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10 November, 2014

Remember, remember, these dizzy days of November



November is a tough month in US study abroad. The weather turns windy, cold and wet, you are practically ‘skint’ given some unanticipated outlay on fall break, work is piling up, you miss family and friends, you’re getting a  sore throat, your internship is getting pedestrian, etc.

To most Americans, the month of November means several things: (1) Thanksgiving, the holiday [and religious observance, with origins in harvest festivals] that looks backward to a legendary past and which reveals so much of the American mind-set; (2) travel misery, made worse - especially in the north - by bad weather: brave is the person that has a stay-at-home, behind locked doors, with phone disconnected,  couch-potato holiday; (3) Black Friday, frenzied start of the Christmas shopping season, when puffs of smoke arise from over-heated credit cards; (4) the midterm or full term elections which generally tell us two things: the electoral fickleness of the democratic crowd [which is true in most democracies]; and the French writer Alexis D Tocqueville’s argument that US liberties were rooted in decentralised government.

(5) And with the Giants beating the Royals in a great baseball post season, the gridiron comes into its own. London welcomed 6 NFL teams this autumn.  Last Sunday, America’s team, the 6-3 Dallas Cowboys, lined up against the 1-8 Jacksonville Jaguars, the squad with the best prospect of becoming the first non USA franchise in the league’s history, if it moves to London. To home campus students it also means the CORTACA JUG Match, lost on the pitch in 2013, but won in the media as Ithaca students, however wild during the game, did not riot in the streets as the SUNY Cortlanders did.

In Britain in general, and London in particular, November means four things.  First, on the 5th of November, comes Guy Fawkes Day.  You will have noticed the fireworks displays recently.  The fireworks are part of “bonfire nights” when people get together to watch the spectacular displays and also to throw their “guys”, i.e., their effigies of one of the leading conspirators in the Gunpowder Plot, Guy Fawkes, on to the fire.  Fawkes and his co-conspirators were arrested, tried and executed for attempting to blow up Parliament on November 5th, 1605, the day King James I [James VI of Scotland, the only child of the Catholic Mary Queen of Scots] was due to open Parliament.  The conspirators were Catholics disappointed by the failure of the Stuart king and parliament to repeal Elizabethan anti-Catholic legislation.  So bonfire night is popularly conceived as a celebration of the liberties of the Englishman compared to the intolerance, superstition and oppression of other regimes [see the allegorical treatment of this theme in the Painted Hall at Greenwich.] Bonfire night also suggests how brutal society was during the wars of religion in the 16th-17th centuries. We have already witnessed two such locations: (1) the Martyrs’ Memorial in Oxford where the coach dropped us off, and Smithfield in London where Queen Mary [1553-58] reportedly ate her chicken lunch while watching protestants burn. I wonder which wine the sommelier would suggest to go with this royal repast. Incidentally, the events of 1605 also link to the USA. More radical protestants were equally outraged by Jacobean intolerance that they risked everything on the dangerous 3000 mile sea voyage in rickety ships like the Mayflower to practice their version of Christianity freely.



The second great November day is Remembrance Day, the 11th.  At the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, World War One came to an end on the Western front.  Most observers and participants had expected that the war would be over by Christmas 1914. But the war developed into an appalling stalemate, especially on the Western Front, until American intervention and the collapse of the German home front led the German High Command to throw in the towel before “bolshevism” spread any further in the German fleet, army and work force.  The British had fought most of the war in Flanders and northern France. This is wet and rich farming land.  With the ground churned up by millions of shells, the whole terrain looked like a no man’s land where nothing could survive.  But the British noticed that poppies grew in the churned up soil.  The poppies were therefore both a symbol of the appalling waste of human life in the war and the hope for renewal and better times ahead. So wear a poppy this week. Proceeds generally go to various veterans’ organisations.  Every year, on the Sunday closest to the 11th, there is a ceremony at the Cenotaph – the national war memorial – in Whitehall.



The third important November event is the Lord Mayor’s Parade on the 2nd Saturday in November [November 8th this year].  This is a tradition dating back to 1215 when King John gave the City of London the privilege to hold an annual mayoral election so long as the Mayor presented himself to the King or the Royal Justices to swear allegiance.  John was trying to win the powerful support of the London financial and commercial elite in his political struggle against the barons.  The procession has become a parade with bands, livery companies, the Lord Mayor in his/her official coach [which normally resides in the Museum of London], youth groups, charities, etc.  The parade is a useful reminder that the City of London is NOT the London that we live and work in.  It is rather the Roman walled city, the so-called square mile, which is home to the banks, stock exchange and other financial institutions that make London one of the world’s leading financial centres.



The fourth big November day here is colloquially known as “SO LONG” day as in ‘so long, it’s been good to know you”. It is rooted to the flip side of thanksgiving and refers to events following the Declaration of Independence. It expresses a British sentiment that it can do without America now that it has Australia to send its convicts and supernumerary agricultural labourers to. Besides, if America had not rebelled in the 18th century it would be the world’s greatest cricket and [proper] football power. Where would that leave the Germans, Brazilians, Argentinians and English?


PS. Pulling American legs on the last one.

01 October, 2014

Guest Post: Bronwyn Bishop


Stuff to do in London: Bronwyn’s Recommendations!

            Can you believe it’s already October? We’ve all been here in London for almost two months now, and most of us have done the classic tourist activities already (Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, etc.). Tourist stuff is fun, but it’s also awesome to get involved with local culture and find events, places, and activities that are a little off the beaten path. So if you don’t have plans for the weekend and need some recommendations, read on!

·         Markets: Markets are not only great places to buy fresh and delicious food, they’re also fun to walk around in. They’re teeming with activity everywhere you look! My favourite market is Brixton Market, where gospel and reggae music play, people with all kinds of accents shout at you to buy their wares, and you can find such interesting items as a whole octopus for a pound. (Because we all need a little octopus in our lives, right?)


·         Local music: Concerts are so expensive! Unless, that is, you know where to look. Love punk and hardcore? (Me too!) Punx.co.uk (http://www.punx.co.uk/areas-item/london-punk-gigs) is your guide. Or if classical is more your style, download an app called Student Pulse (http://www.studentpulselondon.co.uk/) for information on concerts and how to get cheap tickets!

·         Athletics: Itching to get back into your workout routine? There are plenty of opportunities to keep fit and meet people from around the world at the same time! Runners should check out the London City Runners Club (http://www.londoncityrunners.com/). After their runs they often meet up for a pint or a curry! You can also sign up for a free outdoor class with British Military Fitness (https://www.britmilfit.com/).


·         Fashion: Fashion week is over, but you can still check out some amazing styles at all of London’s shops and fairs. I recently went to the Clerkenwell Vintage Fashion Fair, where I saw amazing coats, dresses, hats, gloves, jewellery, furs, and more from the Victorian era through the 1980s! And yes, there were men’s fashions, too. The next Clerkenwell Fair will be October 19th.

Got any recommendations of your own? Share in the comments or in our Facebook group!

18 September, 2014

Things I wish I had known as a student before moving to London part 2

1.       Transport. It’s worth knowing your way around it. Even though you are busy and only here for a short time. I suggest you do some calculations: work out how much you spend and what it is worth buying in terms of travel cards. Buses can be a cheaper way to travel around London than the tube although getting used to the different routes/ times can be tricky also certain times of the day i.e. with more traffic but it’s definitely an alternative worth thinking about and not dismissing.



2.       Getting out and meeting people. London is a huge city with a lot going on but it is very easy to feel lost and lonely at times. Don’t forget that even though students have not already arrived at Imperial if you have classes there it can be a good idea to go to the bar maybe before or after class as bill says in his previous Blog you might meet some British or other international students there. Also I know some of you have been to the ISH bar and been somewhat underwhelmed because not many other students that have started their terms yet, although many will be starting soon, and so there was hardly anyone one there. If this is the case don’t forget that there are lots of different activities that ISH puts on check out their facebook page to keep up to date with what is going on https://www.facebook.com/InternationalStudentsHouse

3.       Sport is also a good way to meet others. Gyms can be expensive but signing up for a cheap trial period is a good way to keep costs down. Gyms usually do introductory offers, and if you can work out something clever out you could just rotate numerous offers so you never have to pay full price membership! Groupon also do gym deals. Look out for cheap yoga listings on the Broke in London website too.

ParkRun is an event held every Saturday at 9am in various different locations. It is totally free: just sign up, print your barcode and go along to join a 5km run round your local park (check on their website to see where the nearest one is to you). It’s very friendly and community-minded, and there is coffee afterwards so you can meet fellow runners (and you’ll see Hannah if you go to the one in Finsbury Park).


12 September, 2014

William’s wayward thoughts on IMMERSION, Part 1

Congratulations everyone. You’ve done remarkable things since your arrival in mid – August: housed yourself in local and more distant places, like trendy Hoxton, Shoreditch and Bethnal Green. Most study abroaders don’t have such choices: some, like those at nearby institutions, are dormed locally. I call them ‘prisoners of SW7.’ Their housing is easier and more expensive, yours stressful but more rewarding.
Image by Wall Gobetz Flickr

Our DIY housing style helps with immersion, i.e., getting to know London and its inhabitants. Around the four week mark every term, we pick up rumours of what’s going on. So far, the telegraph has been silent. We’ve had no news of engagements, elopements, or long holiday weekends in Plaistow, Wimbledon, Ealing Broadway or Cockfosters with the young woman/man from your internship placement, someone you bumped into at ‘Pret a manger’, or, heaven forbid, who was the baritone in Millwall FCs notorious ‘choir of abuse’. I would like to be a fly on the wall when you introduce your parents to ‘THUG’ [real name], the Millwall fan, or Tracy, who has Millwall tattooed on her forehead.


Image by Loren Kerns Flickr
Friday week [there’s a British expression], the 19th, Bill promises, weather permitting, a proper exercise in immersion, playing cricket in Hyde Park. Strollers in the park will stop momentarily to observe our antics.  Dog walkers are frequent fans; if unleashed their fleet footed charges reveal themselves as excellent fielders. Playing the game is an exercise in immersion. It will enable you to chat intelligently about the game which was, apparently, America’s national sport before the Civil WAR.
Image by Alan Stanton Flickr

Cricket introduces you to a whole new vocabulary and rules that seem absurd for those familiar with baseball. AS far as I know, no one can satisfactorily explain the LBW rule. It’s a great chat up line, innocent of gender bias, but penetrating to the core. “Have you ever been given out LBW?” Did the umpire make the right decision? how high up the pad  did the ball hit you? Front leg or back? Unlucky or plumb? were you the victim of a Yorker? a googly? a chinaman? Reverse swing? Where did the ball pitch? Was it a full toss? Was the umpire intimidated by the boozy ‘howzat’ of the slip cordon? Was the umpire blind?


Image by J E Mcgowan Flickr

 Armed with (a) these questions (b) your experience fielding with the dogs in Hyde park and (c)  your knowledge of the lifelong bitterness that accompanies wayward LBW decisions, you will not only become fast friends with Londoners, but you will become their teacher, because none of your interlocutors will understand a word of what you’re saying. If unlucky with the company, you might experience what happens to me at staff meetings with my three British colleagues. When I mention I was again the victim of an outrageous LBW,  they generally stare blankly out the window.

Image by Joe Dunckley Flickr

 Other than joining the royal family [temporary vacancy: morning sickness adviser; permanent vacancy: PR Guru to Prince Charles, I can’t think of any better form of immersion. Sure, by all means hang out at our two student unions,  attend the freshers’ fair, join the pot-holing club. But, getting a sound background in cricket, or joining the royal family might be swifter and better options.

Also quick note from Olivia on he subject of the royal family, as some of you know I am a huge fan of the faux reality show 'Almost Royal' and would highly recommend it. A bit Borat-esque (but much funnier in my opinion): two british comedians play aristocratic siblings Georgie and Poppy Carlton who are on a tour of the USA. It is showing on channel 4 and so episodes are still available on 4oD.


03 September, 2014

Things I wish I had known as a student before moving to London Part 1

1    Everything is insanely expensive and your money will go on the little things, even things as
Photo: Doug88888
necessary as food shopping, so you need to be careful. One or two of you have mentioned that you have been thinking about getting club cards for Tesco or Nectar cards for Sainsbury’s which is a good idea, even though you are only here for a few  months as it doesn’t cost anything and can save you money. Similarly you might want a Boots card, all of these things are good for saving up to buy yourself treats for a rainy day.

The websites Gumtree and Freecycle are very useful for finding cheap second hand or free things that people are getting rid of – just make sure you enter London as your city/region as otherwise you will be paying a lot in postage fees!
Groupon and Wowcher: These are sites you sign up to with daily offers ranging from haircuts and restaurant meals to holidays and helicopter rides. The deals only last a limited amount of time and they send you an email every couple of days with the latest offers.
VoucherCodes.co.uk is a good place to get discount deals for shops and restaurants.
Unidays is a website exclusively for students that gives you discounts online, in restaurants, and in shops. Register and see what deals you can get.
Photo: EchoPlex7
With a Taste Card you can get 2 for 1 on meals at a lot of popular restaurant chains. They’ve got an offer at the moment giving a month’s free membership, so this is definitely something you should sign up for!

As regards food: buy things in reasonable bulk if you can manage to store it and cook! cook! cook! and make packed lunches. The temptation will be to buy food on the go and get takeaways etc but really it is best not to do this.


2   Coffee. As someone who love’s coffee don’t buy it from a big chain coffee shop or even from smaller shops every day. This eats into your money like you wouldn’t believe! It is probably worth making a flask of coffee in the mornings if you have time! And it’s definitely worth investing in some good coffee to keep at home. I like the Columbian (finest) coffee in Tesco’s and, although it is ‘finest’ it will obviously work out cheaper than buying coffee every day. Also a very useful tip from Jess is the free tea and coffee that you can get with a membership to Waitrose supermarket.


Photo: Aleks
3  It is very easy to be in London and not see much of it. Although, as this is part of your Uni work, there should be some opportunities to take advantage of. It is a good idea to make the most of any cheap or free events and/or any chance see the sights. As Samuel Johnson said, “When a man is tired of London he is tired of life”. I will be writing to you in a weekly email  to give you some good (hopefully) ideas about things to do in and around London, but it is also definitely worth keeping an eye on/subscribing to some of the following guides to London:  http://londonist.com/       http://www.timeout.com/london http://www.brokeinlondon.com/ http://londontheinside.com/   http://twentysomethinglondon.com/

One thing that sadly will be a factor in how much of London and its surroundings you get to experience will be transport and the associated cost, for more info on this see part 2 to be posted shortly.
Photo: Doug Wheller
Photo: Andy Bird


Photo: Mark Seton

03 April, 2014

"How London are you?" By Cassie Susemihl

Cassie Susemihl has devised a quiz incorporating some hints and tips about places to explore, to find out whether you've become a true Londoner or are nostalgic for your American comforts...