anarchist_nomad: (Loch Ness Monster)
( Mar. 26th, 2015 08:13 pm)
Nine years ago today, my beloved [ profile] cheshcat and I arrived in Merry Olde England. It wasn't my first time, having been twice before... but the date is significant because that was when we arrived to make our home here.

Seriously? How has it been nine years?? Still the proof is there -- see for yourself!

I don't have much to say today, given that I've made length entries in each of the past three days[*], but I thought that this was an anniversary worth noting.

We spent the first night in London, so tomorrow will be nine years since the very first time we set foot in Oxford. I still remember the two of us arriving at the train station, four 75 pound suitcases in tow, and not knowing where anything at all was located.

[*] Four consecutive days of LJ entries? Wowza, that's like old times!

Looks like I'm really British now. Just got back from voting in my first election. My beloved [ profile] cheshcat and I took a stroll down to our local polling place and put our cross in the box.

This election is both local and hyper-national. I cast a vote one of the two Oxford City Councilors who represents my ward (Headington) and for one of the parties who will share the 10 Minster of European Parliament seats that represent the South East England consituency.

As an Anarchist, I'm not going to hold my breath in the belief that elections will change much. See, for instance, the title and current music to this post. That said, as an immigrant, it's a nice milestone in my 8+ year transition to my adopted country. Indeed, tis possibly the final milestone... unless I follow through on the plan to learn a British accent.

My prediction for the outcome of this election is this:
  • In Headington, the Liberal Democrat candidate (Mohammed Altaf Khan) will win the open seat on the City Council.

  • In the South East England constituency, we will be sending three UKIP people, three Labour people, two Conservative people, one Green person, and one Liberal Democrat to the European Parliament.

  • Furthermore, the order that I listed the parties above indicates my prediction for the share of the vote. UKIP and Labour are locked in a tight race for first; I hope Labour wins. (Not because I like Labour, but because UKIP are ignorant racists who would destroy the economy if their policies came to pass) Similarly, the Greens and the Liberal Democrats are locked in a tight race for, um, fourth place. Hopefully my vote will help the Greens pull ahead.

Nice to have my first election be one where my vote actually makes something of a difference. That's a bit new to me. In the US, I have never lived in a swing state, so my votes for president are never relevant.

For that matter, when the national election comes around next year, I can vote for Mickey Mouse for all the good it would do. Andrew Smith (Labour) has been MP for Oxford East since 1987, and if he's running, he will win. Actually, the Oxford East constituency has only existed since 1983, so he's held the seat for most of that time.[*] If I lived on the other side of town, that would be more interesting; the Oxford West & Abingdon constituency is a marginal district, likely to swing between the Tories and the Lib Dems.

Anyway, let's see if my predictions about today bear any relation to the actual results...

[*] Before 1983, there was simply the Oxford constituency, which had existed for nearly 700 years, since 1295. Shame they had to split it in two, really.
I returned upstairs to Chiron Beta Prime, our flat, and consumed said breakfast. Then it was time for a run. Normally, setting out for a 60 minute run would no longer qualify as newsworthy. After all, I do these a couple of times each week now. However, I was determined that today's run would be different.

As mentioned above, I live in the neighbourhood of Headington. Headington sits at the top of the similarly named Headington Hill. Headington Hill is steep. Intimidatingly so. Only once have I successfully ridden my bicycle all the way up the hill; normally I make it halfway before dismounting and walking the bike up the rest of the way.

When I took up running in 2012, I was very careful to choose routes in East Oxford that would avoid running down the hill. After all, what goes down must come up! As my runs got progressively longer, these proto-routes merged into what became my "standard run" -- a 12 km loop around the eastern portion of Oxford. This is all fine and good... but running the same route eventually gets dull. A few months ago, I broadened my horizons with runs that start by going down the hill in the first five minutes, then spend the rest of the workout running up a gentle gradient that takes me back home without ever needing to climb the steep hill.

This, too, was good. Tis a nice route and sometimes allows me to run past my darling [ profile] miss_amaranth when she walks to work. Nothing wrong with this route -- or the original -- and I plan to continue using them both.

That said, I have been running for nearly eighteen months now. In my travels, I have encountered hillier locations than Oxford. My standard run in Tokai, Japan has a steep section; when visiting Mom in Staten Island, NYC in December, I also ran up a couple of hills (e.g., Forest Hill and Todt Hill) that I estimate are steeper than Headington Hill. Thus, on Monday I decided that the time to fear Headington Hill had passed. I would demystify the experience by taking the bull by the horns.

The route was simple to devise -- merely reversing my path would take me down a gentle gradient for 45 minutes, then up Headington Hill in the last 5 - 10 minutes of the run. And that, my friends, is precisely what I did.

Post run, I am actually very pleased with myself. As suspected, running the hill was far less difficult than I had once envisioned. Surprisingly enough, I made very good time for today's run, too. My overall pace was 5:24 for sixty minutes, which means that I ran 11.1 km in an hour. That doesn't break the current record (5:10), but it is faster than the average (about 5:30). Indeed, during the kilometer that included the hill, I still managed a pace of 5:31. Not too shabby!

I hate to say it, but methinks that there will be more running up Headington Hill in my future. It isn't fun, but it is doable... and it is good for me. Maybe I can aim to tackle nearby Shotover Hill sometime soon.
After rolling out of bed and freshening up, I walked downstairs to buy food for breakfast. I live in the centre of Headington, one of the neighbourhoods on the eastern side of Oxford. This morning, I had set my alarm half an hour earlier than the usual seven o'clock, as I wanted to be present when Headington's newest grocery store opened. Indeed, as it turned out, I was the very first customer!

The new store is a Sainsbury's, the second largest chain of grocery and convenience stores in the United Kingdom[*]. Apparently, their new Headington shop is their 600th so-called "Sainsbury's Local" store. So everyone's favourite Nomad is Customer #1 at Sainsbury's #600. My inner numbers geek was suitably amused.

[*] Actualy, Headington is becoming overrun with supermarkets. When my beloved [ profile] cheshcat and I moved there from Summertown (a north Oxford neighbourhood) in 2008, there were only two -- an Iceland (specialising in frozen foods) and a Co-op. We used the Co-op until a Waitrose opened a year later, and we have shopped there since. You would think that three supermarkets would be enough for one small neighbourhood, but apparently you would be mistaken. About three months ago, we got a Morrison's and, as of today, we now have a Sainsbury's. If five weren't bad enough, there will be a Tesco (the UK's largest chain) opening up in Headington later this year. There isn't enough business to sustain all six supermarkets; clearly the big players like Tesco and Sainsbury's are trying to force out the smaller ones. For that reason, this morning's purchase will likely be the only time that I shop at Sainsbury's; [ profile] cheshcat and I will continue to get our food at Waitrose.
Ever since completing the Yoshida-guchi trail up Mount Fuji earlier this month, I have been eager to do more hiking. [ profile] gyades and I already have plans to spend a week next July walking the 84 mile Hadrian's Wall Path[*], and I attempted to organise a group outing with some friends to hike Mount Snowdon next month. With an elevation of 1085 meters (3560 feet), Snowdon reaches less than a third of Fujisan's 3776 meters (12,380 feet); even so, it is the highest peak in Wales[**] and taller than any in England.[***]

All that is fine and good but, as the unusually fine Summer weather persisted over Great Britain, I wanted to get outdoors and hike something sooner. So, on Sunday, my darling [ profile] miss_amaranth and I set out from Oxford's Osney Bridge and hiked the Thames Path from Oxford to Abington.

This ten mile stretch of the path is described nicely here, albeit in the reverse order to how we walked -- the description proceeds upriver, whilst we walked downstream. The hike was also a nice continuation of the 42 mile Oxford-to-Cricklade walk that I did with TS last year. Putting the two together, I have walked from Cricklade to Abingdon, covering about 52 miles of the 184 mile Thames Path (which starts at the official source of the river in Thames Head and ends at the Thames Barrier, in East London). Bit by bit, I intend to complete the whole of the trail!

For most of the walk, we enjoyed perfect hiking weather -- clear skies and a cool temperature. Near the end, though, there was a brief period where the skies opened up, when we were near Nuneham House[****]. Of course, a little rain and a little sun make for a most lovely rainbow... and that is precisely what we saw:

Somewhere under the rainbow

(click for full-sized version)

Strangely enough, the lawn ornament that can be seen on the right side of the picture -- just near the base of the rainbow -- is a Jacobean water conduit that was installed in the very centre of Oxford from 1610 to 1787. When the roads were widened to permit coach traffic, the Carfax Conduit was retired and moved out of the city to become the decoration it is today.

Covering ten miles of level ground, Sunday's hike was not particularly challenging. However, it was pretty and fun. It was nice to be outside in the Summer warmth, it was nice to walk alongside the river... and, of course, it was nice to spend time with my lovely [ profile] miss_amaranth!

[*] Being a relatively small country, the United Kingdom doesn't have hiking trails in excess of 2000 miles, a la the Appalachian Trail. On the other hand, the Hadrian's Wall Path follows a structure nearly 2000 years old -- the Northern border of the Roman Empire, Hadrian's Wall.

[**] Snowdon is also the third tallest peak in the British Isles, and the highest outside of Scotland. Although I would like to climb the tallest British peak -- Ben Nevis (1344 meters, or 4409 feet) -- at some point, getting there requires considerably more driving than popping out to Snowdonia National Park. Less suitable for an impromptu weekend getaway.

[***] Alas, my impromptu attempt to organise this outing was not successful -- perhaps unsurprising when trying to assemble a last minute group weekend away for August, when folks are already travelling. No matter, as Mount Snowdon will still be there next Summer!

[****] Built in 1756 by the 1st
Earl Harcourt, who had an ancient village removed to make room for a landscaped park around his new home. The park was then designed by "Capability" Brown, who I am convinced is more than a single person -- a la the Dread Pirate Roberts. Oddly enough, the building is now owned by the University of Oxford and used as a retreat centre by the Brahma Kumaris World Spiritual University.

anarchist_nomad: (Guess who?)
( Jun. 26th, 2013 03:48 pm)
Your friendly neighbourhood Nomad has a veritable backlog of LJ entries waiting to be written. However, I just received some Nifty NewsTM that had to be pushed to the front of the queue!

Following on from my previous entry, there is yet another reason to love Oxford. Today, I learned that the City of Dreaming Spires will soon be getting its very first board game café!

That's right, gentle readers. As if my fair city were not spiffy enough as is, next month will see the opening of the Thirsty Meeples Board Game Café. See? Tis indeed pretty nifty, yes?[*]

Perusing their website, I definitely like what I see so far. They will be located right in the city centre; they will be open until midnight seven days a week, opening at 11:00 on weekdays and 09:00 on weekends; they have over 1500 games in their library that will be available to play in the café (with 400 different games available for purchase); and they will serve smoothies, coffee, and snacks. Sounds rather awesometacular to me!

Opening day is July 20th. I will definitely have to organise a band of friends to check it out then, or soon after. Seems like a most pleasant way to spend an evening (or afternoon... or morning...).

Methinks I may soon have another place to add to my list of "favourite food spots" in Oxford!

[*] For those of you not familiar with the concept, a "meeple" is one of the small wooden playing pieces from the the Carcassonne board game. They look like this.

Much of yesterday was spent celebrating the birth of my darling [ profile] miss_amaranth. As she likes to continually mention: "I'm twenty-three. I'm old now." When she does this, I generally threaten to break up with her in order to find a new nineteen year old. Seems the only appropriate reply to claiming that twenty-three is old.

The day was full of celebrations around Oxford. We started in the afternoon at The Rose, home to the best cream teas in Oxford. It was all very casual and unstructured, with people coming and going from the party as we sat around chatting. Indeed, after my own tea and scones were finished, I had to duck out for a few hours, missing the second stop -- Far From The Madding Crowd. In the evening, I collected my beloved [ profile] cheshcat, and we rejoined the group for dinner at the Japanese(ish) chain, Wagamama. I don't usually get to enjoy vegetarian gyoza, so that was a nice treat. Then we finished the night off with ice cream (and presents!) at the best dessert parlour in Oxford[*] -- Indulge. Finally, at the end of the night, I went back to the House of the Rising Bun with the birthday girl for some quality alone time.

Due to the unstructured nature of the festivities, we don't have a tally of how many people actually came along. [ profile] miss_amaranth felt no need to count... and the Knave of Numbers (me) was not there for the whole time. Still, I estimate that twenty-something people showed up -- from as far away as London and Reading -- to celebrate. Huzzah!

Hard to believe that so much time has passed. When I first met [ profile] miss_amaranth, she was barely nineteen and just about to start university. Now she's twenty-three and in her second job post-graduation. Not quite sure where the past four years went -- maybe it's hiding under the sofa?

In any case, I don't have a picture from yesterday's party, so I shall re-use this older photo, taken at Oxford's Harcourt Arboretum two years ago:

Happy Birthday, Sweetheart! I know that twenty-two ended on a high note, with many wonderful things falling into place for you right now. May twenty-three be even more spectacular! I look forward to sharing it with you!

[*] As a side note, I particularly like the fact that all of the chosen venues of celebration were local Oxford businesses, save one. Wagamama was the only chain. I may have an Oxford party at some point that follows much of the same itinerary, except perhaps substituting Atomic Burger for Wagamama. And maybe have The Eagle and Child as my choice of pub, instead of Far From The Madding Crowd.

anarchist_nomad: (Sunset over Key West)
( Jun. 17th, 2013 10:23 am)
At 215 miles, the Thames is the longest river flowing solely through England. It begins in Thames Head and ends at the Thames Estuary.

The portion of the non-tidal river that is navigable by powered craft spans about 125 miles, starting at the Roundhouse in Inglesham and ending at Teddington Lock in London.

Thus far, I have cruised from the Roundhouse to Reading, covering 70 of these 125 miles... with one glaring gap. There is a three mile stretch that I have missed. Embarrassingly enough, the missing three miles are in Oxford! That's right, gentle readers, I have cruised upriver from Oxford and I have cruised downriver from Oxford -- but there's a bit in-between, in my own home city, that I have not yet done!

Well, today is the day that we rectify that! We are about to unmoor the Walden III from where we settled in last night, in Bablock Hythe near the site of an ancient ferry. By mid-afternoon, we should be in central Oxford... and the hole shall be filled!

I am rather looking forward to the sight of my city in the distance, as I enter it by water.

More later, dear friends, including pictures from my annual boating weekend!
anarchist_nomad: (Mailbox Madness!)
( May. 31st, 2013 06:51 pm)
Yesterday afternoon, I participated in a citizenship ceremony at the Oxfordshire County Hall. Thus, since about 15:30 yesterday, your friendly neighbourhood Nomad is also your friendly British neighbourhood Nomad. Tis true, dear friends, I am now a Brit. Huzzah!

Some of you may recall this entry, from last November, in which we announced that my beloved [ profile] cheshcat had been approved for British citizenship. Now I have followed in her footsteps.

There was a remarkable sense of déjà vu, given that my ceremony had the same Deputy Lieutenant representing the Queen. The venue was, of course, the same; the procedure was the same; all the speeches were the same. Excepting the fact that the Lieutenant's mobile phone stayed silent this time -- she had accidentally left it on at [ profile] cheshcat's ceremony; it rang several times whilst she was speaking -- I could have been watching a 3D full-sensory replay of December, when [ profile] cheshcat became British.

Here is a picture, taken by the professional photographer, of yours truly receiving my certificate of naturalisation:

Citizen Nomad

(click for full-sized version)

That piece of paper I am taking is the actual, honest-to-goodness legal document that proves I am now a British citizen. We are not supposed to do anything to it -- not even laminate for safekeeping. I am going to need that paper as-is when I apply for my UK passport.

In addition, new citizens get a "welcome pack" that includes a "Commemorative Certificate of Citizenship". No legal value whatsoever, but it is certainly prettier than the official paper! Much more suitable for framing and hanging. In fact, I have already put mine in a nice new frame; it shall soon reside on a wall in Chiron Beta Prime, next to where [ profile] cheshcat's C.C.C. has been hanging since December.

Here is another photograph, taken by [ profile] cheshcat after the ceremony had concluded, of everybody's favourite Nomad holding his pretty commemorative certificate:


(click for full-sized version)

The most common comment I have received about all this (besides "congratulations", of course!) is that I now need to acquire a proper accent. The most common question is whether I have had to give up my US citizenship -- the answer to that is "no". Both the United States and the United Kingdom permit their citizens to hold more than one nationality[*] Thus, I am now a dual citizen, or what we like to call a "half-and-half".

Besides the psychological benefit of no longer being a foreigner, there are also practical legal benefits. I have already begun to take advantage of these -- this morning, I registered to vote in the United Kingdom and requested a registration form for voting in European Union elections. When I there is a six week gap where I will not be leaving the country (November?), I will also apply for my British passport. Indeed, once I am able to vote and have my UK passport, there will be absolutely no difference between my legal status in the US and my legal status in the UK.

This is the end of a long process that stretched on for more than seven years. I've certainly come a long way from where I was in Spring 2006, just arriving in a country where I knew no one and had difficulty with even simple tasks like getting a bank account (due to no prior credit history). It's nice to reach the end of this road and finally claim to be a citizen of my adopted home!

[*] There are countries that do not, like Japan. Likewise, Germany does not permit this except under some rather unusual circumstances (e.g., a child who was a dual citizen from birth).

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II is in town today, distributing Maundy money at the cathedral.

Tuesday -- two days ago -- marked seven years that my beloved [ profile] cheshcat and I have been living in Merry Olde England. Seven years! Even so, a statement like the above still feels oddly alien to me.

It is worth noting that this is the first time the Maundy Thursday service has been held in Oxford since 1644. Back then, Charles I had been kicked out of London by some upstart MP named Cromwell. Since he couldn't stay there, he moved here for awhile and lived at Christ Church. Don't lose your head over it.

When [ profile] cheshcat and I were visiting Bristol last month, we took a tour of their cathedral. Ironically, the guide pointed out a plaque on the floor denoting the spot where the Queen her distributed the Maundy money in 1999.

Ongoing news coverage of the day's events can be found here. Personally, I would love to get my hands on one of the 87 sets of this year's Maundy money. Perhaps worth checking eBay later to see if anyone has decided to sell...
Hello hello, gentle readers! I hope that everyone is having an awesometacular holiday season!

This year, for ease of reading (and writing), I have decided to split my journaling of Yuletide adventures into two parts. Instead of one "Twelve Days of Christmas", you get two "Six Days of Christmas" posts. Really, it works out to be six of one, half a dozen of the other.

Thus, without further ado, here is what everyone's favourite Nomad has been up to this Decemberween:

Day Zero: (Thu Dec 20) As the sun set at the start of the Longest Night, our coven -- Dreaming Spires -- lit a candle to hold the light through the long dark. Later in the evening, my beloved [ profile] cheshcat led us in a lovely Yule ritual.

Day One: (Fri Dec 21) At the distinctly dark hour of stupid o'clock five a.m., my darling [ profile] miss_amaranth, [ profile] cheshcat and I piled into the car and made the ~75 mile drive to Stonehenge. As noted in my previous post, this was my ninth dawn amongst the Stones -- three Summer Solstices, one Vernal Equinox, and five Winter Solstices.

The first seven Stonehenge dawns took after an early Pink Floyd album -- the Sun was Obscured by Clouds, making a cameo appearance... or often none at all. That changed last year, when we were fortunate enough to witness a spectacular Stonehenge Solstice sunrise!

After last year's great luck, I was ready to accept another year full of clouds, with memories to remind me how glorious the experience can truly be. Imagine my surprise, then, when we arrived at the henge to find the pre-dawn mist slowly dissipating, giving way to clear starry skies! That's right, my dear friends! For two years running, we have witnessed the Sun rising to signify the return of the light!

Don't just take my word for it, though! They say a picture is worth a thousand words... but, truth be told, I think these shots convey the beauty far better than any description that I could ever write:

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn

(click for full-sized version)

Guess Who? Your Friendly Neighbourhood Nomad greets his old friends, the Stonehenge Stones!

(click for full-sized version)

Here Comes The Sun! The first rays of light emerge over the horizon!

(click for full-sized version)

This is basically the same shot that I took last year, included here for comparison.
(Honestly, I liked last year's version of this one better -- what do you think?)

(click for full-sized version)

Um, wow. Just wow. Really, do I need to say anything else here?

(click for full-sized version)

From a different vantage point. If you look closely, you can see that the Sun is passing through two of the Stonehenge archways here. Behind the large inner arch in the foreground, there is also the lintel of an outer arch visible. Pretty spiffy, no?

(click for full-sized version)

Finally, the new Sun rose high enough that its brilliant light made everythng else seem dim by comparison. This one is taken well after Sunrise, and shortly before the site was cleared.

(click for full-sized version)

Two years in a row? How lucky is that?! And what an amazing way to welcome in the return of the light! Huzzah!!

Day Two: (Sat Dec 22) Much holiday prep during the day; in the evening, [ profile] miss_amaranth, [ profile] cheshcat went out for a delicious Yule feast at one of our favourite Oxford restaurants.

Day Three: (Sun Dec 23) Started the day by ringing a quarter peal of mixed doubles -- Plain Bob, April Day, and Grandsire -- at St. Nicholas Church in Old Marston. I am pleased to say that the quarter was a success; this makes my second quarter peal of the month.[*] Later in the day, I also rang at St. Giles Church before their annual candle-lit carol service. Along with [ profile] miss_amaranth and [ profile] cheshcat, we stayed for the service. The atmosphere is really quite lovely, with the church lit up by all those candles and the celebration of the season through singing!

Day Four: (Mon Dec 24) More holiday prep ensued during the day; in the evening, my beloved [ profile] cheshcat and I went out for a Christmas Eve dinner at The Old Parsonage Inn. Over the past couple of years, we have slowly been sampling some of the best restaurants in Oxford, splurging on an expensive meal for special occasions. This marks another one checked off the list! The food was absolutely excellent, and the venue was delightful -- particularly since we managed to reserve the table near the fireplace!

Day Five: (Tue Dec 25) In the morning, [ profile] cheshcat and I woke up early to see what had been left under the tree and to open our presents! I received many lovely gifts from my beloved... but, without a doubt, the most impressive was a fantastic new Citizen Eco-Drive watch! Vunderbar -- I have been in need of a new watch! Actually, this is my first analog wristwatch. I have always appreciated the art of timepieces but, until recently, opted for a high-tech digital watch for practical purposes. Now, after a quarter of a century, my smartphone can do everything any watch of mine ever could manage (and more)... which frees me up to go for aesthetics on my wrist, rather than functionality!

After all the unwrapping was done, we spent a bit of quality alone time together before packing up our bags (and a kitty) and heading out to London. Our destination was the latest home of D&J, who were hosting the Christmas feast. And what a feast it was! Other than the roast goose, all of it was vegetarian-friendly: The stuffing, the cranberry sauce, the potato and onion mix, the carrots, the roast chestnut chutney[**], the sweet potato, the onion gravy -- incredible! For those of who could not enjoy the goose, there was even a yummy mock chicken dish as a substitute!

After dinner, we played a few party games like Werewolf and Celebrity[***] before the dessert was brought out: Pumpkin pie and homemade ice cream and cheesecake! My diet may have gotten slightly derailed for a day -- whoops! But, hey, it's Christmas, right?

Day Six: (Wed Dec 26) We stayed over at D&J's after the big Christmas party to spend Boxing Day in our pyjamas with these dear friends. The mellow follow-on to Christmas was part of the plan, with nothing more strenuous in the works than a few rounds of No Thanks! and some Christmas movies, like It's A Wonderful Life and Patrick Stewart's 1999 version of A Christmas Carol.

After an exciting Christmas and a mellow Boxing Day, [ profile] cheshcat and I stayed over in London with D&J for one more night, before heading out for more adventures the following morning. But I believe that we have come to the end of Day Six, gentle readers... so stayed tuned to hear about Nomad's Six More Days of Christmas!

[*] The first one, on December 16th, was a quarter peal of Cambridge Surprise Minor -- my very first quarter of a Surprise method... and a significant milestone in my accomplishments as a ringer!

[**] Try saying that five times fast!

[***] A new game, for me, but one that bears a striking resemblance to an old favourite: Bag of Nouns.

Ran my first race today; it was an Oxford parkrun. The UK has these nifty parkrun groups set up all over; they do weekly races in a -- you guessed it -- local park. Very mellow and a rather positive atmosphere. Just about right for a first race.

The Oxford parkrun takes place in Cutteslowe & Sunnymead Park, just North of the Oxford ring road. You follow a set course around the park three times; said course is well marked at each kilometer, making it easy to pace one's self and know how much time/distance one has left.

Having looked at the run times from last week, I expected there to be about 50 - 100 people and I expected that I would be one of the slowest runners, coming in close to the end but not quite last. This is exactly what happened. Even so, the volunteers running the event this week were cheerful and supportive. One guy even clapped each time I passed his checkpoint... and his demeanor was perfectly sincere (i.e., not mock applause).

Although I don't exactly excel in the running department, this is another milestone on my quest to complete an Olympic triathlon. I will need to double the distance to 10km for that; however, at the moment, I want to focus on increasing my running speed. I neither need nor expect to win these races -- one of the runners had on a jumper from an event he had attended; it read: "10 Marathons in 10 Days" -- but it would be nice to come in around the middle of the pack, rather than all the way out on the tail end. In any case, it wasn't too long ago that I was starting the Couch-to-5K plan and finding the one minute runs of Week One to be challenging! So there is a long way still to go... but I've also come pretty far!

To celebrate, I went on a little shopping trip. Having completed my first race, I thought the time had come to buy a proper pair of running shoes, rather than running in the same worn-out sneakers that I use on a daily basis for getting around.[*] Across the street from Chiron Beta Prime, there happens to be a shop called Up & Running. I dropped in on them, had my feet filmed whilst running on a treadmill, and tried on several pairs before making a final selection. Looking forward to trying them out in their inaugural run on Monday!

[*] Come to think of it, that same pair of worn out sneakers will soon need to be replaces with some better shoes that I can use on a daily basis for getting around. They served me well, but really are rather gone by now.

There goes the Sun
[do da doo do]
There goes the Sun
And I say
It's all night...

The descent into darkness continues. Indeed, today marks a personal milestone on the encroaching dark, for this is the first day of the season where my current home (Oxford) has less hours of daylight than my childhood home (New York City) receives on the Winter Solstice -- the shortest day of the year.

These numbers are meaningless in any general sense. However, for me they are significant. I grew up in New York City, spending the first eighteen years of my life at that latitude -- 40.7 degrees North. My internal sense of normalcy was calibrated there and, to be honest, most of my life was spent at similar latitudes (e.g., Amherst, MA or Chicago, IL) or further South (e.g., Phoenix, AZ or Kamioka, Japan). I wasn't built to expect darkness of the sort that we get up here, at nearly 52 degrees above the equator!

On the Winter Solstice, my hometown of New York City will receive 9 hours 15 minutes and 15 seconds of daylight. Today -- November 8th -- Oxford gets a mere 9 hours 12 minutes and 24 seconds of daylight... and the days are still getting shorter! By the time of the Winter Solstice, each day in Oxford will receive an hour and a half less light than what I was used to, growing up in the Big Apple. Sunrises after eight in the morning and sunsets before four in the afternoon. Ugh!

The City of Dreaming Spires receives less daylight than the City that Never Sleeps from today through Groundhog Day -- February 2nd 2013. That's 87 days of less light than the minimum that I am used to. I am only counting hours of daylight here -- this doesn't even take into account how the long path through the atmosphere dilutes and attenuates what little light we get from the low-lying Winter Sun.

There are many things that I love about living in Merry Olde England. I must say that the Winter darkness is not on the list. My dear friend [ profile] acelightning would adore this long dark tea time of the soul. Me? I'm going to be very happy to arrive back in the States next month, and glad to spend most of January in Japan.

anarchist_nomad: (Look Like An Egyptian)
( Nov. 6th, 2012 10:38 pm)
This is one of those days where I really enjoy being an Oxonian.

It started off with a drive into work with my beloved [ profile] cheshcat. I dropped her off at her new job on my way into Oxford University. Then I spent the day meeting with a small group of colleagues that I am working with on a very interesting neutrino oscillation project. At midday, we had a nice lunch at the French restaurant on Little Clarendon Street; at five o'clock, we went to the Lamb & Flag for drinks.

Around half six, I bid my colleagues farewell and picked up my dear [ profile] cheshcat on the way home. We spent a little bit of time, then I was off to St. Andrew's Church, here in Headington[*], to ring bells. Tonight was the monthly "advanced practice", so I got some good practice on my Grandsire Triples and, more importantly, my Stedman Triples.

Just before the ringing practice ended, I ducked out and drove over to the Barton pool. Jumped in and managed to swim 2000 meters before it closed for the night. Came home to tuck [ profile] cheshcat into bed, and now am writing this entry.

I didn't leave Oxford once today but, all in all, it was a pretty full day. The sensible thing to do would be to go to bed now; however, I am heading over to Littlemore[*] to attend an Election night party hosted by the ever-excellent [ profile] ayaron. Yes, I know that it is a bit crazy to go out to a party at half past ten on a Tuesday night -- especially when I have a meeting in East London tomorrow. What the heck, though; tis only once every four years!

[*] The neighbourhood in East Oxford where I live.

[**] The neighbourhood in South Oxford where [ profile] ayaron lives.

Lots of stuff going on recently, which means not enough time for LiveJournal. There are several entries that I hope to compose in the not-too-distant future but, for now, here is a classic weekend summary post. Enjoy!

Friday: Worked in London during the day. Returned to the City of Dreaming Spires in the evening to collect my beloved [ profile] cheshcat; together, we made our way to the Oxford Playhouse. There, we saw a touring company from Shakespeare's Globe put on a performance of Henry V. It was very well done; one of the best productions that I have seen from the Globe. Makes me look forward to their Hamlet, which we have tickets for in July. It will be staged in the quad of the Bodleian Library, which is a rather wonderful setting!

Incidentally, this performance marks the fifth time that I have seen Henry V on stage -- unambiguously earning it the honour of being Shakespearean play that I have seen most frequently. At least for now. On Thursday, [ profile] cheshcat and I, along with EB who is coming from the States, will be going to Stratford-upon-Avon to see a production of The Tempest. So, four days from now, The Tempest will tie with Henry V... and, in August, I will also be seeing Richard III for the fifth time.

Meanwhile, there are five of the Bard's plays[*] that I still need to get tickets to see!

Saturday: The Oxford City Branch of the Oxford Diocesan Guild of Church Bell Ringers had its half-annual meeting, which I attended in my role as Hon. Treasurer to present the State of the Finances report. Additionally, the City Branch had its annual six-bell striking competition just before the meeting. Back in March, I was more than a little shocked when the tower captain of St. Giles Church -- my home tower -- invited me to join the competition band! My ringing has progressed quite a bit in recent months, mainly thanks to the near-daily practice in February. Tangible results are starting to be seen, with my first quarter peal on a working bell last month, and my first striking competition yesterday!

In recent weeks, I was very nervous about competing. However, all went very well. We rang at Horspath, which was a new tower for me. Still, their bells are relatively light and rather easy to ring. Indeed, there was even a brief window when I thought that we might win! Our band rang second-to-last in the randomly chosen order. When we finished, I was rather confident that we had managed the best ringing thus far. Which was correct... but the final band out-rang us. Oops! Even so, second place on my first try is not bad!

Here is a picture of our band. after the competition:

And the runner ups are...

(click for full-sized version)

For those with some interest in this weird change bell ringing thing that I do, you can click here to hear a recording of us in the striking competition. The first few single strikes are a signal to the judges, sitting outside, that our practice is over and we are ready to begin. Then we ring in rounds -- a simple reverse scale -- for about a minute. Finally, we ring a touch of Grandsire Doubles for about four minutes, before settling back into some brief rounds before setting our bells.

In this recording, I am on the #3 bell. Which will make it easy to identify me during rounds, though I will be impressed if you can keep track of my bell during the method!

Sunday: In the morning, I rang for church services at Headington. Afterward, I made my way to the nearby town of Wheatley to pay a visit to the Wheatley Windmill, which was having an open day. There has been a mill on this site since at least the mid-17th century; the earliest records are from 1671, noting that the mill of its day had fallen into disrepair. It enjoyed a resurgence in the 18th and 19th centuries, but is now only maintained for historical value by the Wheatley Windmill Restoration Society.

The mill was rather quaint and lovely. Its octagonal shape is rather unusual... and its clockwise motion is exceedingly rare. I arrived early in the day, when they were still putting the cloth sails onto the frame so that it would spin. The weather was particularly nice, so I did not mind the extended wait a'tall. Eventually, they got it going, which was much fun. After watching the arms spin for a bit, I went inside and explored the four stories of the tower. The top was particularly fun, with all the gears interlocking this way and that!

Below is a picture of the windmill, taken by your friendly neighbourhood Nomad. I wanted to share a photo of me posing with said mill... but, in all honesty, the picture that I took was much better than the one that the random stranger took of me plus the mill. Ah well!

The wild winds of fortune
Will carry me onward,
Oh whithersoever they blow.

(click for full-sized version)

You can see that the sail has just been put on the arm at the bottom... but the two at the top are still awaiting their canvas!

On Sunday afternoon, I hopped on Ye Olde Oxford Tube and headed into London. There, in Kensal Rise, I joined in a party to celebrate the 65th birthday of LF, my high school history teacher. She is one of only three teachers that I bonded with in high school[**], so having her in London for a year is really quite lovely! At the party, I met a couple of her other former students, her daughter and daughter's partner... and an old friend of hers that I had met back in March 1990, during a class trip to London!

All in all, twas a most lovely evening, which means that I didn't get back to Oxford until nearly half past midnight. Happily, my darling [ profile] miss_amaranth was also making her way home from London at the same time... so we kept abreast of each others' progress by text message! Silly, I know, but fun!

Finally, I wound down the night with a couple of phone calls. First, of course, I called Mom to wish her a Happy Mothers Day. We had a very nice conversation; indeed, twas the best interaction that we have had in quite some time! Afterward, I phoned [ profile] gyades, just to catch up on the live and times of my best friend.

When that was done, I put the weekend to bed by putting myself to bed. Snuggled up next to my beloved [ profile] cheshcat, I drifted off happily to sleep.

[*] Which are: Two Gentlemen of Verona, Pericles, Coriolanus, Two Noble Kinsmen, and Titus Andronicus.

[**] And one of the remaining two passed away whilst I was her student.

In the interests of being a better blogger, your friendly neighbourhood Nomad is taking a momentary pause from the holiday festivities to update Ye Olde LiveJournal.

I hope that you are all enjoying the Decemberween festivities, dear friends. Here at Chiron Beta Prime, a delightful three-day visit from the lovely [ profile] weegoddess and J has just come to an end. Whilst they were here, there was much holiday goodness to be had by the five of us[*].

On Tuesday evening, we brought them to see the Mother Goose panto at the Oxford Playhouse. Panto is a very British holiday tradition and, despite having previously lived on this side of the pond for three years, I was delighted to introduce them to their first panto. Needless to say, a good time was had by all!

On Wednesday, as the Sun began to set, we did our Yule ritual at Chiron Beta Prime. Lighting a candle to keep the light going through the longest night, we did our ritual WORK then celebrated by going to the ever-delicious Pink Giraffe for dinner.

There was also much fun to be had, unrelated to the holiday season. A visit to one of our favourite neighbours, the exquisite Coco Noir; a tour of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkein sites, including their favourite pub, the houses where they lived, and a trip to their final resting places; dinner at the always awesome Atomic Burger. However, the highlight of the week was very much tied in with the holiday cheer. On Thursday morning, as the longest night drew to a close, we made our way to Stonehenge to celebrate the rebirth of the Sun from within this ancient Stone circle.

Open access to Stonehenge is permitted on the Solstices and the Equinoxes. I have been attending regularly since Summer Solstice 2007. In that time, I have been at Stonehenge for three Summer Solstices, three Winter Solstices, and one March Equinox. Each experience is magnificent, of course... with variations that make it unique. For instance, Winter Solstice 2009 was the first time that I saw snow on the Stones. Winter Solstice 2010 was the first time that I had a snowball fight whilst within the circle. These nuances keep the experience fresh... and this Solstice was no different.

In fact, this time was extra special, as we finally saw the Sun rise. At the seven previous dawns, the sky was overcast and the Sun could not be seen. The eighth time was a winner -- at long last, I have seen the Sun rise, aligned to shine from the SouthEast through one of the Stone arches. Words cannot do this justice; it was truly a spectacular sight to see. Of course, dear friends, with camera in hand, I did my best to capture this uncapturable moment on [digital] film to share with you.

Here is the new Sun, freshly risen above the horizon.

A closer look; with this dawn, the days will begin to get longer once again.

According to the news reports, over one thousand people were present to witness this breathtaking sunrise. This is much more then the tens of thousands who attend at the Summer Solstice, but still a nice crowd.[**] Of course, with so many people present, I was not the only reveler with a camera on hand. You can see many taking pictures in the above photos and journalists were also there. The Daily Mirror has an article on the event here, and the BBC posted some of their own photographs here.

Of particular interest to me is the second photograph in the BBC collection. My first reaction upon seeing it was: "Oh! They took almost exactly the same picture that I did!" In contrast, [ profile] weegoddess's first response was a more astute: "Oh! You and [ profile] miss_amaranth are in the picture!" You can tell which of us is the more observant.

For those who do not wish to cycle through the BBC collection, I have re-posted their image here:

Courtesy of the BBC. Can you find everybody's favourite Nomad in this picture?

Yesterday's trip to Stonehenge was definitely the undisputed high point in a very lovely week. Also, there is much more holiday splendour to come! With [ profile] weegoddess and J moved on to other travels and [ profile] miss_amaranth en route to her parents, my darling [ profile] cheshcat and I are off to London this evening to visit D&J for Christmas Eve... then home late tomorrow night to spend Christmas Day together at Chiron Beta Prime.

Happy Yule and Merry Christmas, gentle readers!

[*] "five of us" = them, me, my beloved [ profile] cheshcat, and the adorable [ profile] miss_amaranth

[**] Actually, one thousand is a much nicer turnout. When there are thirty-six thousand people present, as was the case for Summer Solstice 2009, the site can feel a touch overcrowded.

Good evening, gentle readers!

Your friendly neighbourhood Nomad has been a bad bad blogger of late! Too many lovely goings on and not enough time to write about them. Alas, there are far worse fates!

With only six days left before Christmas, what have y'all been up to, dear friends? Enjoying the holiday season, I hope?

Here in the City of Dreaming Spires, all is quite well. The holiday hecticness is in full swing. On Friday evening, we had a party to celebrate the birthday of my beloved [ profile] cheshcat, starting with a feast at the Pink Giraffe -- one of our favourite Oxford restaurants. Once we were all quite, quite full, the party moved back to Chiron Beta Prime for birthday cookies (replete with firework candle), presents, and games. On Saturday, our coven celebrated the another notch in the Wheel of the Year by doing our Yule ritual WORK. Tis a good start to the season, with much more to follow, of course! The fun continues tomorrow, when the lovely [ profile] weegoddess and J arrive for a visit from the States!

Meanwhile, here is a Christmas card for all of you out there in LJ-land! From our living room into yours (or wherever you may be reading this) -- Enjoy!

(click on picture for full version)

anarchist_nomad: (Look Like An Egyptian)
( Nov. 16th, 2011 11:57 pm)
Haven't played this game in a while, gentle readers. Here goes:
  • CHUTE: Am writing this entry on the Oxford Tube, during the trip that never ends. Leaving London after 22:00, we immediately got stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic on the A40. Not exactly what I would expect at that hour. After finally making it through the jam, we seemed to be moving along well... until the motorway (M40) got closed off. So we are now diverting through High Wycombe -- whee! Eventually I will return home. I think.

  • LADDER: Yesterday, I went to Cambridge. There, I presented a high energy physics seminar on the first results from T2K at the Cavendish Laboratory. It went rather well, I think... with some post-talk discussions that may prove rather fruitful in the future. So now I have spoken at both Oxford and Cambridge -- spiffy!

  • CHUTE: I have just learned that one of our darling kitties -- probably The Boy -- has puked all over the bed. Feh. So on my arrival home, after midnight, I will need to strip off the sheets and put clean ones on. Irksome. I love him dearly, but I wish that his walnut-brain were keen enough so that he knew better than to vomit where he sleeps.

  • LADDER: The reason that I am coming back from London so late is that I had a very nice dinner in South Kensington with my high school history teacher. She is one of only three teachers that I actually liked in my high school (and only two of those are still alive). We last saw each other in October 2007, when I dropped in during a visit to NYC. However, she is now living in London for a year and looked me up online. I was rather pleasantly surprised, and it was a lovely evening of chatting and catching up. We have tentative plans for her and her partner to come visit Oxford next month, where I will treat them to one of my now-famous tours.

  • CHUTE: The new Muppets movie -- which comes out next week in the United States -- will not be released in the UK until February! What the...?!? I have no idea why some films are released concurrently in both countries, whilst others have an enormous lag. The latest cinematic adaptation of Jane Eyre, for instance, had a whopping six month delay -- coming out in March for the US and September for the UK. I very much hope that this Muppet movie will still be in the US theatres come late December, because I really don't want to wait three more months!!

  • LADDER: Quite by surprise, I appear to be headed to Berlin in March! Apparently, I am taking a five day holiday with the lovely [ profile] faerierhona (plus one other). Rather excited about this, as I have not yet been to Germany properly... and Berlin is very much on my list of European cities to visit. As an added bonus, it looks like she has found us a splendid apartment for the trip -- located right on the Ku'damm! Excellent -- couldn't ask for a better location than that!!

  • LADDER: Speaking of plane tickets and March, the ever-exuberant [ profile] tawneypup and the fabulous [ profile] jadesfire55 have now purchased their tickets to come visit us in Merry Olde Englande! Huzzah! Looks like there will be much happiness and excitement in Oxford (and beyond) during the last week of March!

Additionally, there is one more ladder. It is a sooper sekrit ladder that I cannot talk about in this space... yet. If things go well, all shall be revealed in time. Stay tuned, true believers!

anarchist_nomad: (Mailbox Madness!)
( Nov. 11th, 2011 04:42 pm)
In the hopes of getting back to blogging more, here is a simple entry that details what I did yesterday:

The day started with the annual ritual known as The Imaging of the Kidneys, which originated in my 2009 kidney stone incident. In addition to the stone (now long passed) that was being problematic on my left, the CT and ultrasound images also showed a small (3mm) stone dwelling in my right kidney. The good people of A&E (or the ER, if you prefer), observed that this might never be a problem. So long as it stays small and remains in the kidney, this stone should not cause any harm and no action need by undertaken to pulverize it. In short, the stone and I reached an understanding to continue our coexistence on good terms. To ensure that the stone is indeed meeting its end of this bargain, we now take annual images of my kidneys via ultrasound. Just to be certain. Yesterday's peek showed that all is indeed well, so the stone and I shall continue to peaceably cohabitate. Stay tuned next year, gentle readers, for the next exciting installment!

After cycling back from the Churchill hospital, I hopped a bus to the Oxford rail station. There I met my darling [ profile] miss_amaranth and a couple of people from channel 4 who are making a seven part documentary series on love & relationships. One of these parts will focus on polyamory, which was the focus of yesterday's meeting. The four of us strolled to the St. Aldate's G&D's where we proceeded to chat for two hours over bagel sandwiches and hot drinks. I indulged in a new creation known as the "holy cow", which adds a scoop of ice cream to a mug of hot chocolate -- delicious!! More about this experience will likely soon be found on the lovely [ profile] miss_amaranth's polyamory-dedicated blog, Love Is Infinite. For now, I will just say that my initial impressions were positive -- much more so than when we were dealing with Nina Clement at ITV2, earlier this year.

Around 13:00, [ profile] miss_amaranth needed to return to Winchester and I came back to Chiron Beta Prime to attend the bi-weekly collaboration-wide T2K analysis meeting. The collaboration has a rotating pool of people to take meeting minutes and, as one of the suckers who volunteered, it was my turn once again. So I paid even closer attention than usual and jotted everything down as we went. After the meeting ended, RT and I had a brief follow-up meeting one-on-one, then I did some work on my own.

In the evening, I hopped a bus back into town and made my way to the University of Oxford's Examination Schools. The Exam Schools building dates from the Victorian-era, completed in 1882. Although I have walked passed it many times, I had never before been inside of this architectural lovely. [ profile] cheshcat once did a tour, via the Oxford Newcomers' Club back when we were newcomers in Oxford. However, before last night, I never had the opportunity or the pleasure. So yesterday evening started on a high note just from getting to stroll about within. I had come to the Examination School to hear the inaugural lecture from Oxford's new "Programme on the Impact of Future Technology." Last night's talk was titled: "Exploring A Timeless Landscape: What physics tells us about the potential of advanced nanotechnologies." The speaker was Eric Drexler, the so-called "father of nanotechnology", who I had met the week before at a Halloween party. The lecture was interesting and largely focused on the increases in manufacturing productivity that could come about from developments in nanotech. It also introduced me to the concept of "exploratory engineering", which is a term that Eric invented to describe the region that science says is possible but is beyond the engineering scope of current technology. When the talk ended, I stuck around for a few minutes to ask another question, then hopped on a bus to get back home.

After a grazing a light dinner, I cycled down to the Barton Leisure Centre for some exercise. I jumped in the pool and swam my canonical mile -- sixty-four lengths of crawl -- which felt great. Due to recent travel, it has been some time since I last did this and it was excellent to get back in the water. I then cycled home again and did various and sundry chores whilst waiting for my beloved [ profile] cheshcat to return from an evening out with colleagues. When she did, we wound down for the evening together before retiring to the bedchamber.

All in all, I can say that yesterday was a splendid day! I did not leave Oxford at all, yet there was much local goodness to be had. Ah, I do so enjoy living in the City of Dreaming Spires!

anarchist_nomad: (Mailbox Madness!)
( Oct. 4th, 2011 02:50 pm)
Landed in Merry Olde England yesterday morning. Had a fabulous day in Oxford, where the October weather feels more like what I would expect from July! After a fortnight away, it was lovely to see my darling [ profile] cheshcat again, as well as my furry babies, Giles and The Boy. The Boy, in particular, was absolutely delighted to see me come home. Also, the wonderful [ profile] miss_amaranth and I took advantage of the unseasonal warmth to go for a walk through Angel & Greyhound meadow. We were also able to share some special quality alone time, which will help to tide us over during these back-to-back separations.

Now I am back at Heathrow, Terminal 5, where I disembarked yesterday. In less than an hour, I should be in the air again, en route to Chicago and the Event Horizon! Looking forward to seeing the germane [ profile] gyades again, as well as my home and my dear furry baby girls, Stumpy and Chirp!

Time to board! Have an awesometacular day, gentle readers, and I shall write again from the other side!


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