Friday, December 31, 2010

Of Easy Wind and Downy Flake

Snow has become emblematic for winter in the northern hemisphere, and most people (even those who are no longer schoolchildren) can appreciate a pretty white dusting now and then. This year, however, snow made itself unwelcome to a large number of would-be travelers when it fell in great piles throughout England--and most inconveniently, over Heathrow airport--on the Saturday before Christmas. For the students who had planned to go home for the holidays, this meant that they were stuck in their dorms or flats, or even at the airport, for many days, and some never made it home at all. I had not originally planned to go home for Christmas, but a pouty IM conversation between me and my mother led to some last-minute fare-checking and a flight home (booked before the snowstorm) for Wednesday, 22 December. By that time, all the runways had been cleared, and I felt rather guilty walking past people who had obviously spent at least one night at the airport as I checked in for my flight...especially because I had spent the whole snow day on Saturday building a giant snowman and a snow imp (Lincoln's mascot) and walking around taking photos of Oxford with my flatmate (who was meant to fly out on Sunday, but was stranded till Tuesday).

Once on the plane, I found myself seated next to a US Airways captain, and I asked him why he wasn't up in the cockpit. He replied that he was deadheading, and that all flights to and from England during the snow had required a backup crew to fly along with them, just in case the intended crew for the next flight was unable to get to the airport (this, it seems, was the real reason for the mess that was British Airways in the aftermath of the snow: even though they were able to clear the runways and prepare planes for flight, they had crews stranded in towns that had no bus or train service to get them to the airport). Shortly after settling in, a flight attendant came back and told the captain he was welcome to move up to envoy class; he offered me his aisle seat, so I then had both the comfort of the aisle and an open seat beside me where I could keep my coat and underneath which I put my backpack so I had more leg room. I felt bad to think that someone probably would have liked to fly standby in that seat to get home, but once we took off I decided there was nothing I could do but enjoy it.

And then I was home, where everything is familiar and delicious and overwhelming and noisy and lively and loving and everything home ought to be. Christmas deserves its own post, so I will skip it for now and go on to the next adventure in snow, which happened the day I was meant to fly back...

December 26 is a cheap day to fly, because no one really wants to fly out immediately after Christmas if they can help it. I knew that I had a lot of work to get done during the break if I wanted to stay on top of everything during term, so I was happy to be headed back after four days at home (just long enough to see the family and friends and get a taste of home, but not so long that I fell out of work-mode or lost my British vocabulary). Of course, Mother Nature heard all the wishes for a white Christmas and delivered, albeit just a day late. About eight inches fell on the east coast over the course of the day, and though my flight was one of about five that did not get cancelled, my father decided that it was not worth it to try to drive through the snow to the airport. Fortunately, because the snowstorm was anticipated, US Airways put out a travel advisory offering a free flight change for my trip, as long as it was within 7 days of the original date and to the same destination. That night we spent four and a half hours on hold (that is not an exaggeration; I mean literally 4.5 hours) before giving up and going to bed. The next day I spent three more hours (and six minutes, to be precise) on hold before finally getting through to a woman in Arizona (US Air headquarters is in Phoenix) who changed my trip to the next available flight, which was Wednesday. So I ended up spending a week at home, despite my best efforts, but at least I did it for the price of an after-Christmas-sale flight. The snow in New Jersey wasn't wet enough to make a good snowman, unfortunately, but it was just as pretty to see everything sugar-coated at home as it had been in Oxford.

On the flight back I had a window seat, and though I tried to sleep as much as I could, there were long spans of time during which I gazed out the window to see what I could see. As we left Philadelphia, I watched the city lights, twinkling like those of a Christmas tree, and in some places moving in great winding masses, like a glow worm wriggling its way across the pavement. There were large black areas that could have been lakes or fields or bits of the river. I knew there was still a lot of snow, but it just looked grey in the nighttime, and I was disappointed not to be able to see the white-out from above. We followed the coast for a long while, so there were lots of light clusters to mark the distance, and I wondered if I would be able to see the ocean once we got out over it, though I immediately thought that we would probably be too high and it would certainly be too dark for me to make out anything clearly. After they turned out the cabin lights I slept for a while, and woke at some point in the night when the man next to me was watching a noisy film that I could hear through his headphones. I lifted the window shade, which I had closed after dinner, and was quite moved by what I saw. I don't often get the urge to write poetry, but I took out a piece of paper (my printed boarding pass, actually) and scribbled down the words that came to mind as I watched an astonishingly beautiful night give way to a gilded morning, which then became a murky fog once we had landed. It is not great art, but it was the closest I could come to the way it struck me in that moment.

Frost-flies suspended between double panes
Greet my sleepy eyes as they unclose.
Beyond, the moon, a lustrous sickle lies
Between two dippers and a planet-star
As close to me as to each other, they
Are my companions in the silent sky,
And I marvel that they look me in the eye.
A glowing, vast cloud-tundra fills the air
With its relentless, cold infinity,
Floating marble, soft as snow,
Serene in nonchalant obscurity,
Till an auroral lake blooms from within,
Inviting colour and a melting warmth
That spreads like shame on a child's cheek.
The creeping morning swells to life and kills
The peaceful majesty of the black night.

The pressure shifts.
I yawn
To find my ears again.

The now-pale crescent fades into the wan blue,
And already the stars have been dissolved--
Absorbed into the golden rays
Of sunrise over England.

Down there the sleepy city rolls over
To snooze beneath its cosy cloud covers
For a while longer.
We circle, swoop, and slowly sink
From blue and gold to white, and then to grey
Swallowed by the cotton swabs and spat (or shat)
Back out below the frothy wisps of morning.

As we descend the smoky billows blot
The glorious dawn from my double panes,
And I am falling, forgotten and fearful,
Into foggy blindness and uncertainty,
Clutching at the memory of what there was
Above, and Before, and what still is, Beyond.
The earth is a surprise, after knowing the skies.
I hope to see clearly again, in time,
And meanwhile continue to insist,
That heaven does exist--
Even on the darkest days.

Friday, December 17, 2010

The Rest of November

Hello, all! I apologise for my C-course-essay-inspired hiatus from posting. It was a long and arduous journey, but all 7,000 (give or take a few) words were submitted to the Examination Schools yesterday morning, and are now in the hands of the gods, a.k.a Emma Smith and one other tutor who will assess me. Now I can return to being a normal human being--well, as normal as I ever was.

As promised, I am going to fill you in on the interesting bits of last month, and then hopefully over the next few days I will catch up to today. The last thing I talked about was the moving of the equipment for the concert, so I will pick up there. The Bach Christmas Oratorio at St. Peter's College Chapel was a huge success, and three of my classmates (Ben, Liz, and Amie) came out to see it. We went to Bar Copa afterward for some hot cocoa and mince pies, which Ben had brought with him. Everyone had had a great time, and we were all especially impressed with the male alto who had sung a number of solos. He is a music student, and he hadn't come to the big rehearsals, so the concert was my first time hearing him. His range is higher than mine! When he first began to sing, I looked around for a girl, and I saw this tall, young-faced boy in a tuxedo standing at the front. He did quite well with some very challenging pieces, as did the other two soloists, a stern-looking bass and a wheelchair-bound soprano (female). I hear tell that someone recorded the concert, so I will try to see if it gets posted online, and add the link here.

Of course, there were two other events before the concert I hadn't had a chance to post about! On Friday 26 November, when I probably should have been working on my Paleography transcription, I volunteered at Christmas Lights Night. This is a beautiful tree-lighting (well, city-lighting, really!) ceremony they do in Oxford that involves lots of singing, mulled wine, and mince pies. There is also a beautiful parade put together by the local schoolchildren, who make paper lanterns in some surprisingly elaborate shapes (there were buses, motorcycles, horse-heads, and balloons!) and then carry them around the streets of Oxford in a big procession that finishes in front of the big tree on Broad Street, which is then lit by a minor celebrity--this year it was the actors from the popular detective show Lewis, which is often filmed in and around Oxford. (I've seen them film at Lincoln a few times now!) In helping to organize this, I was asked to take care of the children of St. Gregory's, meaning I walked along with them and made sure none of them wandered off or got lost or trampled in the crowd. They were 8th years, which means they were probably about the same age as our 8th graders, and mostly girls, with one very brave (and quite young-looking, poor thing) boy named Colm. He carried half of their big lantern, which was shaped like a school bus full of children, for the entire night, while the girls tended to swap off with the other end and with their smaller, geometric-shaped lanterns, which they carried on sticks. I had fun chatting with them, asking what school is like in England, and with one of their teachers, who was walking with us. (She told me that they are always looking for teaching assistants, so I might check it out later this year, once I have decided whether I am staying here or not.) The parade wound from Bonn Square up through the central shopping district, down Turl street and up Brasenose Lane, around the Radcliffe Camera and into Broad Street. We were meant to get there exactly at 6:30, when the lights would come on, and we were pretty close, but as my group was near the back of a very long parade, we got to the tree after it had already been lit. The kids didn't really care, as the whole town had turned out to watch the parade, and they were busy waving at their friends and families and marveling at the carousel and vendor booths that had been set up in front of the Sheldonian and Blackwells. It was really beautiful, and I was so pleased to have been a part of it, though sad that I couldn't stay to sample any of the treats or check out the vendors' wares, as I had to get to work on my exam. Sigh. Maybe next year!

The following day was Thanksgiving II. Having Skyped (or technically, iChat Video-ed) into my own family's Thanksgiving dinner that Thursday, I was glad to be going to one where I could actually taste the food! Everyone was meant to bring something, and I had offered to make candied yams. I had never done this before, but I imagined I would just buy a can or two of yams and cover them in brown sugar. Of course, I soon learned that they don't really do canned yams in the UK (nor do they refer to them as yams), so I had to purchase raw sweet potatoes and do it from scratch. Not knowing how many sweet potatoes were in a typical can, I purchased seven of the enormous and funny-shaped roots and prayed that it would suffice. I got them home and immediately hit the internet to find out what to do with them. A few sites said you had to boil them, skins and all, first, so I pulled out all the pots we had (these things were monsters, and the largest pot in the house could only hold three of them!) and set to boiling. I also had no idea how long it would take to boil them, as the photos on the webpage I looked at showed much smaller sweet potatoes than mine, so I just kept poking them with a fork every 10-20 mins to see if they were soft yet. One very humid kitchen later, I had pots full of orange water, and was afraid I had made a mistake. But I "cracked on," as Will Poole would say, and set to work removing the skins, which was actually really easy; they rubbed right off of the (very hot!) potatoes, and then I sliced them into rings and laid them out in my brand new Pyrex baking dish, purchased just for this purpose at Boswells. I then put some butter in a saucepan and simmered it, added brown sugar, and made a sauce to pour over the yams. Thinking that couldn't be enough, I looked up another recipe that said to dot butter on the potatoes and sift sugar and flour over I dotted butter, made a mixture of a lot of brown sugar and a little flour, and shook this as evenly as possible over the dish. My now-really-sweet potatoes then went into the oven for I knew not how long, so I just kept checking them until the butter had all melted and everything looked nice and dark and smelled amazing. In the meantime I had cut up some colourful old pieces of junk mail and taped them together to form a turkey, which I used as decoration when I got to the party.

I was late leaving for Jason's house (the boiling process took longer than I had anticipated!), and I had to get all the way across Oxford to Jericho with this burning hot dish (I borrowed Jackie's vegetable box to protect my fingers), so you can imagine what a spectacle I was, running awkwardly and trying not to slosh hot sugar sauce all over the place. Amusingly, when I got there and pressed the bell, nothing happened, so I ended up having to shout up at the window like Romeo just to get in. Jason has a beautiful two-floor flat, with an enormous kitchen/living space that has fun hardwood floors (I say fun because I spent some time sliding and pirouetting about in my socks...). They had started eating before I got there, but they were excited to add my yams to the mix. Everyone was amazed at how good they looked and smelled, and then when they started to dig in there were exclamations of joy from all over the room, so I guess the experiment was a success! Aside from my yams, there was the turkey and a rice stuffing done by Rachel, a cranberry salad made by Liz, a green bean casserole (which was surprisingly awesome!) made by Robby, mustard greens by Jason, some lovely rolls a la Susie, Will brought cider, and I can't remember who brought apples. Then for dessert there was Rachel's pumpkin pie, Amie's rice pudding pie, and some brownies brought by Jason's friend whose name is escaping me right now. We all said what we were thankful for, and we toasted to the holiday. There was so much amazing food, and such great company, it was a fantastic night! [Funny side note; as I am typing this I have my "soundtracks" playlist going on iTunes, and the theme song to Tail Spin just came on. This is making me giggle, because at a late point in the night of Thanksgiving II, we were discussing childhood cartoons, and I burst into a rendition of this, among others like Gummi Bears, Darkwing Duck, and Eureka's Castle...]

The next day I raced in the IWL-Bs, on a freezing cold day (there was ice on the docks and on the oars). We had not been in our proper lineup at all that week because of people being ill or having conflicts, so we were a little nervous. We also had a reputation to maintain as the fastest boat on the Isis! We went out there with a focus on rhythm; we had to hold a rate of 32 strokes per minute, and we'd had trouble holding that during the week. Miraculously (or as a result of adrenaline), we found that rate within the first five strokes, and we held it the entire race. We had Wolfson college behind us, who supposedly had a strong crew, so we really wanted to hold them off. Despite getting our rate early, the row felt sort of slow and heavy, and Nicole and I were pretty certain Wolfson had gained some water by the end of it. We were cold and tired and a little down when we climbed out onto the icy dock, but we went home semi-hopeful. When results were released the next day, we were in the #2 spot, but not after Wolfson, whom we had beaten after all. The Oxford Academicals, with whom I rowed in 2009, were apparently now the fastest boat! This made us a little pouty, but I went on Facebook and congratulated some friends from that team. Susan sent me a reply that said there was no way the time was right, as their boat had been mostly novices, and that they were contacting the race organizers. Sure enough, a few hours later there was a new results list sent out...with Lincoln W1 in first place yet again! ::dances:: This of course means we are going to have to work hard during the break to maintain our fitness so we can hold that place next term, and we are already looking forward to a spring training trip in Banyoles, Spain. Exciting!

That Monday night I went to a drinks reception for the telethon callers. This wasn't an overly exciting event--very informal, held in the development office, just an hour long--but we were greeted by some influential alumni, including one woman named Lynn Shepherd who has just published a novel called "Murder at Mansfield Park." I talked to her for a little bit about novel writing, but we were unfortunately interrupted before I could ask her about the procedure for approaching publishers. The next evening was a much more exciting event: the inaugural lecture of the new Professor of Poetry. His name is Geoffrey Hill, and he is a poet and professor who looks like Santa Claus and Dumbledore put together, and he is a marvelous speaker with a stentorian voice (despite his chest cold and sore throat that night). He speaks slowly and carefully, but with gravity. He recites German poetry with a powerful edge to his voice, with spat syllables and angry vowels. French he speaks almost mockingly, drawing out the endings with a frown/sneer. When quoting other authors, he does their voices (or his idea of their voices), like a parent reading a story to a child. He points and taps and bangs the table for emphasis. Really an incredibly dynamic speaker, and very conscious--he stumbled over words once and shouted "dammit" into the microphone, and later he stumbled again and said "oh, ffffffffor Christ's sake!" His lecture was entitled "How ill white hairs becomes a fool and jester," which is a line from Shakespeare's King Henry IV, Part ii. I don't know exactly what he meant by it, actually, unless it was to make fun of his own white hairs, because he was certainly a bit of a jester! Although I took extensive notes, there is no way I can give a complete sense of his lecture here, but I have recorded some quotations below. (As he said of Shakespeare's Sonnet 66, "The total effect cannot be paraphrased; it can only be delivered by the words and the rhythms themselves.")

Memorable Moments from Geoffrey Hill's Lecture
Is poetry perjury?
"I do apologise for this stupid, stupid infection. (pause) In that particular case I mean my chest, not poetics!"
"I am a traumatized old man, and my opinions, particularly on contemporary poetry, are decidedly peculiar."
"Contemporary poetry already receives far more encouragement than it deserves."
"There is very little original in what I have to say, except that as a poet of the secular millennium I have a problem with original sin itself, which must put me among a select group of weirdoes."
"Blackmore, along with Trilling, represents the finest of American literary criticism in the 20th century. Even in his misjudgments there is a form of love."
He laments the "loss of the ontological reader over the last century. Its a tragedy."
Blackmore wrote that the art of poetry, versus the manufacture of verse, is distinguished by the animating presence of a fresh idiom that adds to the stock of available reality. "Isn't that great? I wish I'd written that."
"If I were to offer anything to the young poet, aside from the conventional revolver and glass of brandy, I'd say don't try to be sincere. Don't try to express your innermost feelings. But do try to be creative."
"Austen is probably right; a poem is not *real,* the way a...railway notice is real."
Regarding the disgust in Shakespeare's Sonnet 66: "You hear it if you're an ontological reader."
Poetry is its own tautology, where the thing becomes the meaning. "...that which was horizontal leaps as you pronounce it into vertical, or as if non-dimensional thought became three-dimensional."
"Accessibility has no place in poetry or poetics."
"When did it begin, this fantasy, that the literary scene of the day is a national treasure, when what it resembles most is a landfill?"
Re: his predecessor as Professor of Poetry, Christopher Ricks (whom I have met, and adore), he calls him "an inspired and inspiring choice." "I think he is the only younger critic whom Empson genuinely admired. Speaking as a traumatized old man, I do regret his decision to publish the book on Bob Dylan [this is the book C.R. sent me in 2009! It's sitting on my night stand back home]. As a verse writer, he is simply not good enough to deserve even the protracted suspended animation of [Ricks's] mind."
"When Ricks is at his best, and he is so more than the rest of us, he can move the axis of the earth with his little finger. But Dylan is not an axis. He is, at best, and effective skimmer."
Closing lines: "Intrinsic value may be just a figure of speech, but it is a meaningful figure of speech. And when you say there has been a reduction in intrinsic value, people generally know what you mean."

He then walked out (hunched over his cane, looking frail in his flowing Oxford gown) to a standing ovation that shook the room, and did not stop for a very long time. I was thrilled to have been there, and I look forward to the next lecture (the professorship comes with an obligation to do a 15-lecture series). I went to the reception room afterward to meet him, though he really wasn't feeling well and couldn't stay long. They were selling copies of his books there, and I flipped through the Selected Poems to get a sense of his writing. His early work is quite beautiful, though the more recent collection was rather harsh and dealt with contemporary problems. Nevertheless, I liked him enough to purchase the book, and I got him to sign it for me, so I now have autographed books from the 43rd and 44th Oxford Professors of Poetry. I wonder if I can make this a running tradition...

Well! I have been typing for so long that my fingers ache, so I think I will end on this delightful note. ( ::sings:: Laaaaa! Wasn't that delightful?) I have only brought us to 1 December, so look to hear more from me very soon about how December has gone so far. I hope everyone is enjoying this snowy winter--I hear back home in Jersey a quarter-inch of snow caused hour-long traffic jams. We are meant to have snow all day tomorrow, and I hope to get some pretty pictures of this old city with all the modern stuff whited out.

Take care for now, and keep smiling!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

December! (or, "God knows you")

Technically, I don't have time to post today. But if I went on technicalities, I'd never post again! I am meant to be helping the OUSC move staging and equipment over to St. Peter's College Chapel for the concert in about an hour, after which I have a few hours in which to prepare my presentation for tomorrow's class (the last A-course class of term!) before I have to be back at St. Peter's (in black tie) for rehearsal at 4, and the concert is at 7:30. However, as it is a glorious morning--there were blue skies and pink wispy clouds till the grey ones took over about ten minutes ago...but I have high hopes for later--and as it is the first of December, I thought I ought to update everyone on the doings of the past week.

On Wednesday last, at the suggestion of my Shakespeare professor, Emma Smith, I attended a Drama In Performance Seminar that included three scenes from "Mother Bombie," a play by John Lyly, performed by the King Edward's Boys, a troupe of 11 and 12-year olds from the Stratford school of King Edward VI. It was introduced by Leah Scragg, who has just finished an edition of Lyly's plays. While her talk was interesting enough, I was fascinated by the boys, who played some very demanding parts (male and female, young and old, choristers and witches, languishing lovers and doddering imbeciles) with confidence and understanding of their roles. I was even more impressed during the Q&A afterward, when they answered questions and reflected on the acting process with such maturity and wisdom, I could hardly believe they were so young. Apparently they were on their way to London to perform the play at the Globe, lucky little ducklings!

The next day (Thursday) at the end of Paleography we received our exam, two photocopied texts, one in mainly secretarial hand, the other in a transitional hand that was far easier to read because there were more italic letters. Will Poole had originally said we'd have 48 hours to complete the exam, so we all expected it to be due on Saturday, but as he handed it out he announced that it was due to him, either electronically or hand-delivered to the porter of New College, by midnight on Friday. This was vastly inconvenient, as I had a dinner that night, and I had signed up to volunteer at the Christmas Lights Night ceremony on Friday evening, thinking I would have Saturday morning to go over my transcription once more before turning it in. Friday morning I had crew at 6:30, followed by a quick shower before my Hand Press Printing class from 10-12, after which I had about 4 hours to work on the transcription before heading to my volunteer briefing. Fortunately, I was able to talk it over a bit with some of my classmates during the hand press class (we were permitted to do this), and I felt a little better about it after that.

When I really got down to it, actually, I was amazed at how much of the early modern writing was clear to me--a fact made even more clear when one of the Victorianists in the printing class asked to see the exam and was just astonished at how it looked like another language! (Their paleography classes involve learning to decipher messy or erratic hands, but always the letter forms are modern.) When I got home, I had a lot of fun googling names in the one text to try to identify the author--it ended up being Edmund Campion's History of Ireland, in which he lists the counties and some of the cities. He also uses a great word, which I transcribed "defalked" and then doubted myself because I wasn't sure what it would mean. Classmates thought it might be "disabled," but I was certain there was a "k" in there. Thanks to the OED, I was vindicated--and I learned that defalk means "to diminish by cutting off a part; to reduce by," which worked perfectly in context. I guess it is hard to communicate just how exciting it was to make that discovery, when that particular word had had me stumped for about an hour! There were also two other hands that had annotated the manuscript, so I had to figure out what they were for as well (one was a printer's annotation, the other was the pagination of the compilation manuscript in which we find it today). The other manuscript was a formal (probably presentation) copy of Middleton's "A Game at Chess," most likely in the hand of Ralph Crane. It was, as I have said, much easier to read, in beautiful italics (mostly) with far fewer margin notes and ink-bleeds from the next page than the Campion. Indeed, the hardest part of this MS was the Latin at the top, and the i/j and u/v swaps that were common in the period. Tomorrow we will (hopefully) find out how we did when Will goes over the texts with us.

[Extended interjection: At this point in my writing I left to go move the drums from the Music Faculty with a few other choristers and Theo, our director, which we accomplished with the help of a big, rattly trolley that made a fantastic noise over the cobblestones. Then we went (with the same trolley) to Christ Church to borrow their risers. Such a great place, Christ Church, with their porters sporting bowler hats and their Hermes fountain still going even though half of it was frozen over, and their enormous Christmas tree in the snowy front quad, as well as another just outside the cathedral. We got to hang out in the cathedral for a long time while the curator got the key to the shed, so I spent some time marveling at the windows and carvings and all the pretty stuff. I realised I had actually been in there before, but had almost forgotten it all; it really is beautiful, with boldly coloured stained glass and elaborately carved wood and stone and wrought iron, and there are bits of it dating from Anglo-Saxon and medieval times. We got to go through a door behind a red velvet curtain marked "PRIVATE" (the door, not the curtain) and into a little courtyard from which you could see the famous (and now dangerously leaning) horse chestnut tree that the Cheshire Cat used to sit in, all twisted and gnarled and black against the winter sky. Then we made many trips to move all the metal stands and boards that comprise the risers out to the trolley--with only one or two slips on the ice which was everywhere! We pushed and pulled the trolley back across town (which was half uphill, and no easy feat! I got a workout this morning) and then we were all headed to our respective homes for lunch (it was noon by this point), but I had walked by the Ecco shoe store so many times and wanted to go in, I thought this might be my chance, so I went in and had a lovely conversation with the shop girl, who brought me some very nice shoes in my size (42, which tends to be unusual, but they had some--for £85 of course) which I tried on and walked around in, but was too gun-shy from the Clarks disaster to purchase (I may go back later).

Then I left and was going to head straight home when I saw that card shop by Bonn Square...I think it's called Scribbler? I thought I might see what kind of Christmas cards they had, but it was really crowded, so I only stayed for a minute and then left. I was crossing the street and just considering walking into Marks and Spencers (where I have still never been) when I was accosted by three girls. They said, "Excuse me, this is going to sound really weird, but we're from a Bible School and we wondered if we might pray for you?" They explained that they had been working on a little assignment where they were supposed to feel inspiration, and they had *seen* me in little visions, wearing my colorful hat and coming out of a green building (Scribbler is green-fronted). They showed me a paper with questions they had answered and a little stick figure drawing. They asked me my name, and then said they had all been guessing names with -el at the end--one said her guess had been "Muriel". The one girl who had spoken first said, "we just want you to know that God knows you, and he wanted us to find you and pray for you." I was so touched by their sincerity, so inexplicably moved, it brought tears to my eyes! I said they could pray for me, if they wanted to. They asked if I had anything in particular I wanted them to pray for, and I said just my family, to which they replied that they had thought that family was very important, and wondered if I were concerned for them over the holiday. I said only because I wasn't going home to see them. So we stood in a little circle and the one girl prayed aloud for me and my family, and she thanked God for showing me to them and for helping them to share the power of prayer. Then they wished me a good day, and I wished them the same. As I walked away from them, feeling somehow joyful, I smiled at a rather gruff-looking man walking by (not a flirty smile, more just a pay-it-forward kind of smile) and he smiled back. He dropped a glove as he did so, but he didn't notice and walked on, so I picked it up and ran after him. When I gave it back he stared at me with a sort of raptured face, as if he had seen an angel, and he thanked me repeatedly. What a very strange afternoon interlude!]

I think I shall have to end there for today, as it is already 2:00 and I have not showered nor dressed for tonight, nor have I worked on that presentation. I will try to find time to fill in the rest of November soon--I was looking forward to writing about the Christmas Lights night, the Student Occupation of the Radcliffe Camera, the Thanksgiving Dinner put together by the Americans in my strand, the IWL-B races on a freezing Sunday afternoon, drinks with the Telethon organisers, and the amazing lecture by new Professor of Poetry Geoffrey Hill! All this and more, coming soon to a blog near you.