Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Oxford: a tremendous (painfully realistic) comedy drama

A few nights ago, I had dinner with two friends at the Standard Tandoori on Walton Street. It's an institution, cherished for its kitch interiors and warm staff as much as its food. I believe a local petition stopped it being forcibly closed. That's democracy right there. Anyway, one of my friends, an American, is leaving Oxford tomorrow, while the other two of us (a Pom and I) are due to depart in the next few months or so. It was a final hurrah, at least until we arrange our graduation ceremonies on the same day. But that could be a year away, maybe longer.

The American asked us to list all of the loves and hates of Oxford. ('Let's start with HATE', she said.) We came up with a few things:

Hates: smug Rhodes scholars, thick pollution and perennial allergies, narrow range of healthy eating options (we conceded that this has improved during our time here), terrible night clubs, feeling like you're regressing socially - relying on cheap gossip and discussions of national stereotypes to bond with people with whom you do not share a common history.

Loves: being somewhere imbued with the past, riding our bikes around (the breeze on your ears and shoulders), the Isis River, the University Parks, the arrival of the blossom trees, late night conversations in college bars, the opportunity to meet so many people from all around the world, its enchanting gardens and cloisters, the benefits of the bubble (minimal academia-haters, actual or perceived!).

But, I've got to say, the conversation fizzled out pretty quickly and we moved onto the social acceptability of full mouth kissing for casual greetings and the U.S. healthcare debate.

The next day, I considered why that topic deflated and it struck me that Oxford is not a place of huge dissonance. It is not a town that you could proclaim as a love-hate affair. It is for the most part very pleasant. While it is frustrating and stifling, you quickly learn its rhythms. You can't really hate a place that dutifully serves up malaise each of the three terms during weeks 4 and 8. Oxford's lows are as reliable as May Day.

One thing I will miss about England (eventually - I am not leaving any time soon, so I really don't need to embark on this nostalgic holiday) is some of the British television. I love it. I have already banged on about Stephen Fry, Frankie Boyle and other quiz show stars in other posts. Here, I plug their tremendous (painfully realistic) comedy dramas.

Here are some clips of two of my current favourites, Outnumbered and Jam and Jerusalem. The first is about a London family in which the parents are 'outnumbered' by their three cheeky children. It is semi-improvisational, chiefly the childrens' lines. The second (recommended to me by Miranda and her Man) is about a typical English village, focusing on the characters and crises of the local Women's Guild. ('Jerusalem' in the title refers to England's most popular patriotic song).

Jam and Jerusalem teasers on YouTube

Hope you enjoy them. I haven't had much energy for blogging of late. I am positively stressed out, as evidenced by me trying to recall at 3am this morning the characters from Street Fighter II (1991) on Nintendo and connect them to their signature moves and sounds: Sonic Boom!


droid said...

I'm not sure I've ever been to a good club anywhere. Do they really exist, or are they just a product of nostalgia and the level of inebriation on entry?

The History Enthusiast said...

I think I've been to that restaurant!

My time in Oxford was so wonderful, and I miss it every day :)

As far as clubs go, do people still go to the Purple Turtle? That was popular with the international students when I was there.

Academic, Hopeful said...

TEH - I have to admit that I ended up at the Purple Turtle on Friday night. Hadn't been there in over a year. I felt like the mother hen. It's a real English undegrad scene these days.

Droid - There are some clubs in which we willingly suspend our disbelief a little more than others without the aid of booze - those with pretty things, pretty people, good music etc. But I suspect it also helps to be in your teens and/or simple-minded. Clubs pretty much suck.

Good Enough Woman said...

Well now I'm feeling bad about bashing Brit TV in the past. In fact, my most recent post is about my pursuit of some good TV-show DVDs to take with me on my UK trip that's coming soon. But perhaps part of the problem is I don't know which Brit shows to look for or when to look for them. I'm always up late because of jet lag, trolling around finding strange and weird things. I've even found porn! Right there on the television!

I love, love, love Stephen Fry on QI. I'm always so excited when I stumble upon it while I'm over there. The problem is I never know when it will be on.

I love the "Outnumered" clips! I'll check out the others, too.

neuro said...

Sonic Boom was Guile!


Ink said...

Sounds like a rather bittersweet phase...nearing the end (yay!) but having to leave (boo). Hugs!

And hope that all work is going well for you. Sending you magical relaxation vibes and bonus break times.

Academic, Hopeful said...

Thanks for the comments, people.

Neuro - you saved my life. I thought it was Guile, but couldn't quite picture it.

GEW - you're not completely off the mark with your assessment. It's all about finding the right niche. You wouldn't, for instance, put all your money on the crime or sitcom genres here.

Academic, Hopeful said...

Ink - tis a funny time indeed. But I don't have to give up my darling Stephen just yet. Postdoc in London looking likely.

Ink said...

Oooooh! That's marvellous! Keep us posted. Good for you!

Ink said...

Hiya AH: Just popping by to say I hope things are going well. Miss you but know that you're engaged on top priority mission. Wishing you well!