Walking with Nora

Merton Street

To my mild astonishment, I learned last night that the quad that contains the JCR bar is called the ‘Ho Chi Minh’ Quad. While I was aware that Wadham is an almost notoriously progressive college, I retain an ability to be surprised by such things. Perhaps luckily, the place now seems to be filled with noisy colonies of undergraduates, all milling about and playing darts. It’s not a place in which I am likely to while away too many hours. Aside from my room in Library Court and, to a much lesser extent, the library itself and the MCR, I have found no such place thus far. I am hoping that some kind of cheap and tasty curry point might help correct that.

This evening brought with it an attempt to reach the next village over – Marston – by means of an extended walk, which began in quite the wrong direction. Nora and I made it as far as the Hertford College sports grounds, which I later identified using the A to Z map of Oxford which I purchased with Sarah in London. After having spent the last week wandering the not-so-numerous streets of the town, going a bit farther afield was welcome. Among the sights on the walk: the Oxford Castle, alongside the ruins of its predecessor, as well as Nuffield College and the ‘river’ Cherwell. After turning back into town, we wandered the cobbled streets near Merton for a long while. It was there that, halfway up a wall, I took a perch and did my best to impersonate a gargoyle.

While it is odd to comment in writing on a person whilst they are in the room, I can say without danger of offence or misrepresentation that Nora makes a fine wandering companion. The comprehension of a place must always be the comprehension of at least one person as well, and both of those parallel mental developments take place most enjoyably and effectively by means of extended conversation.

Aside from the further development of my intuitive sense of Oxford geography, today was spent in a series of half-hearted attempts at reading the Hollis and Smith book. In addition to that, I configured my Oxford email address (milan.ilnyckyj at politics dot ox dot ac dot uk), though, like my former UBC address, it will serve merely as a forwarding point for GMail. Some of the underlying architecture of the blog underwent some tinkering today as well.

Returning to the panopticon from our long walk, I was confronted with a mass of interesting emails – not the kind of generic UBC mass mailings that clutter my inbox, when it is not full of the most shocking kinds of scams and product offers, but substantive messages from friends. Hearing from friends back home is quite rewarding and does much to dispel the sense of isolation that can accompany a new and strange place. Re-reading and responding to them will make up the first item on the to-do list which I will eventually formulate for tomorrow.

PS. The publishing of this post was delayed by seven hours, due to server trouble.

Orientations

The Manor Road Building

Hollis, Martin and Steve Smith. Explaining and Understanding International Relations. Chapter 4: Understanding:

“When it rains, those who predicted otherwise are proved wrong and those who refuse to believe it is raining get as wet as anyone else.” 

We had university orientations today, which ranged from useful to quite pointless. The best part about them was meeting Margaret Irving, who is doing her M.Phil in economics, and Kate Stinson, who is in my program. Kate was kind enough to show me to the Manor Road building, where the Politics and International Relations Department is located. It is right beside her college: Sain Catz. Aggressively modern, the Manor Road building looks absolutely brand new, though ultimately quite uninspired. It is a collection of concrete and glass that looks like it will be highly functional for working in, but still ends up feeling a bit like the shamelessly western shopping malls that I found littered around Prague.

Wadham Colleg received my replacement Bodeleian card today: also spelled wrong. On a better note, the college fixed my sink this morning, which has been incredibly slow at draining since I arrived. In the afternoon, after attending a second batch of less than useful international orientation sessions, I spent a while drinking tea in my room with Nora, listening to miscellaneous music while I read my Hollis and Smith and she read Lolita: the only fictional book I brought with me.

Later, a whole group of new and existing Wadham students headed up to a pub between here and Merifield, the graduates only accommodation about a mile from here, where Bilyana lives. The pub itself was mediocre, but I met some interesting people. Foremost among them: Melati, an Indonesian-born M.Phil student in oriental studies. Born in Indonesia, she lived in San Francisco much more recently and did her undergraduate work at the University of Chicago. I hope very much that I shall see her again.

After wandering back from the bar, amidst all the minor discomforts of a serious downpour, we headed to the JCR bar and then the MCR with bottles of cheap college wine in hand. While at least twenty graduates are still there – a cluster of Canadians perhaps still singing “Barrett’s Privateers,” now seemed the time to take my leave.

I’ve met a great many people on the superficial, ‘let’s exchange names and talk amicably for a while’ level. I’ve met far fewer people on the ‘I anticipate and look forward to future conversations’ level. Priority one, right now, is to make a few actual friends. By that, I mean people who I care about in a specific and directed way and who feel likewise about me. Such people are the foundation of my sanity and whatever accomplishments to which I can lay claim. That position described, I should get a bit of sleep.

PS. There are so many Rhodes Scholars about that one feels utterly ashamed about having no particular academic distinction.

Meeting Wadhamites

Inside the dome at Rhodes House

This afternoon, I spent a good stretch of time with Bilyana: the Bulgarian mathematics student who showed us around Jericho earlier. She showed me her master’s thesis, on an esoteric kind of planar graph theory. Apparently, only ten people in the world are doing work in the area. Suffice it to say, I understood not a word, though I was suitably impressed. Having just finished her previous degree a week ago, she has been propelled into her D.Phil program almost immediately. She showed me a good little coffee shop (The Alternative Tuck Shop) a block up from the side gate of the college, left up Hollywell Street. She also led me to Rhodes House, which is quite a handsome structure, though quite depopulated when we were in it. She has invited me to dinner in the MCR on Friday, which I look forward to quite a bit.

Outside, between the main quad and the library, I met Houston: the social coordinator of the MCR committee. He and Bilyana know each other and, after she headed off to the library to do some reading, I spoke with him for about half an hour about Oxford, Wadham, and such. My already considerable excitement about Wadham social events has been increased by his descriptions of them. As has been the case with almost everyone here, he was very welcoming and helpful. At this point, I don’t think anything could diminish my enthusiasm for the year ahead.

Getting laundry done at Wadham is quite the affair. To begin with, you need to pay £10 just for the card (around C$22), which then needs to be charged with at least £5. You then need to descend to the most concealed, unsignposted, and smelliest part of the undergraduate area, where you will discover that there is no laundry soap to be had for love or money. Also, the dryers are so inadequate that I’ve set up a clothesline in my room, rather than putting more money into them. Unfortunately, taking the bus to North Vancouver in order to do my laundry is an unlikely option from here.

The Hollis and Smith book contains a lot of matter about the philosophy of science: for instance, Sir Karl Popper’s ideas about conjectures and refutations. I suppose that so long as IR is walking around pretending to be a science, such discussion will be necessary. As that sentence indicates, I don’t buy it for a moment. Maybe finishing the book will make me less confident in that belief. It just strikes me as daft to look for objective laws in something as complex and self-influencing as international organizations: a term that has itself become more and more of a misnomer as non-state actors have gained influence. Issues directly related to IR aside, Kuhn’s theory of paradigms is interesting and compellingly expressed.

This evening, Nora gave me a CD of Led Zeppelin songs as a gift. Many of them, I don’t think I have ever heard before. I explained to her last night, during our long conversation, how my brother Sasha’s relationship with Led Zeppelin is somewhat akin to mine with Pink Floyd, which is to say one of considerable appreciation. Perhaps this CD will rebalance my opinion towards the one that Nora and Sasha share. While it’s far too early to determine my final opinion of the music, it has made an enjoyable and amusing backdrop to my reading.

Despite standing invitations to go hang out with other Library Court residents at The Lamb and Flag, on St. Giles Street, as well as to go for a walk with Nora, I think I will just read a few more chapters and go to sleep early. All day, I have been feeling less than perfectly well. Despite large-scale consumption of 3 for £2 bottles of Sainsbury’s orange juice, things seem to be worsening rather than improving. Given that I am meant to be at the Examination Schools at 9:30am tomorrow to begin graduate student orientations, a good dose of sleep may be just the thing.

PS. Something anonymously linked on Tristan’s blog has made me even more distressed about the parlous state of liberal democracy in America today. In what I can only take as an ironic endorsement of the American Library Association’s Banned Books Week, it seems that the FBI is re-prioritizing from counter-terrorism to something much more unconstitutional and worrisome.

Library Court and drinks with Rhodes Scholars

A cluster of Canadian Rhodes Scholars

This morning, as on previous mornings, I’ve been reminded how the panopticon is more of a panaudiocon. Despite my total lack of an alarm clock, I’ve been awake before 9:30am each day. This is something I would have been hard pressed to do in Vancouver, under such circumstances and when going to bed around 2:00am, but here it has been automatic. Less automatic today, I suppose, when one of the ‘scouts’ and I were able to terrify one another quite thoroughly when she came striding through my unlocked door as I was asleep. Despite that minor incident, life here is developing as before. A number of other people have now moved into Library Court and the staircase that you must pass through to get here. In England, it seems, the word ‘staircase’ can denote a dormitory.

I took my first books out of the Wadham Library this morning, which was a delight. I found Hollis and Smith’s Explaining and Understanding International Relations through the Oxford Libraries telnet service. Right beside it, I found the Bull’s The Anarchical Society and Carr’s International Relations Since the Peace Treaties: classics, both. The process of withdrawing them was equally excellent. I just scanned my Bodeleian card, still bearing a misspelled name, and then the books.

This afternoon, I read the articles by Simon Critchley that Tristan sent me in response to my general hostility towards critical theory and abstract analysis of international relations. Personally, I feel more sympathy towards a view of Marx that is much more critical than Critchley’s, though reading the articles was interesting – despite what a small fraction of them I understood. Reading these articles is exactly like reading a complex book in French, where I have only the vaguest sense of what all the complicated words mean and where I struggle along looking for short and straightforward sentences that can be the anchors of my shaky understanding.

Critchley’s second article, on Derrida, makes reference to “patient, meticulous, [and] scrupulous” reading. Stressing the importance of that probably highlights the major difference in approach between philosophers and me. I don’t do patient, meticulous, or scrupulous reading. Reading is a springboard into new ideas: part of a breathless race into territory that at least seems new. Taking on a new text is just a way of getting a few more girders to hold up the causeway you are building for yourself. Maybe that is sloppy scholarship, and I am not particularly keen to defend it, but it seems to me that if we want to change the world, we don’t have time to “read… the text in its original language, knowing the corpus of the author as a whole, being acquainted with its original context and its dominant contexts of reception.” Doing so is a kind of prison; it allows you to perform startling feats of analysis, but principally ones that can only be understood by fellow initiates. Through the process of becoming de-alienated from a particular author, you become alienated from the rest of humanity, Still, I am quite willing to accept that philosophical texts ‘stay fresh’ for longer than works in international relations or environmental politics do. Perhaps that means that enough people can develop an adequate corpus of knowledge for broad debate on technical matters to take place. Whether such debate actually tangibly impacts the rest of the world, however, I remain profoundly uncertain about.

After reading for a while, I met with Joanna Coryndon again to have my Bodleian card corrected. I also started the week long process of opening a bank account and getting a credit card here, as well as having some photographs of myself printed for the college. My second foray to Sainsbury’s involved the acquisition of large amounts of organic vegetables, six kinds of cheese, and many bagels.

In the evening, I met Abra, Ben, and several others who were on their way to get some dinner. We ended up meeting about fifteen people outside the Burger King on the high street. All were Canadians, and we introduced ourselves to one another by hometown and academic specialization. It struck me as vaguely odd, right off, that a large contingent already seemed to know one another quite well. In the end, we went to The Head of the River: the pub right beside the Folly Bridge. There, I learned that I was sitting at a table with six of the Canadian Rhodes Scholars – members of the group I had perceived the outline of beforehand. While quite intellectually intimidating, it was also quite thrilling. To be living twenty metres from a Rhodes scholar and to have the email addresses of two others in my wallet is an odd sensation.

After leaving, we walked back to Wadham by means of Magdalen College, where one of the most interesting Rhodes Scholars I met is living. Back in Wadham, we visited the bar in the JCR for the first time. In my case, two more pints of Guinness were added to the one I had already consumed – a progression that partially explains my lack of desire to write at too great a length about tonight’s happenings.

Suffice it to say that I met an interesting young student of literature at the JCR, who is also a photographer in possession of one of the best accents I have ever encountered. I hope it will not be our last meeting. Once Andy, Ben, Kelly, etc. departed from the bar, I was left talking fruitfully with Nora. From there to an eventually rather rain-swept bit of roof near Library Court, we spoke for another couple of hours. I am a bit hesitant to write about it because I think it more than likely that she will eventually find her way here. It’s not that I couldn’t post a transcript without embarrassing her intellect in the slightest; it’s a matter of disclosure and non-disclosure.

I wonder how long it will take for Oxford water to be the ‘normal’ or baseline water for me. Quite possibly around the time when my current kind of tea, brewed in such water, eclipses in my mind the primacy of the Murchie’s Earl Grey to which Kate first introduced me, and which I sat sipping at kitchen tables in Fairview with Meghan and Tristan for hours on end.

Things I need:

  1. More towels
  2. An alarm clock that doesn’t get fried by 240V power
  3. French press
  4. A second pair of dark, non-torn pants

Wadham graduates arriving

The Isis, seen from the Folly Bridge

As soon as I saw the Library Court – two levels of rooms clustered around a central courtyard, with only thin curtains blocking a direct view into one another’s rooms – I was reminded of Bentham’s panopticon model prison. Thus, ‘The Panopticon’ has become the nickname of our shared space.

Two more Canadian law students joined us in Library Court around 2:30 today, after the rest of us shared lunch in the MCR. One is from Ontario, the other from Montreal. The young woman from Ontario, Abra (Joelle Faulkner), was being aided in the process of moving in by yet another Canadian, the captain of the women’s hockey team. It’s quite astonishing to be in a residence in a foreign country where, so far, five out of the seven residents are Canucks. The process of collegiate population remains a very exciting one.

I did actually manage to spend some time in the Wadham College library. Somewhat disappointingly, there is no political science of international relations section. It will therefore be more of a place where reading and work can be done than an actual resource for me. Still, it’s a nice thing to have immediately downstairs and open 24 hours a day. Given the astonishing amount of reading in my program, I have the feeling that libraries will become a frequent haunt.

I finished The Metaphysical Club this afternoon, a book that certainly wandered extensively between disciplines, time periods, and different lives. Not having much knowledge about the people and times presented, it was difficult to follow. Nonetheless, I think it was quite worthwhile. I learned quite a bit about things like jurisprudential theory and railway strikes during the period following the American Civil War. Likewise, it included much that was interesting about the nature of education and academia, as well as the purpose and usefulness of both.

The discussion of tolerance, and its connection with the philosophical doctrine of pragmatism as explored by Holmes, James, Peirce, and Dewey, seems particularly relevant today. As during the cold war, democratic societies are struggling to determine a mechanism for balancing pluralism (in culture and ideas) with the need to respond to an external ideological threat. The parallel is inexact, but the concerns are the same.

After finishing The Metaphysical Club, I took a brisk walk from Wadham College to Folly Bridge, by means of as many alleys and small streets as I could manage. I then made my way back up to the college more directly, along the road that passes the entrance to the Christ Church quad and the Oxford museum. Upon returning to the Panopticon, I spoke with Tristan over Skype for a while before repeating nearly the same walk with Nora in darkness, taking more than four hours instead of less than one. Judging by comments on the last entry, I failed spectacularly to express the overall character of my conversations with her. The disagreements to which I made reference are not an impediment to discourse, but rather the basis of a profitable one. While elements of her thinking are quite different from my own, there is nonetheless a considerable extent to which these discussions are the foundation of my only substantial relationship in Oxford so far.

While walking back to Wadham the second time, I had my first experience with one of the notorious Oxford kebab vans, from which I purchased a large box of vinegar-soaked chips for £1.50. Having missed our increasingly-traditional shared dinner in the MCR due to my first walk, it was a welcome correction.

I now have my schedule for what is called 0th week, or freshers’ week. It includes plenty of orientations from the college, university, and department. It also features a great deal of social content: notably a school uniform bop (dance) on Friday, October 7th. Another useful fact I’ve discovered is that, even though the Wadham Library has no IR section, they do have one of the recommended pre-readings for my M.Phil course. I will go and have a look at it tomorrow, as well as ferrying some new documents to Joanna Coryndon, having yet more passport sized photographs printed for the college, and trying again to open a bank account.

Rooftops and The Turf

People in The Turf

Today was mostly very social, though I did make some progress in the Menand book. Ben and Andy – the two Canadian graduate law students living in Library Court – joined Nora, Kelly, and I for a walk around Oxford in the late morning. We visited a number of the colleges, saw some gardens, walked over to the Thames, and had lunch in a nice local pub that Kelly discovered, called The Wheatsheaf. Their spicy bean burger was much better than I would have expected a vegetarian dish in a British pub to be. At the end of the walk, I purchased an electric kettle, teapot, and some loose tea. The tea is a bit lacking in bergamot oil and the teapot is seriously lacking in a filter to strain out the loose tea, but I will certainly figure it out in the end.

Our triad-come-pentad seems quite neatly balanced. I seem to fit reasonably well between our two medieval historians and the two lawyers, insofar as they tend to break off into discipline-matched pairs which I’ve been able to integrate myself into reasonably well. I have the strong sense that this group will hold together in an important way once the pressure of school becomes apparent. Actually, the existence of a community of fellow scholars, not necessarily in the same discipline, strikes me as an important counterweight to the anxieties that will inevitably emerge. A school where 85% is literally the best possible grade and where praise, if it exists, is sparing will take a bit of getting used to.

At dinner tonight, the five present members of Library Court were joined by a former inhabitant: a young Bulgarian mathematician who finished her M.Phil here last year and has now progressed into a D.Phil program in statistics. Knowledgeable and friendly, she gave us some advice about life in Oxford and then led us on a bit of a tour. For fear of butchering it in a way similar to how every branch of Oxford has butchered mine, I shall not attempt to spell her name yet. We visited the pub that Hannah recommended to us earlier, but found it too busy to be of use. We then had a drink at the King’s Arms – the pub owned by Wadham College – before going for a walk up to Jericho and then back down to Wadham. Colleges, pubs, and Marks and Spencer seemed to be the focus of today’s wanderings.

After we got back, I spent a few hours conversing with Nora atop one of the roofs of the college, looking out over the spires of the city and the dome of the Radcliffe Camera. Largely personal while outside, the conversation became much more political when we retired for tea. Among the people I’ve met so far, I’ve definitely encountered the greatest conversational depth with Nora, which is not to say that we understand things similarly. She is disarmingly pro-capitalist and Jeffersonian, in the strength of her anti-government conviction. It’s a position to which I have difficulty responding and that makes me wish my recollections about political theory were a bit sharper. It does, in any event, demonstrate the difficulty that intelligent, civil people can have in understanding one another when they are approaching matters on the basis of sharply differing premises. I find myself occasionally quite flabbergasted by her statements: reduced by astonishment to being quite unable to rebut them effectively, or as effectively as I am sure someone like Tristan or Sarah Pemberton could.

Notably, Nora spent two years teaching high school history in North Carolina. She also had to swim across a channel where the bridge had been washed out by a hurricane in order to catch her plane to get to Oxford.

Possibly due to the hour, possibly due to a sudden infusion of tea, I am feeling less than entirely well and should probably get some rest. Tomorrow is another day and, since many of my neighbours will be going to mass in the morning, I may have a chance to do a bit of pre-reading for my course, undistracted by more appealing options.

Arrival in Oxford

The main quad of Wadham College

When I arrived in Oxford, it was raining. I made my way from the train station, with bags in hand and strapped to my body, guided by the map I bought with Sarah, until I reached Wadham College. With little difficulty, I found the Porter, who gave me the keys to my room in Library Court. My windows open onto a balcony that overlooks a courtyard, with the college library beneath it.

Within minutes of arriving in my room (before I was even unpacked), I met Kelly, the Alabaman student of ancient languages and medieval history who is living in the room beside mine. She means to stay in England permanently. I spoke with her for about half an hour, sharing tea in her room. She has helped me to become somewhat oriented, a process that was enlarged upon later when I made visits to the Domestic Bursar’s office and the Tutorial Office. Before doing so, however, I met another resident of the upper portion of the Library Court: Nora, who is from North Carolina. She and Kelly are studying Latin together for an hour each morning and afternoon.

After giving myself a bit of a tour of the college, I set off back into town: intent upon at least starting the process of opening a bank account. Unfortunately, NatWest won’t give a free youth rail card to international students opening accounts, as they will for domestic ones. I shall, in any event, have to wait until Monday for any banking stuff to move forward. I was able, nonetheless, to purchase some groceries to tide me over until the college begins serving dinners at start of term. Even then, it will be up to us to produce our own breakfasts and lunches. I have a very small fridge in my room and there is another down in the shared kitchen for the Library Court residents. We each have an en-suite washroom with a sink, as well as shared shower rooms on the floor below.

As I came back from shopping, I found my way down to the computer room and met Richard Leach, the IT Assistant. He set me up with a temporary keycard for the side gate of the college and the library. Since the Bodeleian cards for the other Wadham grad students are not yet working, I am probably the only graduate student at Wadham who has such access.

This evening, I had a lovely dinner with Nora and Kelly. We made pasta with sauce infused with fresh vegetables. Accompanying it was a bottle of Shiraz that I purchased at Sainsbury’s for £4.50. All told, both the preparation and the consumption of the meal were most enjoyable. Nora provided me with a somewhat detailed overview of British history from 54 A.D. until the time of Richard I, to be continued at a later date. The part that stuck in my mind is mostly about how a great deal of time was spent fighting one another, Scots, Danes, and such. After dinner, we retired to Kelly’s room again and combined the drinking of tea with what became a conversation (read, somewhat heated debate) about the importance of understanding the thought processes and reasoning of terrorists, whether we consider their actions justifiable and rational or not.

In short, I’ve been impressed by my first day in Oxford. The initial rain soon became a nicely diffused sunshine that complimented my initial wanderings. I’ve also had the excellent fortune of making the acquaintance of two neighbouring D.Phil students who are good conversationalists. Right at the end of this evening, we were joined by another member of the upper gallery of the Library Court: a 27 year old former Osgood law student with a focus on international humanitarian law. A bit odd to have two young women from the southern United States and two Canadians suddenly living together, but definitely not a bad arrangement. For the first time ever in residence, I am excited about my neighbours and glad to live in their company. I am glad I came early. I am glad I chose Oxford. Many anxieties have been neatly quashed today.

I was astonished a moment ago to see the time. Even with whatever effects jet lag should be producing, I still feel quite energetic. In the morning, we are going to meet for breakfast, along with the newest addition to our social and self-orientation group. In consideration of that, I should go to bed. Since all of the college bureaucracy will be closed for the weekend, I am supposing it will be best spent in meeting people and getting a start on my reading, by means of the key card that Richard so helpfully provided for me.

Published from 11 Library Court, Wadham College, Oxford

Milan on the Millenium Bridge in London. Photo by Sarah Johnston

Sitting on the train to Oxford, from London, I am thinking back on the exceptionally extended day that was yesterday. Sleepless on Tuesday night, I spent much of the flight to London in a kind of uneasy resting trance: punctuated by turbulence and the screaming of infants. As it worked out, I had one such child on each side of me.

Unable to find a bus to Oxford from Gatwick Airport, I decided to take the train into London. I arrived at Victoria Station at 5:00am in the local time. Knowing that I couldn’t carry on thinking of myself as a fairly decent human being if I called Sarah so soon, I spend the next two and a half hours reading The Metaphysical Club. It’s a book about which I cannot possibly hope to hold on to the details, once I am finished, but about which I’ve appreciated the general thrust. In particular, I like the bits about the nature of the Northern abolitionist movement in the United States prior to the civil war, as well as the lengthy section discussing the evolution and frequent misapplication of statistics.

At 7:30, I called Sarah and then conveyed myself – along with my weight in baggage – from Victoria Station to a tube station in the northeast part of greater London, where she met me. She and her fiancee Peter are living in a flat immediately beside the construction site where their new and permanent home is being constructed. Glad to be able to leave my bags there, I headed back into town with Sarah for a day of wandering.

We began by visiting Covent Garden, one of many places that I remember from my prior visit in the summer of 2001. Nearby, we visited Sarah’s favourite map shop and I got small maps of London and Oxford. Just having them in my pocket, I feel less out-of-place. From there, we briefly visited Trafalgar Square: with Nelson’s column, Canada House, and hordes of marauding pigeons on display. Afterwards, we stopped by University College London, where swarms of international students are waiting in long lines in colour coded sections. Naturally, I got my photo taken beside the preserved corpse of famed utilitarian Jeremy Bentham. We then met with Peter for lunch in the building where he works; Sarah tells me that the Ministry of Truth in Orwell’s 1984 is modeled after it. It was also a favourite building of Adolph Hitler, who apparently intended to make it into his headquarters once he conquered Britain.

After cappuccinos and conversation with Peter – who works at digitizing data when not doing historical research towards his PhD – Sarah and I took the tube to Saint Paul’s, crossed the Millennium Bridge, and visited the Tate Modern Gallery. She had never been there before and I took care to bring her into the building through its soaring atrium. A converted power station, the Tate Modern has a very distinctive aesthetic that I quite appreciate. Wandering through at about three times standard, respectful museum walking speed, we realized that we have a view of modern art that is not overly dissimilar.

Back at Peter and Sarah’s flat, we had lasagna and wine for dinner. Despite the interesting conversation, I found myself seriously wavering by 9:30, having not properly slept since Monday night – some sixty hours previously. This morning, I woke up around 7:30am, feeling much more awake than I would have dared to hope for. Sarah accompanied me along the streets and through the tube to Paddington Station.

As was the case last summer, I am overwhelmed with appreciation for Sarah’s exceptional hospitality. It changes the whole character of arriving in a strange place to have a helpful friend there. I shall have no such friends in Oxford, but this day in London has mitigated many of my concerns about that.

PS. Let it be known that the Shane Koyczan CD that Sasha Wiley gave me (American Pie Chart) and the Apocalyptica CD that Drew Gave me (Reflections) are both superb. They enriched the plane ride and the days before it.

Farewell to Vancouver, and the West

Hilary McNaughton and I, Edgemont Village. Photo credit: Jonathan Morissette

Some sort of melancholic poem might be appropriate here, but I’ve been too busy to prepare one.

Tomorrow morning, I am to wake at 4:30am in order to cross town to the airport, get through whatever kind of security screening they feel inclined to subject me to, and board my 8:30am flight. Stopping in Edmonton en route, I should reach Gatwick Airport, outside London, around 3:40am on Thursday (GMT).

I am not the only one heading off during this space of time. As I understand it, Neal is in the air right now on his way to China. In the next few days, Kerrie and Nolan will be leaving for Ghana. I wish all of them the very best, and a safe journey.

Meeting with people during the past few days, as well as speaking with them and corresponding, has been highly gratifying. Meeting Jonathan, Emerson, Hilary, and Nick at various times today was likewise very welcome. Speaking to Meghan, Viktoria, Sarah, et all was certainly also appreciated. By far the biggest negative aspect of going to Oxford will be the breadth of separation created between my family, friends, and I. Undoubtedly, the two years will provide at least a few new ones. With luck, I’ll have the chance to introduce them to people who come visit me in Oxford.

I really should have cleared the contents of my cell phone after calling everyone to say goodbye, but, alas, Meghan Mathieson can testify to the quality of my memory. If I missed you, it’s probably because I didn’t have a copy of your phone number archived somewhere in my GMail folders.

In any case, I still have a few little bits of packing to do, which I’d like to deal with before it gets late. It’s impressive how all the bits and bobs that I’ve spent so long sorting and packing will probably amount to very little once I actually get to Oxford. I will not, for instance, have the slightest thing with which to decorate my room. All such concerns really ought to be pushed aside for the moment, however. When next I write, I shall still be your faithful blogging correspondent: now with a United Kingdom posting.