anarchist_nomad: (A Crown of Flowers)
( May. 4th, 2009 09:29 pm)
When last we left our intrepid Nomad, he was writing during the tail end of an international T2K SK video conference, following a day of theatre that kicked off a holiday weekend.

The story continues.....

After said video conference ended, certain other activities -- all in line with the spirit of the season -- kept me preoccupied. No complaints per se, but said activities resulted in this Nomad getting only about an hour of sleep before needing to wake up at 4:30am to partake in the May Morning festivities here in Oxford. We left the Flat With No Name shortly after five and, despite the closure of the Magdalen Bridge[*], we made it into the city centre by half five. Walking to the Magdalen College chapel tower, we passed the usual array of drunken college students -- some in very colourful attire. We made it to Magdalen with plenty of time before the college choir sang the Hymnus Eucharisticus from the rooftops -- a tradition dating back more than five centuries.

Once the singing had ended, we wandered through the city centre, taking in the Morris dancers, and the people dressed as trees or bushes, and the other street performers. At half six, I broke away from the group to transition from spectator to part of the entertainment. I joined a band of ringers from the OUSCR and we rang the bells at the University Church of Saint Mary the Virgin. This is only the second time that I have rung at SMV -- the first being May Morning last year -- and it is good to get some practice on heavier bells. Also good to ring for such a festive crowd and, best of all, the aerial vantage point from SMV provides some of the best views of the May Morning excitement! Looking out from the tower, one can simultaneously see the Rad Cam, the campuses of Brasenose College and All Souls College, the crowds, the Morris dancers... and more!

By half seven, I was done ringing. Our group reformed and we made our way to the Queen's Lane Coffee House for breakfast. We were home again by nine, at which point I collapsed into bed instantly, grabbing another two hours of sleep before needing to wake at eleven for a T2K UK analysis meeting. When the meeting ended at noon, I promptly fell back into bed, to collect another three hours of sleep. At that point, I was up for the rest of the day and proceeded to cook for [ profile] bunnypip and the two eldest leverets.

Once fed, we left Oxford and made our way back to [ profile] bunnypip's home. During the journey, I introduced her to a number of my favourite David Rovics songs. I may not have done much to celebrate May Day as an Anarchist this year -- something that I plan to make up for in 2010 -- but it was good to get in a sampling of my favourite Anarchist holiday.

After arriving in Northampton and bringing the children to their fathers, [ profile] bunnypip and I were able to have a date night to ourselves, in which we were able to celebrate Beltane properly. Again, Not Enough Sleep ensued -- I estimate five hours on Friday night.[**]

On Saturday morning, we had a failed attempt to bake bread and a successful attempt to hold a private Beltane ritual[***]. Afterward, we made our way back to Oxford to collect [ profile] cheshcat and [ profile] dr_jen. Together, we all headed to Leicester, specifically to the home of [ profile] thehalibutkid and [ profile] sanjibabes. As always, it was nice to see the lovely [ profile] sanjibabes and, for that matter, [ profile] skibbley. However, our main purpose in making the trip was to hold our group Beltane ritual. Ever since Samhain, a group of us have been working together regularly, with organisation done by yours truly and High Priestessing done by [ profile] cheshcat. I don't think that I have ever formally worked all the sabbats in a single turning of the Wheel of the Year before; the experience is turning out to be quite the positive one... not just for me, but for everyone in the group. These are not closed rituals -- most have had "guests" in addition to the regulars -- but the same five people have been at all five rituals thus far, which makes for a nice flow of continuity.

For Beltane, [ profile] cheshcat had organised a fairly traditional ritual: We did a Maypole, we jumped over a bonfire, we feasted, et cetera. Nothing terribly esoteric, but the way that Chesh had assembled the usual elements was excellent -- everything flowed together powerfully. It did not hurt in the least that the weather was good and so this became our first outdoor ritual in this sequence[****]. Flowery head dresses were assembled -- mostly with nimble expertise by [ profile] bunnypip, though the talented and charming [ profile] dr_jen made quite a lovely one on her own. Here are a couple of photos from just before we started the ritual )

After the ritual was done, we all sat around the bonfire and talked for a bit... just enjoying the energy and the warmth and the flames. Then we hugged [ profile] thehalibutkid and [ profile] parallelgirl goodbye and returned to Oxford. Not quite sure how much sleep I got on Saturday night, but I estimate that it was another five hours.[*****]

Sunday morning, I spent a little more time with [ profile] bunnypip before sending her on her way and spending the day with my beloved [ profile] cheshcat. I finished the first Sandman trade paperback -- Preludes and Nocturnes -- and then she re-read it so that we could discuss. We got in a fair bit of cuddling. And we managed to spend a bit of quality alone time together.

Today, Monday, [ profile] cheshcat and I took a day trip to the Stowe Landscape Gardens, a National Trust property about twenty-five miles from Oxford. The gardens were founded in the 18th century by Sir Richard Temple, also known as Lord Cobham. The site takes up 750 acres, though much of it is parkland. The gardens themselves are quite beautiful, with several lakes and valleys and fields. It is then further enhanced by forty-two monuments scattered about the grounds. There are sculptures and temples and columns and bridges (oh my!), so that our map became a sort of checklist guiding us around the gardens today. We spend most of the day at Stowe and managed to take in the entirety of the garden, much to our pleasure! At the end of the day, [ profile] cheshcat and I wound down with cream teas before heading back to Oxford and home.

Overall, it has been quite an excellent weekend! Happy Beltane! Happy Spring!

Now then, time to end the weekend by ringing up my darling [ profile] tawneypup, who has also been away. Cannot properly claim to have celebrated Beltane without including her!

[*] To prevent drunk students from jumping off and breaking their legs in the very shallow water below.

[**] Bringing the running total for the two nights to eleven hours thus far.

[***] As distinct from the celebration of the night before.

[****] Not counting our Yule ritual, where the circle did remain open through the longest night... which included our trip to Stonehenge to welcome in the dawn.

[*****] Raising the running total for three nights to sixteen hours. Not serious Sleep Deprivation -- certainly nothing like what I pulled last Decemberween -- but definitely not running on a full tank, either!

anarchist_nomad: (One Day More)
( May. 1st, 2009 12:11 am)
I'm being bad right now, writing this entry whilst also participating in an international video conference for the T2K Super-Kamiokande working group. What can I say? We are up to the final talk, on a proposal for a blind analysis... which is not exactly a topic that I care about.

Today has been a really good day. My darling [ profile] cheshcat and I got to sleep in until about half ten, as we were both taking the day off from work. Catching up on sleep was definitely a good thing, as I have not been resting nearly enough of late. The beauteous [ profile] bunnypip arrived at the Flat With No Name around noon, with L1 and L2 in tow. After getting food and whatnot, we made our way into city centre, where we had two o'clock tickets at the Oxford Playhouse.

The performance of the day was a theatrical adaption of Phillip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy, performed by the Birmingham Repertory Theatre. As it is too long to reasonably collapse into a three hour show, the show was presented as two three hour shows. Part One ran from two until five, after which we had a two hour break for dinner. Part Two ran from seven until ten.

Alterations from the novels still needed to be made to make the show fit. For instance, Mary -- the dark matter researcher -- was completely removed. So was Lee Scoresby's death. Nonetheless, the show worked well. Really well. During the second half of Part Two, I was starting to feel frustrated... but then the ending was done so well that I ultimately ended up forgiving them.

Overall, then, I thought it was a really good show. So did L1, who absolutely loved the books. Additionally, it was most appropriate to see it performed in Oxford, where much of the story is set. Indeed, at the end of Part One, I announced that I had found a window to another world -- if we walked through the theatre doors then, like Will and Lyra, we would also find ourselves in Oxford! The author, Phillip Pullman, lives here as well... and apparently he made a surprise cameo appearance in last night's performance!

After the show, there was a short question and answer session with part of the cast. I asked a question about the puppetry in the show -- which had been excellent -- and started a discussion about that. Needless to say, [ profile] da_pupdetz[*] were quite chuffed by this!

When our day at the theatre finally ended, we zipped back to the Flat With No Name as quickly as possible, as I had my video conference beginning at 11pm. Is still going on. When it ends, I am off to bed immediately, as I need to wake up at half four to go back into city centre to celebrate the May Morning festivities. [ profile] cheshcat, having done it all before, is sleeping in until her regular wake-up time, then going to work as normal. [ profile] bunnypip is joining me, though, as is L1 and L2. The usual singing from the Magdalen tower will happen at six, I am ringing with the OUSCR at half six, the usual contingents of Morris dancers and street bands will be present, and breakfast is at half seven.

Looks like sleep isn't on my agenda for the next day or so. I only expect to get three hours tonight, due to the late-night meeting and the early-morning festivities. Last year, I was asleep again by nine o'clock in morning for a nice nap. Not so likely this year, as I would like to bring L1 to the Oxford Botanic Gardens[**] when they open at nine o'clock tomorrow. Then, at 11:15, I have another meeting to attend, this time from the T2K UK analysis group. Should be done by 12:30, at which point I can squeeze in a little bit of rest before tomorrow evening, when I have a private Beltane ritual and celebration to attend!

Still, sleep or no, this is a four day weekend with many fun things in it... and it is just beginning! Can't really complain about that! (Who need sleep, anyway?)

I hope that all of my fellow Pagans are also having an excellent Beltane weekend... and I wish all of my fellow Anarchists a marvelous Mayday!

[*] Who may well be my daemons.

[**] Largely to flesh out his His Dark Materials experience, as Will & Lyra's bench is located in the Botanic Gardens.

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!

One of the things that I love about Oxford is that it is small enough to get around easily by bus or push bike and, whenever you go out, you run into somebody that you know... whilst being simultaneously big enough that there is always something going on. Thus, although I did not leave the city this weekend, there was plenty to do and it made for quite a pleasant weekend, indeed!

On Friday evening, my beloved [ profile] bunnypip came down for a date. When she arrived, we headed into Jericho to get dinner at my second favourite vegetarian restaurant in Oxford -- The Gardener's Arms.[1] As usual, the food was quite good. After eating, I took her on a stroll through Jericho before we headed back to the Flat With No Name. Upon our return, the rest of the evening was spent locked in a room together.[2] Although we see each other frequently, too much of our recent time together has been group social time, or dealing-with-practicality time, or child time. This left us both quite eager for some time with nothing to do but be alone together... and so we opted to forgo the various options for theatre or a concert in favour of sharing some much needed quality alone time.

Come Saturday morning, both [ profile] bunnypip and I were quite happy, though moving a little slowly. Thus, I put her on the Oxford Tube at about the same time that I should have already been in city centre. Hopping on my bicycle immediately afterward, I arrived at the Town Hall twenty minutes late... but just in time for the start of the day's activities.

Just what were the activities of which I speak, gentle readers? It is a fair question... and -- fear not -- I shall tell you! Yesterday, to celebrate its 275th anniversary, the Oxford Society of Change Ringers had a ringing day. Those of us who were participating were divided into four teams that were to compete in five areas: (1) Ringing six bells down in peal and then up again, (2) Tune ringing on twelve handbells, (3) Ringing an Oxford method on eight tower bells, (4) Ringing Stedman Cinques on twelve tower bells, and (5) a trivia quiz. I am not experienced in tune ringing, which is very different than change ringing -- indeed, one does not even hold the handbells in the same way! Still, I joined in the handbell tune ringing competition.[3]. Our assignment was to learn Ode To Joy; we practiced for some time in the Priory Room at Christ Church, then gave our performance back in the Town Hall. I rang on the fifth and sixth bells of the twelve... and thought that I did reasonably well. Shortly after our performance, it was time for lunch... during which I had several enjoyable chats with fellow ringers.

As I was not participating in the tower bell competitions during the afternoon, I snuck out after lunch and met up with my darling [ profile] cheshcat for a trip to the exhibition hall at the Bodleian Library. The current displays were entitled Hallelujah! The British Choral Tradition and After Arundel: Religious writing in fifteenth-century England. The first display covered one thousand years of British choral music in various settings: in churches, at coronations, et cetera. There were a number of impressive manuscripts; true to form, my favourite was the oldest -- the Winchester Troper, used one thousand years ago at the Old Minster in Winchester[4]. The second display was smaller, featuring seven religions manuscripts from the early and middle of the fifteenth century. All were concerned with the suppression of heresay, in the aftermath of John Wycliffe and the Lollard movement[5]. Thomas Arundel himself, as archbishop of Canterbury, had fought to suppress the Lollards; these works were written as the legacy of that religious conflict.

Once we left the Bodleian, I headed back to Christ Church to rejoin the Oxford Society's Ringing Day. We had a group picture taken on the Great Stair of the college[6], then congregated to learn the results of the day's competitions. Our handbell ringing had come in a close second, out of four, in technical merit. Unfortunately, our artistic presentation was rated the lowest of the four groups. I think that this may have something to do with our choice to ring loudly; the judge thought that this detracted from the music. Ah well -- it was all in good fun.

When done with the Ringing Day, I rejoined [ profile] cheshcat, who was reading in Oxford's lovely[7] Bonn Square. We went out for dinner together, then headed to the Oxford Playhouse to see a performance of The Fiddler On The Roof. The Playhouse puts on many high quality shows and has hosted the Royal Shakespeare Company, as well as shows headed to the West End. This production, however, was put on by the Oxfordshire Youth Music Theatre. As such, it was very much a student production -- good, but not quite the same caliber as other shows that we have seen there. Perhaps I am a bit harsh here, but I have seen Fiddler twice before -- both times on Broadway -- and so there were very large shoes to be filled. A sixteen year old playing Tevye -- no matter how good -- is not going to compare to the performance I saw Topol give in 1990 or the one that [ profile] pomoloco and I saw Harvey Fierstein put on in 2005. That said, it was still an enjoyable show... and I always seem to forget just how difficult Fiddler is to watch. It is a testament to the potential of these kids that there performance still managed to tug on my heartstrings with the sad plight of Anatevka.

After the curtain fell, [ profile] cheshcat and I returned to our flat in Headington. Here, we continued making plans for our fifteenth anniversary -- which is coming up in less than four months -- and then ended the evening by watching the last two episodes of Smallville Season Seven.

Today, I began my day by heading out to St. Giles to ring for the Sunday morning services. Then I came home to meet up with the charming [ profile] dr_jen, who joined [ profile] cheshcat and I on our annual trip to Oxford University's Harcourt Arboretum. The Harcourt does not measure up to the fantastic Morton Arboretum that the Event Horizon is near in Chicagoland; however, it does have one advantage. For two weeks each year, at the end of April and beginning of May, the bluebells are in bloom. During that time, the Harcourt has a spectacular bluebell meadow, which is a wonder and a delight to behold. The three of us spent hours wandering around the arboretum, taking in the seasonal beauty. Thankfully, the weather was quite obliging and there was ample sun to take many lovely[8] photographs.

When we finally left the arboretum, which is on the southernmost edges of Oxford, we made our way to the Wolvercote, in the northernmost part, to get lunch at The Trout[9]. Sitting outside by the Thames, we spent a couple of hours enjoying a delicious meal whilst taking in the greenery and the waterfowl... including a very amusing trio of frisky ducks!

After eating, I dropped off [ profile] dr_jen and [ profile] cheshcat, then proceeded back into the city centre to ring for evening services at St. Giles. Amongst other things, we rang a couple of extents of Plain Bob Doubles, during which I finally realised that I have this method down quite well. Indeed, I find it safe to say that this is the first real method[10] that I am fully comfortable with. Yay for me! Next, I want to extend this comfort to Plain Bob Minor, as I would love to ring a quarter peal on this sometime in the not-TOO-distant future.

When we were done ringing the changes, I returned to Headington, picked up the first Sandman trade paperback, and headed out to Bury Knowle Park to read some more. It is not quite summer yet, but it is still nice to read outside in the evenings, just before the sun goes down.

Finally, that brings us to the present. It is still relatively early in the evening, but I expect to go to bed soon after posting this. There is a very busy week ahead of me, and I want to get an early start on it whilst also being fresh and rested.[11] Many pentacles need to be hammered in the coming weeks!

So, on that note, dear friends, I will end this entry by saying this: Happy Sunday to all... and to all a good night!

[1] The Pink Giraffe, whilst not strictly a vegetarian venue, holds the title of my favourite vegetarian restaurant in Oxford. Every one of their dishes can be made in a vegetarian form, with a variety of fake meats. As such, it is good enough for me to count as a vegetarian restaurant, since I can eat anything on the menu.

[2] Figuratively, not literally.

[3] Besides, it should give me some appreciation for what it is that [ profile] jadesfire55 does with her ringing.

[4] The Old Minster, built in 660, was the precursor to the New Minster which, in turn, was predecessor to Winchester Cathedral, which I visited last month during my birthday weekend.

[5] Wycliffe was a prominent theologian at Oxford in the mid-fourteen century... who was then kicked out for his heretic teachings. He did such devious things as translate the Bible into English. Terrible, really!

[6] Harry Potter fans may like to know that this staircase appeared in the first Harry Potter film, as the steps leading into Hogwarts.

[7] "Lovely" in this one instance meaning "ugly as all get-out." Last year, the city spent two million pounds renovating the square into something quite drab and awful.

[8] "Lovely" actually meaning "lovely" this time!

[9] Somewhat well known, in part, because of its mention in Colin Dexter’s Inspector Morse novels.

[10] Ignoring non-methods like Plain Hunt.

[11] And I did not sleep enough either night this weekend!


Tis the Friday of our content, marry sir:
Didst thou talketh like a Shakespeare anon?
For yesterday, by the hairs of my beard
Twas all to speak merrily as the Bard.

It is indeed Friday and, whether you spoke like a Shakespeare or no, gentle readers, it is time for an entry highlighting the, um, highlights of this week. First, though, we have a word from our sponsors a poll!

Last week, I asked YOU when you could come to play games at the Flat With No Name[*]. The winner from that poll appears to be Saturday May 9th. So it is likely that there shall be a games party anon on that date. Before confirming, though, let me make sure that there really are enough people who can attend to make it worth our while:

[Poll #1389214]

In particular, there will be an emphasis on teaching and playing Betrayal at House on the Hill, using the awesome new set made for me by the adorable [ profile] tawneypup. Other games are also on hand, though, and much fun shall be had by all who can attend!

Right. That said, what has everybody's favourite Nomad been up to this week? I will not bore you with the details go into full descriptions, but here are some notable happenings from the week now ending:

  • One of the attendees from the Oxford University Astronomy Weekend is a member of the Newbury Astronomy Society, about thirty miles from here. Apparently, she liked my talk so much that she e-mailed me and asked if I could deliver the opening lecture to the Society's next season, in September. I was very flattered to be asked and I agreed, of course. The talk on cosmic rays is already written, and that is the part that I hate about giving a lecture. The actual delivery is fun, as are the questions afterward. So there is no reason at all not to give my talk again, to a different audience!

  • Whilst at St. Giles on Sunday to ring for the evening services, somebody looked at the mail... and noted that there was an envelope for me there. Well, that came as a bit of a surprise! I have never received mail at the church before! Turns out, it was from the Oxford Diocesan Guild of Change Ringers. I was inducted into the Guild at the start of the year[**] and this envelope contained my certificate of membership and some information about the Guild. I know that I am only a learner, even after two and a half years of ringing, but it is nice to be part of some ringing societies now. It feels validating, as it were.

  • Speaking of ringing, I have made it to both handbell practice and tower bell practice at St. Giles for two Thursdays in a row. Given the London commute, this is no longer a given... nor is it trivial to accomplish. However, the benefits are tangible. On handbells, I have brushed the dust off of my Plain Bob Major -- last week, I assured myself that I could still ring the trebles and tenors; this week, I went back to what I was learning before: the 3/4 pair and the 5/6 pair. Coming along nicely, if I do say so myself. On tower bells, I practiced trebling to a long touch of Grandsire Triples. Also, I extensively practiced my inside bell work on Grandsire Doubles last week, and this week I got in some work on a touch of Plain Bob Minor.

  • Unlike Skullcrusher Mountain, the Flat With No Name is managed by a letting agency. Overall, this is a good thing, as our previous landlady[***] did absolutely nothing ever. However, one disadvantage is that the agent makes semi-annual inspections of the property. Joy and rapture. Wednesday was to be the first such inspection, so I stayed home from work on Tuesday and spent the entire day cleaning like mad. To be honest, our flat needed it. When I began, it was an utter mess; when I ended, it was spotless. However, on Wednesday afternoon, [ profile] cheshcat gets an e-mail saying that they are putting off the inspection for a week. Oi! I had her call to chew them out, and to explicitly state that the flat was currently immaculate and that we would not be cleaning it so thoroughly for them again. The situation is irksome... but at least, with that incentive, we now have a clean place to live once again!

  • For some odd reason, it seems to be the season for old girlfriends to hunt down Nomad on Facebook. I do not have a Facebook account, nor do I intend to ever get one[****]. But a couple of former partners -- who have never met -- recently contacted me asking if I was there. No, that is not quite true. One previous partner asked me if I was on Facebook, as she had been looking for me. The other correctly concluded that I was not there... so she sent me a letter demanding that I get a Facebook account. Indeed, she was adamant and would not take LiveJournal for an answer.[*****] I do consider myself to be on good terms with most of my ex-girlfriends -- indeed, I am rather proud of this fact -- but it is still a tad odd for two to ping me at once because they were searching for me on Facebook! Ah, well. Tis good to be wanted, I suppose!

  • Over the past few years, I have been starting to fill in certain gaps in my education. My cultural education, that is. In 2005, after seventeen years of comic book collecting, I finally read the Crisis on Infinite Earths. In 2007, [ profile] cheshcat and I became two of the last people I know to watch Babylon 5. Now, at long last, I have begun to read Neil Gaiman's Sandman series. No spoilers, please! I have successfully avoided any for close to two decades now! [ profile] cheshcat has all the issues in trade paperback form and I have only read the first three thus far. I have been looking forward to this for ages and am quite excited as I begin to finally see what all the fuss is about!

...and that is about all the news from the week, dear friends!

Now tis time to rush off, as the weekend looks to be fairly full, as well. Tonight, I have a date with the lovely [ profile] bunnypip. Tomorrow, the Oxford Society of Change Ringers is having a celebration for its 275th anniversary -- plus, I may sneak away for a bit in the afternoon to see an exhibition in the Bodleian Library -- and then tomorrow evening, [ profile] cheshcat and I have tickets to see Fiddler on the Roof at the Oxford Playhouse[******]. Then, on Sunday, [ profile] cheshcat and [ profile] dr_jen and I will be going to the Harcourt Arboretum to see the bluebell meadows. They only bloom for about two weeks per year... but when they do, they are a phenomenal sight to behold! And, gentle readers, they are in bloom right now!


I go, I go; look how I go,
Swifter than arrow from the Tartar's bow.

[*] It will feel good to get out of the rain!

[**] Making it the second ringing society that I am a member of, as I am also a life member of the Oxford University Society of Change Ringers (and the only person with an identifiable photograph on their home page!).

[***] The irony does not escape me that [ profile] cheshcat and I each co-own a house in the States... and yet we find ourselves renting our primary residence in Oxford.

[****] Similarly, I have never been on MySpace. I spend more than enough time online as it is, and that is not enough for me to keep up with my e-mail and LiveJournal. As such, I do not need additional online distractions, even those that I might enjoy (as opposed to things like Twitter, that I just find annoying). I may get myself a Dream Width account -- just because everybody seems to be migrating in that direction -- but that would be as far as I would be willing to go.

[*****] Somehow this particular partner has always had a way of presenting her demands in such a fashion that they came across as rather sexy, instead of whiny.

[******] Which will be the fourteenth theatrical production that I have seen, thus far, in 2009.

The 31st annual Astronomy Weekend at Oxford University is now over. I am delighted to report that the physics-fu has been strong with me during this weekend.

Despite the fact that I was up on "Friday night" until four thirty in the morning, I did indeed finish my talk with hours to spare. Kudos to me! Also, kudos to all those who left comments on my last post, giving me some virtual company through the long night. In fact, I appreciate it enough that, more than offering mere kudos, I will retroactively give one hundred points to each person who left a message for me on Friday ngiht.

I must confess that I was somewhat nervous about presenting my lecture on Cosmic Rays: Messengers from the Extreme Universe. Last year's talk was so well received -- getting me invited back for a second year in a row! -- that I had concerns about being able to fill my own shoes. I need not have worried; immediately after my talk, one person came up to me and said that it was even better than last year. Nice! [ profile] cheshcat -- who had come to hear me speak -- commented that it was not as funny as last year's talk... but that was not really a surprise. Although I moments that incited laughter in this year's talk[*], I knew a priori that it would not be as funny. It is very easy to make fun of yourself when you are presenting a talk from a search with no results -- like my dark matter lecture -- and those easy inroads to humour are gone when you actually have significant findings to report.

Nevermind. I can live with being a littls less funny this year. The talk went well, and that was the main thing.[**] Indeed, I even had a few people asking me if I would come back again next year... and saying that they would request it on the comment sheet at the end of the course. Hmmm... is it possible to have physics groupies?

It is a tradition on Saturday afternoon of the astronomy weekend to have an option tour arranged for the attendees. Last year, the tour was of Green College. I sat out, as I wanted to rehearse my lecture. This year, it was of the Denys Wilkinson Physics Building... so I was roped into giving part of the tour. The crowd was broken into four groups, with each group taken to one of four places: The rooftop telescope, the electronics laboratory, a lecture by an astronomy graduate student... and the cryo-detector lab. Can you guess where I was based? The groups rotated so that all the attendees got to do see all four places. As a result, I ended up giving four tours -- each accompanied by a miniature dark matter talk -- of my old stomping grounds... and came face-to-face with my old nemesis: the Kelvinox-400! It seems that this was quite a hit as well -- I later got thanked by many people for the tour and, at the end of the weekend, the organiser[***] publicly commented from the stage that he had enjoyed getting to see the inside of my old lab. That was quite nice of him -- were I prone to blushing, I may have changed hue!

One extra bonus whilst in the cryo-detector lab was that I ran into JI, my old graduate student. He will be finishing up at Oxford in a few months and had talked to me in February about the T2K experiment. Knowing there was an post-doctoral opening at Stony Brook, in the group where I worked for my PhD, I encouraged him to apply. When he did, I wrote him a recommendation letter... and put in an informal word or two to the leader of the group, my thesis adviser. Turns out that he got the position... and has accepted it! Excellent! I think that he will be good for the Stony Brook group and they, in turn, will be good for him. It feels quite nice to be able to make such a match!

Speakers at the astronomy weekend are welcome to stick around to hear the other talks. Last year, I surprised the organiser by staying for all of the talks. Apparently, most speakers do not. This year, I did the same. I really don't understand why more speakers don't do this -- I learned some fascinating things! In particular, I was impressed by the talk on Recent Results from the Hubble Space Telescope[****] and also by the talk on detecting exoplanets via the transit method. I knew that, since the first discovery of exoplanets in 1995, the field had come a long way. However, I was blown away to learn that we can now figure out what the atmospheres and compositions are for exoplanets. Wow. Just... wow.

This evening, with the astronomy weekend behind me for [at least] another year, I went to St. Giles to ring bells for the Sunday evening services. Then I came home and had a lovely dinner with [ profile] cheshcat. Over dinner, she informed me that somebody had sent a text to our landline today. It came through as a call with the content being read by a computerised voice. Apparently, it was a silly cheese song. Hmmmmm... Who could have done such a thing? I have a hunch who might have been behind such a devious -- and successful -- plan to make us laugh... but I will not reveal my suspicions until they have been confirmed.

As the weekend begins to wind down, I may pick up the phone and ring some lovely people in the States. There are a few special persons that I have not spoken to in Far Too LongTM. Then I may play a game with [ profile] cheshcat to wind down before bed...

[*] Like when I used the nickname for the Higgs Boson (the so-called "God Particle") to introduce the nickname for the highest energy cosmic ray yet observed (the so-called "Oh My God! Particle").

[**] In response to a request from [ profile] blaisepascal, the slides for the talk can be found here. Alas, due to some large pictures within, the file is about 56 MB. Can it be made smaller? Of course! However, size was not really my priority writing it in the middle of the night before presenting...

[***] Who is a professor at the Open University, a former particle physics theorist, and a current astronomy... writing a textbook on general relativity. Not exactly a slouch in the achievement department.

[****] Mainly because it had, by far, the best photographs of the weekend!

Friday night. Just got back from the opening of the Oxford University Astronomy Weekend. Lots of familiar faces that remember me from last year. In just over twelve hours, I present my lecture for this year -- Recent Developments in Cosmic Rays.

The talk, which I estimate will be able forty slides, is just over half written. Oi! It is going to be a long night[*].

I am supposed to be a reasonably smart guy. You would think that, after all these years, I would know how to not stay up until stupid o'clock in the morning the night before giving a talk.

Ironically, last year I was nervous because I had never delivered a lecture to this sort of audience before, nor had I delivered a talk of any type at Oxford. This year I am nervous because last year went so amazingly well... and I find myself wondering if I can live up to my own example.

Ah, well. Time to press on. Last year, I finished writing by about two o'clock in the morning and managed to get five hours of sleep. Let's see if I can do the same tonight[**]...

ETA: Nearly one thirty in the morning now. Thirty-five slides down. Probably about six more to go. I won't be finished by two -- that much is certain. Still, I am also starting to feel good about this lecture, which is a very nice feeling. Also, I still have one more energy drink in reserve.

EFTA: Ten minutes to three now. Forty slides down. Three to go, I think. [ profile] cheshcat has been wonderful -- she fixed me a snack (cheese, humous, and crackers[***]) and surprised me by buying five energy drinks when I only requested two. So I still have three left in reserve. She has been taking terrific care of me. It makes me think fondly of when I was an undergraduate, fourteen years ago, and she would take similarly good care of me when I was up all night writing a paper -- then edit the paper when I was finished! With any luck, I will be done in an hour or so and get get four hours to sleep. The talk itself is either turning out better than I expected... or I am too tired to tell the difference. I think it is the former, though...

ESFTA: Four thirty in the morning. Finished. Forty-three slides. Whee! Time to sleep. Should be able to get nearly four hours if I wake up in time to listen to the talk before mine; five and a half if I do not. We shall see. All I need is rest (or caffeine) to get me through this and I should be alright. It is a good lecture.

[*] As I type this, my darling [ profile] cheshcat is taking a stroll to the corner store to pick me up a couple of cans of energy drink. I am loved.

[**] Any comments that you can make, gentle readers, would be greatly appreciated. Especially those of you in the States who are likely still awake. I may not have time to respond to them tonight, but they will bring a smile to my face as they break the monotony. If you truly have no idea what to say, just sing me songs of cheese.

[***] As we all know, cheese is love!

Some things are just too big to be kept from the world. One of those things makes its public debut now! Gentle readers, I give you.....

The Silly Cheese Song Project!

The SCSP grew out of humble origins. Some of you may know that my beloved [ profile] tawneypup and I have so many esoteric things in common that we have taken to referring to ourselves as the Good Twin and the Evil Twin[**]. One of these commonalities is that, in both of our homes, the saying "Cheese is love" has been a household phrase for some time. For me, I use it to explain to [ profile] cheshcat why there is more cheese than she wanted on her food. After all, if I love her, how could I not give her bountiful cheese? I am not sure of the origin of this phrase for [ profile] tawneypup and [ profile] plasmonicgrid, but I am assured that it has been in use for quite some time.

In any case, if cheese is love then love is cheese. And, during [ profile] tawneypup's recent visit to Merry Olde England, I realised that this could revolutionise the way that we listen to music. Just substitute cheese for love in a given song, and see how much better[***] it gets!

Well, this idea could not be kept to ourselves, so we let [ profile] cheshcat in on it the very next day. Indeed, this led to a long cuddle-and-giggle session at the Flat With No Name that was gangs of fun! A few days later, my darling [ profile] bunnypip was introduced to the concept. And now, it is ready for THE WORLD!!![****]

Below are just a few examples of how the SCSP improves music[*****]:
  • The Beatles:
    All you need is cheese,
    All you need is cheese,
    All you need is cheese, cheese, cheese is all you need.

  • Foreigner:
    I want to know what cheese is
    I want you to show me
    I want to feel what cheese is
    I know you can show me

  • Heart:
    What about cheese?
    Don't you want someone to care about you?
    What about cheese?
    Dont let it slip away
    What about cheese?
    I only want to share it with you
    You might need it someday

  • Meatloaf:
    I would do anything for cheese
    Yes, I would do anything for cheese
    I would do anything for cheese...
    but I won't do that. Oh no, I won't do that.

  • Joe Cocker & Jennifer Warnes:
    Cheese lifts us up where we belong.

  • Whitney Houston:
    The greatest cheese of all is happening to me.
    I found the greatest cheese of all inside of me.

  • Pat Benetar:
    We are young, heartache to heartache we stand
    No promises, no demands
    Both of us knowing: Cheese is a battlefield

  • The Supremes:
    You can't hurry cheese
    No, you just have to wait
    She said cheese don't come easy
    It's a game of give and take

  • Belinda Carlisle:
    Ooh, Baby, do you know what that's worth?
    Oooh, heaven is a place on Earth.
    They say in heaven, cheese comes first
    We'll make heaven a place on earth.

  • Jackie DeShannon:
    Think of your fellow man
    Lend him a helping hand
    Put a little cheese in your heart

    You see it's getting late
    Oh please don't hesitate
    Put a little cheese in your heart

  • Air Supply:
    I don't know how to leave you
    And I'll never let you fall
    And I don't know how you do it,
    Making cheese out of nothing at all

  • White Snake:
    Is this cheese that I'm feeling?
    Is this the cheese that I've been searching for?
    Is this cheese or am I dreaming?
    This must be cheese

    And, to conclude, one of my favourites:

  • The B-52s:
    If you see a faded sign by the side of the road that says
    Fifteen miles to the... Cheeeeeese Shack! Cheese Shack yeah
    I'm headin' down the Atlanta highway,
    Lookin' for the cheese getaway
    Heading for the cheese getaway
    I got me a car, it's as big as a whale
    And we're headin' on down
    To the Cheese Shack
    I got me a Chrysler, it seats about 20
    So hurry up and bring your jukebox money

    The Cheese Shack is a little old place
    Where we can get together
    Cheese Shack baby, Cheese Shack bay-bee.
    Cheese baby, that's where it's at,
    Ooo cheese baby, that's where it's at

    Sign says.. Woo... stay away fools,
    'cause cheese rules at the Che-e-ese Shack!

There are some of the best that I've heard so far -- but they are far from the only good ones out there. Get into the Silly Cheese Song Project... and you will never listen to music in quite the same way again! Got any good cheese songs that you want to share? Post them as a comment and I shall award fifty points for each one that makes me laugh!

[*] And what's wrong with that?

[**] Somehow I ended up as the Evil Twin! Go figure!

[***] Or at least funnier.

[****] Cue maniacal laughter!

[*****] I present these without credit to the person that thought of them, as several have been independently suggested by more than one person.

Writing this entry from the Oxford Tube. In and of itself, this is not uncommon these days. However, there are a couple of unusual bits to this journey. One is that I am sitting on top, in the front, with a lovely view of the road and the setting sun. I usually sit downstairs at one of the tables, to accommodate my laptop. The other difference is that there is a tantalizing [ profile] tawneypup sitting next to me, gently dozing. Indeed, she is the reason for the first change, too. And the fact that she is asleep gives me time to write this entry.

There has been much going on this week, and I don't have time to write about it all in detail. Here, though, is a snapshot:

Monday: Had a very busy day at work, in that I needed to produce a number of plots and distributions to send to a colleague in the States, then I had volunteered to do a question & answer session with high school students... all before leaving at five o'clock. The early departure from work[*] was because my dear [ profile] cheshcat and I were going to attend a drum class and jam session at the Lake Street Community Centre in Oxford. I had learned about these back in November, quite by accident. However, the conflict with ice skating lessons and whatnot had kept us from going until now. It was really great to play, once again, on the beautiful djembe that [ profile] resourceress and [ profile] cheshcat had bought for me for Yule 2005. It had been far too long! Methinks that [ profile] cheshcat and I will be going back for more of these classes in the future...

Tuesday: Woke up early -- 6am -- Hand drove to Heathrow to pick up the charming [ profile] tawneypup, who is visiting for the week. The airport pickup went without hitch and I was so very happy to see her again! We made our return to Oxford without incident, where I introduced her to the Headington Shark and then to [ profile] cheshcat. To my delight, they seem to be getting along quite swimmingly![**] After driving [ profile] cheshcat to work, we grabbed pasties for breakfast. Then I took [ profile] tawneypup on a tour of Oxford. Most of it was a simple walking tour, showing off my city. We went by Carfax, the Martyrs' Memorial, Oxford University Press, the Eagle and Child, and more. We stopped in the University Museum of Natural History and lingered there until it was time to meet [ profile] cheshcat for lunch. We all ate together at an Indian restaurant; afterward, [ profile] cheshcat went back to work whilst [ profile] tawneypup and I went home to nap. We got up when [ profile] cheshcat left work to shower and prepare for the evening.

The evening's entertainment was a trip to Stratford-on-Avon to meet up with the beauteous [ profile] bunnypip and see the Royal Shakespeare Company perform The Winter's Tale. This is the third time that I have seen this play on stage... and it was, by far, the best! The first time was an amateur production in Oxford in December 2007, the second was last August -- also in Oxford -- by a touring company from Shakespeare's Globe. The Globe does good work, but they are just not in the same league as the RSC. This production was fantastic... and it managed to increase my appreciate of the play by a couple of notches! After the show, we all hung out and chatted for a bit before [ profile] bunnypip needed to go to her home and we needed to go back to ours.

Wednesday: Slept in with [ profile] tawneypup who was somewhat sleepy from several days of insufficient rest. Once awake, we headed into Oxford to explore my home city for a second day. We had lunch at the Eagle & Child, in the Rabbit Room where J.R.R. Tolkein and C.S. Lewis used to meet every week. We climbed the last publicly accessible tower in Oxford that I had not yet ascended: the old Saxon tower (c.1040) of St. Michael's at the North Gate. Whilst atop the tower, we heard the buskers down below playing a variety of songs. When they reached "Dancing in the Moonlight" we couldn't resist breaking out into a dance of our own, together on top of this nearly-a-millennium-old building! Loads of fun! After leaving the tower, and the attached church, we took a break from crepes in Bonn Square, then climbed the Oxford Castle Mound. On our descent, we took a stroll through the grounds of Christ Church, entering on St. Aldates and emerging at the botanic garden. Then it was a walk across the Magdalen Bridge and up to Headington Hill Park before catching a bus home. In the evening, we went out for dinner with [ profile] cheshcat at G&D's so that we could have bagel sandwiches and ice cream!

Thursday: Today, I had to go to work. There was no way around it. We had our usual group meeting, and preparation needed to be done for a meeting in Oxford on Monday. Plus we have an international video conference at 11pm tonight and I am introducing my students to the global T2K SK group. [ profile] tawneypup joined me for the trip into London, showing me how to play Settlers of Catan online along the way. Then we walked across Kensington Gardens together and I showed her where I work before sending her on to the Natural History Museum and the V&A whilst I got down to work. We met up again after my meeting ended and are now making our way back to Oxford -- very nearly there -- where I shall bring her to St. Giles Church and show her what all this change ringing stuff is about! Then dinner at the Noodle Bar Nation and home in time for my late night meeting!

And that, gentle readers, is the news of the week. So far! The only thing I really have time to add before the coach gets into Oxford is a comment about how very wonderful it is to have my dear [ profile] tawneypup visiting here with me this week. I'm looking over at her sleeping in the seat next to me as I type this -- and simultaneously watching the bright red sun set below the clear horizon -- and I can't help but feeling like I'm a pretty lucky guy!

[*] The week before I had not left before seven o'clock on any night, and sometimes stayed as late as ten.

[**] Possibly because [ profile] cheshcat is [usually] much less frightening than a shark?

The uncharacteristic weather here in England, which started with my birthday last week, continued to be unusual through the weekend. Which is to say, warm and dry with sunny blue skies. No complaints from this Nomad.

On Saturday, [ profile] cheshcat and I went to Milton Keynes[*] to see Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen perform as Vladimir and Estragon in Samuel Beckett's Waiting For Godot. I had seen a version of the play performed, also with [ profile] cheshcat, in the mid-1990s... but I must confess that I remembered none of it. It made that much of an impression. I saw Beckett's Endgame with [ profile] polymorphism in 2005... and the best thing that I could say about it to her was: "I really wish that this had been your idea!" Suffice to say, Beckett is not my favourite playwright.

That said, I have to say that this production of Waiting For Godot was simply phenomenal! [ profile] cheshcat and I had front row seats and, thus, a perfect view of the action[**]. I have concluded that, as a play, I think Godot is far superior to Endgame -- it simply makes more sense. Much more sense! Furthermore, I had prepared myself by reading commentaries on the play, so that I was able to have maximal appreciation for this performance.

The other members of the case -- playing Pozzo and Lucky and the boy[***] -- were quite good. Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen were, simply put, outstanding. We have seen Ian McKellen on stage once before -- in the RSC production of King Lear -- and we have seen Patrick Stewart trod the boards several times. Individually, each is already outstanding; together on stage, they defy description. Despite my propensity for words, nothing I say here can truly do their work justice. For my friends on this side of the pond, I heartily recommend purchasing tickets whilst it is still possible to do so!

As a side note, I will observe that when I saw McKellen in King Lear, he ended up stripping naked when Lear goes mad. As Gogo, in Waiting For Godot, he also drops his trousers near the end when Estragon removes his belt to see if it is suitable for the "heroes" to hang themselves with. Seems that I can't see Sir Ian perform without him stripping to some extent or another!

One other observation: Watching Stewart and McKellen perform side by side in roles that are effectively interchangeable has made me realise that Patrick Stewart is, just slightly, the better actor. Both are, of course, incredible! But Stewart brings just a shade more exceptional talent to the stage. Had I not watched them perform side by side thusly, it never would have been noticeable enough to distinguish -- the difference is that small and subtle.

After the show ended, [ profile] cheshcat and I discussed whether to be fannish and gather near the stage door. Having spoken to and shaken hands with both Stewart and McKellen in the past, we didn't feel a burning need to do so again. On the other hand, we were waiting for [ profile] bunnypip to arrive... so we may as well wait by the stage door instead of the car! Stewart came out first, interacting with his fans in as polite and pleasant a manner as usual. He duly signed autographs on everyone's programmes, then went along his way. A short while later, Simon Callow and Ronald Pickup -- the actors playing Pozzo and Lucky -- came out. Since we were there anyway, we had them autograph our programme, too. After all, their performances had also made the show what it was! Sir Ian, we were told, was receiving a back treatment and would not be coming out.

The timing worked out well. Shortly after we were done gathering autographs, [ profile] bunnypip arrived with L2. As we moved everyone (and everything) into Peter II for the drive down to Oxford, L2 had questions about the show that [ profile] cheshcat and I had just seen. Since L2 is nine, we tried to explain who we had seen by using cultural references. We asked him if he had seen the Lord Of The Rings movies. He said no. We had more success with the X-Men franchise and explained that we had seen the actors playing Magneto and Professor X:

"Ian McKellen is Magneto." we explained.

"And Professor X?" he asked.

"That's Patrick Stewart." I said.

It was at this point that I looked up and saw somebody walking by, about five or six meters away. I pointed and basically repeated myself: "Actually, that is Patrick Stewart."

Perhaps it is a moment where one needs to be present to appreciate the humour... but I found it amusing. We did, of course, lower our voices and allowed the man to pass in quiet dignity without intruding upon his personal time and space.

I am almost back to Oxford now, so I shall finish writing about this weekend later. All in all, though, this outing made for a wonderful Saturday afternoon. Again, I strongly recommend this production to my local friends... and I want to give a very special thank you to [ profile] jeneralist for making me aware of it in the first place!

[*] Getting to the show on time was quite an experience. Due to a series of miscommunications and errors on our parts, [ profile] cheshcat and I left Oxford with insufficient time to get to the show before the curtain went up. This is quite the aberration; [ profile] cheshcat and I go to the theatre fairly often. Yet, in our nearly fifteen years together, we have only ever been late to two shows: An Inspector Calls in Connecticut in 1995 and Marlowe in Chicago in 2005. Both times, abnormally high traffic caused us to arrive after the curtain went up. Still, this is not a common occurance. In time, I am certain that we will be late to a third show... but I did not want it to be this one! To rectify the situation, we coalesced as a team -- I drove like a madman whilst she monitored the GPS navigation unit to keep me on track, watch for speed cameras, et cetera. I kept me eyes glued to the road to keep us safe, whilst she handled all of the directions -- allowing me to fully concentrate on going as fast as safely possible. I find that our sat-nav's time estimates are usually quite accurate for my driving. This trip, however, I managed to shave fifteen minutes off of a seventy-five minute trip. That's better than a 20% improvement! We arrived with time to park, pick up our tickets, use the loos, buy a programme... and still be in our seats five minutes before the curtain went up. Kudos to us!

[**] Or inaction, such as the case may be with Beckett.

[***] As opposed to The Boy.

anarchist_nomad: (Center of the Universe)
( Mar. 21st, 2009 10:45 am)
Yesterday morning, I went to Queen Mary to work with RT. RT is a post-doc there who is also working on the T2K experiment. Although we barely knew each other before last year, we both did our graduate work at Stony Brook, in the same research group, with the same advisor[*]. These days, however, we work fairly closely together, taking turns on having one of us visit the others' institution every fortnight and keeping virtual contact in-between.

We worked until only about two o'clock, then headed out. Why the reason for this early end to our workday? PC and LW, another two former colleagues from our student days, were in town. Both are now post-docs on the MINOS experiment, and had just landed in London on their way to a collaboration meeting in Cambridge. I had never met LW -- she was another Stony Brooker but joined the group after I had left; PC was never at Stony Brook, but I mentored him in Japan during his first year (and my last) on Super-Kamiokande. Although we had kept in touch sporadically, I had not seen him in over five years... and was thus very much looking forward to getting together again.

We met near the Tate Modern, at the Founders Arms. The weather has been uncharacteristically beautiful lately, so we sat outside and watched the Thames and St. Paul's Cathedral as we drank, and caught up. Lots of stories were told, remembering some very good times... as well as shared bitching about a certain collaborator that is hated, to various extents, by all of us[**]. At one point, popping inside to use the loo at about four o'clock, I was surprised to see one of my colleagues from Imperial College there, too! I expect to see random people I know when I go out in Oxford. Not so much in London, especially somebody that I work with on a workday afternoon!

When it started getting close to sunset -- and, therefore, cold -- we moved on. As we left the Founders Arms, I realised that I recognised their porch as one that I had gotten dead-ended on last May, during my twenty-two mile urban hike around London. Our next destination was The Blackfriar. On the way, we passed Doggetts, which was the second blast from the past for the day. As the venue for both Polyday and BiFest London, I have been there several times, of course. However, the last time I was there, back in October, was to finalise the ending of a relationship. It was my choice to do so, and I believe that it was the best choice... but it was still sad that things had progressed to such a state that such was the right thing to do. Walking by Doggetts, then, I felt a twinge of loss for something that had once been good but, ultimately, not able to be sustained in a healthy fashion.

At The Blackfriar, we came indoors to admire the unusual interior decor of this pub... as well as get food, get warm, and get more to drink. I, of course, am a life-long teetotaler. However, my three compatriots were starting to get a bit buzzed from all the drinking. Given that the three of them were a generation behind me at Super-K, I really had not been out drinking with them before. Thus, they were all quite surprised to see that I am most capable of getting just as drunk as any of them... without imbibing a single drop. This has been true for as long as I can recall, dating back to parties in high school where I was ostensibly the only sober person. I think that it is because I am somewhat empathic, riding the energy of those who are around me. In any case, I managed a couple of jokes and puns that cracked up the whole party, prompting RT to raise a toast -- the only one of the evening -- to me. If I were prone to blushing, I probably would have blushed at that point... but it was very sweet!

Also sweet was something that PC said after the toast. He told me that the advice I had given him, during our brief months of overlap on Super-K, on what to expect during his graduate career there had proven to be quite accurate. He said that, in the past five years, there were many times that he had thought of me... often as something or other had happened that made him think: "Yes, Nomad said that this would happen like that." It made me smile to be remembered and appreciated... as well as to know that I had helped my friend.

Finally, around nine o'clock, we had to call it an evening. PC and LW needed to get to King's Cross to catch the train to Cambridge for their meeting, which began this morning. I made my way to Notting Hill Gate and caught the Oxford Tube back to Oxford. On the coach, I checked my e-mail and found a note from Mom, containing the third blast from the past. From 1979 to 1985, from pre-kindergarten through fifth grade, I attended the Building Blocks Montessori School in New York. A woman named DH had been my first grade teacher, then bought the school many years later when the founder retired. Every so often, I would go back to visit Building Blocks. When I last went, in October 2006, DH -- who still remembered me well -- was impressed to see that her former student had become a research scientist at Oxford. She explained to the secretary, who had never met me, that I was "the smartest student to ever go to Building Blocks."[***] In any case, that was the last time that I saw her... and the last time that I will ever see her, as Mom had written to inform me that she had died of cancer, at the age of only sixty.

Despite this bit of sad news, I can say that yesterday was an excellent day. It was great to catch up with old friends, and to make a new one in LW. I don't often mesh well, socially speaking, with other physicists, for a variety of reasons. There are exceptions, of course, the most notable is [ profile] gyades, who is my best friend! However, I very much like both RT and PC, and LW seems good to spend time with, too. So, yes, an excellent day!

Now I must be off to run some errands and then, this afternoon, [ profile] cheshcat and I are heading to Milton Keynes to see Ian McKellan and Patrick Stewart perform in a production of Waiting For Godot...

[*] I graduated and left the group shortly after he joined, which is why we barely knew each other. That and the fact that, in my last two years of school, I was rarely ever at Stony Brook. Those were the days that I lived in Arizona, worked in Japan, and went to school in New York (i.e., at Stony Brook) -- when I first adopted the name Nomad.

[**] The prson in question being a somewhat charismatic, but vicious and cruel, individual. The degree to which we can't stand him is quite proportional to how much we have had to work with him. Still, in a collaboration of 120 people, having only one such person is probably doing quite well.

[***] Yet another opportunity for blushing!

First and foremost, I want to thank everyone who sent along a greeting for my birthday! In any medium: LJ comment, LJ post, e-mail, text message, phone call, card. This year, I was blessed with a barrage of good wishes. Including from some people who I would not have automatically expected to remember my birthday[*]. What a nice surprise!

I did have a great birthday weekend, which I will try to write a travelogue about later. This makes three such entries from the past month that I need to write. I know, I know -- I deserve a proper thrashing from the LJ Flogger Fairy. I suppose that if I weren't such a perfectionist, it would be easier to scribble down a few lines. But I like to write detailed entries -- especially when I travel! With pictures and everything! I don't really know if anyone else enjoys them, but the work that goes into such proper travelogues pays off later, when I refer back to remember details of what I did whilst away.

Meanwhile, I will note that today -- March 1818 2009 -- is the first day of the year in Oxford where the amount of daylight time exceeds the amount of night time. I expect that this will be true of many places in the Northern hemisphere, as the Equinox is only two days away. Today in Oxford, the time from sunrise to sunset is twelve hours, two minutes, and thirty-eight seconds. For the third time, I have successfully endured a dark English winter. Go me! When we move the clocks forward to British Summer Time in a week and a half, there will be even more daylight to revel in! Excellent!

So far, this week has been nice, though probably not particularly interesting for anyone to read about. The irony of this is that it makes the week much easier to write up than the weekend, which was far more interesting. On Monday evening, I met the lovely [ profile] pogodragon after her class and we went out together for a long-awaited dinner. It was lovely to have time to sit and chat with her, getting to know her better. The food -- we went for Indian -- was excellent, as well! Tuesday evening was similarly themed, although with less charming company: My boss had to work a very late night and so I went out to dinner with him and some other colleagues. Nothing terribly exciting there at all.

Tonight will be a little bit better, and it will introduce a little variety into my week. [ profile] cheshcat and I have tickets to see the newest Alan Ayckbourn play -- Life & Beth -- at the Oxford Playhouse this evening. This will be the eight play that I have seen in 2009. Eight plays in eleven weeks. Not a bad start to the year!

In any case, the coach is getting ever closer to London, so I suppose that I had best finish pottering about on LiveJournal and start reading through some old talks that are relevant to one of the projects that I am working on now for T2K. This way I can start the day running[**] when I get into the office!

[*] Come to think of it, the same thing happened last year. I am beginning to suspect a certain mythical cat's involvement in all this, but she just grins at me when I broach the topic.

[**] Proverbially, of course!

...and that moment is almost over.

Tomorrow, dear friends, the Nomad begins his thirty-fifth year of life on this planet. To celebrate, I shall be embarking on a weekend road trip with my beloved [ profile] cheshcat and my cherished [ profile] bunnypip. We shall depart tomorrow morning on an adventure in which we will spend three days exploring the New Forest, Winchester, and Salisbury.

Planned destinations include Beaulieu, with its palace house, gardens, and monastic ruins; Winchester Cathedral, home of -- amongst other things -- the 12th century Winchester Bible; Salisbury Cathedral[*], home of one of the four surviving original Magna Cartas[**]; Exbury Gardens; and some of the more scenic points of the New Forest itself. Along the way, there shall be theatre and swimming and lots of good birthday fun!

I am very much looking forward to this trip! We have designed an itinerary that is quite exciting... and it also allows me to cross several more items off of my list of Places To Visit In England! Excellent! For some reason, I seem to have started the traveling earlier than normal this year -- by mid-March, I will have already had three weekends away exploring new places[***]. Usually, I wait until April or May to begin the road trips... but, somehow, I am not complaining about this early start. There is a reason that I am known as the Nomad, after all!

Have a lovely weekend (and Friday), gentle readers! I shall see you all again when I am a year older[****]!

[*] The only destination on the list where I have already been, with [ profile] resourceress, back in 2006.

[**] I have seen the one in Salisbury Cathedral -- reported to be in the best condition -- and also the one in Lincoln Castle. The remaining two are in the British Library; visiting them to "complete the set" is definitely on my to-do list!

[***] Cambridge last month with [ profile] cheshcat to celebrate our Tenth Double-D Day anniversary, then Essex a fortnight ago with [ profile] bunnypip to celebrate our demiversary... and now this!

[****] And also a very happy thirtieth to the ever-adorable [ profile] squeektoy42, whose birthday -- one hundred years to the day after Einstein -- follows directly behind mine!

Whilst I may continue to be delinquent in updating with my January/February summary, I can at least get three thousand words (and change) closer by employing the PIWOTW rule[1].

On February 21st, I went with [ profile] cheshcat, [ profile] bunnypip and [ profile] darkfloweruk to the British Museum to see the Babylon: Myth & Reality exhibit. Whilst waiting for the time on our tickets, we explored other areas of the museum, including the Michael Cohen Egyptian gallery -- newly reopened after ten years of conservation work and research. There, I met with definitive proof of my ancestry! If [ profile] bunnypip and [ profile] darkfloweruk had not previously believed me when I said that I was of Egyptian descent[2], then this picture provided sufficient proof[3,4]:

Meanwhile, the following week I was in Essex with [ profile] bunnypip to celebrate our 0.5th anniversary[5]. We visited Colchester, with its awesome castle/museum; Southend-on-Sea, where we took a long walk on the world's longest pier; and Chelmsford. The trip was most excellent, and deserving of a true travelogue. In the meantime, however, here is an inspired photograph that we took on the Southend Pier (as well as its inspiration):

And, on that note, my coach has arrived in London. So heigh ho, heigh ho, to study neutrinos I go...

[1] Known in less acronymic language as "Picture Is Worth One Thousand Words".

[2] Which, I might add, is different from Arab descent. The Coptic Egyptians, of which I am ostensibly one, did not interbreed all that much when the Muslim Arabs arrived. Hence, the Copts are genetically the direct descendents of the ancient Egyptians.

[3] And I swear that I made no adjustments whatsoever to my hair before the picture was taken!

[4] It is worth noting that, whilst our hair has not changed in the last five millennia, our eyes have moved from the side of the face to the front. Evolution at work!

[5] Also known as a demiversary.

Knowing that the perfect is the enemy of the good, it seems wise to resume using my LJ as a journal now, rather than wait until that magical moment when I have enough time to compose my Jan/Feb summary. I don't have that much time right now... but I do have enough to write about today.

Today I slept in, as a consequence of being in an international meeting until nearly midnight[*]. Mirroring the end of my night, I began my day by participating on a national meeting. Yes, Gentle Readers, it is one of those weeks, where we have our usual Thursday afternoon group meeting... followed by a late night international video conference, followed by a Friday morning UK-wide video conference! Whee!

This afternoon, I went to a talk in the Cultural Platform series, organised by Oxford Inspires. The main speaker at this platform was Shami Chakrabarti, once called "the most dangerous woman in Britain." I thought that the talk was good. She is definitely an excellent speaker, though I must admit that her views were a bit too much to the centre for my liking. Phillip Pullman was also in the audience, and she made several amusing attempts to [playfully] embarass him.

This evening, [ profile] cheshcat and I are going to the Oxford Playhouse to see the Royal Shakespeare Company perform Othello. There is a certain aesthetic to this. After all, the two most frequent sources for our theatre fix are (a) the Oxford Playhouse and (b) the Royal Shakespeare Company, which usually required a trip to Stratford-on-Avon. Having the RSC perform at the Playhouse for a change seems..... I don't have the right words. Much like a comic book fan in 1975 must have felt when the first Superman / Spider-Man crossover took place, I would imagine. I am particularly looking forward to tonight's performance, as the role of Othello is being played by Patrice Naiambana, who we saw as the Earl of Warwick last year in the History Cycle plays. He did a phenomenal job and I will be quite happy to see him on stage again. Tonight's performance will also feature Natalia Tena as Desdemona; those of you who are particular fans of the Harry Potter films may recognise the name, as she played Tonks in the movies.

After the theatre ends, I shall be loading the car and driving North, starting another road trip[**]. Can anyone tell me what day comes six months after August 28th? How about six months after August 29th? August 30th? August 31st? Well, I'm not quite sure when the actual day is, but there is a six month anniversary to celebrate sometime this weekend, and that is just what I intent to do!

Have a lovely weekend, Gentle Readers, and I shall "see" you all again on Monday!

[*] Mind you, rather than complain, I should be grateful! The meetings are set to start at 7am in Japan. Right now, they run from 10pm until midnight in England... but once we change the clocks next month, it will be 11pm until 1am!

[**] The last was two weekends ago, when [ profile] cheshcat and I spent the weekend exploring Cambridge to celebrate our tenth Double-D Day.

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.

Monday December 29th: Woke up at Mom's place[1], brought Lucretia II in for an overdue service, had breakfast, and got showered.

After all was in order, [ profile] squeektoy42 arrived. She and The Kiddo and I went out bowling. I had brought my ball and shoes from the Event Horizon; it was nice to have them again. The last two times that I bowled -- in October (with [ profile] squeektoy42) and July (with The Kiddo) -- I had to do without. We bowled two games and I did very... average. My long term mean score is 150 points per game. On this day, it was 149.5. Like I said, very average. Actually, if I had had time to warm up, I suspect I would have done better than average, as the first four frames of my first game were much poorer than the rest of what I bowled.

Once we had finished bowling, we went back to Mom's apartment. [ profile] gyades had arrived and was swapping presents with [ profile] cheshcat. When they finished, the four of us -- [ profile] gyades, [ profile] cheshcat, [ profile] squeektoy42 and I -- piled into Lucretia II and drove into Manhattan.

Our first destination was Madison Square Park, where we often go to feed the squirrels in the shadow of the Empire State Building. That park has the friendliest gray squirrels that I have ever met! Although I enjoy feeding them on my own, I particularly like to go there with [ profile] cheshcat because she gets an enormous "little girl smile" on her face! Whilst we were in the park, the scrumptious [ profile] pomoloco joined us... complete with a pink fuzzy hat (replete with pink fuzzy ears).[2]

Two bags of nuts later, we met up with [ profile] resourceress and AP[3] at a diner to share a late lunch as the sun went down. I had an excellent dish -- macaroni & cheese topped with vegetarian chili! Yum!

On leaving the diner, [ profile] pomoloco (and her furry pink hat) had to depart. The rest of us headed onwards to the evening's adventures. We made our way up to the Macy's holiday windows, then to Lord & Taylor for more of the same. En route, we passed the New York Public Library, with its giant stone lions in the front. Of course, this meant that we[4] had to stop to climb on the lions for a photo opportunity. When we arrived at Saks on Fifth Avenue, [ profile] squeektoy42 made a very interesting observation about the version of Carol of the Bells that they were playing this season. She noted that it was very, very familiar. It turns out that the recording is of a bell choir that she was a part of! Wowza! Very nice!

As we proceeded along the streets of Manhattan, our group had a remarkable synergy. You see, Gentle Readers, although [ profile] cheshcat has been steadily recovering from her injury since the September surgery, a full day of walking about New York City is still beyond her current capabilities. She can walk just fine over short distances -- often without a crutch or even a leg brace now. Still, hours of walking in crowded streets would not yet be wise for her to attempt. As such, we borrowed a wheelchair to make the outing possible for her. During our travels, we all came together as a team to protect my beloved [ profile] cheshcat. AP pushed the wheelchair; [ profile] resourceress and [ profile] gyades stood at the sides to prevent any clueless pedestrian from crashing into her; [ profile] squeektoy42 was our "lookout" to run ahead and check around corners. Finally, in the front of this procession, I stood with one crutch, politely shoving people out of the way if it looked like they might run into Chesh's recovering leg.

It made me quite happy to see some of the closest people in my life coming together as a team to protect one of our own. It was in this configuration that we entered Rockefeller Center. The crowds there were wall-to-wall[5]; I began carrying both crutches to shove folks aside -- still being ever so polite about it! In this way, we got [ profile] cheshcat a ringside seat to watch the skaters gliding about on the ice. We have done this together many times before, of course. Indeed, during our very first December together -- back in 1994 -- I took her out to eat at one of the restaurants that has windows looking directly onto the ice rink[6]. Still, it is always nice to come back to this place. Despite all the crowds, it is always a very peaceful experience.

Once we were done at Rockefeller Center, our group split up. Everyone who is not named [ profile] anarchist_nomad eventually went to get food. Everyone who is named thusly stood in line[7] for about two hours to spend too much money[8] to become one of the skaters. Ever since starting my ice skating lessons, I had been wanting to skate on the ice at Rockefeller Center -- gliding along beneath the giant Christmas tree and the statue of Prometheus. The last time I was on this rink was December 31st -- nearly fifteen years earlier -- and back then I could only shuffle about on the ice, not skate. I did very little in the way of tricks, but it felt phenomenal to glide elegantly along this very famous patch of ice. The lovely [ profile] squeektoy42 took pictures[9], and I am very much looking forward to seeing how they came out!

I remained on the ice until they closed the rink and kicked us out at midnight. Then I rejoined the rest of the group which, in my absense, had acquired a new member: The enchanting [ profile] ms_redcat! This brought the total number of people taking place in our outing to eight... all of whom, I noted, are P**T*** attendees. Most nifty! It was like creating a little microcosm of P**T*** and carrying it along with us! I did not get to enjoy [ profile] ms_redcat's company for long, but it is always good to see her... and she used the opportunity to give me my 2006 Yule presents, too!

Soon afterward, we all went our separate ways, with [ profile] cheshcat and I heading back to Staten Island to spend another night at Mom's apartment. We got in shortly before two o'clock in the morning, and went to sleep soon thereafter.

Total Miles Driven: 1492

[1] Not surprising, as this is where I went to sleep.

[2] One bonus of this hat is that the strings hanging down from it made it very easy to steer [ profile] pomoloco in whatever direction I chose. Very handy, that!

[3] AP == "husband of [ profile] squeektoy42 with no LiveJournal"

[4] In this instance, "we" really means me. And then, after some encouragement (from, um, me), [ profile] resourceress, too.

[5] Or would be, had there been walls.

[6] It was a belated birthday dinner and we waited at the front of the restaurant until they had a window seat available so that we could watch the skaters whilst we ate.

[7] It was in the US, so it was not a queue.

[8] Twenty-eight dollars, as opposed to the four to six quid that I spend at the Oxford Ice Rink.

[9] As well as fetching the car from the carpark before it closed, thus making it possible to fulfill this skating dream. Thank you, Squeeky!!

Utterly fantastic three day weekend! Friday was [ profile] cheshcat's birthday. She turned six[1]. To celebrate this milestone there was a weekend of festivities revolving around this event.

The fun began on Thursday evening, day zero, when I secretly imported [ profile] resourceress from Boston[2]. I conceived this little bit of sneakiness many months ago, and we had been plotting together ever since. When I arrived home with [ profile] resourceress in tow, I entered our [as yet unnamed] flat and said: "Hey, Hon? You will never believe who I met on the way home from work today!" Suffice to say, [ profile] cheshcat was quite surprised! Indeed, I believe the words: "This is the best present ever!" may have escaped from her lips. Suddenly, the plans to eat leftovers for dinner were cancelled, and we were on our way to Summertown to celebrate at the Mamma Mia restaurant[3].

On Friday, we all got up early and went into London for a day of museum hopping. We hit the Natural History Museum and the British Museum. At the Natural History Museum, we saw the 2008 Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibit. It was, in a way, coming full circle... as we went to the 2005 exhibit shortly after we moved to England. As for the British Museum, this was our first visit... not counting the our visit to the First Emperor special exhibit back in March. Twas good fun, and I now have silly photos of me posing next to the Rosetta Stone, a quartet of Sekmeht statues, et cetera. When they finally kicked us out at 8:30pm, we drove back to Oxford and went out for a very nice birthday dinner at the Pink Giraffe. This is a Chinese restaurant in St. Clement's with an array of exceptionally good fake meat dishes! A most excellent choice!

On Saturday morning, the three of us went to Blenheim Palace to listen to a carol service and see the house decorated for the holidays. [ profile] cheshcat and I have been there before, of course, but it was the first visit for [ profile] resourceress so we did a tour of the house. The choral music was good and some of the holiday decorations were quite stunning -- especially the front hall and the dining room! What amazingly large trees![4]

After leaving the palace, we returned to our flat. [ profile] cheshcat was under the impression that we were going to get changed for lunch at a posh restaurant in the city centre... then drive to Manchester for an unspecified evening performance. Instead, she was greeted by a group of people[5] leaping out at her to yell SURPRISE!!! The party that followed was a huge success! In total, we had eighteen big people, plus two little ones. Indeed, our flat was just about at capacity! I made a grocery run for snacks with JTL... who ended up being a one-woman catering crew! Antipasti, quesadillas, vegetarian sausages -- you name it! She whipped up an amazing feast of snacks!

There were so many memorable moments from the party. [ profile] cheshcat received a set of jacks for her sixth birthday, which became a surprise party hit! I did learn that (a) jacks are dangerous for somebody with OCD, and (2) I am apparently on my way to becoming a jack shark![6] We also played two games of Werewolf, led by [ profile] alextiefling. I was on the winning side both times... though I was killed in each game. Once by my fellow villagers and once by werewolves! I can't catch a break! Several games of Set were also played, and I won the one where I took part.

At the end of the night, we transformed our living room into a slumber party. Eight people slept in our flat that night, and apparently our living room can fit four air mattresses with relative ease! Thanks go out to D&J as well as [ profile] dr_jen for loaning us air mattresses; also to [ profile] alextiefling and [ profile] friend_of_tofu for bringing their own to sleep on!

The party continued into Sunday[7]! After I procured a small feast for breakfast, seven of us headed to the Oxford Castle to see the Earth From The Air art exhibit. [ profile] cheshcat and I had already been there last month, but we only saw about half of the one hundred and twenty photographs on display[8]. This time, we finished up our viewing and brought friends along to appreciate the art. When finished, we chilled out warmed up in the castle's cafe for a bit. Then [ profile] cheshcat led a group of four to the Eagle & Child, whilst I brought the rest of our group on a walking tour of Oxford.

Eventually, the two halves of our party merged again and we went to St. Giles Church for Sunday evening service ringing. [ profile] mattp and I rang, whilst the rest of our group watched to see what change bell ringing is all about. For [ profile] resourceress, it was a return to the tower, as she was present in July 2006, when I went there for the very first time. With the exception of D&J, we all returned to our flat after the tower bell ringing finished. There, we were joined by JP and L&M for a handbell practice. This was most welcomed by me, as my London commute has prevented me from ringing handbells since late September! Also, everyone present got to have a go at handbell ringing! For [ profile] resourceress, [ profile] cheshcat, and [ profile] prolificdiarist, this was their first attempts!

Even after the ringing ended at 8:30pm, the party was still going on! I was surprised, but pleased, to see [ profile] cheshcat's party continue for so long! We made and ate dinner at home, then played a couple of games of Set (I won two and [ profile] mattp won one) then a game of Bohnanza ([ profile] prolificdiarist won with twenty points, I came in second with seventeen, [ profile] mattp and [ profile] cheshcat each had sixteen).

When our game of Bohnanza ended, it was one o'clock in the morning. The party that had begun thirty-six hours earlier was finally winding down. We brought out the air mattresses once again -- there were still five people sleeping under our roof. By morning, three of us had left to go to work in London, whilst [ profile] cheshcat went to her job in central Oxford.

If I do say so myself, this birthday bash was a phenomenal success! Despite all the complex plans, everything went off without a hitch! I was thrilled to hear nearly all the guests enthusiastically tell me what a wonderful time they had at it... and I am so pleased to give my beloved [ profile] cheshcat such a happy milestone birthday. Thank you to everyone who joined us!! Additionally, the one-two surprise of importing [ profile] resourceress and the party qualify this weekend for the list of Big Surprises that I have given to [ profile] cheshcat through our fourteen years together![9]

[1] In cat years.

[2] Due to a transporter accident, most of her hair ended up staying behind!

[3] No Abba connection -- sorry!

[4] Okay, they may not be large by Rockefeller Center standards... but these were indoors!

[5] One co-conspirator in particular deserves special thanks for arriving early, tidying the flat, and letting everyone in!

[6] No relation to my neighbour, the Headington Shark!

[7] Before it did, however, [ profile] mattp and I snuck out early to ring bells at St. Giles Church for the Sunday morning services.

[8] Fifty-three, to be exact.

[9] This is probably the fifth entry on that list.



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