I’d hastily had the business cards printed two days earlier after meeting a woman who scolded me for not having a business card to give her. A few doors down from the Lush shop we’d sheltered together from the rain. The Cornmarket street has covered markets, churches and lots of chain shops. The impressive light stone architecture of Oxford is best when the sun shines on it.
“It all used to be black.” The woman had told me while we sheltered from the rain. “I read it was because of the soot from the coal fires. Then they cleaned all the buildings and the walls. Some of them are deteriorating now that they’ve had the protective layer removed.”
“Nowadays we can’t see the pollution.” I said. “There’s not the same incentive to do something about it.”
I find it’s good to look up in Oxford, there are so many amazing gargoyles and lots of carved stonework. Unless of course it’s late after a student night, then it’s best to look down and watch where you step. People say Oxford streets are ‘paved with gold’ at those times, and they don’t mean metal.
I felt sheepish about merchandising, yet the crowdfunding website had assured me that campaigns had to have ‘perks’ in order to succeed. And the bags did look cute on the stall… with their cartoon bees on. (Not exactly a Ghandi style journey. Unless he used logo printed cotton shopper bags? My history’s not great, but I doubt it.)
Sama and Tom arrived and joined us on the stall with lots of smiles and hugs.
“So how do you two know each other?” asked Miranda.
“We’ve been friends for years.” said Tom grabbing Sama by the shoulders. “It’s amazing I can put up with her.”
A steady stream of passers by came over to see what all the buzz was about, many taking cards.
One woman in her early twenties bought a Buzz Tour bag and stayed to chat to all of us for a long time. Sara, we found out, was doing a Masters in Sustainability and when we got chatting about Transition and Permaculture she said she hadn’t heard of either.
“Fantastic!” I said. “There’s lots out there for you to discover. That’s what we want to do, show people some of the amazing range of things that are happening. ” She had a wide eyed smile and lots of questions and nods for us. She took a card and said she might even join us on the walk.
We packed up the stall in the early afternoon and prepared to head off through Oxford.
One of the obvious things about a visit to Oxford is the thousands of bikes, chained to everything. Signs all over railings warning that your bike will be removed if you chain it there. Next to a bike. It’s common to see women in skirts and smartly dressed people cycling to work, as well as the thousands of students.
Our first stop was Broken Spoke where we met Ellie. She co-founded the bike co-op several years earlier.
“The museum owned the building and they were slowly converting it.” Surrounded by tools, with a blue work apron and a flowery scarf in her hair she hunched slightly in embarrassment at our interest. “So they had loads of space till then, cause they were kind of gradually doing it. And then some us were like – ‘how ‘bout you give us some space as a bike workshop in the back, you know, while you’re building it up?’ So that’s how it got started.”
“Cool, so how does the co-op work?” I asked.
“Well at the easiest level you can just come here with a broken bike and we can help you fix it. People can be more involved by becoming a volunteer and helping other people fix their bikes, and helping us refurbish abandoned bikes. It’s an employee and volunteer owned organisation, so the people doing the work make the decisions.”