Wednesday: Wet pants and personal belongings in the toilet

It was a wet morning for my second Greek class of the term. And riding my bike didn’t help matters. It was a bit like riding through a sprinkler. It reminded me of being back home in the Pacific Northwest, actually.

By the time I arrived at the Exam Schools for Greek, I was officially soaked. Thankfully, after an hour or so of class, I had managed to dry off a bit. Lyndon had also biked to class that morning, so he was in the same boat.

As Greek finished and we were packing up our things, I made the comment that my pants were soaked by the time I made it to class that morning.

“Trousers,” Lyndon said, quickly correcting me. “Your trousers were soaked,” he said again, with a smile.

“Ah, yes,” I nodded. “Thanks. My trousers were soaked,” somewhat sheepishly. Wondering how many other ears in the classroom had heard my words.

For those unfamiliar with the difference, here in the UK pants are referred to as “trousers.” It seems really formal and out-dated to us back in the States to call pants “trousers,” but here in the England, “pants” are what you wear underneath your trousers.

Having “soaked pants” would mean something quite different.

Speaking of things getting lost in translation, I love this sign in the restroom in the same building that my Greek class is held…

Back home, you’d hope people wouldn’t have a hard time leaving their personal belongings in the toilet. But they might forget them in the restroom, maybe, which is what this sign is getting at.

The word “restroom” isn’t used here. I’m not even sure the word “bathroom” is. Except by tourists.

Nope, it’s just called the toilet. Or the loo. I like the sound of that better. The loo.

I still have a hard time calling the restroom “the toilet.” It sounds so. . .so crass. It doesn’t sound very English, does it? Certainly not very Oxford…

“Hey, where’s the toilet?!”

But that’s what they call it here. I still call it the restroom. Yeah, I’m that guy.

Here’s a fun idea for all you kids reading: start referring to the restroom as the “toilet” back home in the States. Just tell people you’re working on your British.

An odd piece of mail

It’s been cold here lately. Particularly in the mornings. Which makes having a good, warm pair of gloves a necessity. Especially when I’m riding my bike to class in the mornings.

I’ve been tucking my gloves into the rear pocket of my messenger bag when I’m not wearing them. Which seemed like a reasonable spot for them. That was until I misplaced one of them.

It’s not an enclosed pocket. It’s more for slipping notebooks and such into, and so somehow one of my gloves apparently fell out of my bag while I was riding around town at some point. Not good when the weather’s as cold as it had been in the mornings. And, unfortunately, I had no idea when it happened, as I had been riding all over the city. It really could’ve been anywhere.

Leaving Harris Manchester Wednesday night, after reading in the library that day, I stopped into the mailroom to see if I had anything waiting for me. I was surprised to find my missing glove sitting in my mailbox!

I’m still a little unsure how it got there, and how the person who found it knew it was mine, but I sure was happy to see it sitting there. So, if you’re reading this, short of a little bit of witchcraft, I don’t know how you did it, but thanks!

Thursday: A visitor from home

After a grey, wet day on Wednesday, I was thankful to see some sunny blue skies on Thursday. I’m not a big fan of rainy winter weather that feels a bit like fall just overstayed its welcome. But dry, cold winters, I’ll take those any day of the week.

This particular day was beautiful, the white brushstrokes of clouds against the blue canvas of a sky created a beautiful backdrop for the Oxford spyres that stretch high into the sky.

A jet soaring overhead provided the only straight line in this otherwise abstract sky painting that morning.

Thursday was a great day not only because it was a sunny, blue sky day after a day of rain, but because my best friend Steve was arriving in Oxford from back home. He had been wanting to come out at the start of February with Jen, but he had a speaking engagement come up that he really couldn’t miss out on, so he ended up bumping the trip up a bit.

I was really excited to have him out for a week (or just over a week). I made a special trip to the grocery store before meeting him to make sure we had some food around. It’s not such a big deal to have things be a bit bare when you’re a bachelor by yourself. But when you have company, it’s nice to make sure no one’s going to go hungry. I figured I’d give Steve more options than oatmeal and soup. He is my best friend, after all…

Steve caught the bus from London Heathrow to Oxford, which takes right around an hour. I’ve taken it a couple times now, and it’s not a bad ride at all.

I was excited to find him waiting with his luggage at the bus stop that afternoon. He looked like he was doing incredibly well for the 6,000 mile journey he had just made.

“Great to see you, bud!” I told him with a hug.

“Yeah, you, too, man. Good to be here.”

We grabbed a cab and headed toward the house.

“Looks like you timed it right; it’s a beautiful day here in Oxford today,” I told him. “It hasn’t been so nice.”

“Yeah? Well, I tend to bring the sunshine.”

“Apparently,” I replied, both of us taking in the sights as the cab shuttled us through the city center.

“It’s weird, but it doesn’t actually feel like I’ve been gone very long,” Steve said. “I can picture everything so clearly.”

“Yeah, it’s kind of an odd feeling, isn’t it? Kind of like returning to a familiar dream.”

The cab dropped us off in front of the house and we fought with the change a bit before finally figuring out the right amount. It doesn’t make you feel very smart when you have a hard time counting change. It’s taken me a while, but I finally feel like I’m starting to get it down now. Just one more thing that’s just different enough to be confusing…

We unloaded Steve’s bags in the house and I helped him get settled in a bit. He pulled out two large pieces of tupperwear, packed to the brim with homemade muffins.

“From your Mom,” Steve told me. “She really packed them really well.”

She really had. First sealed in tupperwear, then taped up with several rounds of packing tape.

She had told me she’d be sending me out some treats along with Steve. She had asked me what kind of muffins I liked. Looked like banana chocolate chip, blueberry and raspberry.

“Oh man…” I said looking through the clear plastic at the muffins hidden inside. There’s nothing quite like getting home-baked goods when you’re so far from home. It’s a bit like receiving a little piece of home.

“And she gave me these for you, too,” Steve said, handing me several cards.

“To Steve,” read one of the cards. “Looks like this one’s made out to you,” I told him, handing it back.

“Oh wow…”

I had two cards. One from my Mom. One from Abbey. My Mom’s pet Shih Tzu. She’s a great dog, but I had no idea she was literate. It was a bit Lassie of her, really. I was half-expecting to open it and find she had told me Timmy had fallen in a well.

The card from my Mom had two photos. Of us. From when I was pretty young.

“Wow, you were chubby!” Steve commented on the photos.

“Thanks, bud.”

An international pizza

We went to a pizza place in the city center for dinner that night, after I wrapped up a paper for my Old Testament course. It’s a really cool place. With wood fire cooked pizza. The decor is really modern. And open. It’s dim inside, and always full of people. Which tells you the pizza is just as good as the atmosphere.

The three of us had come here the last time Steve was in town, and we were both wanting to go again when he arrived. After a week and a half of being here, some pizza sounded great.

The menu is really great here, too. It’s set up so that pizzas are categorized by geography. You might find some Asian-inspired pizzas featuring hoisin sauce, an African pizza with a mint yogurt sauce, or a barbecue steak pizza inspired by the great State of Texas. Along with some more traditional pies.

We went with one from Australia, with chicken and potato and sour cream, and the barbecue steak pizza from back home. They were both really great. We sat in the bar, overlooking the restaurant and out toward the street. It was great sitting there with my best friend from back home and enjoying pizza. Suddenly, I didn’t feel so far from home.

I told Steve there have been several times where I’ve thought I had seen someone I knew, but then I realized the person I thought I saw was from back home, and there’d be no way they were actually here. It’s a weird feeling.

“That’s funny,” he said, “because I was just thinking the same thing when you said that. I thought for a second I had seen a good friend of mine from high school.”

We sat there and talked for quite a while. Eating our pizza slowly. Until there was only a few pieces left. The place was still busy when we asked for our check.

My eyes caught a couple sitting in the middle of the restaurant as we talked. A younger couple. He was watching something on his phone. A video, from the looks of it. And the girl across from him was busy texting. Almost the whole time. He took bites of his pizza, without removing his eyes from the tiny screen in front of him.

“How sad,” I remember thinking to myself. “What I wouldn’t give to get to spend a meal across from my wife at this point.”

We threw in the towel with a couple pieces of pizza still left on the pans in-between us. It’s not something I’m proud of, not finishing food like that. I’m known for eating several plates at dinner back home, and then having a second dinner a couple hours later. I must be losing my touch.

Steve told me I’m getting older. And that pretty soon my metabolism is going to start catching up with me. I told him I’m not looking forward to that day. But that I’m going to enjoy my two-dinners a night until then.

The bill came and we were both surprised to see that two pizzas had only cost us £8. Usually that would’ve been the price of just one pizza, but apparently Thursday nights are £4 pizza nights at this place.

“Looks like we’ll be coming back here on Thursday nights,” I told Steve as we made our way out of the restaurant and walked through the city center on our way back home.

Friday: An introduction to Patristics

I had Greek Friday morning, so Steve walked into town with me to get some work done while I was in class. He went to Starbucks while I headed to Greek and I caught up with him afterward.

I found him right away after Greek. His eyes looked tired and, before he could even admit it, I could tell the time difference was catching up with him.

“How’re you doing bud,” I said to him as I sat my bag down on a chair at the table he had been working at.

“I’m tired,” he told me in a worn out voice.

“Yeah, I can tell.”

“I’m thinking about heading back and taking a nap, actually.”

“You should,” I told him. I had a paper due that afternoon, so I would just be working from the library that afternoon. “Why don’t you head back to the house and get some rest. I’ll catch up with you after I finish and we can get together to grab a bite.”

“Sounds good.” He wasn’t about to argue with that idea.

I plugged away from the library at Harris Manchester to finish my paper just in time before it was due. I would be presenting it in class that afternoon. It’s for a new class I’m starting this term, Patristics. Or early church fathers. Basically, the class is covering some of the more prominent guys who helped define the early Christian ideas as they were handed down from the apostles. Defending the faith against false traditions that were beginning to arise. In the second and third centuries. So, really, not too terribly long after the death of Jesus. A few generations, I guess.

These were brilliant guys, and I’m really, really enjoying this material. I can’t get over how well these guys intelligibly communicate these doctrines, paying careful attention to the Scriptures. I love it. I feel like it’s good for my soul. I feel refreshed and nourished reading for it. And this is part of my class work, I remind myself. So great. I really consider myself fortunate to get to study this stuff full-time.

My Patristics class is being taught by a woman from Eastern Europe. She’s from Russia originally, I believe. Konstantinovsky is her last name. And, for this class, I’m the only student. It’s still crazy to me to think of a university class made up of one student. But that’s how it is. One-to-one student-to-teacher ratio. Crazy. But that’s the beauty of an Oxford education for you.

Cole had told me before class that she’s pretty particular. That she’ll call you out if you use the wrong word here or there. And that she really enjoys this material, so as long as you show an excitement for it, it’ll be great. Fortunately, I’ve been eating this stuff up, so that shouldn’t be a problem.

She has a bare office. Overlooking St. Giles Street. The same street Eagle & Child is on. Just above the Theology Faculty Library. A computer desk sits in one corner of the room, piled high with papers and books, and  a second desk sits in the middle of the room. With a chair on either side. A few sparse book shelves hang from the walls. And a chair sits in another corner. Apart from that, the room is very bare.

I handed her a copy of my paper and saved one for myself. She glanced at it before asking me to read it aloud. She told me the length looked really good, but that there were some things I could do to make it stronger. Like expanding my bibliography (i.e. read more books) and expounding more on the ideas I introduce (i.e. write more without expanding the paper; be more concise about it). I told her I’d do better next time. She told me not to worry, that it was a great paper.

Not bad for my first Patristics class, I thought to myself as I left the room. Down the spiraling staircase and back out onto St. Giles Street. I had another class that afternoon. My Old Testament class, which carried over from last term. It went long, and so it was dark by the time I got out.

A pretend milkshake

It was nearly dinner time, so I made my way to the library to ring up Steve on Skype and see how he was doing.

He had managed to get some good sleep, he told me. He was feeling much better, from the sounds of things.

We ended up meeting in town for dinner. We thought we’d follow up a night of pizza with some burgers. I told him there was a place I had been wanting to try. The Gourmet Burger Kitchen. He was sold.

We ordered two guacamole bacon burgers at the bar. I added an egg to mine (if you haven’t a fried egg on a burger, you really haven’t lived). And we got two milkshakes to go along with the burgers.

What came next was a thing of beauty…

This skyscraper-esque burger was a dream come true. Notice that sunny-side-up egg peaking out the side.

Steve was pretty happy about his, too.

The milkshakes, though, well, those were another story. Back home, milkshakes and chocolate milk are two different things. Here, I’m not so sure that’s the case. At least not at this place. Mine really was the consistency of chocolate milk.

“You know you have a good milkshake when you can hold it upside down and nothing happens,” I told Steve. “That’d just be a mess with this guy,” I said, staring into my “milkshake” glass.

We didn’t mess around with those burgers, though. We were quickly cleaning the remnants of guacamole from our hands with napkins and feeling pretty good about life. They were amazing.

We ventured down the street to a coffee shop in town after that. To grab something warm to drink. And just to chat.

This particular coffee shop is in this great old building. With low ceilings and large wooden beams everywhere. You really feel like you’ve traveled back in time when you’re there.

Their front window juts out into the street and two high wingback chairs are seated across from each other, looking out over the street. The seats were open when we went, so we took those.

Sinking back into the wingback leather chair, I told Steve I needed one of these in my house someday.

“Yeah? In your library?”

“Exactly,” I told him, with a smile, thinking about the library I hoped to one day have.

Books. Everywhere. Floor to ceiling. Maybe with a view of the water, too. That’s my happy place.

We sat there in those seats, looking out over the street, and talking until the coffee shop finally closed. We were the last to leave. It was great having Steve here and catching up. He had just gotten engaged over the holidays. To an incredible woman. Jamie. So we had a lot to catch up on while he was here.

I’ll be proudly standing beside him come October. As his best man. It’s a real honor, and I couldn’t be more excited for them both.

“Thankful to have a whole week with you here, man,” I said, turning to him as we left the coffee shop and stepped out into the cool night air.

“Yeah, me too, man,” he said as we turned the corner and made our way back home along the cobblestone street.

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