I am clinging to Cowley’s comfort food and coffee shops, still holding on whilst my friends have returned home for the holidays. The city centre is discombobulating (yes I have always wanted to use that word); full of tourists and aggressive lighting and people telling me to buy things. With no students to serve drinks to and literally no plans made, I head to Iffley’s Missing Bean to achieve a morning of coffee and contemplation


Note-to-future-self: do not go to Missing Bean on a Saturday, as there will not be anywhere to sit. I will applaud your past self for making a rather splendid walk around the main seating area. You managed to successfully observe, play with and not drop numerous pieces of unaffordable coffee equipment as you waddled enviously past seated customers. I also admired your quirky little side exit, like you realised it wasn’t actually your time to go on stage, quite appropriate for someone who staggered dangerously close to the till and still didn’t buy anything. 

The Larder cafe two doors down is open, and miraculously full of seating. It looks almost eerily freed up, I wonder what its problem is? Minimalist decor, fairy lights and overpriced croissants… surely it’s appealing to at least a decent proportion of Oxford’s clientele? I wander inside and contemplate the devious act of ordering an apple juice carton and setting up my laptop for the next five hours (very, very tempting). However, being a barista on a mission, I commit to being here for the coffee. I go up to order an espresso but then get a surge of Christmas and opt for a cappuccino with chocolate instead, reminding myself there’s always tomorrow to be a serious coffee bitch and I can still make a decent judgement from a milk-based drink. 

*slurps coffee pretentiously* 

I shall describe the experience with a word: inoffensive. I am unoffended by this coffee, and nothing more is going on. Content with my confidently mid cappuccino, I begin today’s important business of staring out the window. One perk of The Larder is its fabulous engineering when it comes to window seating. The stool is quite comfortable, and the table is at a height where I do not have to hunch into hedgehog mode (Missing Bean that was a loaded statement). From here, warm hug in hand, I distract myself with people watching. Within two minutes I have seen three beanies go past, two of which are Carhartt. Unsure what to do with this information, I begin to mindmap the symbolism of such a hat. Of course! One of them must have been a barista, wearing this iconic symbol of the coffee trade. Another one goes by (North Face this time) and I think about asking my colleague if we could wear beanies at work. I imagine my manager’s disapproving look, lecturing me with how it starts with a beanie, then it’s a graphic t-shirt and before you know it academics are stranded inside a common room which blasts The Wombats and exclusively sells vegan banana bread…

Personally I would like to ask him where the issue is, but for now I will just avoid that road altogether. 

While I am writing this I hear two men sitting behind me, discussing the subject of death in a variety of forms. On the other side of the window is a woman struggling her way closer to the door and I have the perfect opportunity to give her a smile. I would, but I feel like inviting her into what has become a rather raw chat about the end of life and predicted forms of dying is mean, and also she could buy a better tasting coffee. She hovers at the handle, yet beautiful fate intervenes and she is moved to keep walking. I watch her until she has escaped my periphery, and ask God to spare a seat for her in Missing Bean. 


I am on the eleventh beanie now and can’t decide if I prefer the unbranded or the Carhartt – tricky decisions. Another woman comes by and my goodness, she can eat an apple confidently. I have never seen someone bite into a fruit like they were born for this precise moment. She completely owns the move. I bet she’s strong and independent, I bet she has never eaten an apple because she feels like she has to, but only does it when the mood strikes her. Me on the other hand, I chomp desperately on the poor things, craving its validation that I am healthy and desirable. Maybe when I get home I should look up how she does what I could never do: Google, how does one eat an apple like a feminist? 

It’s been thirty minutes and I still haven’t finished my mid-tier coffee, the bottom of my cup looks like it is very much over this journaling session. The window goes quiet and my pocketed view beholds nothing but a sign post with a bike locked around it, reminding me I am still in Oxford (just not the scary bit). Soon all the cars show up as they do, at the same time, and the dance begins of who lets out who and when. This is Oxford, but it is also just angry drivers navigating traffic on a weekend. Oxford is a University and Oxford is a city: it is full of potholes and families sticking badly to the pavement. Oxford is a legend and also just a place with some people in it. 

Time passes and this place is filling up. I should go home and make lunch but maybe just this once I’ll get my overpriced croissant. It is Saturday after all.