Where the gargoyles play

It is a dear friend’s 40th birthday celebrations this weekend. I know. 40. She’s barely out of short trousers. An evening of conviviality is planned, after which a group will be retiring to an Airbnb. I will be retiring to a one-woman tent, because there’s a limit to my appreciation of conviviality and it’s about four hours. Which I think will be stretched to six this evening but I already settled my get away plan because I shall drive. This seems a better idea than clip-clopping around Oxford on my own in search of a cab, and I don’t Uber because, well, that company is dodgy as fuck.

I did have my own Airbnb booked (see how Airbnb has become the brand name for B&Bs, like Bic used to be for pens?), in a nice little canal boat somewhere in Jericho. They suffered an arson attack so had to cancel my reservation, which is the least of the concerns in that scenario. Who sets fire to a boat? Bastards. Anyway, I don’t know if you have checked the price of accommodation in Oxford during the summer, but it’s ridiculous. I mean, the Malmaison, which I think we can agree you might go to £150 on for a special occasion and if it was a particularly nice Mal, charges £400. Pull the other one, mate, it’s got tourists on.

Hence, I am camping, for £20 a night. My friend’s horror at this prospect is matched only by my horror at the thought of sharing a 3-bed house with 9 people. We have tacitly agreed to disagree, each confirmed in their own conviction that the other is a bit nuts. But we love them anyway.

I thought I’d get down early, get the tent set up and spend a few tranquil hours wandering the ole dreamin’ spires and hoping for a sighting of Peter Whimsey. Then I remembered. I don’t miss Oxford. Ms Just Turning 40 and I had this conversation, because both of us lived there for years and moved away, and really only remember the horrible inconveniences. The city is undoubtedly beautiful but only at dead of night or very early in the morning, when the gargoyles climb down to play and before all the bloody tourists wake the poor spires from their only-too-rare opportunities to dream. One day, they will set the gargoyles on the tourists and then we’ll see a proper Dr Who Christmas Special.

Now, I do have to go to Blackwells. Genuinely, because the new Mick Herron is out and he did a signing and I couldn’t make it and tweeted my sadness and Blackwells said they could get me a signed copy and keep it for me. And they did, because a bookseller’s word is his ‘Have you seen this new edition of Bond?’ Admittedly, that is only Baby Blackwells in Westgate but it’s also only a hop and skip to the mothership. And I have 6 inches of space on the TBR shelf (add own joke here about the most pleasure a woman can get from 6 inches), if we don’t count the three books that arrived from Blackwells yesterday, which we don’t. Because… we don’t want to.

So my plan is basically to yomp through town, collect books, retire to my tent with my preciouses, and NOT start reading the Herron or I’ll be late for dinner. At some point I have to squidge into a dress and heels and chuck mascara at my face, but that’s all of 10 minutes.

Right then. I’m off to pack the cafetière.



10 years of musings

I only realised as I was re-ordering the ‘Books read’ pages that I’ve had the blog for 10 years.


Blimey. Although, it must be said that for the past few, I’ve done the absolute bare minimum. Well done those four or five people who still rock up on occasion. I’m not joking – the stats are genuinely pathetic so you are all part of a very small, and incredibly discerning group. Maybe I should get you all badges?

10 years feels like a good innings, and I’ve been wondering if it’s time to let the blog slip quietly into that dark night. But, it seems a shame not to see this tenth year out, so instead, I shall try harder and see how it goes this year. I’m not making any resolutions but, I suspect in common with most people, it won’t do me any harm to put my phone down and focus more on what I’m reading instead.

And on that note, I kicked off the year by reading A Very Short Introduction to Classical Mythology by Helena Morales. This is because I’ve had the full week off work over Christmas and now I’m panicking about going back and my brain atrophying again. So to stave that off, I signed up for a short course at the local university’s continuing education department. Of course, this being Oxford, I’m doing a short course on Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Of course, being me, I immediately high tailed it to Blackwell’s to buy the reading list, deaf to all warnings that if the course gets cancelled you still have to pay your debts at the bookshop…  So far I’m on to Book III of Metamorphoses, and I’ve also read one of the essays in  the Blackwell Companion to Ovid.

So, the VSI was a quick romp through to the tune of ‘what have myths done for us and what are they anyway?’ Answer, ooh, loads, and they’re fluid so open to interpretation, re-use and misuse. Because current mood = feisty, I particularly liked the bit where Morales discussed what might have happened if Freud had chosen the Antigone story rather than the Oedipus story on which to found his whacko theories. What if psychoanalysis had had more space for strong female characters and a foundation myth that explored the nature of right and wrong?

It’s been a long, long time since I read Ovid. I know I studied some of Metamorphoses for my degree, but that was about a billion years ago. I’m pretty sure I’ve got Ted Hughes’s Tales from Ovid hiding on a shelf somewhere, so that will be a good companion piece as well. The course starts on Jan 22 and I’m going to be prepared. You might say over-prepared. I couldn’t possibly comment (yes, I read most of the House of Cards trilogy over Christmas, did Michael Dobbs originate that formulation for FU, or does it pre-date him?)

On urban cyclists

On the rare occasions when I do cycle, a primary aim is to be visible to motorists. Partly because as a driver myself, I know how invisible cyclists can be; and partly because, as a cyclist myself, I know you can’t trust the useless car-driving bastards to be paying attention.

What I don’t understand is why so many of Oxford’s cyclists have a death wish. I don’t want to run them over, I really don’t. Mostly. But why do they have to make not running them over so bloody difficult? I’m not getting into the whole drivers vs cyclists debate, here. Everyone has a right to use the road, there are faults on both sides and until both sides show a bit of respect for (a) each other and (b) the rules of the shared road, the problems won’t be resolved.  Which will likely be never. But in the meantime, the sad truth is that even if some cyclists feel they are safely occupying the moral high ground, it does not provide them with a force-field of invincibility.


  1. If, as a cyclist in the dark, you are wearing all dark clothing and have no lights or anything reflective, I can’t see you. You can literally seem to appear out of nowhere, even when there are street lights and headlights. Go out in a car, at night, during rush hour and take a look some time. Would you see you? No, you fucking wouldn’t.
  2. You are then reducing my chances of not hitting you even further when you wander vaguely into the middle of the road without bothering to check if anyone has spotted you in your special cyclist’s urban camouflage gear.
  3. Yes, I know you made eye contact, but this is a lump of metal. It doesn’t stop instantaneously, even from a low speed, and that is not my fault. It’s something to do with the laws of physics.
  4. Why are you scratching your ankle…? Oh, it’s a turn signal that you’re just too cool to make properly. Oh look, now you’re on the ground and quite broken. How cool is that?
  5. I was just wondering, is your head actually made from some unbreakable material? Oh, it’s not? Interesting.

Your safety? It’s a joint responsibility.


Just as I thought the road was running straight ahead for a while, there was a tiny, unsettling detour. I got called to a job interview with a company in Bath. The same day that the tenancy agreement arrived for me to sign up and pay up for the cottage in Glympton. For those who don’t know, that’s an either/or scenario, because even if I was prepared to commute to Bath, which is a couple of hours away on a straight run down the M4, Glympton is entirely the wrong starting point for that kind of journey.

I hadn’t heard from the company in Bath for so long I’d assumed it was a no-go, and I was fine with that. And, I suppose, I didn’t have to go for interview, but at the very least it’s all good practice. So I didn’t sign the tenancy agreement, and I went for the interview and I was offered the job.

This was a good thing in many ways. For a start, I had to take an afternoon off in order to get there, which knocked my working week down to 31/2 days because I’d already booked Friday off, too. When is that not a good thing? The interview itself was easy enough, but it was useful to find out that if I wanted to, apparently I could fake it as a project manager.

And then, deciding what to do in response to the offer itself was the most useful of all, because it clarified for me that I hate project management and there’s no way I want to do that in any environment; and also that, for once in my life, I’m not ready to relocate. The thought is just too exhausting. I want my little cottage and my kittens, and to learn to cook using an oil fired stove, and to live in the peaceful middle of nowhere.

I think I knew all that anyway, but it took a weekend of not thinking about it to let the truth surface. I turned down the job, and I haven’t thought twice about it since. Instead, I signed the tenancy agreement and sent off the deposit cheque and on Monday I’ll pay my first month’s rent. I’ll move on September 14. As well, all my US stuff, which was picked up by a shipping company in June, has finally shipped and should be in port by the end of August. I’ll have a bed and a sofa when I move in, which will be better than the camping out I was beginning to think I’d have to do!

As I said, a detour. A loop off the road, just to see what was down there and it turned out to be nothing so interesting after all.

All change

Well, kind of. Those who find even vicarious life uncertainty stressful should probably look away now…

1. So, I was up for a promotion at work. It took me a week to figure out if I’d even apply for it (warning sign #1 – it doesn’t take me that long to make major, life altering decisions) and I still wasn’t convinced that I wanted the job. In fact, although I thought I ought to want it, the plain reality was that the prospect made me downright miserable (warning sign #2).

I am so not management material, I realised. I don’t care about the politics and empire building, and it rarely occurs to me to explain stuff to people because it’s so bloody obvious, why would you need to explain it? Why can’t they just get on with it? Also, I hate budgets, spread sheets, appraisals, resource planning, unending droning meetings and having lots of responsibility without any corresponding authority.

I went to the first interview, and then I bailed before wasting anyone’s time at the second round. And OMFG, was that ever the right decision! The sun shone, birds started singing, music played wherever I went and David Tennant and I waltzed down Broad Street. (Ok, that last bit may have been a fantasy but the rest is true.)

However, given that my existing role is temporary, this means that at some unspecified time in May I’m shifting into another as yet unspecified, temporary role. This is by mutual agreement, and I must say that my employers are reiterating that they want to keep me, and waiting patiently while I figure out whether I want to stay and if so, what I might do.

2. Because, when I stop procrastinating by writing blog posts, I’ll complete that PhD application. Then I’ll spend a few weeks trying not to pester the supervisory tutor to find out what’s going on; then there will be a decision. So, either I’ll be moving to Sheffield later this year, or I won’t. If not, then I suspect there must be something truly amazing on the cards that I don’t yet have any inkling of, because that is usually the case when I don’t get the thing I think I really, really want.

3. However, back in the now, the lease on my flat is up on July 12 and I want to move somewhere cheaper. Since I don’t currently know how long I’m likely to be in Oxford for, I’m looking for a short term let while simultaneously hoping that the PhD decision will be in before I have to commit to a new place. If not, then, erm, don’t know.

4. Meanwhile, I’ve been asked to revise my MPhil proposal for the OU, to which end I’m in the process of getting a Bodleian card so I can do some research in a library and not on Google. The MPhil is now Plan B. Probably.

So there you go. Life as a game of pin the tail on the invisible, moving donkey!


Another one bites the dust

The art gallery on Little Clarendon Street, Inspires, is
closing. Their email said that a couple of years of recession,
steep business rates, high rents was all bad enough, but the
untimely, pre-Christmas snowfall was the final nail in the coffin.
If it hadn’t been, then I’m sure that the 11 weeks of road closure
that just started would have done them in anyway. I worry for
Central. Not that I can afford most of their highly-designed wares,
but it gladdens my heart to know there is furniture beyond Ikea.
Inspires is the fourth business to close on that street over recent
weeks, and with each one Jericho has lost something of the
eclecticism that made it worth visiting. Sylvester’s (kitchen
stuff, gifts, cards, originally two stores then shrunk to one) had
been open for 15 years, Inspires for 10. I expect what we’ll get
instead is either another chain restaurant or a Tescobury’s. Their
strikingly horrible mini-markets seem to be oozing into any space
that comes vacant. I think I am building up to avoiding
supermarkets altogether, but that’s a different post (yay! another
post idea!) In any event, the character of the area is beginning to
change, and not for the better. Inspires is a lovely, welcoming
gallery, always happy to let people wander around and admire the
collection and doing what it can to make art affordable. They
participated in the Art Loans programme, by which people can
purchase an artwork on an instalment plan, paying a deposit and
then the balance over 10 months. I love the idea, because it does
something to lower the barrier to owning something that bit
special. Equal access to art. The owners told me that their
suppliers say that the story is the same all over the country. Art
galleries can’t afford to stay open; artists then don’t have venues
to display and sell their works. Are all pictures now being mass
produced in China alongside everything else, so we can buy the same
as everyone else in Tescobury’s (third aisle, just past the
breakfast cereal) or John Lewis? I know the recession has hit hard
and there are far worse stories than a gallery closing. People lost
jobs, homes, confidence and that’s all much more serious stuff. But
if there aren’t nice things around, then doesn’t the gloom get that
bit gloomier?