18 March 2005

The Practice Trip to England (III)

Due to an improper time zone conversion when I looked at my cell phone (still set to EST) I dashed out without showering to try to catch the tail end of breakfast before the 9AM conference start time. When I arrived in the dining hall it was deserted. "Crap," I thought. I missed all the food.

Then I noticed that the dishes were all clean. Then I realized that it was 6:50 and not 8:50. This realization gave me time to take a shower, do a little reading and have a leisurely breakfast with Itsik before the first talk. I was also treated to the unpleasant shock that Lon had left early despite being scheduled to work out financial details with me.

I spent most of the morning session being annoyed that Lon had flaked out again and trying to broaden my search for an apartment so I could visit a few places while I'm here. By lunchtime I had figured out for sure that Lon was gone so I fired off an email to him in the hopes of making some alternative plan to confer with him about money. I finally got an email from his assistant and we made a plan for her and me to get together on Friday afternoon to deal with the administrative details. Not exactly what I wanted, but a relief that it will get done before I leave. The afternoon session wrapped around 5:15, and I headed out to Cowley (about 1.5 miles from the city center) to view an apartment there.

Now, several locals had been telling me that the whole city isn't all 1000 year old golden stone buildings, and this was my chance to figure that out for sure. I was going to take the bus, but I didn't have to be there until 6, so I decided to walk. Cowley Road (which runs, unsurprisingly, to Cowley) was a bit dive-y. Lots of ethnic restaurants and decreasing property value. One of those neighborhoods with several Western Union offices. I eventually got to 7 Trevor Place, which was a tiny little place, but the woman who lived there and owned the place seemed nice enough. She even gave me a ride up to where I'll be working and then back to town to try to give me a sense for the distances. Very hospitable, all-in-all.

Back at the conference reception I gulped down a glass of wine and started chatting to somebody who had been working completely seperately on some analysis I had done a couple months ago. It was a really nice validation, actually, because we had come away from the experiment with a decidedly bland result, which she confirmed. I also practically fell into a place to live. Shaun knew a guy ("John B") who works at the Wellcome Center who has a spare room he sometimes rents out. This is totally perfect for me 'cause he'll do a week-to-week rental so I'll have a place to stay when I first come, from which I can look for something more long term. Another good sign is that every Oxford person to whom I mentioned my future roommate immediately replied, "Oh well do you like real ale?" (Real Ale is evidently a British term for some extra strong, dark bitter beers — mmmmmm) We spent the next two hours trying to round up the whole group of us from Boston so we could go out to dinner. We did eventually get to the Cafe Rouge, which was pretty daecent, since someone else was picking up the tab.

By the time we got back from dinner it was past 11 (the absurdly early closing time for the pubs) so we got a few drinks at the "marquee" which is the English word for a big tent. Mark and I started play cards for 20p/40p stakes, and as always we had a good 6 handed game going within 20 minutes. I ended up taking about £5 from the game, which was 12.5 big bets in an hour and a half — not bad. We made another visit to the Kebab van, this time spending about an hour and a half hanging around and shooting the breeze. I'm sure the dudes serving the kebabs were wondering why the hell we were just hanging out beside their truck.

So: housing dealt with, finances about to be dealt with, and all is well from the UK!

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