Poor Woodstock Children

I sat on a bench along a footpath that shoots out eastward between meadows from University Park. Clearheaded from running, I felt elated by endorphins, the sepia autumn sunlight, and pride at having recently become a graduate student at the University of Oxford.

Then, a woman and her son – a chubby boy of around eleven or so – came walking along the path.

“They were poor Woodstock children!” the boy whispered theatrically.

“What are you saying?” the mother replied, flustered, possibly embarrassed by my presence and not wishing for a stranger to judge her by her son’s nascent snobbery.

A few seconds’ later, two Labradors came bounding along, followed by two women. One of the dogs panted toward me, and began sniffing enthusiastically around my groin. Thankfully, one of the women then called it away, smiling to show her embarrassment at her dog’s wandering nose.

Getting up, I walked in the direction from which they had come. Toward me came two young girls, also of around eleven. One was small and blonde, the other was larger, with black hair in cornrows that cascaded down to braids.

“Keep running mate,” the latter said, sarcastically.

I attempted an expression that conveyed disapproval yet also wry amusement at her remark. I then broke back into a run and kept going along the long, straight path, where the trees provided coolness yet obscured the view of meadows on either side.


We’re not getting a cat

I was sitting on the top level of the double decker bus going from Blackbird Leys to Oxford city centre, on my way to work. We were going down a road of semi-detached, 1930s houses, between the bridge over the ring road and Temple Cowley.

I had just taken my earphones out because I was getting a slight pain in one ear. I got The Fountainhead out of my bag. I was on the last 50 pages or so, and keen to try and sprint to the finish of such a marathon read.

I then heard the conversation between the mother and young boy sitting across the aisle.

“Mum, I wish we lived in one of these houses, because then it would be a proper house, and it would be cold, but its made of stone so it would be okay, oh look at that bird!”

“Stop going on,” she replied.

“Mum, imagine if one day the top of the bus slided off and landed in the middle of the room.”

She tutted.

“Look at the lovely grass and the cat. Mummy would you like a cat?”

“We’re not getting a cat.”

A few moments later, they got off the bus. I saw them walking down the street from the window. He was skipping, and she looked down at him and smiled as she took his hand in hers.

Watching the Jeremy Kyle Show

A skinny man is being berated by an overweight woman and her equally overweight sister, for wanting to know via DNA test if he is the biological father of one of the woman’s children. He appears frightened, nervous, lost for words. His skin is pale, his mousy brown hair greasy.

Jeremy gets stuck in on him:

“Stop making excuses,” he roars. “You’re a sap,” he opines.

The woman and her sister grow more and more agitated, egged on by Kyle, and no doubt high on the adrenaline buzz provided by the presence of the live studio audience. The two of them keep shouting about what a lousy dad he is, interspersing this with observations regarding what a lousy human being he is in general.

With regard to the lack of money he provides for a child he already has with the woman, the skinny man says that he can’t get a job as there aren’t any available in the rural area where he lives.

“Well you better move then,” suggests Jeremy. “You’ve got kids to support”.

At the back of the set, there is a plasma TV screen. It shows the baby in question, three-days born, eyes closed, being rocked gently by someone out of shot. Its head fills the entire screen, looming large over everyone on stage.

A member of the crew passes some cards to Jeremy. It turns out that the skinny man is indeed the biological father. The woman and her sister are triumphant.

The mother shakes Jeremy’s hand.

Jeremy tells the skinny man to apologize to the mother.

The skinny man walks off set.

Jeremy follows him, and so do the two women. He stalks a few paces behind, yelling at him again to stop making excuses. All three of them plus the camera crew corner the skinny man on a sofa somewhere backstage. Jeremy tells him to grow a pair. One of the women giggles into her hand, seemingly gleeful about her daytime TV victory.

If the skinny man went to the job centre and used those big bulky job search machines they usually have near the entranceway, I wonder if he would find any openings for a televised bully, offering a six figure-sum.

Although, maybe just one of those is already too much.

Cheesy Easy Peasy

So I was in Sainsbury’s, squatting in front of the refrigerator cabinet looking at the £1.50 Sainsbury’s Basics margarita pizzas. They were piled up like a load of old frisbees at a lost-and-found: discs of bready dough with tomato puree and little oblong strips of cheddar smeared scantily over one side, held tight by clingfilm to a polystyrene base on the other. There are slogans on all Basics product labels that attempt to make light of the product’s crappiness in comparison to more expensive alternatives. The one on the pizza read,

“Dinner is easy peasy,

just a little less cheesy

I thought about what other things I could put on top of the pizza to make it edible: the olives, peppers and spinach that I had in my basket; the chilli flakes I have in my cupboard; the extra cheese that I have in the fridge. It would be fun – almost a creative process – making this otherwise tasteless circle of carb into something enjoyable to eat.

An arm then reached over my shoulder, and hurriedly pulled a pizza from the pile. I turned around and saw a woman maybe in her late twenties:  droopy green coat; blonde hair, dark roots; tired pretty eyes. She put the pizza in her trolley, and wheeled off around the corner.

I carried on strolling along the aisles, enjoying the fact that because one of my university lectures was an hour earlier than usual I got to come here at around 11 – before lunchtime hungriness had kicked in – and could therefore browse more carefully. I mulled over whether or not to buy a jar of umami seasoning because it contained anchovy, as recently I’ve been abstaining from meat in an attempt to live more mindfully.

Along one aisle, a small child whizzed by me, then the woman with the pizza came around the corner, calling out to her or him. As we crossed paths, I saw how her face was strained; her eyes stared straight ahead. I felt my own eyes drawn towards the content of her trolley. Keeping the pizza company were eight tins of Sainsbury’s basics products, and nothing else. Even though doing so made me feel like I was taking something from her, I couldn’t help but stare at the orange and white tins lined up in her trolley as we passed.

What dumbass slogans were written on those tins, I wonder.