20 December, 2010


I don't support censorship.  I support free expression from people and others being allowed to form the opinions as they please.  But today, due to adverse weather conditions, the majority of the Fall '10 ICLC students are still in London, even though the original plan was for most of them to leave today.  A lucky few are on their way home, but most are not.  Some have been able to rebook flights, and some have been getting friendly with customer service.  For many big events around the ICLC I am the first person to pull out the camera and click away.  But today there are a lot of fretful faces.  Heathrow's inexperience with snow disruption is not how we would like everyone to remember their four months here. 

Not that I'm trying co cover up the fact that today has been long and a little rough, but here are some fond memories from the last 4 month.  The captions are punctuated with exclamation points to make them extra exciting!
Remember how much fun everyone had at Avebury?

Making Interrelationships journals was really fun, too!

It was a great time going on walks with Bill and getting left in the dust!

Dave had a great time stealing Bill's Pukka Pad (with Gen)!

Everyone was so excited to go to Edinburgh in August!

Bill really doesn't even have to make much of an effort to get a laugh out of the girls!

Orientation, when everything in London was so new and different!

A few months ago you could go out to a rugby match with fewer than 6 layers of clothes on!

Tim Kidd enthralls another group of students in Stratford!

Wales has castles!

Wimbledon's newest commentators!
Last Friday was a slow day on the donation front.  Sarah and I were trying to get the ball rolling!
Remember all the good times we had in London!

-Claire (and Elsie)

17 December, 2010

Full Circle

This week we have a post by a guest blogger.  As I mentioned in an earlier post, the ICLC's Travel Writing Competition carries one of our most sought after prizes, a £50 note.  The other honor bestowed is the publication of the winning essay.  This term's winner is a student who acts, blogs, collects change and, if you're keeping track, is offended by backpacks on wheels.  Congratulations Max Lorn-Kraus!
Forty-four empty wine bottles sit in my kitchen. Seventeen empty liquor bottles have a place above the stairs. Countless bags of trash and recycling have been put out for collection and even more one-pence coins collect in a small Thai take-away container, the skimpy plastic buckling under the weight.

I mention this not to flaunt my flat’s drinking habits or our consideration for the environment. I don’t bring up my hoard of change to brag about the few dollars I’ll receive when I finally change the currency back. Instead, these achievements represent my four months spent in London, measured in something other than minutes, hours, and days. Time itself is easy to measure. Experience is not. And though it seems later rather than sooner to realize it, I think the only possible reflection on my time overseas must be measured in experience. But when one hundred and five days becomes twenty-nine shows, twenty-two thousand three hundred and thirty-eight words written for a single class, forty-five Facebook status updates, five Tweets, and four countries, the outcome is inevitably, in the words of a friend, a “Great Collision.” The expectations I had for my time in London meet my actual day-to-day life. Fantasy battles with reality. Like holding a magnifying glass high above a book, then slowly bringing it down, the words are, at first, indistinguishable from one another. I know what it may say, what I want it to say, but not what it really does say. But when, in an instant, the magnifying glass is at exactly the right height above the page, the letters snap into focus, the words become clear, and the true value of each experience is found. 

It’s easy to look back and say I wish I had done more. More markets, more food, more exploration into parts of London rarely seen. And not only is it easy, it’s tempting. Like everything that falls into a routine, my time in London has become life. And what is more fun to complain about than life? Taking the Tube to class, I silently swear at tourists in my way. £2.50 for orange juice? Wasn’t it on sale at Tesco for £2.25? I want to visit the National Portrait Gallery or take a trip to Windsor Castle, but I have a paper due and there’s always next weekend. So concerned with what I had to do, I seldom took stock of what I wanted to do. What I can’t do when I touch down in the United States. It was only when a friend studying in Italy visited for a few days that I finally realized that life had simply been going by.

Sitting at dinner, going over where my friend had been and what she had seen of the city, the idea dawned on me to take her to my favorite view in the whole of London. Twenty minutes later we were on the rail of Southbank, staring up at Parliament, the reflection of the Eye distorted by the gentle waves of the Thames. It occurred to me, in one of those flashes of white light, that that specific image simply does not exist anywhere else on earth. Though it seems obvious now, walking home that night was like walking through a brand new city. Passing by shops I had gone by earlier that day, words and colors exploded around me. The accents I had grown so accustomed to seemed almost comical and the notes in my wallet were once again Monopoly money, oddly shaped and seemingly impossible. The wonder of being in another country suddenly took hold and I realized everything I had done so far was enough; I just hadn’t taken the time to appreciate it. The magnifying glass was at the right height and everything was clear. Every show, every word, every Facebook status and Tweet was done out of the United States. Out of my norm. This reality alone made the experiences special, and while doing more would add to the numbers, nothing could take what I had done away.

When I get back home, I will have countless stories to tell, of absurd Tube rides, memorable encounters, and cautionary tales. I will be filled with the knowledge that beauty exists in the sloping architecture of an eight hundred year old church and serenity can be found on a hauntingly empty train. My friends will sigh when I begin sentences with, “This one time in London” and I will show them pictures proudly, sure of the fact that my time here means something to someone else, even if deep down I know it does not. I came here to see things I had never seen before. To try things I had never dared to try. And while I could have gone further, while one can always go further, I went as far as I needed to go. Full circle. I arrived with a sense of wonderment, assimilated proudly, and will leave knowing more than I did, but still open to it all.

10 December, 2010

'was' we robbed?

Forgive the Cockney colloquialism. But, last Thursday, December 2, 2010, according to most of the British press, both the USA and the UK ‘was’ robbed, stuffed, insulted, put in our place, humiliated, etc., etc., etc.  It will be long remembered, like the December 7th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbour, as another ‘day of infamy’.  Having apparently been promised more, the England bid to host the 2018 World Cup of Football earned a meagre 2 of 22 votes. Out in the first round! No chance to build on a reasonable platform after the elimination of the candidate country with the fewest votes. Football is not ‘coming home’! Half an hour after FIFA chose Russia to host in 2018, the delegates chose Qatar over the USA to host the 2022 event. A small but exceptionally rich Arab Emirate grabs the limelight from the USA. President Obama said the decision was wrong.

This rejection will leave a deep scar on the English psyche. They can’t bid again to host the World Cup until the 2030 tournament comes up for grabs [or should I say ‘up for bribes’?] In the USA, the rejection is more of a minor irritant.  Most Americans probably didn’t even know that the rest of the world was ‘cocking a snook’ at the sporting aspirations of the two major English-speaking nations. The FIFA Executive’s decisions to award the privilege of hosting the World Cups of 2018 and 2022 to Russia and Qatar, while positive in that neither nation has hosted before, fly in the face of the fundamental principle of sportsmanship – “may the better ‘man’ win”! President Obama said so himself: Qatar did not deserve to win!  For Obama it was Copenhagen all over again. Elements of the British press were more forthright, with the Daily Mirror calling Russia a “mafia state rotten to the core with corruption” and Qatar a “medieval state with no freedom of speech”. Ouch! Very sore losers!

Sore and, quite possibly, unfair losers.  Mike Lee, an Englishman who worked on the successful Qatar bid, said the nation should not blame others. While technically one of the best bids, England fell short because its early bid leader alienated FIFA executives.
England may not be getting the World Cup, but if they ever host a major international basketball tournament, I think Ed Gordon might be a future team member for England.

The underlying message in the British press is ‘corruption’. The probe in Rupert Murdoch’s Sunday Times  and the BBC’s Panorama expose did not impress the ‘dodgy fat cats’ at FIFA control. A bad odour hangs over the Zurich HQ of FIFA, and especially over its head, Sepp Blatter. After all, our Prime Minister, David Cameron of Eton, Oxford and the House of Commons, the soon-to-be Sir David Beckham of Manchester United, Real Madrid, the LA Galaxy, England, and Posh Spice, and Prince William of Wales, soon to be married to the Kate Middleton and  later to be king William V, had devoted endless hours of diplomacy and wheeler-dealing to get the games. What a waste! What a lost opportunity: it would have been a wonderful wedding gift to Wills and Kate! To compound the national misery, three to five FIFA voters even lied to the future king, to ‘golden balls’ Beckham, to our most famous member of the Bullington Dining and Drinking club.  If this were the 19th century we’d send a gunboat or two up the local creek to bang heads together. Sepp Blatter, FIFA President, even had the temerity to rub chilli vinegar into the sore by proclaiming that it was the Chinese who invented the game.  Outrageous! Every English school-child and every member of the ICLC’s SPUK group know the truth. It was the English who developed the rules and exported the game round the world. Talk about kicking a man when he’s down – 2 votes and erased from the history books as the inventor of the world’s most popular sport.

The USA will not feel the shockwaves so intensely.  Some will say: “Soccer! Who needs it when we have thoroughbred, proper, indigenous, home grown American games like football, baseball and basketball.  We’ll disclaim paternity of ice hockey as we understand our frozen friends up north have a better claim. Let the Russians and Qataris have their tournaments; we’ll keep the Super Bowl, the World Series, the final four and the Cortica Jug!” But others will recognise the lost opportunity to dig deeper roots of football in American parks, clubs, schools, universities and professional leagues. The US has the potential to be perennial World Cup champions if their best athletes rejected the siren summons of touchdowns [misnomer], homers and foul shots. American women know this. Why don’t American men follow the female lead?

The biggest surprise is that the Swiss are meant to be impartial. Now we know that this generalisation is only true of the greatest Swiss of all time, Roger Federer. FIFA does need investigation by an outside organisation. It seems odd in the 21st century that a small group of men should have so much power. Such a concentration of power invites corruption. Remember the Salt Lake City scandal. And how did London pip Paris at the post at the last minute to gain the right to host the summer Olympics 2012?


08 December, 2010

Can you find yourself in here?

I'm not trying to mope about the end of the term, but it's getting to be time to say good bye to group 77 (the students of Fall 2010).  Here are some of the things that I have learned about group 77.
1. One of our students had to be put on a harness and leash when she was a toddler because she wouldn't stop at the corner.
2. One of our students told her mom that she wanted to move out of the house when she was 5 and that she knew where she would put her dresser.
3. One of our students accidentally included me in a mass email to his family, so I now know that he is a massive fan of David Cross because he then accidentally DEMANDED that I watch a funny video clip of him.
4. One of our students lost a race on a treadmill to an eight year old.
5. One of our students organizes his wardrobe by the colors of the rainbow.
6. One of our students likes to mess up her roommates clothes hanging in his wardrobe when they are organized by the colors of the rainbow.
7. One of our students is bothered that no matter what face Jimmy Carr makes he still looks funny.
8. One of our students is either named after a car or Morgan Freeman.
9. One of our students disagrees, in principle, with rolling backpacks.
10. One of our students "sort of" dated a man here for a few months but never got around to learning his last name, age, occupation or where he lived.
11. One of our students has done more laundry than all three of his flatmates combined.
12. One of our students likes to share her top bunk bed.
13. One of our students eats McDonalds breakfast before he goes to bed in the early morning.
14. One of our students spent the time that most other people spent working on midterms beating The World of Warcraft.
15. One of our students went to McDonalds to try and download Disney movies, but their wifi was too slow.
16. One of our students was told that even though Santa may not be real, Jesus is.
17. One of our students is mortally afraid of jello.
18. One of our students got lost at a nude midget convention when she was 9.
19. One of our students has found certain situations where he likes to lick people.
20. One of our students asked what the big clock was called.
21. One of our students was asked to pose in a tourist's photos as he was trying to walk down Harrington Gardens.  Now he's afraid to walk down that part of the street.
22. One of our students thought that the Eiffel Tower was lighthouse.
23. One of our students has gone on dates with a professional footballer, a Coca Cola website designer,  a royal marine, an accountant and a club manager.

Knowing some of these things is making Bill, Sarah, Heather and me a little less sad to say goodbye.


03 December, 2010

This is not a reading list (Part 2)

And so for Colin Firth to make his second appearance in our blog is two days, I present the thoughts of Heather and Sarah for what to read to get ready for life in London.

Claire, Bill and Sarah have their own opinions of what to read and watch, but as a mother of a very rambunctious 14 month old, I am rather short on time and therefore short on the time I can sit reading.  Although I too love reading as a way to pass my time, sometimes I have to get my knowledge of the UK and world events in different ways.

The royal wedding is going to be huge.  Sure, the Windsors and their people are saying they are aware of the current economic climate and will be taking that into account when planning the big day, but seriously, all you have to do is look at the million pound smiles on the two of them and you know that it’s going to be a million pound wedding.  And who doesn’t want to learn all about it?  Whether you are interested in it because you are a wedding junkie, because you like the fashion or because it’s good car crash entertainment, you will get your information from any good tabloid.  And I put forth the tabloid, Hello! or any other tabloid for your reading pleasure.  Sure it’s not Pulitzer Prize winning, and it’s not really that intellectually challenging, but I can guarantee you that you will learn all about the people that are in popular culture in the UK at the moment.  You’ll get the lowdown on what they’re up to, what they are doing that’s scandalous and who has sold the rights to their wedding photos for a disgusting price.   One thing to note is that tabloids in the UK are very different to tabloids in the USA.  You won’t find stories about how someone is having an alien’s baby in them here. You’ll more than likely find a different spin on stories that are covered by the BBC.  There may be an element of truth behind them or not, but more than one government expose has come of a story run by The Sun a ‘red top’ newspaper here that has a larger audience than The Guardian or The Times.  Something to think about.

If reading really isn’t your bag, may I recommend the BBC website?  You can read their news and entertainment but instead do as I did nearly 10 years ago and listen online to their radio stations.  About a year or two before I moved back to the UK, I started listening to BBC Radio 1 online.  Mostly because I just missed the place too much and partly because I was sick of all the commercials on US radio stations (The BBC is funded by listener licenses and therefore doesn’t have any commercials). When I finally got back to the UK, I felt as though I really had some clue as to what was going on here.  By listening to the radio, I heard the news which told me the big stories of the day, I heard the music which was very different to the US and I just generally got a good feel for what was going on.  Not to mention a better feel for regional accents as a good portion of the DJs are NOT from London.  It was one of the best things I did to get adjusted to living in the UK.

And so above I offer two alternatives to the traditional reading list for those of you feeling short on time.  You can delve into them feet first or just dip in and out while you are scouring the bookshelves looking for the other recommendations, but think about them.  They are the up to date commentaries on what is happening and a great way to get inside the heads of the Brits.  But know that there will always be time in my life for Pride and Prejudice and that Colin Firth will always win the wet tee shirt competition for me.

Recommending books is actually quite hard for me as quite often as soon as I finish a book, I can’t guarantee that I could tell you what it was about and if you asked me for the title of the book that I am currently reading I might not be able to tell you either. This is not because I don’t want to share these great books that I have read. It is just that I love to read and go through a lot of books. I am a classic London commuter, so get lots of reading time! It is on this note that I want to share my suggestions…

Last May a lovely woman called Katie recommended a book called Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman and even left a copy behind for Claire and me to read. As soon as I got my hands on it, I read it and passed it on to Claire. To give you an idea of the type of genre, if any of you have ever seen the movie ‘Stardust’ it was based on one of Neil Gaiman’s books. If not, then he is considered to be a post-modern science fiction/fantasy author.  This is not usually my first choice of genre, especially when it comes to fiction, but I enjoyed it. The story was originally made as a mini-series for the BBC back in the 90’s, but Neil Gaiman
decided to convert it to a book. This worked out well for me as I, along with pretty much most of you, missed the mini-series! ‘Neverwhere’ is mostly set in an imaginary London referred to as ‘London Below’ that matches up with real London places. It is a good and quick read and you will recognize a lot of the places mentioned in the book when you come over. I recently lent Neverwhere to one of our current students who devoured this book and asked me if there was a sequel, so surely that is a good sign?

If you want to score some points with our London Centre Director then I would recommend some background reading into British sports, particularly cricket! The more you understand it, the more you will enjoy it and will probably make you a front runner for any quizzes Bill makes. It is also particularly important to stay on top of current affairs. Not just of the UK, but of the whole world. We are small and our news is not just focussed on the UK. This will enable you to strike up conversations with strangers, and you will stand a stronger chance of winning one of Bill’s quizzes and it can be beneficial for your classes. Lately it seems like
the news has mostly been about royalty, snow and FIFA! In fact this morning I had to wait for them to stop talking about FIFA before they would cover whether or not the trains are running because of the snow.

By the way if any of you find any books telling you how to snag the royal before he officially ties the knot, do let me know!

01 December, 2010

Reading lists? I don't think so! (Part 1)

Even now, though I'm no longer a student, seeing a reading list makes my pupils dilate.  Just a little.  I should grow out of that feeling soon.  I love reading, and I do it for fun all the time.  It's why I wish my train journey were longer between work and home, and it's why I manage not to fall asleep early on nights when I'm way too tired think think about doing laundry and washing the dishes and even holding my eyes open.  Somehow I find the strength to stay awake to find out why the doctor was willing to sneak a computer into his patient who is being guarded in her hospital room because she is under arrest for grievous bodily harm to a couple of gangsters.

In recent semesters the ICLC has recommended reading particular books to students before they arrive.  The books tend not to be too taxing, as we realize that you have classes and exams and jobs.  We just aim to point you in the direction of something that will start setting the London scene for you.  For the spring 2011 semester we have been having difficulty picking one book that we all agree on, and the thought of sending out a reading list so that we can all have our input seems a little more intense than what we are striving for when we recommend something to read.  Instead we are each having our own separate say for this coming term.  Take from it what you want.

Recently I have been into murder mysteries.  I discovered the author Ian Rankin when my mother gave me two of his novels a few years ago.  He writes gritty crime novels set in Edinburgh.  This is particularly pertinent as Edinburgh is a destination that we try to organize a trip to each semester.  The main character of these books is Inspector Rebus who drinks at the Oxford Bar in New Town in Edinburgh.  Last weekend, when we had our group trip to Edinburgh, Bill and I found the Oxford Bar and went there for a drink.  I would like to say that we then proceeded to solve mysteries and enforce the law, but, if I'm honest, my feet were cold and wet and I was happy to get back to the hostel and warm up.  If crimes were stopped that Saturday night they weren't stopped by Bill and me.  It's possible that Bill may have done some crime fighting on his own once we parted ways, though.
Nope, no crimes being committed here.

On a related note, when I was getting ready to move here six years ago I had a regimen of films that I watched on repeat.  If I remember correctly they were Pride and Prejudice (the BBC miniseries where Colin Firth wins the wet t-shirt contest), Love Actually, Bend it Like Beckham and Four Weddings and a Funeral.  After arriving I also discovered the TV shows The Vicar of Dibley, Little Britain and Doctor Who.  Everything listed here remains a favorite in my library.  Have a look at them if you have a chance.

Sir Bill of Harrington Gardens confers the honour of £10 on Dame Alyssa of Figueroa
The BIG EVENT - other than Arsenal winning the Premiership - next term, is the Royal Wedding on 29/4/11. The USA went 'republican' in1776. Britain remains a constitutional monarchy. There are upcoming films about Edward VIII and his twice divorced US wife and George VI and his stammer. Look at our language: the ICLC is located in a 'Victorian' part of London; our underground and sewers are 'Victorian', we talk of Elizabethan literature, the Jacobean period, Georgian architecture, the calm before the storm in the Edwardian period. We have a Jubilee tube line [silver jubilee] and two jubilee [golden jubilee] bridges across the Thames. Don't forget our subsidised national theatre companies, the Royal Shakespeare Company and the Royal National Theatre. Our biggest industry, after finance, is tourism. Monarchy is the core institution of tourism. Why do so many people want to see the 'changing of the guard'? Why will the world be watching two 28 year old former college flatmates get married? Why is their wedding day a national holiday? We celebrate three big events in 2012 - the Olympics in the east end, the 40th anniversary of the London Centre and the monarch's 'Diamond Jubilee'. Long may she reign over us because after her comes Charles III and his Duchess Camilla, a prospect very few are looking forward to. We have a great deal of continuity. When Eliabeth II ascended the throne and became head of State, Harry S Truman was US President. In the period since then, the USA has had 12 Heads of State while the UK has had just one. The DNA of the great 9th century Anglo-Saxon king, Alfred the Great, can apparently be traced in Elizabeth II.

The USA doesn't have this system of nomenclature & cultural identification. Nor do they confer knighthoods, peerages, damehoods. We have actors - Sir Derek Jacobi, Dame Diana Rigg, Lord Olivier, Dame Judy Dench -  sports people - Lord Coe, Sir Steve Redgrave [soon it will be Sir David Beckham] - musicians - Sir Mick Jagger, Sir Elton John, Sir Paul McCartney [unfortunately, Ringo hasn't been knighted yet] - academics, businessmen, politicians, even foreign nationals, receive royal honours.  Imagine if Brett Favre was Lord Favre of Baton Rouge, the Yankee short stop was Sir Derek Jeter, all past presidents were 'lords', etc. And opening comedy week at Madison Square Gardens next month is The Honourable Christopher Julius Rock, CBE. Even humble people who work as lunch staff at schools or 'lollipop' persons (crossing guards) in schools get honoured.

My 2nd choice would be the American Anglophile Bill Bryson's short biography of Shakespeare; 3rd would be Mohsin Hamid's terrfic little novel, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, for anyone interested in the post 9/11 world in which we live.

Your trivia question for today.Where in the UK is Elizabeth II technically not Elizabeth II?

-Claire and Bill