You might think it is strange that my first blog entry from the UK is going to start with food, which the British are not particularly known for. However, eating is one of the necessities and I think it is generally a good idea to iron these out first.
I arrived in the UK two days ago and since then most of my time has been spent meeting people, running errands, and cutting through red tape. Of course I have learned many many things so far -- mostly things like who is in charge of getting me registered for national health insurance and other necessary but boring facts. However, in addition to these boring things (and a few interesting things about physics) a rather large number of the random things I have learned have to do with food.
(1) There is some automated web-based system that tells you everything you need to know about dining at the college. To have either lunch or dinner you click something and they know to expect you. The same web site apparently lists a bunch of other information and rules about dining. Unfortunately, I don't have a login yet, so I am breaking all the rules and everyone is too polite to correct me (to begin with I am showing up without having clicked on the website)
(2) Daytime feeding time at Somerville College Oxford is roughly 1 pm. Fellows (professors, readers, lectures) and other important personage sit at the high table in the dining hall. The table is filled from right to left as people arrive. But when the Principal of Somerville College, Dame Fiona, arrives, she sits at the middle of table in a larger chair reminiscent of royalty. At this point the rules change and you are supposed to sit with Dame Fiona and seat outwards from there.
(3) The food at the college, so far, is pretty good. I already feel I am at risk of being the oldest person ever to put on the freshman 15. Desserts appear to be particularly dangerous. Fortunately, I had my cholesterol checked recently and it seems to be very good so I can afford a bit of British cooking. Then again, cholesterol or no, I'd like to avoid getting any doughier than I already am (My brother would tell me to go to the gym and lift weights. Got to figure out where the gym is. Then I've got to start going.)
(4) Dinner is not served this week (the term has not started), so I've been fending for myself. Found a decent bagel with salmon and cream cheese for dinner... and tea… speaking of which…
(5) Tea and coffee for fellows of the college (faculty etc) are served in the "senior common room" after lunch. This reminds me a bit of the "staff porch" we had in summer camp years and years ago -- although it is decorated a bit more like you would expect of Oxford: bookshelves of ancient books. Big plush victorian couches, chairs, and rugs. Paintings of long-since dead faculty and donors. And the motto is posted in latin, so I have no idea what it says.
(6) Tea in the theoretical physics building is served at 11 am in the discussion room. A mug of tea is 30 pence and a hobnob cookie is 5 pence. Coffee is more expensive, but appears to be the good kind. I think there is also tea served in the neighboring physics building in the afternoon. And of course there is tea in the senior common room of the college again at 4pm. I suspect I could easily fill an entire day going from one tea to another, then to elevensies, then to lunch, then tea, then..., then... I'll have to try that sometime just to see if it is really possible.