Eight years, six months, and one week after I started at the Bodleian, we’ve gone our separate ways. It’s genuinely been the nicest place I’ve ever worked; the Communications team are a tightly-knit, supportive, caring bunch of diverse misfits and I love them all dearly, but the time had come for me to seek my next challenge.
Being awesome as they are, my team threw a going-away party for me, complete with food from Najar’s Place, about which I’d previously raved as having Oxford’s best falafels. I wasn’t even aware that Najar’s place did corporate catering… actually, it’s possible that they don’t and this was just a (very) special one-off.
Following in the footsteps of recent team parties, they’d even gotten a suitably-printed cake with a picture of my face on it. Which meant that I could leave my former team with one final magic trick, the never-before-seen feat of eating my own head (albeit in icing form).
As the alcohol started to work, I announced an activity I’d planned: over the weeks prior I’d worked to complete but not cash-in reward cards at many of my favourite Oxford eateries and cafes, and so I was now carrying a number of tokens for free burritos, coffees, ice creams, smoothies, pasta and more. Given that I now expect to spend much less of my time in the city centre I’d decided to give these away to people who were able to answer challenge questions presented – where else? – on our digital signage simulator.
I also received some wonderful going-away gifts, along with cards in which a few colleagues had replicated my long tradition of drawing cartoon animals in other people’s cards, by providing me with a few in return.
Later, across the road at the Kings’ Arms and with even more drinks inside of me, I broke out the lyrics I’d half-written to a rap song about my time at the Bodleian. Because, as I said at the time, there’s nothing more-Oxford than a privileged white boy rapping about how much he’d loved his job at a library (video also available on QTube [with lyrics] and on Videopress).
It’s been an incredible 8½ years that I’ll always look back on with fondness. Don’t be strangers, guys!
My dinner-party party piece for many years was to say, “Well, actually, I invented Baileys. You know, Baileys Irish Cream. I did that back in 1973.”
If one of the unfortunate listening group is a woman – and this is based on actual past experience – she is likely to respond something like this: “Oh-my-God. Baileys. My mother absolutely adores it. Did you hear that, Jocasta? This man invented Baileys. It’s unreal. I don’t believe it. He must be terribly rich. Baileys Cream. Wow!”
And it’s not as if these rather posh people really adore Baileys. Or even hold it in the same esteem as, say, an obscure Islay single malt or a fine white burgundy from Meursault. Not a bit of it. They might have respected it years ago but most people of legal drinking age regard Baileys as a bit naff. To my mind, they’d be very wrong…
You will be shocked to hear that, according to a new report in the journal Addiction, the UK government’s drinking guidelines are incompatible with the UK’s drinking habits. Solving the problem might lie in a counterintuitive update: accepting the reality of binge drinking…
The Kings Arms,
4 The Moors, Kidlington OX5 2AJ, United Kingdom.
A pub that’s like pubs should be. No television; no jukebox; just nice beers and friendly locals and hospitable staff and a dog. And a jar of pickled eggs behind the bar. If I’ve described your idea of pub hell, that’s fine: I didn’t want to see you there anyway. But for those of us who appreciate a pub that genuinely has a pair of older gentlemen playing dominoes in the corner at any given time, this is where you belong.
This post turned out longer than I expected. The first part is about comedy, whisky tasting, and a museum full of money. The second part is about how we were “outed” as being in a nonmonogamous relationship, and how it went really well. Click either link to jump to that section, or just start reading to get the whole thing.
Another Day Of Edinburgh
Our sixth day at Edinburgh was perhaps the booziest. Realising that we still had a significant amount of wine that we bought earlier in the week that we hadn’t yet consumed, we started early: Ruth and I poured our first glasses at a hair before 11am, to go with our breakfast.
Our first show of the day was Sam Brady and the Eight Worldly Winds, a beautiful and subtle piece of observational comedy based on the life of the comedian, a “failed Buddhist monk”, thrice married, interspersed with “mildly adapted” readings of 11th century Chinese poetry. It was sedate and relaxing, as comedy shows go, but still funny and enjoyable, and I could have happily have listened to him for longer.
We had a little while before the next item on our schedule, and we opted to divert from our original plan to waste half an hour in a bar to instead explore the Mus£um On The Mound. This museum chronicles the history of money and banking, with a special focus on Scotland, and it’s remarkably interesting. We learned about early banking computers, quality assurance processes in banknote printing, and the evolution of the Building Society. If you think that all sounds terribly dull, then screw you.
JTA tried his hand at striking faces onto metal disks to make his own coins in the way that coinsmiths used to before about the 16th century, and I used a remarkably modern-looking computer to issue myself a remarkably old-style life insurance certificate (covering me for everything except death by duelling, suicide, or execution by the state).
Next, we made our way back to the Whiski Rooms for our second whisky tasting session of the week (our first was on day two). This time around we were drinking Jura (10 year old and 16 year old, and Superstition – one of my favourites) and Dalmore (12, 15, and 18 year old). We learned a lot about the different production processes for each, caskings and recaskings and still shapes and all kinds of things. We also tried the Dalmore 15 with some orange chocolate that complemented one another very well, and tried our hand at identifying different refined flavours by smell, from a set of numbered vials.
Next up, we watched The German Comedian (exactly what it says on the tin!), followed by You Are Being Lied To, by David Mulholland. The former provided a hilariously funny (and somewhat racist, although only in a very tongue-in-cheek and mostly in a self-deprecating way) commentary on European relations, world travel, and cultural differences in a brilliant and compelling way. The latter – by a comic who was formerly a journalist for the Wall Street Journal – ran a show with a far more serious message, about how media like The Daily Mail, The Sun, and The Telegraph (in particular) spin stories in a way that the kernel of truth in them is just about impossible to find. It was amusing enough, especially to hear him read, in a serious voice, genuine headlines and snippets of stories from those publications, and let us spot the bullshit.
Polyamory Comes To The Fringe
The other thing that was remarkable about these two comedians is that they both independently asked about Ruth, JTA and I’s relationship structure. And what’s most remarkable about this is that it took so long before it happened. We’ve been here six days, at dozens of different comedy shows, and virtually always sat at the front. But today was the first day that the topic came up, and it came up twice in a row. What are the odds?
The first comedian had asked if Ruth and JTA were a couple, and, upon getting an affirmative (which would usually be as far as the conversation would go: we’re not in the business of hijacking comedy shows with our relationships, I’d hasten to add), he asked “What’s the relationship between you two?”, gesturing to Ruth and I. So we answered. He asked for clarification a number of times, looking quite stumped and lost for words the whole period, but he was fluffy about it in general, which was nice.
The second really did just walk into it when he asked Ruth “So which of these two men are you with? Or is it both?” “Yes, both,” she replied, and, in the period of silence while the comedian was still trying to comprehend what she’d said, added, “We’re polyamorous.”
I was so very proud of her in that moment.
For me, adopting the out and proud approach of the gay community is an important part of “poly activism”: it almost feels like it’s my duty to make sure that people can see that we’re just another group of people in just another relationship, completely normal except for the fact that there are three of us instead of two. Talking openly and frankly about this stuff is the only way to normalise it and break the taboo, so I feel like my mini-activism helps all people in nonmonogamous relationships, even if just a little bit.
Ruth, however, is more-reserved, and less-inclined to put herself in the public spotlight by putting the fact that she’s got a “bonus” partner “out there”. So to see her take the lead in saying, effectively, “Yes; I have two partners. Here they are. Yes, really. Is that okay?” – especially when she was sat sandwiched between a room full of strangers and a comedian (a very precarious place, as anybody who’s been picked on by a comic knows) – made my heart swell.
Later, a man called Daniel asked me some reasonably well-thought-out questions about “how it works”, and Ruth and JTA were approached by a woman who mentioned a similar arrangement in her own life. People in the same position are often delighted to “come out”, but only if somebody else does so first.
Had it been me that each comedian had spoken to first, instead of Ruth, I’d have certainly been as bold. But I might not have simultaneously been so frank and straightforward, so clearly-honest and approachable as Ruth managed in this, one of the most brave acts of poly-advocacy I’ve ever seen.
Our second day at the Edinburgh Fringe brought new opportunities for fun and merriment. Once we finally dragged ourselves from our beds.
First up, we insisted that Matt joined us in watching the show of Young & Strange, a talented pair of magicians we first saw earlier this year, at the Oxford Fringe. Their act wasn’t quite so magical on a second viewing, and some of their tricks wear thin on the closer-inspection made possible by the tiny venue and the orientation of the lights, but they’re still remarkable showmen and real masters of their craft. Matt was invited on stage to assist with a trick involving separating all of the different denominations of currency into twelve numbered envelopes (1p, 2p, 5p, 10p, 20p, 50p, £1, £2, £5, £10, £20, £50). I tell you this because it’ll be relevant in a subsequent blog post. Seriously.
Later, we watched the incredibly disappointing Computer Programmer Extraordinaire, by comedian Raph Shirley. For all of his good ideas (and he certainly had enough of them to fill a 15 minute set, but 45 minutes seemed like far too long), his delivery was sorely lacking. Maybe we went in expecting something that we wouldn’t get – his “geeky” computer programmer persona didn’t really cut it for those of us who were genuine geeky computer programmers in the audience – but even if we put that aside, there weren’t enough laughs in the show to have been worth the time it took to “get there”, even at no cost.
Ruth, JTA and I then disappeared off to Whiski Rooms for a “Whisky & Cheese Tasting” event. This was really quite enjoyable, and I was surprised to be able to, under a little guidance (and with the inclination to pay particular attention to the subtler facets of what I was drinking), find entirely new flavours even in whiskies with which I was already familiar. Pairing whiskies with cheeses was also a new experience for me, and – even for somebody like me, who enjoys cheese in moderation but doesn’t have the palate for the full spectrum of cheeses – provided some fascinating opportunities to find new flavours.*
This – coupled with the drinks we’d already had and those we had later – left us rather tipsy. Although thankfully still nowhere near as drunk as Claire was, here in Edinburgh, when six years ago she did the most embarrassing thing in the world.
Finally, we reconvened with Matt for a dose of Peter Buckley Hill And Some Comedians. I don’t remember his name, but I was particularly impressed with the dry, deadpan delivery of the dutch comedian. If it comes back to me, I’ll come back and write his name in here: ____________________. Look, I’ve left a nice long gap and everything.
* For anybody who’s interested, the whiskies we tried (and the cheeses they were paired with) were: Tobermory 10 with Keens Cheddar; Jura Superstition with Old Smokey; Bruichladdich 10 with Adrahan; and Bowmore 12 with Dunsyre Blue.
This is the very definition of a first world problem. The other week, on the recommendation of my favourite whisky shop owner, I bought a bottle of particularly spectacular whisky:
In fact, it turns out to be the best whisky I’ve ever tasted. It’s moderately smoky but with a subtle caramel-like sweetness, and it’s simply beautiful. At 46% ABV, it’s no lightweight, but an ice cube (filtered water only, please) or two sets it right.
But there’s a problem: on closer examination of the box and bottle, it turns out that it is, this year, one of only 421 bottles produced.
tl;dr: Find best whisky ever. Discover it’s one of only 421 bottles. #firstworldproblems
The other thing (other than building Tiffany2 and a second computer, to be described later) that happened last weekend, of course, is that it was my birthday! I share my birthday with David Bowie and Elvis Presley, so if you were ever looking for evidence about how astrology is bullshit: that’s it right there (I have no musical talent whatsoever, although I’m pretty good at Guitar Hero).
I didn’t organise myself a surprise birthday party this year, but instead had a quiet – but drunken – afternoon in with the Earthlings. Ruth had asked me earlier in the week, though, if “there’s anything special that I’d like to eat?” And, of course, I answered:
“A gingerbread village under assault from enormous gelatinous bunny rabbits!”
This was a convenient request, because we already had a lot of the ingredients to-hand. So Ruth and I spent some time building, decorating, and demolishing exactly such a scene.
This, you see, is what happens when I’m given cocktail-making equipment and supplies for my birthday. Nothing makes this kind of activity make sense so much as spending the whole day drinking champagne cocktails.
I’m not sure if it’s better or worse that as the scene came together I began developing a ruleset for a tabletop wargame playable using gummy sweets.
In any case, it was a fantastic way to see in the beginning of my thirty-second year.
I hadn’t really talked about it yet, because I’ve been too busy… I don’t know… blogging about Marmite and beds and computers or something… but I had the most fabulous time at a New Year’s party hosted by Liz and Simon at their house in Macclesfield. There was drinking, and board games, and truly awful Troma films, and then at midnight we all counted down from 7, or 12, or something, and spontaneously broke out into a chorus of Auld Lang Syne. See: there’s a video and everything –
It seems that my mnemonic (as used in the title of this post) is broken, unless we reinstate Pluto as a planet and rename the fourth and eighth planets in the solar system to Lars and Septune, respectively. Which I think are better names, anyway.
It was a fantastic opportunity to catch up with folks I don’t see enough of, to talk about what had gone right (and wrong) about the year gone by, and what we were looking forward to in the year to come. Liz suggested that perhaps this should become a regular thing, a little like “fake Christmas” has begun to, and that seems like a good idea (and I’m pretty sure I heard Bryn volunteer to host it next year…).
By the way: do you remember how last year Paul, Ruth, JTA and I invented Argh! It Burns Night? We’re doing it again this year, and because so many of you expressed an interest in joining us, we’d like you to come too. It’ll be on the evening of Saturday 4th February (yes, we know this is a little late for a Burns Night, but the second part of Ruth & JTA’s honeymoon is going to get in the way otherwise): drop me an email if you want to come along for a night of haggis, whisky, and fanfiction.
As regular readers will no-doubt know, the other Earthlings and I are currently in the process of moving house. Last weekend, as well as watching the Eurovision Song Contest, of course, we packed a lot of boxes (mostly stuffed with board games) and moved a handful of them over to New Earth, our new home, by car (this weekend, we’re using a van, which – in accordance with our BSG theming – is dubbed the “Raptor”).
Part of this pack-and-move process has been to cut down on all of the things that we no longer want or need. Of particular concern was all of the booze we’ve collected. I’m not just talking about the jam-jar of moonshine that Matt R left here after our last Murder Mystery, although it is one of the more-terrifying examples. No; I’m talking about things like the Tesco Value Vodka, the blackcurrant schnapps, and the heaps of absinthe we’ve got littering the place up.
The more we drink, the less we have to box up and move, you see! So we’ve spent a lot of the last fortnight inventing new (sometimes quite-experimental) cocktails that make use of the ingredients that we’d rather not have to take with us to the new place. We’ve refrained from buying alcohol, promising ourselves that we won’t buy any more until we’ve gotten rid of the stuff we’ve got and don’t want by one means or another. And it’s just about working.
Earth Sunset – a mixture of cheap vodka, grenadine, and lemonade, with stacks of ice – caused some debate when Paul compared the drink to a Tequila Sunrise, claiming that “it isn’t a sunrise without orange juice”. He’s certainly right that you don’t get that cool “gradient” effect without something lighter (both in colour and specific density) to float on top of the grenadine. But on the other hand – as JTA pointed out – this is an Earth Sunset: it’s name has little to do with what it looks like and a lot to do with what it represents – the end of our life on (what we’re now calling) Old Earth.
For those who are following our progression and comparing it to Battlestar Galactica canon, you’ll be glad to see that this works. We arrived on Earth, but now we’re leaving because it was irradiated and inhospitable (okay, perhaps it’s a slight exaggeration, but the house was a little run-down and under-maintained). And so we find ourselves making our home on New Earth.
There’ll be a housewarming thingy for local people (and distant people who are that-way inclined, but we’re likely to have something later on for you guys) sometime soon: watch this space.
Tonight’s Troma Night will be held at The Cottage. It’s the final Troma Night of the year, and it’ll be our least Christmassy of the “Christmas” Troma Nights ever, we suspect! Here’s the plan:
8pm prompt start – order pizza and start watching xXx … with a RiffTrax! This’ll be our third RiffTrax experiment; hopefully it’ll be as great as the last two.
Second; Bernard & The Genie; wonderful Christmassy comedy starring Lenny Henry, Alan Cumming, and Rowan Atkinson.
Third and finally; Snakes On A Plane, perhaps the most overhyped movie ever (or, if folks can’t survive another feature length film, I suggest MST3K ep 602 [Paul, would you be so kind as to bring this, please?]).
One more thing – as a small “thank you” to everybody who’s made Troma Night so fantastic this last year – and as a Christmas gift to our friends in general – Claire and I have decided to “buy a round”: we’ve racked up a sizable quantity of ales for tonight’s attendees to drink. So come along for some good films, bad films, pizza, and – just this once – you can get pissed on us. So to speak. Ahem.
Despite all the fun last night brought, the alcohol evidently went to my head somewhat and I had a particularly awful nightmare. I dreamt that, later this month (on the 29th, in fact), Claire dies of a terminal illness. I don’t remember much of it; only that we were making preparations for Halloween when she died (we were buying face paint in a shop not unlike a cross between Stars [strange ‘alternative’ goodies in Aberystwyth] and the Post Office around the corner from my Dad’s house [as I remember it as a kid]).
Fucking frightening. Not a good start to the day.
Right – a few more things to do at work, then I’m off to help talk to some Freshers about volunteer work.
Went to Andy‘s unbirthday party (sadly the original party, this summer, had to be cancelled as nobody who matters could make it). That was fun – drinking and TwisterTM. Will try to post pictures as they become available (JTA has more).
I played Twister until I hurt my back. Then I stopped. Andy did remarkably well, and won two successive games.
The Birthday which was not a Birtday [Oct. 7th, 2004|01:13 am]
Virgin radio – quiet can’t wake anyone
Wow people turned up I was impressed. Yay for Andy’s Aber friends. Wish more people could have been here but many studying in silly far away places so couldn’t but thanks all who did show especially those who engaged in twister. You have either all gone home and/or gone to bed so will leave you all for the night. Love al my party friends… Andy
Went for a pint with Paul and Kit at the Ship & Castle, which eventually turned into a long trek through over a dozen Aberystwyth pubs in search of pickled eggs.
A secondary highlight of the evening was my phone call to Rummers Wine Bar, leaving a message on their answerphone: “Good evening; my name is Daniel Huntley and I’m with the Welsh Pickled Egg Beurau. On behalf of the Good Pub Guide, we’re currently running a survey into the quality of pub pickled eggs, and we’re now in your area. If you could call me back on 07###-###### to arrange a visit, I’ll be in town all weekend. Thanks;” Kit and Paul creased up laughing. Well, you do, don’t you.
The primary highlight was getting to The Castle Hotel and seeing a quite spectacular band playing. Their bass guitarist/singer was extremely good, and the rest of the band were very listenable, too. Despite not having and pickled eggs, we enjoyed a couple of drinks there, were later joined by Claire, and finally went home to watch some Futurama.
Oh; and a guy (a patron, I guess) stripped off and started dancing in front of the drummer. Only in Aberystwyth.