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I rented a car for the weekend and spent the weekend in The Cotswolds with Liz & Eric. Such beautiful country. We spent the night Saturday at a B&B just outside Stow-on-the-Wold, a medieval market town with a remarkably well preserved town square. We spent several hours just wandering around the town.

Stow-on-the-Wold is just off The Fosse Way, a Roman road built to connect the Southwest of Britain with the Northeast. I had always wondered how, given the technology available to them, Roman roads could have been as arrow-straight as I'd always read they were. Driving on The Fosse Way, I learned the answer: they weren't. As you can see from themap, they were willing to make concessions to the landscape --- just not a lot of them. What you can't tell on the map is how the road will go along straight for several miles, then jog a little to one side, and then continue into another straightaway. I assume this is an artifact of the surveying techniques available to the Romans. None of which, to my mind, reduces the accomplishments of the Roman Engineers: I find it astounding that there are as few jogs in The Fosse Way as there are, given what rough country the Cotswold Hills are and the techniques they had available. Their accomplishments stand on their own merits, without being trumped up by modern writers making impossible claims for their work.

Sunday we went to the Roman Villa at Chedworth. Leaving aside their social system, the Romans knew how to live.

We also took a walk along the Grand Union Canal at Gayton Junction, where the Northampton Branch takes off from the mainline and descends a series of seventeen locks over the next few miles. The locks are operated manually, in a two stage process: first, a sluiceway is opened at the bottom of the gate to let the water levels equalize, then someone walks the gate open, leaning on the top beam and pushing against ridges of stone embedded in the ground.

By the time I'd driven 250 miles on the wrong side of the road, on the wrong side of the car, shifting with the wrong hand, I was pretty comfortable with it. But it was pretty freaky at first; I had an especially hard time getting any sort of intuitive sense of where the left side of the car was. That wouldn't have mattered so much if the roads weren't so incredibly narrow in a lot of places. But England has stringent driver licensing requirements, which meant the other drivers almost never did anything unexpected, which made it a lot easier. Over the entire weekend, I only had two exciting moments (not that driving shouldn't ever be exciting, just that the excitement shouldn't come from other drivers). One was with a bus, one with a lorry, in both cases they were coming around what for them was an inside curve with their outside wheels in my lane, and in both cases they had the really pretty good excuse that the lane was narrower than they were. I get more unwanted driving excitement than that from my twenty minute commute in Boston most days.

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I'm writing this from an internet cafe in on Mill Road, Cambridge, England. I don't even remember the last time I saw an internet cafe in the US, but I'm glad they still have them here. (Crap, the woman next to me just lit a cigarette. Welcome to Europe. Sigh.) I asked the guy at the counter when I came in if they had wireless, and he said yes, but further conversation reveals he didn't know what I was saying. (Many front line customer service jobs in the UK are held by people for whom English is not their first language, and this guy's from Venezuela. But I think this was more likely a variant of computer salesman syndrome: He's clueless, but I asked a question to which the answer I wanted was, from my intonation, obviously "yes".

I'm staying with my friend Matthew, who had broadband at his house until a month or so ago, when he had the housemate whose name it was in cancel it, rather than transfer it, because Matthew was never home and never used it. The lack of broadband alone would make it the most primitive place I'd stayed in years, but there's more. It's a late 19th century house that was retrofitted with plumbing and "central heat" in the early 20th. And never upgraded. We blew a fuse last night on account of space heaters. A five amp fuse. I think I remember 10 amp fuses, in the fuse box my dad tore out of our house in the late 1960s. I suppose that's the equivalent, given the voltage difference. The central heat is provided by this cast iron gas burning instrument in the kitchen that's used for cooking, water heating, and to warm the house by circulating warm water --- very slowly. It gives me an appreciation for modern amenities that even the SCA never did. And in spite of all this, Matthew just sold the place for just under US$300k. It gives me a new perspective on the housing market in Cambridge, Mass.

Anyway, my hour is about up here, so I'm going to call this done.

xela: Photo of me (Default)
and it's raining. But I don't mind --- I find it rains here like it rains in the northwest: For the most part, it doesn't storm, it just gently migrates water from the sky to the earth. Sometimes as a light mist, sometimes as a steady drizzle, but rarely seriously pouring. When I was a kid I never owned rain gear --- the closest thing I had was my very first REI purchase, a parka with a very high threadcount cotton shell, such that the first moisture to penetrate would make the fibers swell up so no water could actually get through. But I took the hood off that parka the day I bought it and never wore it. Sadly, my fine thick hair is now fine thin hair, and no longer sheds the rain, so I now own a hat. A Tilly hat, which seems to evoke one of two responses from people: "what a cool hat!", and "what a dumb hat". It is, of course, both, but in my book its practicality wins.

Anyway, if I'm not jetlaged it's not for lack of trying. I should try to get some sleep.


Oct. 26th, 2003 11:43 pm
xela: Photo of me (Default)
I'm leaving Thursday for three weeks in England! Things are still a little up in the air, like where I'm spending my first two nights there, but it'll come together. I'm going to spend time in Cambridge, where I've never been before, with my friend Matthew, and in London with Liz & Eric. I'm going to spend as much time as I can on my feet --- I've gotten terribly out of the habit of walking, but my new orthotics seem to be working out well. Maybe I'll even actually go walking in the English countryside, which I've only ever seen to date out train windows. "Rambling", as they say. And not working, not thinking about work, not too much considered, deliberate thinking about anything. (I don't remember what occasioned it, but when she was here a couple weeks ago, [livejournal.com profile] pupcake remarked, in reaction to something I said, "You're always thinking, aren't you?". I wasn't sure whether it was compliment or criticism, but yes, I am. But I can take some time off systematic thinking, and I'm going to.)

I'm leaving at 9 a.m. Thursday, which means getting up ungodly early by my standards, but I suppose that will help the adjustment to UK time. If I'm lucky, I'll clear customs at Heathrow by 9 p.m. local. The first time I was in London I left on Oct. 30, so I have some idea what to expect from the weather. While it's low on the list of things that suck about global warming, I doubt I'll see snow.


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