Sunday, November 28, 2010

now that's Brighton, not Bath

This last week my friend Sara and I decided to go to Bath to see a play done by her favorite theatre company. She was busy during the day on Saturday so we left around 2pm. It took 2 hours to get there and by the time we did all of the things to do and see in the city were closed. I didn't get to go into the abbey church, which was one of my favorite buildings to study when I did gothic stuff, we didn't get to go into the Roman baths or any of the museums or anything. Fortunately we could do a tour of the bell tower of the church and there was a Christmas market going on in the church square that we could hang out and walk around in before the play at 8pm.

So I asked Sara if she knew where the theatre was yet, and she said she hadn't looked it up and figured we could ask someone. So she pulled out the tickets and they said, "Brighton Ballroom, Brighton UK". "uhhhh..." I said. "Are we in the wrong city?" Indeed we were in the wrong city. We ran to the nearest internet cafe we could find and discovered that Brighton would be a 4 hour train ride away from Bath and we would miss the whole play altogether. So we tried to make the most of it. We at dinner and walked around the little city like 6 times, tried to do a little shopping at the Christmas market, and finally found a carousel, which isn't the worst thing to find on a cold winters night. The lights were cheering, and it was fun.

We eventually got on a train around 9pm and got home just after 11, and even though I was cold and tired I didn't get to bed until 2:30. I don't really want to blog about it, but I should note that I had a conversation that night that probably changed my whole future. Isn't it interesting when you want something so much, and you pray for it and hope and work for it, and imagine just what life will be like when you get it, and then when you don't get it you're entirely relieved? That's happened to me twice this week, and I've really never felt so unfettered and hopeful in my whole life. Even though I lost something and that makes me sad, something better is going to come along, and I know that in my heart.

I also realized a very important thing last week: I am in a research program. I should be doing more research. Stupid realisation, I know, but it might just make everything different. I struggled so much with my last paper because I felt like I hadn't got enough from my course, but really I just hadn't done enough research. One of my professors said the other day that it's not what you know, but how well you can find what you need to know. I need to take that to heart. So today I'm going to try to get entirely caught up with my course reading so that I can start getting ideas and move out to do the research that will lead me to an excellent paper.

Monday, November 22, 2010

mission: accomplished

I've had such a good productive day so far that I thought I would blog about it. First I got up early and actually got some exercise in before breakfast, then I finished planning all my travel arrangements for my trip to Germany this Christmas. I made sure all the hotels and hostels were booked, bought German rail passes, and figured out how much the whole thing is going to cost us. I'm pretty proud of myself. The most we pay per night for a hotel is 30 Euro. After that I studied for German for an hour, then I went out and got some cash and lunch, then went to the Student Union and got my National Union of Students card, filled out an application for a National Rail Pass and walked over to the train station nearby and got the Pass. Easy peasy. Then I went to the British Library and got my Reader Pass so I can go in there and study and do research when I want. I'll order all my books and they'll be waiting for me tomorrow to start reading. I'm so proud of myself for getting all those errands done in 2 hours. It was only my third try getting the Reader Pass and just my second try getting the Rail Pass. I also now have a bank card, my loan money in the bank, and all my fees and housing paid.

My collection of cards since I got to London:
3 Student ID cards
4 Library cards
1 Oyster Card
2 Rail Pass cards
1 Bank card

Hopefully I'm done with the cards for a while. This will be an exciting week. I have an interview at the British Library for a PhD Studentship and I'm super nervous about it. I am terrible at interviews and I want the studentship really bad. Then on Thursday we're going to have a little Thanksgiving dinner and on Saturday I'm going to Bath to watch what sounds like will be an incredibly awesome play.

Now, even though I'm proud of myself for all I accomplished, it's only 3 and I have made a goal of doing at least 3 hours of research reading a I better get on that!

Monday, November 15, 2010

a new friend

This is my new plant. It's a gardenia and I love her. I always thought it was dumb when people got "pet plants" because I'd much rather have a cat or a dog, but when you can't even have a little mouse or a fish, a plant just has to suffice. I can't think of a name for her yet (again because I've always thought it stupid to name things that don't cuddle with me and so I'm out of practice), but I do have some ideas.

I just love this plant. Gardenias have always been one of my favorite flowers. I love the way they smell, I love their thick hearty petals and dark heavy leaves. It just makes my room that much more livable to be able to look at her in my window sill.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Go and dance yourself clean

It's been a slightly eventful week. I didn't have any classes so it was technically a vacation week and I managed to get some fun stuff worked in there. On Wednesday my Only London Friend (or OLF) and I went to see LCD Soundsystem. It actually turned into quite a little adventure, and it was my first time out of my Zone on the Tube (and I did it wrong so it cost me like 8 pounds in fees). OLF had class until 6 and the show started at 7 and so I met up with her at her school, then we got some delicious Chinese take out (I got the roasted duck on rice, of course) and headed to Crouch End and the Alexandra Palace. When we got there, there was seriously a mile long queue. I have never seen a line so long in my life. I decided to walk to the front to see if I could find a different line for picking up my tickets and I walked and walked and walked, leaving poor OLF behind. (Ha, ok, I'm sorry Sara, if you're reading this, I'll stop calling you OLF. I just thought it was really funny. It's probably not.) Anyway, FINALLY we got in, right in the middle of Hot Chip's set. Sara and I immediately started dancing and didn't stop until the end of LCD Soundsystem's set, but we decided to leave before the encores since there were probably 20,000 people there and we wanted to make sure we got on the bus before everyone else decided to go. I figured since this was my third time seeing them that I'd live, and I did.

I really loved it and I will see them again if I ever get the chance. I love how much fun everyone has at their shows and how much you can dance and totally lose yourself. I love how their songs have a proper amount of tension leading up to a fantastic moment of release. It's euphoric, and I'm totally addicted. I think I liked this show better than the one in New York. They played all my favorite songs, and I was in GREAT company (instead of totally alone like the NY show). Sara seriously is the funnest person.

Also, I have a total crush on this guy. He is adorable in concert.

So the next day on Thursday I went to see a taping of the Graham Norton Show. It was supposed to be the highlight of my life and it turned out to be rather meh. No one makes me laugh like Graham Norton, and so even though the guests sucked, I thought I'd still have fun. I just found out that Stephen Fry and Bette Midler will be on next weeks show and it broke my heart. I LOVE Stephen Fry like no one else. Instead I got stuck with Colin Ferrall (who told nothing but the most boring stories. He has no personality at all), Daniel Radcliffe (who was late and then really annoying, and just ugh) and then a comedian I've never heard of and then Rihanna, who was cute and everything, but I just genuinely don't care about her music. Also I had to stand outside in the freezing wind, and those who keep up with my Twitter area already familiar with the fact that I was not wearing the proper clothing for such an event. It was really really horrible. It hasn't been that cold or windy in London since I've been here. I honestly don't know if it was worth it.

Anyway, on my way to the show I saw this poster in the train station. It made me laugh, because it obviously does not work.

I don't think it does a very effective job of pushing polite behaviour because the Tube is still full of fools who refuse to budge from their convenient spot right next to the door and impede anyone from coming in or out of the train. In New York I seriously got yelled at for doing that one day when I wasn't paying attention. The poster is just too polite, and I think this one will work much better.

Fortunately at the Graham Norton show I was able to fight my way to the front of what had been a very long queue and had turned into a throng of people rushing the door, and I got the best of the worst seats!

HA! The suckers I had to push over to get to the door didn't get to be on the telly at all, but I DID!

So, since Wednesday and Thursday were exhausting I decided to stay in and work on my paper on Friday, and it didn't turn out well. Friday will be one of those days to forget forever.

Moving on, today I took my FIRST real train ride out of the city! I went with my ward to the London Temple. We took the train from Victoria Station to Lingfield and then a short taxi from the station to the temple. I mention this because it was also my FIRST time in a British taxi! And the first time ever driving on the wrong side of the road, and yes, it is the wrong side. Seriously, driving on the left side is totally counterintuitive, and it's the one cultural difference I'm having a hard time getting past, especially since I've almost got hit crossing the street several times because of it.

Anyway, the temple was lovely and I got to talk to more people from my ward, and hopefully made a couple of friends. I enjoyed myself immensely. Here's a picture of me and Sara in front of the temple. We stood a bit too far from the camera, so you can't really see us well, but that's ok because I didn't get a chance to shower this morning and was a bit of a mess.

And that's it for my week off of school! I start back up again on Tuesday and I'll be killing myself trying to get this paper done. I think i might have made some headway in brainstorming with my sister for a bit, but we'll see!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Jasie's Guide to Navigating Bureaucracy in the UK

Dear Reader,
I was going to impart my wisdom on how to do Banking in the UK, but I realized that these steps will work for basically anything you need to do in order to survive as a student. Receiving loans, applying for privileges to read at the library (yes you have to apply for that), registering for classes, enrolling (which I think is different from registering), opening bank accounts, closing bank accounts, doing any kind of banking at all, etc, etc. I hope if you find yourself trying to live in London these tips may come in handy:

  1. Banks and other institutions open at an obscenely late time in the day, so don't attempt any type of bureaucratic adventuring before work or an early class. Wait for a day off, go ahead and sleep in, grab your umbrella and head out (it's always raining on days you need to get forms signed).
  2. Queue up! Queuing (or standing in a line) and drinking are the national past-times here, and so it is expected that you quietly take your place in the queue and not bother the 5 nice people who are working hard or chatting at their open stations. They're not open, please join the queue.
  3. Make an appointment to come back later. Of course, after the queue you're not likely to actually talk to anyone who can help you, but you might talk to someone who can write your name down so that you can come back later and join the lunchtime queue.
  4. You'll never have the right documents, so bring everything. Load up that satchel with every proof you have of your existence. Did the bank send you a letter to your house and so will obviously not demand that you bring a some proof of residence (like a letter from a bank to your house)? No chance! Make sure you bring an additional 5 letters, plus your passport, plus the proof of your address at home, plus your passport, plus your birth certificate, and driving license (fun fact! they don't call it a drivers license here and will likely correct you if you do).
  5. Repeat steps 1 through 4, ad infinitum. Like I said in the last step, you're not likely to have the right documents on the first try, or even the second or third. But keep trying! That's how the British developed their plucky spirits and won two world wars.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

a message in a bottle

I told my one friend in London last week that I wouldn't blog anymore, that blogging was just an exercise in vanity. Why would anyone want to read my blog? and yet, what's the point of blogging if no one is reading it? Well, I guess I don't know the answers to those questions. I don't think many do read it, and I wouldn't know why if they did. But perhaps it is healthy to write even for a pretend audience, especially if I intend to write academically for the rest of my life, which I do.

That pretend audience may have noticed that I haven't been uploading photos every day like I said I would. This is because uploading photos has been taking up too much data and I have a limited amount allocated to me on the school network, which sucks. I went over last week and they punished me by reconnecting me with a 1999 modem speed connection for a week, so I learned my lesson.

The whole month of October everything has been green, and now things are finally starting to change. The weather has basically been the same every day since I got here. Temperature from 50 to 60 degrees, cloudy, a little rainy and really lovely bouts of sunshine. It's so humid that I sweat all the time no matter what and my hair is a big frizzy mess. I don't even know what to do with it.

I've had quite the time getting adjusted. Well, most things haven't been a problem, but the libraries here drive me crazy. I've had to shift my whole style of research, and research I have been doing, or trying to anyway. I'm applying for a PhD Studentship at the Open University and the British Library and I've been freaking out about it for a week. I'm in a fairly good mood now because I think it is mostly done and I just have to print the proposal, the cover letter and writing example out and send it in tomorrow. I have been struggling though, thinking and feeling like i know nothing and have nothing to say, and then magically it all came together this afternoon while I was in class. I was lucky actually because we were talking about argument and we had to try to present an argument to a partner, and since this is what i've been working on all week I attempted to explain to him what my argument is. Here I realized I never had an argument, and that is probably why I've been struggling so much this week. So talking about it was helpful and I finally formulated something and then finished up my proposal. It feels good.

I like my classes. The professors are wonderful. One them is someone whose work I was already familiar with and his classes are just a delight. He is a delightful and kind person and I really must go and talk to him in office hours sometime because I'd like him to be my friend. I have to write a paper soon for one of my classes and of course everything we talk about makes me think of horror movies. So I'm writing about coldness in films like the Shining and Dead Snow which create a world outside of time and space whereupon the horror can be acted out. It should be fun.

I'm skipping out on a student led discussion class thing because the last time i went the instructor did nothing but confuse me more about philosophy. It's hard enough to get Kant and Hegel, and when the person trying to teach you is just as confused as you are it's useless. So I've decided tonight to stay in, study German and finish up this application. I've been pretty good with my German studying. I do an hour a day every day, and I'm thinking of pushing it to 2 hours.