Monday, 31 August 2009

Pride and Progress

This is Caversham Court in Reading, a former Rectory to nearby St Peter's Church and one of the second grandest houses in the Parish dating back to the early 1800s.

In 1933 it was razed to the ground by Reading Council to make way for a road which was never built.

Thanks to the tireless endeavours of several local citizen's action groups and charities, Caversham Court is now somewhat redeemed as a newly-restored riverside public park, and you can walk around the outline of where the grand house used to stand.

Below is
Christchurch Meadow in Oxford, surely one of the most stunning vistas to be found in England and the stuff of Brideshead Revisited with the rivers Thames (aka Isis) and Cherwell bordering two sides of it and Oxford Colleges, the third, not to mention the Botanic Gardens invading a corner, and steeped in about as much history as it's possible to find, including early balloon landings and mediaeval settlements. In the 1950s a city councillor thought it would be a great idea to build a road straight through it. Luckily he didn't get away with it as doughty Oxford citizens fought back.

Makes you wonder what we have lost elsewhere though. What other country is as short-sighted as England so often is about carving up its towns and cities in the name of 'Progress' (but more often mere sacrifice to the greater glory of the combustion engine and its continued sales and movement). And I speak as the possessor of a driving licence who happily uses alternative transport wherever it exists.

Sunday, 23 August 2009

Artistic Yearnings

I have always wished I could paint but it is amazing the effects you can get with a cheap out-of-focus digital camera. This was Port Meadow in Oxford this morning doing a good job of pretending to be 1909.

Don't you just love the way the animals are all lined up like those Britains plastic farm animals?

You never know. This could be a latter-day Haywain. Which reminds me I must get back to penning my forthcoming best-seller 'The Constable Code' solving the mystery of why so many thousands of people bought that print to hang above the mantelpiece on their living room walls. I am sure there must be some complicated mathematical equation behind it all. Not to mention Opus Dei.

A strange bird I found in my garden. I think it might be related to the Magpie family.

I haven't been able to afford a holiday this year, but these are some snaps I took on a weekend in Brighton for a family reunion in May to celebrate my mother's 70th.

Sunday, 9 August 2009

Things to Do in Oxfordshire Before You're Dead

Quite a random piecemeal posting from me this week I'm afraid.

You've just got to love our local newspaper where the traditional and highbrow vie with the lurid.'Didcot Man Cuts Off Own Penis' was a particularly memorable recent headline, as if the town and the gesture were somehow interconnected. Foolish man I thought, to cut off one of his only sources of entertainment in that godforsaken outpost with only bingo, a power station, Didcot Parkway and alcoholism to offer. As for The Oxford Times Letters pages, they must count as among the only in the country where arguments about bus routes and theosophical debates about the existence of God rage side by side. One thing that startles when you read it for any length of time though are the high volume of both kiddie fiddlers and suicides we appear to have in Oxfordshire. And cancer. Not to mention opera. Only recently tabloidised, it retains its pretentious dinosaur food critic (if he didn't exist, you would have to invent him) but has funked itself up with wonderful photography and maintains high production values with a real bias towards the Arts and few 'Shed Fire!''s creeping in. Friends of mine appear in it and its magazines with worrying regularity with their latest artistic or green triumphs. And it still carries proper Obituary columns to aspire to at lifes' end.

The Sue Ryder charity shop in Abingdon specialises in dolls houses and furniture.

Nice touch in the Cornish Pasty shop of smuggler decor. Someone had smuggled all the flavour out of the pasties though.

Inedible crisps.

You don't say. If they're free, I'm having a dozen!

They've had the feedback forms from Future Generations and it's official - Future Generations want a state-of-the art modern museum that gets down with da kids man. None of this musty antiquated stuff. Except for the Mummy obviously. No museum is complete without a Mummy.

Cherwell Valley Service Station - Every essential for the modern motorist...

Unauthorised golf - a growing menace in Oxford parks...

Actually toddlers are often better parkers than their parents.

Sunday, 2 August 2009

Stay in Oxford and See the World!

Well it's that time of the year where you can hardly move for the tourist melee in the centre of Oxford.

Each year it becomes more of a battle to negotiate the narrow mediaeval pavements with large tourist groups steaming along or stopping en mass suddenly in front of you and spilling out onto the road, seemingly oblivious to the buses thundering towards them down The High. TEFL students are particularly lemming-like and street unwise and I am amazed we do not see more serious injuries and fatalities to mar their overseas trips as they walk both in the road and across the road without looking.

Now don't get me wrong - Oxford is very definitely a special place that ought to be shared and many of our foreign visitors are charming and lovely, (not to mention much needed economically). However I can't help wishing there were some means by which they could be taught a bit of road sense and general cultural etiquette before disembarking from coaches and being let loose by language schools. Walking along in an orderly 'crocodile' of not more than 2-3 abreast with one chaperone per 20, particularly for our younger visitors would be a great start, short of pedestrian lights, mirrors and indicators! And some cultural pointers such as 'How to queue', when to say 'Please' and 'Thank you' and how not to talk at the top of their voices all the time, bounce balls off shop windows and to turn their mobiles off in libraries and museums would also greatly enhance their experience of Oxford and Oxford's experience of them.

Though of course it is hard to instill British cultural values into visitors when they are bound to observe our own locals showing complete disrespect/disregard/ignorance of same!

Narrow streets aside, Oxford does suffer some serious drawbacks in catering for such large groups of people, no matter that it should be a past master at such.

1. Very few restaurants/cafes/pubs are equipped to cope with groups of more than 10 without prior booking so you invariably see groups of aimless and disappointed overseas visitors traipsing from one to another in the evenings trying to find a space where they can all sit, eat and share their day together.
2. There is no decent large open space in the city centre where they can be dropped off by coaches to mill around and wait for tour guides with plenty of seats, loos and other useful facilities.
3. There is no left luggage facility for the day visitor (which I find extraordinary, considering at least 50% of visitors are day visitors).
4. Our public toilets (bar those in the Town Hall only open when the Town Hall is) are squalid and a disgrace for a city of international repute.

So many international cities have addressed these basics, I shudder to think what visitors must make of Oxford. And don't get me started on the hideous architecture they have to behold in the midst of the beautiful dreaming spire stuff they have really come to see. And to think Hitler purposefully didn't bomb Oxford in WWII as he loved historic buildings so much. Sadly our 1960/70s planners proved far more ruthless in this regard.

Whatever the disadvantages of so much life teeming through our streets every summer though, tourists certainly bring vibrancy, buzz and colour to the city and I doubt we would have two fabulous 24 hr coach London services and exotic eateries springing up all over the place were it were not for their influence.

When asked about my own travels, I often reply; 'well there's really no need to, sooner or later the world comes to Oxford to save me the job!' And I do have a pet theory that at least 80% of the world's population-with-passports will probably pass through this cosmopolitan mecca at some point in their lives.

Some people take the fear that other cultures might 'take over' a little too far though...