Happy Holidays from Oxford

Now that my head has stopped spinning, I wanted to update you about what life is like in Cameronland these days. The term is over and now I’m on break, so it is strangely quiet. The libraries are closed, most of the students have gone home, and college hall is closed. I wrote two 3,000 word essays this term and have one more, this one for a grade, just about finished. Additionally, I had to get my PhD applications done. I can’t believe that I have just been here for 12 weeks, two of them quarantined, and in that time I had to figure out a new city, a new culture, a new craft, and create my research proposal in a discipline that I am still trying to understand.

The men and women of St. Cross College are nothing but inspirational and magical. I look forward to seeing them when I’m camped out in the common room or heading into the hall for lunch. We have been fortunate to celebrate with great lunches and a few black tie dinners, but those are now over because of COVID and and the holiday. The coming weeks will be lonely, but the few of us here are doing the best we can to connect and check on each other.

I have tried so very hard to book trips and small adventures, but all of them had to be cancelled. This experience is so not what I expected because I thought that I would explore Europe during my breaks. On my desk is a pad of paper with a long list of places I want to see while I am here. Sadly, the list keeps getting longer and I have not yet checked anything off. I hope that the CARONA virus will be under control before my the last term, but for now, I am staying close to Oxford for safety reasons.

I have been giving my place in our wonderful world quite a bit of thought these past few weeks. Since my last update, we have gone through so much, and the way things are looking — the UK just announced another set of restrictions, infections are increasing, the CARONA virus has a new strain, there are vaccines, and the holidays are nearly cancelled — that the winter will be longer and darker than we thought. If you are like me, you push on as best you can but are never far from worrying about your health and the health and happiness of those you love. Some days are dark and some days are grey, but thank god we still have a new 24 hours each morning. I wish there was a book we could read, a machine we could turn on, or a spell we could cast to make things normal again, but we can’t. So, we must continue to dig deep and celebrate those small moments that give us hope and happiness. If you are like me, the little things now matter so much more and those we love and spend time with, virtually and in person, are now truly the light in our lives. Thank god for video chats and thank heaven for sunshine and blue sky. If you want to connect, please reach out. If you miss someone, call them. Know you are not alone and remember we are in this together. And if you can, surprise a stranger with a book, bunch of flowers, or a random bottle of wine.

Stay well, be safe, and know I send you love, support, and the brightest of holiday wishes.

Christmas Has Arrived

I try to get out of the Stonemason House as much as I can, the common room at college is quite festive this time of year, which is why I make this my spot.

St. Cross is keeping us well fed and challenged. Catering Manager Paul White lead a cook along session on how to make the perfect Canapé and then Dr. Graham Harding, St. Cross alumnus and the college’s resident wine expert, I discovered that the college has two wine cellars, lead an online tasting of three wines. The college is going to post the video, so I will share that with you when it is up.

The Bodleian Library is celebrating in an understated, yet cheerful way.

Even the pubs are getting into the spirit.

I do not know if the city did this or the shop keepers on Cowley Rd. did. It is on my path to center city and reminds me of South Philadelphia.

The Covered Market

One of the special places I like to walk through on the way to college is the Covered Market. For you Philadelphians, the Covered Market is our version of the Reading Terminal Market. In addition to cheese and coffee shops, there are tailors, butchers, barbers, and fresh food, veg, and meat vendors.

The Covered Market gets pretty busy during the day, I took these pictures in the morning before the crowds arrived. I have purchased some wonderful meat pies, cheese, and veg from the vendors, and plan to get my Christmas dinner supplies there this week.

I turned the corner and stopped at this shop. They provide fresh game and, after talking to the porters at college, geese and deer for purchase. I would love to try to cook pheasant. Does anyone know how to pluck a bird?

Christmas Came to St. Cross College

Despite the difficulty of planning anything in these COVID times, the dedicated team at St. Cross managed to pull off several socially distanced Christmas dinners, or as they are called here, lunches. I often hear from staff and students who have been at the college for a few years that this is not the way it is usually done, but I am beyond grateful that we have some way to gather, celebrate, and keep our traditions alive.

Our college boasts one of the best kitchens at Oxford, in fact if things clear up in the Trinity term, each term has a name and Trinity is the third term, we are supposed to have a Michelin star chef host a celebratory dinner in the hall. My fingers are crossed for that.

The evening begins when we all gather in the common room, and then at the appropriate time, are called into the hall to sit at our assigned place. The dinners are presided over by the master, she is the head of the college, or the college bursar, and begin with a gavel calling us to rise for a Latin prayer of thanksgiving and blessing.

This little surprise is called a Christmas cracker. It is a cardboard tube with a little joke, gift, puzzle, and Christmas crown. It is called a cracker because it pops, the noise similar to the white, snapping poppers kids throw on the ground, when you pull it apart. My traditionalist, English friends roll their eyes at them because they are too campie for a Christmas dinner, but anything that snaps and produces little toys and games, is just fine with me.

Father Christmas showed up to make sure the Christmas pudding is served and we are full and happy.

Dinner was presided over by College Master Carole Souter, in her Christmas crown, and Dr. Andrew Pollard, a member of St. Cross and the scientist leading Oxford’s CARONA vaccine team, decked out in his Christmas jumper. It was really an honor to join their company, talk with Dr. Pollard, and share some time with a very humble, brilliant man who is literally changing the world.

Today, the college hall and kitchen are closed, and unfortunately it will be that way for the next few weeks. I am so happy we had the opportunity to make some meaningful Christmas memories, and I am so anxious for things to re-open, so I can see my friends, chat with the stupendous chef and his team, and break bread with my fellow students and St. Cross faculty and staff.

Victory is Mine!

My arch nemesis is no more. If you recall, I have told you about the evil washer/dryer that ate my clothes, would not dry, overflowed with soap, would not stop running, and had to be repaired several times. Well, the college finally gave up on it and replaced it with a brand new machine, which came with instructions. I am proud to tell you that the new machine works great and actually dries my clothes. My hope is that my nemesis is resting well at the bottom of the Thames.

The Things Cameron Has Seen Walking Around

I saw this grooming kit at my local Boots, a store similar to a Rite Aid, and thought it would make a great Christmas gift for that special someone with that unique sense of humor.

I did a double take when I passed this apartment block because it is covered by one large tree. You can see the trunk in front of the third door from the left. Who ever trims the branches from the windows is doing an amazing job.

My first flying buttresses! Yes, I am actually excited about this. And yes, I recognize that I am a bit of an architectural nerd.

A foggy evening outside my Stonemason House window.

As I was waiting for a friend to arrive at a local cafe and market for coffee, I saw these tomatoes on the vine and was quite satisfied, as a Type-A kind of guy, by their orderly growth.

YUM! I’ll be stocking up one these little treats soon.

This is one of my favorite passages. Oxford is full of little paths, walks, and hidden meadows. Which is a gift in these socially distanced times.

I think I found a way to fully fund my PhD program.

Oxford is a huge cycling town, and the city has these little air pumps and bike repair spots on the main roads. Unfortunately, the cyclists are dangerous for international pedestrians like me who still, from time-to-time, look the wrong way when crossing the street. At least once a week, I have to jump out of the way to avoid an on coming cyclist or car.

This is one of my favorite pubs, my favorite is currently closed because of COVID Tier-2 restrictions, and where I have my Sunday roasts. The current rules call for limited seating and times, masks, closures at 10:30 p.m., and you cannot drink unless you have a substantial meal in front of you. The joke here is that two Scotch eggs make a substantial meal, unfortunately the police don’t agree. Sadly, the Port is closing for January, so that is one more thing that has vanished from world because of COVID.

I still am gobsmacked with Oxford. If you have ever seen any images from Oxford, you have seen this building. It is called the Radcliffe Camera, a library that I was fortunate enough to book into for a few hours before the libraries closed for the Christmas holiday. ‘Camera’ is Latin for ‘room’, and we lovingly call it the Rad-Cam. Its construction began in 1737 and is named after John Radcliffe to house the science library.

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