This dessert platter was only one part of the tea we had. There were large sandwiches, crips, salad, jams and sweets as well. The view from the orangery we ate in was spectacular too. Anyway, whilst we were stuffing our faces, a thought came to me and it turned out James had been thinking the same thing as well. If we were to go for afternoon tea with the Oxford community somewhere in the town centre, this large spread would not only cost double what we paid, but there would also be a service charge placed on top of that as well. It is incredible how you can go to different parts of the country and get charged such different amounts of money.
Oxford is such a beautiful city and if you have never been, I suggest you come at least once and experience our beautiful dreaming spires. But actually living in Oxfordshire has its down points. Oxford is a university city and also a tourist hot-spot. Oxfordshire is one of the most expensive places to live in the UK outside of London. The issue with the city's reputation is that people will charge you extra money, purely because of the Oxford name and because they know they can get this money out of tourists. The service and offerings are no better, but we are losing out money-wise. If you are a tourist on a one-off visit, perhaps you are willing to pay a bit extra. But for me as a local, it is very difficult to justify hosting regular meets when you feel like you are being ripped off. The Oxfordshire Lolitas are a very varied group, like a lot of communities. We have students, younger and older members, people who travel from neighbouring counties and people who are in employment or not. This means we usually have to cater for a variety of budgets and needs. A lot of the time this is pretty straight-forward, although people's circumstances are always changing. The other issue with a town like Oxford is the size. Oxford is the smallest city in the UK and as a result, a lot of the shops, cafes and restaurants are very compact with limited seating. If a meet is especially popular and you get lots of people attending, your choice of locations is quickly cut down to a very limited few. And as I mentioned, Oxford is quite a tourist city. At the weekends you find yourself competing with the shoppers and tourists for spots everywhere. The tourists can also cause other issues. For the most part, I am pretty relaxed around tourists and will take photos with them, but sometimes it gets a bit tiresome. So now I find myself trying to steer the group away from certain areas of the city in case we get bombarded.
I promise I will stop ranting about Oxford now! Despite its flaws, I do still have a lot of love for this city. But to overcome the issues I have with Oxford I have had to adapt, think outside the box and quickly come up with solutions when meet plans go awry. So here is how I have been dealing with the problems up until now.
Know your comm- It is important not to make assumptions. If you think a meet idea may be a bit troublesome, ask your community for their opinions. You never know, that meet idea may be more popular than you realised. I also try to keep an eye on who become more regular attendees and who maybe only shows up from time to time. If somebody is not coming that often when they seem eager to attend, then perhaps there is an issue there that I can try to deal with discreetly. I also try to avoid doing more expensive and elaborate meets at times of the year when there are lots of big events going on and during exams season.
Know your city- Who knows a city better than the people who live there? We can figure out which areas are likely to be crowded but we are also more likely to know the hidden secrets that the tourists are unaware of. Share information with your fellow members. I also go in to the city not in lolita and just make note of places I think the group can enjoy.
Make the most of local magazines- I hate junk mail but sometimes the local newspapers and magazines that get put through my door can be helpful. It will give you insight to any local fares, carnivals and exhibits going on in the area that could be of interest. It does mean you will probably have to sort through a lot of uninteresting stuff, but sometimes you can find a few hidden gems.
Groupon is your friend- There are so many coupon websites out there that communities can take advantage of. Sometimes companies will offer you deals if you sign up for a certain amount of time as well. You can get deals on lots of local attractions and restaurants. Sometimes it is worth looking up certain restaurant websites and newsletters as they will have deals too. Even the cereal I am eating has a coupon on the box for popular attractions. Also keep an eye out for freebies as sometimes you can use them to pad out prizes for games.
Look out for hidden charges- Sometimes it is worth looking up where you are visiting beforehand to check there are no hidden fees. Some restaurants can get very insistent about you paying a service charge. If you are not prepared then your meet can end up costing more than you initially planned for. My recommendation is to always have a bit of money spare whenever you go to a meet anyway.
Cheap meets can still be fun- Picnics are always very fun and can be cheap to host if everybody brings a dish along with them. Is it any wonder picnic meets are so popular? Other ideas could include berry picking, visiting free museums... There are a lot of options if you sit down and think about it. And there is more to a meet than spending out on activities. Socialising and chatting with your community members can sometimes be the best bit of a meet, no matter what you are doing.
Think outside the box- Oxford is quite a small city and there are only so many times you can see the same things without getting a bit bored of them. So sometimes you have to try and make a bit more effort to come up with fresh ideas. I still think one of the best meets the Oxford group has ever had was when we made fudge at the fudge kitchen shop in the city. It is so unusual and a bit different. Because of the shop's location, we were mainly left alone by tourists as well.
Don't feel obliged to pose for photographs- If you feel comfortable letting tourists take pictures with you then by all means go ahead. But don't feel like you have to. A lot of tourists don't understand that lolita is a fashion and you are not some sort of attraction, so they may not realise you are just trying to get on with your meet. Sometimes tourists can really hold you up, especially when there is a large group and every one of them wants to get a picture. Chances are, some of them will try to get a sneaky picture of you anyway so I don't feel too bad about ignoring their requests from time to time.
Hopefully this post doesn't sound too harsh about Oxford! I have found our meets to be very fun and my comm members are always very entertaining to hang around with. If anybody has any further suggestions to add to my list then do feel free to leave a comment. Any help is always welcome!