Wednesday, July 29, 2009

another day

Lately the rainy days have been more common here than the sunny ones. That's mostly all right with me--the rain hasn't been too hard, and usually there's a break here and there so I can walk home. It's cool but not too chilly and I'd always rather be a little too cool than a little too warm. So I try not to complain too much.

The other morning we walked to the college (1.7 miles, but who's counting?) in the rain, and it was an umbrella-and-raincoat kind of a rain. Since the streets of Oxford are crowded in the mornings, this made walking difficult--too many umbrellas, too little space. After a while I began to wonder if I should just fold mine up and trust to my hood, but the wind kept blowing it off my head. (Oh, and threatening to turn the umbrellas inside out, for that matter.) Complaining seemed like an option, though it obviously wasn't going to do any good.

Still, that was a rare kind of a rain. And by the end of the day it was sunny and warm and folks were going to dinner in sundresses and summer suits.

It's rainy again today but I'm trusting to the capriciousness of English weather that we'll have a few breaks in it and I'll get out for some grocery shopping.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

A sunny day in Oxford

One of the great pleasures of being in Oxford this summer is that we've been here before. There are things we know not to do (let's just say certain pubs are no longer on our list) and others we know to do again and again. We're living a lot further away from the Port Meadow this year than we were four years ago, so I hadn't had a chance to visit until yesterday. But the day dawned brght and sunny, there was nothing on the calendar, and there were three bikes* downstairs that could take us there in no time. (Well, not no time. But only about twenty minutes.)

The Port Meadow, for those not in the know, is one of the great wonders of Oxford. It's a large expanse of common land where horses and cattle range freely. It's bordered by a canal with a towpath perfect for biking, and on a sunny day it's really lovely (though I imagine it's quite desolate in the winter, when it floods).

This was that sunny day. And so was the day four years ago when I took a camera out there. So here's just a little side-by-side comparison, for fun.

*Mariah had to stay home to nurse her cold and work on two papers. This is a working vacation for both of us.

Saturday, July 18, 2009


I changed the feed settings on this blog so that if you're reading with a feedreader you should now get the whole post instead of just the teaser. Let me know if you see any problems.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Not quite the day we planned

Four years ago when we were in England for the summer we went to Tintern Abbey. It was not the only national monument we visited, nor the oldest, but we loved it. I don't think we actually said out loud, "we have to come back," but we knew we did.

This is our first "free" weekend on this year's England trip. We had a quick jaunt into London yesterday afternoon, where we saw The Importance of Being Earnest at Regent's Park--a lovely setting and a fun production. Despite the threat of rain all day, we were almost too hot in our sunny seats.

Not so today. Today was our planned return trip to Tintern Abbey. We decided to take in Avebury along the way, since we'd never been before and we'd heard good things. The day dawned grey and rainy, but we were undeterred. And when the agent from the rental car company actually showed up early we took it as a good omen.

Maybe it was, but not for the weather. We (OK, Mark) drove through some of the heaviest downpours we've ever been through on our way to Avebury. And, remember, he's driving an unfamiliar car on an unfamiliar highway--on the wrong (left) side of the road! I played navigator, a role I'm spectacularly unsuited for. I can read a map, and directions, but reading road signs at the same time is, um, not my best skill. Roundabouts are a particular problem--I go into them confident of which sign to follow, then panic.

Mark is amazingly patient. And we really only went about 12 miles out of our way on the way to Avebury, I think. Maybe a little more. But we go there, and when we did the rain clouds cleared away briefly and we walked among the stones and the sheep and marveled at the things that humans do.

The rain started coming down again just as we were finishing our circuit, so we took that as a sign to get back in the car. Again my directional sense was problematic, but we did eventually make it to Tintern Abbey--ten minutes before they closed. (Side note: when the sun doesn't go down before 9 p.m., do you really need to close off access to an outdoor site at 5?) That gave us just time to hit the gift shop and then walk around the outside of the abbey--not quite the wonderful views we'd had last year from within, but in the cold and rain (by this time it was pretty unpleasant) we were happy just to see the site.

Back in the car again, we decided to take an alternate route home, up the Wye River Valley and then through Monmouth, Gloucester, and Cheltenham and so home to Oxford.

What a great decision! Cheltenham was particularly lovely, and we made it there just around the time we all needed dinner. We stopped at an inn for a terrific dinner, then drove the rest of the way home through glorious countryside. The rain stopped for us and the sun came out and yes, there was even a rainbow. No pictures, but we'll remember it.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Happy Birthday!

My calendar popped up today with a reminder that it is Beatrix Potter's birthday--only, according to Wikipedia at least, it isn't.* Curiouser and curiouser. My calendar is already confused by the time difference between Oxford and home--things pop up 5 hours later than they should, although they appear correctly in the grid when I look at it. Ah, well.

So if it's not Beatrix Potter's birthday, what am I celebrating? My blog birthday! Yes, six years ago today I wrote my first blog entry. I'm not sure anyone read it--I'm not sure I wanted anyone to read it--but there it was, anyway, my little toe dipped into the waters. For quite a while I struggled with an identity for the blog, and then after a while I just decided not to worry and to post what I felt like. Which, lately, hasn't been much (I know the few readers I have already know this!); as lots of others have said, twitter and facebook and, for that matter, real life seem to be taking precedence lately. But six years is worth remarking--Nick was not quite six when I started writing, Mariah was 13, we had a French student living with us for a few weeks, and we still had yet to come to Oxford for the first time. Now Nick's in middle school, Mariah's headed to college in the fall, and Oxford feels almost like home.

*My calendar also said that the 6th was my blog birthday, when a glance at that first entry makes it clear that it is the 7th. I marked the third anniversary on the wrong day, and the fourth on the right one, and the fifth on the wrong one again. Somehow this all seems a metaphor for something.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

All in the golden afternoon...

We arrived in Oxford Tuesday afternoon, following a relatively easy journey. Door to door took less than 24 hours and involved multiple modes of transportation (car, plane, people movers of various sorts, bus, taxi). Once here we faced the strange news that the weather here is almost the same as it is at home--which somehow feels hotter here, since there's little air conditioning, we walk almost everywhere, and no one ices the drinks.

We cooled off yesterday afternoon by taking a more leisurely form of transport than the ones we'd experienced over the previous day and a half: the pedal boat on the Isis. Not quite the rowboat or punt Charles Dodgson would have taken the Liddell sisters out in, but the same scenery: Christ Church meadow, with its large grazing cattle and the spires of Oxford just beyond. We did this four years ago and it was an experience we were eager to repeat.