Cowley Road, a supervisory meeting, and the Gulf Islands


in Canada, Daily updates, Oxford, The outdoors

Cowley Road ArtThis morning, I went to Cowley Road and got a haircut, as well as three bottles of Nando’s Extra-Hot Peri Peri Sauce. Along with Blair’s Original Death Sauce, I maintain that it is the tastiest hot sauce that is commonly available. The fact that there is a Nando’s in Oxford may considerably increase the likelihood of my brothers visiting here, especially Sasha. I have had to drag both of my brothers, practically kicking and screaming, into Nando’s and Anatoli Souvlaki: the initially alien venues that are now their favourite places to eat. Somehow, the experience never translated into genuine culinary adventurousness. Thinking back on the variety of reasonably priced and excellent restaurants in Vancouver makes for a grim contrast with my experience in Oxford, where virtually everything I have eaten has been raw and from Sainsbury’s, and where I haven’t eaten out a single time at a restaurant.

I got the hair cut for nine pounds at a place called Saleem’s: run by a young Palestinian man with a cousin in Toronto. He had an extremely aggressive style of cutting hair which, along with his very dull scissors, meant that quite a bit was more torn out than cut. That said, Nora, who actively counselled against the shortening of my hair, concedes that it could be rather worse. While shortened hair might not be the best thing to accompany cold and wet days in Oxford, I just feel better with hair that never enters my line of sight.

In the evening, I met with Dr. Hurrell in Nuffield to discuss my paper on the Middle East. Partly owing to how busy the period leading up to last Wednesday was, it was not my best work. It suffered particularly because nobody but me looked it over before it was submitted. Going all the way back to editing high school essays with Kate, I have been highly appreciative of the contribution an intelligent and critical external eye can bring to a piece of thought. Nonetheless, Dr. Hurrell and I had a good discussion. I am learning that the most important thing for writing something that will please him is clear structure and the energetic interrogation of the key terms in the question. Sloppy analysis earns a minor rebuke, at best, even when it can be defended orally. I look forward to when the supervisory relationship becomes one more oriented to directing me towards sources and methods of research, in preparation for the thesis and major optional papers.

In the next ten days or so, I am to write Dr. Hurrell another paper either on whether appeasement is a useful or defensible concept, in the context of the 1930s, or the extent to which the victory of the Chinese Communists was influenced by external powers. Since I will need to do more reading on the latter anyway, I may write on that. It’s worth recalling that the Tuesday after next, I have another paper due for the core seminar.

Tomorrow evening, all of the new graduates are invited to have drinks with the Dean of Wadham in the Old Senior Common Room. I am not sure how formal an event it is but, this being Wadham, it couldn’t possibly be worse than shirt-and-tie. It will be good to see a few of the grad students who don’t live in college and who I therefore have not seen since 0th week.

Last night, I dreamed about the Gulf Islands. Located in the Georgia Strait, between the mainland of British Columbia and Vancouver Island, this collection of small communities is both curiously isolated from the rest of B.C. and uniquely able to embody the spirit of the province.The last time I set foot on one of these islands was in the period before moving out to Oxford. Along with Tristan and his brother, I spent a day cycling from one end of Galiano to the other. I have a few photos from the trip online. The best things about it were the view of the ocean and other islands that we had from the top of the bluff where we ate lunch and the rather enjoyable dinner which we had at a small restaurant fairly close to the ferry terminal at the end of the day’s long ride.

All told, I’ve spent a considerable amount of time on and between these lovely, Arbutus-strewn places. In early high school, along with the gifted program at Handsworth, I went on a week-long kayaking trip between them. Similarly, I took part in two week-long sustainability conferences organized by Leadership Initiative for Earth, each of which took place on a tall ship as it moved between the Gulf Islands. On the first voyage, I met Jane Goodall aboard our tiny, wind swept ship: The Duen. On the second voyage, I was assigned to the largest vessel: the Pacific Swift, where I met David Suzuki and got to help coordinate the movements of the fleet.

While I am not sure if Bowen Island and Gambier Island can be called part of the Gulf Islands, as they are located northwest of Vancouver, inside Howe Sound, there is much that marks them out as similar. Gambier Island is the home of Camp Fircom, where I volunteered for two summers as a leader. Almost all of my North Vancouver friends were Fircomites at some point: Nick, Neal, Jonathan, Emerson, Caity Sackeroff, Alison Atkinson, as well as scores of acquaintances. Camp Fircom was a modest place, with a far more restricted budget than some of the neighbouring camps run by more evangelical churches. It may please some and irk others to know that I was entirely at home there as a committed athiest.

Bowen Island is dominated by the bulk of Mount Gardner: one of my favourite smaller mountains in the Vancouver area. I remember with great satisfaction the time when Meghan and I climbed it together one day, in lieu of attending the drunk and disorderly Arts County Fair event which messily concludes each year at UBC. I remember looking out from the helipads on top, there to service the telecom equipment located up there. From that vantage, you can see the Sunshine Coast stretched along the mainland to the north and the mass of urban Vancouver stretching out eastwards and southwards. Bowen has also been the location of several excellent parties I have attended, at the homes of two former professors. I tip my metaphorical hat to them, in case they may be reading.

My favourite of all the Gulf Islands, though, is Hornby Island. That expression will be instantly understood by anyone who has ever spent time there. It is an almost pathologically laid-back, carefree kind of place. It’s the sort of place where sitting in the shade, inside an inner-tube, reading the short fiction of Isaac Asimov for a few hours marks that one out as a particularly productive day. It’s also where I met Kate: the fascinating young woman who walked past the cave in which I was reading The Catcher in the Rye and who I spent the rest of my time on the island in as close contact to as circumstances, and juvenile existential dread, would allow.

Like the Cinque Terre, the Gulf Islands are a place where I would like to eventually write a book. These places have no particular resources for that purpose, save the sea and the mountains, as well as the calm atmosphere. The Gulf Islands, in particular, are the kind of places that you can never entirely manage to leave: they linger like an outlier point that drags your whole understanding of the world away from its former mean.

PS. Jessica suggests that I should include more descriptive titles, as well as explanations for where links go. This I shall endeavour to do.

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

jo_jo November 7, 2005 at 10:58 pm

Gotta love Hornby Island and that whole area. Have you ever been to the Wacky Woods in Fanny Bay (near the ferry?)

As a Brit in Vancouver, you’re making me nostalgic…just trying to return the favour!


Anonymous November 7, 2005 at 11:01 pm

Don’t forget me! :)
Actually I was thinking both of the afermentioned poem (previous comment) and the gulf islands recently. Also I thought of you while I was on the bus yesterday.
It was the sort of time where I wished I could take pictures seruptiously with my eyes. Just blink a certain way or crook my finger and capture the familiar intimacy of strangers that is transit.
Yesterday I got my hair cut too. Although I assume it is more colours than yours ;)
Have a great day!

B November 7, 2005 at 11:04 pm

I’m surprised you didn’t choose to include the story of the Pig War. Back in the days when B.C. was a British colony and not yet part of Confederation, the United States threatened to go to war with Britain because one of their farmers had shot an American pig that had wandered onto his land. As a settlement to avoid war, the United States got the San Juan Islands. That’s what the portion of the Gulf Islands chain south of the border is called.

Whether accurate or not, wikipedia has a longer description here:

Milan November 7, 2005 at 11:14 pm

I’ve been inspired by how the entries on Storyteller’s World are consistently more interesting than mine to write some things less tightly focused on Oxford and the M.Phil in IR.

With regards to the second comment, I am not quite sure who you are – nor which poem you are referring to.

Anonymous November 7, 2005 at 11:20 pm

Er, B, that WikiPedia entry contradicts what you say: “Lyman Cutlar, an American farmer, shot and killed a pig rooting in his garden. That pig was owned by an Irishman who was employed by the Hudson’s Bay Company.”

Also, it makes the fascinating assertion that the San Juan border dispute was settled by none other than Kaiser Wilhelm I. Fascinating.

Kate November 7, 2005 at 11:41 pm

Is the Wadham dean still James Morwood? Should make for an entertaining evening if it is, and an alcoholic one….

Anonymous November 7, 2005 at 11:49 pm

According to the Wadham website, it’s one Mr J H W Morwood.

What do the deans of Oxford colleges do? As distinct from the wardens, who presumably keep the lowly undergrads in their cells.

Anonymous November 8, 2005 at 7:41 am

well I can’t say anything or I’ll have to get up and bar the door.

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