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!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Ian McKellen is Magneto." we explained.

"And Professor X?" he asked.

"That's Patrick Stewart." I said.

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

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

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

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

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

[***] As opposed to The Boy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[***] Yet another opportunity for blushing!

On Monday, it snowed. A lot. Or, at least, a lot for here. I believe that the last time London received this much snowfall was eighteen years ago. As I cycled through Kensington Gardens on my way into work, folks were taking walks, taking pictures, building snow-people, et cetera. Tuesday and Wednesday were perfectly clear -- and cold -- days... and now it is snowing again, with four to six inches on the ground from overnight!

This is more like it! Tis what Winter should be like! Winter should be cold and snowy and dark -- but not too dark. Thus far, I have lived in and around New York City[1a,1b]; Amherst, Massachusetts[2a,2b]; Kamioka, Japan[3a,3b]; Phoenix, Arizona[4a,4b]; Chicago[5a,5b]; and Oxford, England[6a,6b]. Oxford is, by far, the furthest North that I have ever lived. As such, Winters here are far too dark... but generally not very cold -- I regularly go out sans coat -- and nearly no snow. In 2007, my first Winter here, we had exactly one snowfall that stuck. It was such a momentous occasion that the Oxford University Society of Change Ringers declared a snowball fight (photos here, including some of Yours Truly) in the University Park! In 2008, there was no snow whatsoever in the Winter. The only snow that we had fell after the Spring Equinox... and the one snowfall with any accumulation fell on April 6th! Even then, it only lasted for a few hours before melting away.

In short, my Winters in Oxford have been, until now, completely wrong: Too much dark, nearly no cold and snow. Hence, this week is a great relief! It has been cold, it is snowing as I type this entry... and the dark is finally abating! As of the day before yesterday, February 3rd, Oxford now receives more sunlight than New York City does on the Winter Solstice. This may sound like an odd measure, but I am a native New Yorker and, thus, my sunlight standards are set by where I grew up. In contrast, Oxford receives less sunlight than the shortest day in New York City on each day from November 8th through February 2nd! That is eighty-seven days where we get less light than the minimum that I am accustomed to! Eeep! Thankfully, I have gone South for part of this time -- two weeks in the States and one in Japan -- to break up the period of Great Darkness. Still, it is very much something that needs to be endured and I, for one, am happy that it is over once more.

Thus, for now, we have finally achieved what I believe Winter should be. It is cold. It is snowing. It is dark... but not too dark. My only regret is that I will be in London this afternoon, when the follow-up to the 2007 OUSCR snowball fight happens. Other than that, all is well. So... huzzah! And welcome, Winter!!

Footnotes )
It looks like it has been about two weeks since I updated this journal with much content about what I have been doing[*]. I suppose that I should write an entry soon to rectify that. This is not that entry.

This entry is just a collection of random uncorrelated bits that have been percolating in my head today. Skim through and see which ones catch your interest, gentle readers...

  • Had the best commute ever today. Which is to say that I gave myself permission to work from home. Everyone else in the T2K group at Imperial College was going to be away today, anyway, so I figured that I could be as productive alone in a room in Oxford as I could be alone in a room in London. I was right. Am still working from home, despite the fact that it is a Friday night. Productivity is a Good Thing(TM).

  • The weather has been stunning for the past few days! It almost makes me wonder if I am still in England! This sort of cool, crisp, clear Autumn weather is absolutely lovely!

  • My bus pass for the Oxford Tube also permits me to ride on any of the local buses in Oxfordshire. Thus, I have achieved some sort of Nirvana for local transportation in Oxford. I can now get myself anywhere in the city -- when I choose and free of charge -- by either (a) bicycle, (b) car[**], (c) bus, and (d) on foot. Indeed, I could even borrow (e) Cheshcat's scooter, if I really wanted to! This is a great improvement from two years ago; between July 2006 and May 2007, my only free option was to walk everywhere!

  • "Andy" is the most common name amongst the people that I know in Oxford. I know four Oxonian Andys.

  • Watching the Katie Couric interviews of Sarah Palin has convinced me that there may indeed be Vice-Presidential material there. Katie Couric may have the makings of a competent veep...

  • Alas! Tis with great regret that I must contradict my previous post about going to the Poly MeetUp on Tuesday. It looks like I will be taking remedial ice skating instead. More accurately, I will be missing the last lesson of the term for my ice skating course, as I will be in New York on October 13th. It turns out that this coming Tuesday is the only time that I can make up the lesson. So no Poly MeetUp for me this month. Hope to see many of you lovely people at the next one, on November 4th! Meanwhile, have extra fun on my behalf while I'm gone, okay?

  • Six days from now, I will be on an aeroplane to New York! One week from right now, I will be back at my spiritual home, at the start of my twelfth consecutive P**T*** gathering!!!

  • Over the past two weeks, the relationship velocity has started to slow down somewhat, after being at unprecedentedly high levels for about eight weeks. I believe that I may even be approaching a stable new relationship configuration[***]. Most of the developments have been positive, though there is one case that has me feeling a little sad. In effect, I think that I need to fall out of love -- something that I have never done before -- with somebody who is very dear to me, in order that the relationship can survive[****]. How to even begin doing that is a mystery to me! Thankfully, I have all the time that I need to figure it out.

  • Twenty-six!!!
Okay, back to work for a little while longer, then off to spend some quality alone time with [ profile] cheshcat...

[*] Besides riding the Oxford Tube, that is!

[**] Okay, to be fair, there is a petrol cost for driving. But this city is so small that the expense is negligible.

[***] Famous last words, I know.

[****] On the plus side, it looks like this particular relationship will survive.

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

[*] Or so.

[**] Anyone sensing a theme here?

Went to see Creation Theatre do a version of George Orwell's Animal Farm at the Oxford Castle this evening.

The play itself was well done... but the experience is a succinct example of my claim that England does not experience the season known as Summer. To wit, I have come back from the play with a mild case of hypothermia.

Seriously! There was quite a bit of wind and rain during the show. Thank goodness it was only an hour and a quarter! Forty minutes after the [non-existent] curtain fell, I am now curled up in bed at Skullcrusher Mountain, wrapped in blankets, with the heat on. I am still shivering. [ profile] cheshcat -- who had a jacket with her and, as such, fared slightly better -- just brought in a nice hot cup of tea. I even have a nice big warm kitty to add body heat.

I'll be fine -- don't cry for me, gentle readers! -- but come on! Hypothermia in August?? I can just hear [ profile] pomoloco's voice rising half an octave as she asks, "What the FUCK is up with that??"

Anyone who wants to make cryostat jokes: Now is probably a good time!
Definitely back in England now. If, for some reason, I were confused about my location, the weather would be a dead giveaway. It is grey, chilly, and wet.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

.......and that's all the news for tonight. Tune in next time, gentle reader, for fun-filled photos from this weekend and video of kittens playing!
As mentioned last week, I've been taking a bit of an LJ holiday... inspired by a bad sprain in the left wrist. One week later, it is definitely improved, but not back to normal. This may be in part due to the fact that I really have not been resting it much. Ah well.

In any case, I am now taking a break from my LJ break to just summarise the highlights of my life from the past week. Not terribly interesting to anyone else, I know, but I want to remember certain bits of it. So here they are:

Last week:
Was pleasantly surprised on payday by a rise. Just three percent -- the annual inflation adjustment -- but welcome nonetheless. With large vet bills and seven weeks as a single income household, this year has been a bit tight and any attempt to give me additional income will not be turned away at the door. Actually, the University has been fairly generous in this regard; after twenty-six months here, my salary is nearly 21% higher than it was when I started. That's equivalent to a 0.73% monthly raise -- not too shabby!

Also had a nice "phone date" with [ profile] frogcastle last week. It has been nearly six months since last we saw each other, as her Spring visit to Oxford was cancelled on account of her needing surgery. Happily, Starwood is next month (!!!) and we will see much of each other again there!

On Saturday, [ profile] cheshcat and I had a nice day out. The weather cooperated with us, so we spent most of the day out of doors. We started by getting lunch at The Trout. Sitting next to the Thames, we enjoyed our meal while watching the water flow by us. Afterward, we went to the Oxford Botanic Garden, where we enjoyed the first of their summer picnics. In the evening, we went to Lincoln College to see an outdoor production -- our first of the year -- of Twelfth Night. I had not seen it before, so this makes twenty-one of Shakespeare's plays that I have seen performed on the stage, with sixteen more to go.

Sunday's biggest news was, of course, another visit with our new kitten, which I have already written about. The rest of the day was pretty ordinary and involved things like ringing bells for services at St. Giles and preparing the cryostat for this week's work. Not terribly worth writing on.

This week:
A couple of interesting things have happened this week. I already mentioned passing the level three and level four appraisals in my final ice skating course of the term on Monday. On Tuesday I received my first circulated[*] 2008 coin -- a shiny penny, still with the old reverse. And today I made a blood donation, my seventh since moving to England.

At work, we successfully managed to record an alpha-spectrum (using radioactive Americium) with our proto-detector. I talked about this several weeks ago, but it took some time to see a result. Electronics troubles -- most particularly interference from ground loops -- slowed things down and needed to be sorted first. In any case, as of Wednesday morning, we have an alpha-spectrum measurement, which is quite a satisfying step forward.

My ringing has been making steady and noticeable progress. At Mary Mag, I have been having further gos at Plain Bob Major. I am still quite rough at doing this on tower bells, but the practice is precisely what is needed. At St. Cross last week, we did an interesting exercise -- ringing called changes with our backs turned away from each other, using only our ears to guide us. Eeep! Nerve inducing, but quite useful, really. At St. Cross this week, I rang a touch of Plain Bob Doubles... and I thought that I handled myself quite well in it! Very encouraging! Indeed, I am reaching the point where Bob Doubles -- and, yes, I know it is a simple method -- is coming instinctively, without me needing to concentrate intensely on it to ring correctly. Tonight -- in about an hour -- I have another practice at St. Giles, first on handbells and then on tower bells.

Finally, if all this babbling about my life has not driven everyone away, here is a reward for any Batman fans out there. I was completely unaware of this until [ profile] cheshcat found it... but there is an animated Batman movie coming out later this year[**]. The trailer does not give away much of the plot, but the animation looks really cool... and the voice of Batman & Bruce Wayne is being done by Kevin Conroy, who also was the voice actor on the most excellent Batman: The Animated Series. Here is the trailer:

[*] I have a complete set of uncirculated UK coins from 2008 already, all with the old reverses. I ordered it from the Royal Mint in December and, indeed, had it before 2007 was out. However, there is still something nifty about receiving one's first coin of the year from regular circulation. At least to me there is.

[**] Direct to DVD, I'm afraid.

The weather this weekend in Oxford was better than just about all of last Summer. Gives me hope, it does, that we will actually have a Summer this year.

[ profile] ms_katonic came out from London on Friday evening and we spent much of the weekend together. We had fun doing things like walking through tunnels under Broad Street, where books are sent about by the house elves who work for the Bodleian Library. We also went into the Radcliffe Camera -- which resembles Sauron's temple to Morgoth on Númenor[*] -- saw the Divinity School and Duke Humphrey's Library[**], and visited the Convocation House where, on two or three occasions, Parliament has been held. We also took advantage of the stunning weather to come outside and above ground -- several hours were spent stroll and lolling about in the Oxford Botanic Gardens. There, I showed her Tolkien's favourite tree and the bench that Lyra and Will meet at in the final chapter of the His Dark Materials trilogy. We also got a glimpse of the Lord Mayor, who I still have not had to kill.

After getting out of bed today, we had a quick lunch together, then went out on our separate paths. Mine took me to the lab, the city centre and, in the evening, to St. Giles where I rang bells for services. My ropesight needs much work, but is obviously improving -- I rang the treble on some Reverse Canterbury. It is a method I have never rung before and am entirely unfamiliar with. However, the treble only hunts from front to back, repeatedly. Using this knowledge and ropesight, I could work out where I should be (more or less). The best campanological news of the evening came after tower bell ringing, though. JP and BM came back to Skullcrusher Mountain with me and we practiced our Plain Bob Minor on handbells. I rang the trebles and, for the first time, made it through the extent. Which is to say that we rang every possible combination of bells -- for six bells, this is 720 changes and takes about twenty-five minutes. A nice little milestone for my handbell ringing, and I am quite pleased by it!

Now I am watching the long twilight over Oxford as I prepare the Kelvinox for tomorrow. There is a long and busy week ahead, but much in it to look forward to. In the meantime, [ profile] resourceress pointed me towards this little "film" -- featuring my favourite and second favourite super-heroes -- which is a bit of a laugh!

[*] From the outside, anyway. From the inside? Not so much. (Though I image that the interior of the camera is much more strikingly beautiful.

[**] The same Duke, I might add, who was younger brother to Henry V and features in the History Plays.
anarchist_nomad: (Center of the Universe)
( May. 7th, 2008 08:13 pm)
Sitting in my office as I write this, there is a clear sky with a magnificent glowing orb in it. You know the orb I mean -- it is slowly sinking into the horizon.

This week, starting yesterday, marks the beginning of summer for me. How can I tell? Because the weather has been sufficiently warm to change into shorts and sandals. I have had quite a number of errands to tend to, and cycling about Oxford in weather like this is quite pleasant.

There is a cooling cryostat in the next room with two proto-detectors and a radioactive cobalt source inside. Indeed, I need to get back to tending them soon. Fun stuff should happen with this tomorrow.

It is early enough that I should likely finished with the cooling and home before ten o'clock.

As another sign that summer is here, I can finish work after nine o'clock and still ride home in the twilight. I don't mind working late nearly as much when I can still have sunlight to keep me company.

Last night, I had a nice conversation with RG, who some of you know from P**T***. It was good to chat, as I hadn't talked to him in months.

Earlier this evening, I rang bells at St. Cross with the OUSCR. I had a fair bit of practice ringing Plain Bob Doubles. Up until now, I have only rang this on the #2 bell (or the treble or a covering tenor, both of which are much easier than the inside bells, #2-#5) for a plain course. Tonight, I tried it from the #3 bell -- which is the same pattern but from a different starting point -- and I rang a "touch" -- where "bob" calls mix up the order. This exercise was to help my ropesight along -- my memory for numbers allows me to "cheat" on the simple patterns by simply memorising who I should follow -- and it went remarkably well. That felt good. Ringing down in peal at the end also went exceptionally well; possibly the best go I've had at it so far.

In the mail at work today, I received an invitation to the "International Symposium on Coptic Culture: Past, Present, and Future", hosted by the Coptic Orthodox Church Centre in Hertfordshire and held next week at the British Museum. This is not strictly a good thing per se, but it gave me a laugh. Somehow, the Coptic Church on this side of the pond found me. Sort of. The letter was addressed to me at the Oriental Institute, not the Physics Department. Close, though. I have no intention of going to the lecture -- I would if it were held in Oxford, but I can't spare the time (and miss Thursday ringing) to go to London for it -- but knowing that I set their Coptic SenseTM tingling did amuse me.
anarchist_nomad: (Guess who?)
( Apr. 27th, 2008 08:04 pm)
Back in Oxford now, after quite a nice weekend in Birmingham. Saturday and Sunday were completely different... but both very good.

Don't have time to write anything of detail now. Drove back into town and headed directly to the lab -- good thing, too, as I arrived just minutes before the fridge was about to run dry. Must go focus on refilling with liquid helium so I can run experiments tomorrow.

Quickly, though, I have a question:

Does anyone local to Oxford[*] know of a cat shelter that they would recommend? I am not asking for a Google search or a flip through the local phone directory -- I can do that perfectly well myself. I am wondering if anyone has a personal recommendation. I am looking to adopt a kitten, but am quite specific about what I want. The shelters here in Oxford have nothing for me right now. I can wait, of course, but there is no reason not to check the surrounding area while I do.

Oh, and for no other reason that to remember it later, I should note that view of the sunset through my office window as I write this is quite spectacular!

[*] "Local" == "Within about one hundred miles"

anarchist_nomad: (Road trip!)
( Apr. 26th, 2008 02:02 pm)
Just got back from driving [ profile] cheshcat to Heathrow. She is heading to the States to present an award-winning paper[*] at the biggest annual conference in her field. Needless to say, I am very proud of her.

For the next two weeks, then, it is just The Boy and me holding down the fort here at Skullcrusher Mountain.

Actually, that is not quite accurate... because in a little while, I am heading out of town, too -- driving up to Birmingham for the weekend. Today is, erm, science experiments and games with [ profile] thehalibutkid and [ profile] oilrig; tomorrow I am seeing the lovely [ profile] redandfiery.

First, though, I must needs return to the lab and make sure that the cryostat has not blown up overnight. Should also pick up one or two items for the, erm, science experiments. May as well head into town on foot -- the weather is absolutely phenomenal today!
First off, thank you to all those who proved that their knowledge of amendments, commandments, and plagues[**] are better than a room full of Oxford scientists. My friends rock! Points will be awarded where appropriate shortly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just got in a short while ago from seeing Thoroughly Modern Millie at the Oxford Playhouse.

For those who don't know, it is of the musical romantic comedy genre. One thing I have recently realised -- from my disdain last Autumn for The Boy Friend and the fact that I can't remember squat about shows like Crazy For You -- is that, generally speaking, I do not like this genre. Occasionally, though, a show is quirky enough to be the exception to that rule.

Millie is one of those exceptions. This show is random and silly enough to stand out. I was a little disturbed at watching some chorus girl get drugged and shipped off to Hong Kong to work as a prostitute. Other than that, though, it was thoroughly enjoyable! Good music, unexpected plot twists, and more patter songs to add to my patter song obsession.

Meanwhile, our distraction in the office today came after a hailstorm. Yes, that's right -- a hailstorm. Somehow, the storm got us onto the topic of the ten plagues of Egypt. We tried to name them all but, sadly, the three of us put together could only come up with five. Can you do better? (No cheating with consulting references!) Two hundred points to the first person who can name all ten! I do have a favourite plague, to be sure: It is the plague of frogs! Personally, I think that a plague of frogs is awesome and we are very much overdue for another one! Bring on the frogs!!!
Oh, wait. It is Sunday! And I don't think that it could be properly described as a "lazy Sunday", either. To summarise, here is what I have done so far today:
  1. Finished the novel that I was reading
  2. Went to the final two lectures (and the final lunch) in the Astronomy Weekend
  3. Took a nine mile walk with C&M
  4. Rang my first ever quarter peal
  5. Swam a mile
Not a bad day at all! Here are the details )

Finally, just for fun, there is one last detail from today. Courtesy of [ profile] cheshcat, here is the view from the Skullcrusher Mountain this morning:

Footnotes )

First snowfall of the "winter" that actually sticks and has any accumulation -- indeed, quite a bit of accumulation.

Date? April 6th

This place is weird...


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