Since August, I’ve been living in a student house near the Cowley Road, which is the artery of East Oxford. I’ve found it to be full of colour and energy (and by that I mean far more than “Oh, look, a Moroccan greengrocer!” though that is of course a valid part of it) and above all, community.
The graffiti, for example, isn’t vandalism, but rather the product of communal beautification. “Fáilte” – “welcome” – proclaims one wall, while another is decorated with a mural of Angkor Wat. Churches and community centres hold flea markets on the street corner, vintage boutiques nestle up to their scruffy charity shop siblings, and there are more cafes and restaurants from all over the world – Russia, Spain, Greece, Turkey, America, China, Thailand, Italy, Morocco – than you can count.
So here is a brief introduction to three of my favourite places on the Cowley Road:
An ice-cream parlour with three branches in Oxford, each with distinct names and atmospheres, G&Ds is a haven for students, families and tourists alike. Though they nominally serve ice cream – generous portions of handmade flavours like green tea and Bellini as well as all the traditional favourites – they also serve hot drinks, snacks, breakfast, bagels and mini-pizzas. And the best part – they’re open until midnight. Half past eleven, in your pjs, middle of an essay crisis…… ice cream sundae, anyone?
The Truck Store is an independent record-store-cum-coffee-house of undefeated hipster standing. Windows papered with flyers for gigs, bearded men and long-skirted women enjoying an americano as they listen to the latest indie-folk… it’s a pastiche of itself, and I love it even though I don’t go there as often as other places (partly because my hair is very brown and center-parted, and my clothes very High Street, but mainly because it’s usually packed!).
It’s also very much a love of association, as the Truck Store is linked to and run by the same team in charge of Truck festival and WOOD festival, both of which are local folk/world/electro/indie festivals that I usually steward at and enjoy very much.
The epitome of a community shop, the People’s Supermarket is owned by the people who run it (606 at the time this was taken), and sells exclusively local or otherwise “good foods” – fair trade, wholegrain, organic, the lot. And the best bit – it’s cheap! I know that community cooperatives aren’t exclusive to Oxford, but by it’s very nature the People’s Supermarket is exemplary of the community spirit which presides in Cowley Road.
I like Cowley a lot, and I hope that I get the chance to live here again some day… or at least to be able to visit a lot once I’m gone.