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 [livejournal.com 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, [livejournal.com 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, [livejournal.com 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! [livejournal.com 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 [livejournal.com 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, [livejournal.com profile] cheshcat and I have tickets to see Fiddler on the Roof at the Oxford Playhouse[******]. Then, on Sunday, [livejournal.com profile] cheshcat and [livejournal.com 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 [livejournal.com 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! [livejournal.com 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 [livejournal.com 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 [livejournal.com 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 [livejournal.com 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!

Hello, World!

I've been a terrible, terrible LiveJournaler of late. I know[*]. Life has been... complicated. I will try to catch the wide world up on my comings and goings sometime soon, as I know y'all have been waiting with baited breath. In the meantime, though, I have other matters pressing for my attention. Remember that Astronomy lecture on dark matter that I delivered last year at the Oxford University School of Continuing Education? Well, it was such a smashing success that I was invited back to present a talk on "Recent Developments in Cosmic Ray Astronomy" this coming weekend. Which is lovely and flattering... but also means that I need to write a talk on recent developments in cosmic ray astronomy post haste!

Whilst I may not have time to put together an update at the moment, I do have a hankering to play some games! In particular, I would very much like to assemble some people to play Betrayal at House on the Hill, using the spiffy new set that the exceedingly-awesome [livejournal.com profile] tawneypup gave me for my birthday! Our games shelf grows ever larger, though, so other hits -- like Apples to Apples and Wise & Otherwise and Settlers of Catan, just to name a few -- are also possible!

I would love to bring all my excellent friends[**] here for gaming. Alas, I have been negligent in assembling the functional transporter. As such, only those who are on this side of the pond can reasonably expect to attend. For those lucky few, I present.... a poll!!!

[Poll #1383633]

Hope to see as many of you as possible sometime soon for a night of terror day of fun and gaming!

[*] Anybody interested in administering suitable punishments can line up in the queue now. (Yes, US English and UK English in one sentence -- don't want anyone to feel left out!)

[**] And even a few of the "eh, they're alright" ones!

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 [livejournal.com profile] tawneypup[1]. During the phone call, my beloved [livejournal.com 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 [livejournal.com 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. [livejournal.com 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 [livejournal.com 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 [livejournal.com 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, [livejournal.com 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 [livejournal.com profile] gyades's brain!

Before [livejournal.com profile] tawneypup arrived, [livejournal.com profile] gyades had been cooking dinner. In recent years, he has specialised in Indian cooking. Had he and [livejournal.com 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 [livejournal.com 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 ([livejournal.com profile] gyades) to 110 points ([livejournal.com 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. [livejournal.com 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. [livejournal.com 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 [livejournal.com 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, [livejournal.com 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 [livejournal.com 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, [livejournal.com 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 [livejournal.com profile] gyades and went to go play Laser Tag! This was only my second time playing laser tag -- the first was with [livejournal.com 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. [livejournal.com profile] tawneypup was not far behind me, at number sixteen. [livejournal.com profile] gyades may need a little more practice -- he came in at number twenty-five.

We dropped [livejournal.com profile] gyades off at home and made our way into downtown Chicago. Our destination was a Middle Eastern restaurant where one of [livejournal.com 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 [livejournal.com 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 [livejournal.com 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 ([livejournal.com profile] tawneypup) to 58 points ([livejournal.com 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 [livejournal.com 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. [livejournal.com profile] gyades uncovered it by doing some web research... and I can now highly recommend it!

After dinner, [livejournal.com 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, [livejournal.com 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 [livejournal.com profile] gyades in tow, too. It had been so difficult for [livejournal.com 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, [livejournal.com 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 [livejournal.com 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 ([livejournal.com profile] gyades) to 7 points (both [livejournal.com profile] xirpha and [livejournal.com 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 [livejournal.com 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, [livejournal.com 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 [livejournal.com profile] iamthesphinx.

I won't say much about the date with [livejournal.com 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 [livejournal.com 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 [livejournal.com 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 [livejournal.com 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.

Utterly fantastic three day weekend! Friday was [livejournal.com 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 [livejournal.com 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 [livejournal.com 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, [livejournal.com 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. [livejournal.com profile] cheshcat and I have been there before, of course, but it was the first visit for [livejournal.com 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. [livejournal.com 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. [livejournal.com 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 [livejournal.com 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 [livejournal.com profile] dr_jen for loaning us air mattresses; also to [livejournal.com profile] alextiefling and [livejournal.com 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. [livejournal.com 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 [livejournal.com 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. [livejournal.com profile] mattp and I rang, whilst the rest of our group watched to see what change bell ringing is all about. For [livejournal.com 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 [livejournal.com profile] resourceress, [livejournal.com profile] cheshcat, and [livejournal.com 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 [livejournal.com 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 [livejournal.com profile] mattp won one) then a game of Bohnanza ([livejournal.com profile] prolificdiarist won with twenty points, I came in second with seventeen, [livejournal.com profile] mattp and [livejournal.com 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 [livejournal.com 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 [livejournal.com profile] cheshcat such a happy milestone birthday. Thank you to everyone who joined us!! Additionally, the one-two surprise of importing [livejournal.com profile] resourceress and the party qualify this weekend for the list of Big Surprises that I have given to [livejournal.com 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, [livejournal.com 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.

Just got back from an Illuminati night at [livejournal.com profile] wolfpeach's abode. Vegetarian sushi, good company, and world conquest -- a very fine way to spend a Friday evening! I am proud to say that I emerged from my game[*] victorious! As an added bonus, my win means that the extremely cute LT owes me a lunch[**,***]!

Off to sleep soon. Busy weekend ahead. Indeed, I was looking at my diary earlier... and realised that I am booked fairly solidly from now through about the end of January. Eeep! Better make sure that I don't get sick this Winter -- I simply don't have time to be out of commission at all! Not with several birthdays and holidays coming up, followed quickly by two collaboration meetings -- one of which is in Japan!

Which is yet another reason to leave LiveJournal for the night and go get some rest. Merry Friday to all, and to all a good night!

[*] There were enough people present that we ran two games in parallel.

[**] Or "dinner", as her Northern upbringing would have her call it.

[***] We bet lunch on the outcome of the game. Win or lose, the bet means that I get to have lunch with a cute woman sporting fiery orange hair... which is ultimately a win! (Clever I am!)

Been back for nearly a week now, with nary a peep from me in this journal![*] What has everyone's favourite Nomad been up to?

When I travel, I like to "hit the ground running", as they say. I know many people who like to take a day off either just before leaving, just after returning... or both! Personally, I prefer to avoid doing as such; if I were going to take another day off, I could have spent another day travelling!

I am adept at avoiding jetlag in most situations. When I lived in Japan half time, I knew how to avoid it when flying in both directions. Trans-Atlantic flights tend to be a bit trickier, though. When flying West, to the States, I generally avoid getting lagged. When flying East, to Europe, I can mess myself up if I take the "overnight" flight. These put me on the ground exhausted first thing in the morning. A nap usually ensues, and the troubles stem from there. Departing the States in the morning and landing in the evening works best for me -- I can sleep on the plane and upon my return... and thus avoid the jetlag.

Thus it was that, only seven hours after returning to Oxford last week, I was awake and on my way into London to return to work... with a full complement of "extra-curricular" activities planned. What did the rest of the week bring?

Tuesday evening, after my first day back at work, I returned to Oxford to ring with the Oxford University Society of Change Ringers at Mary Mag. I last rung at this church in June, at the end of Trinity Term. Ye gads, an awful lot has changed since then!

On Wednesday, we had an all day T2K UK meeting at Imperial College to discuss the upcoming calibration run using cosmic ray data. In the evening, AB came over -- bearing noodles for dinner -- to play Settlers of Catan with [livejournal.com profile] cheshcat and I. Together, the three of us play a bloodthirsty game, which ended with [livejournal.com profile] cheshcat winning (10 points), while AB and I came in close behind (seven points and nine points, respectively). Overall, I am fairly impressed with myself for coming so close. I never produced brick during the game, so I only ever built two roads and one settlement. In contrast, wheat and rock were plentiful -- I ended with three cities, and about eight development cards (which gave me largest army and one victory point).

Thursday evening, I rang at St. Giles for the first time in three weeks. Tower bells only -- handbell practice happens to early for me to attend now that I am working in London. I will have to find some other time to continue advancing my skills as a handbell ringer.

For the most part, the weekend will be discussed in separate posts. Still, two things from yesterday are worth noting here.

The first is from when I was ringing for Sunday services at St. Giles yesterday evening. I felt very much in my ringing groove, and wanted to record that for posterity. We mostly rang Grandsire Triples and some Plain Hunt Major. However, we also rang a plain course of Single Oxford Bob Triples, with me on the treble. Single Oxford is a method that I am not familiar with. Going into the method, all I knew was this: (a) My job was to plain hunt from front to back, then back to front; (b) I always began by ringing over the #2 bell; (c) the last bell I rang over at the end of one lead would be the first bell I ring over -- not counting the #2 -- in the next lead; (d) the order of the bells on the way down would not be the same as the order on the way up. Knowing only this, I was able to use ropesight reasonably well to ring the method without going horribly wrong! I was rather proud of myself for this!

The other thing worth noting from last night is that [livejournal.com profile] cheshcat and I finished watching the second season of Heroes. I don't watch a lot of telly -- Heroes and Smallville are the only two series that I currently follow. I am enjoying Heroes, though. Overall, it is a very good translation of the super-hero comic to the small screen. I may be driving [livejournal.com profile] cheshcat a little bit crazy, though, by predicting -- usually correctly -- what is going to happen. Twenty years of immersion in super-hero comic books have left me a fairly good sense of plot precognition...

[*] Bad Nomad! No donut for me!

Heading back to Oxford after my first day back at work. Seems like an ideal time to finish blogging my latest US trip... )
Back in England once again, having landed at Heathrow about ten hours ago. Am now riding Ye Olde Oxford Tubee into work, which seems like an ideal time to write more about my trip.

The first third of my holiday was P**T***, which I have already written about in summary. This entry, then, picks up from last Tuesday and covers the second third of my trip -- the time spent in and around New York City.

Tuesday and part of Wednesday were spent with Mom, being mostly mellow. By "mostly", I mean that there was an expedition made to notarize and ship the final (?) papers necessary to finish the Accursed Refinance of the Event Horizon[*]. Other than that, we sat and talked, we went to dinner... nothing terribly exciting. Just time catching up with Mom.

Wednesday evening, [livejournal.com profile] squeektoy42 picked me up and we went bowling. Despite being without my ball and shoes -- both of which live in Chicago -- I did reasonably well: I bowled a 147 in the first game and a 167 in the second. In the first game, I bowled a turkey near the end, finishing with five marks in a row! This made me quite excited; it has been several years since I bowled a turkey! Had I not wasted the first four frames of this game finding a ball that I felt passably comfortable with, I may well have broken 200 points! After bowling, [livejournal.com profile] squeektoy42 and I got dinner at a Mexican restaurant that she recommended -- very yummy food! Then we went back to her place and hung out. I taught her how to play Egyptian Ratscrew[**], we fired Nerf darts at each other, et cetera. All good fun! Eventually, AP and [livejournal.com profile] fawx_fae -- who was visiting from Michigan -- joined us and we all sat around talking until Way Too Late.

Thursday, I had a date with the lovely [livejournal.com profile] fawx_fae in New York City. Since this was her first trip to the Big Apple, I wanted to give her a whirlwind tour worth remembering. We started by ascending the Empire State Building to get an aerial view of the city. On returning to the ground, we bought some New York pizza for lunch. Having fed ourselves, I brought her to Madison Square Park, where we fed nuts to the uber-friendly squirrels there. She particularly enjoyed an instance where one squirrel distracted her whilst another stole a nut out of her bag. Sneaky little buggers! After leaving the park, we took a walk to (and through) Times Square. This involved stopping in a fair number of gift stores and riding the indoor ferris wheel in the Times Square Toys 'R' Us. Very silly, but lots of fun! Following Times Square, we took a subway downtown and into Brooklyn. We picked up a snack at a local deli and ate it outside, when walked back into Manhattan across the Brooklyn Bridge. Thus, I was able to show [livejournal.com profile] fawx_fae one of my favourite skyline views of the city, to compliment the aerial view we had taken in earlier. Next, we made our way to Chinatown, where we drank tea, looked at anime, and spent way too much money on swords[***]. Eventually, [livejournal.com profile] squeektoy42 and AP joined us and we hit a dim sum restaurant for dinner.

I do believe that I succeeded in my mission of showing [livejournal.com profile] fawx_fae a good time in NYC. There is only so much that one can squeeze into a single day, but I think I did a reasonably good job of it. In any case, she seems willing to pay me a visit in England next year -- and perhaps in Japan at some point in the future -- so I will presume that I did not fare all that badly!

After dinner, we all headed back to Jersey City and crashed. There were only a few hours before [livejournal.com profile] fawx_fae and I needed to head to LaGuardia to fly to Michigan. Still, it was very nice to squeeze in a little cuddle time with her in the night. Special thanks go to [livejournal.com profile] squeektoy42 for waking up at Stupid O'Clock in the morning to drive us!

So that was how I spent the middle third of my vacation. Tune in next time, gentle readers, for the final installment: Nomad Does Michigan!

[*] I have not yet checked my e-mail from the past twelve days, but I dearly hope that there is a note from [livejournal.com profile] gyades telling me that this monkey is at last off of our collective backs.

[**] I was particularly impressed with myself in one game, as I was down to a mere four cards and still came back to win! Admittedly, two of those four cards were a queen and a jack, so it was a very good set of four. But still an impressive feat.

[***] Her, not me.

This will be my first weekend spent wholly in Oxford since May. Also, my last weekend spent wholly in Oxford until at least November. With [livejournal.com profile] cheshcat convalescing from her surgery, the weekend weather forecast calls for mellow with a touch of calm.

One opportunity provided by this unusual situation is to catch up on my blogging. I have been a Bad LiveJournaler[*] of late and written very little of what has gone on in my life. Alas, gentle readers, y'all know what that means, don't you?

That's right! It is time for another one of those boring Week-In-Review entries! )

[*] No donut for me!

Looks like I have neglected this journal for the past few days. Thus, I am afraid it is time for one of those greatly boring week[*]-in-review posts. Gentle readers, you may commence your naps.

Thursday evening, my after-work activity was bell ringing at St. Giles. We began with a handbell practice -- my first in over a month. I was able to practice a touch of Plain Bob Minor and several different parts of Plain Bob Minor -- the tenors and the 3/4 bells for a plain course, the trebles for a nice little touch. I still have not rung a quarter peal on handbells yet and am thinking that perhaps it would be nice to do my first on the trebles for Plain Bob Major. Bondi, if you are reading this, any chance that we could make it happen with a couple of OUS members?

As for the tower bell practice, it was nothing terribly noteworthy. Some Grandsire, some Plain Bob. I did manage to ring the extent -- only 120 changes -- of Plain Bob Doubles from the #2 bell, so it seems that I have not really lost any of my rudimentary skills while I was away in the States.

Friday evening, I drove to Birmingham for dinner and ice skating with the lovely [livejournal.com profile] redandfiery. This was my first time back on the ice in over a month... and it showed. If my goal had been to bedazzle [livejournal.com profile] redandfiery with my spectacular skating skills, I would have failed miserably. Luckily, I have a pretty realistic view of my own abilities and so this was most definitely not my goal! Friday was the first time I ever had an ice skating date, though -- it was fun and sweet! It was also the first time that I skated somewhere other than the Oxford Ice Rink since I started learning how to skate. This was mostly fine, except that the rental skates in Birmingham are even worse than those in Oxford. I really need to just go and buy my own pair of skates -- and soon!

Saturday, I drove back to Skullcrusher Mountain from Birmingham. The afternoon was fairly mellow, though there was one surprise waiting for me when I arrived. Could be nothing, could be significant. We shall see. In the evening, [livejournal.com profile] cheshcat and I got together with M&C for dinner at the very yummy Thai restaurant near Carfax -- which marks the centre of Oxford. After dinner, we came back to SCM to play Puerto Rico -- my first game in well over a month.[**] Thankfully, my legendary prowess has not faded! Despite going first -- a position that I hate in Puerto Rico, I won with 73 points. Cheshcat went second, coming in third with 51 points; M went third, coming in fourth with 46 points; and C went fourth, coming in second with 61 points. I realise that no one cares about these details, but I plan to do a Puerto Rico analysis -- including starting positions -- sometime before the next tournament comes in January. It would have made sense to go to bed after M&C finally went home... but, instead, [livejournal.com profile] cheshcat and I spent some quality alone time together.

Today -- Sunday -- I woke up and made my way to the Cherwell Boathouse to meet [livejournal.com profile] wolfpeach and friends for a punting expedition. Surprisingly, the weather could not have been better! This defied all predictions, which I never believe anyway! This was my first time punting in 2008, as previous plans were cancelled due to rain. There were seven of us, so we divided into two punts. Although my punt had four people, I was the only person with previous punting experience on board, so I got to "drive" for the couple of hours that we were out on the river. Good fun! When we got back to land, the party dispersed for a bit, only to reconvene later at [livejournal.com profile] wolfpeach's place for a formal tea party. Got to chat with several lovely people, some of whom I had met before and others who were new. Overall, quite a fun day... and I thank [livejournal.com profile] wolfpeach for organising it!

[*] Or so.

[**] Anyone sensing a theme here?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Am writing this entry from a Long Island Rail Road train. No internet connection is available. Again, will post from the Event Horizon later and backdate.]

The first leg of Nomad's summer tour -- New York City -- is winding down. I write this en route to the Islip airport, where I am about to hop a flight to Chicago.[*]

Although this initial stop was relatively short -- only two and a half days -- it was quite good. For such a short time, I feel like I got a reasonable amount done:

I saw Mom, I saw The Kiddo, I saw Dad. I saw [livejournal.com profile] squeektoy42 and her husband, AP.

I enjoyed several of Mom's homecooked meals -- nostalgia on a plate!

I spent time in three of the five boroughs of my home city: Manhattan, Staten Island, and Queens. Driving through Brooklyn doesn't count.

I played my annual game of mini-golf with The Kiddo; this year Mom tagged along, too. Final scores: I won with 40 points, The Kiddo came in next with 46, and Mom finished with 49.

I got my bi-annual eye exam -- still no change to my prescription! -- and bought new lenses to replace the horrible scratched plastic that I had been seeing through. Hooray for clear sight!

I caught the first showing of The Dark Knight with The Kiddo at midnight on Thursday. Wow. Dark, indeed! Out of the seven Batman movies, I think that this is easily the darkest of them. Okay, I never saw the travesty of 1997's Batman & Robin, but I still think that I can speak confidently on this. Go see this movie -- it is worth it! (Don't bother waiting around for an Easter Egg at the end, though. Unlike Iron Man, there isn't one...)

I visited the new Coptic Church that "my" congregation has just about finished building. Money for that church was being collected as far back as I can remember, from when I was a child. The result, I am pleased to say, is quite impressive! Besides being a remarkable building, the new church seems to have become a focal point for the Coptic community in the area, which looks to be a positive thing. I have not practiced this religion for over twenty years -- and I have no plans to return to it ever -- but I can appreciate the value of community building.

I enjoyed a New York classic -- Ralph's Italian Ices -- with Mom and The Kiddo. Good stuff!

I went bowling with The Kiddo and we had some fun... though without my ball and my shoes -- which are at the Event Horizon -- my scores suffered accordingly. Suffice to say that my best score of three games was a paltry 125.

Without a doubt, though, the zenith of this whirlwind visit to NYC was the "Last Play at Shea" concert last night. Indeed, the concert was so good, that it deserves its own post. And with nearly an hour left to this train ride, that is exactly what it is going to get!

[*] Once there, I am going to help [livejournal.com profile] gyades celebrate his birthday! So happy birthday, [livejournal.com profile] gyades!!!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So it is a little after midnight on a Friday... and here I am, back in the lab.

The plans for the pub did not pan out. Or, rather, they panned out without me! [livejournal.com profile] cheshcat met C&M there and had a good meal, but I was unable to leave the lab before about 8:30pm... at which point they were all back at Skullcrusher Mountain. This was slightly vexing, but more than worth it because the reason I could not leave the lab is that things were going very, very well. My boss and I were reviewing the alpha-spectrum data that I was recording from the titanium-on-sapphire proto-detector. In short, it looks very good!

Upon meeting the others at SCM, I found that [livejournal.com profile] cheshcat had been an absolute sweetie and made me some dinner. I ate quickly and then dug into a game of Puerto Rico with the three of them. I don't think I have played since April -- tis good to get back to this particular addiction. Apparently, I have not lost my edge, either: I won with 61 points, M came in second with 49, followed by Chesh with 47 and C with 41.

Now I am back at the lab briefly to examine the data accumulated over the past four hours, while I indulged in food and games. Then time to start a new data run and go home to sleep. With any luck, I can be dreaming before one o'clock.

Tomorrow's options have dwindled, as the Malvern Hills hike has apparently been postponed. Actually, I prefer this... as I can go soak in the jacuzzi tomorrow and still join the hike on another weekend! I have never been to the Malvern Hills and would love to see them!

Right, time for data and then dozing...
Back in Oxford now, after my third annual May weekend on the Isle of Wight. It was fantastic!

Friday evening, [livejournal.com profile] cheshcat and I left Oxford around 5pm with the illustrious C&M. The drive down was nice, as was the view from the ferry. After we arrived and checked in at the Heather Cottage -- the usual B&B that we use when staying on the Isle -- we had time to get some yummy Chinese food for dinner and then play a game of Settlers of Catan. I took an early lead, but then got quite stuck while others caught up. In the end, I managed to win, but it was quite close: Final scores were Nomad 10, C 9, M 8, Chesh 6. And had I not rolled a ten to give myself the cards I needed for my last point, C would have won immediately after, as he had the cards that he needed already in hand!

Saturday was a mellow day. We started with a nice big breakfast at the B&B -- full English for most of us. Then we drove to Arreton to visit the Amazon World Zoo Park. The park was very cool, with lots of wonderful animals that I wanted to take home: Giant anteaters, penguins, tamarins, speaking birds, and -- of course -- meercats! Sadly, Chesh would not let me snatch any of them. Then we drove to Ventnor where we had an incredible lunch at Rex's Piano Bar. I usually try to avoid advertising specific establishments but, in this case, I will make an exception. If you are ever on the Isle, do go eat there! The food was superb, the view of the water was outstanding. We were waited on by one of the owners, who was unbelievably friendly[*] and quite accommodating. C&M ordered chips, which weren't on the menu... so he had some hand cut to order for them. They were tasty enough to stand out from ordinary chips, so Chesh and I needed to place a second order! At the end of the meal, when we were just about to move on, he gave us complimentary teas and coffee. Definitely check this place out!

After lunch, we swung by the Ventnor Botanic Garden and spent a couple of hours wandering through the lush flora there. This seems to be my month for this sort of thing -- perhaps because everything is in bloom -- because I have now been to two botanic gardens and one arboretum, thus far, in May. When we left the gardens, it was time for dinner; we drove to Newport for some excellent pizza and then scoped out where we would need to go on Sunday morning. Back at the B&B, we played a game of Bohnanza, which went much the same as our Settlers game had the night before: I started with an early lead, then got stuck while others caught up, and narrowly won in the end. Final scores: Nomad 18, M 17, C 17, Chesh 14. It was only 10pm when we finished the game, but we all retired early, knowing that we would have to wake up before 5:30am on Sunday morning.

Sunday was..... intense. C&M and I woke up, ate a quick and simple breakfast, then left the B&B by 5:45am. We drove back to Newport, parked, and caught the first shuttle bus -- at 6:15am -- to Bembridge. We left Bembridge on foot at 6:46am, beginning the twenty-seven mile Walk the Wight challenge. Nearly eleven hours later, we arrived in Alum Bay, at the finish point -- sore, but happy and immensely satisfied. Success! This challenge is the reason I have been doing all these practice walks, including the seventeen mile walk to Blenheim Palace and the twenty-two mile London walk, in the past two months. I was a little nervous -- as I had never trained beyond twenty-two miles nor had I done serious hill training -- but we made it! Honestly, aside from a fairly miserable patch shortly after stopping for lunch at the halfway point[**], it was not all that bad! Yes, I am sore today and have a couple of [large] blisters on my feet, but I have felt far worse than this. Indeed, most of the walk was quite fun and we were in high spirits. The weather could not have been better -- last year, when C and I attempted this walk, we were hit with a torrential downpour and only made it halfway. This year it was dry and clear and warm... without being too hot. At the start of the day, I wore three layers to keep warm, but I quickly lost two of those... and even needed to hike shirtless for a bit to stay cool during the afternoon. Any warmer would have been unpleasant, but the weather that we had was perfect. Perhaps it was the Weather Gods way to apologise for last year? Also, the clear skies made for some breathtaking views of the island when we were on top of the various hills hiking along. Absolutely stunning! As an added bonus, when we were about four miles from the finish point, we passed less than a mile from the B&B... so Chesh came out to greet us! Twas very sweet of her, and very encouraging to see her smiling face, too!

Altogether, a great weekend! One day of mellowness and one of intensity -- a nice combination! Today, I am taking the day off from work. I have a few errands to tend to here in Oxford and then, in a couple of hours, I am off to London for the afternoon and evening!

[*] And, oddly enough, looks remarkably like my father! Not quite so much that I could mistake one for the other... but enough so that he could be my father's brother. Indeed, he looks more like my father than his actual brother does!

[**] I made the grievous mistake of sitting down for lunch. Bad move!

Trinity Term started here at Oxford this week. Although I neither teach nor take classes, this still affects me. For one thing, with all those pesky students back, it becomes much harder to find a space to chain up my bicycle when I ride in each morning. For another thing, my weekday evenings are entirely booked for eight weeks (this week and the following seven). Here is what I can be found doing:

Monday: Ice skating lessons and practice.
Tuesday: Tower bell ringing with OUSCR at Mary Mag.
Wednesday: Tower bell ringing with OUSCR at St. Cross.
Thursday: Handbell ringing at St. Giles followed by tower bell ringing.
(Possibly followed by gaming with the Oxford Uni Board Game Society.)

Most days, my evening activities tend to wrap up around nine o'clock... unless I game after ringing on Thursdays, in which case all bets are off. On Wednesdays, however, we ring relatively early and are finished by 7:15pm. It will be nice to have one early evening each week, in case I want to take in a theatrical performance at the Oxford Playhouse or go for a swim at the Ferry Sports Centre.

I will likely not write about these events each week unless something noteworthy happens -- I don't believe I have mentioned any of my evening activities from this week until now -- but that is what I have been and will be up to.

Speaking of this week, I have felt like my Physics Fu has been quite strong. I have cooled the cryostat not once, but twice[**]. I heard an interesting talk yesterday on future neutrino experiments, ranging from superbeams and beta beams to a possible low energy neutrino factory[***]. Shortly after, I heard a Nobel Laureate deliver this year's Halley Lecture[****] on "The History and Fate of the Universe"[*****]. And, in between it all, I think I have managed to do one or two fairly clever things in the lab. Broadly speaking, none of what I have done this week has particularly long-lasting consequences... but being in my physics groove gives me a good feeling.

Right. The Kelvinox is beckoning to me. Once more unto the lab, dear friends, once more.

[*] To be sung to the tune of Springtime for Hitler.

[**] Second cooldown in progress as I write this. Current temperature 1.8K and falling.

[***] The cynic in me snorts and says: "Yeah, like that will ever be funded." But the idea is still spiffy as all get-out!

[****] Edmund Halley, of the comet fame, being a former member of this University, gets a special lecture in his honour each year.

[*****] A nice general topic, yes? Covers just about everything there, I think.

First off, thank you to all those who proved that their knowledge of amendments, commandments, and plagues[**] are better than a room full of Oxford scientists. My friends rock! Points will be awarded where appropriate shortly.

Now then. Looking at the clock, it seems that the weekend is almost over. As such, I had best getting around to blogging it, shouldn't I?

Once upon a time, I had planned to Saturday morning with C&M and [livejournal.com profile] cheshcat at the Harcourt Arboretum. The cunning plan was to visit their stunning bluebell woods, as we did last year, to admire the splendour of fifty bazillion bluebells in bloom. Alas, our scheme was thwarted by the bluebells themselves! A quick phone call to the arboretum revealed that the 'bells are not yet in bloom. Instead, then, I spent the earlier part of Saturday doing various and sundry chores and errands necessary to keep Skullcrusher Mountain running smoothly. Perhaps it was all for the best -- this made for a much less interesting Saturday morning... but also a much more productive one.

Saturday evening, I hopped into Peter, my trusty steed, and bravely fought my way through the evil that is London traffic to attend the "God Is Not Amused" Easter party. I had been invited by the charming [livejournal.com profile] ms_katonic and, for that, I owe her many thanks... as I had a great time. I arrived at the party circa eight o'clock in the evening. I was greeted by the aforementioned [livejournal.com profile] ms_katonic, as well as many other wonderful people. Some were familiar faces that I was happy to see again. Others were people I had only met in passing, like the lovely [livejournal.com profile] artremis, and it was good to "re-meet" them and spend more time getting to know them. And, of course, as the relatively new kid in town[***], there were quite a few completely new people that I had the pleasure of making the acquaintance of. I will not even try to name names as (a) there were too many, and (b) it would reveal my hidden weakness -- memory of names!

In any case, the true proof that I had a thoroughly enjoyable time is that I could not bring myself to leave until three o'clock in the morning. At last, through an amazing act of will, I tore myself away from all the cuddling and snuggling and running of fingers through hair. To this day, I am not sure how. Nonetheless, I did... and began the journey back to Oxford. Sans traffic this time, I am most happy to say!

Returning home at 4:30 AM, I quickly made my way into bed. I was asleep shortly before five o'clock and eagerly indulged in four hours of sleep before it was time to wake up and cycle into Summertown. There, I met up with C&M to embark on the next stage of our training for the twenty-six mile Walk The Wight challenge. We had begun in March with a three mile walk and made our way up to a couple of nine mile walks. For today, the goal was to roughly double our previous walks. The plan was to walk from Oxford to Blenheim Palace, in nearby Woodstock.

Using driving distances, we had estimated the walk as being eight to nine miles each way. This would have given us the sixteen to eighteen mile walk that we had wanted. Imagine my surprise, then, when C greeted me with the information that he had mapped out our route... and it was only six and a half miles each way! We departed from their flat at 9:35 AM; by 11:35 AM we were walking onto the grounds of Blenheim Palace and preparing to reward ourselves with ice cream.

As we ate our ice cream, the heavens opened up. This gave us our first chance to test our waterproof clothing in action. I remember all too well from last year's trip how necessary proper waterproof clothing is. I am most happy to report that our gear largely did as it should (and that we know what needs improvement with plenty of time to implement said improvements). Nevertheless, the heavy rains convinced us that this was a good time to take a break for lunch, so we left the grounds of the Duke of Marlborough and headed into Woodstock to get some very yummy Chinese food for lunch.

Once fed, we re-entered the Blenheim estate. We had never any intention to visit the Palace itself on this trip. However, to make up for the unexpectedly short distance to and from the Palace, we decided to walk around the beautiful grounds for a bit. We circled the lake and ascended the hill to see the mammoth Column of Victory[****] up close. I had never realised that the base of the column contains a small book worth of writing! See here for some of the text.

After finishing the two mile loop of the pond -- and carefully avoiding much sheep dung as we went! -- it was two o'clock and time to leave the World of Blenheim. Still, we were not yet satisfied with the distance that we had walked. Thus, rather than head straight back to Oxford, we struck out for the nearby village of Kidlington -- arguably the largest village in England -- and continued our hike around the far perimeter of the town. As we walked, the weather varied -- with short period -- from chilly to hot too wet. The waterproof gear was put on and taken off multiple times as it went from being too hot to wear to being to wet to refrain from wearing. Over two years I have lived in England and the weather still follows no logic that I can comprehend!

Eventually, we started to get tired and thirsty. A snack and hydration break was in order. Then we began the final slog home. We returned to C&M's Summertown flat at a little past five o'clock. Out came the Gmap pedometer, which we used to calculate the length of our walk. Seventeen miles -- not bad! We could definitely feel the walk in our legs, showing that we all still have a way to go before we attempt to walk the full length of the Isle of Wight next month. However, progress is definite and noticeable!

Here is the route that we walked today. The northern reaches of Oxford, including Summertown, are in the bottom right portion of the map. Blenheim Palace is located near the flag number nine (with the surrounding lake obvious to spot).

I spent some social time unwinding with C&M before heading home. It would have been nice to ring bells for Sunday services at St. Giles... however (a) I was somewhat worn out, and (b) the evening ringing had been cancelled due to a small turnout for morning services. Instead, I came home to have a very nice evening with my beloved [livejournal.com profile] cheshcat. We shared a yummy dinner that she had prepared, snuggled with our sweet Foxy (and The Boy) for quite some time, then played one game of Bohnanza. It was quite close, but she beat me: fifteen to fourteen!

Now I believe that it is time to wind down for the night. I believe that relaxing in a nice hot bubble bath -- with the company of a good book -- is just what this doctor ordered! Then it is off to sleep so that I can get an effective start on the work week tomorrow morning.

All in all, a very pleasant weekend! Many thanks to all who helped make it such a success!

[*] Okay, it was only seventeen miles, but you get the idea.

[**] Oh my! Amendments, commandments and plagues -- oh my!

[***] Technically, I am not even the "new kid in town" as I do not live in London. But work with me here, k?

[****] Commemorating that Sir John Churchill, first Duke of Marlborough, led the English to defeat the French in a battle in Germany to determine the Spanish succession.

anarchist_nomad: (Guess who?)
( Mar. 31st, 2008 11:24 pm)
My goodness -- I really have been rubbish about updating lately! I will try to rectify that somewhat now.

Friday, I had an almost-cold cryostat. By this, I mean that the K-400 had cooled to 23mK[*], which is not quite cold enough to work with a tungsten detector -- we need 8mK at most for that. However, I had also installed a prototype titanium detector, which superconducts at a few hundred millikelvin, so I could do some experimenting with that.

Friday evening, the adorable [livejournal.com profile] ms_katonic came back to Oxford and we shared a lovely weekend together. Said weekend included another trip to Blenheim Palace on Saturday. Inclement weather prevented us from enjoying the park and the gardens, but I did get to see more of the inside of the palace than I had on my previous trip. A new exhibit, called "The Untold Story", tells the story of the various inhabitants of the palace over the past three hundred years... narrated by a ghost of one of the first servants there. It was cheesy but cute. Also, the private apartments, where the current Duke of Marlborough and his family live -- were available to tour; they are usually off limits. So we got to see how ridiculously and outrageously rich people live.

Saturday evening was somewhat mellow and, on Sunday, the weather had improved greatly. To celebrate this most distinctly Spring-like weather, [livejournal.com profile] ms_katonic and I took a stroll through the University Parks. Then we came back to Skullcrusher Mountain with enough time to play Puerto Rico with [livejournal.com profile] cheshcat before I needed to drop her off at the coach station[**]. [livejournal.com profile] cheshcat played a remarkably solid game and scored a definitive win: fifty-eight points to my fifty-four. After [livejournal.com profile] ms_katonic began her journey back to London, I rang up the wonderful [livejournal.com profile] frogcastle to have one last conversation with her before her surgery. She went in today to have her tonsils out... so it will be a little while before she can speak to me again -- quite literally!

Tonight was my last ice skating class in the level one / level two course. Most of us -- myself included -- have registered for the level three course that begins in three weeks. Accordingly, the instructor went over some of the level three skills with us tonight. When the class ended, I stayed to practice for about an hour before making my way home. Besides the skills that I have learned in the past six weeks, I have to say that I simply feel much more comfortable on the ice. That may actually be more important, in the long run...

[*] That is 0.023 degrees above absolute zero -- room temperature, for comparison, is about 300K or 300,000mK.

[**] I am way behind at posting the results to recent games. I know that this disappoints many people. Expect a forthcoming post where I do nothing but report the scores from gaming in the past couple of weeks. That will give you something exciting to look forward to.



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