Sunday, July 24, 2011

Excuses, and Highlights of Early May

(The real van is white, with far fewer windows)
So, my great plan for writing on the bus commute to and from work was thwarted in two significant ways.  The first was that my coworker, Daisy, and I began to drive the company van back and forth to Oxford for a week, because we had to pick up and drop off photographs that my boss was having printed and mounted for a photography exhibition (that is his hobby, a.k.a. his second career), and because Daisy had only recently passed her driving test and needed lots of practice.  It was good for me, too, because I am meant to learn how to drive a manual transmission so that I can transfer clients to and from the train station for our luncheons in the first week of August, so sitting in the front seat and paying attention to everything Daisy did was very helpful.  We also greatly enjoyed not having to pay for the bus, and we had a great time rocking out to Madonna and Michael BublĂ© thanks to the radio station, Heart, while bitching to each other about work things, especially a particularly obnoxious coworker.  We were both quite disappointed when someone else had to take the van to deliver equipment for the campaigns, and then when Daisy went off to run her own campaign, it was back to the lonely old bus for me.

The second reason that I have failed to blog during bus rides is that I have discovered that I get carsick when I try to read while in a moving vehicle--well, this is not really a new discovery, as I always used to get carsick when I was a child, but I had thought I might have grown out of it.  So, rather than blogging, I have been listening to audiobooks to pass the time, which I find quite delightful, as I get to take in the beautiful countryside while also reading something.  I always sit on the top of the double decker bus, and because I get on at the station in the morning and at one of the first stops in the evening, I can always claim the very front seat, so I have an enormous picture window through which to gaze as we rumble along, through Oxford, into Woodstock, past Blenheim palace, through some rolling fields, past some thatched-roofed cottages, and into Chipping Norton.  My books of choice at the moment are the Harry Potter series, mainly because my flatmate Jackie had them in her computer and passed them on to me, but also because I have not seen the final three films, and have no idea what everyone is buzzing about lately since the last installment came out.  My audiobook collection is rather small, but I am on the lookout for more.  If anyone has any interesting ones, please send them over!

To resume where I left off, May in Oxford was quite lovely, and I got to spend quite a lot of it outside despite having so much researching and writing to do, because of the intense training schedule for Summer Eights.  The W1 had water outings on Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday at 6:30 a.m., and Saturday and Sunday at 1:15 and 12:45 p.m., respectively.  In addition, we had erg sessions every Tuesday and Thursday evening at 7:00.  As stroke, I felt obligated to give a lot more feedback to the coxswain and coach, and to keep everyone cheerful at erging sessions.  This was easy enough, as I tend to get a bit high on endorphins when exercising, and can be quite silly.  Our almost all-graduate boat (only Daisy, our cox, was an undergrad) was quite international: we had an Aussie, a New Zealander, two Germans, a Dutch girl, a Hungarian, two Brits, and an American.  We made for a diverse and fantastically interesting group, and as we saw each other so very frequently, it was a good thing we all really liked one another.  (I say this as if we don't anymore, but those of us who are still around this summer are still rowing together as often as possible, and we are getting together for dinner this Wednesday!)  With such good friends to keep me company, and some amazing music courtesy of Anne (including the Rocky theme, just for me!), five weeks of boot camp turned into a fun, healthy, sociable good time.  We worked very hard, but we encouraged each other, and learned to move as a unit.  We were even scouted and later headhunted for the Blues, which was a huge compliment--though when one coach called from the banks to ask us if we would trial for the lightweights, I was so surprised that I answered, "do we LOOK like lightweights??"  I guess we had all lost some weight because of the amount of training, but I would say that at least half of us would have quite a bit more to lose before we could be considered lightweights. (I'd need to drop almost twenty kilos, myself!)  And one of the best things about training that hard was that we could eat pretty much anything we wanted to eat--we went to breakfast in hall after almost every morning practice, and all had quite hearty helpings of cereal, eggs, sausage, bacon, stewed tomato, and toast, followed later in the day by anything from pizza or pasta to brownies and ice cream.  Once Bodo even took us all to G&D's to celebrate a particularly good practice, hehe.  Training would have been much less fun if we were restricting our diets, too.

In addition to rowing, I was still singing with the Oxford University Student Chorus.  We were having the concert much earlier this term, during Fifth Week (which, incidentally, was also the week of Summer Eights), so we had a much smaller repertoire and worked much more quickly to learn it.  We were also auditioning new choir directors, as Theo was stepping down after completing his year.  This was a fun process, as we got to observe many different styles and learned a bit more about what effects different leaders could have on a choir's sound.  We were performing Five Negro Spirituals, A Serenade to Music, and a song called Sleep, which was originally composed for Robert Frost's "Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening," but had to be changed when the rights couldn't be secured.  The concert was much smaller in scope, held in a church instead of a theatre, and the proceeds were going to charity, so there was less pressure on this one, but it was still fun to perform, and I was complimented by the conductor yet again and encouraged to pursue singing in some capacity in the future.

Though Oxford is generally a well-insulated bubble, and I tend to move through life contentedly oblivious to the happenings in the rest of the world, I did learn in early May that Osama Bin Laden had been killed.  I had mixed feelings about it, as I was glad of the fact, but nervous about retaliation.  I was disgusted by the many comment-thread arguments ignited on Facebook, and refrained from joining any of them.  I also chose not to make any public declarations about it, as I didn't think I or the event merited comment.  I did, however, wear my American flag bandana while rowing that week.

I did a lot of baking in early May, largely as a result of having bought too much milk and needing to use it up. I made cheese muffins, peanut butter cookies, and sour milk biscuits, to name a few.  I also had some fun experimenting with a mini chocolate biscuit cake, thanks to Prince William, and with some savouries like asparagus soup and homemade parsnip-potato gnocchi.  I remembered to send my Mum a gardenia for Mother's Day, and I remembered to send my advisor a very rough outline of a thesis by our agreed deadline.  She really liked the idea, which was good, as it was the first one I had liked, too, and it was about time I had settled on something!  I had said I would be taking a look at Donne's own idea of his literary fame, and whether it was important to him or not.  This is an ongoing debate, so I didn't purport to have an answer, but I thought that by looking closely at some of his writings I could demonstrate a sort of recurring strain that suggested his own feelings.  That's about as far as I had gotten at that point, but it was a direction, and it gave a focus to my research.

In the meantime, I had also received word from the Relaxing Stories people that I had been selected as one of the finalists in their short story competition, which was being judged by Philip Pullman, author of The Golden Compass.  I was featured on their Facebook page, and my story was later released in their iPhone app. I was not the ultimate winner, but I was pleased to be recognised in that way.

I guess I will stop there for now, as I am considering taking my new bike (FreeCycle, I love you!) up to the Wolvercote Farmer's Market, where I hear there is a cycle workshop where I can get a cheap tune-up.  Hope everyone is having a lovely day, and hopefully you'll hear more from me soon!

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