Thursday, April 21, 2011

Retro-Blog #5: A Visit From Mum and Dad, Part II

The morning after our Quod dinner my parents came with me to Santander, where I was FINALLY able to close my account (after dealing with this all year, as those of you who have been following along will remember).  Then we went to Costa Coffee on Queen Street for some breakfast.  My parents had discovered Costa Coffee at the airport, and since it is our last name, they were tickled by it.  Daddy especially enjoyed stealing the napkins with our name on them!  From there we walked over to the Bodleian, and I tried to take them into the Shelley exhibit, but apparently they had closed it that very day.  The lady at the desk said, "well, it has been open for four months!"  I told her that I had been there, but I wanted to show my parents.  Showing some sympathy, she said that if I had my Bod card I could show them the Divinity School, so I did that instead.  The Divinity School is most famous for its elaborate ceiling--and for having been used as the infirmary in the first Harry Potter film.  The back room of it (which is not open to the general public) is the Convocation House, used to host Charles I's parliament when he stayed there during the English Civil war.  It was also the room where I had my first swearing-in as a user of the Bodleian Library, back in the summer of 2008.  Inside, the Divinity School feels sort of light and airy, as the huge windows and high ceiling give the impression of a church.  You can see Thomas Bodley's private chest on display, with its intricate system of locks, and you can put donations into it if you wish.  Daddy enjoyed reading the info signs and looking up at the magnificent ceiling--and talking to a random man from New Jersey who happened to be in there, and who was involved in township zoning and knew a lot of people my father knew.  They chatted for a long time, and Mom and I talked to the man's wife, who said they were on their way to Blenheim palace, her third visit there, and she kept gushing about how we had to go, as it was just so amazing, and had we been to this castle or that garden or this town and blah, blah, blah.  After a much longer time in the School than we meant to stay, we finally escaped into the gift shop, and browsed for a bit just to make sure we would not bump into them again on our way out!

Next we headed toward the  English Faculty Library, so I could return some books from the paper-writing adventure, and while there I showed them the silliness of the structure (like an Escher drawing, with staircases going up and down and no single path to walk across the building).  Then we went through the beautiful Holywell Cemetery, and Mom and I had a fun time (though it took ages) searching for Walter Pater's grave, which I remembered as a round stone, but ended up being a cross.  We saw a really cool red and black quail-type creature in there, and got some photos of him on mom's camera.
Then we walked back into town on our way to Christ Church park, and as we were passing by the Golden Cross I suggested we lunch at Pizza Express, so we did that, which was lovely.  Daddy enjoyed seeing the back rooms, where they have wall paintings preserved from the 1500s.  They are actually quite ugly, but interesting as remnants of the past.  After a leisurely lunch, we took a walk through Christ Church meadow, waving at the cows, on our way to Boathouse Island.  I got to show them inside Lincoln's boathouse because someone had unlocked it to take a boat out, so they got to see the blades hanging on the wall, and are now convinced I should get one, hehe.  We took the twisty path back, and saw punters and paddle-boaters and kayakers and all sorts of people walking, and we took some photos of each other in front of trees and fields.  We came out by the Botanic Gardens, and I had to explain to Daddy for the umpteenth time that Magdalen Tower is NOT a church.  Then we walked over to Shepard and Woodward so he could buy coloured handkerchiefs, which he has had trouble locating in the States.  After a short rest, we went to dinner at the Turf, which was much less crowded on a Monday night, and made plans to go to Woodstock the next day.

Of course, we had a late start the next morning (well, they did; I was rowing at 6:30 a.m.!) and so we had brunch at Brown's Cafe in the covered market--which is much more like a diner than the fancy Brown's Restaurant we went to after church on Sunday, but is wonderfully inexpensive and simple and delicious.  Stopping by Lincoln to use the loos, I took my parents into the chapel and dining hall so they could enjoy them, and one of my favourite servers, Sue, asked if they wanted to come for lunch one day.  They would have to eat in the Buttery, since the Hall was being used for a conference, but it would be a nice way for them to experience what meals are like.  She told me to go ask Richard, who was in his tiny office just off the kitchens, and he said it would probably be possible to fit us in the next day--and then he offered us a tour of the kitchens!  I had never been into them, so we all wandered down, and were shown what Richard says is one of the oldest still-functioning kitchens in England, from the 1400s.  There were enormous copper pots--he let me heft one of the small ones, and it nearly took my arm off!--and alcoves for storage and an old wood-burning oven, plus a number of modern upgrades to make it function.  Richard was very proud of it, and it was adorable to see him show it off.  He is hoping to get the head chef job when Chef Jim retires this year, and I think he deserves it, though it is required by law that they advertise the position rather than just promoting him, so there is a chance he won't.  Here's hoping for him!

We spent the rest of the day in Woodstock at Blenheim Palace, which you may have seen as Elsinore in the Kenneth Branagh film version of Hamlet.  It is also famous for being the birthplace of Winston Churchill, and is still home to the 11th Duke and Duchess of Marlborough.  The gardens were designed by Capability Brown, and are definitely a highlight. (We had a lot of fun imitating the statues there!)  The state rooms you can see on the tour inside are just what you would expect from a palace, with rich furnishings, gilded ceilings, and lots of paintings and tapestries depicting former residents.  On the second floor they have an exhibit called 'Blenheim Palace: The Untold Story," which was a really strange and semi-creepy animatronic affair with robots and video clips and a ghost as your host.  It walks you through the history of the palace, from its construction as a victory memorial given by Queen Anne to the First Duke, to its present residents, and a video of the current Duke concludes the presentation, which spits you out into the gift shop.  It felt really discordant with the stateliness of the rest of the house, and I really wished they had thought of a more respectable way to fundraise--as, like most stately mansions, the palace is outrageously expensive to maintain.  We had tea in the Water Terrace Café, and then explored the terraces for a bit before returning to Oxford.  We had dinner at the Mitre, and then fell, exhausted, into bed.

The next day was grey--surprisingly the only grey day while my parents were here!--and we spent it largely in the Ashmolean Museum, which I had never visited.  I would like to go back, as there is so much I did not see.  Daddy, of course, liked the Roman stuff best; I swear he only tolerates England because it was once part of the Roman Empire!  Mom liked the china room, and had me take a photo of her in it.  I liked looking at the different types of jewelry worn in different eras and cultures, and hoped to find some nice replicas in the gift shop, but was disappointed.  We had a cream tea in the café there (my parents learned to love teatime!) and did a little shopping before an afternoon nap.  Later we dined at Quod again, because my parents like to reward good service with repeated patronage, and because it is a nice place.  We had a different server this time--a girl whose name I forget--but Joe came over to say hello, and Will sent us a minty creation from the bar.

Then suddenly it was my parents' last full day in Oxford, and they planned to use it to purchase souvenirs for themselves and my siblings back home.  We began the day at the Grand Café, known as the first coffee house in England (according to Samuel Pepys' Diary), on High Street, and then went next door into an antiques store that despite having a small storefront seemed to go on and on in room after room of treasures.  We spent at least an hour there, though we didn't eventually purchase anything, and then, because it was Thursday, I took my parents to the open market at Gloucester Green.  Such a great place!  Vendors selling everything from housewares and furniture to clothing and jewelry to books and toys, most of it used and/or very old, but generally of better workmanship than modern stuff, and all at very reasonable prices.  I got a lovely 50's era turquoise hat made of felt ribbon, covered with a brown netting, for £5.  While we were browsing, Daddy got a headache, so Mom and I sent him to Café Nero to get a drink and get out of the sun while we wandered the market.  He made friends with a large family sitting nearby, so he was happy to be left there. After the market we went into Ecco, where Dad bought me some comfortable shoes to wear with skirts and dresses.  He had been trying to buy me things all week, and this was the only expensive item that I needed and would never have bought for myself, so it was wonderful all around.
Come on, Dover...come on...
We were just around the corner from Costa Coffee, so we went there again for some afternoon refreshment--and the girl at the counter, who had now seen my parents four times and had gotten to know them, gave them her email address!  So cute.  Then we went over to Marks and Spencer's, where Mom and I had way more fun than two grown women should trying on hats and fascinators, and later we did the same in Debenham's.  I wanted to stay and try on all the pretty dresses, but we really weren't there to shop for me.  We stopped downstairs in the fragrance department to try to get Dad's Pi spray deodorant, but they didn't carry it (which is contrary to what they told me at Christmastime, which was that they did carry it but were out of it at the moment), and then my parents spent some time sifting through perfumed and colognes.  This got a bit overwhelming for me, so I moved away to a place where I could breathe comfortably till they were finished!  They came away from the register with some fun free samples, most of which they gave to me, so now I have perfumes for those rare occasions when I want some, hehe.
  That night we had dinner at the Chequer's, a pub which is located down an alleyway off of High Street.  In my ongoing attempt to drink things that look like beer but aren't, I tried a pear cider, which I greatly enjoyed and will have again (can't seem to remember the name of it, though...).

We met the next morning for brunch at The High Table...and then learned that they don't do brunch, so we wandered a bit looking for a new place to eat.  Near the Westgate Centre, Dad saw a sign for a 99p brunch, in a department store!  We decided we had to learn what that was all about, and went in.  Up two floors there was a cafeteria-style dining area, and if you bought a hot drink you really could get 5 breakfast items for 99p.  This resulted in an excellent breakfast of eggs, hash browns, mushrooms, bubble & squeak (look it up if you don't know!), and sausage, plus a hot tea.  We even got a lovely corner-window seat that overlooked the square, and a cute little boy at the table next to us amused us by giggling at the pigeons landing on the ledge.  Daddy was quite pleased with himself, and Mum and I were very happily fed.  We moved on from there to one of the Oxford University shops, where we got two shirts each for my sisters, Christina and Corinne (and a maroon sweatshirt for me, just in time for the nice weather, hehe! But sweatshirts are infinitely useful, and this one is a large, so it fits nice and loosely over anything).  I think they had already bought shirts for themselves earlier in the week, when I was at the concert, and I don't know if they got something for my brother, but I was sending them home with his belated birthday card and gift of (mostly) woolen socks, which he had requested, so hopefully he will be pleased with that.
It was almost checkout time by then, so we went back to the hotel to finish packing them up, and then I accompanied them to the bus stop and kissed them goodbye.  It had been a very full trip, and I think everyone was a little tired, but it had been so much fun--a holiday for all of us, and a chance to see what this little town has to offer.  Hopefully they will come back to Oxford some day, but at least now they more fully understand why I love it here--as my mother said, "Now I know why she may never come back home!"

As soon as their bus pulled away, I went back to the print shop to do the collating and binding of the book we had made, and then went back home to begin packing, myself, as I had only one day before the Lincoln College Boat Club left for its Spring Rowing Camp in Banyoles, Spain!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Retro-Blog #4: A Visit From Mum and Dad, Part I

On the night of C-essay submission I met with my M.St. strand-mates for celebratory dinner at Zizzi on George Street, a colourful, relaxed Italian restaurant that had a giant purple wood-burning oven in the back. I ordered an antipasto siciliano (roasted peppers, aubergine, artichoke, olives, mozzarella di buffalo and two chewy bread sticks) and a small bowl of gnocchi gorgonzola (both appetizers, as my meal), and followed it with a torta cioccolato, which had hazelnuts in the crust and an amaretto mascarpone on top. Uh-mazing. And, thanks to Seirian, who had printed a discount coupon, it was all for about £13 each. We had a lot of fun discussions, ranging from literature ("prose before hoes") to politics ("Obama's a puppet, but he's usually pretty good at hiding the strings") to film and dramatic performances ("the old knife-in-the-vag thing") to clothing ("The lady who runs the Unicorn makes up prices on the spot, and they're entirely random. She's called Eva." "Like in WALL-E???") to racism ("My nan is afraid to say 'coloured' in public, so she replaces it with 'darkies'--as if that's a more acceptable term!") to unusual jobs ("I think I would make a great personal escort") to inappropriate sexual activities ("I popped into the loo in there [the Four Candles] last week, and there were two people shagging in the next stall.") to past times ("Those lovely Victorian houses used to be where the dons kept their mistresses." "I was so born in the wrong era...I would have made a great don's mistress!"). To protect the innocent I won't reveal who said what, but in all it was a delightful way to detox from paper writing.
The next day, my wonderful parents arrived for a week-long visit. They got off the bus, and I immediately made them walk across the city to their hotel with all their luggage, which in retrospect wasn't very thoughtful of me, but it was only 15 mins away, and I am so used to walking everywhere! Once they had settled in, we went over to the New Bodleian print workshop, where they got to experience type-dissing, hand-pressing, and label making. They also got to meet Paul Nash, whom they adored, as I do. After that I showed them around Lincoln--though for some reason the chapel and hall were locked, so we planned to go back another time--and then took them to my flat, where they met Jackie. We had an early dinner in the Bear, because Daddy looked like he was about to pass out and he wanted to eat and go to bed early (as you can probably tell from the photo!). He got the lamb special, Mom got fish & chips, and I had a mushroom and goat cheese burger, which was very messy, but tasty. Mommy and I had Pimm's, too,
which I recommended because I knew they weren't going to make her an appletini, hehe. She liked it! Then I took them back to their hotel, where they gave me a bag of goodies from home: TWO packages of chocolate chips, and Peanut Butter M&Ms (!), plus a few random personal items I had requested from my room. I didn't stay long, because they were tired and I had to prepare for the Editing Donne conference I was attending the next day--my first Oxford conference! It was run by Peter McCullough and Sebastiaan Verweij, both of whom I have worked with (read: pestered with emails or in person) before, and I got to meet some important Donne critics like Janel Mueller, who was sitting next to me for most of the day, and Kattrin Ettinhuber and David Colclough. It was wonderfully informative, and I got some good suggestions for my dissertation. I met my parents for dinner after the conference. They had had a nice day of wandering and sight-seeing and shopping and people-watching (my mother thinks the short-shorts-with-tights trend is ridiculous, as I do!), and we tried to go to the Turf, because some shopkeeper had recommended it to them, but it was really crowded, so we went around to the King's Arms instead. I got a venison burger, Mommy got the goat's cheese and spinach tart, and Daddy just HAD to try the "faggots," which turned out to be lamb meatballs in a dark sauce. Such odd names the British have for relatively normal things...

We decided to go to church the next morning at the Catholic Oratory, where they had Latin mass at 8 a.m., and regular parish mass at 9:30. Daddy always prefers Latin, but they didn't think they would get up in time (they were still a little jet-lagged), so he was extra excited when they had the Latin prayerbook for him to follow along with even though the mass was in English. He wore his three-piece suit all day (his "uniform," as Mom calls it; and truly, I can hardly remember a day of my youth when he was not wearing one), even though the front desk had forgotten their wake-up call, and they got up only an hour before we were supposed to leave (this is not enough time for either of them, especially Daddy, who takes great care with his appearance). Mom had thrown on clothes really quickly, but she decided in the cab (the cab driver, by the way, was a really sweet and amusing Albanian guy who was talking about the crazy driving rules in this town, and joked that driving in Oxford with your wife in the car was a good way to cause marital problems!) that her shirt was too low-cut for church, and it was really funny when the priest got up in the pulpit to give the homily, because we were sitting right below it, and she was mortified to think that he could see down her shirt. Then when Daddy went up with me to take communion, he wasn't sure if they dispensed it on the tongue here, as in most churches, because he saw everyone holding out their hands, so he held out both hands (usually you put the left on top of the right, so you receive in the left and then use your right to put it in your mouth). The priest got all confused, and said, "which hand?" and Daddy didn't know what he meant, so the priest finally just gave it to him, but he looked uncomfortable, and they were both so discombobulated that Daddy forgot to say "Amen," and instead said, "What? What did I do wrong?" Poor thing! I could hardly stop myself from giggling; it was highly entertaining.

After church we had a lovely breakfast at Brown's, where both mom and dad were very pleased with the excellent tea, which they got to pour through strainers and enjoy with lumps of brown sugar. The plan had been to walk across to the parks after that, but it was still a bit chilly and Mom and I weren't dressed warmly enough, so we went over to the Natural History Museum. Outside there was an exhibit on EDIBLE INSECTS. There was a banquet set for some food critics and other important people, and they were selling crispy crickets and chocolate-covered ants...I took photos, but didn't taste! Then we went inside, and my parents became children again while looking at all the animals and skeletons with excitement and curiosity. They haven't been to museums like that since their own children were very little. I think they had more fun there than in the Pitt-Rivers, my favourite museum, which we also visited--though Daddy really liked the weapons on the top floor.
It was quarter to three by the time we left there, so we walked back toward town thinking we would have high tea somewhere, but then I decided I wanted to take them to the G&D's on St. Aldate's, so we had ice cream sundaes instead! (Yes, I brought my Daddy in his three-piece suit into G&D's, hehe.) It's certainly not an every-day thing to do, but they were on holiday, and really, so was I. I got a banana split with pistachio and chocolate ice cream. Daddy got one, too, but with banana and crème anglaise, and Mom had a brownie sundae with banana ice cream. They wanted to walk after that, so I tried to take them into Christ Church meadow, but we got about twelve steps in and Dad complained that his nice shoes were getting covered with dirt, so we left by the Merton Street gate, saying we'd come back when he was in trainers. They had these huge white pavilion tents erected all along the back wall, and more set up in the garden, which I later learned were for the Oxford Literary Festival, but that was happening the week after they left.

We walked up to High Street and crossed over to St. Mary's Church and paid to climb up to the top--but we did NOT read the teeny-tiny sign that warns you not to go if you have claustrophobia! Mommy and I were both hyperventilating and crying by the time we got out of that extremely narrow spiral staircase...and out onto the extremely narrow (and crowded!) balcony. Neither Daddy nor I had known Mommy was claustrophobic, too--I guess that is where I get it. She said she felt like hurling herself from the top, or like staying up there forever rather than going back down that same way. But there really is no choice, and after we had spent some time taking photos and deep breaths, and calming down, we steeled ourselves for the descent. I counted the steps to give myself something to focus on...there are fifty from the top to the first landing. I didn't count after that, because the lower staircases were much wider and more comfortable. We did mention to the girls at the desk that they might want to make the warning notice more clear and obvious!

Dinner that night at Quod on High Street was delicious, and the service fantastic--best I've ever had in Oxford. Not only are there real English people working there (not Russians or Romanians or any other background that one finds often in the service industry, trying to learn English), but they are charming, friendly, knowledgeable, and eager to please. The bartender, Will, actually went into the kitchen and got some apples and tried his hardest to make my mother an appletini. He also helped me settle on a drink by asking what flavours I did and didn't like, and he came up with something a lot like an amaretto sour that was quite tasty. Our server, Joe, is an aspiring screenwriter (under the awesome pirate name J.P. Blackbond (!!) because Joe O'Connor is too common a name) and actor who did a law degree at Keble
(he knew Diane Purkiss) and then decided he hated lawyers, hehe. He was very enthusiastic about the food, and could accurately describe everything we asked him about. I had a goat-cheese-and-spinach risotto starter, then duck confit with artichoke mash and greens, followed by treacle tart (which was very different from the one I remembered having in Devon, but still tasty). We also had some great table-neighbors, an older couple from Yorkshire who were on their way to the Isle of Wight. They chatted with us quite pleasantly, and encouraged my parents to go explore the world, as they had done (the woman had recently gone to Peru with her daughter to take a textile class, for an example!). It was a really pleasant night, and everyone was very happy.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Retro-Blog #3: One Busy Week

I'm back from Banyoles with some new holes in my hands, but I am ready to do a little typing for the sake of catching up while my Cocoa-Courgette Muffins are baking. We're on to 8th week of Hilary Term, which was March 6-12, 2011. That Sunday I went to church at Magdalen College to hear a sermon that promised to be based on poems by George Herbert. ('"The Crosse" and "The Agonie": Human Suffering, Christ's Passion' was the title of the sermon, given by the Reverend Dr. Michael Piret.) The sermon was interesting, though less directly helpful to my paper than I had hoped, and the Magdalen College chapel (pictured) is just beautiful. The boys' choir, which comes from the Magdalen College School across the way, is really talented, and absolutely adorable in their little robes. After the service, we were all invited to lunch together, and I took the opportunity both to enjoy a free meal and to chat with some of the boys, as I had applied for a job at MCS and was curious about their students. They were quite typical schoolboys, from what I could gather, but very polite and well-spoken, so I was pleased. On my way out I wandered a little, just to see a bit more of the college, which is one of the wealthiest in Oxford and is quite pretty. It is famous for its sprawling deer park, but I didn't quite have the time to spend in such a place, so I didn't go into it. I left feeling full and happy, and went back to working on my papers.

Most of that week I spent in the Special Collections Reading Room with my good friend, MS. Rawl. Poet. 142, but there were a number of fun events to draw me out. On Tuesday 8 March, the second lecture by Professor of Poetry Geoffrey Hill took place in the Exam Schools. I went with W, who had missed the last one and was excited to hear Hill speak. The talk was entitled, ‘Eccentrique to the endes of his Master or State,’ which comes from one of Francis Bacon's essays, "Of Wisdom for a Man's Self." It was a bit more complex than the last talk, and I was not quite as riveted, but there were still moments of fun (such as when he defined the phrase, "shit-eating grin"). As I did last time, I have typed up some highlights below.

- "I would think 'oxymoron.' I wouldn't write 'oxymoron;' it would screw up the scansion, but I would think 'oxymoron.'"
- "I like the 'et cetera.' It makes him the E.E. Cummings of the 16th century. [pause for response, which was muted, and then, mocking his teen audience] Who the hell is E.E. Cummings?"
- "A critic of deep perception--not Meers or Webb, obviously--might have gleaned from Ovid's Metamorphoses that the poetic language of the coming age would be--had to be--expresions of man wandering brutishly about."
- "If someone were to rise up and shout, Nonsense! I wouldn't subsequently cut them in the street..."
- "We speak idly of Petrarchan sexual specialisation, which is unfair to Petrarch."
- "In Suckling, one meets faces, not people, and the faces are without name...He returns morality and compassion ti an environment that has none through oxymoronic vitality...Set Spenser and Suckling side by side, and Spenser's 'sunshiney face' appears drained of significance."
- "To read that line aloud is a terrific experience. Try it, but not here."
- "I'm sorry that there's a clock up there, because you can see that I'm going over by about 5 minutes...should probably have it covered up next time."
- "If I were allowed to set rules for poetry for the next twenty years, what an earmuff that would be. It'd be best if you regard me in my time in this chair as Socrates on his way to drink hemlock."
- "...Little miracles of literary ingenuity and blank intransigence. It is the blank intransigence I hope you'll carry away with you. In brief, what I'm saying to any young poet who may be listening is: produce us a black swan."
- "Full of good will, I even bought the PJ Harvey--here it is! [waves a CD] I had half the staff of HNB bowing me to the door. I know what they were thinking. If some old tramp can waste his money on PJ Harvey, the economy must be on the up."

The following day was the concert in the Sheldonian Theatre, in which the Oxford University Student Chorus sang the Brahms Requiem. Amusingly, the Sheldonian has fire codes that prohibit more than 100 people on the floor at once, and because we had 100 in the choir and 50 in the orchestra, the whole alto section and all the men had to go up into the seating area and sing from there! This made it difficult to see the conductor, and really, we felt a bit detached from the performance overall. We were also not as confident in ourselves as we had been for the winter concert, and we could have used another week of rehearsal to iron out some kinks, but somehow we made it through. There is a recording of it that Theo said he would post on the website; I will try to link to that if and when it happens.

Thursday evening the Lincoln W1 crew dated the Green-Templeton College M1, which was actually a lot of fun! I had been on a crew date before, and had not enjoyed it much, mainly because it was mostly drunken undergrads being loud and obnoxious. However, GTC is an all-graduate college, so when they scoped us out on the river and contacted us about a date, we were intrigued. We started the night at the Victoria Pub in Jericho, and then headed
across the street to have dinner at Bombay. I have no idea what I ate, but it was spicy and meaty and ricey and delicious. Then we walked with the boys through a back gate of GTC and had a fun and silly time walking on their grass (they were so confused when we got all excited and squealy over being able to walk on grass that isn't a Living National Treasure, hehe! We're such Lincolnites...) We finished the night in the GTC bar, where dancing, drinks, and hula hoops (yes, hula hoops) were the name of the game.

I was tuckered out by the end of that week, but I managed to make it to the final Welfare Tea of term that Friday at 5 p.m., where we iced and decorated biscuits and overindulged our sweet teeth with a large cuppa. This was my last adventure, as I more or less locked myself in my room (with occasional library forays) for the entirety of ninth week to work on the two essays. The B essay, entitled "Reading Willie's Notebook: MS Rawlinson Poetry 142," was due on Monday the 21st, and the C essay, "'The constellations of the storie': Sonnets in George Herbert's The Temple" was due Thursday the 24th...and my parents were due to arrive on Friday the 25th! I considered posting a sample paragraph from each essay, but I'm sure no one really wants to read them (including my professors!), so I will spare you. Mom and Dad's visit, on the other hand, was loads of fun, and is definitely fodder for another post.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Retro-blog #2: Torpids

I ought to be packing right now, as I am leaving for Banyoles tomorrow morning, but I really want to catch up on this blog, and I thought I'd snatch a few minutes while doing laundry to finish out February (nothing significant happened in that last weekend, actually) and get into the first week of March, which is when Torpids happened.

Now, you can easily look up Torpids racing, so I won't get too elaborate with the description, but basically it is a series of bumps races that takes place over four days. Bumps races, if I haven't told you about them before, are a wild British invention in which your goal is not only to row faster than the other boats, but to actually crash into the boat in front of you. I suppose this is an alternative to time trials on a river that is too narrow to permit side-by-side racing, which the Isis certainly is. All the college teams are split into divisions based on last year's results (which is silly, if you ask me, as the team changes every year as people graduate and others join, but I guess that's how they've always done it). There are up to 13 boats in each division, and you are staggered by a boat length and a half, measured by a rope, fastened to the shore and held onto by the coxswain, while a poleman uses a specially-made pole to push the boat off the bank and to the right distance and angle. There is a cannon that is fired at the five-minute and one-minute marks, and then again to signal the start. Then you row as hard and fast as you can to try to catch up to the boat in front of you. If you catch them, their coxswain is meant to yield by raising his/her hand (preferably before you actually crash), and then you get to stop, but they have to keep rowing.

At left is a photo taken just after our first bump. The Brasenose cox did not yield in time, and we actually crashed them right into the bank. Took them ages to start up again, poor things. If you don't catch the boat in front of you, you have to row over, which means rowing the whole course, and after the crazy bursts of the first few minutes, you really don't want to do that! If the boat in front of you catches the boat in front of them before you can catch them, they stop rowing and pull to the side. You then have to overbump by bumping the same boat they did. You can imagine that this gets tricky, as that boat had a three-length head start on you. Fortunately, the Lincoln W1 bumped within the first minute every day of racing except the fourth day, on which we overbumped within about two minutes. This made us extremely happy, and we cheered loudly for the rest of the boats as they passed.

Bumping on all four days earns you Blades, which basically means you have the right to order an oar commemorating the event. It's expensive, but it's a pretty cool trophy! Here you can see us getting sprayed with champagne when we returned to the dock, having won blades. The rest of the team was just as excited as we were!
After the last race I went to the second half of a choir rehearsal smelling of champagne--somehow I didn't mind--and then went home to shower and change into a nice dress. That night we had the Torpids Dinner in hall, with hours worth of speeches and cheers, followed by champagne in the MCR for the W1, and post-dinner drinks in Deep Hall (a fun photo from which can be seen in my Visual Blog post). Most of the crew went out to Camera after that, but I was really tired, and wearing heels, and I knew I had to get my mind back on work, as this was only two weeks before my first paper deadline. So I was able to resist the peer pressure, but there were lots of hugs and laughs and shouts of "BLADES!" as we parted on the High Street.