Category Archives: Oxford: The Perspiring Dream

A Knight’s Night Tale

It’s not often that I sleep next to man. It’s even rarer that he is taller than me. I have never before slept next to a 6’6″ man who has been dead for over 600 years. But then again last night was different… but I can explain…

I hate my birthdays, have lost count of them, and find that I get grumpy being the centre of attention. So this year I decided to do something different and spent the night in Christ Church Cathedral in Oxford. I find it sad that poverty still blights British society, and this Advent I have decided to try to help. Thousands of us, often very close to home, are struggling with debt, homelessness, isolation, depression, addiction, abuse, or violence. I have also been deeply impressed by the work of Church Urban Fund and wanted to support them by raising money as part of Christ Church’s Advent Sleepout Challenge. I was overwhelmed by the generosity of my friends and family when I asked them, rather than buy me a pint, to contribute to the CUF’s appeal. If you would like, you can still contribute here.

It was a really exciting experience, with a great group of friends. I found a spot on the floor next to a tall chap called John de Nowers. While I had opted for a red sleeping bag and hoodie, John had chosen a coat of chainmail, broadsword, tilting helmet, and had by his feet, his pet lion. But then again he died in 1386.

Nowers Monument

First Light over Oxford

First Light over Oxford

And here is the fantastic video that those nice people at the Church Urban Fund have made about all the fun we had!

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Super Exhibition Saturday: Ice & Diamonds

All you London based culture vultures might want to check out two interesting exhibitions in our fair capital over the next month or so.

The first is called ‘Enduring Eye: The Antarctic Legacy of Sir Ernest Shackleton and Frank Hurley‘ at the Royal Geographic Society. The Enduring Eye exhibition will open to the public on Saturday 21 November, exactly 100 years to the day that the crushed Endurance sank beneath the sea ice of the Weddell Sea, and run until 28 February 2016.

The RGS website describes how, as one of the first truly modern documentary photographers and film-makers, Australian born Hurley hoped to have his images seen at as large scale size as possible. 100 years later, this intention will be honoured with giant dimension prints, some over 2 metres in width and height, at the heart of the exhibition, providing viewers with a sense of awe and wonder.

In addition to the newly digitised images, the exhibition will include a number of ‘precious survivors’ – personal artefacts that were carried through every stage of the successive journeys for survival from the Weddell Sea to Elephant Island and onto South Georgia.

The second collection of objects of wonder can be found in The Victoria and Albert Museum’s ‘Bejewelled Treasures‘ exhibition, which also opens to the public on Saturday.

More than 100 objects owned by Sheikh Hamad Bin Abdullah Al Thani, a member of the Qatari royal family, have been loaned to the V&A for the show, which explores 400 years of Indian jewellery. It is being exhibited as part of the museum’s India festival.

As well as the objects from the Al Thani collection, our Queen has lent three pieces from the crown jewels including the spectacular “Timur ruby”. This ‘ruby’ is a source of much intrigue since it was never actually owned by Timur and is not even a ruby. (It is in fact a very large, 352-carat spinel, a type of red stone found in Badakhshan.)  The spinel was owned by Jahangir in the 17th century, and in 1851 it was given to Queen Victoria after the British annexed the Punjab. It seems a trifle odd to me to have your country ‘annexed’ only to then send a whacking great jewel to your new Empress, but it’s a nice touch.


Screen Shot 2015-11-19 at 17.36.10

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The Perspiring Dream…

Sometimes I would love to know what goes through the minds of Oxford University’s administrators… and indeed the City Planning Department. I imagine it’s something like this: “I know, we have been building staggeringly beautiful buildings for nigh on a thousand years; let’s have a spate of really ugly ones, just for a change? After all the 1960’s produced some beauties didn’t they?Old Oxford New Oxford

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Menus and Options…

Menus can be difficult things. Sitting in our local pub at the weekend, Becky and I were astounded by the total nonsense they had cluttered their menu with; so many superfluous words, ‘quirky’ descriptions of pub grub staples, and wildly inappropriate (and probably misleading… but we did not actually eat there) terminology for a menu. I like having a good grumble about these things as much as the next boozer bound miserable old codger, but I thought I would do some research into the ‘theory’ of menus. It transpires it is something of a science.

Don’t get me wrong; I am a firm adherent to the school of thought of using many words when one would do nicely, but something about a pie being described as “friendly” gets my hackles up. Nor indeed could a limp lump of chicken, fried to within an inch of its very existence in a greasy pub kitchen in Oxford, best be described as “Authentic”, and please don’t get me started on why burgers have to be served on a stray roof tile or plywood plinth. And breathe.

Anyhow, in a really informative article in New York Magazine, William Poundstone dissects the marketing tricks built into menus—for example, how something as simple as typography can drive you toward or away from that £39 steak, and explains puzzles, anchors, stars, and plowhorses. So now we know. It’s well worth a read, but sadly wont stop your “sun drenched, dressing drizzled, superfood, hand pulled, artisanal, 120% corn fead beef patty” (aka the beef burger) arriving on a Ford Escort’s hubcap, or rusty garden trowel.

trowel plate

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The malady of malapropism

A good friend of mine is constantly on the lookout for incorrect grammar and idiotic use of idiom. So much so it has become something of a sport for me to try to squeeze in as many malapropisms as possible during dialogue, sending him into fits of frustration and incandescent rage. It is fun, there is little else to amuse us in Oxford, and I enjoy upsetting his apple tart.

So, if you ride a tantrum bicycle, keep a fire distinguisher handy, always read the destructions, suffer pigments of your imagination, are the very pineapple of politeness, or have spread dysentery among the ranks, you might enjoy this list of common mistakes. It peaked my interest.

intensive porpoise


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The Maharaja and the Monarch

A good friend of mine, San Cowan, has just published a brilliant article about a visit to the UK by The Nepalese Maharaja Chandra Shum Shere Rana in 1908. His research is first rate, and the article describes how the Maharaja forged close ties in the UK, especially the former Viceroy of India, Lord Curzon. Curzon was Chancellor of Oxford at the time of the meeting, and The Bodleian was recipient of a substantial number of texts thanks to the intervention of the Maharaja. These are used to this day.


A full copy of Sam’s article can be found here.

SS Chandra Group

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Bloodhound and the Traffic Wardens

Despite this being parked on Keble Road this afternoon, I did not see one Traffic Warden proffering their usual friendly Penalty Notices. Still with a top speed in excess of 1000mph (no, that’s not a typo) catching Bloodhound might be an issue. Until it reaches to a corner…





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