Today was a surprisingly good day. Not surprising because I had expected anything bad to happen -- I hadn't and it didn't. Just surprising because not very much at all happened... and yet a number of small but positive things contributed to making it a good day.

It actually started last night, when I was ringing at Mary Mag during the first OUSCR practice of Trinity Term. Right after walking in, the master asked me if I wanted to ring a touch of Plain Bob Triples. Now nobody actually rings Plain Bob Triples. They ring Plain Bob Doubles (five bells), Plain Bob Minor (six bells), or Plain Bob Major (eight bells). No one rings Plain Bob Triples (seven bells). Indeed, the standard book of methods that I use doesn't even have PBT in there!

As such, I am not at all practiced in this method. I do consider myself quite adept at Plain Bob Doubles, though, and getting skilled at Minor. Sometimes I can do Major, but not reliably. On the fly, I pieced together what I know from Major -- since eight is close to seven -- and Doubles -- since five is also an odd number of bells -- and gave it my best shot. Amazingly enough, my best shot was quite good! I kept the method consistently for quite some time... and I could even hear that my striking was well placed. Very nice, if I do say so myself!

I have been doing a fair bit of ringing lately, and I feel I am making more progress. So that put me into a happy mood that continued into today. From there, things just got better.

For one thing, the weather today continued its recent trend of being incredible! By and large, one of the things that I dislike most about living in England is the weather[*]. Of late, though, that complaint is baseless. Good! Coupled with the fact that the days are now nearly fifteen hours long -- and still growing -- it is positively a joy to be outside! On my way into work this morning, I had a lovely bicycle ride across Kensington Gardens, taking in the weather and the lake and the greenery!

Work itself continues to go reasonably well. I still have more to do than I can get done. But what else is new? Progress is happening, and I am getting excited about the upcoming trip to Japan. Not as excited as I will be about the September Japan trip -- where, at long last, I get to return to my "home" area of Gifu and Toyama after six years away -- but excited

It goes on from there, though: Our flat was inspected today, and passed with flying colours. As a nice side-effect of this, the Flat With No Name is now quite, quite tidy. Just the way I like it! When I got home from work, [ profile] cheshcat was in a cheery mood. No matter what else is going on, that always brightens my day. And if it is an already-bright day? Well, so much the better! And brighter! I arrived home just as her music -- set to shuffle play -- switched onto Another Day (from Rent). With no discussion, we naturally slipped into a very energetic version of this duet. We had a blast... though I think that we may have startled both kitties!

After eating dinner, I had a delightful "phone date" with the terrific [ profile] tawneypup. She has only been gone for a couple of weeks, but I definitely miss her. Ah well -- at least it will be May very soon[**], at which point I can say that I am seeing her again in the month after next!

Finally, the day is almost done... but I have an excellent weekend to look forward to! Tomorrow, [ profile] bunnypip is coming down to join [ profile] cheshcat and I for a two-part theatrical rendition of Phillip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy at -- you guessed it! -- the Oxford Playhouse. Then there is a weekend of Beltane fun to follow! Huzzah!

[*] In contrast, one of the things that I miss most -- aside from certain special Anarchists -- about living in Phoenix is the delightful weather there!

[**] In just over twenty-four hours!

Just got back from bringing [ profile] tawneypup to the airport bus. I waited with her until the bus came, then put her on board and waved as the bus drove off. Then I watched for a minute until the bus was out of sight[*] before turning and walking back to the flat.

It was wonderful having her here and, by and large, it was a really good visit. Yes, there were a couple of unforeseen happenings[**] that were not so great, but overall the week was fantastic. Much as I love being Nomadic -- and the opportunities that it has offered -- one of the hardest things to do, even after all these years, is parting with a loved one. One would think that, with all the experience I have, the separation of long distance relationships would be easier, yes?

On returning to the flat, I saw Giles sitting in the bedroom window. He stood up when he saw me to stretch and meow lovingly. Looking at my baby -- now nearly full grown! -- reminded me that I should not get too maudlin; there are many blessings to be counted. This visit very nicely split up the three months since I last saw [ profile] tawneypup and the three months until I will see her again at Starwood. We had a lovely visit and did many nifty things. She and [ profile] cheshcat get along swimmingly. Et cetera, et cetera, and so forth.

I have to get ready for work now, as we have a big T2K UK meeting in Oxford starting in about an hour. And, with some luck, I may be able to procure my car from Kent today, too.[***] So, as usual, a busy day ahead. I will be fine and shall rise to the challenges it presents. I will also just be a little sad inside, whilst I miss my tawney girl.

[*] I tend to be sappy and romantic like that.

[**] Like, oh, the car story that I have not yet told.

[***] We shall see about this, as I have no confirmed ride yet. But I am going to do my best.

To sleep, perchance to dream. Or, on the other hand, to be jetlagged... and do neither! Tis well and truly the middle of the night, yet I am still not asleep. Not for lack of trying, either. I wound down the evening many hours ago by having a lovely phone date with the even-lovelier [ profile] tawneypup[1]. During the phone call, my beloved [ profile] cheshcat proved once again how sweet and thoughtful she is by bringing me a cup of hot cocoa to help me relax. At the end of the call, I made a valiant effort to sleep. I hopped under the covers to cuddle with [ profile] cheshcat, and was joined by both Giles and The Boy.

Alas, despite all these accoutrements and preparations, sleep was ever elusive and evaded capture.

So. As long as I am to be awake in the wee hours of the night, I may as well put it to good use, yes? It seems like now is as good a time as any to write the final instalment of my holiday adventures in the States[2]. Perhaps I can write myself into at least half a night's sleep[3]...

Thursday January 1st 2009 I started the day off by checking out of the hotel where the O'hana party had been held. [ profile] gyades and I played a game of Go, which he won... though not be all that much. Either I am improving, or his skills are atrophying. Not sure which, but our recent matches have not been nearly the slaughter that they once were.

In the afternoon, I did some mundane things, like tidying the house and seting up my 2009 SlingShot organizer. I also spend quite a bit of time with Stumpy and Chirp; Stumpy, in particular, remains as sweetly slutty as ever! I miss my little furry black girls when I am in England. I still hope to bring them over someday, to reunite them with their brother, The Boy.

After a relatively mellow day, things got more exciting in the late afternoon. "Why is that?" you may fairly ask, gentle readers. It is because the terrific and tantalizing [ profile] tawneypup arrived from Michigan for a visit![4] Having not seen my delightful darling since October, it was all thrilled and bouncy to be with her again. After suitable greetings were made, I introduced her to [ profile] gyades. It was not in the least surprising that the two of them took to each other quite readily. There was really no question in my mind that these two would get along swimmingly -- after all, [ profile] tawneypup is basically a female version of me[5]. The only real risk was that having two of me in one place might fry [ profile] gyades's brain!

Before [ profile] tawneypup arrived, [ profile] gyades had been cooking dinner. In recent years, he has specialised in Indian cooking. Had he and [ profile] tawneypup not bonded instantly, I suspect that this would have closed the deal. Ever since her trip to India last year, my darling Tawney has been quite the fan of Indian food. And [ profile] gyades cooks it quite well!

Following dinner, we broke out Ticket To Ride. I had never played the U.S./Canadia version of the game before. However, it is similar enough to the European version that I settled into it quite easily. It was a very close game, but I managed to win. Final scores: 152 points (me) to 120 points ([ profile] gyades) to 110 points ([ profile] tawneypup). This doesn't seem all that close. However, on my final turn, with my final card, I bought my final train... for a total of sixty-four points. If anything in that delicate situation had not lined up, I would have been -- what is the technical term? -- completely hosed!

We followed up Ticket To Ride with a game called Quelf. [ profile] tawneypup had brought it with her -- I had neither played it before nor even heard of it. It is a very silly nonsense game, with a bizarre set of rules. The sort of thing to play when you want to game, but not think very hard. In the end, I won... again by the proverbial skin of my non-proverbial teeth. [ profile] tawneypup and I made it to the final square at the same time... but I won the challenge on the final card drawn.

When we were done gaming, we bid a good night to [ profile] gyades, then went upstairs to reacquaint ourselves and catch up on some long overdue quality alone time.

Friday January 2nd 2009 On Friday morning, [ profile] tawneypup and I lounged in bed decadently for a very long time. When we finally arose, we showered and then I took her out to Butterfields for breakfast. Butterfields is my favourite breakfast place; since [ profile] tawneypup had taken me to breakfast at her favourite place, it seemed only fair to return the favour. It took quite some time to choose only one item from the menu. However, we finally did manage to order -- I had a spinach, feta, and mushroom omelet with hash browns and pancakes. When the food arrived it was, as expected, superb!

After breakfast, [ profile] tawneypup was extremely patient and accommodating, as I needed to pay a visit to the Illinois Secretary of State's office to renew my driver's license. Alas, this was the sole day during my Chicago trip that it would be possible to do so. Whilst there, she got to witness the egocentricity of Jesse White, our SoS. We also got to entertain ourselves by sitting on the "Group W" bench[6].

Once that errand was done, we met up with [ profile] gyades and went to go play Laser Tag! This was only my second time playing laser tag -- the first was with [ profile] tawneypup in Michigan last October. I am really enjoying it though! Quite a shame that the Oxford Laser Tag shut down a couple of years ago! I could see myself getting seriously addicted otherwise! Unlike the October games, which were divided into three teams, this was a free-for-all. When all was said and done, I had done... okay. Out of thirty-two players, I was ranked number thirteen. [ profile] tawneypup was not far behind me, at number sixteen. [ profile] gyades may need a little more practice -- he came in at number twenty-five.

We dropped [ profile] gyades off at home and made our way into downtown Chicago. Our destination was a Middle Eastern restaurant where one of [ profile] tawneypup's friends was performing. This made for quite an excellent evening -- both the food and the dancing were exemplary! When she was done dancing, we all sat and chatted for quite some time before [ profile] tawneypup and I made our way back to the Event Horizon.

Saturday January 3rd 2009 Slept in once again! Really, it is hard not to with such company! When we finally managed to pull ourselves out of bed, we joined [ profile] gyades, who made breakfast for all. Then it was time for a rematch at Ticket To Ride. This time, I started with a terrible hand of route cards. In Thursday's game, I had built all of my routes, drew more, then built them, too. This time, I adopted a different strategy: Built what I had been dealt, then end the game as quickly as possible, making sure to take the "longest road" bonus with me. Although not as satisfying a strategy, it did work. I forced an end to the game whilst both of my dear opponents still had several unfinished routes underway. Final scores: 120 points (me) to 102 points ([ profile] tawneypup) to 58 points ([ profile] gyades).

Since the weather was nice, we all hopped in the car and drove half a mile to the Morton Arboretum. One of the many things that I love about the Event Horizon is that it is situation so close to such a wonderful place. I try to visit there every time that I am in Chicago. However, I think that I had not actually had a Winter visit before! It was really nice, seeing the place partially covered in snow! It was great to share this special place with a very special person! We started off in the children's section, climbing the adventure playground equipment. Then we did a "Gnome Hunt"[7] and successfully tracked down all twenty-four gnomes. Sneaky little buggers, those gnomes are! Afterwards, we drove about the site, stopping at times to do a bit of hiking -- for instance, we made our way down the Big Rock trail to see (what else?) the Big Rock!

We stayed at the arboretum until it closed. After that, I took [ profile] tawneypup out for dinner at a Mexican place in Glen Ellyn. I had not been there before, nor had I known of the place. [ profile] gyades uncovered it by doing some web research... and I can now highly recommend it!

After dinner, [ profile] tawneypup and I headed into Chicago once again. Our destination was Sidekick's, the karaoke bar that I used to frequent when I called the Event Horizon my primary residence. It is the site of the monthly Poly Chicago get-togethers, so I have quite a few happy memories there. In contrast, [ profile] tawneypup had never been to a karaoke bar... so taking her there to lose her karaoke-virginity was not optional! By the end of the evening, I had sang alone twice (Billy Joel's Still Rock & Roll To Me and Scandal's Goodbye To You), she sang alone once, and we sang together once (Bonnie Tyler's Total Eclipse of the Heart). It was gangs of fun, and next time we are planning to do a duet of Sweet Caroline. Mainly just for the fun of the bah-BAH-bahs! However, seeing as this was our last evening together for some time, we did not want to stay at Sidekick's until we were ready to fall over for the evening!

Instead, we left around 10:30pm, made it back to the Event Horizon by about eleven, and celebrated the rest of the evening by ourselves.

Sunday January 4th 2009 Started the day with a return trip to Butterfields, this time with [ profile] gyades in tow, too. It had been so difficult for [ profile] tawneypup and I to choose only one item from the menu last time that we decided a return visit was in order! This time, I got an apple and caramel waffle with some very creamy cheese, to boot!

After breakfast, [ profile] xirpha joined us at the Event Horizon for gaming! We started with Settlers of Catan. Once again, it was a very tight game. I made the mistake of building a settlement too soon, allowing [ profile] tawneypup to beat me in a race to a valuable port. This set me back significantly, though I finally managed to eke out a win. Final scores: 10 points (me) to 8 points ([ profile] gyades) to 7 points (both [ profile] xirpha and [ profile] tawneypup).

Next game was Betrayal at House on the Hill[8]. This is where my winning streak came to an end. As luck would have it, I was fated to be the traitor in this game. However, some bad dice rolls kept me from doing anything more than killing [ profile] gyades before I was taken down by the others. There was also a bit of Fluxx played after me and my army of demons went down in flames.

Around half five, [ profile] tawneypup and I bid an all-too-soon farewell. Then she embarked on the drive back to Michigan whilst I drove to the Lisle train station to pick up the enchanting [ profile] iamthesphinx.

I won't say much about the date with [ profile] iamthesphinx here. For one thing, although she is almost never on LiveJournal anymore, she has a habit of popping in and checking up on me when I least expect it. Which is just after I have said something about her in these pages[9]. For another thing, my relationship with the lovely Sphinx is, without a doubt, the most unusual relationship that I have ever had. There have been quite a few ups and downs in the nearly three years that we have been together. I have learned that, whatever my expectations are for when we go out together, they are almost certainly wrong[10].

Case in point: This date went nothing like how I had expected it to go. Indeed, it exceeded my expectations by a wide margin! Blew them all to smithereens -- wherever that is -- one might say. It was a very, very good date. And that is all that I will say in a public forum.

Monday January 5th 2009 After not nearly enough sleep, I brought the enchanting [ profile] iamthesphinx back to the train station. I waited with her until her train arrived, then bid her a most fond farewell.

After that, there was the usual barrage of last minute errands to tend to. Mainly hitting several stores for items that I cannot procure in England. Also, giving poor Lucretia II a good wash to recover from over twenty-five hundred miles of driving before putting her away until Spring. And packing. Lots of packing. Nothing really exciting there.

When [ profile] gyades came home from work at lunchtime, he and I exchanged our holiday presents. Then he drove me to the airport, where I had a nice boring flight back to England.

And that, dear friends, is what I did on my Winter vacation...

[1] Said conversation was particularly welcome, due to the fact that we have not spoken in nearly two weeks. Ordinarily, we have a standing weekly phone date. However, we each went travelling for a week... and the two trips were timed just right so as to be serial, rather than parallel.

[2] Actually, given that the trip ended three weeks ago, I would say that two and a half weeks ago would have been a better time. However, that time machine is still in the pipeline. Have to perfect the transporter first, then get started building the invisible aeroplane.

[3] In which case I will finish this composition tomorrow.

[4] Were I Kermit the Frog, this would be an appropriate place to run about, waving my head wildly and shouting "Yaaaaaaaaaaay!!!!!!"

[5] Except slightly younger and slightly cuter.

[6] Alongside the mother-rapers... father-stabbers.... and father-rapers!

[7] Very similar to the "ghost hunt" that I did with Darelle and company in November, or the pumpkin hunt that I did with [ profile] cheshcat at Blenheim Palace in October.

[8] Affectionately known as The Shinning.

[9] See here for an example.

[10] Unless she is in a monogamous relationship at the time we go out. In which case my expectation -- that we are going out as friends only -- is always right. And I would not have that any other way. I am polyamourous; I do not cheat.

Looking back at previous years, it seems that I rarely blog about the Decemberween[1] celebrations. I suppose that this is not too shocking -- I spend most of Decemberween on the go, and away from a computer. By the time that the holidays are over, too much has elapsed to try to chronicle it all.

This year's attempt to do a holiday write-up is perhaps an illustrative example; it is now late January and I am still not quite finished with my report! I realise that no one else much cares at this point what I was doing one month ago. Indeed, since my holiday in the States ended, I have come back to England, left England for Japan, and returned to England yet again[2]. Obviously, I am well behind in my blogging and it would make good sense to simply give up. However, I am not known for my common sense... and it would feel wrong to leave my travelogue unfinished. Thus, I resume telling my story.

Tuesday December 30th: Woke up at Mom's place again[3], gathered my belongings, and headed out with [ profile] cheshcat. Mom was very happy to have had our company, but was obviously quite broken up to see up go. I will try to bring her to England for a week in 2009; I think it would be good for her.

The plan had been to drop [ profile] cheshcat off with [ profile] resourceress at [ profile] squeektoy42's house, then drive four hundred miles to Ohio by the evening to have a date with the lovely [ profile] livetbd. Well, we all know what Robbie Burns has to say about plans, don't we?

Just after we arrived in Jersey City, right before I was about to bid farewell to my beloved [ profile] cheshcat, we received a phone call from C&M, who were back in Oxford. Apparently, Giles -- our seven month old tiger kitten -- had gone missing. Oh, crap! We had a series of friends looking in on our Oxford kitties whilst we were away. In addition to feeding and watering them, we asked our friends to make sure that the cats were okay. This was added to the cat care request after last December, when we returned home to find our poor Totoro at Death's door from kidney failure.

But I digress from a very important point: Oh, crap! Giles had last been seen on Boxing Day -- four days earlier. When T had gone to the [as yet unnamed] flat on Dec 28, there was no sign of Giles. Now C&M were there, and he was still missing. At first, I assumed that Giles, being a cat, had simply found a good place to hide. We spent nearly an hour on the phone with C, guiding him about the flat and suggesting places to search. It began with known hiding locations, then progressed to any possible spot that we could conceive of that Giles might get into. We had poor C moving furniture about and climbing on top of things. Still no Giles.

Oh, crap! After searching every conceivable location in the flat, it began to become clear that somebody had accidentally let our cat out. Which means that he was likely lost to us. I had been reluctant to believe this; for one thing, it seemed quite improbably. Yet, as Sherlock Holmes said, when one eliminates all the other options, then what remains, however improbable, must be true. I was also painfully aware that this was one year, to the day, since we returned home to find Totoro nearly dead. Needless to say, both [ profile] cheshcat and I were becoming very upset.

We kicked into emergency mode. We asked C&M to check with the neighbours to see if they had noticed a tiger kitten about. We called T to see if there was any chance that he had let Giles out. Although that had been my original suspicion, he managed to convince us that he was not at fault. We alerted local cat shelters. Then we called the company that manages our flat to see if they had sent over any repairmen to work on the flat in recent days. After all, there are only a limited number of keys to our flat. T has one and C&M have one; both convinced us that they had not let Giles out. Neither [ profile] cheshcat nor I had done so, of course, since we were on another continent. It is possible that Darelle or [ profile] dr_jen could have done so... but since both were out of Oxford, it seemed unlikely. The sole remaining key belonged to the company that managed the flat.

It was out of hours, so we called their emergency number. The woman who answered said that if I called back in an hour, when she was near a computer, she would check for me. However, she also said that they do not normally do repair work between Christmas and New Years. Hurm.

So maybe no one could have let Giles out. Perhaps he was in the flat after all? But... where? He likes to hide from people who are not [ profile] cheshcat or [ profile] anarchist_nomad, but where could he be hiding? I came up with a cunning plan. We asked T to go to the flat and remove the cat food. Leave plenty of water, but no food. Then, when C&M returned on the following day, Giles would be quite hungry. In such a case, he would likely come out when anyone -- even a stranger -- rattled the food bag.

With all these plans in place, I finally departed from Jersey City, several hours later than planned.

Total Miles Driven: 1509

Shortly after leaving on my journey, I got a phone call from C. Apparently, T had gone back to the flat and, before he got inside, noticed Giles lazily washing himself in the front window.

That little $H!+!!!!!!!!!!

I was relieved, incredulous, and furious at the same time! Where they hell could that little terror have been hiding? To this day, I still do not know his secret spot! While covering away in it, however, he managed to scare, upset or disrupt a large number of people: There was T, his wife and mother (who he brought on Dec 28 to help search the flat for Giles), C&M, [ profile] dr_jen (who T had called on Dec 28), Darelle (who [ profile] dr_jen had called), me, [ profile] cheshcat, [ profile] squeektoy42 and A (whose home we turned into Command Central for our emergency operations), [ profile] resourceress, plus [ profile] livetbd (who I was now hours late in meeting) and her husband D. How could one little kitten cause so much trouble??!

Anyway, I phoned [ profile] cheshcat and let her know that all was well. I then continued making my way to Youngstown, Ohio.

I arrived at [ profile] livetbd's house at 11pm -- far later than planned, and much to late to have a proper date. I am grateful that both she and her husband, D, were understanding. As cat people themselves, they understood, and have been in similar situations themselves. Still, I felt somewhat guilty and promised to make it up to [ profile] livetbd with a theatre date in Chicago the next time that I am in the States. She did not turn down this offer of penance.

After the three of us spent some time together catching up, D went out to midnight karaoke with friends. That left [ profile] livetbd and I to have some quality alone time together. Priorities are important: We started off with her giving me a tour of back porch. There sits the new hot tub that they had installed since the last time that I visited. A full appreciation of the installation work required closer inspection, which I was happy to engage in. Nothing quite like soaking in a hot tub in the middle of a cold winter night! Especially when one has some rather delightful company and a distinct lack of clothing!

I am quite grateful that [ profile] livetbd, like myself, is a night person. Despite my late arrival, we spent quite a few hours -- inside the hot tub and out -- deliciously enjoying each others' company!

Total Miles Driven: 1914

Wednesday December 31st: I wish that I could say that Wednesday began as well as Tuesday had ended. Alas, this was not to be the case. I awoke -- with far too little sleep -- around 10am to the sound of [ profile] livetbd crying. Even before I pulled on clothing and rushed downstairs, I feared that I knew what had upset her. I was not mistaken. During the night, one of their cats -- who had been very sick -- had passed away.

Like [ profile] cheshcat and I before moving to England, [ profile] livetbd and D had had six cats living under one roof. Since my previous visit, one had escaped, so they were down to five. Now it was four. My calendar sense was tingling -- two cat crises in less than twenty-four hours... plus, they lost their kitty on New Years Eve -- just as we had lost Totoro on New Years Eve the year before.

Both [ profile] livetbd and D were, understandably, rather upset. My heart went out to them; I could feel their pain. I gave both sympathy and advice on options for dealing with the body. When D decided to bury their furry friend in the backyard, I helped to dig the grave. I stayed with them for a few hours longer than I had originally intended, because I could sense that my presence was appreciated and doing some good.

Eventually, however, I did leave to finish the return to Chicago and the Event Horizon. Neither [ profile] livetbd nor D were going to go out to celebrate New Years Eve. Who could blame them? How could they? Who can lose a loved one, then immediately go out to party? The previous New Years Eve, when Totoro passed into the Summerlands, [ profile] gyades and [ profile] cheshcat and I cancelled our plans to party into 2008 in London. However, I had party plans and very much needed to keep them. I could not spend two consecutive New Years Eves in a row mourning for dead cats. In a very real sense, I needed a New Years party to help me bring about closure for my dear Totoro.

Thus, slightly before 1pm, I said my goodbyes, hopped into Lucretia II, began the four hundred forty-one mile drive back to Chicagoland. The trip was uneventful. Six hours and fifteen minutes later, I pulled into the driveway at the Event Horizon.

Total Miles Driven: 2355

I arrived home just minutes before 2009 began in the United Kingdom, putting an end to my "Christmas on Wheels" adventure! I texted Darelle one more time, hoping to be the last text that she received in the old year. Then I waited to a short while past midnight -- giving her time to celebrate the changing of the year properly with those that she was actually with -- before calling her up. It was rather amusing to have a phone call spanning the years! And, of course, it was absolutely wonderful to hear my beloved's voice once again!

After a nice conversation with Darelle, it was back into overdrive. Unpack, shower, eat -- all as quickly as possible, so that [ profile] gyades and I could get to the O'hana New Years party as early as we could! We arrived around 8pm and spent the rest of the evening enjoying good company, good food... as well as a pool and a hot tub! Hot tubbing two days in a row? What an excellent way to end the year! Indeed, I could easily make a habit of it!

I will not write too much more about the New Years party, as it already has its own LiveJournal entry. Suffice to say that, at a few minutes before 11pm, I got out of the hot tub and phoned [ profile] cheshcat -- who was in Connecticut with [ profile] resourceress, TinMan 2.0, LaForza, and others at the Treehouse New Years party -- to welcome her into 2009 in my home time zone. To mark the occasion, I turned the telly onto the same station that they were viewing at the Treehouse so that we could watch the ball drop together. Then it was back in the hot tub for me! At midnight, Chicago time, we all celebrated the local onset of 2009!

[1] "Decemberween" is the term that I use to refer to the period from December 12th to January 1st. Those three weeks contain [ profile] cheshcat's birthday (Dec 12), [ profile] resourceress's birthday (Dec 20), Yule (Dec 21), Christmas Eve, Christmas, New Year's Eve, and New Year's Day. As such, the entirety of those three weeks gets merged together into a single long holiday; one that involves an enormous amount of travel and visiting and celebration.

[2] Not strictly true, as I am writing this in Narita Airport as I wait to board my flight. However, by the time I am able to post it, I will be back in England -- most likely on the airline bus to Oxford.

[3] Still not surprising, as this is where I went to sleep again.

Woke up this morning and went back into work today for the first time after the Decemberween festivities[*]. The work day concluded, as they do every Thursday, with our weekly group meeting.

After the meeting, I high tailed it to St. Giles Church... arriving just in the nick of time[**] for the evening's bell ringing practice. This is my first time ringing bells this year. The last time I held a bell rope was December 14th -- twenty-five days ago! Indeed, it has been so long that my bell ringing callouses[***] almost completely went away!

I rang several courses of Plain Bob Minor -- some plain courses and a couple of touches. I wouldn't say that I was brilliant... but I held my own. I also rang a covering tenor for Plain Bob Doubles, and got to practice the treble on a ten minute touch of Grandsire Triples. I can use all the practice there that I can get; one of my 2009 goals is to successfully ring the treble on a quarter peal of Grandsire Triples!

Despite the fun that I had ringing, I must say that the best moment of the practice was when I realised that, as of one week ago, I am now a member of the Oxford City Branch of the Oxford Diocesan Guild of Church Bell Ringers! Excellent! I knew that I had been nominated and accepted for membership -- effective January 1st 2009 -- at the November 2008 business meeting... but, amidst all of the December activities and excitement, I had forgotten about it all! Now I am both a member of the Oxford University Society of Change Bell Ringers and the ODG!

When practice ended at 8:45pm, I hopped on my cycle and rode back to the new [as yet unnamed] flat. I arrived around 9:15 and quickly gobbled down leftovers from last night for dinner whilst petting The Boy. Then darted off a couple of quick e-mails and wrote this post. Now, with 10pm approaching, it is time to huddle over my laptop and join the bi-weekly international T2K SK video-conference. I won't pretend to be thrilled with the 10pm to midnight time slot. However, with collaborators spanning latitudes from Vancouver and California in the West to Japan in the East (and many time zones in-between), this is one of only a few reasonable timeslots. I suppose that I should be grateful; when we go to British Summer Time in late March, the meeting[****] will run from 11pm until one o'clock in the morning!

And, on that note, it is heigh ho, heigh ho -- off to work I go!

[*] Yesterday, everyone was up in Liverpool for a meeting. Due to my holiday travel plans, I did not have the chance to drive there... and I certainly could not see a point in going into the office alone. Instead, I stayed at home and joined in via video-conferencing software.

[**] Technically speaking, I was about ten minutes late. But, by a strange coincidence, tonight's practice also began late by the same margin. I entered the ringing chamber just as the band was getting ready to ring up the bells into position for the practice.

[***] One on my left palm and one on my right ring finger.

[****] Which is rooted in Japan-time.

As many of you know, [ profile] cheshcat and I have four cats. Two of them (Giles & The Boy) live with us in Oxford, whilst the other two (Stumpy & Chirp) live with their Uncle [ profile] gyades at the Event Horizon.[*]

Given the upcoming holiday travels, cat care will be required at both places. So if you are local to Chicagoland or Oxford, please read on. If not... well, this is not the LJ entry you are looking for.

Chicago: [ profile] gyades will be away from Dec 20 to Dec 29. It would be good to have somebody look in on the cats every three days. So if I could find a volunteer to stop by on Dec 23 and another person to drop by on Dec 26, then we should be all covered there. If two people would be willing to do this, then no one needs to come more than once.

Oxford: [ profile] cheshcat and I will be away from Dec 22 to Jan 6. Given the smaller space (with fewer and smaller litter boxes), I would greatly prefer to not leave the cats unattended for more than two days. Thus, considerably more cat care visits are needed. I would like it if somebody could stop by on Dec 24, Dec 26, Dec 28, Dec 30, Dec 32 (a.k.a. Jan 01), Jan 03, and Jan 05. Is there anyone on this list who will be around Oxford and willing to look in on our little ones?

I realise that the number of visits to the Oxford kitties is a bit high (seven). The actual work needed each visit is quite low, however, and can be done in about five minutes. Refill the water bowl, refill the food dish, and scoop the litter box(es).

Thanks to all for considering this request!

[*] I really do miss the days when we had six cats... and they all lived under one roof!
The past thirty-six hours -- from Monday evening until this morning -- have been really good! There hasn't been any one single Major Good Thing... but there have been loads of little things conspiring to put me in an excellent mood!

It started with quite a nice ice skating lesson on Monday evening. I had a couple of breakthrough moments where various and sundry maneuvers seemed to click into place. I still can't reliably do an inside three-turn[*], but my backwards crossovers are looking good and my continuous curves -- both inside and outside edge -- are nice, too!

After skating on Monday, I had a lovely phone date with the even lovelier [ profile] tawneypup! It is always good to hear her voice... and it will be even better to see here again next month! It was also a good way to end my evening; after getting off the phone, I collapsed into bed with [ profile] cheshcat.

Tuesday began with the perfect commute, as I wrote about yesterday... and the day just got better from there. Apparently, I was right about the perfect commute being a good omen![**] For one thing, the weather was clear and sunny -- at this time of year, I will take all the daylight that I can get! Also, over the course of Tuesday, I received word of various and sundry bits of good news -- much of it I cannot repeat in the public domain -- which left me feeling bouncy and happy. Indeed, the bouncy happiness threatened to bubble over... so I went up to the level eight terrace and had a phone chat with Darelle so that I could bounce at her from the roof for a bit!

Tuesday evening was bell ringing practice with the OUSCR at Mary Mag. The return commute was nearly as smooth as the morning's -- only a three minute wait for the Oxford Tube -- and the ringing was quite nice. In particular, I fell into a groove whilst ringing the treble to St. Simons Triples and was ringing impressively well (for me)! These days, I am working on improving my ropesight and my listening skills. Also my bell handling, so that I can make more natural distinctions between a slow stroke, a steady stroke, and a quick stroke.

When practice ended, I picked up noodles for [ profile] cheshcat and I for dinner, then met her at Skullcrusher Mountain. We ate, then removed the last bits of our things from the old flat. With all of our stuff gone, the last task was to get the kitties moved. We had left them to the end, visiting daily with food when we came to pack. The idea -- which seems to have worked -- was to set the new place up reasonably well before unleashing them to destroy it! Before moving the kitties, we bathed them. We do this once or twice a year with our cats, using baby shampoo with conditioner to clean them up. So long as you start them on it young, they tolerate it. They never like it... but they tolerate it. For Giles, who was six months old yesterday, this was his first bath ever! He squirms like a wild thing when we so much as try to clip his claws... so both Chesh and I had anticipated the bath as being quite a challenge. Giles surprised us by taking it remarkably well -- mainly he just went limp and let us get on with it! Good kitty!

Once Giles and The Boy were clean, we put them in the car and left Skullcrusher Mountain. We need to return for cleaning and to do a farewell ritual for the space... but we are now officially moved out! Nice! Indeed, this has been one of the easiest moves I have ever done[***]. We did it all in eleven days, all by ourselves[****] and using only my Red Rover for transport. The new place is not fully set up set... but by spreading the packing over eleven days, we have had time to get a good fraction of our things into place as we went along.[*****]

The poor kitties didn't quite know what hit them! First, Mommy and Daddy take away all the things that they are used to! And go away each night! Then they get shoved into water!! And put in a carrier!! In the car!!! Then taken to a strange place!!!! Poor The Boy, he was very clingy and vocal as he explored the new place -- I made sure to lavish tonnes of attention on him! Giles, being a kitten, was less traumatised and happily explored his new home. Even though it was late, [ profile] cheshcat and I stayed up with them for some time, helping to acclimate them.

Finally, Chesh fell into bed and I hopped into the shower to wash the yuck of the old flat off of me. Then a "quick" hop online to check for mail from one or two certain someones... and into bed myself!

All in all, quite a nice day and a half!

The one downside to it all has been that, amongst all the activity of the past few days, I really have not enjoyed a full night's sleep since Saturday! I will endeavour to rectify this tonight. This evening, [ profile] cheshcat and I have theatre plans at the Oxford Playhouse. I don't know what show we are seeing yet -- this is the second-to-last of the "surprise theatre" tickets that she bought back in August -- but their shows usually let out shortly after ten pm. With any luck, I can grab a quick dinner and be in bed by shortly after eleven o'clock, thus luxuriating in the luxury of eight hours rest!

[*] But that's okay as the term is only half over. I have three more weeks to learn how!

[**] Certain good wishes from certain special people probably didn't hurt with this, either!

[***] Not counting those rare times that we have had professional movers, like when I moved from Arizona to Chicago to start work at Fermilab and the lab paid for the relocation costs.

[****] I believe that this alone is a first!

[*****] We were also able to re-use boxes after unpacking them, which is a nice eco-bonus!

The past couple of days have been busy, but lots of fun. I will write about them later. In the meantime, because it is Samhain, I hereby give myself permission -- just for a little while -- to stop being the World's Biggest Mother-F*$#ing Optimist.

anarchist_nomad: (Baby Giles -- two weeks old)
( Oct. 28th, 2008 10:23 am)
[ profile] cheshcat and I have four cats[*]. The two girls -- Stumpy and Chirp -- live near Chicago, at the Event Horizon, with their uncle [ profile] gyades. The other two -- The Boy and Giles -- live with us at Skullcrusher Mountain in Oxford. The Boy was imported from the States in 2006, whereas Giles (see icon) is a born and bred British cat.

He proved his heritage yesterday. [ profile] cheshcat left a cup of tea momentarily unattended in the living room. When we turned around, Giles was helping himself -- happily lapping the tea up out of the mug. Oi!

While I am ruminating on contrasts between the two sides of the pond, can somebody please explain to me the difference between "while" and "whilst"? Stateside, I don't know anybody who uses "whilst". Here, however, I see both in fairly common usage. When is one appropriate and when is the other? One hundred points to the person who gives me the best explanation!

[*] Not counting Nona, who lives with [ profile] polymorphism in Nebraska now.
anarchist_nomad: (One of my babies)


( Sep. 12th, 2008 03:02 pm)
I'm confused. How is it that my little kittens are six years old now?

When [ profile] cheshcat and I lived in Arizona, we fed the stray cats at our apartment complex. Some of those feral cats eventually warmed up to us enough to let us touch them. Six years ago yesterday, one of those kitties decided that she wanted to come into our apartment. I was in Japan at the time, but [ profile] cheshcat noticed that this kitty looked like she had swallowed a basketball! Very, very pregnant!

We talked and decided that the best thing to do would be to let the kitty come inside and lock her in the second bathroom. The isolation would keep our beloved Foxy and Totoro safe, in case she was carrying anything, and we could then contact a local shelter to take her so that her babies could be born indoors. We were concerned that she would otherwise give birth in the heat of the Sonoran desert -- still rather intense, even in September -- and that most of the kittens would not survive.

Six years ago today, I received a phone call from [ profile] cheshcat shortly before I was ready to go to bed in Japan. Looking at the clock, I quickly worked out what time it was for her, sixteen hours earlier. It was very nearly time for her class to start.

"Why aren't you on your way to class?" I asked of her.

"Because the kittens started coming out," was her reply.

"Oh." I paused. "Yeah, that's a good reason."

Despite Chesh's attempts to keep the mother in the bathtub, she had insisted on giving birth in the litterbox... which contained clumping litter! The first two kittens were covered in litter and Chesh needed to snatch them away from their mum to break the sack under running water before they suffocated! Whoops! Momma cat wasn't so happy about having her newborns snatched away, but it did the trick. The second two came into this world less eventfully. In under twenty-four hours, we had gone from being a household of two cats to a household of seven!

Five months later, in February 2003, we flew the mother -- whom we had named Rocks[*] -- to New York City and gave her into the care of the lovely [ profile] ms_redcat... where she still lives today. After failing to find homes for the kittens, we decided to keep all four: Stumpy, Chirp, Nona, and The Boy. Six years later, The Boy lives with us here in my secret lair on Skullcrusher Mountain, while Stumpy and Chirp live with their uncle [ profile] gyades at my other home -- the Event Horizon[**]. Nona stayed with us for five years, then moved to Nebraska with [ profile] polymorphism last August. We did not want to let her go, but she clearly loved [ profile] polymorphism best, and it seemed cruel to separate them.

How did the tiny kitty in my icon above -- The Boy as a kitten -- turn into the moose sleeping on the bed in the next room? Can it really be six years now since he was that small? Unbelievable! As the amazing [ profile] resourceress likes to say: Time's fun when you're having flies!

[*] Because, although sweet, she is as dumb as a box of rocks.

[**] With plans to import them to Oxford in January 2009.

anarchist_nomad: (Big Hair)
( Aug. 20th, 2008 04:55 pm)
In about an hour, I will head over to St. Cross for bell ringing practice. Meanwhile, I have a bit of spare time, which shall be devoted to an entry on nothing in particular!

Random the First: I am thrilled to announce that, at [ profile] wolfpeach's punting party on Sunday, I acquired my first 1p and 2p coins with the new designs on the reverse. I fully realise that caring about this makes me a dork, but that's okay! I also realise that I have a full uncirculated set of the new coins from the Royal Mint... but finding the ordinary ones is fun, too! To celebrate, I reorganised my coin collection. Don't look so surprised -- I did confess to being a dork!

Random the Second: I am delighted to announce, before I forget to do so, that [ profile] cheshcat and I watched Batman Begins on Sunday evening, then drove to Birmingham after work on Monday to see The Dark Knight on the IMAX screen. I will freely admit that seeing it on the enormous screen does make a big difference... especially the scenes that were specially shot with IMAX cameras, rather than being simply adapted from ordinary film. It was good to watch the movies again, back to back; I continue to be impressed with the most recent Batman movie franchise. I cut my teeth on Batman -- my second favourite comic book character -- under Denny O'Neil's long editorial reign (1986 - 2000) and fully embrace his version of the hero. As such, these movies were really spot-on! Nice work! (And anyone who liked Heath Ledger's version of the Joker should hurry out to a comic shop to pick up Alan Moore's 1988 classic: The Killing Joke)

Random the Fourth: I have the cutest -- and most energetic! -- little kitten! He is omnipresent, simultaneously occupying all parts of Skullcrusher Mountain at once. He is also utterly adorable! Last night, as I wrote the previous entry, he sat on the back of the couch and ate my hair... then relaxed with his paws on my shoulder!

Random the Fifth: I am proud to announce that -- thanks to the lovely [ profile] lunarbitch and the powers vested in her -- I have been upgraded from the Chia Pet Of Love to the One True Chia Pet Of Love! I am honoured and humbled by this distinction. I am also humbled by the big whomping tackle hug that accompanied the pronouncement!

And that, my friends, is all the news of the day!
anarchist_nomad: (Road trip!)
( Aug. 8th, 2008 06:36 pm)
Packed and ready to head out now. Before I shut down Ye Olde Laptope, here are a couple of irrelevant observations that I leave you with, gentle readers:

1) On further consideration, it would have probably been more accurate to name our kitten Sir Purr-A-Lot.[*]

2) Finding an anniversary card is made immeasurably more difficult when you (a) refuse to subscribe to the legal institution of marriage, and (b) you are polyamorous. Most cards start with something like: "To my Dear Wife"... and the ones that don't all seem to begin with "To My One True Love" Argh!

And on that note, it is time to pack up the [as yet unnamed] Rover and go!

[*] I am fighting off a truly horrendous pun here. What do you think, dear readers? Should I give in and make it?

Definitely back in England now. If, for some reason, I were confused about my location, the weather would be a dead giveaway. It is grey, chilly, and wet.

Ah, I miss Summer. At least I had nearly three weeks[*] of it while in the States! Indeed, I lucked out with the weather on that trip -- all my outdoor activities (e.g., the Billy Joel concert, the Event Horizon party, the Hurricane Harbor trip) were met with clear blue skies! I don't even mind rain -- the flash floods at Starwood, for instance, had quite a powerful appeal -- but the consistently gray drizzle is not to my liking.

Enough grousing, though! The above paragraph just about fills my quota for the month! There are plenty of nifty things happening, so I shall focus my attentions on them.

For starters, I should note that, as I type this, The Boy is providing great entertainment by getting excessively drunk on catnip. [ profile] resourceress found a place that sells particularly potent catnip toys and we just restocked our supply. Meanwhile, the kitten -- who has been named "Aethelbert of Giles", or just "Giles" for short -- is sitting nearby and watching. It is very cute! He doesn't understand yet what catnip is -- he is too young for it to affect him.

Next, I am pleased to say that -- at long last -- my coins from the Royal Mint came in while I was away. I now have a complete uncirculated set of the new Royal Shield of Arms series! In actual circulation, all I have so far is the 5p coin -- two of them by now -- but I can enjoy the rest under plastic.

While on the topic of nice things, I want to thank [ profile] suzaw for the virtual gift that she sent me! That was very sweet of her! And a rubber duck? I love rubber ducks! Don't even get me started on stories about rubber ducks -- especially ones involving [ profile] cheshcat and [ profile] angryjim! [ profile] da_pupdetz are pleased with this, too. They actually evolved from ducks and so this gift has certain sacred overtones for them.[**]

Finally, now that I am back in Oxford, it is time to resume some of my regular "extra-curricular activities". [ profile] cheshcat and I started tonight, by going out to see the Creation Theatre Company's outdoor production of Much Ado About Nothing in the courtyard of the Oxford Castle. I had not seen this show before, so it raises my Shakespeare count by one. I have now attended live performances of twenty-three[***] of the Bard's plays, with fourteen[****] more left to go. I very much enjoyed this comedy! Plus, it was a really good production -- I was particularly impressed with the actor playing Benedick and the actor playing Dogberry. Beatrice was pretty good, also, as was Hero. Damn, but the latter was quite compellingly hot when she got all angry at Claudio after her "resurrection"! Claudio himself was a bit too monotonic and left room for improvement. But, hey, they can't all be winners! Adding to the experience was the actual location of the show. The Oxford Castle dates back to 1071, which means that when Shakespeare was writing his plays, it was older than the plays themselves are now! The Castle itself was not explicitly used in the show... but just having its towers constantly in my field of view enhanced the evening for me. What can I say? I like old things!

Anyway, I should be off to bed somewhat soon, so that I might conquer the Deaded Jetlag before the weekend, when [ profile] cheshcat and I will be going away. So, gentle readers, I bid you adieu until the morrow!

[*] I should point out that, while on vacation, I fell way behind in reading my f-list on LiveJournal. Especially after Starwood, where I spent a week having no communication whatsoever with the outside world. If there is something important I should know, please tell me. Otherwise, I think I will not attempt to catch up but, rather, will just jump in to current events. Apologies to all my wonderful friends! And even some of the less wonderful ones!

[**] Indeed, the so-called Big Duck in Flanders, New York, is revered by them as a God.

[***] Eight histories, ten comedies, and five tragedies.

[****] Two histories, six comedies, and six tragedies.

Now that was a party! The last guests just left and I really should go to bed. However -- LJ junkie that I am -- I must blog about it first! Besides, Stumpy is curled up behind my head as I sit on the couch so I can cuddle with my baby girl as I write -- bonus!

The party started slowly, with [ profile] xirpha (and his horde of food) as the only guest for quite some time. We chatted for a bit and then played games. First was Girl Genius, which I won by a fair margin. Next was St. Petersburg... where I thought I was being trounced but ended up losing by one single point (out of scores around 110 each).

During the second game, momentum began to build. Other guests arrived and we eventually hit a respectable size -- twenty one people. There were definitely some regular attendees who were missed this time... but we somehow managed to force ourselves to have fun without them!

There was, of course, the annual game of Mega-Death Ultra-High Stakes Four Square. This is a top draw of the Event Horizon summer parties, as people flock from near and far to behold the legendary might and majesty that I possess. Alas, this year the game went on for so long that I was eventually ousted in order to fire up the grill and feed people before it got dark. Personally, I think it was all just a devious plot to remove me from the game so that others would stand a chance at winning. After all, all who behold my prowess at Four Square know fear![*]

Once I left the Four Square game, I flipped burgers until enough meat -- and meat substitute -- had been grilled to satisfy all. Then our local firemaster [ profile] gyades -- freshly off the plane from Sweden -- started up a bonfire in our firepit. It went on for several hours, with groups congregating both around the fire and inside the house. I flittered back and forth between the two, so as to spend time with all my friends while I am here.

For this party, I wore my new Utilikilt -- many thanks to [ profile] gyades and [ profile] cheshcat and [ profile] polymorphism for the gift! It was as big a hit here as it was at Starwood... with several lovely ladies diligently making sure that I was wearing it in the proper fashion! Additionally, at some point after dinner I was lucky enough had the misfortune of being administered some birthday spankings. And it isn't even my birthday!

The entire day was much fun. However, I think that two points stand out as highlights. One is that, after the bonfire had burned down to glowing embers, I had my first -- and second! -- attempt at firewalking. The impossibly adorable C[**] knows how to do this and she demonstrated. Afterward, R[**] decided that he would give it a try. I had not intended to sample firewalking -- really I hadn't! Indeed, one person joked that I was next and I laughed it off. Except that after R's attempt -- which was moderately successful -- I found myself getting up and standing next to the coals, then walking across them. I definitely need more practice before I can consider myself competent at this -- the soles of both feet are slightly burned right now -- but I gave it two decent attempts! So, yeah, I tried firewalking tonight! How cool is that???[***]

The other highlight was near the end of the evening, when a small army of intoxicating women took it upon themselves to make me quite drunk... without imbibing a drop of alcohol. I won't divulge any more details on this, except to say that their cunning plan was most definitely a success. I needed to avoid the firepit for a while thereafter, as I could not trust myself to walk in a straight line!

When the Event Horizon was my primary home, there would be bi-monthly parties. Now that I live in Oxford, these are obviously less frequent. Nonetheless, the annual summer party is consistently a great success -- looking back, I recall how much fun the party was last year and the year before! It is times like this -- both today's party and the entire week that I have been here -- that make me remember how much I enjoyed living here. It was a good life, shared with many wonderful friends. To be sure, I also very much enjoy living in Oxford and the life that I have been building there... but that doesn't mean that I don't miss my previous life. Ah, if only I had the powers of Jamie Madrox! In any case, I am grateful that I can still re-visit my life -- and dear friends -- in Chicago every now and then.

[*] The neighbors' children seemed greatly amused by our game, whereas their parents seemed somewhat annoyed at the ruckus.

[**] If these people have LJs, I do not know their names. If you do, please fill me in!

[***] No thermal jokes, please. Too obvious. If you must make a pun -- and I fully understand the compulsion -- try for something more clever.

anarchist_nomad: (Mailbox Madness!)
( Jul. 16th, 2008 04:59 pm)
[Am writing this entry from Heathrow and am uninterested in having my wallet gouged for internet access. Will post later and backdate.]

This past weekend saw the 0.5 year anniversary of my relationship with the delightful [ profile] ms_katonic on Saturday and, as previously mentioned, my 33 1/3 anniversary of my birth on Sunday. To celebrate these happy occasions, the irresistible [ profile] ms_katonic and I embarked on our first weekend getaway together.

Saturday morning, we set out from Skullcrusher Mountain bright and early in my [as yet unnamed] "new" Rover, heading North. We arrived at our destination -- Belvoir Castle[*] in Leicestershire -- just after they opened their doors at 11am. Belvoir[**] has been the site of a castle on a hill -- hence the name, meaning "good view" -- from Norman times, when it was built for Billy the Conquerer by Robert de Todeni. Eventually, it was granted to the de Ros family in 1257. Since then, there have been several castles on the spot, as previous incarnations were destroyed by the War of the Roses (1460s), the Civil War (1640s), and a great fire (1816). The castle has been the home of the Manners family since the 16th century -- Thomas Manners being created Earl of Rutland in 1525 by his second cousin, Henry VIII... and his descendant John Manners, the ninth Earl, being promoted to Duke of Rutland by Queen Anne in 1703.

When we arrived at Belvoir, the weather was surprisingly good. Predictions had called for rain all weekend, so we decided to take advantage of the relative dryness to explore the garden first. After all, we could always flee inside the castle if and when the rain came. We spent over two hours strolling through the various gardens -- sculpture garden, duchess garden, pet cemetery, woodland walk, et cetera -- but the rain only ever came in light, short[***] bursts. The gardens were quite nice, though we were vexed by our inability to locate a letter "B". You see, in the trees of Belvoir are hung large wooden letters[****]. We first noticed an "E" and later an "O"; eventually, we had found a total of "E", "L", "V", "O", "I", "R" -- it stood to reason that there was a "B" hidden in there somewhere, but we simply could not find it! We even asked the staff inside the castle, but it was not to be found!

After exploring the gardens to our content, we embarked on a tour of the house. It was, of course, ridiculously opulent in that style which both amazes me with its beauty and disgusts me by the stark manner in which it emphasises inequality of wealth. Interestingly enough, the fifth duchess was an amateur architect... and designed much of the current building herself after the great fire. I will say that she did quite a nice job of it! Besides the house itself, I think that I was most impressed by the picture gallery. In it was an entertaining 17th painting by David Teniers the Younger entitled The Proverbs, illustrating many Dutch proverbs. Best of all, there was a copy of the famous portrait of Henry VIII that Hans Holbein the Younger originally painted (1537) as a mural in the Palace of Whitehall. Although I first thought the Belvoir painting to be the original -- and was gleefully awed by it as if it were -- that painting no longer exists; it was destroyed when the palace burned down in 1698. However, this copy is still impressive enough in its own right!

Before proceeding further, here are some photographs of the castle and grounds )

After leaving the castle, we drove further north, to the quaint little city of Lincoln. We checked into our hotel, which was well located in the city centre. Indeed, our accommodations were less than a five minute walk from the two main attractions of Lincoln: Its Castle and its Cathedral.

Once we had settled in, we took advantage of the excellent weather to explore the city. We started off by finding an old Roman arch, still actively used for traffic today -- despite wars and runaway lorries that have tried to do it in!

The Newport Arch in Lincoln

We located two very old homes, known as the Norman House and the Jew's House, both of which were constructed in the twelfth century. Today, the Norman House appears to be a shop and the Jew's House is home to an upscale restaurant. We poked our head in, but did not eat there. We made our way down a street known as "Steep Hill" because -- you guessed it -- it traverses a steep hill. At the bottom was the canal and the waterfront nightlife. Having found our main goals from Lincoln -- leaving Castle and Cathedral for the next day -- we climbed back up the Steep Hill and got an excellent Thai meal for dinner. Finally, we retired to our hotel relatively early and continued our anniversary celebrations in private.

Sunday began with a full English breakfast at the hotel. Indeed, it seems like the only time I eat these is when I am travelling. Just one more excuse to travel, then! Following breakfast, we checked out of the hotel and proceeded to take in the Cathedral and Castle, both of which were built on the orders of old Conquering Bill. On the way there, we stopped to admire an old postbox, twin of my favourite postbox in Oxford:

At it again!

At the Castle, we climbed the observatory tower -- ostensibly constructed for security, but actually more used for amateur astronomy -- and took a stroll along the castle walls. As with so many castles, parts of it have been used as a prison through the years. Indeed, there is still an active courthouse on the site. We decided to skip the old prison buildings and, instead, enjoyed the site of an old Roman well, a keep, the remains of an Eleanor Cross, and a peaceful graveyard. Best of all, though, was the Magna Carta exhibit! Lincoln Castle is home to one of the four surviving original Magna Cartas, sealed by King John in 1215! I have already seen one -- in Salisbury Cathedral -- now I am up to two! Two more to go! Luckily, the Magna Carta is kept encased in glass; this prevented me from drooling upon it!

The Observatory Tower at Lincoln Castle

As for the Cathedral: Well, it is not as spectacular as some of the others that I have seen -- for instance, York Minster or Canterbury Cathedral. Still, it is quite magnificent[*****] and well worth a visit. In particular, I was impressed by the West Front.

The West Front of Lincoln Cathedral

Of particular historical interest is some of the bodies whose remains are kept there. Katherine Swynford is there -- she was the third wife of John of Gaunt, making her step-mother to the usurping Henry IV as well as ancestor of Henry VII and the Tudor dynasty. The tomb of Eleanor of Castile -- first wife of Edward I and the one for whom the Eleanor Crosses were erected -- is also located there. As we toured, I was impressed by [ profile] ms_katonic's knowledge of English history. I have already been impressed by many of the other fine, er, virtues that she possesses... but I had not realised before how educated she is in English history. Since this is a fascination that I share, it only serves to make her all the more appealing. Interestingly enough, our knowledge seems complementary: I know more about the older monarchs (especially in pre-Norman times) and have a better memory for dates; she has much better knowledge of consorts and knows a fair bit of trivia that I did not.[******]

Of special interest to me was learning that Bishop Richard Fleming of Lincoln Cathedral had been the one to found Lincoln College in Oxford, back in 1427.

Eventually, we saw all we had come to see in Lincoln so we drove back down to Oxford. I brought [ profile] ms_katonic to the coach station so she could return to London, then proceeded to spend the rest of the evening sequestered with [ profile] cheshcat, as we celebrated my third-of-a-century anniversary with some quality alone time of our own.

Highlights from the week, in brief, include:

Monday, I brought our new kitten -- Aethelbert of Giles[*******] to the vet for his first visit. Although he does have fleas and, being a kitten, we assume worms, his health is otherwise good. At eight weeks old, he weighs 1.9 pounds -- fairly big for a kitten his age -- has a glossy coat, bright eyes, and firm stools. I am very pleased to hear it, as the little fellow is fast growing on [ profile] cheshcat and I! We gave him his first jab and brought home meds for worming and de-fleaing both him and The Boy.

Monday evening was the last ice skating lesson of this term. Since we had all passed the level five test, we spent the lesson learning the level six skills. These include: (a) Continuous backward chassés around a circle, (b) Forward two-foot slalom, (c) Forward outside 3-turn, and (d) Backward skating, stepping forward in both directions. The next term at the rink does not start until September, so knowing the skills now gives me a chance to practice them before the next class begins. It also gives me time to purchase and break in my own pair of skates!

Tuesday evening, [ profile] cheshcat and I went to see the Oxford Theatre Guild perform As You Like It at the Trinity College Gardens. [ profile] resourceress and I saw them do The Tempest there two years ago. This was not a new play for me, so my Shakespeare count does not go up. I saw the British Shakespeare Company perform this play last year at the Wadham College Gardens. Still, the performance was enjoyable and it was nice to take in the gardens again.

Which brings us to the present -- Wednesday -- when I am off to the States for my summer vacation. Back in Oxford in just under three weeks time, on August 4th. New York City, Starwood, and Chicago: Look out, here I come!

[*] It appears to be a new tradition that I visit a castle in early July, the weekend before heading to the States for my summer vacation / Starwood trip. Last year, the lucky destination was Leeds Castle.

[**] Pronounced "beaver", believe it or not!

[***] "Short" == "Two or three minutes long"

[****] And one inexplicable giant metal hula hoop! (Don't ask!)

[*****] And, I must confess, more impressive than our beloved local cathedral at Christ Church.

[******] Since [ profile] cheshcat is also more knowledgeable than I am in the area of early ecclesiastical history, it appears that I am well situated to have stimulating conversations with both my UK-based partners on this topic and we all stand to learn much from each other. This is a Good Thing.

[*******] "Bertie" or "Giles" for short.

Quick[?] update on various and sundry. I have divided this update into sections, so read only those that may be of interest to you:

Skating: This is the second to last week of the current term, so we finished testing out on the level five skills. I passed the final one -- backwards one foot glides -- and am now officially NISA Level Five certified. I am such a dork -- I continued collecting the little badges that show what level I have passed. We started on level six skills, as there will be a large gap after our last class next week and the following term, which begins on September 8th. By introducing these skills now, I can practice them in-between terms. Also, I plan to buy my own pair of skates when I am in the States later this month. Does anyone in the Chicago (or New York) area know of a skate shop that they would recommend?

Kittens: Gave back Leo, our "loaner kitten", yesterday. He is a sweet boy, and we were sad to see him go. However, I was grateful that we had him for a week and a half, as he helped to transition our [still-nameless] kitten from a life with his mum and three siblings to life with us. By now, The Boy is getting grudgingly tolerant of the new kitten and, as of yesterday evening, we are allowing them to interact together unsupervised. When we are home, they get full run of the flat; when we are asleep or away, we lock them out of a couple of rooms that have not yet been kitten-proofed. Last night, the kitten slept on my pillow, leaning on my head. He is so adorable!!! I was ridiculously pleased, though I did sleep somewhat restlessly, as I was nervous about rolling over and crushing him.

Bells: Participated in a quarter peal attempt at St. Giles last night. Previously, I had rung a quarter peal in April, on the covering tenor. This is the easiest position to ring. It was a six bell method (Cambridge Surprise Minor), so the first six bells mixed up their order... and then I always rang in the sevenths place, after they had all done their bit. It was an accomplishment for me, but the simplest that ringing a quarter peal can be. Yesterday's attempt took the challenge up a notch: We rang a seven bell method (Grandsire Triples). There was a covering tenor -- see the constant position of the #8 bell in the link -- but that was not my job. I rang the next easiest position, that of the treble (the #1 bell). If you look at the link, you can see that the treble moves ("hunts") repeatedly from the front to the back, and then returns. Harder than a covering tenor, but easier than the job of every other bell. I was very nervous about this and not sure if I was up to keeping my ringing from going wrong for the forty-five minutes it takes to ring a quarter peal. In the end, our attempt was not successful. We made it through about 740 of the 1260 changes. This is disappointing, of course. However, I take some comfort that it was not I who caused the band to go wrong. Much to my surprise, I did remarkably well at holding the correct place and at maintaining good striking. One of the other ringers, on an inside bell, went off course... and this caused a domino effect that ended our attempt. I will try again in September and, based on how well I managed to do this time, am reasonably optimistic that I will succeed.

Car: Am very much enjoying the new car. It is the same colour as Pazu -- my 1998 Honda Civic that I bought new and drove for eight years, until I moved to Oxford. The battery would not hold a charge, though, so I got a guy from the AA to look for it. Given that I am a member, this was free... so why not? He confirmed that the problem was the battery, not the alternator nor a short in the wiring. No problem -- I went out and bought a new battery. While we were chatting, he mentioned that the Rover 400 engines are made by Honda. This news made me happy, as I have the utmost respect for Honda engines! When I mentioned that I paid £300 for the car, he seemed surprised... and jokingly offered me £400 for it. Despite the cheap price, I think that I may be holding onto this car for awhile; it seems like it is in very good shape! Indeed, in the anticipation of driving it for a few years, I ordered a new stereo for the car today. He went on to say that the Rover 400s are basically the same as Honda Civics. I had noticed a fair bit of similarity, actually. I liked my Civic very much and am rather pleased to [sort of] have it back -- with the added bonus of a sunroof! Finally, it dawned on me that I now own a red Rover. That is just cool!

Social: This afternoon, a few hours before our skating lesson, I got a text from KF asking me if I wanted to go out for coffee and then hit the rink for extra practice before our lesson. This was a pleasant addition to my day, as I have had a crush on her for months. We have quite a few interests in common -- SCUBA diving, traveling, history, skating, whitewater rafting -- and I would very much like to get to know her better. The pseudo-date went pretty well, so I find myself wondering what might happen next. I will confess to being nervous, because I have not met her through the polyamorous community, the sci-fi community, or the Pagan community. Thus far, everyone I have ever had a relationship with since [ profile] cheshcat and I became polyamourous eleven years ago has come from one of those three worlds -- worlds that are well acquainted with and accepting of polyamoury. Although KF knows that I am polyamorous, I am not sure how willing she is to set her toes into these waters. There certainly seems to be a mutual attraction there... how far it can or will go, though, is still up in the air.

Theatre: On Friday evening, [ profile] cheshcat and I drove down to Abingdon to see a production of Alan Ayckbourn's play Improbable Fiction. This is, I believe, the second Ayckbourn show that I have seen -- the first being A Trip To Scarborough back in February. Like that show, Improbable Fiction is a bit surreal, and involves a juxtaposition of multiple disjoint locations. It was good fun, though. Perhaps even more impressive than the play was the theatre itself. We saw this production at the Unicorn Theatre, which is housed in a building that used to be a medieval abbey from the seventh to the sixteenth century. With my love of old buildings, this experience was really quite the treat!

Weekend: On Saturday, my beloved [ profile] cheshcat and the adorable [ profile] ms_katonic and I took a day trip to the Savill Garden, part of the Royal Landscape near Windsor. The gardens themselves were quite pretty and -- as an added bonus -- there was a sculpture exhibition. Fifty-eight pieces of art were placed at various and sundry points throughout the garden, ranging from annoyingly abstract pieces to lovable penguins and ducks to an awesome velociraptor! The weather, which should have been rainy, cooperated with us remarkably well, making for a very nice day out. After leaving the gardens, we topped off our day with a stop at the Monkey's Forehead for dinner and drinks... just because it has the coolest pub name ever!

On Sunday, I dropped [ profile] ms_katonic off at the Oxford Castle so that she could celebrate [ profile] thirteen_ravens's birthday party. With the exception of cycling to St. Giles church for the quarter peal attempt, the rest of the day was spent sharing some quality alone time with [ profile] cheshcat. We were both a bit shaken by the postponement of her surgery last week... so having this time was significant and important to us both.

.......and that's all the news for tonight. Tune in next time, gentle reader, for fun-filled photos from this weekend and video of kittens playing!
Highlights from today:

Had a brief conversation with [ profile] ms_katonic at lunchtime. Nothing particularly significant... but it is always nice to hear her voice.

Rang bells at St. Cross this evening. This was the first time that I rang there in three weeks. It showed. I kinda sucked at the beginning, and even let the rope get away from me once. No injury resulted this time. By the end of the practice, I was doing a little better, though. I got through a touch of Plain Bob Doubles and a plain course of Grandsire Doubles -- both on inside bells -- with no major difficulties!

After ringing, I met [ profile] cheshcat at Wadham College, where we watched the Oxford Shakespeare Company perform Twelfth Night in the college gardens. One of the things I really love about summer is all the outdoor theatre! This is the third year that I have seen the OSC perform outside at Wadham -- last year they did Midsummer Night's Dream and, in 2006, I went with [ profile] resourceress to see them do both The Taming of the Shrew and The Importance of Being Earnest. This production of Twelfth Night was vastly different than the one that we saw at Lincoln College last month; for one thing, it was extremely odd and quite funny... with a beach theme running through it.

On our return to Skullcrusher Mountain, [ profile] cheshcat produced a yummy dinner and we decompressed from our days while eating together. Then I phoned up my friend RG[*] and we spent an hour and a half catching up on each others' lives. He won't be at Starwood this year, so I'll not get to see him again until P**T*** in October. On the plus side, he is seriously considering a visit to us here in Oxford!

Finally, I am ending my day by writing this entry while a six and a half week old kitten sits curled up on my shoulder. He got there himself, climbing up from the floor via my trouser leg and then my shirt. Once he gets down, I plan to go to sleep, as it is late. Indeed, this entry probably would not exist if he had not settled there! I would have just gone straight to bed... but you can't just give up something as precious as a kitten perched on your shoulder!

[*] No, not [ profile] ashnistrike. A different friend with the RG initials... though also one that attends P**T***.

Today's major accomplishment was buying a new car. The MOT and road tax on Peter have both just expired and, much as I like that car, the repairs necessary to keep it running were just not reasonable to pay for in a car of that age.

Normally, I would not wait until the day after my car became no longer legal to drive to start searching for its replacement. However, in the past eight days, I have procured a new job[*], a new cat, and now a new car. So one could say I have been just a tad busy.

In any case, things went far better than I had anticipated. A string of unlikely coincidences ended up in me finding a seemingly-reliable car that meets my needs -- red and possessing a sunroof -- while also meeting [ profile] cheshcat's -- automatic transmission and a hatchback -- for a mere three hundred pounds.

To wit: I started the day looking at vehicles online. I found a place selling a Peugeot 406 for just under £600. My friend C bought this same car last year, so I rang him up to ask how he liked it. Turns out, he was working a half day and offered to come with me when I went to test drive the car. Nice! He knows quite a bit more about the innards of cars than I do, so his opinion would be welcome... as would the company!

After we got off the phone. I rang the dealer. Setback! The car would be available to see tomorrow, but not today. Hurm. While waiting for C to arrive, I scanned other cars online. For some reason, there are several Rover 400 series cars -- all green -- on the used market right now. I showed the listings to C when he arrived and explained how we could not see the Peugeot today. I suggested that we could look at a couple of the other cars, instead. His reply was completely unexpected: He said that if I liked the Rover 400, his dad had one that he was looking to sell cheaply, because he was simply not able to drive it anymore for health reasons.

We hopped in his car -- recall that mine is no longer street legal -- and drove half an hour to visit his father and the car. It does indeed seem reliable, it comes from a seller I trust, and at three hundred pounds, it was much cheaper than the £1300 that I was willing to pay for a replacement vehicle!

Somehow, I seem to have landed in a patch of very good luck. Quite randomly, the right vehicle -- at a ridiculously good price -- landed right in my lap. Somewhat reminiscent of how, three days after being rejected by the Battersea Dog and Cat Home, the right kitten ended up finding me last month. I have to say, after the cloud of dreadful luck that lingered from December through April, the change is quite welcome! A lot of very important pieces of my life were shattered in that time while the Universe seemed to want to use me as a punching bag. I won't recap the details here; those events have all been mentioned in this journal before. Now is a time for rebuilding... which I am very pleased to say is coming along quite nicely. It has taken much hard work... but those efforts are now coming to fruition.

In the evening, [ profile] cheshcat and I celebrated by having [ profile] wolfpeach over for gaming. We played Puerto Rico and Bohnanza. In both cases, I came in second place. For Puerto Rico, [ profile] wolfpeach won with 51 points, I had 48, and [ profile] cheshcat had 47. In Bohnanza, it was a very tight game: [ profile] cheshcat won with 21 points, I followed with 20, and [ profile] wolfpeach had 19! No breathing room at all!

Finally, after [ profile] wolfpeach left for the night, [ profile] cheshcat and I wound down the evening by watching the classic Red Dwarf episode "Back To Reality". She recently borrowed some Red Dwarf DVDs from the local library. I have not watched the show at all since my 23rd birthday party -- back in 1998 -- where about ten of us spent a three day birthday weekend watching all seven seasons of Red Dwarf. Ah, good times!

Now it is off to bed. I am still not entirely over my cold, so must keep on my rest!

[*] Speaking of the new job, I just learned the salary today. It will start me off -- on Sep 29 -- with a rise of 10% over what I am making now. Two days later, though, is when the annual rises go through... so I will be getting a nearly immediate increase of at least another 2.5%. I have no plans to make dramatic changes to my lifestyle, so this change will be quite useful in helping to rebuild our savings. Between the job news and the car hunt, today has really been quite a remarkably good day!

The collective reply to yesterday's party announcement post was more or less what I expected: The UK party looks like it will be relatively small, partly due to me still not knowing many people here -- especially local to Oxford -- and partially because it is on short notice. In contrast, the Event Horizon party looks like it is shaping up to be the blast we have come to know and love, with twenty or thirty of the usual suspects expected. With more advance warning and a greater number of friends in Chicago -- not to mention some brave souls possibly venturing out from my East Coast crowd -- this is also not surprising!

However, as an added incentive for those who are not sure about coming, look behind this cut! )
Kitten pictures: Four weeks old! (Taken 15-Jun-2008) )


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