As I've said before, I pulled an all-nighter on Wednesday-to-Thursday night in order to get everything I needed to get done finished in time before I left. Specifically, Nimbus - 2003 now has a first draft of Quidditch rules and will have a finalised set very soon. An interesting challenge. The journey down was acceptable, though hardly comfortable, with possibly ten minutes' sleep and a couple of bouts of reading-inspired mild travel-sickness. It also featured a stop at a service station on the M1 where at least two of the cubicles in its row of toilets had suspiciously-placed holes between them. That was a first, though I'd heard such things existed in theory. Reading matter included Bruce Forysth's biography, "Bruce", which hasn't been good enough to make me want to finish it on the way back and risk more sickness.
Thursday: I arrived about ten minutes early and was met at the coach station by the lovely leiabelle and shortly afterwards the equally lovely (though rather more male) cygnusfap. I dragged my case to Cyg's palatial suite within University College - a more-than-acceptable living room, furnished with comfotable sofa and chairs, separate fridge, freezer, technically illegal microwave oven, infamous rice cooker and much more. The suite has its own separate little bedroom with sink, but the coolest thing about it is the pair of steps separating bedroom section from living area - plus an intenal door with stained glass windows. Quite possibly a contender for the title of the nicest undergraduate room in Oxford.
We sat, chatted, listened to Cyg's favourite classical music CDs and drank lots of fruit juice. Soon after 7, we trotted out and visited Houssain's kebab van at my request. leiabelle and cygnusfap had large chicken kebabs and declared themselves satisfied with them. cygnusfap complimented the quality of the meat, but said that overall he preferred his local haunt for supplying the kebab in more convenient packaging and for supplying a few chips therewith. I had a tuna baguette. To be absolutely fair, I suspect nostalgia was severely clouding my judgement of the quality of the food; the man I know as Houssain himself wasn't present, so there wasn't the ambience or the happy memories. It was serviceable rather than spectacular, all told. (I also perceive retail inflation at a rate of about 50% over a period of about 6 years, which is pretty steep.)
A little later, I set off to Abingdon to visit Sarah and Phil Hannay, with whom I had stayed most recently back in March (and I still mean to write that up more fully - some memorable things happened). Phil had a few friends round from work playing board games that evening, so I joined in. (He also said right at the start that he had shown them some old episodes of Whittle with Tim Vine, so I cut to the chase and gave him my ticket to see Tim live the night before, which I had had Tim autograph for them.) We played the Sherlock Holmes Card Game (poor: fiddly, few decisions, highly luck-driven, builds up a disinteresting narrative - even though I won by a considerable margin due to an extremely lucky first hand scoring -90).
Another highlight of the night was that Phil had also, between 1983 and 1988 - more to the point, between the ages of 6 and 11 - created some tapes of then-favoured songs directly from the radio. His 1984 tape, which he played for us, was remarkably good for a seven-year-old (comedy songs du jour, Christmas stuff, a few big hits and a Wham! two-in-a-row) though it had more Shakin' Stevens on it than stood up almost twenty years later. (His 1988 tape wasn't as good as his 1984 tape, either.)
Afterwards, we went upstairs and had a look through Phil's game cupboard to pick the next game. I asked Phil if anything had been left behind from the weekend he held in March; he showed me a couple of pairs of socks and a rather nasty pair of underpants. However, when looking through his games cupboard, I pulled out a particular stack of games to see what was behind and Phil said "There's only jigsaw puzzles behind there... hang on, what's that copy of Samarkand doing there as well?" We had hidden another game which he didn't previously own in the depths of his games cupboard as a thank-you present for holding the convention, but he hadn't found it in the ten weeks it had been hidden there. Hee! Happily it was a game he had played a couple of times before and (by the happiest of accidents) reasonably liked; we played it and found it perfectly decent.
I found it fine though a little long - my tiredness was really hitting in by that point and I hit the sack very soon after the game finished. Happily, the night offered excellent rest, though I had thought that the futon might be harder than I would like. (In practice, I folded the thick duvet double and slept on the top of it.) In the morning, I woke early (7...!?) and showered. I chatted with Phil for about half an hour or so before he had to disappear to work and caught the 9:13 bus to Oxford.
Friday: as became usual, I met up at cygnusfap's in the morning with leiabelle for more chat, classical music and pics of Cyg's trip to Norway. (Some really nice photos of tranquillo, too.) We then shopped for Fandomopoly essentials and juice (a gallon and three-quarters of orange juice for £4 - now that's bulk-buying!) We collected akahannah from the coach station and the three of us all took the bus up to zorac's house, where hermorrine was also there. It was an exciting honour to get to meet Vicki and I passed on a smothery hug from expetesso as agreed.
Lunch consisted of cheese, crackers and conversation. Our plan to go swimming was thwarted by the local pool restricting its public availability to a very few hours. Instead, I broke out my copy of the UK edition of You Don't Know Jack, a snarky PC trivia game. leiabelle overcame the British bias of the questions and the cultural knowledge required to pull out the win in a remarkable performance. I'd be interested to know how many of the questions in YDKJ UK were also featured in YDKJ 2 with just a British slant in the phrasing - though I don't believe leiabelle could possibly have seen the questions before, lest this look like sour grapes. She damn smart cookie. After that, the winner stayed on against akahannah and zorac. The game seemed to go down well. (Favourite line: as well as oral, anal and genital being among Freud's stages of psychosexual development, they're also "the specialities of your mother's home business".)
Alas, I didn't stay until the end of the game, zipping down by bus to the rail station and meeting up with cygnusfap to greet sophie10 upon arrival. Oxford has this fantastic little real-time monitor of where the nearby trains are which attempts to predict when the trains will actually arrive. I'm not sure how well it works in practice - after all, the predicted time swung this way and that by about 7 minutes, only for the first prediction I saw to be correct within a minute or so - but it's still nifty. Sophie turned up and we all zoomed back to Kidlington on the bus. (Cygnus popped off to the politics library to return a book; we planed how to confuse the bus driver and so halt the bus if it turned up while he was away.) Alongside Cyg came Fandomopoly!
We started the game of Fandomopoly shortly after Sophie and Cyg arrived. This is a remarkable reworking of Monopoly about the Harry Potter fandom. It features some goregous tokens produced by sophie10 to replace the standard ones, some tremendous artwork by frayer and some brilliant canon-themed cash by iveforgottenwho. The production values of this one-off board are remarkably high and really cheer the basic game up. Anyway, with seven of us, I sat out to act as banker, but took over for leiabelle when she departed to collect kazzik from the train station.
A quick summary of the game is that leiabelle bought the second cheapest property and something else; later, the cheapest property went unbought - and, in a "game played by the proper rules" shock, was duly auctioned off. I bid a considerable sum for it (G450) in a decision which was roundly condemned at the time, but I invested almost all of her cash in the game's first two uberfics (hotels). This decision paid the G950 it had cost back and more remarkably quickly. leiabelle had also picked up Fiction Alley (Boardwalk / Mayfair) and I traded it away to cygnusfap, the owner of Restricted Section (Park Place / Park Lane) for a very hefty sum (a green property and two others) - virtually clearing him out except for a little cash. However, he bought one house on Fiction Alley, which someone then hit, which soon became three houses (G1200 rent) on FA and two (G500 rent) on RS.
Some frantic trading later, I had got the reds well-housed (2, 2 and 3, I think) when I picked up the 0wl card which advanced me to Fiction Alley. It didn't bankrupt me, but I was rather low on cash - about three houses' worth - and this caused a big hit in my position. Soon afterwards, leiabelle returned and guided the position to third-place elimination; zorac finished second, largely by strength of uberfics on the light blues (properties three to five) and cygnusfap did indeed win. Prevalent running joke: everyone keeps visiting fanfiction.net (part of what I picked up in the trade for Fiction Alley!) but nobody ever admits to it. :-) Much more fun than ordinary Monopoly would've been. I'll not describe all the gags; if you'd get them then it's likely that you'll get to see the board at some point.
After that, we put in a considerable group order at the Chinese about 150 feet from Mark's front door, which was quickly produced, was relatively cheap by Oxford standards and was of very high quality. While we were waiting, we trooped round the very-nearly-as-local Sainsbury's for the inevitable Spotted Dick and much more besides. Shortly afterwards, I brought out my "Dancing Star" DDR-home-game-wannabe mat upon which people stomped arrows rhythmically and which uttered forth mangled, MIDIfied pop tunes of 2000 and a couple of DDR favourites. The sensors were only working about as well as you'd expect from an old cheap home game, but more or less workable for a bit of fun. Later on we played foot-controlled Tetris; cygnusfap later took over and I started a horrible rumour that he was awful at it. (He wasn't.)
During the play with the Dancing Star, we spoke on the phone to dancingrain and expetesso, so they could participate in the t00bage remotely. Both of them got to speak to all of the people who they knew who were present at the time; it was great to put voices to names, much as the t00bage event was letting us put faces to names. There was also much consumption of hermorrine's delectable Cheese Pie (sweet - I'd have thought of it as a chesecake, though it's a pie rather than a cake due to the absence of flour) and later on a particularly potent, rich batch of zorac's patent m00se. He used top-quality chocolate therein which made for an extremely strong-tasting dessert where even small scrapings could be appreciated fully. (j4, you were right!)
The last game of the evening was Trivial Pursuit. The eight of us split up into four pairs; I was paired with leiabelle, awed by how well she had done at Jack earlier. Happily it was a Triv partnership which clicked. I was particularly pleased to get an Art & Literature question about Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? correct, which can solely be credited to discussion about it I had had with glissando a few weeks ago. The second game saw some changing of teams and was extremely closely matched (two teams on 3, two on 2) when it was declared a time-limit draw due to people requiring to catch the last bus home. A fine evening full of games.
People settled down to sleep, but there's a coda. Without going into details, I couldn't get to sleep. My body was physically exhausted due to rapidly changing hours and lots of short-sleep nights, but my mind was still buzzing, exhilerated by the evening's entertainment and the joyful company. Perhaps the incredibly buzzy m00se had something to do with it too. All the same, I ended up in fits of laughter for no good reason whatsoever; we're talking a good two, three or maybe five minutes of bursts of uncontrollable, can't-hold-it-in, all-my-whole-body-wants-to-do-is-laugh belly laughter.
Now this has happened to me in the past - maybe 3-5 times before - but I think the last time it would've happened might be 1995, 1996 or so, staying overnight with others in Oxford for an extended live-action role-playing game. (Which was at least partly rained off, as I recall.) It's the absurdity of desperately wanting to get to sleep more than anything else, being unable to do so and being stuck in a position where there are lots of other people trying to do otherwise and being unable to do anything about it. I do hope it didn't stop other people from sleeping, or worse still, that it woke them up. All the same, it's just fairly literally a happy accident on my part, one of my stranger quirks. If people had been awake to hear it then maybe we had all gone to bed too early after all.
Saturday: started later for me than for most people. Most people were up and out pretty early, but I was feeling very tired indeed and decided to skip the visit to the Eagle & Child pub. Instead, I caught up on a couple more hours of sleep, had a lovely soak in zorac's long bath, did some washing-up and made an attempt to stem the impact of my spam-filled mailbox. All of this was done while listening to and watching Challenge ?'s ace Saturday afternoon line-up: Gladiators, Interceptor, The Crystal Maze and Fort Boyard. Interceptor remains my favourite TV show of all time and this was its best episode, the one with the tractor - if you know the show, you'll know what the episode I mean. It was an episode I hadn't seen for about 14 years. It was a wonderful afternoon; introverted, certainly, but just the right afternoon for the occasion.
I caught up with the gang at the George + Danvers (not George + Davis!) ice-cream shop, shortly after they had returned from punting. People licked away at Oxford's second most highly-regarded ice cream before splitting up for dinner. I led a party of six, including an absolutely thrilled mhw, the scenic way up the Oxford Canal through the back of Jericho and to Peppers of Walton Street, while the bigger half of the group visited Bella Pasta. Peppers had about fifteen or so people waiting there when we arrived, but still produced us with fine burgers, fries and choice sauces in little more than twenty minutes or so. We trooped back past cash machines and met up with the Bella Pasta half of the t00bs actually on George Street. Together we returned to cygnusfap's room, where mhw shared his mushy peas and there were copious amounts of glitter applied from a soapy-greasy Lush massage bar. I was particularly pleased to receive a thorough glittering.
So next back to zorac's flat, where we were a party of seventeen. The evening descended into discussion, mostly in one big group. There was a lot of posting to LiveJournal involved, oddly enough, mostly replies to Simon Branford's post. A little later, leiabelle made s'mores for the group, aided and abetted (mostly abetted, alas!) by me. The classic recipe applied: graham crackers, Hershey bars and marshmallows, but produced in an oven rather than on a campfire. A little later still, some people played Phase Ten, a card game from the Contract Rummy family. It was a reasonably interesting version of a familiar theme, though heavily reliant on picking up the right cards and where you have to interact with only the players on your left and your right - in different ways. Overtly abstract, but I'd play this again.
One particular topic of discussion is that online bookmakers Blue Square have been offering odds on which Harry Potter character will be dead by the end of Order of the Phoenix. It was interesting to see how the odds on sundry characters changed over the weekend. One particular character has been so heavily backed to die that I'm regarding this knowledge as virtually a spoiler. If you don't want to know who, then don't look at the odds themselves and don't highlight this parenthesised text (PRESUMED SPOILER: Sirius Black) to see which character was backed in from 8/11 via 1/2 and 1/4 to 1/6 as the favourite in the dead pool. (Do you also see which closely associated character isn't even quoted at all?) The market closes at 6pm British time tonight, presumably accelerated by the latest news of theft of copies of the book. Can you say "past-posting"?
Something to point out here - as usual, my description starts off extremely in-depth and then accelerates towards the end - was just how gorgeous the weather was all weekend. No rain at all, frequently cloudless or only incidentally cloudy skies and temperatures peaking in the mid-20s Celsius (70s Farenheit, maybe 80s at some points). Definitely sunscreen weather in a few places. Perhaps the hot weather and the fairly tightly-packed rooms made sleeping a little more difficult. Happily, a little more Trivial Pursuit later, we were all tired enough that we dropped off to sleep extremely quickly. TP is a funny game - the mix of questions is always extremely variable, from the insanely difficult to the "Which country reunified in 1990 after 43 years?". About one question in ten or fifteen is really good, but most aren't. That's probably as good a ratio as we're going to get, considering. (Oh - I had a lovely dream that night about a massive extension of the Tyne & Wear Metro system which I meant to tell sophie10 about but forgot.)
Sunday: people rose at around 10 (though leiabelle got up earlier to go to Mass), washed and packed. As agreed, people headed off down to cygnusfap's place one more time at the end of the morning; it was time to thank and wish goodbye to zorac and hermorrine, my hosts for the weekend. I caught up with folks at cygnusfap's and we tr00ped off to Sainsbury's for the last time, picking up provisions for a picnic. This took place on Christ Church meadow, not far from the banks of the Cherwell or from the Botanic Gardens of His Dark Materials fame. (Alas, the £2.50 entry fee put us off from visitng the latter.) It was a sociable, entertaining and happy picnic - a wonderful way to start the conclusion of the weekend. It was also enlivened by a party fifteen yards away practising some sort of outdoor yoga-style exercises. sophie10's Lemon/Sultana cake was very nice, too.
After that, Cyg had booked out another punt (ah, the advantages of a rich college!) so ten of us headed off in the other direction down the Cherwell for an hour on a beautiful afternoon. benjj was very good at punting his way up and down a congested Cherwell, cygnusfap more than competent and I was... dreadful. :-) Still a lot of fun, though, and we got back in time for me to pick up my bags, hug folk goodbye (hugs in absentia to those who were on the other punt or enjoying ice-creams!) and make it to the bus. The bus journey home was extremely hot and the coach from Milton Keynes had a curious tendency to rock fairly dramatically from side to side even it wasn't going forward, to the point where I suspect it might be some sort of deliberate "rock the passengers to sleep" mechanism. On the plus side, at least we arrived home 45 minutes early. (I do hope the coach didn't stop at Middlesbrough for 45 minutes on the off-chance that someone would arrive at 23:15 to go to South Shields.)
Many thanks to everyone who was there this weekend, particularly those who supplied such good food, such wonderful entertainment or (most of all) an indispensable place for us to t00b. Most of all, thanks to people for supplying extremely good company. It was a thrill to meet many people who I know I like, but also to get to encounter a lot of nice folk for the very first time. I'll not name names, because at 20-some people, the event was large enough that I don't think I ever even found out who everybody was. All the same, lots of friendship and no particular drama - an excellent weekend, all told.
The "lost and found" department has a couple of items to report. I've lost one of the "Eurohike" silver-writing-on-black-elastic bands which kept my sleeping-mat rolled up. It was at zorac's house, perched on top of my suitcase, next to the stack with the TV on top and all the games consoles etc. below. The last time I saw it was about 2am on Sunday morning. No wild accusations of theft or anything like that, but if it turns up anywhere, please apply within. I've also found that I rushed off without paying cygnusfap my share of the hire of the second punt in the second session; I tried to pay him on the way back to his room, but the group's fragmentation meant that the agreed later en masse collection didn't happen.