Snowed In

I managed to get stuck in England this weekend – and once again was able to enjoy snow in Oxford… despite the fact that it took me 10 hours to get back to Paris on Sunday, Saturday was a most enjoyable day to be a weather refugee. Snowmen constructed, snowballs were thrown, and port and mince pies were served in the Middle Common Room at Teddy Hall.

La Fonte des Neiges

I only took one photo while I was at Les Deux Alpes, and this is it – the view from my hotel window on Friday afternoon. It was the best weather of my stay: on Saturday and Sunday the clouds rolled in, making skiing well, not impossible, but certainly difficult with 20-metre visibility.

As is traditional when I head to the mountains, I made a video. The 2010 edition is fairly modest compared with the meisterwerks of 2007 (Slovenia and Switzerland). But at the end you do get to see a bunch of clueless skiers traversing a fresh avalanche on Monday afternoon…

The avalanche came down over one of the blue runs, and must have been very recent – soon after we crossed the avalanche, the ski patrol arrived with rescue dogs to check whether anyone had been buried… as the weather warms up, more of these snowslides are likely across the Alps, and the ski patrols are on alert.

The other drama of the holiday was getting caught in the nationwide strike on SNCF on Tuesday. It took me 10 hours to get back to Paris instead of 6, and I stood all the way from Lyon to Paris in the restaurant car of a TGV. However all the passengers were very tolerant of the crowding and the young train crews (it seems it’s the new employees who are left to provide the service minimum during strikes) were having a lot of fun running a TGV all by themselves.

Arriving back in Paris, spring had well-and-truly established itself. The city seemed to have a smell again, and there were birds singing in the still-nude trees on Boulevard Saint-Germain. Arriving back at my apartment, the gardien was clearing the mailboxes as I walked in the front door.

“Bonjour monsieur vous allez bien? Ca commence à faire beau maintenant, hein?”


Eight Seasons in England

Lewis Taylor – New Morning
From The Lost Album [Buy] [emusic]

This weekend marks two years since I arrived in Oxford. So this morning I went out and took a photo of the chapel at Merton College, as I did in April 2006 and April 2007. The unexpected snowfall overnight offered an unusual mantle of peace to the city.

Merton College

24 months is by far the longest I’ve been away from New Zealand. Europe still suits me as a space for making mistakes, adventure, working and exploring. A permanent move back ‘home’ still seems to sit out somewhere in the middle-to-long-distance.

I’ve been thinking about what I’ve learnt in two years as an “expatriate”. Given how clueless I still am about most things, it’s good to recognise that certain life-truths have become apparent, or at least been reinforced.

1. You’ll never lose your kiwi accent. Somehow I had this crazy notion I’d end up talking like a Thames Valley native. It hasn’t happened yet. Despite living among English people and being bombarded by Radio 4, I still speak Noo Zild, albeit inflected by a few dialect-isms (I catch myself saying “lorry” instead of “truck”; “yawright?” in place of “how are you?” and “hiya” rather than “hi”).

2. I will never understand the English or be one of them. Despite ancestry and a British passport, there are some things about English culture I just can’t track. Social class pervades everything you do here, and much casual conversation seems to be about categorising where you fit on the ladder. This may be why the English talk about the weather so much, because meteorology is class-neutral.

And the English are so reserved in their dealings with acquaintances – kiwis, even at their most diplomatic, come across as being blunt, over-eager and slightly clumsy. Making friends with English people is HARD (or maybe I’m just a nasty person who nobody wants to know).

3. Ale served at room temperature is, in fact, a drink. It took 18 months, but English beer finally makes sense. So it’s my round next time any of you are up in Oxvegas.

Magdalen College

Live Free or Die

Paul Simon – How Can You Live in the Northeast?
From Surprise: Warner [Buy]

Te aha te mea nui o te ao? He tangata he tangata he tangata.
What is the most important thing in the world? It is people, it is people, it is people.
– Maori proverb

Sometimes a journey takes you completely beyond your regular sphere and put the rest of your life in perspective.

When I booked my flights, a dash across the Atlantic just for the weekend seemed pretty crazy, not to mention ecologically unsound. But a few days in New Hampshire more than compensated for the cost and discomfort of coach class on American Airlines.

It’s really hard to put the journey into words, so laziness dictates some bullet point highlights instead:

  • the first time the evil triplets have all been in the same room together
  • Rushan becoming a Reverend
  • Arushini, Constance, Byron and Will becoming Facebook Friends
  • gratuitously large icecream sundaes
  • gratuitously large burgers with the archbishop
  • gratuitous amounts of Sri Lankan takeaways smuggled overland from Toronto
  • gratuitous amounts of energy
  • squelching snow, scaring seagulls
  • playing jazz with Nick, Charlie and Nate
  • sitting in the same pew as Abraham Lincoln
  • cowering speechless in the kitchen for half an hour while Sri Lankans enthusiastically greet each other 🙂

Now back in England, normal life hits again with a violent bump. I’m confident I don’t need to eat for a week. But, maybe a little like Tash, I’m left longing and yet satisfied.


Easter Morning

I Know that My Redeemer Liveth – G.F Handel
Performed by Henry Jenkinson (solo); the Choir of New College, Oxford; Academy of Ancient Music ; Edward Higginbottom
From Messiah (1751 Version) : [Buy]

We finally make it to Easter Sunday and it SNOWS in Oxford for the first time this winter. We’ve been pretty lucky with the weather this year – colder, but dry, so sudden snow at the start of spring seems to be, well, particularly English.

Resurrection – Alabaster Relief, anonymous Nottingham artist, 15th Century

I Know that My Redeemer Liveth turned up while iTunes was on random play yesterday. (I love iTunes random play). Handel‘s tune is beautifully sung by Henry Jenkinson, and seemed a particularly good piece of randomness for Easter.

Everybody has a winter holiday

I’m off down south for a few days to get my annual snow fix, so there won’t be any posts for the next week or so…

In the meantime, I’ve sourced some early Kenny Wheeler solos ! In 1966, British drummers Ronnie Stephenson and Kenny Clare recorded the Drum Spectacular album in London. (Rare on vinyl and not yet available on CD). The big band playing behind the drummers is all British guys – among them Kenny Baker (tp), Kenny Wheeler (tp), Tubby Hayes (ts) and Ronnie Scott (ts). And on South Rampart Street Parade and Topsy, the 8 bar trumpet solos are by none other than… Kenny Wheeler !

They’re pretty nice big band charts too, in a Buddy Rich sort of way. Righto, I’m off to clean my goggles and buy sunscreen.

Kenny Clare & Ronnie Stephenson Big Band – South Rampart Street Parade
Kenny Clare & Ronnie Stephenson Big Band – Dual Carriageway
Kenny Clare & Ronnie Stephenson Big Band – Topsy
From Drum Spectacular: Columbia-EMI [OOP]

Two New Zealanders awaiting snowfall