27 August, 2010

Notting Hill Carnival

It’s Saturday on Bank Holiday weekend, August 28th-30th  – NB the cultural issue: in England we don’t have July 4th, Memorial Day, MLK day holidays; instead, the banks go on holiday as befitting a nation that rose to greatness on the strength of its commercial and financial expertise – and you’re doing a little cleaning in your new Bayswater lodgings when you hear the unmistakable sound of steel bands coming from somewhere in the west. On Sunday, in a taxi on the way from the hotel to your flat, the cabbie complains about the closed roads and disrupted traffic in W11. As you clamber out of the taxi, tripping over an overlarge suitcase, you again hear the sound of music carried on the westerly wind. On Monday en route to class, you note that some of the local tube stations are closed. Your curiosity well and truly raised you ask the underground attendant, “What’s going on?” Answer: “It’s CARNIVAL time.”  And Monday the 30th is the big day.

Urban Britain had a substantial black population from the 17th century.  As a key player and financier in the triangular trade which brought slaves from western Africa to the West Indies and the United States in the ‘middle passage’, Britons became increasingly familiar with Africans in the period before the Industrial Revolution. Some came as slaves, others as ‘freed’ individuals, some no doubt as mariners.  It was not, however, until after World War II, when a victorious yet ravaged and impoverished Britain, short of labour for reconstruction, appealed to people from its West Indian colonies to take up work in the newly founded National Health Service [1948] and the public transport system.  As you might expect, the indigenous population did not extend a warm welcome to the new arrivals.  “Keep Britain White” placards appeared and all of a sudden landlords had no rooms and flats to rent. The more literate of them simply put ‘No coloureds, Irish or Dogs’ signs in their windows. [TIP: Read Andrea Levy’s novel Small Island  for a fictional account of the racial tensions in nearby Earl’s Court in the late 1940s.] Tensions grew throughout the 1950s and riots broke out in 1958, the most important of which occurred in Notting Hill west London in September 1958 when ‘teddy boys’ began attacking West Indian homes, offices and people on the streets.

The police made arrests and the courts imposed stiff sentences on the rioters. The West Indians responded by celebrating their culture, initially in halls and latterly in the open air. The inspiration came from the Trinidadian born, American-raised, communist Claudia Jones, who had been deported by the USA during the McCarthyite witch hunt and been granted asylum in Britain. The model was also Trinidadian, a carnival, held on the streets of Notting Hill over the Bank holiday weekend [the end of summer].

The Notting Hill Carnival is now the largest street festival in Europe and the second largest carnival in the world after Rio. The three words that best describe it are (a) music [VERY LOUD], (b) costume [VERY BRIGHT and OUTRAGEOUS], and (c) food [DELICIOUS].  There might also be a heavy smell of cannabis on certain streets in the Notting hill area. Police don’t mind the smell but they will not tolerate buying and selling of drugs.  Carnival is a wonderful celebration of the vitality of Afro-Caribbean culture. Be smart:  the carnival has attracted trouble in the past, especially near the end on Monday evening, and there is a heavy police presence.  If you go, and you should, leave wallets, bags, jewellery at home. Go as a twosome or threesome. Just bring a few pounds to buy some food and drink.  Cameras are OK – remember that we run a photo competition at the end of the term - but take good care of them.

-Bill (without any help from Elsie or Pete's scooter)

26 August, 2010

Scootering through Orientation Week

I would like to measure this fall's orientation week against a loaf of bread.

This summer, for my birthday, I was given a bread machine. I love making bread in it, though I sometimes get frustrated because I don't make it through the whole loaf of bread in the course of a week, by which time it starts growing mold.  In an effort to waste less food, I haven't made a ton of loaves of bread.  But on Monday evening of this week, when I had come home from a day of feverishly preparing the ICLC for the arrival of 50 new students, I thought I would make a loaf of bread.  Normally orientation week has the building buzzing with students coming in and out all day reporting back on flats that they have looked at, finding out about how to withdraw enough money to put down a deposit, how to set up internet, where to go for their internship, which areas of London are both nice and affordable...  With all this excitement happening in the building I could foresee very little opportunity of popping out to get a bite to eat, and with a loaf of fresh bread at home I decided it would be a good week for homemade sandwiches.
Fresh fall '10 faces, straight off the plane
It's now Thursday, and the building is pretty quiet.  By Wednesday evening most groups of students either had flats sorted or very promising leads that just needed a bit of finalization.  I, as it turns out, have the time to go out and get something to eat if I want.  I'm not going to, because I have been responsible about making sandwiches each morning this week.  Actually, I'm beginning to think that I should continue doing this, because I have tallied my bill for lunch this week and it comes to an average of about £1.50 a day.  I can't complain on that count.  I can also report that this loaf of bread has been the perfect size to make for a week of sandwiches, with very little left over.  I think by Friday afternoon the whole loaf will have been eaten!  This will be a real first for my bread machine and me.
I baked that bread!
Knock on wood, the housing experience seems to be going pretty smoothly.  When I was a student here my group was that last to sign a lease.  I think it wasn't until Friday afternoon that we signed.  That afternoon felt as if it came years later than the Tuesday afternoon three days earlier that we started flat hunting.  With any luck, those feelings of complete exhaustion and weariness won't be plaguing the fall '10 students.  You can sit back and enjoy the feeling of satisfaction that comes with having a place to live.
The Common Room isn't usually this empty during Orientation Week
It looks like everything is coming together for the semester.  The builders have nearly finished all their work in the bathrooms, though I would keep an eye out for 'Wet Paint' signs around the building.  The students are hopefully getting a bit of free time to be tourists in London before the term starts.  And Bill, Sarah and I all got to take a turn on the scooter belonging to Pete, the builder.  As for my bread, I have learned that with diligence I can eat a whole loaf on my own over the course of a week.
This is Bill's scootering face
-Claire (and Elsie)

18 August, 2010

The Scottish Kitchen OR The Quickest Route to a Man’s Heart

This Friday, August 20th, some of our fall 2010 lads and lassies are off tae Scotland or North Britain as it was once called. It is the 11th consecutive year that our students have attended the famous Edinburgh Festival. The fall 2010 students will have a great time: it’s impossible not to enjoy Edinburgh during the Festival. Thanks especially to Dr Jack Hrkach for leading the group and to Professors Steve ten Eyck, Norm Johnson and Greg Bostwick who have also taken groups.
Fall 2009 Edinburghers.  Similar to Hamburgers, but more like the Scottish version.
Some three dog advice to the participants: first, keep your belongings and your persons safe. Vehicular traffic runs on the left hand side [the correct side, apparently] of the road, and pickpockets are attracted to major street festivals. Edinburgh, the so-called ‘Athens of the north’, is a picture postcard city, but it also has a gritty underbelly made famous by the novels of Ian Rankin and Irvine Welsh. If you find a cheap ceilidh [pronounced ‘kayley’] during the festival, go, go, go, both lads and lassies, and get your picture taken dancing with a man in a kilt. You just might win a prize if you produce the evidence. During the term we’ll be attending some ceilidhs here in London. We are planning a trip to Edinburgh in November for students who didn’t go in August. More ceilidh opportunities!
Sarah works her magic on a Scottish man in a kilt

How to make a hit at the festival? How can you fit in with the locals and not be an obvious tourist? Here’s more ‘three dog’ advice that you won’t find in any guidebooks. To enjoy Edinburgh, get dancing, carry your copy of Ian Rankin’s Mortal Causes with you, and above all, eat well. You can do so nutritiously and inexpensively by taking the following on board.

But first a caveats: there is wonderful food to be found in Scotland. Scottish beef, game and fish [especially the wild salmon from the fast flowing rivers] are renowned the world over. You will get the finest haggis in the world in Edinburgh. Scotland also has produced some wonderful chefs. But there has also been a high incidence of heart disease in Scotland due to the usual factors: alcohol and tobacco over-consumption, lack of exercise [it’s dark in the winter], and poor diet.

We have long been concerned with the myth of Scotland’s notorious poor diet. If Scots followed the advice of our chef-in-residence, Claire MacKrauer of clan Maddon, who operates out of our five star basement kitchen, their health would improve a hundredfold and the middle aged might live long enough to see Scotland triumph in the 2034 World cup [see Irn-Bru website]. The ‘three dog blog’ challenged Chef MacKrauer and her Assistant, Elsie, to take traditional Scottish ingredients and to cook the staff, the builders working on our toilets, and our distinguished visitor from the home campus, Dr Jack Hrkach, a fine Scottish meal that would delight our palates, while not endangering our purses, nor our hearts.
Chef MacKrauer carving the haggis.  Note how masterful her technique is!
As Claire herself explained, getting the best Scottish ingredients for a traditional Scottish feast can be difficult in London, almost 500 miles to the south. The drink of choice for Scots at table is of course Irn-Bru: take a swig and you’re back in the streets and shipyards of Glasgow in the 30s. This non-alcoholic Scottish favorite may sound unfamiliar, and that is of course because it is banned in the United States (my understanding from Mock the Week is that because the makers will not list their secret ingredients on the can, the FDA will not allow it to be imported.  This may or may not be an actual fact).  But like Mr Arthur Guinness’s equally well-know product, famously brewed on the Liffey in Dublin since 1759, the critical question is - ‘does Irn-Bru travel well?’ Chef MacKrauer solves this problem by taking delivery of a gross of Irn-Bru from the 0615 overnight Edinburgh-King’s Cross sleeper train three mornings a week. Why so much Bru? Chef MacKrauer’s secret: the famous Bru not only quenches thirst, but also makes excellent gravy and sweet sauces for dessert. It is also her favourite drink while cooking. Elsie likes her Irn-Bru mixed with pineapple juice.

Next, of course, comes the haggis. Our Chef uses only the highest quality free range highland haggis, bred on an estate adjacent to the Queen’s Scottish compound at Balmoral. To save the free range haggis from poachers – especially guests of the Royal family - Chef MacKrauer relies exclusively on Edinburgh’s best ‘haggiserie’, Renton’s of Leith, for her supply of the plumpest corn fed yearlings. She collects the live haggis at King’s Cross while picking up the Irn-Bru. Haggis is of course served with neeps and tatties. Cookery secret number two: do not using butter when mashing the neeps and tatties. Irn-Bru is an excellent and far healthier substitute for the mash and gives the tatties that familiar rust orange colour so beloved of Scottish gastronomes.
Haggis, neeps and tatties.  Yum!
Dessert, of course, is Scotland’s world famous pudding, the deep fried Mars Bar, Elsie’s favourite. Chef MacKrauer explained that her secret was to get only the stalest Mars Bars available [generally to be found in health clubs and gyms], oil which has been used to deep fry spuds and fish for a month, and a can of Irn-Bru for the sauce. Vegetable oil can be used for the frying but remember that vegetarianism is generally viewed by many Scots as an unsocial habit, introduced surreptitiously over several decades by the English in their attempt to lower the Scottish birth rate. Cookery secret number 3: to prevent disaster, freeze the Mars Bar for about 6 to 8 minutes to prevent it from dissolving in the boiling oil. The pan of oil should be cooked at gas point 4 for about 15 minutes until it begins to bubble gently. Finally, for the best result, and this is the critical fourth cookery secret, use un-sieved oil: bits and pieces of cod, plaice, herring and potato skin left in the oil give the Mars Bar a subtle fishy taste beloved of all gourmets. Finally, the last secret: for the sauce, take 6 oz of Irn-Bru, add a teaspoon of sugar, heat gently for about 5 minutes while stirring continually – but do not allow to boil – and pour over the bar as it emerges from the fryer. Serve immediately.

Be prepared for murmurs of satisfaction, but advise your diners to keep their ‘emergency contact’ 999 card handy throughout the meal.

Have a great time at the Festival!

-All three dogs and Elsie (because no individual wants to be associated with this entry)

16 August, 2010

Flush Like you Mean it

I have noticed that this blog is followed by current students and alums alike. So some readers might remember the toilets at the ICLC.  Do you remember hanging out in the bathroom waiting for the toilet tank to refill so that you could have another stab at flushing because the first one didn't take?  Did you ever let the staff know that the toilets weren't working, only to be told that you should try going back and flushing like you really mean it?  I'm not trying to jinx us or anything, but hopefully before the Fall '10 group gets here, that suggestion will be a thing of the past!  Right now the builders are in.  Of the six bathrooms in the building, we have three that are fully functioning.  While some have toilets and sinks, they also have wet paint on the walls and doors so that they have to stay open, making the room somewhat less private.  Other bathrooms in the building have been completely gutted are are awaiting new and exciting things like stalls!  I have used more exclamation points than normal in writing about the new toilets, so I hope that goes some way to showing our enthusiasm for the work in progress.  This work should all be completed by the time the Fall '10 term starts in a few weeks.  Our recently retired caretaker, Fred, used to spend much of his time jury-rigging the toilets back into operable shape.  But with new toilets, we are anticipating that as long as no one gets upset writing their Shakespeare essay and tries to flush their laptop down the toilet, we should have smooth toilet sailing.
The painter is painting the skirting board in the first floor bathroom.  I can read from his body language here that he is as excited about the new bathrooms as I am!
35 Harrington Gardens is a really lovely building, the history of which Bill is capable of sending any audience to sleep with.  For example, I work in the front office which is the room closest to the front door.  Bill likes to tell visitors that when this was a private home this was the smoking room where the men would go after supper.  In my office I can hear Stage Combat students throwing each other on the floor in the Common Room above me, and in Bill's office he can hear the voice and music students practicing in classroom 1 below him.  Bill also claims that there is a poltergeist that haunts the building, which is something I'm a lot more likely to believe when I'm the last one in, locking up the building on a dark evening.  It really is a building full of character.  Built in the late 19th century, the ICLC is very much a 20th century building inside.  It has a Grade II listing which means it is an important building of more than special interest.  I believe being a listed building limits the changes that can be made to it, but I'm pleased to say it doesn't preclude installing new toilets!  Whoop!
This is Bill.  He's hard at work. (Hard at work stealing the red football off my desk and hiding it in plain sight on his desk.  Nice try, Professor Moriarty!)

We sometimes refer to the London Centre as a campus, and it is that, but I think the word campus may imply to some people a larger space than it actually is.  There are five floors which comprise the college, plus a flat above the fifth floor that is used by visiting faculty and staff from the home campus back in Ithaca.  Upon entering the building you are standing in the main entrance.  Bill, Sarah and I all have our offices on this floor.  One floor above is the Common Room, classroom 2 and the Faculty Room, not to mention one of our brand spanking new bathrooms!  On the next floor up there are 2 more classrooms, our 2 computer labs and yet another brand new bathroom.  These three floors can all be accessed from the main staircase.  To get to the next floor up you are relegated to the servant's stairs, our other staircase which spans the entire height of the building.  This top floor has 3 classrooms.  Oh yeah, and a new bathroom!  The other floor that can only be accessed from the servant's stairs is the floor on the very bottom of the building.  This is where the student kitchen and vending machines can be found, as well as the library, classroom 1 and the student pigeon holes where mail is put.  This floor also has the bathroom that is undergoing the most change.  It was probably the ICLC's least used bathroom, partly because people may not have known what to make of it.  This bathroom used to have a shower in it, but that has been removed and will be replaced by 2 toilet stalls!  Accessed from a back exit through Bill's office, there is a shared private garden behind the building where we are currently allowed to have a maximum of 4 Ithaca students in at a time.  Using the garden as a bathroom may result in Ithaca being allowed no students access to the garden, so I won't include that in my list of bathrooms.  And that's the campus!
St. Andrew- patron saint of Scotland and modesty in first floor bathrooms that are awaiting sheets of frost for the glass and which overlook hotels.  He is quite a specific saint.
 -Claire (and Elsie)

10 August, 2010

Le Quiz - Part Deux

Hopefully, you have all been reading Bill's email updates. His last one included 'Le Quiz - Part Une', which I am sure you have already solved. I know I have as Bill made me.......he even gave me some of the answers! He will not do this for you.

Le Quiz - Part Deux 

 Answer the questions, take the first letters of each answer & re-arrange them to form the family name of our writer. QUESTION for £20 - who is the author and who is her/his most famous character? First correct answers to Bill via email gets £20 on arrival in UK.
  1.  Tube line that runs through the ANGEL in London..............................
  2. If Lord's is the principal test cricket venue in London, which is London's 2nd test venue [also a tube stop]?..............................
  3.  Greater London site of the Queen's House, the Royal Observatory, the Millennium Dome, the [ex] Royal Naval Hospital/College, etc........................
  4. The Irish tricolour signifies peace and unity between the island's Catholic and Protestant, nationalist and unionist communities. Which is the Protestant/Unionist colour?......................................
  5. The current UK government is a coalition between the Conservatives and the Liberal-...................
  6. South London borough home to Shakespeare's Globe, the Tate Modern, Borough Market, etc.....................
  7. Tube line that has 3 western termini, Richmond, Ealing Broadway and Wimbledon..................... 

And the author is..........................and her/his most famous character is....................

Claire has technically already solved the quiz, but she is disqualified. She may have at one time been a student of Bill's, but this is no longer the case. She has to face up to the fact that it is now someone else's turn to win. P.S. Claire will also not help you and there is just no point asking me.....


Sarah and my best friend Elsie.

TfL- Transport for London or Tiny, famous and Lucky?

I would like to say that this is a Kylie Minogue inspired blog post, but that wouldn't entirely be true, it just happens that she is playing on the radio right now.  I imagine that with her immense pop star status, she chooses not to take the Tube.  Maybe she drives or is driven.  As a result her travel costs are probably above average.  That's fine, though, because all she wants to do is dance.  But Kylie Minogue is not a student (as far as I know).  Being a full time student in London gives you the opportunity to use Transport for London (Tube, bus, river boat, tram and, soon, bicycles) for a 30% discount.  This discount applies to travel cards and passes, which allow unlimited travel within the zones you buy it for, lasting for a week or a month, depending on which you buy.  This means that your travel costs may be below average.  The card used for traveling on TfL is called an Oyster card (I think that the idea is that when you use this card, the world is your oyster. I can't verify that that's the meaning behind the name, though, it's just what I've heard).  It works on a system of tapping in and tapping out, so you need to present it at the beginning and end of your journeys on trains, though only on the beginning of bus journeys.
You might find this place good for night life. Sarah and Claire love it for its bus links!

Within the London Centre we all use different variations of travel cards.  At this point, not only do you know where we all live, but you also may have scoured the Tube map to answer Bill's quiz questions.  So it will mean something to you when I say that to get to work I take the overground train into Victoria and then take the District or Circle line to Gloucester Road.  My entire journey is within zones 1 and 2, so I buy a monthly travel card for these two zones.  I keep a little prepaid money on my Oyster card for times I travel outside these zones and need to pay the excess.  I know this seems like mundane information, but it may suddenly seem important when you go out to Richmond to meet Bill at a rugby match and realize that you don't have enough money on your Oyster to get out of the barriers.  Sarah travels on the overground from southwest London in zone 4 into Wimbledon and takes the District line to Earl's Court in zone 2.  Earl's Court is the second closest Tube station to the London Centre and is on the border of zones 1 and 2.  This saves her the fare into zone 1, making her travel card for zones 2-4 cheaper than mine for zones 1-2.  Though he's lived in London the longest, Bill may be the person who has paid the least amount of money to TfL.  He was a longtime cyclist through the streets of London, and now carries a Freedom Pass, which is like an Oyster card but gives free travel within London to people over 'a certain age'.  He picks up the bus in Stoke Newington and takes it to the Tube to travel into Gloucester Road.  Fred, our caretaker who retired at age 81 this past spring, recommended that I get a Freedom Pass, too, since it makes travel so cheap, but being in what I like to call my mid 20's, I told him that I'm not quite old enough for one yet.
Be sure to check out our emergency exit door downstairs when you get to the ICLC. It bears an uncanny resemblance to the decor at Putney Bridge station. This just happened to be our ex-caretaker's tube stop and he decorated our emergency exit for us.

With the freedom you have in housing yourselves, you will probably not know what mode of transportation you will be needing to get to the London Centre until you are housed.  Some of you may live close enough to walk and not want a travel card at all.  Others may find a direct bus route, a monthly or weekly pass for which costs less than a travel card which covers not only the bus but also the underground and overground trains.  When planning your journeys, there are a lot of factors to take into account.  Many classes meet outside of the London Centre, so you will need to find a way to get there.  Work placements are scattered all over London, so this will effect your travel needs, too.  Because the British universities start their autumn term later than the American ones, the earliest you can apply for your student Oyster card and get the 30% discount is September 1.  That means that for approximately the first few weeks you are here, if you get a travel card, it will cost you the normal rate that it costs everyone else.  I guess the moral of this paragraph is that your initial travel costs may be a bit unpredictable, but once you settle in you will also probably fall into a pattern and develop pretty predictable travel costs.

Obviously public transportation isn't the only way of getting around.  London is a lovely place on foot, as you may learn when you get here and go on Bill's walks.  Walking in London is one of my favorite things to do, though I admit that I do it more as a hobby than as a mode of transportation.  Some students have also found cheap second hand bikes to get around on.  Boris Johnson, the Mayor and a cyclist himself, has been endeavoring to make London more cyclist friendly.  TfL has recently begun a new scheme with public bicycles for rent located all around London, though it is currently only available to residents so far.  If I had to classify myself by a mode of transport I would be a train/Tube/bus girl.  The Tube can be a bit like traveling in some sort of space warp because it's so easy to walk into the station, take your Tube journey, walk out of the station at the other end and have no sense of the geography you have covered.  With the trains and buses, especially the tops of the double-decker buses, you get to actually see where you are going.  Rarely, I travel by taxi.  They cost more than public transit, but late at night when the Tube is closed and I can't bring myself to face the night bus, they are a good option.  Speaking of the night bus, I think I had one of my most positive bus experiences there.  Not many people can say that.  I was once leaving Balham in south London, heading towards Camden in north London around 1am.  The Tube was closed (since it does that at night in London), so I was walking down the road with a friend trying to find a bus stop that a northbound bus would be stopping at.  In the distance down the road behind us we could see a bus coming, and in the distance ahead of us I thought I could see a bus stop, traditionally, the only place a bus will stop to pick people up.  So, as glamorously as we could, my friend and I made a dash for the bus stop, hoping to catch this bus since night buses come less frequently than normal buses.  That very kind driver knew that we were trying to catch that bus, and just pulled over and opened his door, knowing that if he waited ahead at the stop he might be there for ages.  That was not normal night bus procedure, and I was soooooo grateful.
The person who locates where this exact sign hangs wins a prize, i.e.this is not any old Camden Town sign!

Something else that might effect your journey is weekend closures.  Most of the maintenance work on the London Underground happens at night when the Tube is closed and on the weekends.  I cannot think of a single weekend in the time that I have lived in London when all of the Tube lines have been open on the weekend.  The closures change each weekend, so you have to go to www.tfl.gov.uk to see what they will be.  The Jubilee line is partially closed a lot of weekends, and I have heard a rumor that this is to get it ready to bring people out to east London for the 2012 Olympics.  The Circle line is also closed most weekends, and I think this is because it is one of the Underground's oldest lines and often incurs 'signalling problems'.  I'm not totally sure what that means, and, again, this is an unverified fact.

I apologize for the longwindedness of this post.  I'm sure if Kylie Minogue had written this it would be a lot shorter, but that's probably because she has less personal experience with TfL (one more unverified fact there).  I could conjecture more on her thoughts on transportation, but it's vaguely related tangents like that which lead to wandering longwindedness.

Claire (and Elsie)