First of all I hung out with Claire as she researched her new book, talking to various bright Cambridge dons about Europe and Britain and religion and immigration and anti-Semitism and the state of the World today. Her questions were so good and the resulting conversations were so long and wide-ranging that there is far too much to write about here. I might stir some samples into PooterGeek posts over the next few weeks. Claire, you should have let me commit it all to MiniDisc.

Then to Oxford, for a big retirement do. To answer Backword Dave’s question, lunch with Chris Brooke (at the middle-class McDonald’s) was excellent, thank you. Though it was only later when I was chatting with [namedrop]the Master of Balliol[/namedrop] that I was reassured that Chris isn’t employed by the Tourist Board to play the role of of a young Oxbridge politics don, so much does he look and sound the part; Chris does that job for real. Incidentally, Chris, you ‘Blog our lunch and get seven comments; none of them are about me! I’d appreciate it if you kept your visitors on-topic next time. I am hoping that Chris, Norm and some other British ‘Bloggers will be joining me for a scholarly gathering on the subject of ‘Blogging next year. Watch this space.

I bottled out of my rebel gesture and paid for the dinner in the end—one of the main organisers was a PhD student who I like immensely. The meal was excellent, the company was stimulating and diverse, and the preceding seminar and reception were interesting and fun. Balliol seems a lot healthier than it has for a long time. Presentation, lecture, reception and dinner were all in honour of Denis Noble, who, apart from being a computational physiologist of renown, campaigned energetically for British government funding of science and against the awarding of an honorary Oxford degree to Margaret Thatcher. There was a time when being a Leftie and sympathising with Israel’s predicament made a common combination. No longer, I’m sorry to say. Noble has been described as “a famously Marxist don”—he isn’t; he has also worked conspicuously and unembarrassedly with Israeli academics.

Then to my sister’s huge new home in the Derbyshire countryside to see my folks and take photos of my niece and her spectacular hair. The wardrobe in the bedroom of the house that my sister and brother-in-law own is about the size of the kitchen in the flat I rent. The further north you go the less insane the British housing market becomes; the easier it is to strike up a conversation with a stranger without being arrested; and the more likely you are to bump into a member of my family.