Oxfringe, and what’s wrong with Slough

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So, last night we finally made it to Oxford (and to Oxfringe), having lived near Newbury, and my sister preferring to claim to live near Oxford than near Reading (though she’s definately nearer the latter than the former, but the former’s easier to get to, and more worth the trip) I’ve spent a fair (though not huge) amount of time haunting the city. I distinctly recall lurking on what appears to be an AMT Coffee’s forecourt, waiting to meet friends, in the shade of the trees there. Oh, and going to the pub with Peter (to play pool) and suddenly realising that without intending to we’d landed up in a gay pub. Not exactly a problem for me, but I did feel a bit sorry for ‘im :)

Anyhow, so, although it my head it’s stored as City:Beautiful:Touristy, I’d kind of forgotten just how pretty it really is. Living in Slough has kind of blunted the beauty of the world around me, because it is, to quote Kathryn “a dump”. Although Betjeman’s words (“Come friendly bombs and fall on Slough / It isn’t fit for humans now“)were written of a town in the second world war, it feels like they still apply now. I’m told by Wikipedia that there are a number of listed buildings in Slough, but the sprawling mass of uninspired box like houses hide them from you (I’ve noticed if you wander round you’ll find nice, interesting and quirky buildings hiding, showing a history not always so bland). The big thing that Slough suffers from is the same malady that struck my town of origin, it’s too close to London to develop anything of it’s own.

Going to Oxford (or indeed even to Reading, hardly a scintilating star of cultural greatness) quickly highlight’s Slough’s shortcomings. It appears to be a land of culture devoid, intellectually a vacuum. Ironically, Slough writer’s group doesn’t even meet in Slough :)

Interestingly, there’s a plan to spent millions redeveloping the hideously depressing grey monolith of a town-centre (which, if you were to film Life on Mars here, would have been incredibly easy, because great chunks of it still live in 1972 (I actually mean to go down and take a picture of me in 70’s garb with Brick, because it would actually be very hard to tell which decade it was really taken in)), which leads me to wonder – they do seem to want to build a new, whacking great library (somehow appropriate given that Amazon UK is based in Slough, a town which is also devoid of decent bookshops), and maybe there’ll be some opportunity for quirky little shops, and theatre spaces to be incorporated. But I suspect that it’ll be a standard monument to capitalism.

Anyhow, so enough about Slough. We left the town yesterday and headed up to Oxford, I somehow thought Oxford was somewhat closer than it actually is. It’s really about an hour away, not a bit over half an hour as my brain lied to me that it was. Having hunted down a parking space not dreadfully far from the city centre we wandered in; Kathryn succombing quickly to the shinyness of the place (and shops which’d not be out of place in her home city/town). oxford has interesting, strange little shops. I was, I must admit, in Awe (with a capital A) at finding a comic shop displaying Scott Pilgrim in the window.

But, we were on a mission. My navigation of Oxford is not necessarily terribly good, especially having not been there for a few years (apart from direct to the JR when my dad was dying) so I had the directions on a post-it note and we weren’t going to veer off to explore. That and we weren’t as early as I’d hoped. We arrived at the venue (Far from the Madding Crowd) for Ha ha from the madding crowd, a night of performance poetry and comedy.

Although Kathryn formally introduced me to performance poetry through the medium of the iTunes podcast, that was kind of putting a name to a face. Lurking in the battered collection of tapes (now MP3s, for the most part) was Henry Normal’s Encyclopaedia Poetica, which probably counts in some vein as performance poetry. However, when she put a name to a face she also reawakened a love of poetry inspired by my parents readings of fragments, my dad’s love of Betjeman, of… that bit of me that Kathryn reckons should have landed up in theatre.

Anyhow, so I was loosely aware of performance poetry, but I’d never actually seen any performed live. I’ve been to plenty of stand up comedy in my life though (and a few comedic plays too), so anyhow, when I saw this oxfringe event, my heart went “whoop!”, thinking instantly of Kathryn and also of what a nice evening out it’d be for free. Noticing that it didn’t start until 9pm was somewhat of a pain (‘cos we’re normally hitting the sack around 10 these days with Kathryn rising so early for work). But we chatted and decided to go. And I’m really glad we did.

I’m an awful reviewer, because I just am. The compere / presenter (Laura King) suffered somewhat from a lack of stage presence, which was a shame because some of her stuff was excellent. I don’t know if people were just there to see the people they were there to see (and therefore not interested in Laura), but I guess ‘cos I was there to see all people I’d never heard of before, well… Anyway, that aside I really enjoyed the whole thing (well, we headed off at half 10), I was slightly disappointed that we didn’t get to see Nishani Nijjar, the only female apart from the Laura King; she was due on stage and seemed to have disappeared, and so if she did appear it was after we’d left. I was a little concered at the beginning of Richard Soames routine – the stretch about alcoholics anonymous didn’t really make me laugh much; but he seemed to find his feet after a minute or two and turned out to be very funny.

But my favourite of the night was definately the performance poet Danny Chivers. I’ve always had a thing for political comedy, and political performance poetry; well, it’s awesome. Especially when it expresses rants I have bubbling inside me much better than I ever could. Go, click on the world of evil that is that MySpace link above and hear what you missed :)

Anyhow, we landed up back home at midnight, somewhat later than intended, having paused on the way back to go to G&D’s Ice Cream Cafe (specifically George and Delila’s) to grab me a coffee (for to help with staying awake on the drive back) and a cookie each. As a side point, the coffee was *excellent*, one of the very best Mocha’s I’ve had in a long, long time. Possibly since leaving Brizzle.

I’m quite tempted (if Kathryn fancies and doesn’t mind helping with the Petrol) to head back to Things on the Wall on Saturday – giving Kathryn the dangerous chance to see Oxford in the day time…

Anyhow, since it’s taken me over an hour to craft this entry (and I’ve spent the morning browsing) I really ought to get my act together and do something. I’ve finished the putting in of grout in the bathroom, it’s now ‘just’ polishing to do (and paint on a couple of things, like the door), and silicone sealing around the floor-skirting board / tile joins, and re-silicone sealing the shower again (because, for some evil bloody reason the silicone sealant just does *not* want to stick to the damn shower base).


Kate's allegedly a human (although increasingly right-wing bigots would say otherwise). She's definitely not a vampire, despite what some other people claim. She's also mostly built out of spite and overcoming oppositional-sexism, racism, and other random bullshit. So she's either a human or a lizard in disguise sent to destroy all of humanity. Either way, she's here to reassure that it's all fine.