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December 8th, 2010

03:59 pm - Christmas Cards.
In the same general vein as silveradept earlier this week, I'd like to take this opportunity to wonder if any person who reads this would like a Christmas Card. Every year, my family home-produces a run of cards, mostly in the form of a beautiful photo of last year's snow shaped into a card with seasonal greetings. I've reserved a stretch of the print run, so I can probably get a good few out.

So, if you'd like a card that may or may not be belated, depending on location, post in the (screened) comments, or pop me an email, and I'll see what's to be done.

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November 12th, 2010

11:01 pm - This Is What I Do.
A short while back, I wrote about the volunteering work I do (or at least did, goddamn Jobcentre) at ECH and the Foundling, typing up interviews with the aged. What went unmentioned is that I also volunteer at the Middle East Centre Archive on Fridays (now Tuesdays and Thursdays, rassum frassum), doing all kinds of archivey things: shifting things from vertical to horizontal storage (vertical puts weight on the edges of paper, resulting some nasty bending and folding), scanning variations on a theme of photo (everything from glass plates for magic lanterns through to holiday snaps), unrolling, cleaning, rerolling and wrapping a collection of maps belonging to this guy (which was pretty cool, as some of the maps had his own annotations of bases and troop movements), and most of all Cataloguing.

This is pretty close to my Scribework, as it means taking someone's life, looking at it, and putting it all in order, nice and neat. Of course, it doesn't have to be one man, one life. The collection before last I got my mitts on was a stack of roughly photocopied and charmingly parochial newsletter/magazines from the English-Speaking expat community in Yemen (called, of all things, "The Ring Road Rag.") Mostly though, it's people. An administrator here, a soldier there, his wife, whatever is given and might be useful. Now, my latest and greatest, a collection of letters and similar suchlikes of the life of the governess of the last King of Iraq has been checked and put online for the perusal of researchers. It can be viewed, as a handlist, here. (I have to admit that most of the lengthy descriptions of items aren't mine, but were there before I got stuck in.)

In other news, in a moment of curiosity, I worked out (with a modicum of ass-pulling, based on V) that I've written at least 750,000 words in transcriptions over the past two years, and will therefore be opting out of NaNoWrimo
Current Location: Home
Current Mood: goodgood
Current Music: Something Angolan

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August 22nd, 2010

04:51 pm - An List.
Being a Accurate List of certain Curious Names found on the rolls of the Foundling Hospital of London in the Middle Part of the Eighteenth Century.

- William Shakespear
- John Emperor
- East Street
- Bartholomew A. King
- Aminta Vesta
- Augustus Caesar
- Richard Asia
- George Wheat
- A Male Child
- Sarah Jewry
- Inigo Scotland
- William Borax
- Thomas Coram
- A Female Child
- Charles England
- Sweet Rose
- John Europe
- William Conquest
- Little John
- William Orange
- Samuel F. Foundling
- Thomas Africa
- Jane Chair
- Stern Noy
- Columbus Bridgetown
- Dead

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July 13th, 2010

01:50 am - The Bed of Books, Round Two.
I live in a house where it is fast becoming impossible to give presents.

Almost every flat, non-floor surface is covered by a random mixture of technology, pottery, art, CDs, clothing, and, above all, books. Books on shelves, books on tables, books on bookcases, books on books, books on technology, books on the floor, in every room. Only my parents' bedroom remains a fortress against the tide of bookshelves. And yet, even there, little stacks of magazines and bedside books linger and lurk on the flanks, waiting to pounce.

This has become spectacularly apparent over the past week or so, and especially so this evening. Some weeks or months ago, the Parentage decided that the lower floors were especially scruffy and had seen enough wear and use over the past two decades of inhabitance. Thus, it was decreed that the boards should be waxed, the walls stripped and repainted, and the sideboards polished to a beauteous shine. All would look upon the glory of this and rejoice!

Of course, this meant work. Moving tables, chairs, sofas, more tables, technology, three towers of clattering, shaking CDs, all shifted out to the dining room or other distant outposts of the house, during which my father emerged as a master stacker/arranger, slotting massive chairs and slender tables together like a relaxing game of three dimensional Tetris. Of course, this all meant books had to migrate. As they were mostly broad coffee-table books of varying thickness, and the back room was required for Essential Activities (hooray World Cup!) everything mobile was lugged and manhandled up to my room and roughly dumped in waist-high stacks. So, for the past week I've been living in a room that is essentially a bunk bed with a metre-broad catwalk of floorspace for changing, turning around, and computer use.

It's surprisingly survivable.

And so we lived for the past week, dinners outside, shuffling to sleep past books and records, while the front room, bare and blank, echoed unnervingly and resounded with sanders, waxers, painters, decorators and their tools. Finally, Friday came and all was bare and beautiful, the last dregs of Arts and Crafts design stripped down to waxed boards and white walls. The bare minimum was festooned with felt and pads and swung back into place, slowly revealing the monster at the house's heart, the Book Wall, twelve mind-guzzling square metres of literature, slowly and steadily accumulated over some fifty years of literacy. Slowly, this mass crawled from the bookshelves, gave up years of dust to a rough vacuum cleaner and swarmed up the stairs, colonising the back room, as my own load did years ago in the Bed of Books incident. Thanks to the courageous efforts of a lone bookcase, the door remains closeable, and a small amount of space remains for reaching and landing. Now, something will be done about the dining room, which will probably be slower to complete, what with lingering furniture and bookshelves.

Now all that remains is for us to wait and occasionally peer into the backroom, where the million-paged beast lies sprawled, and plan for the moment when it will have to be moved back to its rightful place, hopefully in some semblance of order. In the meantime, the calendar slides smoothly on, slowly gaining on the days of gift-giving, when yet more books will creep into the house in solid form and accrete like creeping lichen, across more and more of the house, until some moment, decades from now, when it is nothing more than a shell of stone, slate and wood, encrusted around a solid mass of books.
Current Mood: exhaustedexhausted
Current Music: Lau - Stewarts

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June 23rd, 2010

12:11 am - Today, I got some spam.
It came from here. (Entirely safe.)

It read:

before the taking of each stance or step every black'ning church appals; in our youth time were seen, ruby tears there came;
all heart-broke i heard her say. one moment only; for the pick, uplifting, challengest the sombre glade

Current Mood: amusedamused
Current Music: Up Against The Wall - Be Good Tanyas

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June 7th, 2010

12:12 am - Hm.
It's one thing to be aware of your debt as an abstract entity.

It's quite another to recieve a neat little statement of that debt, containing a number or two, the most significant of which lurks somewhere in the shadows above eleven thousand pounds.

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February 14th, 2010

01:18 am - Mahmoth's Music: Valentine's Day Special.
So. I am aware that a good few (though certainly not all) of the people who read this are in a state where they either lack love in their life, are a long way from the love in their life, or simply live life without love. Thus, for Valentine's Day, the day when this can bite the hardest, I come to you as your faintly creepy Fairy Godfather! In this guise, I bring to you a Musical Thought, and it is thus:


Yes, for as long as it lasts, here is a handcrafted compilation, culled from the very finest moments of the Transatlantic Tradition, bearing the very best moments of murderous rage towards one's partner. Stabbings! Shootings! Decapitation! Incest! Accidents! Jealousy! Ghosts! Fury! Yes, folks, this compilation has it all!

(Caution: May contain dangerous doses of guitar and violin. Emotions may go down as well as up. Results may vary.)

Without further ado, I give you...


In other news, I have been to see the glorious Diana Jones thiseve, sitting but a row from the front and the single figure that produced words made of goosebumps.

In other, other news, I have an interview that may lead to my first Paid Employment on Wednesday. Should be interesting...
Current Music: Gillian Welch & David Rawlings - Two Days from Knowing

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November 7th, 2009

06:12 pm - The New Ashmolean
So. As you may/may not know, the great, grand Father of Museums, the Asmolean, which lounges majestically on the edge of Oxford's heart, recently had a makeover.

In all, this took some ten years of planning, wondering, small changes, big changes, eyeing, designing, redesigning and the myriad worries and niggles that come with something like this. It was all capped off by a year-long closure, that was to end today, rain or shine, done or not. As it happens, it was a good day. The early winter sun burned off any clouds that remained from the rains of the past week, and the overall weather was crisp, without sharpening to a cutting cold. Being that this was a Thing To See, and all the circumstances were right, down I went.

The result is gorgeous.

The outside, an old, Neo-Classical vision in white and gold stone has been seared, sanded and cleansed to a pristine finish, fresh as the day it was put up. Passing up the steps and across the courtyard, one moves through the grand doors (of which previously only a small section opened) into the thing itself. At first, little has changed. To the right is the grand staircase, lifting off into the art galleries. To the left is the avenue of Roman sculpture, effectively unchanged, though all the better for the addition of some discreet captions, leading onward into the quartet of Egyptian rooms, which await their own renovations. Beyond this, the frontage, all is different.

The reforging has stripped away everything beyond the front and entirely replaced it with something new, weird and fresh. One word that springs immediately to mind afterwards is “fluid.” Rooms pass into one another with minimal intervention. Corridors pass between cultures, crossroads go in entirely different cultural directions. Stairs rise like crashing waves, while everywhere, there is glass that allows one to peer down or through into other galleries or areas. On a busy day like today, the open spaces are as much for movement as they are for just leaning and watching through or across glass, seeing people pass up and down.

After a while, the sheer volume and mixture of places, styles and things turns the whole trip into a game, where directional combos yield strange and exciting results.

Forward! Forward! Up! Left! Left! Forward! Forward! Right!


Right! Up! Up! Right! Forward! Forward! Down!


Downdowndown! Left! Forward! Right! Forward!


Everywhere you turn, there is something new and unknown, from a small hut for Japanese tea ceremonies, to a deep case packed with small Roman/Greek amphorae, all made for pouring libations of oil for the dead, to a jade elephant the size of a teapot. At one point, turning through the rehung art galleries (passing by a striking painting off a resting dog in a room full of religious work), one emerges into a room packed with still lifes, every inch of wall space packed with flowers, fruits, lobsters, cups, plates and other objects. The overall impression is that one has just walked into one of those paintings of densely hung galleries, and that if you turn round, you'll see an Elizabethan gentleman regarding you curiously.

If there's a negative impression that arises from all this, it is that it is Unfinished. Dotting almost every room, floor and area, there are empty cases, objects woefully uncaptioned, captions that point at objects not present, and even cases not yet fully unwrapped. Depending on the circumstances, this can either tantalise or infuriate, weighted towards the latter, though presumably this will reward return visits. As it is, however, these are but off notes in a swelling chorus.

If any of you are passing through, go there.

(Oh, and possibly my favourite and strangest item in the old rooms, the Dick Head Plate, is still in residence, so all is well.)
Current Mood: chipperchipper
Current Music: Ry Cooder - Three Chords and the Truth

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November 4th, 2009

11:05 pm - Gratuitous Video Of Joy and Pop Culture

Current Location: Home
Current Mood: jubilantjubilant
Current Music: I am not a number, I am a free man!

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October 14th, 2009

12:49 pm - Thought For The Day From Eastside.
The construction industry is perhaps the only sector where you can speed up a project by adding hundreds of laggers.
Current Location: Ilford
Current Mood: sillysilly

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June 20th, 2009

02:15 am - A Hundred Days: 2


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June 17th, 2009

11:43 pm - A Hundred Days: 1

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May 2nd, 2009

08:06 pm - Duelling Again: Whorehouses
The Peterseliebuurt district wasn't one of the city's hotspots. Built as a quick adjunct to the City in response to an influx of immigrants, largely Dutch, it clung to maps of the city like a scarred, oil-stained limpet. Centuries had passed since then, and the immigrants had slowly moved out and up, taking with them any chance of gentrification. The region seemed to be cursed as a dark blot on the city's maps, attracting the worst of the city's inhabitants, and its worst ideas. A supposedly forward-thinking major had razed the last of the charming old housing, and replaced them with endless rows of unfortunately phallic tower blocks that had resulted in the district's current name, “The Peters.”

Now a fresh major had ridden into office on the back of a wave of promises of renovation, of cleansing the limpet and bringing a fresh, new populace to The Peters. This had struck a chord that resounded through the bullet-specked and arson-charred corridors of the Peterseliebuurt,which now watched and waited for this promised resurrection. Unfortunately, the man was a newcomer, a silver spoon from Jordan Heights, for whom the Peters was an urban bogeyman he was threatened with at night, a place his nanny, pulled from the district, would weep at the mention of. Now, the bogeyman was real and marking his every step, an acrid taste at the end of every press conference, his own steel-clad Gordian Knot.

For months, he wracked his brains for a means to solve this maddening problem, consulting with architects, advertisers, publicists, demolition firms, sociologists, urban planners and all manner of thinkers. With each, it was the same; the slight start at the beginning at the mention of The Peters, then the slow, solemn shake of the head at the end.

Just as he was coming to the end of his tether, a letter of resignation and the look on his father's face half-formed in his mind, an idea was brought to him. It was somewhat repulsive, relying on expulsion, demolition, bribery, trickery, and a swathe of underhand tactics, with no certainty of success. The underlying idea was simple: if the problem is that The Peters are hideous and unattractive, change that. Immediately, work began, developers picking out the best building in the district's nicest possible setting and tarting it up as fiercely as humanly possible. The surrounding towers were razed to make way for parkland, their inhabitants and the inhabitants of the chosen tower discreetly paid off to live elsewhere, while it was stripped down and fully renovated. Nice-looking families were brought in and paid to live happy lives in the towers, while prospective buyers from other cities were shown how beautiful this fresh new “Parsley District” was.

While the press was full of scorn, screaming about “tarting up”, “urban sleaze”, “stopgap measures” and long editorials about corruption and the whoring out of cities, it was to everyone's surprise that the project began to take effect. Slowly, life and money returned to the area, as the project expanded, momentum and a grand, subtle police operation excising the worst parts of the old Peters from the new stretches of Parsley, leaving the first tower as a monument to Renovation. Even as the old towers were themselves removed and replaced, it remained, the old, proud whore in a neighbourhood of gents.

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February 21st, 2009

07:19 pm - Further Book-related Memetechs.
The BBC allegedly believes most people will have only read 6 of the 100 books here. How do your reading habits stack up? Bold those books you've read in their entirety, italicize the ones you started but didn't finish, strikethrough the ones you didn't like.

1 Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
2 The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien
3 Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte
4 Harry Potter series - JK Rowling
5 To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee

6 The Bible
7 Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte
8 Nineteen Eighty Four - George Orwell
9 His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman
10 Great Expectations - Charles Dickens

11 Little Women - Louisa M Alcott
12 Tess of the D’Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy
13 Catch 22 - Joseph Heller
14 Complete Works of Shakespeare Read some, watched some, completely missed others.
15 Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier
16 The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien
17 Birdsong - Sebastian Faulk
18 Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger

19 The Time Traveller’s Wife - Audrey Niffenegger
20 Middlemarch - George Eliot
21 Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell
22 The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald
23 Bleak House - Charles Dickens
24 War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy
25 The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams
26 Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh
27 Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky
28 Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck
29 Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll
30 The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame

31 Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy
32 David Copperfield - Charles Dickens
33 Chronicles of Narnia - CS Lewis
34 Emma - Jane Austen
35 Persuasion - Jane Austen
36 The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe
37 The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini
38 Captain Corelli’s Mandolin - Louis De Bernieres
39 Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden
40 Winnie the Pooh - AA Milne
41 Animal Farm - George Orwell
42 The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown

43 One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
44 A Prayer for Owen Meaney - John Irving
45 The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins
46 Anne of Green Gables - LM Montgomery
47 Far From The Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy
48 The Handmaid’s Tale - Margaret Atwood
49 Lord of the Flies - William Golding
50 Atonement - Ian McEwan
51 Life of Pi - Yann Martel
52 Dune - Frank Herbert  I think.
53 Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons Not sure, but I'm pretty sure I finished it.
54 Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen
55 A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth - Heh.  This one was known as the Never-ending Book in my house, because my mother tried to read it, but even though she took years, never finished it
56 The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon
57 A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens
58 Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - Mark Haddon

60 Love In The Time Of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
61 Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck
62 Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov
63 The Secret History - Donna Tartt
64 The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold
65 Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas
66 On The Road - Jack Kerouac
67 Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy
68 Bridget Jones’s Diary - Helen Fielding
69 Midnight’s Children - Salman Rushdie
70 Moby Dick - Herman Melville
71 Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens
72 Dracula - Bram Stoker
73 The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett
74 Notes From A Small Island - Bill Bryson
75 Ulysses - James Joyce - Ya rly.
76 The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath
77 Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome - Another I'm not sure I finished.
78 Germinal - Emile Zola
79 Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray
80 Possession - AS Byatt
81 A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens
82 Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell
83 The Color Purple - Alice Walker
84 The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro
85 Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert
86 A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry
87 Charlotte’s Web - EB White
88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Albom
89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
90 The Faraway Tree Collection - Enid Blyton
91 Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad
92 The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Exupery
93 The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks
94 Watership Down - Richard Adams

95 A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole
96 A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute
97 The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas
98 Hamlet - William Shakespeare
99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl

100 Les Miserables - Victor Hugo

...I need to read more.

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February 14th, 2009

03:00 am - Oral History Comission
NSFW and LongCollapse )

Happy Valentine's Day
Current Mood: chipperchipper
Current Music: Ali Farka Toure & Toumane Diabate - Mamadou Boutiquer

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February 8th, 2009

03:13 am - Sand and Starscapes
No sleep, no rest, no food, just the path. That, and that alone was the rule. While he walked, he had no name and no home. Any man who sheltered would be struck until he bled from every pore, any child who fed would have its hand broken, and any woman who smiled at him would be stoned for one half of an hour. As it was inevitable that any of these would occur, and as he had no wish to harm, he travelled by night, between stars and sand as, it seemed to him, the trial should play out.

Behind him followed figures observing his gait, and enforcing the rule. He rarely saw them, but as forms clad in flowing grey, only ever seen retreating from sight, or at the edge of vision atop a distant dune, like ghosts of a vengeful past. In the first days, he would call out to them, wave to them, whistle sharp, high notes of greeting, but that sent them fleeing all the quicker. By break of day, he'd find the caches of water had been neatly but viciously destroyed. He soon learned not to wave at the ghosts.

So he walked, paying attention to nothing but the ground and the sky and the occasional camel turd in his way. Having little else to do, he looked and thought. He watched as his tread changed, paring away inefficiency until he walked across dunes and the finest of sands as if on stone. He looked to the sky and wiped their configurations from his memory, drawing fresh lines across his imagination and shaping fresh beasts in the air. Around him, his senses drew out details from the unchanging, ever-shifting sand, revealing everything from tiny landslides caused by the bouncing kangaroo rats, to gaping cracks in the earth, thoughts on which he tried to push from his mind.

Eventually, he began to tire. His feet slowed and dragged, his mind dulled, and not even the icy water pulled from the chill of the sand and splashed recklessly in his face could bring his eyes back into focus. Seven long weeks after the start of his journey, many miles across the blind sands, his legs buckled and he collapsed face first onto the sands. The dregs of his energy pressed one shoulder down and rolled him onto his back, where he lay, gazing at the stars and waiting for death.

Death was slow coming that evening, so he scooped up a handful of sand and let it pour onto his face. Suddenly his breath halted in his throat at what he saw, as through some illusion, the sand pouring down mixed with the stars above. He could no longer tell if stars fell from his hands or sand shimmered in the sky. Everything around him whirled through his sleepless mind and came together in one shimmering, connected mass. So struck was he by this revelation, that he scarcely noticed the grey man bending over him until his body was forcibly pulled upright. Brown eyes behind a mask of grey cloth looked into his unfocussed green spheres, searching for something. Within moments, it was found, and the corners of the visible eyelids creased in a smile. A voice emerged from behind the robe, and whispered with the sound of wind on the high dunes. “Welcome.”

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December 25th, 2008

11:30 am
Christmas is this: the sound of bells from up the road, calling in the Anglicans, the scent of a big roast, seasoned, stuffed and baconed to glory, rising up the stairs, the sight of clear, empty cobbles in the heart of town, the feel of paper sliding away from smooth, untouched surfaces of long-anticipated gifts, and the sweetening, sugary taste of brandy butter across the rough darkness of christmas pudding.

No matter your beliefs, at home, on holiday or in hell, whether it's passed or just beginning, have a Merry Christmas and a wonderfull day.

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December 17th, 2008

01:31 pm - HELL YES!
I have Officially Not Wasted the last year of my life! (Dissertation was a touch crap, but woo nonetheless!)

-Yrs Sincerely, Thomas Stanbury, M.A.

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December 1st, 2008

12:08 am - One Mile from Here (Strictly it's two, but.)
Every year, people flood to the place. They come to study, to work, to see the golden walls, to see Wren's dome, to peer at the Dodo's foot, or Cromwell's death mask, or Fawkes' lantern. To these, Oxford is the quintessentially charming, inoffensive English town, if somewhat bereft of tea rooms. Most, however, will pass by or glance with bemusement at the cobblestone cross set incongruously into the speckled tarmac at the head of Broad Street. The whole road surface is redone every few decades as society demands, but the cross remains like an indelible scar. The message it represents, though old, is simple. It is this: Oxford burns Bishops. Three men, Latimer, Ridley and Cranmer were dragged or led to the spot as the twisting stream of monarchic favour pulled their positions out from under them, and set alight in the street, three more martyrs to a cause practically newborn.

The modern wanderers passing through on foot and bus might also pass fleeting thoughts on the parades. In the far north, between two forks, each named after the town they aim for, lies South Parade, while some way south of it, closer to the town's heart, lies North Parade. Here, a good century after men burned by Balliol on Broad, others marching under the banners of King and Parliament faced each other across a mile of open ground.

Everywhere, the old town simmers gently with the stuff of old conflicts, carefully preserved in words and names and plaques and reality, from the lingering bookbound echoes of old, friendly academic arguments, practically instilled into the stones of the older colleges, to the raging debate between Huxley and Wilberforce, on whether their common origin was Natural or Divine, right out to the fire-bombs flung by the modern protesters against the walls of unbuilt laboratories.

And yet. This is the place people perceive it to be. An uncomplicated town on the Thames,where the rivers fill with slow punters in summer and soft ice in winter. This is the Third University, with such a tradition of gentle protogeekery that a stretch of island between two branches of the same river can be called, quite officially, Mesopotamia. This is the town of the Dreaming Spires, of the roofshark, of the dreamworlds of JRR Tolkien, CS Lewis, Brian Aldiss and Phillip Pullman, rarely offensive to anyone but the anti-elitists. Oxford, like so many of its brothers across the length and breadth, rewards those who keep to it, from the brief amusements, to the long explorations, from the stony core of Carfax out to Jericho on the weirder edge, it is home.

Even so, when the sky's a full, deep blue, all clouds seared away by the height of summer or the first chill of winter, a reminder occurs. The setting sun strikes the bright yellow stone that makes up the older city dead on, illuminating every inch with a strange incandescence. Throughout the year, Oxford burns.

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November 12th, 2008

04:31 am - Midnight Special. (More like four AM special, but there you go)
It was never going to be Nighthawks. For one, the glass panes that made up the long windows were small and frequently shattered by stones thrown by passing children. Outside, the varicoloured neon of the neighbourhood flanked it on all sides while the flickering streetlights blazed down, stripping the joint of any pretension of being an island of light in a world of darkness. Nevertheless, it did its best, and, after a fashion, it gained a kind of respect in the neighbourhood, raising it above the other greasy spoons of the area. The owner, idiosyncratic at the best of times and mildly deranged at the worst made a point of paying his dishwashers especially well, so that the spoons would always be spotless and free of grease as a mark of pride. Outside the battered door and clean glass, no whores kept their strutting patrols, and not even in the depths of desperation would any man peer through and guess at his chances of robbing the place.

Business boomed as best it could in the depths of the labyrinth of steel and stone, mostly for one reason: the tradition, which the owner had never really named, but which came to be known as the Midnight Special. Every day, when the tides of work had drawn in the pre- and post-work floods and sent them forth with filled and warmed bellies, the place seemed to close for the day. The shutters were pulled down, the door was locked, and the front looked for all the world like so many of its neighbours, closed and dead to the world.

Behind the walls, though, the building seemed to truly come to life. Legions of chefs, sleeping or working other jobs for most of the day, poured down the stairs from the upper reaches of the building into the kitchen (whose size would have surprised most of its regulars). Messengers and gatherers swarmed over rooftops and walls, spreading outward from their home's back door to certain specific doors, miles away across the city, where a few brief words and a thin stack of bills would be exchanged for a bulging bag of anything from unskinned, unboned haunches of cows to certain delicate spices, which were hauled back to their home ground, where they were hungrily hauled in and tossed around the kitchen, dissipating into a whirl of knives, colanders and boiling water.

Outside, a curious mix began to develop. In the early days, before word leaked out to the guides and the gabs, the street would be divided between the locals, in loose hoodies and sweats or old shirts and worn shoes, and the neat, creased finery of the connoisseurs, the two groups divided by the road, eyeing each other in awkward silence. Finally, at precisely half past eleven, the rotund, cast-eyed owner would swagger up to the door and lift the blinds with one delicate, sweat-caked finger and peer out across the street. Moments later, he'd spin round to murmur at high speed to a small circle of sous-chefs, who dove back into the kitchen to scream at the messengers, now decked out as perfect waiters. The kitchen reached a crescendo of activity, whole rows of cooks fainting away in the heat and the stress, dragged up into the depths in wait for the next day.

Precisely at midnight, the lone door to the corner spot creaked open, locals and strangers alike trying hard to get in quickly without being seen to shove. Within, a literal banquet coated every surface, every glance perfection, every taste worth a lifetime's wait. In silence, the guests sat and served themselves, thoughts of cost forgotten. In a dark, dingy corner of the city, the Midnight Special shone through the night.

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