Trip to Oxford

April 27 - May 5, 2001

random trip report

I recently flew to Oxford England to visit a research project that I'm collaborating with. I had a productive visit, and was delighted by the people I met, who were uniformly friendly and interesting. This page has a few notes on the travel itself.

April 27: I don't sleep much Friday night because of a head cold, nor do I sleep on the flight which spans Saturday/Sunday. One seatmate generates many unmuffled sneezes, so I sit in a fog of viral particulates.

A lengthy walkway leads from the Heathrow terminal to Central Station, from which a bus to Oxford leaves. The bus rolls through the lush English countryside and arrives to Oxford at around 8:30 AM. I take a taxi to the Galaxie Hotel, which is in Summertown, about 2 miles from the center of Oxford. It's too early to check in so I leave my suitcase and take the bus back into town.

The rest of the day is spent tracking down a functional power-cord adapter (the ones that say 'shavers only' don't work for laptops) and trying to stay awake. In the late afternoon Myles (my counterpart in the Oxford project) drops by and we have a beer at rural pub across the river. He also has a cold.

April 29: I locate the campus building where the project has its offices, and get settled with a desk and computer. After work I wander downtown Oxford, looking for a place to eat, paralyzed by a completely irrational fear of dining alone in a sit-down restaurant. Finally I have an unhealthy and not-all-that-appetizing gyros sandwidth in a skanky kabob place, reading my copy of Jack Kerouac's 'Dharma Bums', my book du jour.

Tuesday afternoon: I give a talk at the Computer Laboratory, and meet Colin Percival, a young man who used distributed computing to find various far-out bits of Pi (like the 6 trillionth one). I dine with Jamie Kettleborough and his wife Samantha at their home in a nearby village. They have an electric piano, on which I noodle around while they deal with occasional baby episodes.

Wednesday, May Day. On the way in I see a group of Morris Dancers - men in white with bells strapped to their legs, women in various olde-time garb, everyone waving colored hankies and doing a sort of silly-walk dance that makes you wonder whether the English and, say, the Spanish are of the same species. Ben Booth takes me to lunch at the Covered Market, and we talk at length about climate, politics, religion, and ultimate frisbee. After work I have dinner at a local Lebanese place with David Stainforth and Becca; she's a delightful woman whose cultural interests coincide closely with mine. We agree to exchange some books and CDs; she sings in a local 'West Gallery' choir (also known as 'shape note' and 'sacred harp' music) and tells me excitedly about a piece in which any given two voices sound OK together, but not the union of all 4.

Thursday: Jamie drives me to a government research lab about 20 miles outside of Oxford, where I give a talk and have lunch with some scientists. That evening the entire group has a dinner (to celebrate a software release, and a successful thesis defense) at a local Indian restaurant. Unfortunately, it's noisy and I'm afflicted with exhaustion and laryngitis.

Friday: After work I go to the Eagle and Child (where J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis once drank beer and fantasized) with David Frame, a New Zealand post-doc whose company I greatly enjoy; he's a fascinating guy, knowledgeable in all aspects of sports (including American football and track and field) as well as science, history, and the politics of many places. We discuss my new billion-dollar business idea: enamel pub-pins, miniature replicas of the signs. Collect them all. I return to my hotel to watch a BBC news-parody program that has been recommended; it's good, but no Spitting Image.

On Saturday I take a bus to London and meet my friend Ron Kuivila at the British Museum. We drop our luggage at the nearby Harlingford Hotel (which I believe is where Dave Weinberg, Ellen Recko and I stayed in 1985), and go for a long walk. We go to Leicester Square and buy tickets to a modern dance concert, then walk to the Tate Modern museum, a vast converted industrial building. The dance concert, by Ballet Preljocaj at the Sadler's Wells Theatre features 'Helikopter' (by Stockhausen; the music, scored for four violins and four helicopter engines, is very anxiety-inducing; the dance uses an overhead video projector and a diagonal mirror, producing the illusion that the dancers are moving in rippling pools of water and other cool stuff) and 'The Rite of Spring', which begins with the six female dancers coming onstage and dropping their underwear (this potential is not fully lived up to, though there's some mandatory nudity later on).

We wander around, buy books at Borders, stop in a pub for pints and snooker on the telly, and retire around midnight.

I awake in faint light and check my watch: 7:00, one hour after I was supposed to get a wake-up call. I sprint to Russell Square and endure an hour-long ride to Heathrow; I'm there at 8:30 but they say it's too late to get on my 9 AM flight. So I kill a lot of time (e.g., typing this) and catch the next flight at 2:45.

Post-script: I complained to the hotel via email, and they refunded the cost of my stay! God Save the Queen!!

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