Thursday, 13 May 2010

Right back into it

I was asked if I could sub for the mighty Kebelles just as I was leaving my house in Toronto. On the bus ride from Gatwick to Oxford I kept up a series of mime-rowing motions that must have seemed strange and disturbing to other passengers. Touching down at St. Clement's, Rich and I walked to the main gates of college and we ran into the boy-Kebelles (I think of them as the Ke-boyz). I also saw Ross, DG and Ricklef in the lodge as I went to pick up a mobile phone and Chrissy B's bodcard. Then it was time for Rich's outing with the boys, while DJ and I got caught up over a cuppa at the new Missing Bean on Turl street.

Shortly thereafter I charged down to Godstow and jumped in at 2 on the mighty Kebelle boat. Strangely enough, though I could not mime the motion of rowing, everything did come back to me instantly - like riding a bike. In fact, it was easier than it had ever been before, and I had a thoroughly enjoyable outing. Dan reckons that it's because my bad habits have 'atrophied' while Ross's hard work of drilling correct procedure into me have stayed on. The mighty Kebelles are in fine fettle:second time on the river and the girls are already rowing all eights. We are mighty indeed. Peppers Burger afterwards too, of course, followed by election cocktails at the MCR. There were cocktails in three lurid colours - all of which tasted very peculiar. I managed to get Rick to give me a yoga mat and as an unexpected consequence, he drunkenly followed me to the gym (in his jeans and gown) to try ashtanga. Two sun salutations finished him though, and I did the rest of my routine undisturbed.

Day two: getting up early to go to the gym with DJ. He said that the sound of my ashtanga breathing is like a very noisy sleeping baby. I'm not sure what the rest of the Keble gym users thought of it, but as usual I'm not one to get overly fussed by such things. After a shower at the comlab, I met up with Toph for lunch at the Nosebag and it was nice to see him and get all caught up on Edinburgh news, as well as a bit of climbing chat. In the afternoon DJ and I went to Bicester Village, ostensibly to shop for him, but I promptly lost control and bought (oh such a wonderful dress) at FCUK.

Instead of hall that night we decided to order curry from Jaipur. This lead to a mix up with the number of rice orders and a comparison of phone manners between JMac (polite and ineffectual) and Lucy (no-nonsense). There was G&D ice cream afterwards (had to try the Qcumber sorbet, of course - I found it refreshing but strange). JMac's interesting encounters in Edinburgh were trotted out for our consideration. Richard, DJ and I agreed that it probably meant trouble, whereas Mandeep seemed much more predisposed to give benefit of the doubt.

Day three was the day of the ball and we awoke to freezing cold weather with lashings of rain. Boo. We stayed in bed real late, until Sarah arrived, and then went together to collect wrist-bands. One of our spare tickets were given to Oli, which I think was an excellent decision, considering that he seriously puts his back into ripping it up on the dance-floor. I did my yoga session in the afternoon, walked to the Missing Bean for a pick-me-up, and then trundled all the way back to Marston on foot. By the time I got home DH and Dip had joined the party. They ordered pizza and Richard made me some spicy tomato pasta in order to prepare ourselves for the inevitable queues for food at the ball. There then followed a frenzy of preparations on all sides, with me glued to my make-up mirror and stabbing myself with an eyeliner while Sarah debated tights versus nude legs. The highlight though, was when I usurped Robbo's position and as the official bow-tie-er for the lads.

Highlights of the ball include: Dapper Dan's success with the ladies, watching Oli break out his moves in the silent disco, managing to be the first to snatch two Mission burritos from the food stall, and rocking out 'Like a Virgin' at the Rockeoke. I think I will practise that tune in preparation for the next ball, and change the lyrics to 'I like a virgin.'

Sunday was a write off. Rest day from yoga, dropping in (unannounced) to St. Mary Street to catch up with Inga and Yukie and Ashley and Pete and Maria; tea and cakes in the afternoon (Oli's delicious spread); the first GM I ever attended (Ouldo proposed an addition to the MCR boardgames collection, and another attempt to impeach Ricklef); and of course Sunday hall. It was slightly surreal to be back in Keble again, watching the faces of my friends in lamplight as the choir sang grace. Sunday night film was Annie Hall, which I have to say was a very good recommendation and well-received all 'round.

By this time I had only 2 full days left. I still had so many things I didn't do yet (go walk around the covered market, visit the Bodleian just for old time's sake, have a bbq, go punting etc.) Unfortunately the weather was always freezing cold so out-door activities were generally discouraged. I spent the remaining two days catching up properly with friends (Bence, Oli, Maria, JMac) and getting to know some of the new MCR folk (Photo-knee and Ben). According to Bence, he can get more caught up with MCR gossip by spending one hour with me than by spending a day in the MCR by himself. I was much amused (though not surprised) by this observation. Between all this catching up there was lazying around the MCR watching Back to the Future III with Bob, lunch in hall (Gerard remembers me!), and going to Ross's to wrap up my beautiful new blade in bubble-wrap and cardboard so I can take it home on my flight as sporting equipment.

Richard and I also managed to go on two dinner dates, to Sojo and Branca, both of which gets my recommendation. I generally have very low expectations of Chinese food in Oxford, but was pleasantly surprised at Sojo. We had some fried noodles, duck braised in soy sauce, spicy beef and aubergine and some stem broccoli. Though I wouldn't describe it as exceptional, these dishes can certainly hold their own in Toronto or even in Taipei.

Branca on the other hand is an old favourite. Richard always gives it understated ratings, but I'm very fond of it myself. They use lots of local ingredients (including asparagus from Medley Manor Farm!) and also run a lovely delicatessen just next door called Gluttons. While I lived at 68 Walton street I used to go to Gluttons almost everyday to buy ingredients for lunch - their staff are always lovely and the quality of stuff is top notch (though pricey). About a year ago Rich took me for a date to Branca and I wore my bright red jersey dress with the silk ribbon-tie shoulder straps. It must have been a Sunday because after dinner we went to the MCR and watched Punch Drunk Love. This time we went on Tuesday, my last night in Oxford. It surprises me that after eight months apart, Richard and I sat down to another meal together and it was just like old times. Oh, except this time I wore my new FCUK dress and of course we ate different things (we shared calamari for starters, then Richard had the Italian sausage and polenta for main and profitarole for dessert, and I had smoked haddock risotto and grappa to wrap up).

Now back in Toronto I'm happy to say that my visit to Keble was thoroughly enjoyable. I had been somewhat worried that I might find it to be either less wonderful that I remembered, or that I would be so happy to be back that I would find it impossible to leave. Though there was a bit of the second, the first was never really a concern. In fact, I just kind of got right back into the swing of MCR life (minus the workload, which is nice).

Being at Keble always made me happiest because it's a stimulating environment full of interesting people and good chats. In my absence I have found new friends whom I enjoy hanging out with, but the environment of an Oxford college is irreplaceable. When I'm in that environment I feel excited everyday to be encountering new ideas and thinking new thoughts - being made to feel stupid and challenged all the time actually becomes quite addictive.

But I can also see the benefit of leaving a comfort zone once it becomes a comfort zone. My next challenge is to be able to remain in that energized and motivated frame of mind without the imposition of academic structure (deadlines & feedback = productivity) and the need for a physically present group of intellectual peers. Is this going to be doable? I don't know. Even Bence and JMac complain that they become unmotivated and unproductive when they go home for a vacation, so it's hardly surprising that I've suffered from Keble withdraw since I left Oxford.

It's a goal worth striving for though, and I am glad that my feelings towards my friends and Keble seem to be transforming from homesickness into something more positive - a reserve of good memories that I can draw on and be continually inspired by.