Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Geek Pursuits

I have just returned from farewell lunch in hall with my two of my oldest Oxford friends. They're great. They're the ones who first taught me to love or at least be open to geeks. (I have had many other teachers since then). They mentioned that one of our friends has become more seriously interested in twitching or bird-watching. (No, I didn't know what twitching meant til about an hour ago.) I asked them for ideas of geek pursuits for me to take up once the thesis is over with. Brian wasn't too pleased about twitching being called geeky, but, as I told him, to me it means a lovable obsession, just as most geeks are, I have come to realise, adorably obsessive. Here is the list:
  1. Warhammer
  2. Documenting lichens in the forest/bush
  3. Battle re-enactments
  4. Chess club
  5. Coding
No. 2 has the most appeal at the moment, truly. I like the idea of being outside with a notebook. No. 5 is out as I need to vary my focal distance. Please send me some suggestions. I have a few months to decide and none of these is quite right.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Preparing for Home

photographs by: xssat

In between churning out the words and riding my bike to and from the library, I'm starting the mental and physical preparations for my upcoming England departure. I am heading home for the final (?) thesis burst and to spend Christmas and most of the summer with my family and friends. This will be my first Christmas at home in a few years. It will be lovely to draw in a waft of pine needles and mangos at the same time, to sneeze at the bright sun in the high sky, and to dive under the dauntless ocean waves. Tralalala!

One thing's for certain: I will have to face Sydney trendies. Australian trendies are like English trendies, only with a little less audacity, a lot more skin, a few more smiles, and, most importantly, beset by white light, the most unforgiving of all the lights going round. (Evidence for your pleasure included above. Click to zoom.) This makes me apprehensive. In Oxford, you would never even have to see, let alone reveal, anything from below your neck if you didn't choose to. Quite normal. Plus, in the graduate community (not to be confused with the undegrads, darling!), people tend to think a t-shirt with a clever slogan slapped on it is daring. I have to decide whether I can be bothered trying to look as interesting and appealing as everyone else or whether I should write myself off as a PhD geek and stick to the jeans, trackies and odd, excessive layers until completion (even on the beach!). Not the most significant worry...but more fun than the rest of them...and the one I am least attached to.

Saturday, 7 November 2009

Rebooting the Old Blender

I have been ill these past couple of days. I had asked for it. I had been working on, but scrappily, worrying about things, letting worries feed and bleed into others. Sickness is never ideal (ideally, you would not have a backlog at all), but it has, in this case, acted as a circuit breaker by giving me the space to rest and the sense of urgency to get to the bottom of some things that had been overwhelming me.

Writing a thesis is hard enough, not to mention all the fears that a thesis comes to embody, as the supervisor of my friend, Kate, pointed out (such a smart thing to say!). Then, processing the reasons behind and emotions of a break-up (of a long relationship) and coming to terms with being alone (when you really need day-to-day kindness and connection!), on top of 4pm darkness - it was all getting too much to manage. Oh, and there's also that bloody Last Post and those sweet old men at the supermarket selling Remembrance Day poppies. Geez. Too many chunky bits for the blender!

But I am on the up! Chin is well and truly up! I just needed to get back to that whole purpose of life thing. You know that aloof little bugger that quietly asks us to to let go of things, accept uncertainty and lack of control, ground ourselves, centre courage within, and not let the past pounce.

Anyway, on a slightly less intense note (I am watching some international rugby, wearing a bathrobe over a tracksuit and Uggs, wondering whether I can muster the energy to go to fireworks and a party), here is what happened in a cafe yesterday:

Friend and me in cafe. No spare seats. I spot a man finishing off his coffee and say to friend: 'You stay in line, I will shark this table' (that is within a foot of the end of the line). I motion towards it. Then an older, shabbier and larger Ricky Gervais comes over and makes for the table (as the other man gets up). Friend says, 'Oh, excuse me, we were just about to sit down here'. Ricky: 'Oh yes, but you are in the line...' Friend: 'And you have your stuff...OK right.' I say, 'I was actually waiting for the table, while he was in the line, but anyway.' Ricky says, 'Oh! OK, you take it! I was just hoping me and this little girl here [out comes a little girl from behind his leg] could sit down and enjoy ourselves. But don't worry. You take it! You two are all grown-up, but, no, you take the table.' Me: 'Please calm down champ, this is not good for your heart.' Ricky: 'No, you sit down, go on. Sit down'. Me: 'No, really, we're not going to take it. Please.' Friend (sincerely): 'It looks like a lovely table for you to enjoy yourselves.' We then wait in line, get our drinks, find seats that have become free, then suddenly laugh, both wondering at the same time where the hell that little girl came from.

(Then since I was in the middle of Last Post sentimentalmania, the one I am thankfully shaking off, watching him share his pastry with his kid naturally made me feel sad and quietly ashamed. He was ridiculously aggressive - perhaps on visitation hour with kid? - but I didn't have to bring his heart into it. He was older than me too. Bugger. Still learning.)

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Working in the Dark

LPC threw me an easy post the other week: to provide the tenth picture of my first folder. Nice one, LPC. It must be getting across through my long silences and pissy posts that I am running up mental sand dunes these days and in need of some small victories. I am subtle and self-contained like that. Like LPC, I am not the biggest techie going round so instead I have provided an old picture that was found in one of my few folders. It's of a mother and her girls sharing stories and enjoying Autumn in the Loire Valley, France. I took it two years ago, the day after the wedding of a family friend.

I wish this were the Autumnal mood of Oxford, here where the grey clouds overtake the peach-pink clouds by 4:30pm, and the sky becomes the darkest blue by 6pm. Apparently, there are more (or at least as many) correlations between poor health and the onset of daylight saving time than adjusting to 'normal' time in Autumn. I am not convinced. The odd farmer, please excuse me, but this whole getting dark in the early evening is, for the rest of us, simply rubbish.

Evidence for the government inquiry and/or PhD student class action (leading to legislative changes): Most evenings, I have slap my own face and throw myself against my carrel wall in order to stop myself from crawling under my desk to lie down and stare and blink. As that last dark bird passes the fluffy, descending clouds, all I want is a good tuck-in and a parental kiss. Instead, frowny, I drag myself to eat dinner in College hall (something having boyfriend had spared me) where the walls bounce an orange glow that makes me squint and feel I have been woken up at midnight to join a party, but a party of people with chunky backpacks and flourescent trouser protectors. The air is chilly and makes a sound like we are all in a plane, a plane heading for the darker months and then, eventually, death.*

Tonight, I avoid hall. I am heading home to cook something with Vitamin B in it, and watch my lovely friends (some of my oldest here, the first to make me less frightened of scientists and mega introverts) play in their band, the dreamy Stornoway, on Later with Jools Holland. They're playing alongside Jay-Z, the Foo Fighters, Norah Jones, Sting and Ginger Baker, a prospect Brian, the lead singer, said made him need to lie down. Will post a clip of it tomorrow or as soon as I can (learning not to make promises during this writing time). Have significant creativity envy, but been trying my best to reframe thesis as a hugely free, infinitely creative pursuit. Please feel free to chuck me some help here.

As for the pic, I tag Aliteralgirl (whose recent post on creative living is pretty superb).

*Not a cry for help. Last clause put in solely for my own amusement.