Saturday, July 31, 2010

London and Oxford, July 2010--Part I

You may have noticed that I've been a bit quiet on the blogging front these days. This is due to 2 things--teaching online classes that take up inordinate amounts of time, and heading off to the UK for a conference in Oxford from the 23rd to August 1. The trip was bracketed by visits to London (in fact, I'm still there). This is the first of several postings about that trip.

The thing I hate about travel is that it can be unpredictable in bad ways. For instance--we were delayed flying from Newark to Heathrow by a seat belt. I kid you not--someone's seat belt was jammed in first class, and they had to call in 2 maintenance guys to fix it before we could take off. I had switched my window seat for another window seat 2 rows up, so that a mother and son could sit together. No problem. However--I was sitting next to a hipster couple, who were actually nice enough, but also personal friends with one of the flight attendants. So--this attendant waited on them the whole flight, bringing them champagne, etc. Which is fine, except that the other flight attendants would walk by, see them with food and drink, and assume that I had everything I needed as well. I really don't appreciate having to flag down a flight attendant for basic things like drinks and food.

Nonetheless, we arrived in London on time, which was kind of unfortunate, as I had a lot of time to kill before checking in to my hotel. I was staying for 9 days, so my luggage is a tad heavier than it would have been if I'd gone for just a weekend. Plus, I had my laptop with me, which tends to make the carry-on a wee bit heavier, and the results of lugging it around will probably make some chiropractor rich. But I found ways to kill time before I was able to check in. I had difficulty sleeping on the plane (surprise, surprise), so I was really exhausted by the time I got to my room.

But there was no time for dawdling--once I got myself together, it was back to Paddington to get the tube to Oxford Circus, and then to the Apple Store on Regent Street for the Electricity and Ghosts event sponsored by ArtHertz. I ran into Steve Malins there, who was pleased to be watching an event, and not involved in organizing it. I didn't know what to expect from this event, and was pleasantly surprised. Sarah Angliss was there with her band Spacedog, and they did a number of songs using synths, bells, a theremin, and a robotic talking head. They were a bit spooky in nature (as you might guess by the title), and it was a fitting prequel to the still-planned Battersea Power Station event, which focuses on the response generated by the power station and electricity by the general public. John Foxx once pointed out that modern telecommunications and uses of electricity came out of attempts to communicate with the dead. So, there is an attempt to merge those themes.

One piece they did was called "Who is this who is coming?" That rattled around in my brain, and it bothered me, as I knew I'd heard the phrase somewhere. Then I realized it was from the M.R. James story, "Oh, Whistle and I'll Come to You, My Lad". A university professor on a golfing holiday in East Anglia is asked by a colleague to check out the nearby remains of a Templar church. When he does, he finds a small metal tube, that turns out to be a whistle upon later examination. On the whistle is written the words "Quis est iste qui venit?" (Who is this who is coming?). What happens with the whistle--well, you'd have to read the story, which is quite worthwhile. Sarah mentioned in the Q&A at the end that she was influenced by M.R. James, so it did make sense. I also really liked their "cover" of "Please Come" from the Wicker Man movie, which was mixed up with other voices manipulated via the theremin. The visuals were by Roger Spy, and had a fittingly creepy feel to them.

Afterwards, I said goodbye to Steve and went in search of food, and then went to bed fairly early that night. I've learned that 4-star London hotels now have a system where you must use your room key to get the lights to work in your room. Not that anyone at the desk told me this. Fortunately, I was astute enough to figure it out on my own, in spite of how bleary eyed I was.

I might as well tell you about Saturday, as the most interesting content of the trip occurred during my week at Oxford. Saturday I spent the morning in the same place I am now--the British Library, trying to read through the papers for the conference I was attending in Oxford during the next week. Some papers were very long--after an exhausting month of reading student papers and assignments in Library Science, I really had to focus to get through papers that were anywhere from 17 to 70 pages. I did manage to get through everything by the evening, stopping only to get an early dinner near the hotel. I found myself quite interested in some of them, and recoiling at others. It ended up being a telling preview of the conference itself. But I will discuss that in the next few postings...

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