Friday, January 13, 2006

And did those feet in recent time...

Back from Britain with a cough, a limp, and -- as of a few minutes ago -- my luggage at last. Things were much better going than returning, which is always the case I suppose. It is much more fun to be going on a trip than coming back to work (and the semester starts Tuesday). The trip didn't seem propitious at first; step one was having the buckle come off my only pair of shoes as I went through security. Good thing for that travel sewing kit. I'm not much with a needle, but it was enough to keep it on for the rest of the journey. After my tailoring in the departure lounge, I decided I needed a drink (in hopes it would make me sleepy, too) so I had a martini before going to the gate. When I got to the gate, they said "you've had a seat change" which annoyed me because I had an aisle seat and didn't want to change. One of the staff took me aside in the jetway and said in a low voice "oh, we've been trying to find you" and suddenly I thought of what horrible news they might have for me, but it was only to tell me that I was being moved up to business first and that they'd appreciate my not mentioning it to my seat mates, "some of who paid three or four thousand dollars for their seats." Well -- I can say I did really enjoy my free champagne, duck dinner, and wide seat that opened up nearly flat for sleeping. Least jet lag ever!

Into Gatwick in the morning, onto a Thameslink to King's Cross and then the train to Cambridge. The countryside was still green and as we left London, a light snow began to fall and it was quite lovely. Once in town, there was just a short bus ride to the center of town and Emmanuel College at Cambridge University. I checked in at the porter's cottage and made my way across the quad to my room near the library (in the US such a dorm room would have at least four students). I tried to nap for an hour or so but was too jangly to sleep. Then I went off to explore and had some dinner at Nando's. I slept well the first night, which turned out to be an anomaly.

The conference started in the morning with a full English breakfast (yum) and jumped right into sessions. As a small conference, it was possible to see everything (no overlapping panels). I didn't give my paper until the second day; it seemed to go over well and I got some nice compliments and a request for a copy. It was nice to wander around the university in between meetings although I hardly remembered to take pictures (most of the time). The best, though, was Sunday morning when we got a special tour of King's College Chapel. It has quite an impressive setting. We got detailed information about the glass and architecture and a chance to go behind the velvet ropes and sit in the fellows' seats. Then we were told one of the the fellows, William Burgwinkle, (who was also a plenary speaker at the conference) would take those of us who were willing up on the roof. He emphasized that it was entirely our own choice (and risk).

As many of you know, I am terrified of heights, but when would an opportunity like this come my way again?

So I joined the group which hung around for a few minutes while they tried to locate the guy who had the key to the little door at the back of the chapel (he had gone to lunch). He came back and handed over the most wonderful big skeleton key and an assortment of torches (flashlights) as there were no lights on the stairs. It was an old stone stairwell, steps worn to curves with a rope to hang onto as we went round and round, up and up. When we finally got up to the top of the ceiling and took a little break to walk along the stones which form the gothic arches of the top of the chapel. There were a couple of holes to peek through and see the floor of the building a looooong way down. I took a picture from the narrow walkway around the ceiling level.

Then it was up to the roof -- quite a view! It was cloudy and overcast, and yet the view was magnificent. I can only imagine what it would have been like on a clear summer day. You can see what care was taken with the building -- there is a green man on the back of the spire which is really only visible from the roof. I wasn't brave enough to climb all the way to the apex but I did go up the ladder and take this picture.

Then it was time to pack up and leave (a few hours later than I planned). It was an exhausting weekend (for some reason I couldn't sleep very well, waking up at three or four each morning) and I was eager to get to London and collapse at Brad & Liz's house. More on that (and more adventures) tomorrow.

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