Saturday, 22 March 2008

Winter Walks to Boswells

There has been some weatherly deception over this Easter weekend, a steady stream of sleets and wet snowfalls bringing sentiments of Christmas and dead-winter, neither of which, when they were really here, resembled much of anything I know of. But it's nearly April, and despite the precipitating antics of the past few days, I know I have all but lived out my first English winter, passed it in comings and goings from town, from Boswells department store on the corner of Cornmarket and Broad St, at which I now am employed.
Boswells has been trading in Oxford since 1738, around the same time the French voyageurs were wandering the Canadian Hinterlands swapping furs, and is situated in such manner as to be on two streets at once with two entrances, 4 stories, but with a completely non-affiliated book store and coffee shop between the street entrances. For the longest time before I worked there, I didn't realize that both doors led to the same shop, what with all the other bits in between, but they DO. And what a shop it is. Now, coming from North America, I didn't immediately see the big to-do about it. It's not that big really, compared to what you expect a dep't store to be, but after having seen much more of how the UK does shopping, how little space there is, I came to see that it is rather expansive, but more than that, you can actually get lost in its layout, which, I don't need to tell you, is an excellent selling feature, AND, they pack it with as much variety as possible. The stockrooms are a nightmare, of course, being what they've been for centuries but now housing modern quantities of 'STUFF'. I work in the Cookshop in the basement, which is lamentable only for the conspicuous absence of daylight, and perhaps the ogre-esque, cursing, mumbling hunchback of the shops' stockrooms, because other than that, it's the best department in the store. We stock over 20,000 items down there, something of which I remind customers who start dishing flack to employees for not knowing exactly how much something we've been out of for 5 months costs when we get it in, or when exactly we'll be getting more bulk dessert spoons. On slow days, I keep entertained by perusing new merchandise, lusting over Bialetti products (the latest being their stove top milk frother - crema something or other), or admiring bamboo cutting boards.
Funnily enough, 2 of Morganne's Schloss-met friends work at Boswells, Tija from Latvia who toils in the basement with me (when she's not regaling me with hilarious tale), and Richard who is English, who sells luggage on the ground floor (that's first floor to us NA's).
Since I returned from Hong Kong, I've been working Wed-Fri, 9:30-2, then scurrying home for a late lunch, which, when I'm on my bike, takes all of 10 minutes, on my feet, 25. I have an excellent route into town, it has to be said, though admittedly at 'rush hour', it is a biking frenzy, so pedestrians beware. The path begins one 'close' (cul-de-sac) from our house in a big park, passes alongside green fields usually occupied by shaggy ponies, through an open area of tall grass which I associate with the scene in Jurassic Park II where the Raptors are slinking hidden through the grasses snatching the legs of the sinister, villainous, dinosaur poachers, and then over a couple little bridges that cross the Cherwell River where ducks and even Canada geese hover waiting for parent and child to show for their ritual 'feeding of the birds'. After that the path continues alongside the gates of the University Parks before spilling out onto South Parks Road. It is but one left and a right before I am walking down the broad street that is Broad Street, arguably the most beautiful streets in the city, where buildings of different heights and imaginative colors line both sides in a comfortably cramped fashion.
So I am grateful for my job, though for £5.50 and hour, I may be moving on soon.

I need to bring this post to an end. More to come.
the Cherwell.
Jurassic Park field.
Jurassic Park field, toward the bridges.

Friday, 26 October 2007

the Drive

God bless diversity, I'm completely in favor. Speaking of diversity, let me brief you on our neighbors.
Jez and I live in what they call a 'close' (sounds like the opposite of 'far', which actually is near but no matter - not 'clothes', is my point) - basically it's a cul-de-sac. However don't be fooled; my experience of North American cul-de-sacs is that they are rather a new-fangled notion and ere-go tend to exhibit rather posh, though admittedly direly modern, houses for the Rich. While I dearly love the dwelling my recent marriage has afforded me (it is charming and spacious for a Brit-house) I can’t escape the impression that our neighborhood is rather trailer-park in its feeling.
A couple of weeks ago we were getting out of our car next to a family who was also piling out of theirs, and we managed to get into a conversation with the Mister about the lack of parking in the close (no one has their own guaranteed spots - you get a permit and then park wherever you can find to). It seemed to frustrate him quite a lot and he began bemoaning the conspicuous amount of space given to little grassy-treed outcroppings that really, if somebody would just use their head, could be chopped down and bulldozed over to make room for more dang places to park the dang cars. 'Bli-mee.'
When we first moved in we one evening had a bit of an issue finding a place to park, ourselves, and so resigned to parking slightly illegally next to a curb, just to left of one of our neighbors drives - we made sure that should he want to get out (he had his own drive, which a few people do have) he certainly could have, albeit the tightness. The next morning we had a knock and I opened the door to a very gruff and irritable looking person of a 'not nice' aspect and was polite as I could be not knowing I was about to be barraged with a flurry of fury regarding where we'd parked. Was that our blue Volksvagen? Why yes it was. Jez was soon escorting him to the alleged scene where there appeared to be no real problem if you were a reasonable person with an ounce of driving skill, but clearly he was having none of it.
A couple of doors down on the other side of us is an old man named Malcolm. Presumably he has a wife but I've never seen her. He has a dog who looks as old and grizzled as himself, and a daily supply of gentleman friends, similarly aged or, if not particularly advanced in years, gruff at least, who assist him in a recently undertaken project. The envy he has undoubtedly harbored toward the select fellow Closers possessing their own drive had reached its threshold as we took notice a couple of months back that he had begun to undo his front garden. Puzzlingly, the majority of English yards have rather a more cement-like than grassy aspect, so when I say he was 'undoing' his garden I mean for one that he was hammering it into rocky pieces which found a purgatorial home in the corner of one of the precious parking slots of Heather Place. It has most recently served as the off-loading ground for the bags of driveway cement waiting to be mixed and laid, and intermediately for this that and the other thing relating to the excavation. The slightly amusing, slightly irritating, slightly outrageous problem that wouldn’t perhaps occur to an outsider looking in on this drama, is that Malcolm hasn’t actually got permission from the city to do this little thing he is doing and which is daily nearing its completion. The fact that providing himself with a personal driveway will rob the rest of us ‘non-drive-peasants’ of one more parking spot to choose from when we pull into Heather Place at the mercy of first-come, first-served (who would have the kahunas to park him in?) hasn’t seemed to enter his mind, or if it has, hasn’t ‘moved’ him to repentance. No sir, there he is in his hole, everyday, working his elderly buns off (you have to give him credit for that) to make his car a little car-nest. And he’s smiley as can be, too, friendly as all get out. He came over a month ago, knocked on our door, introduced himself and said he’d heard that the guy who lived here before us had put in an archway from the kitchen? Had he put an archway into the kitchen? He’d like to see how he’d done it. Actually he hadn’t and I’m not sure where Malcolm was getting his information, but it was kinda sweet, and as long as he doesn’t try to put an arch in our front garden the more power to him.
So we await his new driveway with him and simultaneously mourn our loss. He is oblivious, and you know, NOBODY will tell on him. Us trailers gotta stick together.

Tuesday, 18 September 2007

Backyard ('garden') bonfire

We had to make a great big illegal fire in the back to burn all the nastiness various historical Carr-place renters had tucked away behind bushes whenever the sudden urge to 'tend' to the garden took place.

Sunday, 16 September 2007

Princess Madison, Tibetan Terrier

This is Jeremy's parents' pooch, whom we've been tending for a couple of weeks while they're away. We away on Wednesday for Uganda as well, and leave the dog to some other folk.


Sweetie bought me a new bicycle last week, student sale week, and isn't it a BEAUTY. One of those hybrid specials, comfy in town, sit-up like, and good skinny tires for the road. Feel the free air blowing through your hair. My hair. Feels goooood.

inside the house

This is the ground floor of 16 Heather Place, clean as it's been so far.
Still working on the upstairs but when it's presentable I'll photograph it as well.

Heather Place is a cul-du-sac'd grouping of houses that are more or less attached to one another. There is a path just around the corner from us which will take you almost all the way into the center of Oxford, over several bridges and the Cherwell, before you have to walk on a street - South Parks St, to be precise, normally cluttered with animal-rights protesters and an unusually large number of cops presumably there to make sure these vicious animal lovers don't um, get violent, you know. You should be able to make out on the map I put up generally how I get into town - a south westerly direction (through the University) and a 20-25 minute journey. Or like, 10 on my new bike.
Get ready, here it comes.

Thursday, 13 September 2007

the lady in Rosebys

Rosebys is a shop in Oxford that sells bedding and all things materially, including shower curtains, and as I've been keeping a grim eye on the one we discovered in the bathroom when we moved in, presumably decades old and coated with heavens knows what and I don't want to, I decided to go find a fresh one. It was then that I discovered Rosebys.
I in fact went looking a couple of weeks ago and bought two to try out, expecting to return the reject, and yesterday I went to do it.
When I walked in there were two salespeople behind the counter in front of my face, a youngish girl, and a lady I'd say in her early 70s late 60s maybe, with bleached, quaffed and cemented-in-place hair. She didn't look up as I approached the counter, and after my greeting and my explanation of why I was there and what I'd like to do, she continued not to look at me, snatched my Roseby's bag from the counter where I'd laid it, and began tittering away on the register. She also began to hum. Or sing. Couldn't really tell which. There was some pop-techno song playing from the store's system which I'd never heard but expect I will not stop hearing everywhere I go for the next month or so until it and the band singing it will disappear completely from the face of the earth to be replaced by more fresh monotony. The sales "assistant" (BIT of a stretch in my mind, let's face it) was WELL into it, and even had her little harmonies all worked out. Thoughts of waking Ned Divine spring to mind ("did you think Mrs. Kennedy would cash 6 million pounds at the post office?"). Anyways, I've been warned by my husband that customer service is not what it could be here in the UK. Thus far I've found this generally but not always to be true.