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

The story continues.....

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[*] Who may well be my daemons.

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

On the Oxford Tube right now, heading home. Yes, the timestamp on this entry is correct. It is indeed after 11pm. I should be home shortly before midnight; plenty of time to microwave a quick dinner, grab seven hours sleep, then head in to do it all again!

Work has been really picking up of late. I don't think I've left the office before 8pm this week! This means that I have been to no extracurriculars at all. There has been something going on every evening... but I have had no time for any of it.

Whilst I am obviously becoming a very boring human being -- "all work and no play..." -- this is actually not a particularly bad thing. Progress is being made, and being productive feels good. After all, I like my job; I enjoy being a physicist. At the moment, I am directly supervising two students, getting ready to supervise a third, and have my fingers in four different pies (i.e., projects).

All in all, not bad... just somewhat time consuming.

One particularly memorable part of the week was yesterday. I am a convener of the T2K Super-Kamiokande UK group. Over the past few weeks, RT[*] and I organised a T2K SK UK meeting. Once it became clear that said meeting would be held at Imperial College, most of the organising naturally fell to me. This is the first time that I have organised a non-local meeting -- we had participants from as far away as Lancaster and Liverpool. It is also the first time that I have chaired a meeting. I will confess to being a tad nervous at first but, not surprisingly, everything went rather well. So well, in fact, that one of the Imperial faculty suggested today that we do these particular meeting two or three times a year. So... go me!

Tomorrow morning, I have to finish writing a talk (or perhaps two) for the T2K UK analysis meeting. Then I have plenty of other things to do before the weekend hits.

I realise that I am indeed becoming much less interesting a person to know when all I do is work. However, that might not be the worst possible thing for some time. During our Oestara ritual on Sunday, we did some tarot work. One of the cards I drew, advising me on how to get where I need to be, was the Eight of Pentacles. The image features a man working hard by himself. In the distance, we can see a city. I think that there is a good lesson there -- I can easily fill my life with hobbies, people, and activities. There is always more that I want to do. However, I need to bear in mind that sometime in the next couple of years, I need to stop being a post-doc and move on to a faculty position. The work I am doing now -- both the physics analysis as well as the supervision of students, organisation of meetings, et cetera -- is very important if I am to make that next step.

[*] The other convener.

Nearly everybody on my f-list is familiar with Eddie Izzard's 1998 sketch "Cake or Death", from Dressed to Kill. Indeed, I even referenced it in footnote [2] of my previous entry.

However, I -- the Nefarious Nomad -- have my own "Cake or Death" routine... and it came before Eddie Izzard's! Travel back in time with me, if you will, on the Samhain evening... and all shall be revealed..............






This past weekend, [ profile] cheshcat took me to Touchstone Farm again. The Church of the Sacred Earth was holding their Samhain gathering there. This year, [ profile] cheshcat and her covenmates, the rest of StepChild Coven, were running the gathering. This was not the first time that I have been to Touchstone. In fact, we were they just last week for their Halloween party. [ profile] cheshcat and I surprised everyone by renting a bride-and-groom costume! We have only been together for a couple of months... and people were wondering if maybe we were hinting at something. Heh.

Although I have been to Touchstone before, this was the first CoSE event that I have attended. I brought my best friend, [ profile] ashnistrike, along for company. Especially for when [ profile] cheshcat was off running the show.

Friday night started with a sweatlodge. This was the first time that I have ever done a sweatlodge. It was quite the experience. Especially when coupled with a couple of dips in the nearly-freezing water of the pond in between the different parts of the sweat. Most of the gathering was pretty cool. I saw some people that I already knew; I also met a whole lot of new faces -- people like [ profile] rbdarkly and TinMan 2.0 and LaForza. The site is, of course, quite beautiful. I love the connection that I feel to the land there!

One of the best parts of the evening came on Saturday night, during the main ritual. It was designed to be a journey through the underworld. Only trouble was, the journey was made alone. So we had a good thirty or forty people there... each of whom had to make the circuit one at a time. This took hours. We all started off waiting in the main gathering space. One by one, the Summoner -- who was "drawn down" into [ profile] cheshcat -- would choose somebody and silently select them to begin their journey. The rest of us sat and chatted, awaiting our turns. This was fun at first, but it slowly got to be boring. Actually, I had tacitly assumed that Death/Chesh would choose me first. After all, I am her new sweetie -- we have only been together for about two and a half months! I was wrong, though. Each time she came in, she choose somebody else. In time, most people had been chosen for their journey... but I, and a handful of others, were still waiting.

There was to be cake after the ritual. By now, it was close to the end. Not many people remained to make the journey. So somebody started to lay out the cake and cut it up. Several people who had made the journey took a piece of cake. I realised that there might not be any left by the time I was done with the ritual. Thus, I did the most logical thing -- I took a piece of cake for myself and began eating.

No sooner had I taken my first bite of cake, when Death comes up to me and silently tapped me on the shoulder, signifying that it was my turn to make the trip to the underworld. My reaction? Hold on there! I'm eating my cake! I stayed where I was and continued eating; Death, after tapping me, turned and walked away. She did not look back but, rather, assumed that I was following her. A little while later, she turned around to look at me, but found no one. Non-plussed, Death returned to me, walking briskly. She grabbed me by the front of my shirt and dragged me -- cake and all -- into the labyrinth of the underworld. [ profile] ashnistrike, who knows me quite well, later remarked that, in a magickal context, this interaction made perfect sense. I am indeed the sort of person who, when Death comes for me, will have to decline because I am too busy with my cake (and other things).

By Sunday evening, I was feeling pretty wiped out from all the fun (and a lack of sleep). When the gathering was over, we headed back to [ profile] cheshcat's room at the Bug Zappah and had some quality alone time. Her cute little kittens, Foxy and Kenna, came to join us in the bed and keep us company. They are just six months old and quite adorable!

All in all, an excellent weekend! Although I remain a "devout" Atheist, I do find a certain resonance with these Pagan rituals, and I like the people very much, too. I look forward to more events and gatherings, as well as becoming a part of this community.





You see? I really did have the choice of cake or death... and I did indeed choose cake! With some things, you just don't kid around!
At the start of the previous entry, I mentioned that the past couple of days had been busy and fun... then promised I would update about them later. No time like the present! Yes, I am still in a Samhain state of mind... but there are also things to be joyful about. At times like this, I invoke my favourite Walt Whitman quote, from Song of Myself:

Do I contradict myself?
Very well then, I contradict myself.
I am large, I contain multitudes.

Thus, without further ado, here is what everybody's favourite Nomad has been up to for the past couple of days:

On Wednesday, I woke and drove myself to the Park & Ride. Got on the coach, sat down, set up laptop. Learned that there had been a "major accident" on the M40 -- the motorway between Oxford and London that comprises the bulk of my commute -- and that it was now closed. Promptly got off the coach, drove home, and e-mailed in to say that I would be working from home. As it turns out, two lorries had collided at about three in the morning. One was carrying lard, which ended up all over the six lanes of the M40. The London-bound side did not re-open until after 4pm; the Oxford-bound side was closed until after 11pm! Not a day to commute into London!

While in Oxford, I also took the opportunity to run a couple of local errands. One of these was to pick up a mobile broadband subscription for myself. When I decided to do the Oxford/London commute daily, it was with the assumption that I would have WiFi on the coach so that the bulk of the commute could be productive. Turns out that the Oxford Tube WiFi is horrendous and not at all conducive to productivity. Having my own independent and reliable net connection? Priceless![1]

Wednesday evening, [ profile] cheshcat and I went to the Oxford Playhouse to see a show called Liberty. I am very glad that they gave me Liberty, because I don't particularly care for the alternative[2]. The show is a new production, put together by the Lifeblood Theatre Company and Shakespeare's Globe. Written by an English playwright, the show is set in France, during the revolution[3]. The show was very good. Not brilliant, but definitely very good. Many parallels drawn to the United States in the post-9/11 world. It was poignant in several places, too. Definitely enjoyed -- kudos to [ profile] cheshcat for choosing it! As an added bonus for the evening, I got to spend some time before bed chatting with the delighful [ profile] perspicacious! Always a good thing! I am very much enjoying getting to know that woman better!

On Thursday, I got to skip the Oxford/London commute yet again. No, the lard was all gone from the M40. However, there was a small T2K meeting at Oxford. It was very technical, dealing with the data flow from the Multi-Pixel Photon Counters (MPPCs)[4], through the front end electronics, the back end electronics, the various stages of the data acquisition system, and then the "near-online" computing chain. There was a lot that I missed, due to the highly technical nature of the meeting, but I still found it to be very useful.

Thursday evening, I made up for not going to London during the day. I picked up [ profile] cheshcat and [ profile] wolfpeach, then drove us all into London to see Jonathan Coulton perform! Last time we saw him perform, back in March, it was at a small venue in Camden, and he went on alone. This time, the show was at a larger venue and he was accompanied by his frequent touring companions, Paul & Storm. I had not seen P&S perform before -- very glad that I have now! Generally speaking, their music does not have the same brilliance as JoCo's -- though I particularly liked the song Opening Band -- but their stage presence is incredible. One of the highlights of the evening was when somebody suggested Paul do a Cabaret routine. He replied, quite snarkily: "Twenty pounds!" I raised my hand, auction style, in the balcony. However, when he said he wanted it on the stage first, I balked. For one thing, I didn't actually have that much in my wallet! About to move on, some fan in the front run actually put twenty quid on stage. Go figure! So he did a Liza Minnelli routine! Very nice! I also got to make a jackass out of myself get some laughs from the crowd when people started shouting out requests. It started with one guy repeatedly requesting Shop Vac. He was so persistent that he eventually got his way. As a result, everyone started shouting out a request for JoCo -- all at once. Not one to sit idly by, I shouted out a request of my own... but not for a JoCo song. Spontaneously, I yelled out: "PLAY FREE BIRD!" JoCo heard me and laughed, then said "No, I'm not going to play Free Bird." Which made everyone else in the house -- who had not heard me over the din -- laugh. Well done, Nomad[5].

Today has been a fairly ordinary and mundane day. The highlight, so far, was that I got to make somebody special feel better. Tonight, of course, is our Samhain ritual. Heading home now to get ready and transition into HP mode...

[1] Okay, actually the price is fifteen quid a month. But that doesn't sound nearly as clever.

[2] Cake, please. Yes, I'm making these jokes on Samhain. I am not always known for being the brightest card in the deck. See next entry.

[3] Who would ever have thought that a Brit would make a play about the French Revolution??

[4] A new piece of technology intended as an alternate for the well established photo-multiplier tubes (PMTs) when one needs to work in an environment with a magnetic field.

[5] I learned today that the wonderful [ profile] tawneypup did very nearly the same thing at a Gaelic Storm concert quite recently. I knew that there was a reason I adore that woman!

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

Tonight's meeting was shorter than expected -- only about fifteen minutes long. When it ended, I was a touch shaken, but fundamentally okay. Decided that, rather than head straight home, I would take a walk along the Thames to ground myself.

Some say that things come in threes[1]. I am not sure that I believe this[2], but tonight the Universe gave me three things in a row -- all of which helped me to gather my inner strength, focus, and balance. The first happened as I crossed the Blackfriar's Bridge, just before commencing my walk. I am not sure where it emanated from -- possibly St. Pauls, or maybe the Southwark Cathedral -- but the music of change bell ringing filled the air. It was an unexpected surprise, and the beloved music helped me to find my center once again. Next was the stroll along the waterfront. This was not a surprise; being a water elemental, I knew that a walk alongside water would do me good. I walked until I felt calm and balanced once again. Before that happened, my walk led me to the lion statues near Cleopatra's Needle. Two years ago, [ profile] resourceress and I walked by these lions -- indeed, I took a photograph of her that has become one of her LJ icons. Upon reaching the lions, I curled up between the paws of one of them and sat for awhile, looking out over the water. I remembered the strength and the longevity of the bond between [ profile] resourceress and myself. I drew strength from this bond. I also remembered an important metaphor about lions that my dear [ profile] tawneypup recently shared with me. This, too, warmed the heart. While sitting with the lions, I called on that strength to make an important phone call. Eventually, I left the lions and walked further, until I was ready to come home. I am doing so now, writing this entry from the Oxford Tube[3] on my way back to Skullcrusher Mountain.

Tonight's meeting concerned an ending, and was part of this year's Samhain. My Samhain began last Saturday night at sunset. For one thing, that was the final sunset before we changed the clocks back here in Merry Olde England[4]. Since then, the clocks have been changed and the sun sets before five o'clock. This large increment of lost daylight is an essential part of my Samhain experience, and it signals the coming of Winter. Saturday evening was also when my first Samhain ritual of the year took place; [ profile] cheshcat and I did a small private ritual to honour some who are newly amongst the ranks of the Beloved Dead.

Samhain is the start of Winter, and the turning of the year. This year has certainly been all about Change[5]. Compared to this time last year, I have a new job in a new city, working on a new experiment in a new country. [ profile] cheshcat has a new job, too. Her health is also in a new, and potentially better, place. Together, we have a new car, a new cat, and are about to have a new flat. With one exception, all of the significant romantic relationships in my life have changed, too. I won't pretend that it has been an easy year; most of these changes were quite painful when they were happening -- the period from December 17th to April th hurt like hell![6] However, I find that I am in a strong and positive headspace this Samhain season.

Indeed, I find that my current energy makes for an interesting contrast with Samhains of the past two years. In 2006, somebody turned up the Samhain volume too much; that year, the Samhain energy was particularly intense as the Universe chose to beat the crap out of not just me, but also many other people that I know. Samhain 2007 was quite different; possibly due to a cold, or maybe due to the intensity of Samhain 2006, I felt very little connection with the Samhain energy last year. We did a small ritual and went to WitchFest in London, but it all felt very distant. To use the Three Bears as a metaphor, Samhain 2006 was too much, Samhain 2007 was too little, and Samhain 2008 feels just right. I am wrapping up the last loose ends of the year and moving forward into next year from a place of strength and grounding.

In addition to doing our private ritual on Saturday, [ profile] cheshcat and I celebrated the season on Sunday with a visit to Blenheim Palace to attend their "Very Victorian Halloween" festivities. These included haunted ghost stories, a show from a nineteenth century magic lantern, and a pumpkin train... as well as a more generic stroll in the formal gardens and past the waterfall.

Plans for upcoming Samhain and Halloween events include running our traditional Ancestor Ritual for a group of good friends on Friday (Samhain proper), followed by a visit to a haunted farm, and a walk in Salcey Forest to watch the leaves changing colour over the weekend. Backup plans, in the event of rain, could include the Halloween festivities at the Oxford Castle, a ghost tour of Oxford, or a performance of Sweeney Todd at the Old Fire Station Theatre in Oxford[7].

To all those on my f-list who celebrate this holiday, I wish you a very Blessed Samhain! To everyone else, I wish a Happy Halloween[8]!

[1] Which may come as a surprise to the lovely [ profile] tawneypup, given her Halloween costume this year.

[2] Indeed, I probably don't.

[3] Where I seem to write most of my LJ entries of late.

[4] A side effect is that, for this week only, I am a mere four hours ahead of the East Coast and a scant five hours ahead of Chicago. If anyone wants a phone call from their favourite Nomad, this is probably a good week to arrange one!

[5] And not the sort a certain politician likes to talk about, either!

[6] The first date is when [ profile] cheshcat's knee got injured, starting the period where the Universe decided to use us as a punchingbag. The second date is when we laid our beloved Foxy to rest, which was the last of the large traumas. Much rebuilding work remained -- indeed, it is not yet all over -- but the continuous volley of tragedies finally stopped raining down on us at that point. Which gave me the breathing room to stop doing triage and start on the rebuilding.

[7] I am somewhat torn about this. On the one hand, it is Sweeney Todd. On the other hand, it is OFS -- a venue for [very] amateurish productions. Just out of curiosity, would anyone be interested in joining us for this if we were to procure tickets for Saturday night (Nov 1)? It probably won't happen, as we already have plans if the weather is good... but I am just putting out some exceedingly tentative feelers to evaluate the potential of this as a backup plan.

[8] And, to my dad, I wish a happy 65th birthday! That's right -- my father was born on Halloween and my mother was born on 9/11.

anarchist_nomad: (The cape as red as blood)
( Sep. 22nd, 2008 04:44 pm)
In just under an hour, we will be at the Autumnal Equinox[*]. We are moving into what will be my third Autumn living in England, so by now I know a bit of what to expect. As a season, I do like Autumn, with its crisp cool air and the changing leaves. The weather has been surprisingly nice of late; when I walk down the street the Autumn smells remind me of years gone by, of starting school again after a long Summer vacation.

Autumn also brings with it the Super Sekrit Pagan Festival[**] in upstate New York -- the one that I have attended without fail for nearly twelve years now. The site of that gathering, just a couple of weeks away now, is also the physical location of my spiritual home. It is a stunningly beautiful wooded site with a gorgeous lake and a waterfall. Since the gathering is held in October, the trees are usually brilliant in their colours during the festival.

Autumn also brings with it the coming of the Dark. We stand now at the Equinox -- the time when the day and night are nearly equal[***]. Here in Oxford, there are three more days where the Light exceeds the Dark. However, the light is moving away at a rate of nearly four minutes per day. Starting on Thursday -- Sep 25th -- the Dark period begins. At first, of course, it will barely be noticeable. Only after we change the clocks at the end of October will it truly be Dark in earnest. Still, having been raised in New York City -- over eleven degrees of latitude to the South -- the extra intensity of the Dark here is quite pronounced. So, amongst other things, the Equinox is also the time to start preparing for the Dark, enjoying the light here as much as I can whilst I still can.

This has been a year of many changes, and I do not expect that to stop this Autumn. Next week, I begin my new position working on a new experiment. There are wonderful new relationships in my life that are each growing and evolving into something unique and special. And there is a adorable new kitten in our home, who is bouncing about energetically -- occasionally stopping to attack my leg -- as I type this.

Also, for those of you in the South, I wish you all a very Happy Spring!

[*] Actually, I have cheated slightly by setting the timestamp of this entry to the time of the actual equinox.

[**] The festival is a private gathering and, as such, should not be mentioned in a public forum such as LiveJournal. It really is not so secret as I make it out to be -- that is just for fun -- and I am both able and happy to discuss it in direct personal communication.

[***] It is a common misconception that the time from sunrise to sunset (called "day") is precisely equal to the time from sunset to sunrise (called "night") on the Equinoxes. In actual fact, the day is always longer than the night on an Equinox. One hundred points to the first person that can correctly tell me why. Fifty points to anyone who can incorrectly tell me why in a way that makes me laugh.

Our department here at Oxford has just received word from one of the control rooms at CERN. Beam has now successfully travelled all the way around the LHC[*]. If you are reading this, I presume that you will not be surprised to learn that the world has not been destroyed[**,***].

To celebrate this momentous occasion, I hereby announce two invitations! Alas, geographical concerns mean that they will probably only be of interest to that fraction of my f-list who is based in the UK.

Invitation the First: One week from today, [ profile] cheshcat will finally have the long awaited surgery on her knee. This is absolutely vital to the recovery of her full mobility... and we have every reason to believe that she will quickly regain flexibility once the procedure is performed. In the immediate aftermath of the operation, however, she will need some time to convalesce. Thus, we are planning to spend the whole of next weekend at Skullcrusher Mountain, in Oxford[****], rather than trekking about to somewhere else. Company will be more than welcome -- on both Sat Sep 20 and Sun Sep 21 -- if anyone wants to drop in on us for games, conversation, movies, or whatever. There are also Super Sekrit plans to whip up a batch of homemade ice cream! Come and join the fun!!!

This is not a formal party, so there are no official start or end times. Just let me know if you plan to swing by at any point in that weekend to grace us with the pleasure of your company. Crash space is available for anyone coming in from outside Oxford.

Invitation the Second: This invite is of even less broad interest -- it will probably only appeal to those on my f-list who are based in the UK and identify as some flavour of Pagan.

In about a month and a half, it will be Samhain. Late on the evening of this sabbat (which falls on a Friday this year), [ profile] cheshcat and I will be running our traditional Samhain rituals: The preparation of a feast for the ancestors, followed by a small circle in which we toast to the beloved dead. We have been performing this ritual for well over a decade now, in a variety of different settings -- with our coven, with our poly family, by ourselves, et cetera. This year, we would like to invite our local[*****] Pagan friends to join us.

Please be cautioned: The ancestor toast is not a particularly happy fluffy ritual -- it tends to be quite personal, heavy, and cathartic. It also tends to be very powerful and moving. Out of all the rituals that we repeat annually -- Beltane, Lammas, Yule, etc. -- I find this ritual to be the most intense.

If you are interested in attending, please let me know via a comment (or any other means that you prefer). I have screened comments to this entry for those who do not wish to publicly come out of the broom closet. Given the nature of the ritual, participation will be limited to a number that [ profile] cheshcat and I have not yet determined. Once again, for those travelling from outside of Oxford, crash space will be available.

Well, it appears that the world is still here... which means that I had best get back to work! Assuming that we all don't disappear in a puff of logic, I look forward to seeing many of you soon!

[*] Indeed, I have even seen pictures of the first events from the ATLAS detector! Exciting!

[**] This means that you can stop hitting the walls now. Really. You know who you are...

[***] Now if only the same people who made such a fuss about the LHC would take the very real threat of environmental devastation seriously.

[****] Which will be the first full weekend spent in Oxford since late May. Not that anyone but me cares about these things, but...

[*****] For whatever definition of "local" suits you.

anarchist_nomad: (England sightseeing -- Mind the monument)
( Jun. 21st, 2008 09:06 pm)
Good morning!

Yes, nevermind the time stamp -- I just got up a short while ago, having spent all of the shortest night awake at Stonehenge to celebrate the solstice with my dear [ profile] ms_katonic and the lovely [ profile] lydiasings.

This was my second year of spending the Summer solstice at Stonehenge. Just as I wrote last year, it was intense and fantastic! Druidic rituals at sunset and sunrise, fire, giant horns, drum circles, dancing upon ancient fallen Stones. All within a Stone circle that is five or six thousand years old... and in the company of about twenty-eight thousand close friends! Lets just say that the energy levels were pretty darn high!

Same as last year, sunset was at 9:26pm and sunrise was at 4:58am. Funny how that works, huh? With the long twilights, lasting at least an hour and a half, there were less than four hours of true darkness. Unlike last year -- which was clear until just before dawn -- there was complete cloud cover throughout the night and a light rain the entire time. Thus, instead of watching the sun come up from the Eastern edge of the Stone circle, we went to the heelstone at dawn to be in front for the Druids' ritual.

Due to the rain and the clouds, I got fewer nifty pictures than the ones that I took last year. However, here are a couple worth sharing:

Sunset at Stonehenge -- believe it or not, this is before most of the crowd had arrived!

Getting a bit intimate with one of the sarsen Stones...

As far as I know, no pictures of me ended up on the news this year -- my ego will just have to cope somehow!

Overall, Solstice at Stonehenge is an incredible experience and I expect that I will do it yet again next year. I know that last year, several people expressed interest in joining this year... but were not able to come for various logistical reasons. If you are one of them, mark your calendars now and come with me in 2009!
Right -- this is what incredibly tired feels like. Now I remember.

With [ profile] cheshcat in the States, I have been taking advantage of free evenings[*] to catch up with important people across the pond. On Sunday evening, after returning from Birmingham, I spoke to the Kiddo for a couple of hours... then followed that call up by giving the delightful JCM a ring. Similarly, on Monday evening, after ice skating lessons, I rang up the adorable [ profile] squeektoy42 for a bit. And last night I was up way too late talking to the beguiling [ profile] iamthesphinx.

One result of all this chatty goodness is that I feel re-connected to the lives of several people that I care about from far away. Another result is that I have not had a full night's sleep in nearly a week. On both sides of the Atlantic, legend has it that I do not actually need sleep. Like most legends, this is partially rooted in truth... but is not entirely correct. It finally caught up with me today, and I am quite knackered. Any incoherence in this entry can be justly attributed to that.

As such, the ever-nifty [ profile] gyades has agreed to reschedule this evening's conversation for next week so that I can get to bed early. This is probably a very good idea, as tomorrow is May Day.

As usual, I will be taking May Day off from work. I have not worked on May 1st in six years, out of respect for my Anarchist forebears, the Haymarker Martyrs. To me, it is the most important Anarchist holiday, and I usually celebrate with some sort of activism[**]. Last year, for a change of pace, [ profile] cheshcat and I indulged in the traditional Oxford May Morning activities -- starting with the all-night bonfire at Port Meadow, continuing on to the Magdalen College choir at dawn, and the Morris dancers and street performers after. Twas a very good time, indeed! We finished with a yummy breakfast at Frevd's -- and I was way too tired to remember now what I ate -- then she went to work and I went to sleep.

This year, I have decided to mix and match a bit of everything. It is good that I am going to call it an early night and retire soon after bell ringing this evening... as here is what I have in store for tomorrow:

Dawn: Listen to the Magdalen College choir sing from their tower overlooking the Magdalen bridge.

6:30am: Ring in the May with the Oxford University Society of Change Ringers at the University Church of Saint Mary the Virgin. I have never rung at this tower, so I am rather excited about this.

7:30am Lardy breakfast[***] at Keble College with the OUSCR.

Noon: May Day march and demonstration. I don't know if there will be an Anarchist contingent (besides me), but this is our holiday and I intend to be out there on the streets!

2:30pm Premiere showing of the Iron Man movie in Oxford! I already have my ticket and am -- perhaps naively -- psyched up for it!

5:00pm Take a walk, just to keep in practice. Only three or four miles.

6:30pm Handbell ringing at St. Giles, followed by tower bell practice.

11:30pm Beltane phone date with the enchanting [ profile] frogcastle.

Looks to be a very fun day tomorrow, combining the best of several worlds. I'd best be off now to ring and then sleep, as I would prefer to be rested when the alarm sounds at 4:30am tomorrow...

[*] Well, free after about 10pm, anyway... which is when I usually get home.

[**] Sitting on a shelf at the Event Horizon, I still have the video tape of the nightly news showing a cop assaulting me during the Tempe May Day march of 2003. Whee!

[***] Vegetarian lard in my case.

So it is now three hours past the Winter Solstice of 2007. Shortly before sunset, [ profile] cheshcat and I did a quiet Yule ritual together. Later in the evening, we were joined by the adorable [ profile] bammba_m for dinner, and by [ profile] xirpha after dinner. Having not seen [ profile] bammba_m in many months -- since the July party at the Event Horizon -- we had many things to catch up on. When [ profile] xirpha joined us, he showed us pictures[*] of the scanning work that he has been doing... using coins from the Royal Mint that I brought to him for guinea pigs. It was quite nifty to look at and hear about.

Of course, there is no way that we could all gather without playing games, so Puerto Rico came out, followed by Settlers of Catan. I won Puerto Rico by a reasonable margin, if not a particularly high score: I had 54 points, [ profile] cheshcat came in second with 49 points, [ profile] bammba_m came in third with 45 points, and [ profile] xirpha had 42 points. With the OxCon gaming convention coming up in five weeks, any extra practice for the Puerto Rico tournament is welcome. I am certainly a much stronger player than I was one year ago. [ profile] cheshcat is, too, though I am better than she is. In the Settlers of Catan game that came next, I won as well -- beating [ profile] cheshcat by the narrowest of margins. I have concluded that [ profile] cheshcat is a better Settlers player than I am -- albeit just barely -- making it difficult to defeat her. The final scores were 10 points for me, nine points for her, and five points for the others.

We were actually playing Settlers when the moment of the solstice passed. Nearby, our solstice candle continued to burn into the night... just as it does right now. I can see it from here. When the games ended, [ profile] xirpha drove home and we convinced [ profile] bammba_m to stay at the Event Horizon for the night. We got her settled in, then [ profile] cheshcat and I wrapped presents to place under our Yule tree. With The Boy back at Skullcrusher Mountain, we can freely leave ribbons and bows under the tree without remembering to lock him away in the bedroom as we have had to do in years past. His sisters may be curious about the presents, but they do not actively accost them! This year, we are forgoing the Yule vigil, as it feels somewhat odd to stay awake through the "longest night" when it is not the longest for us. So I will be off to sleep after posting this, eagerly awaiting the opening of presents in the morning... and the return of the light in the weeks and months to come.

[*] With your permission, Xirpha, I would like to share the pictures you sent me via my journal. However, since they are samples of your professional work, I would like to ask your permission before I show anything. If this is not acceptable to you, I completely understand.

With Yule fast approaching, I have been thinking of what ritual would be appropriate for this year's longest night. We usually do something based around a fairly typical routine, like keeping a vigil through the night to welcome the sun back the next morning.

Then it occured to me -- what happens when the Winter Solstice is NOT the longest night?

This year, as last, [ profile] cheshcat and I will be spending Yule at the Event Horizon. On the Solstice, Chicago will receive nine hours and eight minutes of light. Here in Oxford, however, the days have been shorter than that since November 11th... and will remain shorter until February 2nd. So today, with the Solstice still nearly four weeks away, my day is already forty-seven minutes shorter than it will be on the so-called "shortest day."

Now I realize that one can simply ignore differences due to personal variations in latitude and treat the Solstice celebration as a purely astronomical event. And we may yet do this. Still, it feels silly for to then celebrate the Longest Night on a night that clearly is NOT the longest.

So, I thought I would tap into the great body of creativity and knowledge that is my friends list to see if anyone had any clever ideas on how one could modify one's Yule ritual to account for having had a different Longest Night. I have a couple of ideas of my own... but I would be curious to see what others might think.
...or, at least, that is what the calendar tells me. Actually, it does not feel very much like Samhain at all. Although this is usually one of my favourite holidays, I simply have not managed to tap into the Samhain energy much this year.

Perhaps it is because I spent a very large portion of October tapping into its opposite -- Beltane energy -- with my beloved [ profile] frogcastle? Or perhaps there is some other reason entirely. In any case, I'm definitely being left out of the loop this time around.

Normally, I think that I would feel disappointed by this. However, last Samhain was really quite intense enough for two years... or more! After the heavy hits of last October, I think I am quite okay with letting this Samhain be a much more mellow event. [ profile] cheshcat and I will still do some variation on our traditional ritual -- and we are heading into London on Saturday for an event -- but I think that it will be much lighter in tone than it often is.
I've long held that the reward for doing good work is more work. This explains why it is 6am and I am still at the University, sitting in the lab and taking data with the cryostat. I have been here since midnight and expect to be here for about another four hours. Not to sound like Dante Hicks, but originally I hadn't even planned to be here today. I get thirty vacation days per year -- and have used a negative number so far in 2007 once one factors in the weekends and holidays that I have worked. Thus, it seemed perfectly reasonable to use a vacation day today to recover after yesterday's all-nighter at Stonehenge. However, with the cryostat successfully cooled, there are measurements that need to be made... some of which require no one else to be using the lab, to minimize vibration. So here I am, making those measurements. With any luck, I'll be done by 10am and can get some sleep. Whee!

As for Stonehenge... well, it was intense and fantastic! Beyond words, really, but I'll try. We arrived just before sunset, as the Druids were starting a ritual within the Stone circle. Then the drumming and dancing began. I've danced at a drum circle before, of course... but never while standing on top of an ancient sarsen stone! I made a short video (45 seconds, 11 MB) early in the evening, just after sunset, that can be seen here.

As the night went on, folks continued to arrive, and it is estimated that there were 20,000 people who came to the Stones for the Solstice. I have now touched every Stone that is in contact with the ground at Stonehenge and [ profile] cheshcat has shared an individual blessing with each of them, just as she did last year with the Stones at Avebury. Amazingly enough, the sarsen Stones feel spongy! When you press on them with your palm, you can feel them give way gently underneath! Although many of the people were just there to party and get drunk, high, & shroomed out of their minds, we did talk to a lot of very nice and interesting people -- including some folks from Colorado who had flown over specifically for this event -- and got contact info from a couple of people who live in London.

It was a clear night, with great views of the stars, Venus, Jupiter, and the Moon. Check out this picture I took of the Moon:

Sunset was at 9:26pm and sunrise was at 4:58am, but there were long twilights, lasting at least an hour and a half. So there were less than four hours of true darkness between the twilights, lasting from about 11:15pm until about 2:45am. When the sky began to lighten again, we found a spot near the Eastern edge of the circle to watch from. Sitting against one of the sarsens, I learned that they like my hair. Every time I leaned forward, moving away from the Stone, my hair would stick to it and get held behind!

The clouds had moved in, and we received a light sprinkle, by the time the sun rose. However, thanks to a break in the clouds, Sol did make a cameo appearance which was cheered and appreciated by all. The Druids formed a torchlight procession around the circle as the sun came up. Not long after sunrise, there was a news photograph taken for CNN in which I can be seen in the background, standing between two sarsens slightly to the left of centre. The picture was brought to my attention by [ profile] resourceress and the URL for it is:

It is slightly odd to see a news photograph of me without law enforcement monitoring or pursuing me. I have been in a number of news publications before -- both in print and online (e.g., the New York Times, Yahoo! News, and several Georgia papers) -- but never without law enforcement sharing the "spotlight". Speaking of law enforcement and Stonehenge... it is quite nice that English Heritage spends the time and money to organize this free event each year since 1999. However, from 1972 to 1984, there used to be a three week festival at Stonehenge, beginning at the start of June and lasting until the Solstice. In 1985, Thatcher and Company decided to put an end to it all, which led to the atrocious police action known as the Battle of the Beanfield. Doesn't matter where you go -- I hate cops!

Anyway, it was an amazing night... and we'll probably do it again next year. Anybody want to come along? Just let us know...
It's closing in on three o'clock in the morning, but I want to play a little catch-up before going to sleep... before all of the past week gets lost to the fog of time. I'll starting at Beltane in this entry and write another one later covering things up through tonight.

Beltane in Oxford was the right choice for this year, I think. I arrived in the Port Meadow just after sunset, circa 9pm. Nothing much was going on. In time, I found two small groups with tiny fires, but they seemed to be private parties. Disappointed, I walked back to Skullcrusher Mountain to fetch my drum. I figured that either people would arrive or else I would sit in the meadow and drum until the sound brought people in. By the time I returned to the meadow, about an hour later[*], that atmosphere had changed completely. There was a nice bonfire going and about eighty people gathered around it. There was also music and dancing. I added my drum to the band, which had about four other drums as well as a guitar, violin, flute, saxophone, and clarinet. The night was cold, but the fire and the dancing kept me warm. By the time I left, at around 4 o'clock in the morning, my hands were hurting something fierce from all the drumming that I had been doing.

After leaving the bonfire and the meadow, I came back to Skullcrusher Mountain to drop off the drum and pick up [ profile] cheshcat. We called a taxi to bring us down to the Magdalen Bridge[**], where we watched the sun come up and the crowd gather as we waited for the annual sunrise serenade given by the Magdalen College Choir. After the singing was over, we headed up to Radcliffe Square to watch the Morris dancers. T'were many groups of dancers from all over Oxfordshire. We followed them up to the Bridge of Sighs on New College Lane, then went our own way down the Broad Street. As we went, we ran into many people that we knew -- colleagues, friends, even people I had met hours earlier at the Port Meadow bonfire. On Broad Street, there were more Morris dancers, as well as other performers. In particular, I enjoyed listening to the samba band. Finally, we headed to Frevd to get breakfast before [ profile] cheshcat went to work and I came home to go to sleep for the day.

Overall, it was a great celebration... even if it did leave me exhausted, and in some pain (from drumming and dancing too much). It was a good sort of pain. If I am still living in Oxford next year, I think that I shall skip the overnight parts -- delightful as they were -- so that I can split my attention between Beltane celebrations in Oxford during the morning and Anarchist demonstrations in London later in the day (rather than sleeping).

[*] Getting around on foot is somewhat slow!

[**] Actually, just next to the bridge, which had been closed off by police to prevent revelers from engaging in the moronic tradition of jumping off into the very shallow river below.

To answer the question I posed to myself a week or so ago, I will be staying in Oxford this year to participate in the traditional celebrations.

In the end, it was not that hard to decide. When I went to the three day Anarchist conference (and Mayday march) in London last year, I told myself that it would be Mayday in London by myself for 2006 and Beltane in Oxford with [ profile] cheshcat for 2007. All I'm doing now is sticking to that plan.

So I am off now to Port Meadow for the all night party... though I do have back up plans if that turns out to be disappointing. Then, come the morning, there will be choirs and Morris dancers and more...
This is one of those times where I wish for the powers of Jamie Madrox. Mayday / Beltane is coming, a holiday that holds relevance for me as both a Pagan and an Anarchist.

Last year, I participated in the Anarchist Conference and march in London. This year, I am torn. Do I go back to London or do I stay here in Oxford?
Happy Groundhog Day, Everyone! And Happy Imbolc!!
(Goodness, is it February already? Where is 2007 going?!)

The meeting of the European dark matter network just ended, so I am off to spend the rest of the day and most of tomorrow enjoying myself in Paris. Back in Oxford late tomorrow night.

Meanwhile, now that the release date for the next (and last) Harry Potter book has been announced -- July 21st -- I was wondering if there were any language purists Stateside who want me to pick up a copy for them in the original English. [ profile] cheshcat and I have read all the books in the original, as I prefer to avoid translations whenever I can. I know several other people who feel the same. Reservations are being taken now for the book, so if you are interested in an English copy, let me know...
Yule vigil (and feast and ritual) completed successfully. Many presents were had underneath the tree -- including one of (if not the) most creative wrapping jobs ever by [ profile] cheshcat.

Now, Lucretia II is all packed up and [ profile] resourceress and I are about to depart the Event Horizon and Chicago; our destination is Summanulla and Boston, where [ profile] cheshcat and I will spend Christmas Eve and Day with her family.

As the ancient Chinese saying goes: A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step turning the key in the ignition and pulling out of the driveway.

East Coasters: See you soon!


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