A number of events have occurred since the end of June, which I shall have to skim over relatively quickly. The saddest of these is that the Tree Lady, whom I described to you in a September post, passed away on 29 August, apparently from cancer. I had remarked that she didn't seem to appear in the park anymore, but thought perhaps she was sketching trees within one of the colleges, as she said she was wont to do. The principal of Somerville College wrote a lovely piece about Zoe in her own blog, which you can read here. It is a pitiable loss to Oxford of one of its true characters, and I suspect she will be missed by many who never even spoke to her, but enjoyed her cheerful smile or took casual interest in her work as they passed by her shady bench.
Somewhat less sad were some new beginnings for me, including a new job and moving to a new house. After weeks of searching on Daily Info, Room Sharer, RoomBuddies, GumTree, and all sorts of other dot-coms, I finally settled into a lovely shared house not far from the train station (though far enough so that the noise of the trains doesn't bother us). I have six housemates: a South African businessman and his Mexican husband, a German-Spanish nuclear physicist, a Polish fireman/gardener and his Spanish girlfriend, and a German chemistry DPhil who is finishing his degree in November. They are a fantastic group of people, and I am very lucky to be living with them. My room is decently sized, and there are two bathrooms (which is good with so many people!), so the only difficulty we encounter is sharing the kitchen, which is quite small. We do manage, though, and we have occasional house dinners for which everyone contributes a dish, and everyone ends up really well fed.
And then there was work. I wrote an email to a friend after my first day at the new job, and rereading it now, over three months later, I can smile and how nervous I was, but also recognise just how naïve I was, too. I went through a lot of emotions in the first half of the day, probably because of over-tiredness after the dissertation madness. I misread the bus time as 8:35 instead of 8:55, so I raced across town and was quite disheveled and windblown by the time I got there, and then had to wait twenty minutes. The bus driver was really sweet and friendly, and helped me figure out where to get off in Chipping Norton, which is about a 50-minute ride away.
The office is in the ground floor of a hall which houses a media post-production company upstairs. It is not very large, but it has an open floor plan and lots of windows. I have a large semi-circular desk by the door, which means I get to greet people who arrive. Throughout that first morning I was terrified that I had made a huge mistake in accepting the job, because the girl I was replacing started to show me all of the things I would be responsible for, and it was rather intimidating! There was a list a mile long of tasks to be accomplished for each conference or luncheon, and they had to be done well in advance. There were also numerous newsletters to update, and people to contact. I spent most of the afternoon archiving newsletters from 2010, which gave me a chance to read through them and get familiar with the types of information they contained. I also had to use the Microsoft Publisher program to alter the hyperlinks in each, then publish them to .html, and then compress the files and send them to a guy in the Czech Republic to host them online for us. All of this, by the way, was to be done on a Lenovo, which was given to me along with a mobile phone. I am told Lenovos are supposed to be nice computers, but it was so different from my MacBook! Everything was in different places, short-cuts were different, icons looked different, and I kept accidentally clicking things and then having to undo whatever I had done. I felt like I looked even more inept than I actually am, because I had to ask the IT guy how to perform very basic functions. Three months on I am quite used to my Lenovo, of course--though I still occasionally have to ask the Internet how to do certain things.
My predecessor reassured me a bit on that first day by saying she had known almost nothing when she started, too, and had had to ask lots of questions and pick up everything over a month or two. I took lots of notes during the day, as my brain was still too foggy to hang onto much, but I tried to learn, too. Taking a walk in the fresh air and sunshine perked me up a bit, too, and in the second half of the day I got to have lunch with the boss and a client, which was fun.
So it was a bit of an up and down day, and I was not entirely sure what to feel, but I did write down my impressions that day: "I think the new things I will learn will be lots of fun, as long as they don't mind that I am a bit slow at first. I think the people I will meet will be interesting, if not always so pleasant as the one client I met today, and that it will be good for me to interact with all sorts. I think the amount of tasks and the deadlines will be stressful, and I am hoping I can find an organizational system that keeps me on top of it. I think I am going to have very long days, with leaving on the bus at 8:05 and catching a bus home at 6:00, assuming I've gotten out of there in time, as it seems like everyone stays late!"
At this point I was still considering moving to Chipping Norton, so I also wrote myself a reminder to go into town to look at the ads for housing! Charming Cotswolds town that it is, Chippy has no internet site for housing like Oxford does; instead, they do it old-fashioned small-town style, with index cards and hastily scrawled notices in the window of the news shop next to the post office, hehe. Though the rent is somewhat cheaper there than in Oxford, and living there would have cut down on travel cost and time, I was concerned about the very limited social life I would have, not to mention the lack of opportunity to row or participate in college activities. Even worse was the prospect of feeling like I was constantly at work, and having the boss depend expect me to stay late or come in on weekends because I was right there. I am very happy that I decided to stay here in Oxford, because it has meant I could continue to row, and to make it to evening and weekend events. More on those in the next post.