10 reasons to love Oxford

A mini break to Oxford is just the ticket

We’re not really the city break types- Mr MT and I. No, we tend to go for a coastal town whenever we get a few days to escape the housework and DIY, but then again we don’t often get a kid free, dog free pass!

Our original plan was to head to Paris for a few days while the daughterlings were away on their week long Scout camp (away together at the same time for the first time ever!) but an out of date passport and not enough time to use our airmiles once the passport did turn up meant we had to change our destination.

Oxford had never been on my radar before but when Tim suggested it I thought why not? We’d been on-line all day trying to work out a way to get to Paris or Palma or anywhere abroad and the timings just weren’t working out and I had pretty much had enough of on-line holiday searching!

We hadn’t been away on our own since Beau was 3 months old (and she’s now 13!) other than for weddings – when our time was not our own, so it was enough just to be out the house let alone without kids. We chose what we wanted to do and most of it would have bored the girls to death. We also did some very long walks – like 20,000 steps in a day kind of long, looking at architecture and visiting libraries etc – so not their scene at all.

A few years ago when we went to Norfolk Darcey said she specifically didn’t want to go to any more “hashtag places”. It took us a while to work out that she was talking about English Heritage places. The logo for English Heritage looks like a red hashtag and we had a years membership and she had had enough of old houses!

So after a beautiful mini city break here are the 10 reasons why you’ll love Oxford too.

1.The Bat and Ball

When we first looked for a place to stay in Oxford we saw some great glamping Teepees set near the river in the beautiful countryside but as it was the first week of the summer holidays there was no availability.  We also checked out the Malmaison which looked great but was out of our price range as it was so central but parking is a nightmare in Oxford so we looked a little further out and found a real gem. The Bat and Ball pub is an old coach house in Denton about eight miles from the city centre. On one side is the pub with traditional beams and flagstone floors. The land lady greeted us as soon as we walked in and took us up to our room on the other side of the building.

There are just five rooms all small and quite basic but clean and neat making it the perfect base for us. We were up in the roof and it was just what we needed. Not too expensive, had WIFI and was near to the Thornhill park and ride and breakfast was included too.

On our last night we had dinner there and it was really, really good. Amazing flavours, very friendly service and good prices. Five stars from us. 

2.Park and Ride

  1. Like Cambridge, Oxford is a really hard place to find parking spaces and when you do it’s £1.10 for 20 minutes.  We knew this but practically everyone we came into contact with told us to use the park and ride at Thornhill, which we did and it was so easy.

    We paid for parking then bought a ‘one to go!’ ticket for the bus which is a return journey for two people to the town centre. The return ticket was just £4.80 for both of us so it worked out much more economical but it was also really quick. We never had to wait for more than 5 minutes for a bus in either direction. AND the bus had usb charger points in the back of the seats! How great is that? 

    I wish my local shopping centre had this set up – it’s really clever

    3. The Architecture

When you think of Oxford you think of the University and all the amazing buildings that are housed within their colleges. The very first universities were started within churches dating back to Henry VIII’s time and that’s what Christ Church– one of the most amazing buildings is.

Everywhere you turn there are tall church like buildings with spires, turrets, gargoyles and the most incredible architecture. You can easily walk around the town centre and see all the main places of interest. We loved the meadow gardens at Christ Church (seen above) , The Radcliffe camera and The Bodleian library ceiling – just incredible and the Hertford bridge – the bridge of signs.

We did a lot of walking around the town and the houses are also stunning – from the larger homes backing onto the canal – complete with moorings, to the small cottages with their checkerboard brickwork and amazing foliage growing up them.

4.The White rabbit

No sooner had I recorded an Insta story that we were in Oxford than recommendations of things to do and places to eat came flooding in. One was The White Rabbit pub with it’s award winning pizzas. That’s where we headed on the first night and we can attest that the pizzas are fab.

The pub is small and buzzy and when we got there at 7.30pm on a Monday night it was packed. We had to squeeze into an alcove table with another couple – that was the last available table!

The pizza menu was great and I opted for a gluten free base. It was deelish and I couldn’t tell it was gluten free at all. Definitely worth heading there for a meal. Highly recommended.

5.Morse country

We love a bit of Morse, Lewis and especially Endeavour and to be in Morse country was pretty cool. There are loads of places where the series’ were filmed including the very much recommended Turf Tavern. We found this pub almost by accident (we were warned it can be tricky to find) when we were at the Hertford bridge. We saw a little alleyway that leads down to the pub. It was remarkably large with loads of seating inside and out and it was packed out. We didn’t stop but it was great to find it.

You can do a Morse tour- if you’re that way inclined. We were not!.

6.The Perch

This is a pub that was recommended to us by three separate friends and we thought that it had to be on our hit list. Tim looked at the map and we decided to take the longer country lane route. That was a forty minute walk though the countryside that was lovely but by the time we got there we were Hank Marvin. We both joked that it had better be as good as everyone said – and it better be open! It was.

The Perch is a very old pub, partly thatched and situated along the river. There is a very large garden with a terrace and permanently covered pergola bursting with seating. It was a really calm place – probably because it’s in the middle of nowhere! Well behaved dogs are allowed in on leads and there were plenty of them (I love a dog to say hello to) We both ordered burgers- Tim’s was a fat cheese burger and I ordered from the vegan menu. Vegan menus seem to be an everyday occurrence in Oxford. I think that’s great. Half the time the meals are the same as the non-vegan but adapted. I should point out that I’m not Vegan- I tried it for 3 months once but can’t live without eggs! I live for eggs!!! But I am avoiding certain foods and when I eat vegan I seem to be a lot happier (read: less bloated and uncomfortable!)

Anyway- I ordered the beetroot burger and it was huge and delicious and very purple. The chips were giant! I mean the biggest I’ve ever had. Triple cooked (oh so on trend!) I couldn’t finish it al! Probably one of the best places we ate.

7. The Canal

The canal runs just outside of central Oxford. A short walk out of town and you’re in the countryside. We walked a few miles along the canal and it was great to do a spot of house watching – you know-  when you say which house you would or wouldn’t live in?  The houses all had moorings at the end of their gardens, some with fantastic decking, some with very wantable studio summer houses.

There are moorings along one side of the canal with a mixture of traditional narrow boats with Romany style paintings and some not so traditional that looked like they were being held together with string!

We walked along the canal twice during our short stay. It’s really peaceful down there. Loads of willow trees and wildlife. Very cool and relaxing away from the city.

8. The Museums

There are two main museums that were recommended to us in Oxford. The Ashmolean and the Pitt River. The Ashmolean is an archaeological finds museum which I have to say wasn’t our cup of tea – I mean once you’ve seen one plate that’s been dug up you’ve seen them all haven’t you? No matter what country they were found in! We covered a few floors but quickly moved on to the Pitt River museum. I have to mention that we had a lot of things we wanted to see that day so time was limited anyway.

The Pitt River museum was really interesting with dinosaur skeletons to keep kids happy and lots of great facts. There’s a hall at the back which is five floors tall and bursting at the seams with curiosities. Every cabinet was full- from weapons and keys to masks and traditional costumes. We both enjoyed this museum a lot.

9. The Motte

It’s not every day that you come across a Motte. In general if I saw a big mound of earth that looked like a very tall hill in the middle of nowhere I wouldn’t bat an eye lid but having spent many hours helping both the daughterlings with their history homework about Motte and Bailey’s I was pretty impressed to actually see one in the flesh- recognise it and then find out that the one in Oxford dates back to 1071! Don’t know what I’m talking about? Check out this website!

10.Blenheim Palace

Blenheim Palace has been on my list of places I want to visit for a while. I did a Pink Ribbon charity walk when I worked at Woman & Home which took us on a 27 mile walk around the grounds and ended right outside the entrance – but I didn’t get to go inside!

Tim and I have been to a few of the Treasure houses of England (well 4 of the 10 now) and we knew that when we got to Oxford that it was the perfect opportunity. Treasure houses are all incredibly grand places with amazing history and usually the same family still lives in the mansions and have done so for many generations (I say mansions I mean palace/castle/manor type houses. Think Downton Abbey but bigger!) The Twelfth Duke and Duchess of Marlborough still live at Blenheim today.

Blenheim Palace was incredible inside.  Literally bursting with classic art, murals and sculptures. Winston Churchill was born there. It was by mistake as his mum went into labour when she was at a banquet there at seven months pregnant and couldn’t get home in time. The Churchill exhibit was really interesting. There are also regular tours which are great as you get all the behind the scenes stories which I love.

For me the biggest downside to Blenheim was the cost. It’s £24.90 each admission and although you can convert your ticket into year long pass the chances of going back again are minimal. I thought this was a bit steep. We walked around for a few hours but as it was torrential rain most of the day we didn’t get to see much of the garden. I hope we can go back again within the next 12 months to make it more worthwhile but we’ll just have to wait and see. I do think the place is spectacular and would recommend it to anyone looking for an interesting day out.

So there you have it. 10 reasons why you’ll love Oxford. If you are going to Oxford any time soon let me know where you go and if you go anywhere I have recommended.

Have fun

EmmaMT xx

EmmaMT

Introducing Alan Taylor the Jack-a-poo

Introducing_Alan_TaylorI’ve been thinking about whether or not this is the right platform to introduce a Jack-a-poo puppy. I mean this is my working world. This is where people get to see what I’ve been up to. Who and where I’ve been shooting and what features I’ve been writing so I need to put a work slant on this one….. here it goes.

Every home needs an Alan Taylor Jack-a-poo

Alan Taylor is my gorgeous little Jack-a-poo puppy. He was a spur of the moment addition to our family three weeks ago. Well, when I say spur of the moment it was a spur of the moment after about two years of thinking and talking about getting a dog!

You see I’ve been pining for a dog for a long time. I know every dog at the school gates and actually stopped to stroke one particular Staffie who whimpered at the gates until his owner came back to him after the daughter was deposited in her classroom – Monty cries like a human and he was my dog fix for a long time.

Introducing_Alan_TaylorThen one day while I was distracting myself with a google search for Jack-a-poos there he was. This is the ad I found (above). I mean who could resist that face with those big brown eyes?

We’d been looking for a Jack-a-poo as Mr MT really wanted a Jack Russell and I wanted a more scruffy dog so a Jack-a-poo – that was more Jack and less poo, was what we decided was best for us. I wanted a small dog that could sit with me at my desk and come to prop houses without it being an issue – we’ll see how that goes soon!

Introducing_Alan_TaylorMost Jack-a-poo’s are really cute with Poodley, curly fur but we wanted one that looked more Jack Russell and they’re not as easy to find. So when I saw him I knew instantly he was the one. We were planning on getting a dog but we hadn’t put a date on it and after looking for a rescue dog for a while with no luck we just got Alan Taylor from a breeder in Enfield.

5 reasons you should not get a dog

There are many reasons it took us so long to get Alan Taylor.

  1. I really worried that we wouldn’t be able to cope with a dog and the dog walking when I go off on shoots for weeks at a time. When I leave for a one day shoot it’s 6am -with no time to brush my hair let alone walk a dog! As getting a dog was really what I wanted I didn’t want to just dump him on Mr MT all the time.
  2. It’s like having another baby,” everyone says. You have to clean up poop and they whimper and cry in the night. Well, some do but Alan is pretty good at night. We are still toilet training him but I’m a pretty patient person. We’ll get there.
  3. Everywhere I looked the advice is don’t get a dog unless the whole family want one. Mr MT was okay (but not enthusiastic) with the idea of Alan but Daughterling No.1 didn’t want one – and she’s a big dog lover. After a little more digging she finally told me that she didn’t want to be responsible for him when I’m out. Once I explained that my plan is to have him with me pretty much all the time she was up for it. The photo below is Alan being carried to school before his injections. I loved it.
  4. They eat up your home. Yep. They do. Alan hasn’t so far. He weirdly likes to chew on the metal Singer sewing machine table legs and the metal hairpin legs on a stool in my office but apart from that, he has a million and one toys to chew on – which have been strewn across the hallways and kitchen since we picked him up. I kind of see any chewing of furniture as a great excuse to redecorate. I mean, I am a stylist.
  5. We have Asthma. Crossbreed dogs that are a Poodle mix tend to moult less. But not Alan!!!!. Darcey and I both have Asthma so the plan was to keep him out of the rooms. Well, that lasted one week. He can’t get up onto the beds with his little legs but he can jump which is very funny. All you can see is the tip of his nose and his flapping ears. So far neither of us has been affected by his fur. And as he sleeps in the dining room I think we’ll be fine.

Introducing_Alan_Taylor

Where’s the name from?

When we tell people what his name is it always get’s a smile. There are two reasons his name is Alan Taylor. First, when we went to Cornwall last year and ended up on a dog beach (by mistake- honest) my dog pinning reached epic levels. They were everywhere in Cornwall and I couldn’t walk past them without a quick stroke! It became a heated topic of conversation. At the time Mr MT and the daughterling were reading the Mr Gum books. The books are a bit like a kids version of Terry Pratchet and they would laugh till they cried. One of the characters in the book was a gingerbread man with bionic muscles called Alan Taylor. Mr MT said he would only consider getting a dog if it was called Alan Taylor. After Cornwall we would always refer to getting a dog as “When we get Alan Taylor” and so it kind of stuck.

The second reason is because we loved the program “Walk on the wild side” where comedians do voice overs for nature programs. We have been quoting them for years. Watch the video below to see where the Alan comes from. This is why our dog’s full name is Alan Steve Taylor MT!

So, Emma, where’s the work angle?

Well, there isn’t one. Maybe he can be a dog model on set sometime or maybe he can just keep me company on my propping trips. One thing’s for sure he really slows me down – which is a great thing and one that I didn’t see coming. As I type this now he is on my rather expensive black sheepskin which he has claimed for his own, and is asleep under the sewing machine table in my office. He follows me around the house where ever I go. The unconditional love is just amazing. If you follow me on Instagram  (please do – I’d love to see you over there) you’ll have seen the jumping puppy that greets me each morning. The walks can only be a good thing. I’m counting my steps. As he gets bigger I’m hoping they’ll reach epic numbers!

Introducing_Alan_Taylor

I didn’t want to fill my Instagram feed with Alan Taylor – I mean it’s for interiors and cake blog posts and coffee (much to the confusion of Mr MT. “Really who wants to see your morning coffee?”) So, I set Alan up with his own account. He’s on AlanTaylorVille if you fancy following him. I try to post every few days as I know these puppy days will go by in a flash and we’ll forget how tiny he was. Introducing_Alan_Taylor

Jack-a-poo fun for all the family

So, now we have had him for just three weeks and it feels like we’ve had him forever. The No.1 Daughterling who wasn’t sure about getting a dog now regularly lies on the floor to play with him. A teen. On the floor! For ages! The Daughterling No. 2 adores him and won’t stop picking him up and hugging him. I think if she was a few years younger Alan would have been dressed up in dolls clothes by now! But the biggest shock was how much Mr MT and Alan act around each other. When he gets home from work Alan goes completely mental, jumping and running up and down the hallway until he’s picked up and cuddled – and that’s exactly what he gets. Mr MT is the first to lift him onto the bed, even though he wasn’t even supposed to be in the bedrooms!

Introducing_Alan_TaylorSo, if like me you’re waiting and dithering about getting a dog I’d say don’t. Just do it. There are dog sitters who can come when you’re out for more than a few hours (we have one three doors up and didn’t even know it!) and the benefits outweigh everything bad you can think of. He’s totally part of the family.

EmmaMT x

EmmaMT

So, what’s it like at the prop house?

10 tips on visiting a prop house for the first time

Have you ever been to a prop house? They’re pretty amazing places full of random homewares, all kinds of furniture and every conceivable style of china, glass wear and cutlery.

A few weeks ago I bumped into a couple of stylist friends who’ve just gone freelance and they were telling me that they had never been to a prop house and were asking me what the set up is before they get their first big commercial shoots. Shooting as a freelancer as apposed to the way you work in-house on a magazine is very different. It’s funny how quickly you forget about those scary emotions when you first go it alone. I remember how petrified I was on getting a fantastically big job a few months after I left Woman and Home. I was commissioned to style a pull out magazine for The Mail. It was all homeware offers and it was a massive 10 day shoot covering most rooms in the house. I was nervous about the styling aspect but the prop hire was one of the things that was freaking me out most.

The budget is HOW MUCH?!?!?!

On being told I had a budget of £6,000 – yes £60000 I had no idea how I was going to finance this. I must add that this was the first and last time I was given such a whopper of a budget. Having never done this kind of shoot before I thought I had to lay out for the props myself but it turns out I should have asked for an advance – something I didn’t find out till later and once I had put it all on a credit card. (They did pay me the advance quickly so my credit card would be cleared in time after the shoot – thank goodness!)
Up until this point I’d paid for prop hire on a credit card. I just assumed that was how things were done. They are not.

Get an advance or get them to pay!

Now I don’t pay for prop hire at all. I always ask the client to pay. It’s so much easier and makes the expenses on a shoot much more simple.

So, back to my conversation… my friends were asking about how you hire from a prop house- as that was where I was headed after our catch up. I’ve been asked this a few times over the years by other new freelancers. It can be a kind of a confusing place. There’re so many forms to fill out, payment to organise, couriers to be booked and that’s not even mentioning how you actually get the products you want. I thought it might be useful to do a video while I was at the prop house. A kind of walk around so you know what to expect when visiting for the first time. You can see that at the end of this post. So here’s what you need to know.

10 tips on how to hire from a prop house

  1. Get an account : The first time you visit a prop house you will need to set up an account. This is pretty simple. They just want to know who you are, what your company name is (ie Emma Morton-Turner – thank you very much!) address and contact details. They may ask for all of this on headed paper. You have to sign their T&C’s form which is basically once you’re set up and hiring you’ll be asked ‘Who’s the hirer for these props?” and you can just say your name rather than the company you’re hiring on the behalf of as they probably won’t have an account.What's it like at a prop house?
  2. Sign in. When you arrive at the prop house don’t forget to sign in – and then out. It’s a safety thing. You can then walk straight past the reception desk and have a look at the props.
  3. Trolley’s: Most prop houses have trolleys or baskets for you to put your props in. It’s a bit like shopping where everything you need is in once place and you have to give it all back again afterwards. At Superhire there are trolleys that you fill. Once you have selected everything you need you park up your trolley near the desks at the front where the guys who organise the loans sit. On their desks are stickers. Write your details : Name, job reference, company hiring from(client) and the all important collection date on it and place it on your trolley.There will be a LOT of trolley’s. Park up then bring your props to the attention of one of the staff. They need to know that you are there or they might not realise there’s a new loan to be arranged. Usually, they’ll just acknowledge you, ask which trolley’s yours, ask who the hire is for (you/client) and when the collection is for and then you can leave.What's it like at a prop house?
  4. The paperwork: Once you’ve left the prop house the staff will go through your hire and list every item on a hire sheet. This is then emailed to you and you can see what the loan is going to cost. This is where you agree to it or ask for items to be removed. I have had to remove super expensive items in the past as they’re cheaper to buy. Ask for an updated invoice if you remove items.What's it like at a prop house?
  5. The payment: Once you’re happy with your hire list the prop house will need a PO on headed paper to be sent. This is an example of a PO. It needs to say who you are hiring from, the date you are collecting and the date you are paying and the total amount including any credit card charges. The client must be the one who sends this on headed paper. It is basically the hire company’s  t&c’s saying that you will take care of the props and are insured and if anything gets damaged you are responsible for repair or replacement. This is why the client MUST be the one to send the PO. They must be responsible otherwise that £1000 antique vase that gets knocked off a shelf is your responsibility to pay for.
    Once the PO has been sent the hire can be paid for. This is usually done over the phone with a company credit card. Most prop houses will charge £5 for paying with a credit card. Payment can also be made by a BACS transfer but make sure that it will clear before your collection date. 
    It’s also good to know that there’s a minimum hire fee of £25+VAT so if you only need an item or two it can be less expensive to buy it – especially when you take into consideration the courier costs.What's it like at a prop house?
  6. Get your timings right . You can hire props for the next day (or even the same day if there’s only a few items and you’re taking them away with you) but the guys who check it out won’t be very happy with you. Always try and leave at least 2-3 days between selecting the items and collecting them. You can organised loans a week before your shoot. Stylists who set up TV programs book whole room sets months in advance.
  7. Be organised: Make sure you have a list. Pretty obvious I know but in the past I’ve gone with a long list with everything I need for each shot on it but now I put everything into sections so all the china, furniture, accessories, random stuff I need in one list not all jumbled up. That way it’s easier to walk around and find things without it taking all day. I learnt the hard way.
  8. It takes time: Expect to be at the prop house for a few hours. Prop houses are like time warp machines. I don’t think I’ve ever borrowed something and it hasn’t taken me at least 2 hours to get it sorted. If you’re borrowing furniture AND accessories it will take some time to plan and organise travelling between different floors. 
    Hiring furniture will often mean you will need to source from one floor then go and physically get someone who will organise your loan from another floor, take them back to the furniture so they can label it up then go back to their desk to see what it costs to hire. There can be a lot of to-ing and fro-ing!
  9. Returning props: Most prop house loans are for a one week hire. Go one day over and you have to pay the whole hire fee again. I’ve negotiated discounts on a second week’s hire fee when props were returned on the 8th day but it was tricky!
  10. Share the costs: Make sure the client knows what the courier fees are going to be. Clients who are new to prop hire are often surprised buy the additional costs. As a very rough figure on a recent shoot my couriers recently charged £475 to collect from Superhire prop house, hold overnight, deliver to a london location in the morning then collect from the location later that day and return to the prop house the following day.What's it like at a prop house?

A word about Superhire

Superhire is one of the bigger prop houses. It houses a number of prop hire companies under one roof :-

  • Furniture hire : Anything and everything from pub stools, vintage school desks, sofas, beds, dining tables dressers etc
  • Small hire: Anything not furniture from seasonal items, china, glassware cutlery, bar accessories, candles, office equipment, old bicycles, Christmas, everything!!
  • Modern props – Super modern styled furniture and accessories including on trend vintage/industrial items, backdrops
  • Old Times: Think antiques roadshow
  • All clear images (within Modern Props)  : Works of art that are cleared for photography and filming. Some are really large.

Hiring from any of these companies will require a separate PO and payment. I will often hire from 2-3 of these companies for any one shoot.

I can’t stress enough how important it is to return the props to the correct department. Although rogue vases destined for modern props that end up in small hire should find their way back to the correct floor this rarely happens and it will end with a ‘lost prop’ invoice for the replacement of that item at full price. Been there done that! Don’t like it!

So I hope that gives you a clear idea of what a prop house is like and how to navigate around one and hire your props? The last time I was at Superhire I did a quick video walk around so I could share it with you so you can see the different departments. Have a look at the video. I hope it’s useful.

Till next time

EmmaMT x

EmmaMT