10 May, 2011

If we were eligible...

Yesterday I posted the travel writing competition winner.  Today the End of Term Party continues with the ICLC's entries into the photo competition.  Of course we can't enter the real competition, and we probably wouldn't win if we did.  My caveat is this: Bill, Sarah and I like taking strange photos.  It keeps our lives interesting.  You know you do it, too.
People: A hard day's night for Claire.  I had to choose between coloring in John Lennon's face or a yellow submarine! (photo entry by Bill)
Architecture: Look what returned back home to the ICLC this weekend!  Sadie, you're off the hook and I hope you put that toaster bag to good use.  No more cold cheese and jam sandwiches for us! (photo entry by Claire)

Landscape: William Shakespeare was married to Anne Hathaway in a shotgun wedding.  Their first child, Suzanna, was born 6 months later.  Rumor has it Suzanna was conceived in the bushes somewhere between Stratford-Upon-Avon and Shottery, a small village to the west of Stratford where Anne's family lived.  Has Bill found that bush? (photo entry by Sarah)

Bill, Sarah, Heather and I hope you all miss us already!  We had a great time this spring!


09 May, 2011

Be Fearless

It's that time of the semester again.  Suitcases are packed, flats are cleaned and emptied and students trickle out of London.  Also, the semester's travel writing winner was announced at the End of Term Party this past Friday!  Turned into this week's guest blogger, we would like to congratulate Michele Fortier and her fearlessness.

My finger hovered over the “Purchase” button, hesitating as my brain ran through every possible challenge and scenario I might soon encounter if I clicked it.  The possibilities were endless, an entire world of problems could arise, and yet, I knew if I did not do it, I would regret it tremendously.  My finger trembled as I clicked the button; there was no going back now.

I had just purchased a roundtrip ticket to Positano, a small cliff side town on the Amalfi Coast in Southern Italy.  It was the first time I would be traveling alone to a country I had never visited before with a language I could not speak.  On every past trip I had undertaken, I always traveled with the security of my friends, depending on them to obtain maps and decide where to go.  I was always the follower in the group, not the leader.  Suddenly, I was putting myself into a situation where I had no one else to rely on so if anything went wrong, I had to take care of it myself. To say I was terrified would be a huge understatement.

The morning of my departure, I sat in the airport, my heart pounding from nerves and my mind racing on overdrive.  I was as ready as I would ever be.  This was it.  Time to throw myself into the unknown.  “Be Fearless.”  That would be my motto.  I even wrote it out on my hand as a reminder.

I flew into Naples in the early afternoon but I still had to catch two buses before reaching my destination.  If I missed either bus, I could very well end up stranded without any back up plan and no way to reach my hostel.  My preplanning, however, had helped as the entire journey went off without a hitch.  At 7:30pm, I climbed down from the bus in Positano, Italy, just in time to see the last few moments of the sunset. 

After unpacking in the hostel, I sat in the common room eating some delicious Italian pizza wondering “Now what?”  What exactly was I going to do for the next four days?  I had chosen Positano because I was tired of visiting city after city; they had all begun to resemble each other in an undistinguishable mass.  I had chosen this town because I wanted time to rejuvenate myself and avoid crowded streets, time to immerse myself in a culture that was not entirely stifled by modern tourism.  Yet, now that I was here, what exactly was I going to do?

It was at that precise moment when I met Hannah, an Australian girl studying in Leeds, England, who had taken the weekend off to travel through Italy.   As I sat there, eating the last slice of my delicious pizza, she told me of her adventures she had had in Positano.  She told me of the places she had been to and the people she had met.  I was envious of all the exciting things she had done.   I desperately wanted to have adventures like that, but I was unsure of where to start.  Then, she offered me a solution. 

“Hey, I met some Italian guys while I’ve been here who are taking me out for dessert later tonight, care to join?”

My initial thought was to reply with a polite, “Thank you, but no,” as I had always been a cautious girl who never went off with strangers, especially alone in a foreign country.  But for some reason, I couldn’t let those words pass from my lips.  I couldn’t shake the motto I had scribbled on my hand: “Be Fearless.”
Before I could even allow my over-analytical brain a second to consider all the possible outcomes of this evening, I replied, “Sure, I’ll come,” and sealed my fate.

That night was the beginning of a brilliant weekend.  I spent the evening with some locals, had my first sip of the local favorite drink, Limoncello, and tasted four different mouthwatering desserts.  I returned to the hostel that night exhausted and happy, excited to see what the rest of the weekend would hold in store.

I spent the next day by the beach, writing in my journal as I allowed my pale body to soak up the hot Mediterranean sun (a decision I would later regret as I rubbed aloe lotion onto my lobster-red skin).  While growing up, I had always had a deep connection to the ocean, and being here cleared up my mind and made everything beautiful.  The power of the waves lapping at my toes complimented itself perfectly with the peace I finally felt in my mind.  Everything was perfect.

Over the next two days, I became closely acquainted with Positano and all of the beautiful things available in this town.  I walked to and from the beach (approx 800 stairs one way) four times over those two days, much to the dismay of my calves.  I watched the sunset on the beach, explored every part of the town, ate my fill of Gelato and Pizza and met many other travelers staying at the hostel. 

On Saturday night, I sat around a large table on the hostel’s terrace with other travelers and shared drinks and anecdotes.  We laughed about our craziest travel experiences and discussed the differences in our cultures.  I met people from Australia, US, Spain, Italy and Thailand.  They were all so friendly and outgoing; after just one evening, I felt as though we had known each other for years.  We all went dancing by the beach until four in the morning and spent the long walk back to the hostel laughing and sharing stories as the sun came up.  We had become such a close-knit group in such a short time and I silently dreaded Monday morning when I would say my goodbyes. 

That Monday came far sooner than I had hoped and expected, and before I could even wrap my mind around what was happening, I was seated on a bus headed back to Naples Airport.  I watched as Positano faded into the distance, quickly becoming hidden behind the cliff side.  I tried to hold back the sudden tears I could feel welling up in my eyes.

I wanted to stay in this town and hold on to every amazing experience.  I wanted to relive every second and bask in the amazingly liberated feeling that had come with my independence.  I realized how much I had missed on other trips when I had failed to explore, meet people and befriend locals because I was so stuck in my safety net of friends.  This weekend had shown me what amazing things could happen when you just let go of everything holding you back and just dive in, headfirst. 

I suddenly felt empowered by this new realization.  I could do anything and go anywhere; all the strength I needed was inside of me.  On that bus ride back to the airport, I began planning my next trip to Italy.  I would come back to Italy, of that I was certain.  As I glanced out the window at the crystal blue waters of the Amalfi Coast, I was struck with one last lingering thought about this weekend:  I had been Fearless.

04 May, 2011

Politics and Sports do mix - OR Should I AV or not?

British politics seems to intrude on our ‘end of semester’ activities every spring term. It might be London local elections, Parliamentary elections [as it was in spring 2010] or the debate about the fairness of our electoral system, or the AV vote, this May.

Outside Gloucester Road station this morning, advocates of both the current ‘first past the post’ voting system and the challenger ‘alternative voting’ system were distributing literature and answering questions.  While the May 5th decision hogs the front pages, the football issue dominates the back pages.  In May 2011, front and back pages are unusually linked. Here’s how.

As a non-citizen voter in this country [explain that paradox of democracy], an historian,  a subject [of sorts] of Her Majesty, and, above all else, a keen follower of just about every imaginable sport except ‘netball’ -  which I will ban if anyone ever gives me a position of authority in the world of sport - I will carry my brain to the local polling station tomorrow morning, show my ID to the attendants,  and scribble an ‘x’ in one of the boxes of the voting slip. But the question remains ‘to AV or to not AV’! 

The AV question is the culmination of a long debate about the nature of British democracy. Power first rested with the monarch; then the aristocracy or lords dominated; latterly, the COMMONS has been to the fore, but how representative is the COMMONS?

I’m all in favour of democracy, although I do admire the ancient Athenian principle that anyone who put himself [no ‘herselves’ were possible in ancient Athens] up for election was automatically barred from consideration. THE British have long kept faith with their medieval institutions.  At Runnymede [near Windsor] in 1215, the mighty barons and the moneyed elite of the City of London forced King John to fix his seal to the ‘Great Charter’.  British ‘liberties’ led a charmed life for the next 500 years. During the middle ages, some of these ‘liberties’ were eroded, the Tudor & Stuart monarchs tried to turn back the clock and restore absolutism, but the stubborn English dug in their heels, committed regicide, experimented briefly with republicanism, until in 1688-89 a ‘protestant wind’ combined with John Locke’s  treatises on government consolidated our constitutional monarchy. Even the newly imported German kings, all handily named George, couldn’t stop the relentless tide of democracy.  Parliament eliminated rotten boroughs, extended the franchise, Lloyd George and the Irish issue undermined the authority of the Lords, the First World War granted the suffragettes their wish, ‘first past the post’ defeated the Nazis and then created the welfare state, the European Union eroded sovereignty, and now we are voting for AV, an issue forced on the Cameron government by their junior partner, the Liberal Democrats.

The bonus of AV is that the Commons becomes much more truly representative of popular will.  A disadvantage is that smaller parties, often with unsavoury policies, might get a degree of power and influence they would not ordinarily have.  Of course, a similar situation could occur under the current system; the Ulster Unionists, for example, had undeserved influence under John Major’s premiership in the mid 90s.

As for ‘first past the post’ or the ‘winner takes all’ position, there is a sense of natural justice about it. In a 1500 metre race run by 25 competitors, there is only one winner.  In the Grand National or Epsom Derby, the judges don’t bother with the 4th, 5th, 6th finishers. However, in some sports, like tennis, ranking points are given to all players depending on where they finish in a tournament. Ranking points impact on seeding, and seeding confers an advantage. In baseball, the team with the best record after 162 games might win a divisional pennant, but not the big prize. The same applies in most professional sorts, except…

PROPER FOOTBALL. The team with the most points at the end of the season is the winner. Period. Finito. NO OTHER CONSIDERATION COUNTS.  I believe that we need to amend this flaw at the heart of sporting culture because I won’t be able to accept Manchester United winning their 19th title. Nor will I be ‘over the moon’ if Roman Abramovich’s billions buy Chelsea the title.

So I need to know the answer to two questions.  Which form of sporting AV will guarantee that 3rd place Arsenal win the Premiership and which form of AV will ensure that QPR, already winners of the Championship under the first past the post system, remain winners even if the FA illegally dock them points for a supposedly dodgy player transaction two years ago.

For readers looking for bias in this blog, there is none. The RBBDA [the Royal British Bias Detection Authority, honorary president, HRH the Duchess of Cambridge] has given this blog its ‘A’ rating. Front and back pages of our newspapers well and truly united