Visiting Tolkien

Every city has its secrets, and Oxford is no exception.

The city centre, undoubtedly, is where you can find most of the major tourist attractions. But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to see as you venture further away.

To the north of Oxford lies Wolvercote Cemetery where several notable people are buried. Among them are:

  • Sir Roger Bannister, the first man to run a sub-4-minute mile (and a fellow neurologist too!)
  • Benjamin Blackwell, founder of the Blackwell’s chain of bookshops (possibly my favourite places in Oxford)
  • Albert Hourani, historian and author of ‘A History of the Arab Peoples’

When I stopped by the other day, however, there was only one grave I really wanted to see:

John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, author of ‘The Lord of The Rings’, is buried in Wolvercote Cemetery in the same grave as his wife Edith Mary Tolkien.

On their tombstone is engraved the names Beren & Lúthien. Beren, as any Tolkien fan will know, is a Man who fell in love with the Elf-maiden Lúthien (also known as Tinúviel) , and their characters are a reflection of Tolkien’s love for his wife Edith.

The leaves were long, the grass was green,
The hemlock-umbels tall and fair,
And in the glade a light was seen
Of stars in shadow shimmering.
Tinúviel was dancing there
To music of a pipe unseen,
And light of stars was in her hair,
And in her raiment glimmering.

There Beren came from mountains cold.
And lost he wandered under leaves,
And where the Elven-river rolled
He walked alone and sorrowing.
He peered between the hemlock-leaves
And saw in wonder flowers of gold
Upon her mantle and her sleeves,
And her hair like shadow following.

As I was leaving, I caught sight of some mushrooms and thought how much Frodo Baggins would love them (if they don’t end up killing him, of course, as I have no idea if these are edible to begin with!).

Post-Lockdown 2.0

England emerged from Lockdown 2.0 into a world plagued with uncertainties, epitomised by debates over seemingly daft things like:

What exactly constitutes a “substantial meal”?

Under the latest rules, something like a Scotch egg would qualify as a “substantial meal” (according to a cabinet minister) but a Cornish pasty would not.

For my Malaysian readers, that’s a bit like saying a ‘karipap’ is a “subtantial meal”, but an ‘apam balik’ is not.

Confusing? You betcha!

I honestly have a lot of sympathy for the people in charge of writing these rules. Communicating something precisely to the general population is never easy at the best of times, let alone during a pandemic.

Risky Talk

While we’re on the topic of communication, I’d like to share with you a really interesting podcast I came across recently. It’s called ‘Risky Talk’ and it’s hosted by Professor Sir (or is it Sir Professor?) David Spiegelhalter, the Winton Professor for the Public Understanding of Risk at the University of Cambridge.

The latest episode, unsurprisingly, deals with communicating about vaccines.

I have a lot to say about vaccines and the vaccine refusal movement in Malaysia, but this is not the blog post for it. Some other time maybe. Anyway, have a listen to Risky Talk and let me know what you think.

Lab meeting

On top of listening to other people talk, I also delivered a brief presentation during my group’s lab meeting on Monday this week. I had hoped to present my data on visual working memory deficits in cerebral small vessel disease (SVD), but sadly, didn’t manage to finish the analysis in time for the presentation.

Instead, I talked about a recent paper in Neurology about the use of multi-shell diffusion MRI models for white matter characterization in SVD. This is an area of research I’m very keen to explore as part of my DPhil. Hopefully something good comes out of this inshaAllah.

Hello Cutteslowe

In other news, I also moved houses during the lockdown. When I first arrived in Oxford, my college (St. Catherine’s College) kindly gave me a room in their graduate accommodation building, known as St Catherine’s House, or Catz House, for short. It’s located in the south-eastern part of the city, in a district known as St Clement’s. After 6 months, I moved into a room off Botley Road in the western part of the city. This time around, I wanted to live in a different area so I chose a place in Cutteslowe, a suburb of north Oxford.

I’m lucky that I don’t have that many things with me, that is, unless you’re counting the pile of books I seem to have accumulated since coming here. But everyone knows books don’t count anyway; you can (and should) buy as many of them as you want!

Anyway, about the move…it all went well alhamdulillah, except for the fact that I have to wait for my broadband account to be activated. I know, I know, first world problem and all that. But damn, having to rely on mobile hotspot is frankly awful. I mean, take a look at this:

Which is painful when you’ve gotten used to this:

Of course, this is a trivial problem to have compared to everything else that is happening around us. I’m just being silly. I keep having to remind myself to be thankful for all the blessings and opportunities that have come my way. Alhamdulillah, always…

That’s probably enough for now. I hope all of you are staying safe, and managing to find some peace and happiness despite the circumstances. Take care.

Night Mode

Lockdown 2.0 and falling temperatures mean that there are fewer people outdoors especially at night. I’ve fallen into the habit of taking short walks almost every day to alleviate the boredom of sitting alone in a small room at home waiting for the time to pass.

One upside of this is that I’ve had more opportunities to try out Night Mode on the iPhone. Previously, I brought along a small tripod while taking photos of the Radcliffe Camera, but I was curious to see what the photos would look like if I handheld the iPhone, or minimally supported it, by leaning against a tree for example.

Here’s a photo I took earlier from Osney Bridge which crosses the River Thames in Oxford:

View from Osney Bridge

Not bad considering I only rested the iPhone on a bridge handrail while taking the picture. What I really want, however, is to be able to capture more stars in the night sky. Definitely going to put that in my Omnifocus list of ‘Things to Learn’.

The Holly Bush

As I was walking back to my house, I saw this pub looking all lonely and deserted. It reminds me of The Winchester Tavern in Shaun of the Dead, except this one is smaller, and there are no zombies around. Not yet, at least…

A Promised Land

Aaaaand, it’s here folks!

A Promised Land

I picked up the copy that I had reserved at Blackwell’s on Broad Street in Oxford. It’s a shame that they’re only allowed to open a counter at the front door, I would’ve loved to be able to read it over a cup of coffee at the Caffè Nero upstairs.

Excitement level: stratospheric!

The Atlantic’s Interview With Barack Obama

There was a time when I was genuinely interested in politics. This was back in 2005 or so, when I was in my second year of medical school. The previous year, a young state senator had given a speech during the Democratic National Convention in America, a speech so powerful it catalysed a movement that would eventually culminate in him becoming President of the United States of America.

Watching Barack Obama, who once described himself as a ‘skinny kid with a funny name’, overcome multiple challenges with dignity made me think that perhaps I too, should stop complaining and start making some real contributions on my nation’s political stage.

Was I too naive? Perhaps.

Fast forward to 2020 (the long-awaited year when Malaysia was supposed to have achieved ‘Wawasan 2020’), and politics has become a bit of a joke, an avenue for trolling others as well as a platform for self-promotion. Who would’ve thought that the former Prime Minister of Malaysia would go on to become the nation’s biggest internet troll? Malu apa, bossku? Like I said, it’s a joke.

Speaking of jokes, here’s one:


Name the top two ministers in Malaysia.


1) Tan Sri Dato’ Sri Dr Noor Hisham bin Abdullah
2) Ustaz Ebit Lew.

Harsh, but also true to a certain extent…

And yet, and yet…a part of me still wants to believe that good people should strive to lead. Leadership doesn’t just mean going into politics. We need leaders in all fields.

That’s why I’m very much looking forward to reading Obama’s forthcoming presidential memoir A Promised Land. I’ve always wondered what Obama thinks of his legacy. In his latest interview with The Atlantic, Obama spoke of how he chose to carry himself during his time in office:

Part of what you’re sensing here are times when I make decisions to be gracious, when I assume the best in people, not because I’m naive but because this is how I choose to operate in the world, because I think the world would be better if more people operated that way. Sometimes I fall short and am disappointed in myself, but at least I think it’s important to be anchored in ethics and morality and basic human decency in how you behave.

I think A Promised Land will be a very enlightening read indeed.