The Eleventh (020081207)

############################ A CHRISTMAS UPDATE ############################

This might be the first update email that you get from me. I send them
out once every few months to keep everyone everywhere in the loop.
Sometimes they're long and rambly, other times they're short and
confusing. Hopefully this one is neither.

So where did I leave you last time? I think I'd just got back from the
Balkans. Since then there has been: one Michaelmas, two trips, three
supervisors, a few youtube videos, lots of amazing talks and you get
the idea. No pear trees, the weather is too cold for that.

In early September it was off to York and Scotland. Edinburgh is
fantastic, and Ros was a wonderful host, cooked us lots of incredible
food and showed us around Arbroath. We also caught up with Lavender
Maitland, my Mum's godmother, and she showed us photos of Christchurch
students larking about and probably drunk on the frozen river of
1890-91; in some ways the student culture hasn't changed at all this
last 100 years. It was still sort of summer so I felt obliged to go
for a swim in the North Sea.

Over the last half of September, Susanna and I had an amazing time in
Barcelona and Northern Italy. I was swimming in Barcelona and found
out that there are jellyfish in the Mediterranean by wrapping one
around my neck. The announcement advising us "not to touch the
jellyfish" is duly noted and I promise to try not to touch them again!

The Cinque Terre was great. Yes, the scenery is nice, but I've seen
better - NZ sets an unfair standard. The company though... Our hostel
was some old apartment, and we stayed there with the most amazing
people. We had pasta parties, drank lots of limoncello, drank even
more wine, wandered off the beaten track and found our own beaches.
Mostly we just walked from village to village, finding new places to
explore and new staircases to climb. The hordes of people doing
walking tours were kind of cute. I know how much a walking stick can
help, but do you really need two just to get to the top of a paved
road?! And dressing gowns on the beach? Only in Italy!

Best of all was the midnight swim. One night, after a long relaxing
dinner and a sensible and respectable quantity of wine, a couple of us
ducked our way through the back streets of Riomaggiore to a spur of
rock that you climbed down (in the clouded moonlight, with the aid of
a rope to hold on to) to a beautiful cove. It's impossible to describe
the experience. Transcendental is just a word. Quiet, smooth water,
the lights of the town glowing over the rock face above us. In the
very far distance - an electrical storm, but all you could hear was
softly lapping water. Wow, this description doesn't even come close.
It is one of the most treasured memories of my life.

Talking of staying in old places, why is it that the Cinque Terre (and
Venice) are described as "rustic", while anywhere else that looks like
that is "run down" or "decaying"?

Susanna's been in Oxford about half the term, and over the rest of the
term I guess I've come to understand what it was like for her when I
left NZ. Unfortunately a combination of my supervisor's suggestions
and my interests mean my research is now almost completely outside his
area of strong knowledge. For that reason, a few more supervisors have
been added to the mix, and now I've got a committee of three. If I
collect the full set can I list them on eBay? I get on really well
with both of the new ones (Stephen Pulman and Georg Gottlob) though,
and I'm excited about the new directions, suggestions and supervision!

In one respect it's been a frustrating term. I don't feel like I've
done much research the last two months. Mostly I've been writing
papers and transfer reports instead. Writing is hard, and I always
feel like I'm just one step away from this epiphanous moment when the
words and structure will all just fall into place. One step. It's
frustrating. I don't think the place I'm one step away from actually
exists: "Writing is a journey, not a destination". Except that it 
doesn't matter how many times you've already polished it, you can
always do it one more time. And if the reason you stopped is because
you dropped then that's not a journey, that's a death march. Which
makes writing sound a bit grim, but I truly enjoy it. And there's
something really visceral about the image of writing as a death march
that just grabbed me. You can blame that for this paragraph.

So that's the term, and the trips, and the supervisors. I guess it's
time now for an interlude and some videos:
* http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=PYA_wfuL4GQ - This one dates from the
nomination, but it's easily the best (accidental) meta-commentary on
Barack Obama's election. Is anyone else sick of the hyperbole?
* http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=uW6DgGRqgBo - Meet Demetri Martin, my
favourite stand up comic.
* http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=fU-q4R9NTjw - Chaser's delightfully
Australian comedy.

When I'm not writing papers then I'm dancing (more below), or hanging
out with Susanna, reading newspapers in the MCR, reading academic
papers in the MCR, writing for fun, teaching myself to draw,
treasurising the Exeter MCR, playing chess, or working on my Mandarin.
I'm busy, but it's mostly my fault. Sometimes I go to talks.

Who's talked recently? Well, there was Ian Davis from McKinsey. He
predicts 20 years of depressed consumer spending and bad banks. I'm
going to go out on a limb and say that I think he's wrong, but right
or wrong it was a fascinating talk. There was Lt. General Sir Rob Fry,
previously the deputy commander in Iraq and a fascinating contrast to
Deborah Scranton, director of Bad Voodoo's War
(http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/badvoodoo/). SRF's talk was
especially interesting because a BBC defence correspondent came to the
talk, agreed not to publish anything but asked some questions (torture
and war crimes) which led to very interesting discussion. There was
also Tom Dunn. He's the Defence editor at the Sun and gave an
incredibly cogent and intelligent defense of tabloid journalism. He
also noted that the royal family had been displaced from the tabloid
front page by the war in Iraq, and that the war in Iraq had been
displaced in turn by articles about LIBOR and financial derivatives.
Something to think about.

Dancing had a rocky start this year and nearly foundered several
times, but after an extremely disappointing showing at Warwick I have
a new partner, and things are looking well up. For one thing, Natalia
and I can actually talk to each other, and we both want to practice! I
know it sounds strange, but you would not believe how big a fan I am
of actually doing some practice! Anyway, I think we're both really
excited about things, I know that I certainly am :)

The team politics are... well, boring. They make things pretty
unpleasant at times, but to be honest the only people who care about
them are the dancers, so I won't bore you with them. It's strange/sad,
because there are so many amazing, lovely, wonderful people on the
team, almost without exception, and as much as the shenanigans had
given me doubts, those people are why I am absolutely certain that I
want to be on the team. They're a great bunch, and dancing is fun, and
that's what counts most of all.

Talking of dancing, there was a ball in Cambridge on Friday, a team
practice yesterday morning, and social dancing tonight. You know what?
Life is good.

FINIS

[Hover over each image for the caption/filename.]

A - David Hum's Monument

B - Swimming in the North Sea

C - Susanna at the Barcelona Pavilion

D - I don't believe you

E - Pisa

F - The Cinque Terre

G - I want a walking stick two

H - Italian Beach-and-bed wear

I - Walking the Cinque Terre

J - Pasta Party!!

K - Venice at night

L - Hip bump fail

 
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