Posted in Oxford Odditites

That Time When No One Talks About The Unnamed Guardian…

For those of you who haven’t been to Oxford before, this is Oxford’s train station…

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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…)

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And for a long time I sort of believed this story too…

However!

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…

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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…

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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…

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Photo by Agto Nugroho on Unsplash

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 plastic owl 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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Posted in Oxford Odditites

Those Times When The Decor Clearly Did Not Meet With A Wizard’s Approval…

Ch.22 - So You Want To Draw A Map - Part 2So, 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…

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Ah, the joys of trying to take a photo in a coffee shop without getting innocent people in frame. Sorry to whoever I failed to notice in the background there…

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?

Ch.24 Loch Ness MonsterThe 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.

Ch.21 Hide and Seek MacGuffins“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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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

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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