Shut up and drive
I went to Oxford yesterday. My other half's parents and aunt and uncle were going to be there for the day visiting his cousin who is at university there so we thought we'd go along and do the family thing. My complete ignorance of the geography of the south east of England reared its ugly head yet again as I assumed Oxford was around half an hour away by train and, seemingly, it is on other days, but when I checked the very ugly National rail website it told me I'd be glued to a train seat for 1 hour 45 minutes.
On my travels I had seen the Oxford Tube coach which promised departures every ten minutes and whose garish livery trilled proudly of onboard Wi-Fi and comfortable seating. The other half's auntie said it was OK and pretty speedy, so to save money (it's been one of those months), we decided to take the coach. First mistake of the day.
We got to Victoria and made a decent attempt to find the coach station from the tube. It seems that 'they' don’t want you to find the coach station at all. We dutifully followed arrow after arrow and endless signposts which led us past all manner of unlovely shops and 'eateries'. The weather was awful and very hair-sleekness unfriendly and I could feel my ire bubbling like organic porridge so was relieved to see the very coach we needed waiting at a bus stop as we rounded yet another corner. We got on and asked the driver for a return to Oxford. He asked when we were coming back. We said the same day. We sat down and realised that while he'd sold my other half a return, I’d got a single. I went back to politely point out the error only to have him turn on me with a crazed look and loudly deny I ever asked for a return. Twice. His pupils were getting large and clearly such details mattered to him so I demurred no further and allowed him to think he'd won, silently seething. My ticket was 'upgraded' and I slumped back into my seat, ready to numb the pain of the journey with some serious internet junk browsing. Alas promises of Wi-Fi proved to be big fat lies and I instead spent most of the journey staring out of the window, marvelling at how weird and unattractive London gets the further out you go.
I remembered now why I hadn’t spent more than 20 minutes on a coach since the late '90s: they're a magnet for weirdos, tightarses and trainophobes. We had the obligatory teen playing tinny R&B through his mobile phone, a fluffy-haired corduroy enthusiast switching seats every two seconds and a Next underwear-sporting student who blabbed on his mobile constantly, pausing only to get out of his seat to find something in his bag in the overhead locker, giving us a delightful view of his pale arse-crack and aforementioned budget underwear,
After a soul-shattering, unremarkable journey of 2 hours and 10 minutes we arrived in Oxford. It was only my second visit. My first, 10 years ago, had been in the summer when I was in charge of about 100 foreign language students who wanted to be there as much as I did. My only sightseeing then consisted of the McDonald's (it's all the Spaniards wanted to do) and a desperately outdated shopping centre. Oxford has been in surgery and had its nose and boobs done since then: the shops were OK and there were loads of places to eat or grab a drink. There was something not quite right about the place, though. Sure, it was dreaming spires-a-gogo and full of lots of historic buildings, but they all seemed to be part of the university and not open to the Oxford masses. There was also a number of hulking great 1960s monstrosities, leading me to conclude that the council must have been freebasing when approving planning permission or,more realistically, just open to kickbacks.
Eventually I got ornamental building fatigue and even singing 'oooold buildiiiing' to the tune of 'Goldfinger' every time I saw one soon lost its novelty value. There isn't really a lot to say about Oxford that you can’t get from watching an old episode of Inspector Morse. Despite being tooled up with relics and ornate architecture, I didn't get much of a positive vibe from the place. Maybe it’s nicer in summer. The afternoon went all too quickly and soon it was time to get back onto the coach of doom and hotfoot it back to London. We waited in the rain for ages as rival operators' coaches came and went. Finally, our chariot arrived and we wearily clambered aboard. Again we were lacking Wi-Fi so I read in semi-darkness until London started appearing through the rain-splattered windows. At Victoria we got off and headed for the nearest pub to get out of the cold and rain. The drummer from McFly, Harry (why do I know his name? I'm 32!), was in there drinking with friends who all looked like foetuses. He looked far too boring and ordinary to be famous, but that’s true of most 'celebs' I've laid eyes on.
So after two Sundays of venturing beyond my SE1 comfort zone, I was looking forward to a quiet one next week, but alas I'll be in Yorkshire for a wedding. A family wedding at that. Shudder.