30 November, 2011

Look Mom!

Dear Mom,

Guess what?  You never will, so I'll just tell you.  I made a blanket!

I had a lot of help, and I'm really proud of it.  The students, faculty and staff who knitted made some amazing squares, and I wish I could learn to knit the intricate patterns that appeared.  I'm taking a lot of credit for this blanket, and I should probably mention that I was there as more of a moral support than anything else.  I spent a lot of time asking for help, and a lot of people came through.  The problem is that I don't have opposable thumbs, which it turns out are vital to knitting.  How could I have know that before?  In real life my thumbs are fine, but in my current situation I can't move them.

Anyway, I thought I would just drop you a quick note to thank you for your help making the blanket and to show it off to you.  If it were possible, I would suggest you stick it to the fridge, but it's probably more important that we donate it the local shelter that we have planned to send it to.  Until we donate it, though, I'm going to use it to keep myself warm.


21 November, 2011

I'll take "The ICLC" for 800, Alex

THIS site has been a college, a palace and a military center.
THIS is one of the most windswept places we traveled to.

Jane Austen really wasn't that fond of living in THIS city.

THIS service station is one of the nicest we stopped at this semester.

Birds of prey misbehave for their trainers at THIS castle.
The city that THIS photo was taken in was burnt to the ground by French raiders in the early 16th century.  (Need I say more.)

15 November, 2011

The Spies Amongst Us

There is nothing covert about this spy operation.  Gone are the days of the cold war and McCarthyism.  We take our spy duties seriously and we hang our laundry out in the open.
Spy in the background, acting like she doesn't see her photo taken and her cover blown.

Thanksgiving is approaching, and even though it isn't really recognized in the UK, it's a break for IC students on the home campus, and often a time when significant others come to visit.  And that's when our spying goes into high gear.  When it comes down to it, we need to know, is he/she/it good enough for you?
An example of stealth photography.  No one knew they were being photographed!

Here are some sample conversations that your significant other might expect to have at the London Center:

Bill: When did you arrive in London?
Boyfriend: Last night.
BS: Where did you fly from?
BF: Montreal.
Verdict- good enough for you.

Sarah: How long are you visiting London?
Girlfriend: For 5 days.
SD: Have you ever been to London before?
GF: Yes!  I loved it!  That's why I want to come study here next year!
Verdict- good enough for you

Claire: What are you planning on doing while you're here?
Boyfriend: I really want to see Manchester United play.
Verdict- NOT good enough for you

Heather: Are you planning on seeing any theatre while you're in London?
    If... Girlfriend: Yes, I'm planning on waking up early tomorrow, taking advantage of my jet lag, and getting day tickets at the National Theatre.
Verdict- good enough for you
    If... GF: I think I only want to see The Mousetrap.  I'm not really that into theatre.
Verdict- NOT good enough for you
    If... GF: I will be doing my one one-woman performance of stage combat with samurai swords in the Common Room on Monday for your entertainment.
Verdict- TOTALLY good enough for you

In truth, we like a bit of gossip around 35 Harrington Gardens.  Don't think of it as spying or prying into your personal lives (the staff already does pretty well getting you all to give us gossip on each other), but a bit of unsound parenting to see you through your time abroad. 
This has to be gossip caught in action!

And if the situation is serious, Bill and Lee White (our Irish Lit lecturer) can perform wedding ceremonies.

11 November, 2011

Niche Market

Many people spend their lives thinking of the idea that's going to make them rich.  I've just had mine today.  And here I am giving it away for free.

Sometimes I receive emails that I'm not sure how to answer at first glance.  Even though it's a short walk away, my instinct is often to call Bill and see what he would say.  It doesn't matter that many times I disagree, what matters is that I know what Bill would say in my situation.  I don't know how important it is to say that these are work related emails that I'm referring to.  When my friend asks me if I want to go running this evening I don't bounce those off Bill.  Although after thinking through what I'm about to write, that may not be a bad idea in future.

My wealth generating business involves asking, what would Bill say?  I understand that this is not a completely unique idea to have others ask what another person would say, but I think this could be especially good if they are Bill's responses imagined by me.  That's the new ingredient to this tested recipe that I'm copyrighting today.  Here are some examples:

Q: Can I volunteer if I don't have a visa?
BS: My office needs cleaning.  You can volunteer to clean it.

Q: What should I do this Friday night?
BS: Go to a ceilidh (that's a Scottish dance to most of us) and dance with a man in a kilt.  I'll give you £5 if you do it.

Q: Where can get a cat?
BS: In my kitchen.  Or my garden.  Sometimes they can be skittish.

Q: How much is the football game on Saturday?
BS: £5 for the ticket.  Plus a booking fee of £10 to me, and £15 each to Sarah, Claire and Heather.

Q: Are Chelsea or Manchester United playing tonight?
BS: Does anyone care?
Q: Did you see Doctor Who last weekend?
BS: Doctor what?

Q: Is it too late to get onto the Paris trip?
BS: No.

If anyone has any questions that they would like me to guess how Bill would answer, send them my way!


09 November, 2011

The British and the Poppy

On the college trip to Paris last weekend, the first weekend in November, it was easy to spot English people as many wore an artificial poppy whereas the French did not. It was curious to reflect on why the French never adopted the custom as thousands of each country’s soldiers were slaughtered in the four and a quarter years of the First World War for what seems, retrospectively, the most inane of reasons.

The British have long had the custom of wearing a poppy in the week leading up to ‘Remembrance Day’, the 11th of November. You can’t go anywhere in central London without a volunteer poppy seller politely encouraging you to donate money and to wear a poppy in remembrance. Yet the poppy-free French suffered  much more than  the English during the war. The stalemated western front, defined by miles and miles of trenches from the Belgian to the Swiss borders, pockmarked with millions of shell holes and destroyed property was mostly in France. Second, mortality was higher amongst the French, both military and civilian. Indeed so high was French mortality and so bleak were prospects of peace that there was serious insubordination amongst the ‘poilus’ [French soldiers], a situation not dissimilar to the reason why first Russia in 1917 and then Germany in 1918, withdrew. Hence, the ‘revanchist’ peace, the ruthlessness of the French seeking their pound of flesh - and more- at the Versailles Conference in 1919.

There are three answers to the mini puzzle. First, the British manned the northern sector of the front, including the wet lowlands  of Belgium, as it  was closer to their critical supply lines at the             channel ports. Second, poppies grew out of the fertile, churned up land on  this front. And third, it was a Canadian poet/soldier, John McCrae, who in 1915 wrote the immortal and moving poem that so many British and Commonwealth children used to memorise at school, ‘In Flanders Fields.’ The French were unlikely to adopt a symbol that had anglo-saxon scribbled all over it.

Here is McCrae’s poem, written after the death of a close friend, a 22 year old Lieutenant in the Canadian army, one of over a million useless deaths of the war.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place, and in the sky.
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amongst the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

The first two stanzas are pacifist in tone, but not the third. McCrae died in January 1918, a victim of pneumonia.

This Sunday, Whitehall will be closed off for the annual Remembrance Day ceremony held at the Cenotaph. We are asked to respect the moment of silence at 11 o’clock of the 11th day in the 11th month of the year.


08 November, 2011

Employee Appreciation Month

At the London Centre November has three significant events that ‘FEED’ into each other. First, this month is ‘Employee Appreciation Month’.  At the ICLC, that means chocolates and other gooey goodies as we have no on-site store wherein employees can claim their rewards.* In the accompanying photo you see Claire enjoying the 2nd of her ‘appreciation’ appetisers, a delightful croissant from London’s best café, the Café Forum on Gloucester Road.
Is Café Forum even making appreciative bags?

Second, we celebrate Thanksgiving with an all-day smorgasbord of unadulterated plain and chocolate hobnobery that leaves bellies aching for the evening feast of turkey, mashed potatoes, veggies and chocolate mousse in Guinness [an old Puritan favourite]. Belts now loosened, we waddle right into ‘Bake Week’ at the end of the month, a week in which staff, lecturers, and students bake goodies for a worthy charitable cause. Claire can be seen in the photo well into her training for the excesses of November. She is so far, and today is just 8 November, ahead of her two EAM competitors, Sunshine Sarah in San Diego and Mother Heather, in the race to benefit from the charitable cause of the term, namely a three day spa recovery weekend in Buckinghamshire. Well into the lead, her points score almost insurmountable**, the only impediments to Claire winning the spa weekend are that she might blow up first and/or she won’t be allowed to wear her fashionable Charlton Athletic FC hair clips. Spas do have standards after all.

* At last week’s staff meeting the Director had to reject the staff request that jewellery be added to the list of ‘appreciations’. Police were summoned to disperse the staff sit-in at 11pm that evening.

** So waif-like that she is almost invisible, Elsie was disqualified from the competition.


04 November, 2011

Learning the Language

I know I've done a few blog posts on the language differences between the UK and the USA, and here's another!

Today's post is inspired by this morning's weather.  And my stomach.

"I looked out my window this morning to see that it was absolutely pissing down.  I knew that I would be wearing my wellies today, and was a little sad that I had forgotten to bring my brolly home.  It was one of those chilly mornings where a bacon sarny would really hit the spot.  Instead I settled for my usual yoghurt.  My thoughts turned to lunch as I passed the chippy in Gloucester Road, and then I rounded off my thoughts on what the day's meals would be by considering this evening's tea."

"I looked out my window this morning to see that it was absolutely raining cats and dogs.  I knew that I would be wearing my rain boots today, and was a little sad that I had forgotten to bring my umbrella home.  It was one of those chilly mornings where a bacon sandwich would really hit the spot.  Instead I settled for my usual yogurt.  My thoughts turned to lunch as I passed the fish and chip shop on Gloucester Road, and then I rounded off my thoughts on what the day's meals would be by considering this evening's supper."

So, to sum up today's lesson, words to do with rainy weather have endearing nicknames, I think so that the weather doesn't get you down.  Actually, the food words have nicknames, too.  I hope it's common knowledge that British spellings include more letters than American spellings.  Yes, we are two countries divided by our common language.  And yes, English is a complex, evolving language made of a composite of other older languages, showing its roots that come from abroad and using an alphabet that doesn't perfectly suit the language (pronounce 'dough', 'through' and 'enough'), but I'm still adjusting to the silent h in the word we all pronounce as 'yogurt'.

And finally tea=supper/dinner.  I once told a friend I was later going to eat dinner with that I had bought tea.  Let me tell you, when I arrived at his house and he asked what we were having for supper and I said I didn't know and he said that I should since I had bought it and I said I hadn't bought anything, confusion ensued.  I had literally bought a box of English breakfast tea (I think that's black tea to many of us).  I don't have an answer for why the meal that many people call supper is called tea by others.  I'm open to suggestions.

Also, to those in Paris this weekend, here's a bit of "French" that should see you through to Sunday: "Puis-je s'il vous plaît ont 53 croissants?" and "Frankreich ist nicht so gut wie Deutschland.  Wir sollen nach Berlin gefahren!"


01 November, 2011

6th Place is Even Better Than 12th!

I mention 12th place as a cheeky reference to Glee.  Apologies to those readers who find Glee annoying.  While I see how the show can elicit that reaction, there's no denying that it's funny.  And full of quotable quotes: Principal Figgins to Sue Sylvester "Sue, the dry cleaners here are just as good as the ones in Europe."

And thus Glee comes around to Elsie!  Why, yes, we do have decent dry cleaners here in Europe who are probably as good as the ones in Ohio.  Do you know what else Europe has (though Ohio doesn't)?  Elsie, the ICLC, the Ithaca College London Center- call it what you like, we are so delighted that our students gave us positive feedback on Study Abroad 101 and landed us in 6th place for Best Places to Study Abroad in the whole entire world.

As ever, this accolade brought about another opportunity for an interview with Bill Sheasgreen.  Sometime soon he will learn that it's best to turn up for these interviews.  Sometime soon I might even invite him to one.  Until then, here is what Bill "said" about our achievement.

Claire Mokrauer-Madden: Bill, congratulations to the ICLC on placing in the top 10!  How do you feel about that?
Bill Sheasgreen: Context- remember that the Beatles' first single 'Love me do' only made it to 27 in the Hit Parade!*
CMM: So are you saying there are bigger things in store for the ICLC?
BS: In many ways, yes, that is what I mean.  This year the London Center is 40 years young.  Before we know it Elsie is going to be at the top of the Hit Parade!
CMM: Umm, don't you mean the London Center will be at the top of the list of the best places to study abroad?
BS: Yes, we will do that, too, but I have big plans to take on the Beatles while we're in the business of topping lists.  And of course there's my history with McCartney...
CMM: Sorry, I'm afraid I don't know what you're talking about.  Do you know Paul McCartney?
BS: Hmmm... does one ever really KNOW Paul McCartney?  This question has been lurking in my mind for a few decades now.  I thought we had settled that we would form a band together after the Beatles broke up.  Then he stopped answering my calls, and then all of a sudden he turns up in Wings!  And playing songs that I'd written!  I won't say which songs are mine, but let's just say that from there our relationship has been icy.  He tried to get back in touch in the mid '90's, but by then I had washed my hands of the man.  Even talking about it now I'm getting a little emotional.  We had better draw a line under that period of my life.
CMM: Ok, then back to placing 6th in the world and first place in study abroad programs in London, how do you feel about that?
BS: I'm really chuffed!  I've been pretty focused on the prospects of the cricket team this semester, so this took me by surprise, making it even more exciting!
CMM: That's great!  On a side note, how has the team been this semester?
BS: We needed a lot of work in the beginning, but I think the team will clinch the tournament.  And have I mentioned how good our uniforms look?
CMM: Yes, I think you have mentioned it before.  But thank you for bringing a photo of the uniforms to include in this blog post.  Jeremy must enjoy modeling it for you.  Thank you for your time, I should be getting back to work, but these interludes are always enlightening.
BS: You're more than welcome!  I really enjoy these interviews with you.  I would even say they're effortless.

To see some actual journalistic representation of the ICLC's making the list of the top 10 of best places to study abroad check out the Huffington Post!

*Interviewer's note: true fact, Bill did actually say this.