j4: (roads)
A bit of excitement on the towpath this morning: as I was cycling along I saw what I thought was a low branch ahead, but as I got nearer I realised that in fact an entire tree was blocking the path:



I was surprised that [livejournal.com profile] addedentry hadn't texted to warn me, as he'd left about ten minutes before me, but in fact the tree must have fallen at some point in the ten minutes between us passing that point — so, a lucky escape for both of us.

The towpath: a digression

When we first bought this house we cycled along the towpath to get to and from it several times; it was the middle of summer, and it was wonderful to cycle along beside the river in the sun looking at the flowers and the ducks — hello trees hello sky sa Fotherington-Thomas — but if I'm honest, I thought that the towpath would be a summer treat, and the rest of the time it'd be a boring road commute up and down the Abingdon/Iffley Roads. In fact, I've only taken the road once since we've lived here, and that was because I turned left out of Holy Rood Church down the Abingdon Road in a moment of confusion about where I was in relation to the turning for the towpath, and then couldn't be bothered to turn round (I really am that lazy). In the sun, the towpath is still marvellous; in the rain, you're no wetter there than you would be on the roads, and you're not constantly being bullied by cars and buses: you're negotiating with cyclists and pedestrians (plus joggers, anglers, dogs, and people on bikes shouting through megaphones at boaties) on some kind of equal footing. There's some kind of social interaction: a nod, a smile, a mutual giving-way, a quick "thanks" or "sorry". Cycling on the roads makes me feel like an insect; cycling on the towpath restores my humanity.

Throughout the summer the path was edged with cornflower-blue chicory flowers and purple-headed clover; as autumn drew in the leaves turned to red and brown (though the hedges and weeds remained lush and green), and the air was thick with woodsmoke from the houseboats; and now enough of the trees are bare-branched that you can see Corpus Christi Barge from the path. By night it's dark and quiet; sleeping geese stand on the banks by the boathouses, ghostly white and still like miniature menhirs. On a moonlit night, the reflections light every ripple on the river. On Bonfire Night we watched fireworks exploding over the water.

I'm starting to feel I know every curve of the path between Donnington Bridge and Folly Bridge; I notice when a branch is hanging slightly lower or when a lifebelt is missing, when there are particularly big puddles or emerging potholes. So to find a tree in the middle of it was something of a surprise... but at the same time, it was part of the patchwork. The towpath is a lot like the estate where we live — there are no neat edges, everything leaks into everything else. Houseboats have half of their contents on the outside; weeds tumble into the path, the path slopes into the river, bikes lean drunkenly into the hedges, and occasionally wildlife finds its way out of the river on to the path. So a tree had wandered across the path; fair enough. It didn't even occur to me to turn around, go back, and take the road instead: the digression had long since become the normal path. I arrived at the obstruction at around the same time as a couple of other cyclists from the other direction, and was quickly followed by another behind me; we leaned our bikes against trees and fences and started clearing branches to the side of the path, snapping off the dry wood and piling it out of the way until there was a roughly bike-sized clear way through.

Then we all went on our way.
j4: (badgers)
We had a lovely low-key bonfire night at the Isis Farmhouse: a decent-sized bonfire in the corner of the Meadowside garden, delicious lentil and chestnut soup in a mug, equally delicious (and powerfully brandy-ish) mulled wine in another mug, and free sparklers from the bar. No fireworks of their own; their events email promised "a view across the Meadows of Oxford's fireworks", but we didn't see any at the time and in fact we were content to stand in the warmth of the bonfire for a while drinking our mulled wine, and waving our sparklers for a few moments of electric crackle in the woody darkness. On the way back along the moonlit towpath we heard fireworks, and ended up standing on Donnington Bridge watching some quite impressive fireworks far across the fields and beyond the ring road (Kennington, maybe?), all huge blossoming reds and greens. Then came home and were treated to another brief but no less impressive fireworks display from the house nearly opposite, tweetly crackly doodlebugs and rockets exploding into massive chrysanthemums of fire across the street, leaving charred spiderwebs across the cloudy sky.

The Isis is our nearest pub now; I'd always thought of it (insofar as I'd thought of it at all) as a summer pub -- a riverside tavern for punting to, or for sitting outside in the sun with a cool beer and a view of the boats going past -- but at the moment it's a wonderful warm autumnal hearth-from-home, hidden among the wet leaves, its flickering lights reflecting on the dark water. The flickering lights aren't just poetic licence: it's heated by a wood-burning stove, with incredibly low lighting (just the stove, candles, a couple of lamps, some red fairy lights across one wall). It's also only barely decorated, raw plaster showing through in places, but the overall feeling is not so much "building site" as "I know we haven't finished decorating but we couldn't wait to start inviting people round, come in, sit down, have some nice warm soup" -- a lovely homely feel. And talking of soup... we've been there a few times for food now and it has always been delicious: meals I recall have included a tasty and filling chickpea curry; a big bowl of borscht with slabs of warm crusty bread; tonight's lentil and chestnut soup; and (not strictly speaking a meal, but still very welcome) big slices of home-made cake. The food menu usually only has two or three choices (one of which is always beans on toast, but it's a good-sized portion of beans on a doorstep of crusty toast, with cheese on top), and it tends towards the one-pot style (soup, curry, stew), but I've still always struggled to choose because everything on offer looks tasty! The beer is mostly Cotswold lagers (plus a couple of guest beers in casks); there's a choice of proper bottled cider (Henney's, Weston's, and something else I can't remember); it's also the sort of pub where I wouldn't feel self-conscious just ordering a coffee.

At the moment the Isis seems to be trying lots of different things (as the Jam Factory did in the early days of its current incarnation -- and it seems to have been a successful tactic there!): a Stornoway gig earlier this year, a free mini-festival at the end of the summer featuring local-ish indie bands, and other music nights coming up soon ('Mongrel English folk' session on Friday 12th, trad English folk session on Sunday 14th); films showing in the converted barn at the side of the pub (which was also the main stage at the festival); bonfire night tonight; open for Christmas and New Year. It'll be interesting to see whether this will mean they start to open on more nights of the week -- if I had to think of something to complain about (and I'd be struggling) it'd be that they're only open Wednesday to Sunday (don't worry, [livejournal.com profile] addedentry has added their opening hours to the excellent new opening-times.co.uk wiki, so you don't have to remember that).

As well as being cosy and welcoming, the Isis seems to be doing well on the environmental front -- not just because you can't get there in a car but in a far more focused way than I'd realised until reading the owners' latest mailshot:
"When we arrived at the Isis, it was an ecological mini-disaster area. Having sorted out the piles of rotting rubbish, and got the sewage treatment plant working (it does discharge straight into the Thames, after all), and cut down some dominant and alien conifers, and taken the 500 litres of used vegetable oil to the biofuel manufacturer, and removed the three skip fulls of scrap metal on site, we could start to think about our carbon footprint. Now, we burn only wood on our stove, so most of our space heating is carbon neutral. And our new air-conditioning is via an air-to-air heat pump, providing about 3kW of heat for every kW of electricity. And we're about to insulate the roof of The Barn, our film / party / meeting space, so that it's warmer, uses less energy to heat, and is better sound-insulated."
(I hope they don't mind me quoting them so extensively. It's just because I'm impressed.)

Far too many riverside pubs seem to default to either beefeaterish blandness (people will visit for the view and a cold beer, why bother trying beyond that?) or leather-armchair gastro blandness (I'm looking at you, The Perch) -- the Isis has managed to be completely different without being gimmicky. The food and drink is great, the atmosphere is warm and welcoming, and it's near enough to us that we can run and hide there when our central heating breaks down.
j4: (oxford)
This morning's news that King's College London will be joining the Boat Race, combined with Oxford's mercifully quick victory on Sunday, reminds me to post this entry from the Mary Whitehouse Experience Encyclopedia which makes me laugh (and makes me nostalgic for the comedy-is-the-new-rock-and-roll 1990s, too) and thus deserves re-airing.

Boat Race, The )
j4: (rednose)
Tomorrow (Friday) is Red Nose Day, which means it's the day of the Record-breaking Red Nose Day Run. (We're probably not actually breaking any records, largely because as far as we know nobody's ever set any relevant ones, but alliteration totally beats facts, every time.) Lots of you lovely people have sponsored me (if you haven't and still want to, there's still time!) and a couple of you have even written a press release for me. You're all awesome! Now all I have to do is keep my little badger legs moving for a couple of hours...

So, the route has been revised and refined and generally buggered-about-with, and now looks like this. It's 8.7 miles (or, in metric, really quite a lot of kilometres) and takes us past every single one of the Colleges (and PPHs) of Oxford University. We are very, very glad that this no longer includes Templeton.

I mentioned that we were hoping to be able to let people track our progress LIVE! on teh intarwebs. If all goes well, you should be able to see our little red line scrawling its way around a map on this page here:

http://tei.oucs.ox.ac.uk/runmap/

from about 10am tomorrow. (Any weird locations you can see on the map before then are probably just test data.)

If you're in Oxford tomorrow morning, look out for us! Wave something red at us! Say hello! We'll be the ones wearing lots of red and moving slightly faster than walking pace. Unless you're watching on the web, in which case, we'll be a small red line. :o)
j4: (dodecahedron)
A challenge for the cartographically minded among my readers:

What's the most efficient route for visiting all Oxford's colleges?

Method of transport: bicycle. No other restrictions except that you must pass the lodge of each college. Doubling back on yourself is allowed (despite the title of the post!).

A reminder of the location of all the Colleges can be seen on this hopefully accurate map from the University website.

ETA:

I do realise this is a hard problem (Owen says it may even be an NP-hard problem) but thought it might've been the sort of thing that you clever people had already done... like the "visit all the underground stations in a day" challenge, kind of thing...

Coming up

Nov. 21st, 2008 11:59 am
j4: (oxford)
[Part 3 of the Oxford Story, because I think the guilt of not having written it is stopping me writing anything interesting. I did write this before the midnight deadline, but when I hit 'post' it turned out that our net connection had gone down again!]

Going to Oxford )

I know I was supposed to be writing about schooling and Oxbridge for [livejournal.com profile] juggzy, but instead I'm just wandering off down memory lane, picking occasional wild flowers from the side of the path. I've lost the knack of writing essays. More wild flowers another time, maybe; perhaps I'll even manage to wrangle them into something like a bouquet.
j4: (oxford)
Continued from Part 1.

Oxford revisited )

Good grief, I didn't realise I'd gone on so long. To be continued, if anybody (including me) can bear it...
j4: (oxford)
[livejournal.com profile] juggzy asked: So, this is a question for all the girls on my F-list, and anyone else who has tuppence to add. What are your stories. What made you apply for Oxford or Cambridge, or what made you not apply? How did you feel if you did or didn't get into Oxford or Cambridge?

So I started writing about this, and all the background and the side issues and everything, and somehow just didn't stop. This is going to have to be told in instalments, and it's probably only of interest to me, but hey, that's the self-publishing revolution for you.

How I got to Oxford: Part 1 )

Part 2 to follow...
j4: (oxford)
Someone who really is my kind of feminist more or less warned me off a recent F-Word article about Oxbridge sex workers, so I can't blame her. Still, La Penny's rant shocked me: I'm frankly disgusted to see a fellow Oxford English graduate prostituting her literary learning like that.

Though if she must get her lit. out for the lad(ie)s then she could at least try to look like she's enjoying it.
j4: (roads)
Election news in brief: where we are is special. :-)
j4: (kanji)
FIVE PEOPLE YOU MET IN OXFORD

On Saturday I travelled to Oxford with [livejournal.com profile] addedentry, to visit [livejournal.com profile] smallbeds and Kate, and to go (with them) to [livejournal.com profile] truecatachresis's flatwarming. Okay, that's only four people, but all the other people we met there can count as the fifth between them. No offence. I tried to introduce [livejournal.com profile] addedentry to [livejournal.com profile] cleanskies, but I barely know her myself, and wine made me misquote her username. Only by one letter, but the social damage was already done. I think [livejournal.com profile] addedentry would benefit from someone more popular than me to introduce him into exciting new social circles.

MATERIAL, MOSTLY TEXTUAL

Since 1999 [livejournal.com profile] truecatachresis had been hanging on to a bagful of things which he believed to be mine, which I had apparently left when I moved out of our Marston-based seven-person student commune.
> inv
Your knapsack contains:

Unopened junk mail
Chinese-style folded paper wall-hanging
small ladies' wallet (new, empty)
alphabet fridge magnets
The junk mail was opened and mostly thrown away, the rest has accompanied me back to Cambridge. The wallet is, I am fairly sure, not mine; unless perhaps it was cheap or came free with something and I was tempted to keep it. It's possible. The wall-hanging features trees, or perhaps birds, and calligraphy; the lettering is so pictorial that you are tempted to try to read meaning into the shapes of the wildlife. There used to be another matching wall-hanging, blue where this one is red, each 99p from Booksale, both equivalent defence against the magnolia woodchip.

The fridge magnets used to say "FOOD TRANSFER PROTOCOL" where they held the takeaway pizza menus to the boiler, and "AXAXAXAS MLO" (with multiplication signs pressed into service against the deficiencies of ordinary English letter-distribution) across the top of the lesser of two fridges.

REDISTRIBUTION

Saturday morning's shift at Oxfam was unremarkable, except for acquiring some Famous Five hardbacks which I can hopefully re-sell at a profit on eBay. Apart from that, the usual; books were moved from one area of the shop to another, and Roger demonstrated his peculiar gift for the excluded middle:
me: "What shall I price these [modern paperback novels] at?"
R: "Oh ... £4.99."
me: [surprised] "£4.99? They're a bit on the tatty side..."
R: "Well, throw them away, then."
I priced them at £2.99 in the end and put them on the shelves. No, before anybody whinges about Oxfam's prices, I don't actually think 3 quid is an unreasonable amount to give to charity in exchange for a book that would be 7 or 8 quid new and is only a bit worn on the outside from having been read before. Some people buy books because the shiny covers will set off their Ikea furniture nicely: Borders and Waterstones cater more than adequately to their needs. Other people buy books because all those funny black marks inside tell them something interesting.

Lingering in Oxford on Sunday afternoon allowed us to visit the QI Bookshop, which organises the books within its single circular room according to oblique thematic principles, rather like (not remotely coincidentally) the section headings in this post. It is a bookshop for browsing, and we browsed.

RHYTHMS

To the bewilderment of J-P and Kate, Owen and I took bongos to Ian's party, where three other sets of bongos were already plugged in to the Gamecube. Four-way Donkey Konga madness proved even more fun than the one- or two-way variants we'd already experienced, though I was a little concerned for the health of my bongos after watching one over-enthusiastic participant. (My plea for him to be a little more careful fell on deaf ears; it reminded me of why I normally play computer games selfishly, on my own, and why I refrain from lending many books: other people don't give a damn if they break things that don't belong to them.) When we weren't playing, we stopped for a moment to watch the four lines of rhythms and coloured patterns weaving in and out of each other like maypole dancers.

And it snowed this morning, because the seasons have their own rhythms. Nearly every year, snow in January comes as a total surprise -- completely out of the blue (or the grey) -- to the rail networks and the road-gritting lorries. It surprised me, but only because I hadn't realised it was that cold until my fingers went numb in the 3 minutes it took me to de-ice the car windscreen. Driving in the snow feels like playing some kind of space-based videogame; I pilot my small craft along the ribbon of tarmac and the snowflakes stream past like light, like years.

LIGHT

J-P and Kate have a tiny prism hanging on their window, which is caused to spin by a small solar-powered motor. It fills the room with rainbows, unlike Owen's mirrorball, which only fills the room with specks of light. Near the mirrorball these are small, focused, clear squares; further away they are more blurry, more indistinct, their light softer, their corners fading into the walls. Similarly, the rainbows vary from tiny nuggets of vivid, intense colour to vast, diffuse, swathes. Sometimes I saw a rainbow creep over a face or a hand while its owner was talking.

This morning I looked in the mirror and saw a person I did not know. Whether it was a trick of the light or a trick of the mind I don't know, but I have aged overnight, and my eyes are shadowed, and while my hairstyle makes me look slightly like Virginia Woolf (provided I don't open my mouth) this only serves to make me check my pockets for rocks.

My dad had a seizure on Saturday, the second in about 15 years. The last time it happened he was mowing the lawn on a hot summer's day, and said that the last thing he remembered seeing was sunlight coming through the fence in sharp flashes. He's been tested and tested for epilepsy, but all the ECGs have returned negative, though apparently there's a history of epilepsy in the family. This time he claims it was just that he was dehydrated and full of adrenalin as he started broadcasting his new radio show, titled "If she's eclectic...". He says he's fine now, and he's probably right, though I swear he'll be saying that at his own funeral. Still, I wouldn't want to stop him living in order to keep him alive.

This morning's snow has melted, and the sky has finally brightened. Don't tell me this picture is beautiful, don't tell me it makes you ache, don't tell me it makes you remember, for I'll have no sympathy; just for once I would like to see something that didn't mean anything. The sun flashes its beams through the trees. Every picture has its shadows, and it has some source of light.

May 2017

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