Leaving London for Oxford is proving to be a huge learning curve. On Saturday morning I decided to cycle into town to do our food shopping at the Covered Market. I left the house on my bike and peddled into town as fast as my weak, feeble London legs could peddle. ‘How delightful’ I mused to myself, and I was halfway to feeling as though I had landed in the middle of a Miss Marple when I was met with a plague of tourists. Not so idyllic. The town was absolutely buzzing with tourists. Everywhere. Now, coming from London I am, of course, used to irritating tourists. But they are easily avoided in London – there is less space in Oxford so we are confined to walk the same streets as the grockles. And I have discovered something, my inner-Londoner has not withered away, she bursts forth as I huff and mutter and barge people out of my way.
Once I had fought my way into the Covered Market I felt that things could only get better. All the fresh fruit and veg, the amazing cheese counter, butchers and delicious cookie shop enticed me in to the relative calm. But I ran into a bit of difficulty. You see, as much as it pains me to admit this – I had absolutely no idea where to start. How much is 100 grams? How do these women around me know what to do? I felt like a complete fraud as I walked around pathetically wondering how much of everything to ask for. And then I realised, I have grown up lacking the skills that were second nature to my grandmother and mother. I am used to going to a supermarket where everything is ready weighed and packaged with a nice price tag stamped onto it. Market shopping is a whole new world.
I rallied myself and dived in. I started with cheese. I bought a wonderful local cheese called Oxford Isis which is absolutely heavenly and very smelly indeed. So far so good – I then bought some strawberries and some delicious figs. It was when I went to the fish counter that all went pear-shaped. I have a weakness for Scallops – which are very expensive but the label had an alright price for 100g so I thought I would treat Mr Bell and myself to a yummy starter. I boldly asked for 100g and was horrified when two scallops were placed in a sorry little bag and handed to me. Mortified, I handed over my cash and fled the scene. TWO SCALLOPS?! I could have snorted them up – so I have learnt that 100g is not very much at all. And I have also learnt that I am not one of the fortunate few who can afford to buy Scallops.
I then gave the butchers a go but feeling as if the word ‘novice’ was stamped across my forehead I went for the easiest thing to order – four sausages. And then I scuttled away with my hard-won goodies to find my bike amidst a sea of tourists.
Aside from my disastrous first attempt at ordering food by the weight; pootling about the side streets around the college buildings was idyllic in the summer sunshine. I made time to stop for yet another scone at the Vaults & Garden cafe which is my favourite cafe in Oxford. And which is where a couple of Saturday’s ago I had the most delicious breakfast of tea and toast (picture above, forgive the poor quality – I took it with my phone). Is there any breakfast more satisfying than simple homemade bread, toasted and slathered with butter and homemade strawberry jam? And for 60p? Heaven. I am going to become a very regular sight in the Vaults cafe as they serve fab tea and I can burrow in and read my book underneath the 13th century vaulted ceiling.
Yesterday I went home to Sussex for our annual family get together at Horn Fair in Ebernoe. I wrote about it in a bit more detail last year here. Four generations of our family were present as it was my six month old niece’s first fair – I have been going since I was a baby and I still don’t know the rules for Cricket! Perhaps my niece will grasp them more quickly than me! It all seems very slow and is interspersed with a tea break, a lunch break and another tea break. Meanwhile spectators are languishing around with their own thermos flasks and picnics – not really my thing I must say. Don’t get me wrong I love a picnic – but not when balls are flying about. But it is somehow wry and a bit subversive of my family to repeatedly sit through this every single year – as only one of my mother’s cousin’s is into cricket (in a big way) the rest of us couldn’t give two figs. But we always clap heartedly when it is required.
Anyway, I am off to battle with Jane Eyre. All your comments from my last post have made me even more determined to conquer the nineteenth century. Wish me luck – I am going in armed with a cup of tea and, oddly, some strawberry jelly.