Thursday, November 22, 2012

Catching up on the Mundanities...

I've devoted quite a bit of blog space to traveling and one day excursions to palaces-- but I realized it's been a while since I wrote about the "everyday" part of living in Oxford (maybe because there aren't too many pictures of it to jog my memory. This also means that this post has almost no photos.).  But that is a part of this whole thing that I want to remember as well, so as there is a rather frightening kind of wind storm happening right now (which I am eventually going to have to brave), it seemed like a good time to catch up on the mundane.


I did finally make it to a yoga class.  But, it wasn't yoga-- at least not like I'm used to it. It should have been called something like fitness stretching because other than the fact that the instructor said "namaste" at the end and we were all on yoga mats, it wasn't like any yoga I'm accustomed to.

For starters, the room was really bright-- all the florescent lights were on. This might have been a function of the room itself-- it's really an all-purpose exercise room, and all the other classes probably need bright lighting and I'm not sure there was a way to really control the light level other than to turn them all off.  But, while the lighting couldn't be helped, the music could-- it was loud. And, it was fast pop songs ranging from Bruno Mars to Lady Antebellum (and, maybe some British top-40. There was some music I didn't recognize.)  Needless to say, there was no cleansing breath and no centering or calming. It's hard to center when Bruno Mars is declaring that he'd catch a grenade for ya. (Not that I don't love that I song; I do. I'm just saying that yoga and violent images of gallant death don't really mix.)  And, the instructor mocked those in the class who weren't following her cues correctly (like those who started with their left feet instead of their right).  It wasn't mean-- but it wasn't the sort of nurturing, accepting brand of yoga I'm used to.  (Thankfully, I was spared being pointed out.  Maybe that was to make up for the fact that I was front and center in the room-- really just a few feet from the instructor which was its own novice move that was cause for embarrassment. It wasn't my intent to be right on top of where the instructor was; I thought I had sort of placed my mat in the middle of the room, off to the side.  Turns out what I thought was the side of the room was really the front. And the room was packed, so I couldn't move.)

There was one sun salutation, but only one, as a warm-up.  And, there was a lot of good stretching-- I really did feel better when the class was over, especially since the yoga class was on the day after my first real tennis lesson.  It helped with the stiffness from that.  And, there was one random moment of working on balance-- we did do a tree pose (with a little mockery of those who couldn't hold it for a long period of time...).

I don't quite know why I left disappointed-- I think because I was expecting yoga and while it was really good stretching that made me feel better, it wasn't yoga.  (It also had no real social potential-- it was mostly students and, since there's only one exercise studio in the gym and classes are pretty constantly scheduled, there's no chance to hang around after and chat.  We all had to pack up and go quickly to make room for the next class.  (I even felt guilty taking the time to put my shoes back on before I left.)  I probably should have gone back since I do know the stretching is good for me (and, part of why I do yoga is because I'm really bad about stretching on my own.  I don't stretch unless someone makes me-- and that almost never happens.) and it's not that I've intentionally avoided it. But, there are only two classes a week and they are scheduled at rather inconvenient times (dinner time on Mondays and mid-afternoon on Fridays), though I could probably plan for if I had loved it.  But I didn't-- so I haven't had the kind of aching need to go back that would make me rearrange my schedule.

Real Tennis:

I had two more real tennis lessons for a total of three.  I probably would have taken more lessons but Andrew, the coach in charge of running the Real Tennis Courts at Merton (and who I had my two lessons with after my initial one with Craig), made the mistake of initially quoting me the student rate (instead of the adult rate) for lessons in his email.  I got away with three lessons as this rate since I had signed up for them, but that I am not a student seemed to really be problematic (there was some muttering about needing to be consistent about these things) so I wasn't offered more lessons after my third (especially since I had made it pretty clear that I can't afford the adult rate-- I don't know who can on a regular basis. It's significantly more, like more than twice the student rate.  I'm now wondering what the average salary in Oxford is.).  But, the remaining two lessons were fun.

Since I seemed to have the basic technique down (though, not consistently), Andrew and I spent a portion of my lessons practicing taking the ball off the bounce off the wall (which is really the hard part for me) and playing out actual games.  I'm actually ok at taking the ball off the wall bounce when I'm being slowly fed the balls and have time. It's when there's an actual rally and the balls are coming at me faster that I'm not so great.  I think there's two reasons for this: one is that when the balls were being fed to me, there was a sort of logic to what it was going to do after it hit the wall, especially since it was moving rather slowly, while during a rally that kind of predictability is out the window (at least for me-- I think that as you play more, this starts to make more sense.  It must.) and the ball is moving faster so there's less time to prepare for it (I was often too close to the ball in rallies). Two, while my technique was pretty good when the ball was being fed slowly and I had time to think about, in a faster-paced rally, my muscle memory tended to revert back to a tennis swing which is all wrong for real tennis.  For example, there's no follow-through in real tennis; while follow-through is really important in regular tennis, following through in real tennis tends to send the ball sideways and into the ground.  This is partially because, unlike in regular tennis where the swing generally tends to go from low-to-high, in real tennis, the swing is more high-to-low, or at least high-to-straight in front.  The real lesson of real tennis, for me, is that I have a clear muscle memory of how to hit a regular tennis ball that I don't have to think about which is kind of reassuring for my tennis game, but means three lessons wasn't enough time for me learn to think fast enough about the difference to hit a real tennis ball correctly during a rally.

That said, I think I won a total of three games over the two lessons with Andrew (a marked improvement from having not even won a point during my lesson with Craig).  That's partially because my serve does translate pretty well to real tennis- and, there's the added advantage of having a larger "box" to serve into in real tennis, so I don't even have to aim as much as I do in regular tennis (which the Brits would call lawn tennis, but I can't really say that since it's not like I ever play tennis on a lawn surface).  So, I could win a few free points off my serve.  This only helps to a certain extent though since serving in real tennis is not the same as serving in regular tennis.  You don't switch every couple games-- or even at the end of a game. In fact, you would never switch serve at the end of a game; you can only change sides (and, you can only serve from one side, the dedane side) when one player reaches 40 in the scoring AND there's a chase (meaning at some point the ball bounced twice on the server's side, which in real tennis does not result in a point but a different sort of playing out of the point which is hard to explain but basically you note where the ball bounced the second time and then to win the point, the former server-- now receiving because at 40-something, players switched sides to play out the chase-- has to get the ball to bounce closer to the back wall on a second bounce than the ball did the first time) or there are two chases (the second one causes an immediate side change-- and then both are played out in the same way. It becomes a lot to keep track of.  In fact, I'm pretty sure there is a limited amount of time my brain is going to be able to remember how to keep score before I can no longer even begin to explain it.).  I am particularly bad at winning a chase point-- I think that's a serious hindrance to my real tennis future. That and the fact that in the US there is no real tennis court closer than six hours away from me-- doesn't give me much chance to continue to practice (which made paying the incredibly expensive adult rates to continue lessons seem even less worth it).  But, as soon as ESPN starts covering real tennis, I'm sure there will be more courts.

Quiz Night:

I have finally made it to one pub quiz night; this is exciting on two fronts.  One, I got to find out what a pub quiz night is and two it marked a rare social outing with people other than my students or those friends and family who have come to visit me.

I went to quiz night at a local pub in Headington, my neighborhood, called the White Hart.  It's located back off the main road and is rather a locals kind-of place which nicely means there generally aren't students there (as opposed to the pubs on the main road which are often quite crowded with students).  It looks like one would expect British pub to look rustic with low ceilings and kitchy stuff on the walls.

I was expecting something like the trivia boxes found in a lot of American bars, those associated with trivia questions that pop up on a screen and which are really being broadcast all over the US. But, there is nothing electronic involved at all with a British quiz night (except a copier or printer, I presume).  In this pub, the quiz has two parts.  For the first part, all the teams (this is largely played in teams) is given a sheet of paper with 20 celebrity photos on it.  Teams have to identify who the celebrities are.  This night, the theme was apparently people and bands who have the #1 hit in Britain each year for the last 20 years.  I recognized all of them except some British boy band who is not One Direction (though, I don't really know what they look like either. I just know the name) and whose name I have since forgotten.  This is the easy part of the quiz.  The next part is 50-something trivia questions which often center around British culture, sport and politics. The first letter of each answer also creates words themselves-- in this case, they were spelling out movies Leonardo DiCaprio has been in.  I got all the movies-- so we had the first letter for every answer whether we knew it or not.  Unfortunately, that's only a helpful hint. There was no credit given for being able to list movies starring Leonardo.

I was very helpful the few times the questions were actually about American culture, but that was rare (the two I got were about American TV shows.  I don't know what that says about me-- though, to be fair, they didn't really ask other questions about the US.  Except that capitol of Florida-- which I let everyone convince me was Tampa instead of Tallahassee.  There was wine involved in quiz night.  Probably not so good for quickly remembering trivia, but it made me really happy since I miss Wednesday Wine with my friends from work back in North Carolina.  They have been able to Skype me a couple times, so I've sat in my flat drinking wine while they sit in our favorite wine shop and pass the iPad around so I can see them all.  It's lovely and fun, though not quite the same thing.).  I was very unhelpful when it came to questions about football (here, read soccer-- I would have been very good at NFL football questions) and its players.  That was actually ok because no one on my team knew anything about soccer either.  Also, no one could remember who the newly names Archbishop of Canterbury is even though it was a big deal here.  I had actually intentionally followed it because I know that the church was having trouble getting anyone to take the job-- it's kind of a political hotbed position-- and then I couldn't remember his name.  And then, we missed various questions about British soap opera stars and boy bands which meant we sort of came in middle-of-the-pack after the sheets were collected from each team and tallied but which I found reassuring-- between the love of wine and a mutual disinterest in British soaps and boy bands, I was thinking I had met people I could actually be friends with.

My way home marked one last first for me-- quiz night is on Tuesdays which is the night I teach my one class and so I had really had a snack before I headed to the pub.  As we were leaving, I realized I was starving.  Despite the fact that it was about 11 o'clock at night, I had to get something to eat-- and what you get to eat in Oxford late at night (though, 11 isn't really "late" at night in Oxford since clubs are often open until 3 am) is a kebab.  There are kebab trucks all over Oxford-- they come out a little after dinner time and stay on the streets until about 4 am serving all the hungry, drunk people leaving the pubs and clubs.  Getting a kebab is the English equivalent of getting greasy pizza at 2 am in the States.  There are many competing trucks in the City Centre-- but there is one in Headington.  Since I'm not one to eat really late at night, I hadn't been to a kebab truck yet-- but it suddenly seemed like a good idea (I certainly wasn't going to be able to go sleep as hungry as I was).  I showed quite a bit of restraint and just got the chicken kebab with chili sauce (there are a variety of sauce choices. Sauces in the UK still confuse me-- there are always a lot of options for sauces, but I don't know what a lot of the names for them mean in terms of taste.).  I did not get the chips (or, the cheesy chips which given how hungry I was sounded really good).

Kebabs from the trucks don't come on sticks (which I prefer since the stick really just gets in the way) -- rather they come served over "salad" (in this case lettuce and onion, so at least salad meant some kind of ingredient I usually associate with the word; there would have been tomato too, but I don't like tomato so I asked not to have it.) and pita.  And, they taste much better than the picture makes it look here (I'm feeling light on pictures or I probably wouldn't have included one.).  In fact, surprisingly yummy for cheap food from a truck.  I totally get why they are a popular staple here.

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