First trip to London

2005-12-02

in Daily updates, Travel, Writing

Leaving critical notes in the ambassador's scrapbook

Happy Birthday Matthew Tindall

Tonight’s event, in the residence of Canada’s second most important ambassador, comprised about 300 Canadian graduate students. The residence was quite lavish: richly endowed with artwork and the various trappings of high class hosting facilities. The project of meeting and mingling with dozens of Canadians from Oxford, Cambridge, the LSE, and elsewhere was a daunting one for me, but one which I think I rose to dealing with fairly well. I met a few interesting people from the Environmental Change Centre at Oxford. In particular, Andrew Robinson from Trinity College, who worked for the UNEP and is working on a master’s here now. Hopefully, I shall see them again.

On the bus ride out, I sat beside a Canadian woman who studied French previously and who is now studying law, with an aim to practicing in the area of shipping. In a few days, she is heading to her flat in the south of France, where she will be spending Christmas with her boyfriend. Despite her assurances that it will be extremely cold, I think there are a great many people languishing back in Oxford who will envy her the journey. Hearing her plans made me doubly glad about being invited to London for Christmas with Sarah and her mother. I enjoyed speaking with my co-national about points of law, language, and education – while heading southeast to London.

We disembarked at Marble Arch and soon found the High Commissioner’s residence. As I said, the inside was quite opulent. I suppose that is unsurprising given the importance of Anglo-Canadian relations over the short but broad sweep of Canadian diplomatic history. I spoke with the Commissioner himself for a while, as well as with several members of the Canadian diplomatic service. Chris Yung was there, as were Emily and a number of the Rhodes Scholars who I met at the outset of the year.

After a few hours of mingling, the staff stopped serving drinks: a message for postgraduate students to leave as unambiguous as firing tear gas. Despite a brief attempt to relocate to a nearby pub, I soon ended up shivering at Marble Arch, waiting with Sheena and Emily for buses back to Oxford. They were picked up fairly quickly by an Oxford Tube, but I huddled a while yet while waiting for the X90. I would have liked to do more in London, but there is little that a person can do to access a city when it is rainy, strange, and dark. As I observed on the homeward bus ride:

How hostile, how alien a dark strange city in the rain. The solidity of buildings and the alienation from our huddled fellows all remind us how we are to be jolted and feared, rather than embraced.The collective of experience of life now is such as to conjure intense questioning. Education is not just that investment of time and money that yields more money in the future. It is a wrestling with history, with isolation, and with our own limitations.

Self doubt is the main concern now. It’s a thing that you can seek to defeat – building walls of false confidence around yourself. Alternatively, you can plunge right into it and pray that you will emerge wiser on the other side. That process can only be attempted along with the realization that we can falter and drown.

A bit grim, I know, but it was a chilly and unpleasant night in the period after which it became a solitary one. I was hoping to derive some motive energy from the great metropolis of London, rather than scamper back, spurned, to the small town of Oxford. That said, it was worthwhile and enjoyable to see what an extensive mass of grad students Canada has dispatched to England. While it does have the unhappy impact of reminding you how unexceptional you may well be, you still cannot quite help being impressed by it. (I really do hope that I manage to find some way in which I am properly exceptional, after all, before I leave here.)

One piece of unambiguously happy news, in closing. Tomorrow morning, at 11:00am, is the final STATA lab. I hope that I shall never launch that most reviled of programs again.

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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

B December 2, 2005 at 1:35 am

“Well I’ve seen your flag on the marble arch and love is not a victory march, it’s a cold and it’s a broken hallelujah”
… … …
We arrived in December and London was cold
So we stayed in the bars
Along Charing Cross Road
We never saw nothin’ but brass taps and oak
Kept a shine on the bar
With the sleeves of our coats

Michelle B. December 2, 2005 at 9:08 am

MILAN!

you came to London, and you didn’t even call me up. seriously.

Milan December 2, 2005 at 10:08 am

My apologies. I have neither a telephone nor your phone number. I probably would not have been up for wandering London for long, only to find my way back to the bus alone later. I do, after all, have stats in 45 minutes.

Tony December 2, 2005 at 4:43 pm

I nearly commented when you first said you were going to London: I grew up in London, but it’s not the kind of place I would be happy to wander around looking for something to do after 9 p.m. any night, let alone one like last night. Try again by daylight some time – it does have its attractions.

Anonymous December 2, 2005 at 4:49 pm

I am certain there is a lot to be done in London, but it probably isn’t terribly easy to find on a cold and rainy night. That’s especially true if you don’t want to spend a lot of money on taxis and cover charges.

Probably better to fall back to Oxford.

Michelle B. December 2, 2005 at 6:42 pm

you saw Chris Yung in London the other day, huh? small world! I am going to his place for a party tonight, with another UBC Poli-Sci/PSSA kid, jeremy pennington!

i want to take a tour of Oxford, (my sister might go there!)so I will try and come when you are there. (not when you are really busy though, maybe during the holidays?) when does the next term begin?

Milan December 2, 2005 at 6:45 pm

The next term starts on January 15th, but I will be in Estonia and Finland between the 15th and 22nd of December and in London for Christmas.

Milan December 27, 2005 at 11:53 am

Lots of people seem to be finding this post by searching for lyrics to the excellent Spirit of the West song “Home for a Rest.” It’s from their superb album Save this House. Here are the lyrics in full:

You’ll have to excuse me, I’m not at my best
I’ve been gone for a month, I’ve been drunk since I left
These so-called vacations will soon be my death
I’m so sick from the drink I need home for a rest.

We arrived in December and London was cold
We stayed in the bars along Charing Cross Road
We never saw nothin’ but brass taps and oak
Kept a shine on the bar with the sleeves of our coats

CHORUS:
You’ll have to excuse me, I’m not at my best
I’ve been gone for a week
I’ve been drunk since I left
And these so-called vacations
Will soon be my death
I’m so sick from the drink
I need home for a rest
Take me home….

Euston Station the train journey North
In the buffet car we lurched back and forth
Past old crooked dykes through Yorkshire’s green fields
We were flung into dance as the train jigged and reeled

– CHORUS –

By the light of the moon, she’d drift through the streets
A rare old perfume, so seductive and sweet
She’d tease us and flirt, as the pubs all closed down
Then walk us on home and deny us a round

You’ll have to excuse me, I’m not at my best
I’ve been gone for a month
I’ve been drunk since I left
And these so-called vacations
Will soon be my death
I’m so sick from the drink
I need home for a rest
Take me home….

The gas heater’s empty, it’s damp as a tomb
The spirits we drank now ghosts in the room
I’m knackered again, come on sleep take me soon
And don’t lift up my head ’till the the twelve bells at noon

You’ll have to excuse me, I’m not at my best
I’ve been gone for a month
I’ve been drunk since I left
And these so-called vacations
Will soon be my death
I’m so sick from the drink
I need home for a rest
Take me home

Like me, Spirit of the West is from North Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

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