Tag Archives: oxford

WHAT’S ON: The Muddy Guide 28 Sept – 4 Oct

28 Sep

Village Hall sale, Toast, Central Oxford, Thursday 4 – Friday 5 October

Oh joy! Muddy Stilettos loves nothing more than a designer bargain and here comes Toast with a whopper 70% off its gorgeous range of clothes and homeware on this two day stop-off in Oxford.

If you’re not familiar with Toast, it’s all about comfort, individualism and quirky style. Loads of cool knitwear, slouchy PJs and cashmere socks, lovely bedlinens and country style (but more log cabin than tally ho if you get my drift).

The sale starts at a rather civilised 10am each day but knowing how popular the brand is, I wouldn’t leave it too long to saunter in. I’ll have been around twice by then.

Free entry. The Newman Rooms, Oxford University Catholic Chaplaincy, The Old Place, Rose Place, St Aldate’s,Oxford, OX1 1RD

Thame Food Festival, Saturday 29 September

Ah, Ambassador, are you cooking at the Thame Food Fest this year?

The Thame Food Festival on the Bucks/Oxon border, now in its fifth year, seems to be growing at an exponential rate and has gained a reputation as one of the best food fests in the region. Raymond Blanc’s patronage as ‘Ambassador’ (quick, whip out the Ferraro Rocher) doesn’t harm of course, but there are also celebrity chef demonstrations, expert talks, kids workshops, food-making stalls and of course loads of exhibitors to buy from. If you’re not familiar with it, the centre of Thame is a charming location – wide streets, thatched and perod properties –  and if you’re bringing kids, there’s an excellent play park and Cuttlebrook woodland walk just off the high street at Southern Road recreation ground in the unlikely event that they get bored of sampling anchovies and olives.

Free entry. 9am – 5pm. www.thamefoodfestival.co.uk

Starbucks coffee machine, from Oct 2

The ‘Verismo’. Nice machine, shame about the name.

I meant to write about this yesterday but, you know, I had one of those days where I sat down to write in the evening and headplanted into the keyboard with fatigue. No doubt what I needed was a double shot of coffee from this rather fabulous Starbucks coffee machine, ready to take on Nespresso in an all out caffeine war. The new single-serve machine makes your favourite Starbucks drinks, including caffe lattes and filter coffee in 60 seconds or less and though Nespresso have it on the colour choices, you have to admit it – this design sure is perdy.

£149. Available only in Selfridges London, Birmingham & Manchester, and online from 2 Oct. www.selfridges.com
The Big Bang restaurant reopens, Castle Quarter, Central Oxford, from 29 September

Oxford institution The Big Bang (bangers and mash extraordinaire) was without a home when its lease expired in the Jericho area last year and students, trendies, and cool purveyors of local sausages sobbed for months. From Saturday it has smart new home in the Castle Quarter in central Oxford, with BBQ terrace, live jazz and a whole lot of sizzlers. The owner, Max, also runs the acclaimed Oxford Jazz Festival so you know that your tenner to stay around and listen to music after your meal will be well worth it.

42 Oxford Castle Quarter, Oxford Ox1 1AY. Tel: 01865 249413. www.thebigbangrestaurants.co.uk 


ART: Last few days of Jenny Saville’s exhibition in Oxford

10 Sep

Jenny Saville at Modern Art Oxford

If you’re going into Oxford this week, take a 30-second detour from the Westgate Centre and see the last few days of the Jenny Saville exhibition at lovely Modern Art Oxford gallery in Pembroke Street. I popped in on a whim and had a lovely quiet half an hour admiring her work, some of which I quietly snapped on my iphone (see above and below).

It’s Oxford-based Saville’s first solo exhibition in public UK space and whether or not you love her unflinching, sometimes grotesque depictions of the human form, her large scale works leave a powerful impression.

The fab outside undercover cafe – a little piece of industrial cool in central Oxford

There are two floors of her art, including her latest drawings, the Reproduction series, where Saville takes inspiration from Renaissance Virgin and Child paintings. Meanwhile,  down in the basement there’s a film of Saville in conversation with a curator from the Ashmolean. I know what you’re thinking – that sounds bloody awful! You’d rather stick pins in your eyes.  But actually, it was really interesting and held me for a good 15 minutes until the lure of the coffee shop became too great.

If you haven’t been to the MAO coffee shop – well hello. It’s outdoor but with a roof and has a lovely industrial funky feel to it that is really reminiscent of central Auckland or New York cafes. Those with kids can let them toddle around in relative safety, while you chomp down the cake (or which there are many). Incidentally on Saturdays between 1-3pm, art activities related to current exhibitions are available at the cafe for kids so you’re virtually guaranteed a coffee in peace during those hours. Not that I’m obsessed or anything.

The Jenny Saville exhibition ends 16 September. Modern Art Oxford, 30 Pembroke Street, Oxford, OX1 1BP. Tel: 01865 722 733. www.modernartoxford.org.uk

Fashion: Spotted in the shops…

23 Aug

I took this (rather blurry) photo in Oxford’s TopShop yesterday. Could it be that ballet pumps are big news again this season?!!

Faux skin, studs, nude, and also two-tone  (not here) are all the ticket and a cheapish way of updating a wardrobe for autumn.

Go fetch!

Your social life sorted: The Muddy Guide 10-16 August

10 Aug

Oxford Art Fair, North Hinskey, Sat 11 – Sun 12 August

I think this one’s a goody. The Oxford Art Fair takes place this weekend in the beautiful gardens of Oxford’s much-recommended The Fishes country pub, featuring 40 emerging artists and hundreds of paintings, multi-media thingies and sculpture. I’ve been dying to get to The Fishes for ages – the pub is set in 3 acres of wooded grounds leading down to the banks of a street and sounds just idyllic. You can order a picnic from the bar and find your perfect spot for a lazy lunch. Throw in some kids entertainment and a bit of sunshine, and there you have it – a weekend masterpiece.
Saturday from 11am-8pm, Sunday 11am-5pm. The Fishes will be open till 11pm.
The Fishes, North Hinksey, OX2 0NA Oxford. Tel:01865 861778.

Wilderness Festival, Cornbury Park, Charlbury, Oxfordshire Fri 10- Sun 12 August

Yes, yes, I know I’ve been bleating on about this festival for a while but it really is the best one in the area by a country mile this summer and finally it’s here! There are still tickets available for the event which includes a masked ball, live music from Wilco and Spiritualised, yoga, talks from The Idler Academy and Granta, hot tubs, cool cafes and bookshops, bushcraft, cricket, horseriding, cabaret, fly fishing, zumba, jewellery making, gardening, theatre…. you name it, it’s there. A brilliant day out.

Wheels on the Bus, Oxford Playhouse, Oxford, Mon 13 – Wed 15 August

I’ve never quite got over taking my son to see Hi Five (remember them?) when he was three. It cost me £8 for a spinning light that he broke within the first ten minutes. Then he nodded off during the interval and I had to stagger out of the theatre with him snoring in my arms. Nevertheless, taking toddlers to the theatre is just one of things you have to do as a mum, so if you have little ones of your own, Wheels on the Bus might be a good option. The show is for 2+ (babies of 18 months or younger can go for free and sit on your lap) and runs for 90 minutes – plenty of time for Buster the big red bus to drive you totally nuts with If You’re Happy And You Know It and Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes. A nice touch is the free kids toys available in the circle bar after the show. Get your children settled, then head straight for the spirits to restore your equilibrium.
Adults £11, children £9. www.oxfordplayhouse.com

Ballet Essentials workshop with the English National Ballet, Windsor, Fri 17 August

This is an early heads up on this event as it’s bound to be terrifyingly oversubscribed. There’s an opportunity for diddy ballet dancers between 4 and 7 years old (awww!) to participate in a two hour workshop with the ENB at The Windsor Arts and Culture Centre. There are three days of pre-workshop ballet lessons with the wonderfully-monikered Miss Lucy of Blossom Ballet School (you only need to participate in one) between 14-16 August before the ENB Ballet Essentials workshop on 17 August. But before you imagine a kind of junior dysfunctional Black Swan scenario, fear not – it’s all sweet and benign with music, props and ballet stories helping to improve your little one’s movement and dance technique.
Ballet Essentials Workshop 1 for 4.5 – 5 years 10am-12pm;  workshop 2 for 5.5 – 7 years 1-3pm. All classes £24.  For more info, email lucy@blossomballet.com

Head for the coast

Studland Beach, Dorset. A beach like this calls for a pina colada

This could be the final hurrah for summer so I’d leg it on down to the seaside for the day. I’m not a pebble beach fans so anyone who likes to contort themselves on a stony mattress had better avert their eyes now! A few weeks ago we went back to our favourite beach Mudeford, near Christchurch in Dorset (see previous review here) and it was just lovely. I’d also highly recommend  the National Trust-owned Studland Beach & Nature Reserve (several beaches, one with a sweet cafe), Lyme Regis Town Beach for the pretty crescent beach in front of the Cobb, right in the heart of the town; Sandbanks beach in Poole – huge swathes of golden sand, plus the fab Sandbanks Beach Cafe, a BBQ facility on the beach and watersports facilities. Or if you really can’t be bothered to battle through the traffic to hit the hot spot on the coast, why not cheat? The Cotswold Water Park has some of the best watersports facilities around, plus the largest inland paddling beach in the UK next to a picnic area.   www.cotswoldcountrypark.co.uk

Your social life sorted: The Muddy Guide 3 – 9 Aug

2 Aug

Crazy Bear Champagne Lunch, throughout August & September

They had me at ‘champagne’. Those lovely Crazy Bear chaps have come up with an ingenious way to entice us into their establishments over the next two months. From Monday to Friday in August and September, go for lunch at one of the Crazy Bear restaurants (Stadhampton, Beaconsfield, Covent Garden or Fitsrovia, pictured above) and you’ll get free champagne throughout the meal, as long as you drink ‘responsibly’ (I’m guessing this means not falling off your chair). I don’t know about you but I can do some serious damage to a magnum of champers over a couple of hours, so my advice is to choose your venue, select your poison (rose vintage or non vintage cuvee premium champagne) and get yourself absolutely, gloriously piddled.

National Trust Kids-Go-Free month. Nationwide, throughout August.

Does what it says on the tin, but if you enjoy the glorious NT castles, stately homes and beaches such as Pembrokeshire’s Broad Haven (above), now’s the time for all the family to enjoy Britain’s national treasures at a knockdown price.

Oxford Playhouse Plays Out, Castle Street Square, Oxford 2-3 August

The Oxford Playhouse continues its community tour by setting up their tent in Castle Street Square. Inside they promise brilliant shows for children, along with workshops, crafts and games, plus somewhere for frazzled parents to relax with a cuppa – all for free. If you can’t get to Oxford, fear not, it moves to Berinsford Village Fete on 4 Aug, then Millets Farm Centre Frilford 5-6 Aug, Kidlington on 8 Aug, and then Wilderness Festival from the 10-12 Aug. A dead cert.

Cartoon Science show, at Science Live Oxford, 6 August

I’ve written briefly about Science Live before, but if you missed it, it’s a fantastic, modern, fun facility in central Oxford that manages to enthuse kids of all ages (as well as adults if that’s your bag) about practical science. Usually you can rock up there and just let the kids loose on the soft play and simple experiments, but you can also book for special interractive shows – my oldest son has raved about the two he’s previously been to. The Cartoon Science show explores the weird and wonderful laws of physics that exist in the cartoon world, so it’s perfectly pitched at 8+ kids while the littlies barge about the main area. Booking essential.

Arthouse film delights, on general release 3 August

The Dark Knight Rises is all very well, and I love Hollywood as much as the next girl, but I like a bit of arthouse too. With this in mind, there are a couple of cool films you may be interested in (or if you’re not, I am, haha!). Design fans will love Eames: The Architect and the Painter, a brilliant documentary narrated by James Franco, exploring the creative and personal relationship between husband and wife team Charles and Ray Eames, still regarded as one of America’s most important design partnerships. I can’t find a local cinema brave enough to run that one so it may be a London visit (or if anyone knows different, please let me know). Also worth checking out is Searching for Sugar Man (playing at Oxford’s Phoenix Picturehouse next week) a much-admired documentary that tells a gripping story of two music fans who go in search of early 1970s American singer-songwriter Rodriguez, discovering him in a rundown area of Detroit. They eventually persuade him to go on a comeback tour in South Africa where he’s now a national treasure. OK, that’s enough culture for one night, I’m off to read Hello! in the bath.  

My Favourite Places: Araminta Wraith, 24, dancer, English National Ballet

25 Jun

Araminta Wraith (pictured third left), dancing with the ENB and Flawless in the current tour of  ‘Against Time’, at The Aylebury Waterside 30 June-1 July.


The Gatsby, Berkhamsted

I’m from Berkhamsted originally and my parents still live here, so I come back quite a bit. I took my boyfriend for a posh dinner here last time we visited, and it was really lovely. It sits below The Rex Cinema, one of the most beautiful art deco cinema houses in the country, so it’s great to have a meal or even just a cocktail with the pianist playing in the background, and then go and watch a movie.
97 High St, Berkhamsted HP4 2DG. Tel: 01442 870403. www.thegatsby.net

Jamie’s Italian, George St Oxford

When we tour in Oxford, we often go to Jamie’s Italian after the show, partly because it’s just down the road so very convenient, but also because they’re so lovely in there, staying open late for us. The pasta is delicious – I really enjoy my food and the idea that ballet dancers don’t eat isn’t true. We wouldn’t be able to dance for hours on stage if we didn’t eat properly, but we definitely eat healthily.
Jamie’s Italian, Oxford 24-26 George Street, Oxford, OX1 2AE view map Tel: 01865 838383. www.jamieoliver.com/italian/oxford

Amersham Old High St

This is such a beautiful bit of the town, and there’s a run of gorgeous fashion and interiors boutiques down Amersham Old High St. I don’t need much excuse to shop!

The Alford Arms, Frithsden

This gastropub is amazing, and I always come here with my parents – it’s just won Hertfordshire Dining Pub of the Year for the seventh time so it’s renowned in the area. It’s a pretty Victorian pub in a lovely rural location right on the village green, and near the Ashridge Estate [see below]. I always feel like I’m getting a good break from London when I come here; it’s so relaxed and homely. I have the Sunday roast every time – I can’t help myself.
The Alford Arms, Frithsden, Nr. Hemel Hempstead, HP1 3DD. Tel 01442 86 44 80. www.alfordarmsfrithsden.co.uk

Ashridge Estate (National Trust)

This is the closest National Trust place to where my parents live and I love going walking in the woods here. The estate runs across the borders of Hertfordshire and Buckinghamshire, along the main ridge of the Chiltern Hills so luckily there’s plenty of it. www.nationaltrust.org.uk/ashridge

Home Counties couple in funky jazz shock!

19 Mar

You know you’re getting old when you get excited about sitting down to listen to live bands. S and I went to see The Heavy Dexters last week (‘Oxford’s coolest jazz band’ according to, er, the band…) at Joe’s Bar & Grill in Summertown  in the full knowledge that we had comfy seats at the front and dinner to boot – and very civilised it was too.

Joe’s is a good value bar/restaurant on Banbury Road that I probably wouldn’t have given a second look had I not known about the live music on Thursday nights. If you’re a local, it’s probably a very safe, friendly bet for a decent burger and a beer but nothing to recommend here.

But down the back of the restaurant is a large chandelier, a few mirrors, a lot of jazz photos, plenty of tables and chairs and a small but perfectly formed stage. There seem to be a large number of tribute bands who play at Joe’s – The Secret Police and Absolutely Bowie are due to perform soon -but there’s also the occasional gem that’s worth booking a table to watch.

The Heavy Dexters bumped and grinded for two hours and by the end of the night the restaurant was packed and the crowd were cheering for more. It can’t only because they had a ridiculously good looking bloke on bass guitar (though it certainly helps), or that the bookish 50-something on keyboards played with a kind of camp abandon that moved the audience from initial piss-take through to admiration and awe.  Mostly it was because they were actually really good. If you like your jazz with funk attached, I’d check them out. Their next gig is at the Jazz Night at The Bully, Cowley Road, Oxford on 17th April.

Joe’s Bar and Grill, 260 Banbury Rd, Oxford, OX2 7DX. Tel. 01865 554484

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