Life Divided: Kebab vans

Matthew Palmer and Stephen Hawes discuss the attraction and aversion to Oxford’s kebab vans

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For (Matthew Palmer):

We’ve all been there. You stumble and crawl out of PT or Cellar, or whichever wretched hive of scum and villainy that has occupied your attention for the last few hours.

It’s not been a great night. The music was crap, you overdid yourself at pre-drinks, and you missed that blissful happy-drunk phase, only to plummet straight into the depths of being completely plastered.

Now, as you dumbly reacquaint yourself with the bitterly numbing Oxford night air, you realise that you’ve lost your friends. But, even in your drunken stupor, you know that only a fool would panic. You know there’s only one place that they possibly could be. Hassan’s.

You totter past the crying students, drunken louts and other club detritus, up the hill towards the promised land. You resolutely trudge forward, imbued by the new sense of purpose in your life. You see it ahead of you, the warm glow spilling out onto the Broad Street pavement. A new sense of hope fills you. The queue is mercifully short, and you fall in to join it.

All thoughts of friends have gone for a minute; they are not here yet, and you have time— and a stomach—to fill. Your befuddled mind is momentarily intimidated by the sheer choice on offer, and you haven’t quite made a decision before it’s your turn.

“Next please!” You panic! What do you say to this noble provider of quality fare?

“Cheesssy Chipss,” you slur, and quick as lightning you have a steaming pile of flaccid chips in your hand, smothered with greasy plastic goodness. The heat of the chips warms your heart and spreads throughout the body. You have a surge of energy, the vigour required to get you home. As you turn around, you see your mates just approaching, and you break into a smile. Nobody can resist coming together to worship at the greasy altar.

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Hassan has done it again.

Against (Stephen Hawes):

There’s something quite shameful about a late-night kebab.

Drunken crowds stopping off at Hussein’s on the way back from Bridge may not notice it, but try standing in the undulating queue for ‘chicken meat’ and chips in the freezing cold, sober, and one will definitely notice something awry. Sordid almost.

The kebab van is a staple for a night out in Oxford. I have read that there are more kebab vans per square kilometre in this city than any other in the country. Even if this isn’t quite the unadulterated truth, there’s a bloody lot of them. The kebab, or whatever that thing is that you always find yourself choosing, is the rather predictable end to an evening that you promised yourself would be something amazingly extra-ordinary only a few hours before.

The kebab van itself, between the hours of about half-one and half-three, seems to attract us students at our very worst: intoxicated, hungry, and jaded. There have been several occasions where I have witnessed scuffles and arguments outside such establishments, and several more where I have found myself talking to people trying over-zealously to insist that they are not half as inebriated as their off -rhythm swaying would suggest.

It seems that the majority of people ordering at an Oxford kebab van are already way past their bedtime.

Of course, the kebab van, the dubious meatproducts, and the punters more suited to eating out of a trough, are not likely to go away. The whole phenomenon is far too lucrative and far too popular.

As a fresher, there seemed to be weeks where I survived purely off of large doners and late-night burgers myself. But the feeling of walking away from the warmth of the serving hatch, clutching the regulatory polystyrene box, is never a satisfactory one.

Perhaps, by then, I have sobered up just a bit too much. Or, perhaps, I should have simply gone home to eat burnt toast in peace.