Entry 4 – Couch surfing
To round off the NOYO project, I’m experimenting with couch surfing. The idea of welcoming a stranger into your home, visiting a new place and staying with a local. Founded in 2004, it connects travellers with a global network of people willing to share in a profoundly unique way.
I hit up the website and sign up through my Facebook account. Simples. Next question- where to go?
I settle for Oxford, being unique and somewhere I’m keen to explore.
There are a fair few hosts in Oxford but I take a punt on Lucy, a third year classics student whose mission is “to follow a possibility among possibilities”. Lucy goes on to say she is fascinated by the potential of life and the people she can meet. Good attitude. Her interests include literature, art and the ancient world- so I might learn something too…
Time for my opening gambit. I’ve read all about Lucy and the reviews left by surfers so send a short bubbly message with a bit about me, my background, the challenge and interest in the concept.
Email: “ you’ve got a reply from host, Lucy”
I’ve breached protocol and have clearly got this all wrong. I’ve also somehow managed to come off sounding like I want a free bed.
Bad start Alice.
I wait nervously for a reply.
Managed to redeem myself. Following a bit of chitchat over the messenger system we fix up a time to meet at the Bodleian library the following week.
Armed with a sleeping bag and thank you/sorry for crap message gift in the form of an oversized rosemary tree (good for brain power and a resilient plant for student living), I set off on my adventure.
I arrive in Oxford early and go for a wander. The tree is attracting a small fan club – a woman on the other side of the road waves her arms and shouts across “I like your tree”, shortly afterwards a guy at the ATM remarks “nice bush”.
They’re a green fingered bunch in Oxford.
There’s a wedding going on in the Bodleian so I venture in to see if I can still look round, the doorman opens the locked door, welcomes me in and directs me down the corridor with the caterer and florist. I explain I’m not anything to do with the event just happen to be clutching a big plant and am asked politely to leave.
Oversized shrubbery is becoming a damn nuisance.
Lucy is running behind on an essay so I take refuge in a pub and balance a g&t on a tiny table along with the blimming triffid. Lucy rocks up and we get to know each other over some more gin. It turns out Lucy has a really interesting family her grandfather was a lawyer in Joburg and was asked to leave for representing black defendants. The tree goes down a storm (thank chuff for that) and we venture over to one of the colleges, Lucy’s home.
The mahogany clad dining hall is quite something and I feel like I’m at Hogwarts, except that I feel less Hermoine Grainger more Neville Longbottom amongst Lucy and her friends. All of whom are exceptionally sharp and very welcoming. We talk about life at the college and they teach me some of the Oxford lingo. I’m lost in a language of scouts, bops and rustication and I learn why none of them like carnations (worn for exams with the colour denoting how far through the exam period they are).
Lucy’s place in college is palatial with a 13 ft high living room, sofas, fireplace and separate bedroom. It makes my rickety single bed, wash basin and graffitied desk at Exeter look like Belmarsh by comparison.
We head to the pub for an education in intoxication at Turf Tavern (next door to where Clinton “didn’t inhale”). We are joined by Lucy’s friend Amy, a talented art student (you can see some of her work here). The girls are great company and we swap stories and experiences. Lucy is a fantastic advocate for the couch surfing concept, has hosted people from all over the world and is an incredibly kind enthusiastic individual.
Sunday morning, having had a cracking evening last night, I make tracks back to Southampton. I leave my generous host with the triffid I shan’t miss and depart Oxford feeling very pleased with my first surf.