Having defeated all the silly academic deadlines that were curbing my free time, today I found myself wandering the streets of Oxford with no particular ambitions. There are a dozen small shops nearby that sell shirts and sweaters and other things emblazoned with the Oxford name, and I hadn’t really had much interest in their wares, as wearing a shirt that so prominently displays the university name while living within that university seems unnecessary, unless you feel the need to assert yourself to the tourists and baristas as being a bona fide, tshirt-purchasing student, so I hadn’t in all of my three months here found myself inside any of these shops. And I didn’t find my own feelings on the subject to be changed on this particular day, though I felt an inking of an obligation to purchase something, whether for me or as some kind of tourist token for someone back in the motherland, so I went in to have a look.
Pretty standard fare, you know, shirts and pens and key-chains and all that. Nothing too stunning, and as much as I enjoy a good key-chain, their prices would have only been reasonable if they had been selling actual thousand-year-old bricks from some Norman castle on a keyring.
BUT I clearly wasn’t looking close enough. Upon a more intense survey of the pens and coasters, I found the most wondrous pieces of artisanship that you can find in a giftshop: novelty cigarette lighters
!! I won’t directly embed the photo here, so as to not ruin the fantastical suspense that you surely felt just before you clicked on ‘novelty cigarette lighters.’ Were you disappointed? You better have not been, because those are amazing little things. They make fire, you know.
I didn’t realize, at first, what the basket of little soda cans, beer cans, and tiny cigarette boxes actually contained. Some of them had ‘Oxford,’ and some ‘London,’ written on the sides. Maybe I was just stunned, and couldn’t comprehend the beauty that was quickly being smudged by my grimy fingers. After a moment of reflection, which may have been a few moments, I understood. They were cigarette lighters that looked like things that aren’t lighters. And they say OXFORD on them. Ohhhhhhh I get it!
First of all, we have a lighter that is vaguely shaped like a Coke can, and is appropriately colored and decorated. Of course, in place of ‘Coca Cola’ is ‘Oxford.’ Their approximation of the Coke typeface is a little lackluster, but hey, you can’t expect those old lighter designers to be masters of ALL trades. It also features a picture of a glass Coke bottle, altered to resemble Big Ben. They stole my idea! I knew I should have patented my bottle clock. So anyway, it’s a Coke can, it says Oxford, and it lights cigarettes. They also had Budweiser-esque beer cans, which almost made more sense in a booze-and-cigarettes sort of way, but I chose Coke. Actually, though, it doesn’t work. No fire. Seems to be lacking fuel, but I think if I was intrepid enough, with the right supplies, I could refill it. Then I’d have a flame-throwing Coke can that says Oxford on it. Of course, since it doesn’t work, that means it’s a gift for someone. Yay!
Next is my preferred lighter: the little box of cigarettes. It also says Oxford, this time in Camel ciggish writing. A camel is front and center, and he’s dressed as a royal guard, or whatever that variety of guard is called. Look at ‘em! He has a pike, and a hat, and even little royal camel shoes, and is watching over his scepter’d isle. In place of the pyramids and palm trees are the Tower bridge and the Tower of London. This particular camel has a tower proclivity. The back features other tourist traps that I never really got around to going to, but can now enjoy on my lighter. To top it off, the trigger to spark a flame looks like a couple protruding cigarettes. Ahhhh. So, yes. A lighter that looks like a box of cigs. Did I mention that I don’t smoke?
Come to think of it, the clerk only charged me for one. There are a few very plausible reasons for this: 1) She was stunned by my foreign charm and couldn’t possibly charge me for everything, 2) She pitied me for buying a dozen cigarette lighters and pens, and thought that maybe if my only pleasure in life was novelty lighters, she could brighten a poor soul’s day, or 3) She mistook one of the lighters for an actual box of teeny cigarettes, or a teeny little disproportioned Coke can, and though I was just setting them down while we did our business. I imagine it was a combination of all three reasons.