Sharp Blue: Lunch with Livia(*)


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Yesterday, I went to Oxford to have lunch with Livia, one of my favourite people. As usual, the definition of “lunch” was stretched to breaking point, and encompassed not just rather good vegetarian food at the Gardener’s Arms but also much else besides. A fair chunk of the afternoon was spent at the Museum of the History of Science, where I got embarrassingly excited to see parts of the original Difference Engine (and a Curta calculator in perfect condition). They also had lots of exquisitely beautiful 17th and 18th century telescopes and microscopes, and pocket sundials, and quadrants, and what we were pretty sure were alethiometers, and yet more obscure but fascinating instruments. I could’ve happily spent all day there. (Yes, I’m a geek. Don’t try to tell me you hadn’t noticed.)

After the museum, Livia forced me to go into Blackwell’s, which is quite possibly the largest bookshop I’ve ever seen. We first ventured into the vast subterranean labyrinth of its science section. I think there are probably lost tribes of pygmies somewhere in those endless warrens of bookcases. Not content with that, she next made me to go to classical history. (Livia’s so cruel that it baffles me that I’m still friends with her.) By exerting every last reserve of my iron will, I managed to avoid buying any books. Okay, so I bought one. Or maybe two. But certainly no more than that. (The Roman Empire at Bay, AD180-395; The Age of Justinian; not, at least for the moment, Polchinksi’s String Theory.) If my bookcases come crashing through the ceiling into the kitchen, you know who’s to blame. I exacted vengeance by not stopping her from looking at the poetry books.

Finally, after more wandering through Oxford and its many pubs, we settled on Raoul’s, cocktails, and conversation both dazzlingly witty and dizzyingly erudite. (At least Livs’ half was; I mostly contented myself with nodding and smiling and inarticulate babbling. You know, the usual stuff.) I believe that at this point I may have become a little tipsy, but if I couldn’t walk in a straight line afterwards it was the weight of that big heavy bag of books pulling me off course and certainly nothing at all to do with alcohol. (Strange stuff, gravity.) It’s a little distressing how quickly time passes when I’m with Livia. In what seemed like the blink of an eye we were back at the station ready for me to catch the penultimate(**) train back to Bristol. But not before the world’s longest(***) hug. At least it’s only three weeks till we see each other again at the CrowCon. I can hardly wait.

Update (2/5): The lady herself comments.

(*) Just this once I will forego chilly intellectualism and austere moral gravity in favour of, like, actual character. Or at least some unconvincing semblance of it.

(**) The penultimate that day, not ever. This shouldn’t be taken as secret knowledge of the imminent Apocalypse.

(***) And if by some freak of history it wasn’t the longest, it was certainly the nicest.

That photo at the top is a few weeks old. I was too distracted to take any pictures yesterday. She still looks just about the same. Use your imagination, people.

No aubergines were harmed in the making of this post.

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