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.