Wednesday, 18 June 2008

Saying Goodbye

Woke early and tossed in bed. It's hard not to wake early these days, as the sun rises around 4:30 a.m. and doesn't wink out totally until going on 11. And it's hard not to toss in bed. My time in Oxford swirls around the drain and I have so many things to do before we leave: sell excess possessions (bicycles, printer, digital keyboard; make me an offer), arrange car rental, pack up, clean the house. Oh, and give my final presentation (today at noon at the Reuters Institute; feel free to come).

I used to think I was good at the mental part of moving, a legacy of moving every three years or so as a kid. And yet this upcoming move promises to be the most disjointing. As I get older I feel less in control of my thoughts, the first steps toward my eventual dementia, no doubt. And so about three weeks ago the visions of Washington started. Oddly, it was mostly images of commuting that crowded my brain: I-66 backed up near the Beltway, Georgia Avenue in the broiling sun, the great trade route of Rockville Pike, clogged arteries all around the city slipping unbidden into my consciousness. Perhaps my subconscious was preparing me for the change from carefree bicycle rider to embittered driver. Whatever it was, the message was clear: You're leaving.

Moving is a kind of death. As I walk (and bike) around Oxford these days I think, "This is the last time I'll see that pub/garden/building/person." They will vanish for me as surely as if someone had dropped an atom bomb on the Sheldonian. The fact that they'll still be here for others is scant comfort. Then there are the things I haven't seen and done. And isn't that why we despise death, because it fills us with regret at what we could have done but didn't?

I've a few more days, anyway. Blogging may be a little sporadic as I wrap myself in a chrysalis, preparing to re-emerge next week in the hot D.C. sunshine.

Fresh Eire

Quick impressions of Ireland: breathtaking around the edges, kinda boring in the middle. New houses everywhere. Not many Irish people there (at least in service jobs). That accent is a hoot. More expensive even than England, if such a thing is possible. Hurling may be the strangest sport ever played.

My "people" left there. I've no idea why or from where, but I can see that if your ambitions went beyond a tiny island you'd be curious about life over the horizon.


Ken said...

You're right - it IS hard not to toss in bed. Sorry to miss your presentation today - I'm teaching down the road. Will be along to the barbecue later, with any luck...

Ken said...

Oh, and please don't nuke the Sheldonian

Anonymous said...

As a former Washingtonian (born at the old GW hospital), currently living in Canada, I have really enjoyed reading your blog. Might you do a blog-column hybrid upon your return (a la Marc Fisher)? Regardless, I will look for the return of you column!

Thanks, again!

D Hanchar

Old Lady said...

Your blog has been a breath of fresh air here in the Washington suburbs - I agree, your move from Oxford will be a bit like death for me, too. I can only hope you will continue in your irreverent way to muse on life here after your return, and that the blog will go on.

Mimi37 said...

Your blog has been a mini-vacation for those of us who have been battling the Beltway all along. I've tried not to be too jealous. Maybe my day will come, when family obligations and the exchange rate won't pin me here! In the meantime, thanks for the vicarious adventures. Looking forward to your triumphant return to page three. And now, I'm off to Rt. 29...

Richard said...


Josh Braun said...

I agree with D Hanchar. I'll enjoy your soon-to-be-resumed column, but I'll honestly miss all the thoughts and one-liners you've tossed off in this blog. If your muse is powerful enough to keep you blogging and penning columns at the same time, I imagine I'd be among many who'd log on to read you regularly.

Regardless, it's been a great read and I've enjoyed all of it. Safe travels back to the Swamp. I've lived there several summers and, try as I might to come up with something, I'm afraid I have nothing comforting to say about the climate you're returning to. At least you missed the first heat wave.

David in Alexandria said...

As someone who grew up near Oxford and has now been living in the DC area through some 20 stinky summers, I've been reading and enjoying your blog with a mix of envy and nostalgia. Although your occasional references to loutish teens and the popular English pastime of Friday night street-vomiting remind me that not everything about the old country is wonderful.

Will you be bicycling from Silver Spring to the WPost bldg on your return? Punting on the Potomac?

Henry said...


1) Other readers will be pleased but not surprised to hear that your talk ROCKED today. Really, really interesting, and clear, and funny. Nice one. You should be on the telly...oh no wait, you already were

2) I share your sense of preemptive nostalgia, but if it's any consolation, when I came back to Oxford after 25 years, it was just as good as ever - actually better because I appreciate things more in old age, and there's no smoking in the pubs. Let's face it, the place has hardly changed in 800 years, it'll still be here for you when you return.

3) Ken and Richard - pull yourselves together!

Christine said...

Your blog has given me many a chuckle over the past year. As a wife of member of the Air Force stationed at RAF Lakenheath your observations made me feel better about some of the facets of English life that can make you kind of batty. I will have to make it until June 2010 without you. Hope the move goes smoothly!!

AEZ said...


Amigo, blog about your presentation and send me the paper!!!

Read you around.

Charlie Beckett said...

It's been great having you here both in the blogosphere and physical reality.
You have shown how a blog can promote fine writing.
You have shown how thoughtful observation can also be entertaining.
Get over the Oxford melancholia - you are allowed to come back again!

Sarah Laurence said...

aez, we’ve got it covered. Can you believe Reuters scheduled John’s talk during Encaenia (Oxford Commencement)? Henry went to John’s talk, and I went to Encaenia. We’ll be blogging about both in my next post (June 25.)

I can attest that Oxford hasn’t changed in 800 years – it was almost all in Latin! That would be Encaenia, not John’s talk.

Ken, no one nuked the Sheldonian, but the animal rights activists were out in full force chanting. There might have been more than a few nasty paper cuts from the flyers.

John, I was really sorry to miss your talk and even sorrier that you and your blog won’t be with us anymore. Dearly (almost) departed...I’m sounding as morbid as your “last” about reincarnation? Start a new blog in DC.

Hello Washington Post, you’ve got an audience here. I have a link with John Kelly’s name on it.

mark from alexandria said...

Well, for whatever reason, your blog did not show up in Chicago until this morning. I can add little to what has been said, but I am getting a taste of a less stressful commute during my summer sojourn. I'll look forward to seeing you in the Post, and hopefully seeing you around the Beltway. If you travel on the great trade route of the Pike, think of me as you pass those two white monoliths acorss the street from the White Flint Metro.

Candadai Tirumalai said...

Before I left Oxford, in 2002, after nearly 20 years there, I spent a small part of every day for two or three months looking at the places which meant something to me, and taking leave of people I had met. That made the final parting easier. When I returned for two weeks in 2002, the first place I went to was the Bodleian Library because so much of my time had been spent in it.
I agree that Oxford will always be there partly because no one is allowed to alter the principal buildings--or would even think of doing so.
I remember a foreign visitor asking why students wrote their exams in gowns and getting the answer that it is a very traditional university from a gowned student.

Glenda Cooper said...

hey John will be so sorry to say goodbye. Come back soon; it has been a pleasure to lunch with you and discuss the new media revolution.....look forward to reading your paper.

Ken....why why why?

Ken said...

You surely don't need me to explain why, Glenda? Ask your lovely husband, he'll fill you in.

John Kelly said...

Thanks for the warm wishes. I think The Post has been far too busy to worry about what exactly I'll be doing when I get back (like, uh, pondering the future of journalism), but I hope I will have a notable online presence, complete with regular dabblings in the infinity pool that is British newspaperin'. Whatever I do, I will count on Voxford readers to contribute. UGC baby!

Ken, get your mind out of the gutter.