to be a copy of someone else? Take tips from others, sure. Take inspiration from others; we all do. But no matter how much I love other bloggers, I’m never going to be as good at being them as they are.
Have faith that you are interesting to other people just as you are, because that’s 100% definitely true.
7. You don’t have to stay where you started In all of this, in blogging as in life, remember: If it’s not working out, change it. So you started out wanting to talk about interior design but you’re really most excited to talk about your latest knitting project? So you thought you’d have loads to say about folklore, but actually you’re way more interested in discussing historical cooking?
But you’ve started this blog to talk about the first thing, right? And you might have followers who’ll hate it? They’ll leave!
Remember, blogging’s free, and you’re probably not being paid for this. Take a deep breath and do what makes you genuinely excited, otherwise it’s not worth it! If you’ve already got a following, start a new blog and link the two up. If you’ve not really got many followers and you’re feeling brave, revamp the whole thing and dive into something new.
You don’t live in Stephen King’s Misery book, no one is going to shout at you for changing what you want to write!
Phew! I hope that was remotely coherent? Not to mention, helpful to someone?
What lessons did you learn when you started blogging?
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Friends, today’s post is short, but I need to share something with you all. Partly because I need sympathy, and partly because I have so many questions!
OK, so this is the Oxfam Bookshop in the middle of Oxford.
It sits just across the road from my workplace. It is also one of two in Oxford, and the other one was five minutes walk from my old workplace. I have never been more than ten minutes walk from one or the other of these in my whole time in Oxford, and I’ll be honest, there’s the vaguest possibility that this may be ever so slightly connected to my massive hoard of books and my lack of money. Maybe.
It’s OK to despair of me, my family is right there with you…
So I was walking past the window on the way to work one morning and this piece of majestic-ness is sat in the front window!
I mean… Just look at it!
I have so many questions! How do these creatures go together in places that aren’t this blog?
Only in Oxford, am I right?
Long-time readers of this blog will know that we of course have a tiny dragon in the office, getting into my stationary and judging me when I’m not writing and generally causing trouble.
And if you live in Oxford then you also know that ducks get everywhere. They keep nesting in college quads and then causing chaos once the ducklings have hatched, because no mama duck ever has apparently thought to herself prior to building a nest, ‘Hmm… I managed to reach this nice quiet nesting site in this fox-free space by flying. But my ducklings, they will not be able to fly straight out of the egg. Is this site, therefore, a good idea?’
So Trinity (Summer) Term is one long saga of students with cardboard boxes chasing down ducks and ducklings to help them all reach a nice body of water. It’s probably character-building? At the very least, it’s a distraction from looming exams, I suppose.
Also, if you have twitter, and you don’t already follow Twitter ofOxQuackademics,then please go and check them out, they are an absolute delight and treasure and I can think of nothing which so wonderfully summarises so much of what is good in Oxford. It’s ducks, it’s literary puns, it’s madcap adventures sometimes; frankly I don’t know what else you could possibly ask for, but even that is probably to be found right there on that feed.
The annual duck-related shenanigans naturally has made it into the Ghosts and Gowns series, if you fancy checking it out?
Anyway, so obviously I had to read this book and find out a few answers. Was it separated out into poems about dragons and poems about ducks? Were there poets about dragons and ducks together? Did these two groups of agents of chaos finally join forces and inspire great sagas commemorating their epic deeds? Were they eternal enemies locked forever in combat from whence there is no end or escape? What?
And now, I know, I know that we shouldn’t judge a book by it’s – frankly amazing – cover, but I regret to say that we can only speculate about the hidden potential behind it. For now, alas, we come to the saddest part of this post…
You see, the bookshop does not open until 10am, which is notably after the time I need to be in work. So I waited, eagerly, patiently I waited until my lunch break. Who needed to go to eat lunch? Who needs sandwiches when there is a book to hunt down? That book must be mine!
And then… disaster!
By the time I reached the bookshop, the book had been sold already! I missed it!
In hindsight, I suppose it was inevitable; with a book so inherently amazing, someone probably pounced as soon as they could get in…
Never will I read the epic adventures of ducks and dragons… *Sniff…*
On the other hand, I now can’t stop thinking of other amazing book titles! I have several ideas already:
Knights and Kittens – in which either the knights are often rescuing kittens from high perches in castles, or possibly doing battle with terrifying and fearsome kittens? (If this sounds unlikely, please check out the British Library’s post about knights battling snails! If it sounded totally legit on first thought, check out the pictures of knights battling snails anyway – I promise you that down that path lies only magnificent and wonderful things!)
Mice and Magicians – In which a band of brave mice help and advise an apprentice magician as they journey through a series of challenges to reach the great magic tournament. Think the Knights of the Round Table (Round Cheese? Keep work-shopping that…) assisting Merlin, with side quests including the Green Squirrel, the Lapwing of the Lake, narrated throughout (naturally) by Gerbil of Monmouth…
Seagulls and Sphinxes – Neither side of this title will make much sense, but only one will eat you while you’re alive? But no seriously, this is really the perfect pair-up, since I don’t think that sphinxes can fly, but obviously seagulls have that down, and if you’ve ever been mobbed for your food by seagulls then you will know that seagulls would absolutely ask you impossible riddles if it got them more food somehow! I don’t know what their adventure would actually look like yet, but I’m working on it…
Anyone else have any suggestions? It has to be a team-up between a fantasy character/creature and a non-obvious tiny mundane animal… And if possible, do chip in with what the adventure story would look like!
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So, this will surprise exactly no one, I’m sure, but I have news for you all: There’s a wizard in Oxford.
I know, right?
But this one clearly likes cheap coffee and cares very deeply about their aesthetic vision. Like, they are committed to this aesthetic!
OK, so technically this story comes from just outside of Oxford, but it’s still got an ‘OX’ postcode and thus I am still counting it! So, I’m meeting a friend in one of those generic coffee chain shops (you know the ones, insert your preferred name her), and while we’re chatting away, we look over and something catches our eye. Something looks distinctly out of place…
I know it doesn’t really show in this photograph, but all the rest of the furniture in this place is coffee-chain standard. Brown pleather tub chairs, chunky dark brown wooden chairs, tables that are all just slightly the wrong height and have four legs of totally different lengths for maximum spillage of hot drinks? You know, the usual.
And then there it it.
A rustic farmhouse kitchen table and suitable chairs.
There are no other chairs like this in the whole place. There is nothing even remotely similar in terms of tables. Nothing – absolutely nothing – about this table and chairs combinations says ‘I belong here and I fit in.’
As someone who can often feel awkward and embarrassingly out of place in public, it is an unending comfort to me to know that wooden tables can clearly sympathise. Look at it; you can practically hear it apologising for taking up so much room.
Now, as soon as we spotted this poor out-of-place table, my friend and I started asking the obvious questions: How did it get here? Why is it still here? Who thought that this table belonged here in the first place?
The obvious solution was clear: A wizard did it!
I mean, it’s obvious, right? Some wizard had to go and get themselves some quick coffee, paid for it, went to grad a seat and had a fit about the generic decor. Wizards; so high maintenance.
Of course, being a wizard, they naturally had the power to amend matters to their own satisfaction and behold! One farmhouse table and accompanying chairs are suddenly sitting, presumably very confused, in the coffee shop. Naturally, this is Oxford, and no one questions it. I mean, where do you think this is? Somewhere that actually questions magical happenings? Cambridge, presumably.
“There are six chairs though,” my friend noted, “so maybe the wizard had guests?”
Was it a wizard convention that all descended on this coffee shop together, looked around and then backed each other up about the generic decor of terribleness? This has a certain weight to it; one lone wizard might grumble away to themselves over their cheap coffee, but six could probably hype each other up until the only solution to this interior fashion disaster is to throw magic around until you have an inexplicable table.
I hope they didn’t think that the magic table counted as a tip for the wait-staff. Because it does not, wannabe Gandalf! Pay them with actual money like a normal person!
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So, I’ve been quiet on here recently, but in my defence this is because I’ve been doing a lot of writing instead. Yay!
But then something happened to me this week at work and I realised that I wanted to share my bewilderment and outrage at the brazen thieves we here in Oxford are subjected to!
And no, on this occasion I don’t even mean Ivan, who is a shocking stationary thief, as we have discussed here on previous occasions. Ivan, you’re not subtle, and you don’t hide things well, I don’t know how you expect these things to go…
So, I know this isn’t universal across the country, but it has been *extremely* hot here recently, and I’ve had to leave my window open wide in a desperate yet ultimately forlorn attempt to get a bit of air into the office. Suddenly I look up and this little critter is looking back at me as if he has every right to be there!
Look at him!
The noise, it turns out, was him dropping that grape next to the fruit basket I’d had to leave there after I tried to carry too many things after a meeting and hadn’t had a chance to retrieve it. Opportunistic little beggar!
Anyway, undaunted by being caught in the act, not to mention this clear sign that stealing grapes was not his calling in life, he then went and tried again! Straight down and into the basket, while I’m all stunned that my life has turned into a Disney film with birds coming into my workplace…
And just look at it too! That grape is about half the size of your head, darling! This was not a good plan all around! Well, it shows what I know, because off he went, perfectly happy with his pilfered grape…
Anyway, I foolishly thought that this would be the end of the matter. He’d house-broken into my office, nabbed my grape and we could all carry on with the day…
I clearly do not spend enough time around wild birds, because I am a foolish, foolish person. Sure enough, within minutes, guess who was back?
He’d come back for the dropped grape, I think.
Now, I’m all for sharing food and all, but it’s polite to ask, is it not? And since those grapes were going to be my lunch (don’t ask why there’s no time for me to have a proper meal at lunchtime, these things happen some days) I had to make a stand.
I closed the window.
He was Not Pleased.
I wasn’t able to get a photo of his outraged tapping against the glass, but I assure you that he did this for long enough, and loudly enough, that my boss came in to find out what was going on in my office. Have you ever had to explain to a grown man that you, a theoretically-responsible adult, are now somehow engaged in a fruit-war with a black bird?
Turns out that there’s no way to make that sound dignified and work-appropriate.
But I round off with the news that he was appeased later by my offerings of some old cake that’s gone a little stale, and we now have several bird-feeders in the bit of garden outside my windows. I can eat my lunch in peace, and hopefully at some stage I shall ascend to the next level of Disney princess and train him and his friends (because of course Benedict has started to bring friends with him!) to do my filing or something…
So… How was everyone else’s week at work?
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