Five Nights in Oxford

Actually, no nights in Bangkok, but isn’t it a good song? I’m now writing from Oxford, having moved here a few days ago. Internet access is back to being available via my mobile phone until I and my housemates can sort out some sort of wireless shenanigans, but I’ve slummed it before so I can slum it again.

When you’re online all the time, with ADSL or an equivalent always-on, broadband technology, the internet seems so worthwhile. When you’re paying per megabyte at home, or paying per 20 minutes at an internet café, suddenly it loses a lot of its importance. When I was at home, I could easily spend all day long browsing blogs and news websites and the like, but when I only have 20 minutes, I struggle to fill them. Your time online becomes a frantic dash against the clock, and you think to yourself “I’ll only look at the important things,” and you realise that there aren’t any important things.

When you’re online all the time, you find ways to organise that time, you use RSS feeds and such to manage the 600 blogs you regularly read. You maintain a huge list of bookmarks and have a dozen browser tabs open at any one time. You flit between IRC, the web, email and newsgroups, constantly hungry for more content. But when you’re forced to remain offline most of the time, you find yourself not even bothering to check the BBC news website more than once a day.

Jesus! I’ve gone off on a tangent already. I was supposed to be writing about my initial experiences in this new home, but instead I’ve written three paragraphs about how crap the internet is when you have to pay for it. Let’s get back on track.

Slumming it.

I arrived in Oxford three days before my possessions did, to allow me time to check out the area, work out bus routes and where I was in relation to important locations such as all the internet cafes and the infestation of Tesco branches. I discovered many things about myself during those first few days. For instance, I discovered that no matter how tired I am, I am entirely unable to sleep in a sleeping bag. I can get into a sleeping bag, and I can zip it up, and then I can move around a bit and get it to wrap itself around me, corkscrew-like. I discovered that there is nothing quite like falling out of bed whilst wrapped tightly in a sleeping bag, and experiencing the slowly-dawning realisation that a) you are falling, b) you still have time to steady yourself, and c) your hands are pinned tightly to your sides.

Thump. I discovered that I don’t do very well unless I have regular access to my email. It’s not like I generally get much that’s worth reading — spam, newsletters, junk from Quality Paperbacks Direct who still won’t leave me be — but I like to at least know that I don’t have anything worth reading.

I discovered that listening to 6Music nearly 18 hours a day for three months has given me an almost pathological addiction to the station, which has led to me buying a DAB radio on impulse from Dixons so I can continue listening to it.

I discovered that attempting to rotate a bed 90° in a room that isn’t big enough to permit such a rotation is not something my body is really built for.


I have, in fact, settled in very quickly. I’m already familiar with the local buses and already know that Oxford bar Copa is expensive and stylish yet plays good music, isn’t overcrowded on a Friday night and is right next door to a quiet old man’s pub. I know where I can get online, where I can see a film (art house or mainstream), where I can get a haircut and where I could buy a Nintendo Virtual Boy if I only had £130 to spare (if only!). Five days of intense reconnaissance has left me feeling quite familiar with the place, but it’s big and quirky enough to leave me plenty of time to explore further, which will be necessary if I’m to find a decent greasy-spoon café for big fried breakfasts that don’t cost upwards of £6.

People generally seem nice. Even in Burger King, they don’t appear to have sent their staff on the usual “Be an annoying little shit” courses, which confused me today while trying to buy food as I was running on autopilot:

ME: Bacon double-cheeseburger please.
HER: 99p please.
ME: No thanks, just the burger.
HER: …

Quite astonishing. I didn’t ask for fries and a coke and she didn’t ask me if I wanted them, she just accepted my order and charged me for it. I like that. She’ll probably be fired by this time next week.

First day at work tomorrow. I wonder how that’ll go.