Holed up in Oxford

I want to write a book. Correction, I am trying to write a book, and the only way it seems possible is to be in a cold, grey, expensive British town somewhere where I know nobody. I know one guy actually, but he’s a penguinologist researcher on site in Antarctica until February, so he agreed to let me squat his house and punish myself in isolation while writing some hundreds of pages about me. It is as boring as it sounds, but some people (like myself) May want to read it one day.

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Cornmarket Street, Oxford

I arrived January 18th, and didn’t leave the house for the first week, except for one grocery shop. The only non-book writing things I did were: take a bath, watch one Tarantino movie, and drink red wine. But it wasn’t so bad, January in Oxford… not compared to Reykjavik at least.

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Oxford’s famous Covered Market

There are leaves on the trees and the parks still have green grass. Birds chirp every morning and when the sun does show its face for a moment, it actually gives warmth. The grocery shopping here is a fraction of what things cost in Reykjavik, but mostly I’m here because there’s noone to call or meet for coffee, and noone showing up to distract me. I feel like I’m becoming a crazy cat lady without the cats.

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Malmaison, former prison turned Boutique Hotel

The wonderful thing about writing a 60,000 word book is it makes a 500 word blog seem like a piece of cake. But after a very productive week I decided to go to them if they wouldn’t come to me (people, not cats), so a weekend trip to Bristol is underway. A couple of days away from my computer screen should do me good, and I’ll finally hear the sound of my own voice when I speak to another human again. Can’t wait.

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A Penguin Beach in London? Yes.

A happy black-footed penguin dives in the new London Zoo beach pool

I heard about a guy whose research is on European Penguin genetics, and my natural response was “which European penguins?” But it just so happens that there are enough domesticated penguins in zoos around Europe that their genetic history and breeding requires a lot of monitoring. Penguin adults are swapped to avoid inbreeding, chicks are bred in incubators, and penguin population dynamics and species spread is totally controlled by people like him and other scientists.

Learn how you can adopt Ricky at http://www.zsl.org/penguins

The London Zoo has a pretty large penguin roster, and they just recently opened their new penguin exhibit – the first penguin beach in England! They have Blackfooted penguins (aka the African penguin), Humboldts, Macaroni penguins, and one lonely rock-hopper penguin named Ricky who enjoys pruning friendly people.

During the exhibit launch, speeches focused on the seriousness of climate change and depleting fish stocks, since these result in catastrophic consequences for penguin breeding and survival. No average person in England or elsewhere might understand the importance of eating and living sustainably, but the carbon footprint of the entire western world is the root of both problems. Penguin populations worldwide are depleting, and as global warming melts the pack ice in Antarctica, penguins are losing their nautral habitat, the rich fishing waters, and even the ability to breed.

a mixture of penguins chillin on the beach

At the zoo, penguins are fed all their meals and receive medical attention and antibiotics whenever necessary, so even though many want to see these penguins in the wild exhibiting natural behavior, I’d say theyre pretty damn happy to stay. These penguins have now been domesticated for  generations, so living in the wild might be impossible for them anyway;  the point of the Penguin Beach and other zoo-kept colonies of penguins is to allow us to better understand them and let people, who know nothing about them or Antartica, be more aware of issues surrounding them, and perhaps fall in love with penguins enough to help make a difference.

I have family in London I meant to see but with a 2 day delay on my trip (thanks Grimsvotn), my entire London experience was centered around penguins. I stayed with 2 friends that I met last year in Antarctica, a penguin zookeeper and a Dr. Penguinologist (his actual title), and also squeezed in some time with a fellow globetrotter who travels the world surfing and photographing it (find him on facebook – Murray Ash Photography). I spent a couple days in quaint little Oxford, saw a lot of beautiful things and heard some angelic sounds like a baroque trio and organ recital in 300 year old churches, but didn’t learn nearly as much there as I did in my one day at the zoo.

the Bodleian Library in Radcliffe Square, Oxford

Hopefully my adoration of penguins has come across clearly in this blog, and if you ever get the chance to cuddle one at the zoo, swim with one in Galapagos, and walk through a million of them in Antarctica, I guarantee you’ll be a sucker for penguins too. Now Im off to South Africa for more jackass penguin loving, not called jackasses because they’re rude (no such thing as a mean penguin) but because they howl like very cute, tuxedo-dressed donkeys.

Interesting Links:

Support Penguin Research and Meet Dr. Penguinologist: http://www.zsl.org/conservation/regions/antarctica/