Friday, 18 January 2008
Friday Grab Bag: Wet, Wet, Wet Edition
I understand that it snowed in Washington yesterday: lovely, sticky snow, up to six inches deep in places. We love to complain about snow in Washington, about how it snarls our traffic, springs our students from school, inspires manic trips to the supermarket. And yet I love it. Or, loved it. The chances of a little snow visiting Oxford fall somewhere between slim and "When an English tennis player next wins Wimbledon."
Instead, we get English sunshine. We've had gallons of the stuff this week, enough to cause flooding in some of the places that were flooded last summer. ("Let's see that war spirit again," reads the headline over today's Oxford Mail editorial, exhorting readers to keep a stiff upper lip in the face of the deluge. I expect we will soon be taking in some ragamuffins from East London to keep them safe from the Blitz.)
The English take rain as a matter of course. It runs off them like, well, like water off a duck's back. They grin and bear it. Well, bear it, anyway. They're not really a grinning people. I've become stoic myself, except when it comes to cycling. I hate biking in the rain. Unless you wear a rubber suit that you strip off at your destination, you will arrive wet. And because my bicycle seat seems to be made out of a sponge, even when it's stopped raining--even after I've squeezed the seat as much as I can to wring the water from it--I spend the day walking around with a moist crotch. ("Moist Crotch"? Wasn't that Spinal Tap's under-appreciated seventh album?)
Of course, what I should do is wrap a plastic shopping bag over the seat, like so:
That's what most cyclists in Oxford do. For some reason, I can't bring myself to do that. I just tell myself that it will stop raining soon.
The Darfur Flies
At any one time, dozens of lectures on a variety of arcane topics are being offered in Oxford. That's one of the great things about the university and about my fellowship: I can drop in to whatever I like and fill up the old brain pan. Yesterday I attended one on Darfur, co-hosted by my fellow Fellow Meera Selva. Meera covered Africa for the Independent and wrote about the troubled area of Sudan.
Like many Oxford lectures, it attracted a diverse group: students, academics, journalists, former aid workers, people interested in free cookies. Most interesting of all, though, were the four or five officials from the Sudanese embassy in London, who sat in the front row, vibrating with anticipation. As soon as the lecture was over and question-time started, the communications minister leapt to his feet. The Darfur crisis was misrepresented in the Western media he said. How come no one writes about the good things happening in Sudan? I'm sure President Bush feels the same way about Iraq. What about all the people who aren't being killed every day?
A tourist council in Suffolk is reprinting one of its brochures after someone noticed that the cover has a photo of a girl picking her nose.
Which married media star has fathered a love child? This column in the Daily Mail doesn't say. But he ought to be pretty easy to find. According to the photo that accompanied the story, the father has very dark skin and a big question mark in the middle of his head:
The dirtiest hotel in Britain is in Oxford, according to users of TripAdvisor.com. The Nanford guest house was described as "squalid," "horrendous" and a "total and utter dump." The owner of the guest house is keeping that war spirit: "I don't give a damn what TripAdvisor says," he told the Guardian.
Cats in the news, Part I: A man in Wales was arrested for murdering his girlfriend after police secretly taped him confessing to his cats. "I don't know if they can prove it or anything," he allegedly said to one. Unclear whether the cat is cooperating with police but given how duplicitous they can be, I wouldn't doubt it.
Cats in the news, Part II: A Bournemouth cat named Sgt. Podge takes a mile-and-a-half walk every night and waits in the morning in the same place to be picked up in the car by its owner. "I know where to collect him - as long as he's not wandering the streets," said owner Liz Bullard. Great. A cat with a carbon pawprint.
And just so my dog Charlie doesn't get jealous: A Hungarian scientist has developed a computer application that can translate a dog's barks. Sadly, it translates them into Hungarian, and what good is that?
Gargoyle of the Week
Sorry, haven't the slightest idea where I saw him, but he reminds me of Tom Hanks.
Have a safe and happy weekend.