Posted in Oxford Odditites

Stop! Thief!

Hi everyone! *waves awkwardly*

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…

20190517_1434091.jpgSo, 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!20190517_14340901.jpg

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!              20190517_1434101.jpg20190517_1434081.jpgWell, 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?

Yep.

This guy.

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.

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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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Posted in Oxford Odditites

Those Times When There’s … A Donkey?

You know you’ve lived in Oxford too long when… when you’ve followed a procession with a donkey all the way up High Street and only as Carfax Tower comes into view do you think to yourself; ‘Huh. That’s werid. We don’t normally have a donkey, do we?’

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With thanks once again to Parker Foye who was *way* more on the ball with their camera than me this morning! In my defense, there had not yet been tea, and that is kinda essential if you want me to function… You can (and should!) check out their writing here: (http://parkerfoye.com/)

Yes, friends, in Oxford we do this thing every Palm Sunday wherein we trudge a donkey through the streets of Oxford to hold a outdoor service remembering the moment when Jesus entered the city of Jerusalem by riding in on a donkey.

The things I love about these traditions is how they have been going for so long that absolutely no one thinks twice about it! You can see here that if you’re not specifically in the procession, you barely even look! And I very much include myself in this group there!

This goes great with the announcements they blast through the Clarendon Shopping Centre much too frequently declaring “If you see something odd, please report it to the authorities.” Like, sure Ma’am, but … what kind of odd? Because in Oxford, it turns out, the blatant donkey procession did not make the cut there!

Makes you wonder what *else* you could march happily down the street on a Sunday in Oxford before someone questions it… Anyone else feel like the Harry Potter Wizarding World’s Statute of Secrecy was completely superfluous? Just a little?

Anyway, just a random little snippet for today, but it tickled me! One week left of Lent for those who observe that, and then it is Time for The Easter Dragon’s visit! Who’s excited? Just me?

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Posted in Oxford Odditites

The Times When The Walls Have Ears, And They’re Talking Back…

20190325_174747.jpgOK, so I know that I have absolutely no room to comment about these things usually. I have no reliable ability to spell correctly, and have forgotten most of my hard-learned lessons in punctuation and grammar from school, only to re-learn it all as an adult who for some reason decided that writing looked like fun.

This was a mistake I should have seen coming from the frustrated noises my friends all kept making. I don’t know why I didn’t take the hint!

Anyway.

So there’s this building on Corn Market Street in Oxford, and for the whole time I’ve been in Oxford, it’s been a tailors shop. Different brands of men’s tailors shop, but always a place where men can become clothed.

And finally Austin Reed decided they were done with this place and moved, and it sat empty for a while, and now it’s reopened to become a restaurant-place. And it all looks very lovely and all, but… there’s this thing they wrote on the wall around the corner, and well…

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Why is this in quotation marks? Why?!?!

Everything else about this body of text is fine, but I cannot for the life of me work out why the quote marks are there! There’s no reference citation at the end, which might have explained it. I mean, it would even have worked with the whole student population of Oxford, who understand the necessity to quote and cite your sources appropriately. But nope!

Wait.

Is the wall speaking to me? Is that what this is? Is the wall sentient and it wants to make friends? Because it is Oxford. I would not be surprised in the slightest if a wall gained the will to communicate, found that it could only do so in textual form and then learned that this is how humans write speech on paper. That would totally make sense to me…

Anyway, I haven’t been inside to eat anything yet at the possibly-sentient restaurant. I probably should but on the other hand, I’ve seen a fair few horror movies about houses that gained their own life-force, so maybe not… I’m pretty sure the building gaining consciousness and wanting to communicate doesn’t end in good things…

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Posted in Oxford Odditites

The Times It Turns Into A Horror Setting…

Somewhere on this blog, back in the beginning, I said that living in Oxford is as close to living in a fantasy world as a person can get while still kind of inhabiting real life and sanity.

Well, here’s a quirk of Oxford in the Spring and Autumn which you don’t tend to see talked about nearly enough; in the mornings the whole of the Oxford-basin area gets completely filled with this thick fog that hangs around and won’t shift until about 11am.  As the season for this weather is so short and comes around only twice a year, I always forget that it’s coming and so am always surprised anew when it comes seemingly out of nowhere.

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And what’s amazing about that is, because Oxford has such a high proportion of Gothic-style architecture and old trees, my walk to work in the morning immediately feels like I’m walking through the set of an old Universal Studios’ horror film, all black-and-white atmosphere. Growing up, I’d never seen anything like it, and as an adult experiencing it for the first time, I suddenly got in a way I never had before why fog is inherently terrifying to humans.

The way it deadens sound and people accidentally end up ‘jumping out at you’ (otherwise known as ‘innocently turning a corner’) without warning because you couldn’t hear or see them coming.

The way that you absolutely know that there’s a huge set of buildings just on the other side of that wall, but you can’t see any trace of them. But you know that they’s there, right? They must be. You’re sure that they were there yesterday…

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It’s mornings like this when I think of old stories I was told as a child, and even older ‘ghost stories’ written down in medieval saints’ lives.

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The Anglo-Saxons held a belief that there was this world, a world of humans, and logic and natural law, where up was up and down was down, and another world, a world where monsters and demons and magic lived. A world separate from ours, for the most part, but held so by major landmarks and physical things which you could clearly see and touch and know to be true. You know that the next village over is just past that tree and turn left. You know, that tree there, that you can see.

But in the heavy fog, or at night, when you can barely seen four foot in front of you, is that tree still there? After all, you can’t see it. No, of course it’s there, you know it’s there! But… But it’s not there. Not that you can see, anyway.20190214_085043

It reminds me of the stories of vanishing villages, of which Brigadoon is the most famous. The legend of Brigadoon, for the uninitiated, is the story of a village in the Scottish Highlands, which became enchanted centuries ago to remain unchanged, stuck in time, and invisible to the outside world except for one day every hundred years when it could be seen and even visited by outsiders.  Growing up in Cumbria, which has lots of little villages tucked away in between mountains and lakes, it always seemed far pretty plausible that one of two could get … lost in some magical mishap.

Oxford in the fog gives me that same feeling, of areas that have been lost, stuck in time perhaps, but also perhaps were purposefully hidden away for safety (ours of theirs?) and might, if one were not very careful, be stumbled into in the fog. And then what?

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With thanks to Parker Foye for  this photograph of Magdalen Bridge in the fog. You can (and should!) check out their writing here: (http://parkerfoye.com/)

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Posted in Oxford Odditites

When There’s An Actual Magical Building Down That Back Alley…

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For those of you who are familiar with Oxford, you may recognise this photo as the alley at the back of the Clarendon Shopping Centre.

For those of you whop aren’t familiar with Oxford, let’s just say that it’s an alley I’ve walked past just about every day for at least seven years. There’s dozens of alleys just like it in every town and city in England and very probably around the world; nicely built at one point, but long-since forgotten about while the front facade gets updated every decade or so.

It’s totally ordinary and unremarkable, I always thought.

You’d think by now – this being Oxford and all – I would know better!

Because the other evening I was walking past it – running late as always and keeping a dear friend waiting for dinner – when I suddenly noticed something…

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Why is there a stained glass window sandwiched there between the fire escape and the bike shed? I mean, I’m sure that there’s no wrong place to put a stained glass window and all, but it wouldn’t have been my first choice, I’ll tell you that!

And wait… Is… Is that…?

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Yes, that is indeed an angel looking back over its shoulder at us like it’s in The Office, apparently 1000% done with the sea serpent. Look at them! You can absolutely hear the exasperation in the angel’s voice, can’t you?
Sidney, I say, Sidney will you stop flashing your fangs around? No really, they’re completely unnecessary, old thing. The poor artist’s already struggling to get your whole body in frame what with all the coils, do you think you could just… not?

I mean, why not have an angel and a sea serpent in your windows, right?

Makes complete sense, that does.20190222_180317

Naturally, I had to investigate a little further…

Sure enough, over top of the skip (because of course it was over the skip!) there was another stained glass window! It’s a little unclear, I know, what with being so high up, but I think that’s St George, mercifully without his dragon up there:

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Yep, there he is! Valiant steed at the ready and everything!

Now, I know what you might be thinking: Cameron, why are we looking at this building? And fortunately, I do have an explanation which in turn explains so much about Oxford!

Because it has been my personal belief for some time now that there is a magical department hanging around somewhere in Oxford, even if I could never quite figure out where it might be. The Bodleian was too obvious, and besides, have you ever actually met an Oxford librarian? They are specially trained to take out a potential book-scribbler at a thousand paces! You even think about crumpling the pages and they will have your hide, never mind trying to do any magic around their books! Any of the museums are out for similar reasons, although one does also have to factor in the various Outreach activities to get kids into History they have going on: there’ll be no doing of magic while the PVA glue and glitter is right out, it doesn’t bear thinking about!

20190222_180429.jpgAnd at last! I have found it! It’s perfect! Right next door to a gardening and DIY shop too, which I’m sure will come very in handy for iron nails and oak wood and things. They probably have an extra room at the back with the cauldrons in…

After a bit more searching, I finally found the front door, and look! Definitive proof if I do say so myself!

I mean, if you were designing the head quarters of the Magical Faculty of Oxford University, what else would you stick over the door? Naturally it would be an owl!

Alright, so the sign next to the door says it’s the Centre for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, but that is just what you would say, isn’t it? What other crowd would be more at ease with magical undergraduates, huh? They’ll all have their cover stories at the ready; when they say that their DPhil topic is the correlation in accounts of dragons and witches in the 15th century, you’re not to know that either of these things really exist, are you?

I can’t tell you how much of a relief it is to have finally found confirmation of the Magic Faculty after all this time! And to have simply stumbled across it too! Mind you, isn’t that always the way it happens in the stories?

Coming to you next time with further wonders, miracles and mysteries of Oxford…

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