BalLin Does Oxford Part II: You’re Welcome, Primark

70 Euros.

That’s how much my return flight to Vienna cost me.

As I watched the fog roll over the lush green hills along the M40 from Oxfordshire to London listening to The National’s “England“, I wrestled if I should actually go back to the airport. The past six days in Oxford had been the ultimate respite, and it wasn’t near long enough. It was a difficult walk to the bus station (but that have been mostly due to the fact my duffle bag was packed to near explosion).

My friend Amy and I are in many ways kindred spirits. The most apparent way is through our deep love for shopping. It’s how we celebrate, it’s how we relax, it’s how we mourn, it’s how we cope, and it’s how we soothe. Knowing this, Amy’s amazing mother sent me a shopping fund of £25. It was game time. During my time in Oxford, Amy and I single-handedly re-energized the economy and doubled Primark’s annual sales. My brand spanking new European debit card is already showing signs of wear and tear (as is my poor bank account). However, after nearly a year of (practically) abstaining from shopping in preparation for European stores, each day I clutched my bags of new clothes to my chest, like they were the most precious of jewels. The only problem is that now my appetite is whet.

My two favourite hobbies in the world are, unfortunately, two of the least compatible: shopping and eating. The fashion world tells us that never the twain shall meet, but my stomach frequently says only three words: Gourmet Burger Kitchen.

Falafel Burger: Handmade falafels with hummus, cucumber raita, sweet chilli sauce, salad and relish.
Veggie & Camembert: Mushroom, aubergine, red pepper, sweet potato, camembert, mayo, rocket and onion jam

All I needed was brown paper packages tied up with string, and that’s an exact list of my favourite things. Needless to say: we went there twice (probably could have eaten there for every meal). Alongside ginger cream cookies, apple crisp, lemon squares, crepes, Tesco tiramisu, high tea of clotted cream and scones, and more sharp cheddar than you can shake a stick at, I’m all together shocked that the clothes I bought on the first day still fit me by the end.

The residence in which Amy was staying doesn’t allow alcohol (which was a difficult adjustment for someone who had gotten used to having a glass of wine every evening with dinner). It was a nice shift of pace from the party atmosphere at my own Haus Panorama to other forms entertainment usually accompanied instead with a mug of very English tea. Amy and I learned to play Snooker, and had several Super Smash Bro marathons against her friends Josh and David who were eager teachers and had the patience of saints (while I stared for hours to determine the best angle for the shot, only to end up missing the ball entirely).

The way back from Oxford to Vienna went relatively smoothly – until I got to security. As I mentioned before: my duffle was near bursting. Worried that I would have to ship some things home because of the ratio of clothes to bag volume, I had managed to incredibly skillfully packed my entire duffle bag so it fit every single piece of the fashionable fruits of my labour. It weighed about as much as a baby elephant, and the walk to the bus terminal took two sets of hands. When I arrived at security and they put my bag through the scanner, I sighed as they pulled my bag aside for an extra check. I often find myself in this position at airports (I’ve guessed it’s because I fit the bill to make security checks more “balanced”), so I wasn’t too worried. They’d pat me down, swab my bags, play with my electronics, and then before you could say, “racial profiling” I’d be off and eating overpriced airport food. But that’s where I was wrong. They asked if I had liquid, I told them no. Then they asked me to take everything out of my bag. My jaw dropped. “Everything?” It was everything. I pleaded with her, “Can you not at least tell me where the alleged liquid is so we can just remove it and leave the rest alone?” Apparently, I couldn’t. When I opened the bag, she clearly realized the magnitude of her request, as her eyes widened at the crammed contents. Yet, bit by excruciating bit,  I watched her pull out every item in my bag, unroll it completely, and then place it in a crumpled heap to the side. When she was done, it turned out the WMD was my deodorant. After watching her destroy my packing job and being frustrated at the idea of having to redo the entire masterpiece, I nearly chucked it at her head and said, “THERE! That was about as much damage as that was ever going to do!”

Now, don’t get me wrong, I understand that it was not her personal choice nor did she just want to check out the fierce pieces she had seen on the scanner first-hand. I understand that it is for my personal safety, blahblah. However, whenever a security officer gives me a request like that, I think of my time in Vancouver, when I arrived at the airport hungover after not sleeping the entire night previous. The man at security asked if I would take off my leather riding boots, and I sorrowfully looked back at him and said, “I would really prefer not.”  He must have seen the pain behind my eyes, as he nodded sympathetically and waved me through. Reasonable accommodation.  That’s all I ask for.

So, after giving her the stink eye (that my sister knows all too well) I placed my deodorant in the blast shield known as a plastic bag, and began the tedious task of putting a week’s worth of shopping into a day sized bag as the minutes were counting down to my impending departure.

Turns out our flight was then delayed by over an hour, so I sat with a bag of trail mix on the floor, reading my Kobo (but really staring at the girl with OCD beside me who was tapping various parts her body in prime numbers), and just relaxed (but really stared at her. I couldn’t look away. It stressed me out. I wanted to grab her hand and say, “JUST STOP IT!”).

As the plane took off I already felt a sense of longing to go back. I knew I’d miss high tea, Primark, Super Smash Bros, and, of course, GBK. But like after every trip, you have to head back to your normal life (as normal as it can be when you’re studying abroad) and sit beside a overly chatty, middle-aged gentleman who doesn’t understand that an iPod and a book is the international signal for “occupied.” Fortunately, I had Tom #1’s care package to look forward to.

I’ve already vowed to return to the land of the literary greats: CS Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Harry Potter.



About j.ball

I took all the thoughts rumtumbling in my head, and I put them in this blog.
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