Drifting in and out of consciousness (oxfordhacker) wrote,
Drifting in and out of consciousness

Review 0: Reading Week

As I mentioned in my previous post, I've just spent a week in a 'cottage' in Wales with a bunch of fun people, with the explicit purpose of doing nothing but reading. Unimaginatively, we refer to this gathering as Reading Week. Disappointingly, we have yet to hold it in Reading. Nevertheless, it was great fun. While the 'reading only' rule was strictly enforced (i.e. people caught doing anything else were accused of 'sullying the purity of the holiday'), some non-book-related notable events occurred which deserved such immortality as I can confer:

  • I always enjoy conversations with Tom, and since he demonstrated this week that he also makes an excellent spaghetti bolognaise, it is clear that he will be my first port of call should I become gay (perhaps as a result of cosmic rays, The Bomb, or being bitten by a radioactive homosexual), despite his hobo-esque beard. Our compatibility became clear when, inspired by a discussion of the seamier side of fan-fic, he and I simultaneously blurted out "It will take an Mpregnation of millions to hold us back". Two minds with but a single disturbing thought.

  • All the food we had was awesome, and I can say that without bias as someone who chose to do extra washing up rather than prepare any myself. However, one particularly impressive feat is worthy of special mention: Angharad, Tristam and squigglyruth responding to a lack of salad dressing (and appropriate ingredients for making such) with overwhelming force and produced nine different improvised dressings, served in an equally improvised double-blind taste test. The sheer entertainment value more than made up for the fact that they ranged in taste from 'pretty OK' to 'like petrol'.

  • Speaking of awesome food, another highlight was Tristam and Tom's ham preparation competition. Not only did it remind me of the wonderful (and ham-heavy) Pirates! books, and give me the opportunity to describe the contest as ham-to-ham combat, but the results were so very nice that we shoe-horned in an extra meal between lunch and dinner just to demolish them as quickly as possible.

  • There was a (pretty small) pool table in the attic. I hadn't played pool since I left my previous job, which had a table on which archie and I would play evening matches on a regular basis. I was pleased to note that, while those matches never seemed to do much to improve my playing skills, they definitely honed my trash-talking. I also introduced a couple of extra rules that archie and I invented which, in retrospect, serve primarily to allow a player to lose multiple times in a single match, thus efficiently multiplying the humiliation produced. By way of contrast, the extra rules that Tom and I tried served primarily to over-complicate - and hence prolong - the game. It's interesting to see the effects of different environments and personalities at work here. Anyone in need of a psychology thesis topic?

  • On the subject of gaming skills retained, I was pleased to find that I've not lost my Settlers chops. I played two games during the week and won them both.

  • One night tinyjo and I had an eerie experience. It was 2am, and we were just settling down to sleep. tinyjo asked if we could listen to the radio for a bit for comfort, as is her wont. I agreed (of course) and we lay listening to the news headlines on the World Service. After 5 minutes it suddenly went dead, mid-report. We lay there, quizzically, as the silence was replaced by bleeps, like a combination of modem noises, Morse code, and those sun-spot samples that timscience likes. As this continued for seconds, then minutes, we got increasingly unnerved; put in mind of the (apocryphal?) story that British nuclear subs listen for The Today Programme on Radio 4 each morning, and assume that England has fallen if it isn't broadcast for two days in a row. As we lay there, clinging together as always, listening to something that might - just conceivably - signal the start of the end of the world, I found myself thinking that there's no way in which I would rather face it. We whispered this to each other; and then discussed who in the house we would eat first if needs be. After about 10 minutes, the broadcast returned as if it had never been gone, with no apologies or explanation. It's probably just as well, as I don't think we could have slept or switched the radio off while those inhuman bleeps continued.

Well, that dispenses of the purity-sullying aspects of the holiday, now on to the reading! We had many many excellent books on offer (thanks primarily to coalescent, who is also able to provide surprisingly accurate recommendations of books he hasn't actually read.) I had originally intended to read Anathem, Neal Stephenson's latest imposing tome. I've loved everything else he's written, and I find books this size and reported complexity benefit from being read in a solid block of time so Reading Week seemed perfect. In the end, though, I didn't get round to it. It wasn't so much that I couldn't muster up the enthusiasm, though it is a somewhat daunting prospect, particularly after watching other people struggle through the first couple of hundred pages with frequent puzzled looks and references to the appendices. Really, I was in a neophilic mood, and preferred to read more smaller books. After all, that's more conversations to have, recommendations to make, and (conveniently, if you're trying to do a post per day) posts to write. Which I'm what I'm going to be doing. Starting tomorrow. Definitely.
Tags: holiday, reading week
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