7.29.08 racing

On Sunday Jean was supposed to accompany me to a picnic on the Grantchester Meadows but he was still sleeping off the debauchery of a final night with Rachel - weakling!

The weather was in fact too brutal for your humble narrator to survive an hour-long walk and still be sociable, so I resorted to that most decadent of local conveniences: a taxi ride.

I wonder if my working-class brain will ever rest easy with this particular mode of transport? It certainly has not been less problematic over time - I could probably provide a fairly comprehensive list of every ride I have ever paid for, and I have been riding for a decade now.

Steve had staked out a spot next to a swimming hole, and Sally joined bearing homemade strawberry tarts. The group swelled with families from France, Scotland, Israel - an eclectic group of archivists, anthropologists, artists.

One woman flatly refused to answer the question (posed by another) So what do you do?

I clapped my hands in an ecstatic fashion.

My kid wandered off with a pack of boys, and I propped my umbrella on a trolley to cast a little bit of shade in the eighty-plus degree day.

We talked, laughed, enjoyed yummy food and the delightful company for hours. Sally and Steve are away soon to perform at festivals (though I do not know what the current show is, they have in the past been puppeteers) and it was lovely to have such an idyllic afternoon with them.

Just as we were all packing to leave the sun passed behind an ominous dark cloud and we found ourselves in the middle of a driving rainstorm.

We all dashed from tree to tree laughing maniacally until we finally struggled out of the meadows - by then so flooded the water was in places ankle deep - and reconvened in a thatched roof cottage to watch as the street became a river.

Everyone agreed the spectacle was remarkable, unheard of, then we settled down to play rounds of Chase the Ace and Cheat. I didn't really follow the rules, but both were quite fun!

Later the youngsters built a maze out of blocks and took bets on which resident hamster would win the course. I bet that neither would make it to the end.

The bookies were reluctant to issue odds, but in the end - I won.

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7.28.08 preserve

I spend a fair amount of time at New Hall because that is the college Jean is affiliated with (though in what formal manner, I cannot say, as these distinctions are of no interest to me).

I'm very fond of the place because portions of it are very modern in the same manner as TESC: lots of brutal concrete walls.

Another feature it shares with my alma mater is the art all over the place, generally ignored by passerby. In the case of New Hall, that would be the second largest collection of women's art in the world.

The fact that such a thing just sits, benignly and without seeking attention, down yonder road, is a quintessentially Cambridge presentation.

This city is full of surprises and hidden history that could take a lifetime to discover - a fact that is always shocking, since the place feels so sleepy and boring on an average day when the struggle is just to acquire a pint of milk without running over a tourist.

Imagine my surprise then to read an article in the Guardian that takes as a fundamental premise the naive question what's the point of a museum of art by women?

Feminist backlash, anyone?

It is impossible to evaluate the worth of this collection based on the last decade of an inflated art market that does not, even at that level, equally reward all artists and genres.

To phrase it differently: not everyone likes Tracy Emin.

Beyond that, the history of New Hall itself is given only a cursory glance. It is simply an appalling intellectual error to ignore the fact that Cambridge was the last university in the nation to refuse to grant women degrees - even when they scored higher than male students.

The struggle for equality in education here is not ancient history. There are senior professors who still remember extreme discrimination, and many of the junior members have had to deal with overt prejudice.

How many are rumored to have slept their way into their contracts? How many terribly bright women are turned away by the insular, old-boys-club attitudes here?

There is simply no reason to debate the merits of a privately funded specialty art collection in this town.

Other colleges preserve the cabinets Pepys kept his journals in, or the desk Whewell used when scribbling notes. This place has a museum full of fossils, another full of zoology specimens. Each is just as worthy as the other.

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7.26.08 festival

Yesterday I went to a reception for a show of anatomical drawings and they proved deliciously creepy - not least because they were accompanied by audio recordings from a surgical suite.

I was able to use one illustration to point out the various bits of my face and neck ruined by injuries and surgeries, much to the dismay of my young companion.

He is very sensitive.

After the show we went on a long countryside ramble to admire the fields full of bunnies, then retired to eat chocolate fudge cake from Fitzbillies and make summer rolls with peanut sauce (in that order). Mmm!

I was ready for bed and yawning when Rachel started to text and call from the Castle, tempting me out for the night, but I declined until after midnight when the gang transferred to a late opening pub I call Our Secret Clubhouse.

I was still resisting but she said Jean had just arrived.

Walking across Castle Hill I happened upon Josh, and dragged his bewildered yet obliging self along for the debauchery. Including sitting outside and making way too much noise until two in the morning.

Rachel brought along a special new friend who was extremely friendly: she talked to everyone inside the pub and quite a few passerby. She even decided to massage my neck - nobody ever touches me! She observed I am very tense and really ought to see a professional, but hey, that has been true since 1983. I seem to get by somehow.

Jean got semi-swept up in a hen do and was sporting a glitter crown for awhile, there was more scurrilous gossip and chatter, the wealth of William (we're down to one now) delivered secret spy data, Pedro said he will marry Rosie once her parents provide a dowry of an orchard or cattle, and, you know, it was another night out in Cambridge.

Right now I have this sneaking suspicion that I am supposed to be somewhere, but can't decide if that is true or just how the first weekend of the summer holiday always feels?

Either way, I think that I am going to pack up some flotation devices and head out on the river in an attempt to survive the eighty degree heat.

England is not built for this kind of weather.

Me neither.

Locals or visitors please note: there is at least theoretically a Busker Festival all week in the city centre. Remember to carry coins of the realm!

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7.23.08 wishes

Hours before she was born I wandered through hidden back corridors of the teaching hospital, staring at the specimens on display, convinced (along with my family and physicians) that I would not survive the day.

That particular concern was immaterial - nonsense - I just had to get through the immediate physical challenge.

I did, we did, she was born - fist first and facing the wrong direction.

That sums up the entirety of her life so far.

The girl is a genius, autodidact, dropout, fiend. She has a filthy furious mentality that leaves me shocked and breathless, a wit so incandescent I can never even hope to keep up.

I never have any idea of what she will do, though she always does it well - and to extremes.

Her friendship is a gift, her presence a worthwhile challenge.

She is my daughter, but more than that, she is herself, and I love her in the entirety of that concept.

I sometimes wish that I could still hold her in my hands, and protect her from the world.

But she is too ferocious and fearless for such niceties.

She is, simply, amazing.

I send sincere and good birthday wishes to the glorious and gorgeous girl, wherever she is in the world!

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7.23.08 best

Courtesan, companion, conversationalist, brilliant artist and simply one of the most interesting people I have ever met:

What else can be said about Byron Number Three, most commonly referred to as Gabriel?

Our lives have crossed inexplicably since 1995, but we didn't formally meet until much later at a Sunnyside Co-operative School dance, when Sia blew my cover as the publisher of Hipmama.com.

Upon hearing the news, Gabriel started to clap and spin in a wild and hilarious fashion.

That year we sat on the floor of school hallways with our journals, evoking the Bad Kid aesthetic even though we were both (nominally) responsible parents.

Later I kidnapped him to accompany me on the Breeder tour, and still later our friends shipped us off to Italy in a post-9/11 apocalyptic moment.

Since then there have been too many stories, too many adventures, to even begin to convey how important he is in my life.

Happy, happy birthday to a good parent, nice man, best friend!

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7.21.08 colloquial

My colloquial side came out in that last post when I typed navy yard - the local phrasing, said fast and running together - instead of the more correct shipyard.

How strange. I didn't think I had any of those inflections left after so many years away.

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7.20.08 confirm

I'm experiencing a virtual high school reunion on facebook lately, with Scott, David, James, Arthur, Cari, KTS, Mash, and a few random others twirling about.

That about covers the crew who could normally be found in my car on any given day in the late eighties.

Who is missing? Hmm. Dennis, last seen the day he finished university in 1994. Marc, off in SF presumably doing all sorts of interesting things. Pell-Mell, lost to the eastern desert. Thomas, last seen at the pride store in Seattle though I ducked rather than saying hello (the shock was too much for my shy self and he was gone before I collected my wits).

And, of course, Anne - best friend from the first day of kindergarten until the day she watched me nearly die giving birth, at which point she vanished from the narrative. I hear she works at the navy yard but that fact has not been independently verified.

The girls who dated the gay boys are, as always, lurking vaguely on the margins. I didn't understand them then - why all the heartbreak and drama over people who do not want to have sex with you? But, well, whatever.

The interesting thing about all of these people popping up again, not just individually but in one clearly defined (albeit imaginary) space is the fact that I really enjoyed our time together.

1986 was the year my illness stabilized - if you can call six bouts of bronchitis, four of pneumonia, and a standing monthly appointment to hack cancerous lesions off your torso good health.

Sixteen and seventeen were good years, with days and nights on rocky beaches, band trips (I was a groupie, not a performer), rotating dates, ferry rides and blindfolded picnics. We forked lawns, moved effigies from one wooded copse to another, drove aimlessly around in a cavalcade of ratty old cars, and when all else failed, amused ourselves by standing around 24 hour supermarkets.

We took over the International Society to have an officially sanctioned clubhouse, and gleefully ran the social lives of all the exchange students in the south end of the county whether they liked it or not. We joined the Young Republicans because our simple presence at the meetings drove the conservative youngsters nearly to tears. We dragged the taxidermied mascot wolf out of a cupboard and rode it until the ear fell off.

We misbehaved as much as anyone could without getting kicked out of honor society.

During her visit my mother asked Do you remember that day I got a call from the school asking if your early release note was forged? Except I already knew you were skipping because I had watched from the shore as you and a dozen of your friends got on the Seattle ferry.

I replied Yeah, we went to see a matinee of The Tempest. Oh, how shocking! Shakespeare as the downfall of society!

When I see David in London we raise a drink and toast the innocence of those years. We were collectively just so good - no alcohol, no drugs, no criminal activities whatsoever, and those of us having sex kept it a strictly guarded secret.

One of our group got pregnant, and shocked the administration by refusing to drop out, but her methodology included obtaining a very large bunny costume and wearing it as much as possible.

All of our antics stand in contrast to the fact that a certain administration favorite was the biggest drug dealer in the school. Popular kids were dying in fiery drunken crashes or having their brains blown out in coke deals gone bad.

My little gang of outcasts, punks, mods, musicians and thespians circulated petitions and staged dog weddings.

The idyll lasted about a year and a half, then Scott and David and half the group graduated. The accident happened a month or so later. Injuries, lies, and lawsuits took away everything else.

I remember high school as a bleak, destructive, disastrous time - but that is too simplistic. There were delirious, brilliant moments along with all the bad.

I loved the people who went through those years with me, perhaps in an immature and imperfect way, but that is what we had to offer each other, and that was enough.

It is good to meet them again so many years later, and confirm that we are all approximately who we always were.

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7.19.08 normal

I have continued to ponder the Definitely Unwanted Attention of recent months, and have developed a theory.

When I had a baby in my teens, the choice was well within the norm of my hometown, family, and age. In those days and that place, it was merely incidental to the rest of my life and not a hindrance to dating or whatever.

But rather than staying home, I marched off to college, where I was certainly the first in my year to procreate. During the entirety of my university career, I reckon there were perhaps a half dozen students who kept their babies while staying in school. In fact, I can name them all and know where most ended up.

Four thousand or so young people on a campus with a deserved reputation for rebellion, drug abuse, and promiscuity should surely have produced more infants. The fact they did not I attribute to the indisputable fact my classmates were almost entirely middle-class.

To the extent that working class locals like me were considered affirmative action admissions.

Who knows what the other young parents experienced - we never talked about it - but I found being a mother in that environment quite difficult. I've written enough about the academic side and I'm not going into that now. What I have been contemplating lately is the fact that even those people who obviously wanted to sleep with me could not deal with the fact that I had a kid.

This is not interesting or even remarkable - the sort of youngster who chooses that college is not trawling around looking for responsibilities. Even the people with children struggled at times to reconcile the loss of freedom.

I have clear memories of certain people openly expressing their disgust or dismay. I know and could provide a tally of all the social events I was excluded from, all the opportunities that were missed, and all of the people who annoyed me in the process.

If I am being completely honest, I knew that mentioning my kid would shut down a flirtation, and I did so with glee.

At the time, that made sense. I was too busy stomping around enforcing unpopular civil rights laws and taking care of my child.

But gee, in retrospect: how sad.

During the years when people are theoretically figuring out all of the courtship stuff, I was not just oblivious but entirely cut off. Because of my background, my injuries, and my parenting status, I was a grown-up when my peers were all merely independent.

Someone I've known since those days admitted that he lusted after me from our first meeting. He never made a move because, as he confessed, he did not think he was mature enough to date a mother.

Since I have a clinical interest in such manners I asked him to describe me at age twenty. He replied You looked about twelve years old, you had the spectacles of a 1930's intellectual, and you wore blazers. You were fierce and frightening!

Frightening, because I was so serious. Frightening, because my life in that raw incarnation was about blood and birth and death. Frightening, because I put my child and my career before all other relationships - and had already ditched one husband to support the claim.

None of this bothered me at the time; I was too busy to deal with the games preoccupying my peers. My tender sweet side was available only to my daughter: I was not interested in romance, I was playing patty-cake!

I was still a distraught, raggedy teenager when I realized I was pregnant, and from that day until I was thirty it was rare to find me without anywhere between two and two dozen children swarming around my person. I gravitated toward other marginalized parents, ran a parenting magazine, unschooled my kid, or sometimes begrudgingly helped run proper schools. My whole life revolved around raising children.

I didn't want to know if anyone thought that was sexy, and I still don't. Ditto the scars. I've only learned to accept compliments when they make sense, not when they are nauseating.

Though I digress.

I am mostly the same in appearance, attitude, and behavior. I am still wearing the spectacles and strangely formal yet perpetually wrong clothes, still pontificating with exasperated urgency about history, politics, and public policy to the detrimental exclusion of idle chat. Most everyone except babies, abused dogs, and snipers find me frightening, at least upon first introduction.

What is the big difference between then and now? Mainly, my age.

My theory, to be simplistic, is that the people I knew before my thirties were afraid to approach partly because of the disease, partly because I was a parent, and in an overall sense because I was autonomous and self-sufficient.

None of these are signature traits of youth.

Now that I am in a new age bracket, I am meeting people who may or may not have children of their own, but who know lots of people who have made that choice. They have had a chance to acquire diverse life experiences, including for most at least one serious injury or illness (even if it is just a bad back). They have lost friends and family, and know that they will lose more.

Nowadays when I mention the fact that I am a mother, or the cancer thing comes up, people just look interested instead of recoiling in shock.

Is it possible, I wonder, that I have finally arrived in a period of my life where all the things that once made me peculiar are simply normal and appropriate?

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7.15.08 infection

Last night as I fell asleep I thought If I've given up every other freaking thing I love, maybe I can start drinking coffee again!

This morning, the thought makes me queasy.

Oh, the difficulties of being a sensitive flower!

Especially when you are sturdy of stalk and stamen.

Somewhere earlier in the week my kid looked at the back of my leg and gasped What happened to you?!

I twisted the limb around to observe a five inch gash that had evidently been bleeding for quite some time, though I hadn't felt a thing. Oh, I was probably attacked by my bike pedal....

The fantastically lurid injury did not in fact hurt until the inevitable infection set in (the whole point of the juicing folly is the suspicion that my old pal systemic lupus is starting to play coy tricks again).

I inquired of assembled charming companions Will you still love me when they amputate my leg?

They all chorused NO!

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7.13.08 habit

Today I went to the farm store to feed my juicing habit (yes, apparently, I am the sort to run off and buy a juicing machine.... uh-oh!) and ended up buying lots of interesting seasonal vegetables, including something labeled as yellow beans.

They look exactly what I would call green beans or french beans if cut lengthwise.

They must have a name other than a color.

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7.12.08 ascetic

Recently in consultation with one of my charming companions I was freaking out and describing the onslaught of attention from locals.

He inquired So are you going to run off and have a torrid affair?

Shocked, I said No. That would not be advisable!

He laughed and asked Since when has that ever stopped you? - then offered up a concise list of my recent follies, including but not limited to leaving the Northwest on a whim, settling in an improbable new city, and spending my entire life savings on a boat - without any previous interest in matters nautical.

I shrugged off the points; this particular character is marauding around New York City with Ana Erotica and should thus be able to generate at least a little sympathy for my woefully stranded self.

Instead, he asked what Mark Mitchell would advise.

That is easy - he would tell me that I should be in Seattle with him. Obviously.

I don't even need to ask; I know full well how to solve the underlying problem. I need to go back to the Puget Sound, to be with my friends and family, not just for the decadent wild times but for the daily gritty reality of helping in times of trouble.

Beyond that, I honestly need to dwell in that landscape. I've been homesick ever since I left for college nineteen years ago and it is very clear that this will never change. I just don't have the money or time to take the cure.

If I am resolutely avoiding all local entanglements even if they are just invitations to tea, and cannot go home or travel at all, what is left?

Tedious things. Like the fact that my Annual Horrifying Cancer Tests came due while I was in Prague, which means my mother was alerted and will now exert long-distance pressure to reschedule.

I would probably try to ignore the whole thing a bit longer but a month with her always include reminders that while I was the youngest cousin diagnosed with cancer, I am now one of the oldest surviving members of the clan.

There really isn't anything more entertaining to do here so hey, why not be ascetic? I certainly have the personality for it.

I've already mostly given up alcohol, chocolate, and (this is the hardest) cinnamon jelly beans. If memory serves a strictly controlled doctor approved regimen would mainly involve eating, well, raw carrots. Except I can't because I do not have cartilage in my jaw.

Will I really turn into a raw food macrobiotic sort of person? Will I run out and buy a juice machine?

I certainly hope not. It is far too difficult to shop in this town!

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7.11.08 hilarious

Thank you for the music, the songs I'm singing
Thanks for all the joy they're bringing
Who can live without it, I ask in all honesty
What would life be?
Without a song or a dance what are we?

-ABBA

I've been a fan since I used to play the albums on my Disco Sound Machine in the late 70's, and never once wavered in my sincere admiration no matter how many music snobs I've hung out with since.

Though it is a coincidence my son was called Abba until kindergarten. I swear!

Tonight we went to see the film version of Mamma Mia! mildly worried that the adaptation would have lost the shine of the musical. Meryl Streep, Remington Steele, Mr. Darcy, Bootstrap Bill, Mrs. Weasely, and that kid from History Boys? Huh?

My fears were misplaced: it was incredibly hilarious to watch the stars sing their way through.

Presumably you would need to like the music to enjoy the flick, but we liked it so much we sang along!

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7.10.08 sympathy

I've written a lot about missing my friends back in the states, and all of those sentiments were true.

It is equally true that my favorite part about life in this city (aside from the ducklings) is the sense of isolation. I grew up in a small town, went to school in a small town, lived in well defined communities in small western cities as an adult. Wherever I went, I always knew everyone, and they knew me, and I found the experience oppressive.

I liked moving to a place where I was not only unknown, but invisible. Nobody registered my existence, nobody cared. The only people I talked to on a daily basis were beggars, buskers, Big Issue salesman, and the brothers at Bacchanalia.

Even the other boaters are people I mostly just exchanged friendly waves with, aside from the occasional rescue operation.

This suited me.

Yes, I have conducted all manner of relationships. I travel, perform, socialize, work with volunteers - but I have always yearned for solitude more than companionship.

This might be a byproduct of being an only child, or the lifetime of chronic illness. Whatever the reason, these four years in England have offered a melancholy sort of liberation.

I liked being alone.

Over the last few weeks my life has changed in a radical way, and I am horrifically upset about it. In fact, way more disturbed than I would be about things like, you know, cancer tests.

What happened?

People decided to talk to me. All sorts of people, including a vast contingent who have studiously ignored me every single day. Suddenly, instead of just a few scattered North Americans and a couple of nice Londoners, I seem to know, well, everybody.

In fact, I think it safe to say that I have not only made friends, I have been officially adopted by my new homeland.

Rule, Brittania!

Before you speculate that this change has anything to do with my behavior, I can assure you it does not. My physical appearance has not changed whatsoever - I am wearing, literally, the same outfit I arrived in. Lipstick, hair, and attitude are also intact.

If anything the isolation has brought out my mischievous and scandalous sides - I say what I mean and mean what I say, but there are no other filters in operation. Perhaps the British like this sort of misbehavior - back home, people would flinch.

Though I doubt this explains the phenomenon. The more logical reason is basic: this is a famously standoffish society, and it was bound to take at least twice as long to settle. Living in Cambridge, the city that gave the world words like scientist and concepts like evolution, is a whole other quagmire.

Regardless, I am not amused to find myself suddenly popular. I loathe small town, parochial games and sensibilities. If I had wanted to live that way, I would never have left home in the first place.

What always happens when this mood hits? There is no mystery - I move.

Unfortunately I am stuck here for at least twelve months. I can't even get away for the traditional mental health break of summer in Seattle; I would have been there already if I could go.

Yes, I know that my problems are ridiculous. Stateside friends often throw up their hands and say I have no sympathy for you!

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7.7.08 dream

The other day I was meandering around with my mother and picked up the 1972 edition of a brochure describing a place that I have been talking about visiting for, well, decades.

How have I managed to live here four whole years without realizing my lifelong dream?

This is quite the mystery, and it may well go unsolved since my stated goal of the summer is to finally, finally, finally make it to Moominworld.

Still, a girl can dream!

Mine is to go here:

Bekonscot Model Village

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7.6.08 pins

Somewhere around three in the morning two fine young gentlemen decided it would be a lark to pull out the mooring pins and shove my boat out into the middle of the river.

It is lucky I was out of town. They would not have enjoyed making my acquaintance in those circumstances.

In the absence of my ferocity some boat friends scared them off and pulled the boat back to shore, for which I am eternally thankful.

I was slamming the pins into beds of nettles this evening when Gordon called to see if I have truly been regressing in my phone skills. The answer is yes, though I did talk to him for fifty-eight minutes and forty-two seconds, during which I failed to Ladychat but did manage to Share and Relate.

Or at least, I confided I know, this might shock you.... but.... I kind of hate Cambridge!

He replied No, really?

Then he asked if I had worn gloves for the nettle part of the evening. Who, me?

No.

I was entirely truthful about the anger I feel tonight, with stinging fingers and favors owed. Though the main point is the fact that Cambridge is not a neutral place - for every woeful low there is an incredible high, whether that is watching the moorchicks paddling around in Jesus Ditch or joining in the raging debates that erupt during dinner parties.

Right now I can't imagine living anywhere else, which is useful, given that I am stuck for the next little while.

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7.5.08 glamor

Today is the school fete - the last primary school event of my career as a mother - how strange and exciting!

Last night we attended the Cambridgeshire Young People's Film Festival awards ceremony, featuring several hundred children in fancy dress and an appearance by Lee Carter. The children were psyched.

Earlier in the week my son performed in the King's College Chapel.

Yes, our lives are awash with glamour.

My kid even bought a new suit.

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7.4.08 independence

I woke at four in the morning to call and make sure my mother was ready for the car I ordered to drive her to the airport, then fell back asleep listening to the river.

By the time I woke properly and stumbled off the boat to collect my child for the school run grandma was already settled at the airport.

The morning was bright and warm but fragmented with sorrow; the first act of the day was drying the tears of a child who wishes more than anything that he could move back home.

I empathize with his pain - living so far away from the familiar and beloved is like having an open wound that never heals.

Today is the fourth anniversary of moving to the United Kingdom, and I feel just as conflicted as the day I stepped on the airplane.

Having my mother here for a month underscored that fact.

I know that she is proud of me and enjoys the month she spends here every year, but I am an only child and I moved to the other side of the planet.

There is no solution to this quandary. My son is right to cry; it is very hard to say goodbye to someone or something you love.

Happy Independence Day.

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7.2.08 baffled

Recently I was lurking around a wine store resisting the temptation to purchase sparkling water and the fellow at the counter asked what I'd been up to that day.

I replied I went to the Arts Picturehouse to watch Imperial War Museum archival movies.

He queried D'ya mean 'films'?

I answered Yes, whatever you call them... they are screened early in the day so it is always an auditorium full of 85 year olds - plus me!

He asked Were they all hitting on you?

I rolled my eyes and said No! Nobody would dare!

He laughed and replied Mores the pity!

Of course I scurried away rather than following wherever that conversation might go, though I was in fact telling the truth. Until very recently it was a rare unto nonexistent experience for strangers to talk to me at all, let alone feel bold enough to try their luck.

That changed during the Hunt for Bad Boys and Lumberjacks, when Ana Erotica gave me the essential tool kit to understand this form of communication. Though I do not use the skills, I have at least been vaguely aware that people are staring at me. Sometimes.

If I had finished the Ladychat lessons I would presumably be much closer to my goal of becoming a truly functional human, but Sarah moved away and I have nobody to practice with!

Imagine then my profound bewilderment, after accumulating more probable pickup attempts in ten days than I have experienced in an entire adult lifetime.

Three examples:

One hot sticky day in Prague I was standing in the dairy section of the grocery store at the end of the Charles Bridge when the person next to me asked if I speak Czech.

I replied in the negative but he inquired if I could help him figure out which container of cream to buy, and I obliged, both of us squinting at the indecipherable writing on the pots.

He managed to tell me all about his career and siblings and was obviously trying to go somewhere with the chat but I was still innocently shaking the bottles to evaluate viscosity. When I realized he had a working class Scottish accent I was vaguely alerted to the fact that he might be interested in more than just cream (Glaswegians are especially enamored of me for some reason).

The rest of the conversation confirmed that fact, and I predictably had no ability to cope, defaulting to my normal Um, I need to.... go .... now....

*

In a professional context I fell into conversation with a very proper lady who is also a lesbian with a capital L.

Given that this is the UK, most work or academic or almost any events involve ingesting vast quantities of alcohol. This does not change my behavior (I misbehave just as much with or without) but it does bring out the shall-we-say-adventurous side of the English.

I've been privy to more alarming confidences and scathing stories at alcohol-fuelled garden parties than I would be in the middle of the night in the clubs of San Francisco - honest.

During this particular encounter I was acting like myself, which might be a wee bit scandalous by British standards, but everyone else was acting wildly unlike their normal daily selves.

I might not have noticed anything but the person I was talking to emphasized her point by stroking my knee. Now, I might be obtuse, but I am not stupid!

What to do, what to do? I lack not just the etiquette but also the practice to smoothly extricate myself from such things.

Just then a boy sitting next to me said to someone on his other side I can't help it, I like the cock!

I flung myself in his direction and said What a coincidence - me too! We have so much in common!

Later I felt fairly dreadful about this prevarication, even though it seems more polite to be unavailable due to preference than it would be to say I'm not attracted to you.

You might wonder - but couldn't you just claim that you are 'taken' to avoid the whole question? The answer is, emphatically, no. I've never considered myself the property of another person, but more importantly, nobody seems to mind here. Especially not after the fifth drink.

*

Wandering forlornly through about trying to think of a major whiz bang tourist destination to dazzle my mother, I finally gave up and stepped inside a travel agency to ask for help.

The fellow at the counter had only been talking to me for about a minute when he abandoned all pretense of selling anything on his list, though he did pick up the phone and call around several places tracking information for me.

He also pried out various details about my life and loves. Why is it that boys who want a date always ask what kind of music you like? I have no idea, and always refuse to answer beyond a true but misleading John Denver, Bobby Goldsboro, Gordon Lightfoot response.

This one had a canny strategy - he walked me through the list of all the shows touring the country at the moment. Very clever!

He also had the great advantage of looking like a hooligan while sweetly rendering assistance. I simply adore tender lovin' thugs - they are my favorite of all urban species.

Before I skittered away this fellow had managed to solve my tourist problems, show me his vacation photos, talk about his divorce, invite me to a play, and, check it, give me his phone number.

The last is of course truly a milestone. I've had torrid affairs with people without knowing their phone number, for goodness sake!

Not to mention the fact that nobody has ever asked me out on a date before.

From my perspective I was in no way encouraging the fellow, though Iain recently informed me that Cleavage + no ring = available.

Maybe here - but that certainly isn't true where I come from!

There is no moral to this story: I am, simply, baffled. Why me, why now? If this is the consequence of my research projects, could I possibly resign?

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7.1.08 excitement

I've been wandering around the continent, then off to London, then Hampton Court, and have only just finally arrived back in Cambridge.... and this is seriously the most exciting thing to look forward to at the weekend, if you are local!

The President Visits the Cam.

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