Life In Cambridge, Part II

Life In Cambridge, Part II
October-December 2003

To our amazement and embarrassment, we started this letter at the beginning of November, but somehow never quite finished it. So at this point, it's also our year-end, Happy Solstice (or Merry Whatever-You-Celebrate) missive.

As our first letter only covered our move, settling in, and our raid on Norwich, we need to go back, back, back, all the way to the beginning of October... (Start the wayback machine, Poindexter...)

The kids had a long-weekend October 3-5, so we took off for Great Yarmouth. This is a great tacky beach town, with amusement parks, piers with arcades, and way too many souvenir shops (all the souvenirs were made in the same Chinese sweatshops as the stuff in San Francisco, of course). The kids played Pirate Miniature Golf (putt-putt golf was a new thing for them) so now they assume that when you get the ball into the hole you yell, "Arrrgh!" We rode a horse-drawn carriage ("Like Cinderella!") along the beachfront. A major plus: we got to tour a re-creation of the HMS Endeavour which was docked there that weekend. One of the nails (a nasty big rusty one from the Captain's cabin) is from the original ship and actually flew on the Space Shuttle Endeavo(u)r. Much ice cream was consumed, despite the cold North Sea breeze. And the highlight for the girls was Joyland, a creaky old amusement park for the under 10 crowd with rides they could do by themselves. Next time we go, we'll tackle Pleasure Beach with its bigger and newer rides. Exhausted, we trundled back to Cambridge only to find out one reason the Brits mumble about train travel: Sundays are "let's close random stretches of rail for 'upgrading' and see who notices" days. Added an hour to a 1.5 hour long trip, plus we got to enjoy a yummy dinner of pre-packaged sandwiches, a British favorite (the masochists!).

Naomi's age belies her great strength... Rowyn, too? Hmmm....
A beauty, ain't she? Make it go faster, Dad Young Seawomen at the helm

Mid-October, the kids' school (Mayfield Primary) had a "Hogwarts Disco" in anticipation of Halloween. The sugar industry is attempting to make Halloween as successful here (for their pocketbooks) as it is in America, but it's a slow battle. Anyway, Naomi went as Hermione Granger, of course, and with her hair, why not? Rowyn went as a pirate, thanks to a kid's costume Alan picked up at a boot sale. This has nothing to do with footwear: a boot sale is British for yard sale.

And your little dog, Toto, too! Argh!! A pox on thy rosy front door!

Late in October, we took the kids to the Moscow State Circus, and thanks to a major screw-up on our part (see about the bike shed below), we ended up with the best seats in the house, front and center ring-side! Tumblers came alarmingly close to landing in Rowyn's lap. Alan flirted heavily with a hideous female (maybe) doll-clown which made the (equally grotesque) male clown very jealous. Candy floss (cotton candy) and popcorn (sugared) were eaten with gusto.

We've built a bike shed (with lots of help from our next-door neighbor Tony, a semi-retired joiner which is English for carpenter) which took all day. In fact, we completely forgot, while building this thing, that we had tickets for the circus...which we had purchased at a discount (half price). Once we realized we had already missed the first hour, Debbie frantically scrambled to buy tickets for the next day's matinee. She managed to find more half price coupons, but all they had left were front row center. Darn. So in total, we ended up paying full price. Not bad for a really, really dumb mistake. Anyway, the shed is not exactly up to codes, but it's cute and does the job. Roughly 6' by 6', it holds all of our bikes and two "tag-alongs" (half bikes) for the kids, which haven't been used yet due to the weather. (Photo coming)

Alan went to Bristol to visit Jolane November 1st. She and her cool family threw a great Day of the Dead party with Mexican food and beautifully decorated sugar-skull shrine on which we placed pictures of lost loved ones. Alan's grandmother, Eva, had just died a month before that, so he placed her picture on the altar, lit a special candle and said some eulogizing words about her since he wasn't able to go to the funeral.

Naomi's class has had four school visits (field trips) already. One to see Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (Debbie got to go too, oh yay), one to see Ice Age, one at the Fitzwilliam Museum, and the last one (recently) to see Disney's new animated classic "Brother Bear." How can it be new and classic? Never mind. Rowyn's class has also had a school visit to the park to collect Fall items. Hardly fair!

Naomi is now reading at grade level! From zero to grade two in three months. We're so proud of our girl! The current project is addition. It's been very successful so far, and we have every confidence she'll be at or past grade level soon enough. Rowyn, the sponge, is picking up all of this on the side and is now reading and adding at year 1 (1st grade) level.

Debbie's folks came for a long visit, October 24-November 13, during which we all went to the Ely Apple Festival (yes that's Ely as in cathedral town most often in crosswords). Alan won one of the races (balancing an apple on a wooden spoon) and got a bottle of local apple juice. Later we all bought more apple juice, including a 7.2% version (whee! *hic*). Naomi and Alan got their pictures taken and they appeared in the local Ely paper the next week (!). However, Alan somehow ended up captioned as Ely-native "Alan Mannicotti." The cathedral is big. But not the main attraction that day. Not when 7.2% cider is available. Did I mention, "whee!"?

It's Everyone's Favorite Crossword Cathedral! Team California enters the Race. Naomi in pink, Nana
in black leather, Dad in shades. Very cool.

Not to brag too much, but when Rowyn's reception class (kindergarten, for those keeping score at home) was asked on 5 November by their teacher "What are we celebrating today?", only Rowyn, the American girl, answered: "Guy Fawkes Day!". Now here's something they do right! A big "Fun Faire" (carnie rides) on Midsummer Common (a large open field in the center of Cambridge - which, btw, still has cows on it for part of the year - watch your step!) with rides and games and sweets, candy floss (see above) and caramel apples. We all went on the big Ferris wheel, and the girls went on some smaller rides. The fireworks show was great, although the girls were scared - they've never been so close to fireworks being let off: it was very loud and rather intimidating - but they ended up enjoying them. Also liked the big bonfire, although we never noticed if they burned an effigy or not. Later, as we left, Alan and the kids were photographed by someone entering some kind of photo contest for people writing their names with a lightsource. The remains of the towering bonfire are in the background; note the girls waving their new swords which light up!

Hmmm... seems vaguely familiar... didn't use light last time, though

Mayfield Primary had its own fireworks display Saturday night 8 November. Naomi really got into them that time, but Rowyn got upset and Debbie had to take her home. Fortunately, it was possible to see most of the fireworks from our upstairs windows (but at enough distance so they weren't too loud for Rowyn).

Alan and Debbie took advantage of D's parents being here to run off together for a few days. Major adventure, as we rented a car! Alan got to do all the driving this trip, lucky guy. We had loads of fun taking B roads, including the deliberate side trip to Avebury (very, very, cool...older than Stonehenge and far fewer tourists!), and the West Kennet Long Barrow near the mysterious Silbury Hill It was a cold day with no other tourists, so we were able to go into the barrow by ourselves, where countless neopagans have lit candles and made small offerings. It was a beautiful moment. We didn't take pictures; you can't capture moments like that.

Bath is quite the tourist town (and has been so for a few thousand years). We, um, have no excuse for not taking pictures on this leg of our trip. But it really does have to be seen: all the yellow bathstone buildings soaked in Georgian pomp. The Roman Baths have been wonderfully excavated into a first-rate museum, and Alan had the requisite glass of Bath spa water (A: I think it tasted a bit like any glass of used bath water). Debbie had already had a glass on her first visit to Bath after college. What was hysterical to us is that the guy serving the water in peruke and 18th century servant's outfit was an English type of ren faire geek (only he does much, much later: Georgian recreation stuff. We also visited the awesome costume museum, and enjoyed walking around gazing at the marvelously preserved (mostly) Georgian architecture.

We stayed at a posh B&B in Bath, but alas, for only two nights. Heading back, we took a meandering (on purpose) trip back to Cambridge on all little tiny side roads. The goal was to travel in a straight line from Bath to Cambridge. This is actually not physically possible by car. All roads try to lead to London. Yet, somehow, in amongst the fog and innumerable roundabouts, we made it. Luton is apparently only surpassed by Milton Keynes as the most-roundabouted-city-in-England.

We got out to see a movie ("Intolerable Cruelty"; it's an instantly forgettable amusing romp, but not up to the Coen Brothers' usual standard) before D's folks left. Just before Thanksgiving weekend, Alan's group had a small holiday party at which he finally introduced Debbie to Stephen Hawking. The next day, Debbie (not too hungover) flew back to Maryland for her 20th High School Reunion, which she had originally had no intention of attending. One of her classmates put together an amazing website which convinced her to catch up with some folks; said classmate is still (as of April 2004) sporadically sending out unearthed, scanned slides of days of yore (see example to the right). D had a surprisingly good time at the reunion, even with jet-lag and exhaustion the whole weekend. She was also able to stop by Safeway and Trader Joe's for some things we can't get in England!
Debbie and Jessica in somewhat earlier times...Yowza!

Which reminds us: thanks to Chris & Erica's touching care package, and a few pounds smuggled in by D's folks, we're floating in Peet's coffee. Thanks to all for supporting our drug habit! Our caffeinated nerves are grateful. And in general, we really have managed to find most of what we like in the way of food and such. Life without a car has been great. What with renting one when needed (only twice so far), city busses and our bikes, and ordering groceries online for delivery, we're covered and much happier carless and foot-free (groan).

Jessica (D's sister) arrived for a week long visit the day after Debbie got back. Despite frequent jaunts to the continent, this was Jessica's first visit to England. Debbie finally got to go to London for a day to show her around (although, naturally, they mostly walked around areas Debbie didn't know). They had a good sisterly time and didn't buy too many things. Over the weekend she was here, we rented a car for a lovely drive in the Cambridgeshire countryside and a visit to the local zoo/wildlife rescue center in Shepreth. The only car they had left for me was a PT cruiser. Darn.

Aunt Jessica reads to two well-scrubbed girls

Let's see, we've been eating more ostrich, which we can get every Sunday at the Market in town (that is, at the stalls in Market Square). A couple Sundays ago, the Market launched the holiday shopping frenzy season with a visit from the Snow Queen (a fabulously dressed woman on stilts), the turning on of lights around the center of town, and music provided by (wait for it) a Dixieland trio. They were actually very, very good. Especially since they looked old enough to remember the first Dixieland craze.

We've been drinking more ale and bitter; Hobgoblin is a recent favorite discovered on our trip to Bath. Their slogan (see left) makes me chuckle every time. The weather has officially turned cold. When it's not raining (and about 9 degrees C), it's frosting (and no more than 2 degrees in the sun). The girls are eagerly hoping for snow.

Christmas Break we'll be heading to Edinburgh for a week. We have tickets to the Scottish Royal Ballet's Nutcracker (and we all know how painful that can be...well, half of us, anyway), and we plan on going on a whiskey distillery tour (riding in half-barrels, no less... Alas, the barrels will be empty, but the tour does include a dram at the end) For those wondering why we'll be missing Hogmanay, well, the reasons are called Naomi and Rowyn.

Debbie misses the California Revels (Hi Revels folks!), and she's especially disappointed to miss this year's Elizabethan-themed Christmas Revels. However, to no-one's great surprise, Debbie has gotten involved with the Cambridge University Gilbert & Sullivan Society. She's already been to a couple of sing-throughs - sang Mad Margaret for Ruddigore - and she's directing Yeomen of the Guard in March 2004. The spring show is their big-budget show, performed at the (professional) Cambridge Arts Theatre, with a professional London designer. (D: I gather past spring productions have been attended by a few important folks, such as the Prince of Wales. No pressure.)

What else? Oh, yeah, we got a dryer. We've mostly gotten over the fear of flushing toilets (very, very loud). Rented a piano. Alan has already given two talks at work and a talk at a small conference in Portsmouth; unfortunately, he didn't get any time to actually explore Portsmouth. He's still trying to figure out which conferences to go to next year, mostly based on where it would be fun to go!

Wishing all of you a fantastic whatever. Hope someone throws a good New Year's Eve Party. We should remind the new owners of our old house to expect 20 or so lost souls showing up at their doorstep on 31 December.


Alan, Debbie, Naomi and Rowyn