On the eve of leaving.

I have never had to leave the Cabinet behind for more than a day, but it's possible that I will not be able to write for you from Monday through Thursday, when I will be happily ensconced in an archive in what is referred to (on motorway signs here) as The West. It's not slightly clear to me whether my hotel has any sort of internet access, nor whether I'll be able to cadge a corner of bandwith from the library at the university where I'll work. But we'll all know soon enough.

Tonight was one of those nights when I gleefully jettisoned my vague plans to work as soon as one of my friends here said, "Do you want to get a beer after dinner?" When we finally decided on which pub to visit, it turned out that neither of us had actually had dinner, and so we stayed there for a good two hours of eating and drinking and telling stories. I gave her a copy of Middlemarch this afternoon. She's a scientist. It will do her good to read it, though she professes to be daunted by its length.

"Is Middlemarch really worth it?" someone asked at dinner the other night.

You can imagine where we went from there. I believe that almost no matter what you imagine as the antecedent of "it" in that question, its correct answer is yes.

Ooo! My Chicagoan friend (whom you all know as Poking-Stick Man, a joke I could explain but won't) will be happy to know that today he became the Cabinet's 20,000th visitor. He has been wanting to be one of the importantly numbered visitors for a long time, and we've hit no more important number than 20,000 yet. Congratulations, my friend.