I had made an executive decision that this Monday would be a good Monday. And so it was.
I love lists. They give the false sense of a structured life and being in control, which is otherwise only achieved through building Lego sets and world domination. A morning starts with a To-do List for the day, and lines get happily crossed out (or not) as the day progresses. On Monday I managed to do everything I had planned, bar finishing the Agatha Christie novel. Which was fine as I only had the reveal left, and I was willing to wait for Poirot to do his best Serge the Seal of Death impression.
The day was going so obnoxiously well that after dinner I asked Sam for an (unplanned) game of chess. It was a battle of wits that caused much destruction and giddiness. I won, yet there was nothing intelligent about my victory. It was all rather like the demise of Joffrey Baratheon: you’d think a character of that significance deserves a death of equal magnitude, but no. I pointed that out to Sam as my Knight casually took his unprotected King. Checkmate.
Tuesday ended up with me eating five M&S Pistachio and Almond Cookies in bed. That was just about enough to counteract the occasional difficulties of being human, without making me sick. Other attempted ways to improve the mood included meditation (twice!), calling Gran (one of the kindest people in existence), almost finishing writing a chapter (the ‘Are we there yet? Are we there yet?’ stage), and going on a 5k run to leave the problems behind. I can recommend all of those, although I am not sharing Gran’s number.
The weather is taking its usual turn for the dark and miserable, which means that shooting pictures with good light has become significantly more difficult. I already miss Budapest with its blue skies and daytime walks. The plan is to accept the inevitable, wait for the spring, invest into artificial lighting, and frequent libraries, since there are quite a few of those in Oxford and each of them worth visiting and photographing.
Come to think about it, that plan also sounds like a mood-busting recipe for sad times and winter blues. I might add a few TV shows (Black Mirror! Westworld! The Crown!) and new music in the mix, and order a pin from The Sad Ghost Club. And probably eat more M&S Pistachio and Almond Cookies while I’m at it.
Molly and Jack are leaving Oxford and Britain next week, returning to Canada. That means our circle of friends is losing its only border collie, and Molly is not going to drop by for film nights or walks either. Which is sad. That also means that on Wednesday Sam and I went to see her at the Big Society for a farewell night of nachos and beer — which is the opposite of sad.
The Big Society has been a hangout staple through all my four years in Oxford, having just opened in September 2012. They serve giant hot dogs, have ping-pong tables and murals done by local artists, and are a good fit for a birthday meal or the first stop on your Cowley Road bar extravaganza. Big Soc (colloq.) is also next-door to the Ultimate Picture Palace, which gives one an ample opportunity to combine that Spike Lee with that Hawaiian Burger.
A running joke is that whenever Molly and I go to the Big Society we find Luke already there (this is Luke, reader). Whether the reason is the location or the irresistible smell of fried chicken, he could be seen at Big Soc on Wednesday as well. So it was joy tinged with sadness and beer breath, and we talked, and we hugged, and we agreed to take each other on Skype dates.
Living abroad in your twenties is one of the best things that can happen to a person. Yet, the arrival of new and wonderful people in your life also means saying goodbye to them in the future. As I see it though, the world is like the Internet, and everything preserves, and no one disappears. Not really.
Thanksgiving this year happened to be on a Thursday, and we happened to be invited by Ellen and Joe to join them and their guests for the holiday dinner. Ah. Just thinking about the night gives me a pleasant sensation of being full and happy and inhaling the golden dust that appears in the air whenever the conversation is fun and the meal is delicious. That turkey was as tender as a lover’s whisper, and that sweet potato bake was really what Annie Lennox sang about.
I have been a writer for some years now, and I have been a reader for much longer, so, upon entering a room, bookshelves are always of utmost interest. It is a self-portrait of the people who live in the house, done with exquisite precision: favourite authors and genres, as well as yet-to-be-read gifts and purchases.
Sam asked Joe which book the latter would rescue in case of fire, provided he were allowed to take only one, and Joe skilfully dodged the question while telling us about this and that volume of either practical (cookbooks), cultural (the complete novels of Charles Dickens, a family heirloom), or sentimental value. At the end of our conversation I received a copy of Pax by Sara Pennypacker, illustrated by Jon Klassen, and a hardback edition of Wonder by R.J. Palacio. If that does not constitute a successful visit, I challenge your definition of success. Both books will, of course, be featured on Chance & Physics, and I am especially looking forward to reading Pax, as I had almost bought it on several occasions. Thank you, Joe!
We left the Bradys happy, grateful, and determined to host a dinner over Easter to return the favour. The geese that inhabit Osney Lock will have goslings then, and that kind of scenery should bring all the boys to the yard. Id est, all the friends to our flat.
My morning walk to work goes through New Road between the Castle Mound and Bulwark Lane. That means I get to see the back of St Peter’s College (pictured), the front of the Oxford Central Conservative Club (pictured, on the right), and wave at the County Hall, in its misplaced Brutalist glory (not pictured).
Once the clocks were turned backward on October 30th, there has been a slice of daylight that I catch before settling down in the office, and sometimes that extra hour proves to be sunny and blue. And sometimes I pause on my way to take a picture. And then I type #soblue #sobig #sobeautiful when sharing that picture on Instagram, thinking about this.
November in Oxford can be bright, but also gloomy and dreary if it is raining, with the cold seeping through coats and wet shoes, inside your pockets, into your soul, until it reaches the embarrassing childhood secrets. To prevent that from happening, the locals have mastered the art of layering, piling on up to four types of tweed. Alternatively, one can plan their route to never stray too far from a pub, which in Oxford comes naturally. I have got especially fond memories of The Office room at the King’s Arms at winter time — the fireplace is lit and the glass of port in my hand suggests mischief.
So long as the days are blue and the nights are merry, there is hardly any grounds for complaint. Yet, I do wistfully sigh at the images of cats curled around their owners or warming their laps.
Speaking of felines and their owners, my friends Kiran (Millwood Hargrave, that of The Girl of Ink and Stars fame) and Tom (de Freston, whose paintings have been described as ‘all at once disturbing but riveting’), got a cat. Her name is Luna, and she is very happy in her new home.
Since there are very few life events that trump getting a cat, Kiran and Tom have also decided to get married — so that there would be something else to look forward to in the future. On Saturday a group of wonderful people assembled at a cocktail bar in Oxford to celebrate the engagement. I am not quite sure how to pick the right words here, so I will go with ‘Further up, further in!’ because the elation that is shared at the end of C. S. Lewis’s The Final Battle is the correct emotion to have. Congratulations!
The picture above was taken at the party, as we poked our noses outside for fresh air and quiet conversation. From left to right: Sarvy, Jessie, Jess, and Sam. Or: dark angels of your dreams and Sam. I have been lucky to have friends who, apart from being extremely photogenic, are very kind, honest, intelligent, and supportive people. The fact that they look like Buffy the Vampire Slayer characters is an added bonus.
Saturday morning marked the fifth meeting of Brunch Club — this time at George Street Social. We had initially been tempted by the offer of Bottomless Brunch (Prosecco or Bloody Marys) for £20, but, upon further mature reflection, decided against it. Largely because half of the group was already hangover and everyone had plans for the afternoon. One day, one day though!
George Street Social, with its convenient location and good coffee, has become something of a permanent fixture in my life. Sam and I stopped there for sandwiches in August, before taking a very long walk by the Oxford Canal. In September, prior to the start of Michaelmas Term, George Street Social served as my study space; breaks included people-watching and making faces at your boyfriend. In early October the cocktail and canteen bar held its official opening, which meant free wine and contemplative staring out of the window until you are on the other side of tipsy. It’s a nice place to be in, although finding a free table requires luck. It’s pretty, too.
The next Brunch Club meeting is going to be Christmas-themed and very festive. We shall wear deer antlers and ugly jumpers, drink mulled wine, and pretend to be Dickensian characters. With three quarters of the Club being former booksellers, that is not a stretch, ho ho ho! Humbug.
This week has been full of events and time spent with friends under various circumstances, but Sunday night was surely the culmination. It was Christmas come early, and I am being literal as Sam and I were attending a Christmas dinner at Exeter College, courtesy of dear Michelle.
We thought we would be coming for a formal dinner, but it was a celebratory occasion on top of that. We also had not expected to be sat at the high table, but there is a first time for everything, I suppose. The photograph above was taken as the dining hall listened to the choir singing carols, while also waiting for the main to be served. (It was assorted meats, with the potatoes, parsnips, and vegetable sides passed around in shallow metal dishes. ‘Well,’ disapprovingly remarked a lady in a pearl choker, ‘last time I was here, there were butlers for that.’)
The food was pleasant if unremarkable, but I quite enjoyed the white wine. By the established Oxford tradition, alcohol at formal dinners is mixed: sparkling wine is served before dinner, white, with the starters, red, with the main, and port, with the pudding. All of that is done especially to guarantee a headache in the morning, which is normally achieved.
After the yule log and a conversation that meandered from artistic copyright to Oxford housing and linguistics, we rolled off of our seats to be escorted back to the Senior Common Room. (Said room was the inspiration for the opening chapter of Philip Pullman’s Northern Lights, and Sam quietly geeked out looking at the portraits and red velvet seats.)
It was a beautiful night — here is to the rest of the Advent season being fantastic.
Current album: Weeknd, Starboy
Current book: Phoebe Gloeckner, The Diary of a Teenage Girl: An Account in Words and Pictures
Current TV series: Planet Earth II, Series 1 (2016)