Today I built my first fire of the year – and a grand conflagration it was!
Truthfully, I have always been rubbish at lighting viable fires, even though I enjoy burning stuff. I’ve been on the river three whole years and it seemed like I learned nothing – every winter the learning process started right at the beginning again.
Hard to believe I was ever a Campfire Girl! I really hated sleepaway camp though.
This morning when I rubbed the sleep out of my eyes and sat down with my kindling and matches I was sure that it would be a smoky, messy failure – but no! Within a few short moments I had a merry twinkling and then a nice cozy boat!
Holding out until Halloween meant that there were several days of shivering with hot water bottles, but it was worth every second of the wait!
A few weeks ago I was at Bacchanalia and one of the fellows furrowed his brow and said On Saturday I was walking down the river. Did I see you … washing…. a boat??
-It is, um, mine.
He blinked in astonishment – clearly I do not radiate the sort of wholesome outdoorsy energy prevalent in my fellow boaters!
Nor do I wear the correct uniform.
The day I scrubbed the hull I was dressed in a pin-striped skirt, black turtleneck, and of course, the ubiquitous sunglasses and lipstick.
I’m in Paris and tried to find the Garden of Childhood Fears at Parc de la Villette but got lost and decided to ride the carousel instead. Yes, I really do love merry-go-rounds this much:
Ten years ago Don Syme used to sit on the floor of the living room playing with my infant son. When he moved away from Portland he left his car in my backyard, and there it sat rusting to bits until a tree fell on it… at which point I rolled my eyes and gave it to my junkie auntie.
He never did have good luck with cars – his next vehicle was bombed in London. Later he was part of the conspiracy to send me to Italy with Gabriel, later yet the direct reason I moved to England, not to mention the first to suggest I would be happiest on a narrowboat.
Oh, how the years have flown! Now Don has his own sweet babies, and this week a major geek out because the Corporate VP of Microsoft Developer Division says of his work: <b>This is one of the best things that has happened at Microsoft ever since we created Microsoft Research over 15 years ago.</b>
To torment the people who really ought to visit by elaborating on the idyllic life here, and at the same time perpetuate the sense of relief in those who have escaped, I offer some photographs of Cambridge in the autumn.
Our local version of a traffic jam (and oh, that girl has very poor punting form – you are supposed to stand on the end, not down in the hull):
People who know my stateside self might be surprised to hear I spend most of my time communing with the wildlife, and by that I do not mean people who dwell in nightclubs:
The most entertaining part of my daily routine is wandering through the countryside – these are the famous Grantchester Meadows (you’ll have to imagine the squelching):
This is the main route from Jesus Green, where they used to burn people, to Midsummer Common, which is a plague pit, both now mostly featuring rugby games and couples making out:
Did you know that the first hospital in the territorial Northwest was built by a woman, from scratch, according to her own design?
Eleven years ago today I was lying on my side in that very hospital (though obviously, not the same building) rapidly bleeding my way toward a transfusion, arguing about what to name the baby.
The nurse hesitantly suggested that we could discuss the matter after surgery, but I didn’t expect to survive the day, let alone the hour. Choosing a name before I lost consciousness was of paramount importance. A few minutes before they slashed me open to rescue him (without the benefit of modern niceties like, oh, anesthesia) we decided to just give him all five names under consideration.
Of course he couldn’t pronounce the mangle and went by the nickname Abba until age four.
That sensitive premature infant is now a broad-shouldered lanky youth almost tall enough to look me straight in the eye, though still young enough to curl up on my lap – even if we both topple over in the process.
The intervening years have involved all manner of adventure and mayhem, and he has responded exactly as you might have predicted knowing his infant self.
He gave up suits and bow ties recently but retains his essential style, and his quiet watchful good humour. Brilliant, precise, creative, with a sophisticated sly wit: this boy is a joy to know. I am honored that he is my friend. Happy birthday to the most charming young gentleman! Oh, and of course – his Hogwarts letter arrived right on time:
Gordon called last night and we chatted about all manner of topics including the upcoming party but I completely failed to wish him happy birthday in advance. Now I’m reduced to being merely timely!
Many happy birthday wishes to the cheese guru! He was the first person to crack my telephone phobia, and remains one of the few I’m willing to talk to on the cursed device. He has provided invaluable support through assorted adventures, bereavements, and scandals.
Throughout the accumulation of years he has provided substantial services as a social interpreter, explaining the puzzling behavior of his fellow humans. Most people think that I am mysterious but he knows that I am just clueless and backwards, and for that I am grateful.
Gordon has thrown me parties, let me crash at his place, and sent me on the road with snacks. Going way beyond the call of duty he even visited me in this cracked little city – and confirmed that, yes, this is the least likely place I could ever live.
Only a few people knew when I moved out of the country and the ensuing chaos would have been unbearable without someone solid to mock me along the way; for that and all the rest I am endlessly thankful he is my friend.
Satnam sent email with detailed instructions about the wine he preferred to have with each course, and I presented myself to the fellows at Bacchanalia as petitioner and supplicant.
Normally it would be rude to turn up at a dinner party in England with three bottles of wine, but not in this town – and definitely not when visiting Satnam! In fact, he sent Susan on a wine run before we’d even made it to the appetizer course.
As predicted there was much merry debate. Satnam and I are the sort to shout and pound the table while laughing so much we can hardly breathe.
Don warned me that Cambridge would not prove to be my sort of place, and I in turn told Satnam, yet here we are, having a wickedly fun time while also pining to get back to Seattle. It is nice to spend time with people who understand.
Plus, who needs good restaurants when you have access to an epicure like Satnam? Food at his table rivals the Michelin starred establishments I’ve visited, and I’m not exaggerating. He even made me eat an oyster; nobody else could pull that off for sure:
The other night I was out with Satnam and a different Glaswegian asked where I’m from. I offered the briefest possible geographic description of the forested peninsula where I was born and he was visibly shocked, then exclaimed You are descended from anarcho-Finn revolutionaries!?! I’ve never met one of you before!
Interesting point, but I doubt it. My people were Sami, and if they had political beliefs they never mentioned it. In fact, they pretended to be Norwegian.
Of course, I’ve never met anyone so well-versed in the obscure histories of the pioneer settlements where I grew up. It was quite baffling! But that is Cambridge for you…. the place is crawling with experts.
I was hanging out in the cafe at the Arts Picturehouse with my kid and the barista pointed at my necklace. Is that a real bug?!
He shuddered, then raised his eyes to my face. Oh, are you the one who was in having photographs done?
Sigh. I’ve avoided the place for six months to erase the traces of that horrid day! Yeah….
-Are you famous?
-I hope not.
-What was it for?
He reared back in surprise. Really? What was the article about?!?
Here I break with tradition and a lifetime of reticence, not to mention localized anxiety, and told the truth: I wrote a book and the article was about….erm… me!
He stood there, glass in hand, blinking in astonishment. Really? What is it called?
The youth in question was, at this point, over-stimulated – to say the least.
Ooh, he said creepy!
I replied Indeed! Cheers! then scurried back to my seat.
See how much progress I’ve made? Though if I can’t go anywhere without being recognized I might need to move to a new country.
Last night at a show I stood in line to check my coat and noted in an idle fashion that everyone was required to give initials for the receipt.
When it was my turn, before I could offer the information, the man at the counter did not say a single word… he just wrote BL on the tag.
Um. Strange! My brain seized, then I looked up – it was Alistair, the very nice man connected to the labyrinthine process of getting a mooring license!
Of course I lack social graces, and didn’t know what to say, but it was very nice to see him!
I love everyone and everything connected to boat culture in this town.
The students are back full force. Lines down every aisle at the grocery store! People in academic gowns teeming the city centre! Bicycle traffic jams!
One of the more interesting aspects of life in this college town is the cyclical infusion of youth. Particularly at the start of the academic year, the anxiety and excitement are palpable – and it is in fact endearing.
The only thing I have to compare is Olympia in the late eighties and early nineties, with flakey hippies and jaded hipsters wandering around in a haphazard fashion. The vague impressions I have left of that campus are all about looming modern concrete buildings, open spaces, enroaching forest. I’m sure there were occasional crowds for protests or performances, but there was never the overwhelming swarm of Cambridge in term time – nor the manifest sense of optimism.
Fifteen years ago I was sitting on a bench at Evergreen having a gloomy conversation with James when this very tall boy in a rugby shirt wandered over and joined us. It was his housemate though they barely knew each other – a boy named Byron, who didn’t have much to say.
We were all twenty-one, but my companions were still trailing through their undergraduate studies in a casual and what I would have then characterized as irritating manner. They could afford to – they didn’t have a small child to look after. It was my first day of graduate school, and I was grimly determined to acquire the credentials necessary to find a decent job.
On that day Byron was just back from a year in Spain studying literature. How did he manage to switch to science at all, let alone do a PhD in mathematics without any formal background? I don’t know, but I’ve found the whole thing quite entertaining.
The fact that we’re all three still close friends is astonishing; who would have guessed that of such a fractious, melancholy, scandalous crew?
I certainly never would have predicted it, let alone how quickly I abandoned my first career, or that we would all wander so far from the Pacific Northwest – having genius adventures and glorious fun along the way.
One afternoon in London I was chatting with friends when Anika picked up a call from KC, on tour with Himsa in Germany. I took the opportunity to check my phone, and there were texts from Rachel in Montreal, Jody in Israel, family members in the states, and a voice message from Gordon in San Francisco.
The remarkable thing that strikes me every day is how technology makes it so much easier to sustain friendships with people scattered all over the world. It would be much harder to live so far from home without these tools – and vastly more difficult in times of woe.
Last night UK time a dear friend sent a message from Seattle informing me that he was having an asthma attack. This is fairly normal but I was worried because last time around he nearly died (not exaggerating). Since I didn’t hear anything more by the time I woke I presumed he was fine.
This morning I had wandered way past Coe Fen and the Clare College nature preserve, walking off anxiety about a different faraway friend who is having surgery this week, when I got a message from Jody. It was past two in the morning for him when he reported Jeff said X had an asthma attack and he couldn’t reach him and I haven’t been able to hail either of you…
Then Jeffrey, in an entirely different time zone, got in touch with the same concerns.
Despite the fact that I was half an hour walk from civilization I was able to search my email, find the numbers, and track down the friend in question – alive but not feeling well at all.
Standing in the middle of a cow pasture on the other side of the world I sent messages letting people know the details of the situation, asking for advice on emergency rooms, arranging rides.
It is unnerving to be so far from a loved one who needs help, and endlessly wonderful that modern technology gives me at least a semblance of connection in a hard moment. I was able to continue with my normal day, phone near to hand, waiting for Seattle to wake up so I could hear that a dearly beloved individual made it through the night.
Once again, my friends are simply the best. I am honored beyond words to know them.