22 September, 2011

The Times, They Don't Change Much Around Here

I think it's fair to say that most people like a little bit of stability in their lives.  People like consistency as something that will always be there through thick and thin.  Certainly this generalization doesn't doesn't cover everyone, but I think more people than would like to admit it take comfort in patterns.  In preparation for the ICLC's trip to Stratford, here is a quick photo montage of consistency.

In approximate chronological order, from the mid 90's to the near present:
Black coat

Black coat

Black coat

Light blue jacket

Black coat

Black coat

Black coat

Blue coat

Black coat

Black coat

Black jacket

Black coat

Blue jacket

Blue jacket

Light blue jacket

Black coat


19 September, 2011

The Magnificent Seven

I'm not talking about cowboys, I'm talking about cemeteries.  Yes, this is another installment of What I did This Weekend.  My intent is to suggest interesting and free things to do, and hopefully not bore you (this has to be more interesting than furniture shopping.  Though that's also fun, this is much less expensive).  So, without further ado, I present Nunhead Cemetery.

In the 1830's and 40's London created 7 cemeteries that were meant to take some of the burden off the consecrated ground of London's parish churches.  Highgate Cemetery is perhaps the most famous, containing such persons as Karl Marx and George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans).  Nunhead is in south London on a hill looking out towards Westminster.  Entry is free and it is open during daylight hours.  It is both kept up and a bit wild, giving it an air of mystery without the attached creepiness that can sometimes come with old cemeteries.  Though still in use, most of its 52 acres are full, 4 bodies deep in places and bodies only a few feet from the topsoil.  As my guide, Bob, aptly put it, you may not think you're standing on top of a body, but you are.  It's a strange thought.  Nevertheless, it is a beautiful place and well worth a visit.  The other 6 cemeteries that were opened for the same purpose around the same time were Kensal Green, West Norwood, Highgate, Abney Park, Brompton and Tower Hamlets.  Bill does one of his walks in Highgate, and sometimes Abney Park for special occasions.
The sides of the paths are lined with burials.  The growth has been pushed back from the paths, but it also hides the majority of the graves.  The Friends of Nunhead Cemetery offer tree tours looking at the wildlife, as well as their cemetery tours.
Not much stands up straight in the cemetery.  I'm not sure which decade it was, but for 10 years no one was looking after Nunhead, so many graves have become broken or overrun.  The care that is shown to it now preserves some of the ruin, while maintaining the grounds.  It's as if it's in a suspended state of entropy.
Some of the tomb architecture is beautiful.  This is one of the most complete angels I saw.
The urn with the cloth draped over it was a big motif in the 19th century.  I'm sure it means something... (?)
It's always strange recognizing names on tombstones.  This is the tomb of Maggie, beloved wife of Robert Palmer?  His first wife that Wikipedia forgot to mention?  Possibly not the same Robert Palmer, Claire.
A bit of old and a bit of new.  Both tombs are of the same design- a long bed for flowers and plants and a book on the headstone.  It's amazing the difference a century can make.
As south London is not known for its techtonic plate activity, I'm struggling to attribute a reason for two diagonal graves to have settled to the right and the other two to have settled to the left.

14 September, 2011

The Last Time I Danced

Back in November 2009 when I was in a band called Waiting for Jasmine, I had some great disco moves!  We were mostly a Bee Gees cover band, but we also dabbled in Coldplay covers.  Actually, Sarah, a brave student named Stacy and I went to the British Music Experience at the O2 where you can record yourself singing, dancing and playing music.  I think this was the last time I danced.  I've been to weddings and I've been to ceilidhs, but I'm saving my moves.  Watching the video below you can probably see why I don't dance much.
Today I went back to the BME.  I played the instruments again, but went onto vocal rest singing-wise and was sadly under strict doctor's orders not to dance because of my "broken leg" (think anyone bought that?).  The students in the British Pop class (Claire taught British Pop?, I hear you ask.  I didn't mention Freddie Mercury or Queen once, so no.  I did, however, see a photo of him and his fabulous mustache at the original 1985 Live Aid concert.) made much more use of the facilities.  I put in a special request for the chicken dance, but was shot down in favor of a bit of rock and roll. 

Since Bill asked for John Lennon's autograph, I brought back gifts for all the ICLC staff.
John for Bill
Jon for Heather
Justin for Sarah?
Our students like a man with muscles, but who is this guy?  (sorry Zoee!)


12 September, 2011

The Police Arrive at the ICLC- Yes, the Fashion Police!

In researching what to write for this blog I often check out other people's blogs.  My first port of call is the blogs that our students write, in the hope of finding out what kind of things our students are interested in and what they might like to read about here.  My second stop is well-known blogs that started out as small personal projects.  The appeal of reading those is that they draw the interest of strangers, that the audience can often be worldwide, and therefore the writing must be of unique or powerful interest.  That's something for Elsie to aspire to.

Fashion blogging is something that work placement students sometimes express an interest in, so I've looked at some of those.  Clearly I haven't paid terribly close attention, because today the conversation turned to a subject I hadn't heard much about since I was in 5th grade and a girl in my class told me that the student council has designated it to be the school-wide "Clash Day", where everyone was supposed to come to school wearing clothes that clashed, in my honor.  I think she meant it as a mild attempt at bullying, but to this day wearing a red t-shirt, purple hoodie and green jeans with multi-colored dinosaur Converse just doesn't cry out disaster to me.  So when I was told that my colleagues weren't sure if the bigger problem with my outfit today was my combination of stripes with florals or of pink with orange, I was no less worried.  In fact, another colleague who had my back said that she didn't see a problem with what I was wearing and hadn't the previous time I had turned up wearing a combination similar to the current one.

And that's when the big discovery was made.  London Fashion Week is upon us!  It turns out that I have my ear to the ground much more than I thought I had and turned up in keeping with fashion week in an adventurous outfit!  Whoop!  In previous semesters students have been able to get tickets to the shows and many have stayed up to date on what was shown.  Here's a small cross section of the fashions on show this week at the ICLC.

This model is dressed in How-Many-Wrongs-Make-A-Right, this label being a personal favorite of the author's.  They specialize in pastels and bright colors in combination.

Our second model sports a classic turtle neck.  Sometimes worn pulled up over the lower half of his face, this timeless look can be transformed into the avant garde.

High lacing boots never go amiss, particularly in the autumn. Our model offsets the horizontally laced boots with a horizontally striped top.

Bringing east London chic to west central London, our fourth model experiments with a cross-geographical outfit.

The Drama Department, an up and coming fashion label this year, has gone for the laid back, afternoon tea look as a theme this season.

Completing the cross-section, is a combination of the t-shirt and jeans look from the east-London-chic model and the high lacing boots, showing that composite looks are still in!

07 September, 2011

It's Not Pronounced Bath, it's Pronounced Baahth

Perhaps there are remnants of its Roman origins in the pronunciation, or perhaps it's difficult to pronounce the town name, Bath, with an American accent and sound like you know what you're talking about.  When Sarah pronounces Baahth it sounds natural.  When I pronounce it with that slightly drawn out vowel in the middle I sound like I've just had a bucket of ice water dumped on my head mid-word, but I've continued trying to finish what I'm saying.

One of the most amazing things about Bath is of course the Roman Bath.  The Romans were known for their baths throughout their empire, and left a lasting bathing tradition at least in Turkey.  Coming from warmer Mediterranean climates, the Romans must have been over the moon to discover that there were hot springs in Britain.  Assuming the jet stream hit Britain in approximately the same way in the first century AD as it does today, Britain's weather may have been a shock to the system of the Romans.  The town was not only a place to clean oneself, but there was religious ritual attached in the form of a temple on the site with the baths and people went there to restore their health.  For centuries the healing powers of the baths have been sought, which is why Jane Austin herself, as well as some of the characters she wrote about, went there as recently as the 19th century (Austin lived there as a result of her father's poor health, not her own).  It was quite a posh thing to do!

My favorite things to do is stick my hand over the water at the baths to feel how hot it is.  I find the entire principle that the hot water just comes up from the ground to be amazing.  That's not where the fun ends.  They let you drink the water at the baths!  Not the green scummy stuff in the large pool in the middle of the building (they actively warn people off from getting too close to that water), but much cleaner water.  You'll even find a challenge from Bill related to trying the water.

But Bath is the middle of the trip.  Before that you will have been to Wells Cathedral which towers in front of you as you cross the green towards the west front.  Check out the really cool clock inside, too!  At Glastonbury you will have toured what's left of the cathedral and possibly even climbed the Tor.  And at Avebury you will have seen Bill's favorite rock in the world, the Devil's Seat.  After leaving Bath you'll move onto the final stop of the trip, Stonehenge.  I hope as many people as possible jump in front of it.  I don't know the significance of this tradition, but that's never stopped traditions being upheld in the past.
Enjoy the trip!


05 September, 2011

There's Treasure Everywhere

This Saturday I did one of my favorite activities that London has to offer.  I went mudlarking.  In the 19th century mudlarks were classified with pirates and thieves (Henry Mayhew, London Labour & London Poor, 1861).  Today there is no such taboo and it's a lovely day out.

Mudlarking is trawling the banks of the Thames at low tide and collecting the bits and remnants that you find there.  The first time that I did this was a little over a year ago.  I went equipped with my wellies on my feet and a bunch of bags to carry off the loot.  We had checked the tide table so as to arrive just before low tide to have as much time as possible on the river bank.  Descending a set of concrete stairs to the west of Cannon Street station I walked out onto the rocky riverbed into a different world.  The terrain begins with some sand and a lot of rocks and masonry.  From there I began to notice the animal bones.  It started with leg joints and then I spotted halves of lower jaws, teeth and all.  Quickly bypassing those I began to train my eyes to notice the treasure I was really after.  Spots of bright blue, white and green among the rocks appeared on closer inspection to be shards of broken pottery!  This was what I was after!  At the end of that trip I laboriously went home with two plastic bags full of pottery shards, a small slab of marble and a small slab of glass that I turned into trivets, a ceramic dish that I now use as a salt cellar and a figurine of a soldier who is missing his head and feet.  And how could I forget the masonry!  I also dragged home a carved white brick to use as a door stop and a mystery stone that may or may not have fluting carved into it.  I use that to hold my mail at home.  The other prize find of the day was my friend Greg's figurine.  Also missing some of its head and feet we couldn't tell if it was a sheep or a poodle.  So we called it a sheedle.  Or a poop.

I took my finds home and after soaking them in 5 litres of boiling water and then dousing them in baby-bottle sanitizer I decided they had been de-Thames-ed.  I laid them out on a towel and admired everything.  There was a shard of a plate showing a bishop performing a baptism, some birds flying over a garden and a hunting scene, as well as innumerable scraps of fretwork patterns.  I can't begin to describe how pleased I was with all the junk I had found!

This weekend I brought a friend mudlarking who had never been down to this part of the river bank before.  We had only been there a few minutes when she began telling me enthusiastically that we needed to do this again.  And she was right.  I had to stop an hour and a half later when I had so much broken glass that the weight, not the sharp edges, was ripping the bags they were in to shreds.  My mission became collecting glass as soon as I started finding the bottoms of really thick glass wine bottles.  I can't guess whether they are historical or modern, though I don't think I've seen bottles that thick in the wine aisle at the shop.  Some are made of opaque glass and some have varying degrees of iridescence growing on them.  They are beautiful!  To see more hard-core mudlarking follow this link.  Greg and I actually bumped into this man on my first mudlarking trek.
One of the bottles I found.  It looked much more iridescent than mucky in real life.

London has so many free and weird things to do!  Mudlarking is a uniquely London experience made possible by the tidal Thames, the warehouses that once lined the river where merchants delivered their goods from overseas and the historic use of the river as a dumping ground.  If trawling the river bank isn't your thing or you don't think your wellies are up for the job, there are countless other free ways to discover London.  Just think of something you love and search it out.  There are loads of free museums and parks that are ripe for exploring and you never know what you'll come across.  As Calvin (or Hobbes) said, there's treasure everywhere.


02 September, 2011

Hurricane Season

If Heathrow Airport is the busiest international airport in the world, then King’s Cross, with its fraternal twin, St Pancras, and the fabulous new Eurostar terminal at St Pancras International, is one of the busiest train station complexes in the world. Thousands board trains bound for the north, north-east, Midlands and Europe every hour. Thousands more, speaking a Babel of tongues, disembark and crowd on to the underground platforms or trudge to nearby hotels.  And, just unveiled, is THE JAVELIN, the express underground train that will ferry passengers directly to the Olympic site in Stratford in just 7 minutes, a rail version of Usain Bolt, the fastest man in the world.

No time is busier at King’s Cross than a Friday afternoon when holiday makers crowd the waiting rooms and the concourse in front of the departure board, waiting for the announcement that the 14:30 to Leeds is leaving from platform 5, while the Flying Scotsman is boarding at platform 3. It is as if a starting gun had fired. Hundreds spring into action: luggage is shouldered, children are ‘buggied’ and the race for the platforms is on. Woe to anyone who innocently obstructs this steamrollling mass. Meanwhile retailers like Café Nero, the Whistle Stop, and W H Smith sell their overpriced drinks, sandwiches and confectionery to the endless stream of customers. Tourists crowd the information booth, families with children, camping gear and bicycles queue for tickets, and, unique to King’s Cross, young  ‘Potterphiles’ search desperately for the peripatetic platform 9 and 3/4s. 

Just after 2pm on Friday August 19th, 34 Ithacans, newly arrived on the Piccadilly Line, entered this cauldron of confusion and wearily dropped their bags before the departure board. Jet lagged and eager for food and a shower, the group , bound for the Edinburgh Festival on the 15:00, had been force marched from Heathrow to King’s Cross in a record time of under three hours. The London centre’s ‘AGITLOLEPT’ reception regime – arrive, greet, identify, transfer, luggage, orientate, loo,  eat, PHOTO, tube –had worked so well that the group had arrived with 30 minutes to spare.

The group leaders snapped into action with a plan for the unexpected extra waiting time. Amidst the hubbub of the station they passed among the group suggesting buying some lunch, using the loo, even visiting platform 9 and ¾ if it could be located [It is currently some distance from platform 9 because of ‘works’ in the station.]

Then, without warning, it happened.  A booming noise crashed through the station, overwhelmed the tannoy announcer, sending passengers scurrying backwards and forwards between platforms,  and causing children to drop their ice-creams as they clutched their ears. Hearing aids screeched; security guards rushed mindlessly about; the manager of Burger King dialled 999, ATMs shut down in mid-transaction, London underground closed down the tube station causing thousands to miss their train, and ‘Potterphiles’ discovered that no matter how hard they pushed the trolley they couldn’t access platform 9 and 3/4s.

No, a train had not crashed, nor had the roof collapsed. It was Hurricane Anna, Reetz to be specific,  who had taken  the matter into her own hands. Loud enough for the Queen to hear in Buckingham Palace, 4 miles distant, she exclaimed: “You’ve got 20 minutes. Get some food, use the loo, check out Harry Potter, but be back here in 20 minutes.” The leader, staggered that his message could be transmitted so easily, thanked Anna who replied nonchalantly, “Ithaca College, Stage Manager.” ENOUGH SAID!

Later that afternoon, on the train to Edinburgh,  Anna dismissed Network Rail’s six figure offer to be the station announcer [without a tannoy system] for 4 London stations, the 3 at King’s Cross and neighbouring Euston just a half mile up the road. “Not challenging enough,” she replied.

*Tannoy is English for a public address system.
The Edinburghers, outside the ICLC