31 January, 2012

Bill on Bath (not in the Bath)

Bill Sheasgreen, London Center Director of long standing, has been to Bath more times than most of its visitors.  Not to make too direct a comment on his age, there are rumors that he helped build the baths themselves.

Claire Mokrauer-Madden: Hi Bill!  It's been a while since we last caught up.  I hear you're just back from Bath?
Bill Sheasgreen: Yes, I was there last weekend.  It's one of my favorite destinations.  Though I have cut back to only going twice a year, I always look forward to it.
CMM: Ok.  That's nice.  What I'm more interested in is dispelling rumors-
BS: It wasn't me.  Heather or Sarah did it!
CMM: I'm not sure what you're referring to, but that probably isn't the answer.  No, the rumors that you have a long standing history with the Baths.  Possibly even an ancient history?
BS: Yes, that's correct.  I go way back the Bath, Heather and Sarah don't.
CMM: Is it true that you helped build the baths?
BS: Which incarnation do you mean?  Mostly I can give yes as a blanket answer to that question, except I had nothing to do with the Georgians.  John Wood the Younger and I didn't get on.  It has to do with a dispute at Cambridge that I won't bore you with.
CMM: Yes, it's best that way.
BS: However, I did work with the Romans, and the Celtic Brythons (or CB's, as they like to be called).  Let's not start a game of Guess-Bill's-Age, all I'm saying is that I'm pretty excited about the Y's dinner menu for seniors.
Senior Citizen Specials...

CMM: To what extent did you work with the CB's and the Romans?
BS: Before gaining enough world experience to pursue a career in academia, I was a brick layer.  There's a little known fact about me.
CMM: Indeed, I wouldn't have guessed you have a bricklaying background!
BS: Yes, it was the family business, and I was very good at it.  But I didn't work with the CB's in the capacity of a bricklayer.  I was a devotee of Sulis and had the responsibility of washing dishes in the spring water for our community.  It was a real honor, and to this day I'm very good at washing dishes.
Talking shop about washing dishes

CMM: That's true, I can commend you as a dishwasher.  You seem to have an affinity for fellow dishwashers when hiring faculty.  Is that where your bias comes from?
BS: I hope it doesn't appear as a strange form of nepotism, but seeing dish washing experience on a CV wins a candidate points in my book.  I also look for synchronized swimming as a hobby of job applicants.
CMM: Is that why you hired me?
BS: It was a factor.
CMM: Back to the baths, how did you go from washing dishes to working with the Romans?
BS: The changeover was pretty easy.  It was clear that Sulis and Minerva were incarnations of the same deity.  The Romans told me I could keep my dish washing rights in their new temple if I helped them build it as a brick layer.  It was one of the easiest yes answers I've ever given in my life.  Since then I've been taking students back to see my handy work.  I try to be humble about it all, but I really am very proud.
CMM: As you should be!  Thank you so much for not letting me interview you!  It's a pleasure making up what I think your side of these surreal conversations should be.
I made this!

23 January, 2012

A Day Out South of the River

In my humble opinion, one of London's greatest assets is the River Thames.  The river is the reason Londinium, Westminster and Southwark developed, just to name some of the oldest cities on the river.  If you're looking for free or cheap entertainment for a day out in London, look no further than its river.  One of my all time favorite activities on the Thames is mudlarking, which I have posted about before.  This weekend I continued my love affair with the river by going to the Thames Barrier.
From the east
From the west
I was first introduced to the barrier on the tv show Spooks, known as MI-5 on BBC America.  I think I had known of its existence, but wouldn't have recognized it without seeing it and being told what it is.  As a line of what looks like large silver fins coming out of the river, it's a bit odd to behold.  But this strange feat of engineering controls the height of the tides.  Without it the Thames would be much more susceptible to bursting its banks and flooding London.  Indeed, this was the threat in that episode of Spooks.

Situated in Woolwich, southeast London, the Thames Barrier begins the Thames path, which goes from the barrier out to the Cotswolds (we travel to the Cotswolds on the Stratford trip).  To the northeast on the river is the Tate Lyle factory.
To the southwest is the Tarmac factory.
A ramp for asphalt, and a ramp for people
Needless to say the area is VERY industrial, as is the tradition on the banks of the Thames.  But industry doesn't detract from its beauty.  Walking west from the barrier towards North Greenwich and the O2 Arena, I passed a yacht club, where the club itself is out over the water, an ecology center (which it turns out I take the bus past most days of the week) and what I can only describe as a series of shopping cart cemeteries.  I think I also discovered where the Queen sits when she's sunbathing in southeast London.
Yacht club
Ecology park
RIP shopping carts
Shopping cart massacre, continued
Was there a plague that hit the shopping carts of southeast London?
Fit for royalty
Bill, you have your chance to make a dig at south London and profess the advantages of being a north Londoner, but there's very little that surpasses the industrial, perhaps even accidental, beauty found south of the river.


20 January, 2012

A Day in the Life of Elsie

I think you have all heard of Elsie.  You may even be her friend on Facebook.  Though the fact that she has a Facebook page is ironic in that she never shows said face.

I first heard of Elsie from Bill.  He described her as 'our poltergeist'.  And truly, she isn't for the faint of heart.  See a previous blog post as a testament to that.  Initially I thought the word poltergeist was harsh on her, and it drew up memories of the horror movie of the same name, but Wikipedia calls poltergeists troubled spirits, and I think that is an accurate description of Elsie.  35 Harrington Gardens is a Victorian family home that has been converted into a few incarnations, most recently as a college campus.  Imagining it as it once may have been draws up images of Dickensian characters- Miss Havisham sitting in a green wing-back in room 8, Oliver Twist banished to the stationary cupboard for asking for more food and Ralph Nickleby making a fortune off the debts of others in Bill's office.  Of course we have our references to more modern characters, too.  We have our own cupboard under the stairs that most work study students look for Harry Potter in.

In my mind Elsie was a little girl in Edwardian London.  She lived in the house as the youngest in a large family of children, in which she was the youngest, the most indulged and, clearly, the most mischievous.  No one now knows what became of her as adulthood approached, but somehow a part of her young self seems to have been caught in the family home.  If she keeps a diary, this is what I think it said on Wednesday.

  6am- Had breakfast with Jack.  He didn't know I was there.  It was his birthday so as my present I didn't stick socks in the back of his washer to clog it up yesterday.  Feeling good about that today.

  8am- Got this week's Time Out off the doorstep.  Can't wait to read it!  I'll return it Friday.

  8:03am- Moved around the papers in the faculty pigeon holes.  Now to shift the student post...

  9am- Bill, Sarah and Claire are all in now.  Think I will start prank calling them and hanging up.

  10am- Torn between attending Contemporary British Politics and Contemporary British Fiction.  It may be too early to catch Prime Minister's Questions, so I may just sit outside and quietly knock on the door of room 1.

2pm- Bummed there was no stage combat this morning.  Made the thumping sounds on the floor anyway so that Claire would think there are students practicing fighting.  Now must eat all the chocolate hobnobs before the students come down for coffee talk.

  3:45pm- Didn't get to eat all the biscuits, was sidetracked by the possibility of going out with Intermedia.  Nick is new.  Perhaps I can cause a little havoc in his class.  Been musing about this.  Considered doing the same for Jim yesterday, but may just sit quietly in his class and take in the material.  At least I can relate to that class.

  5:40pm- Claire is out of the front office.  Now is my chance to hide her Charlton Athletic pen.

  8:20pm- Work study are locking up the building.  Time to make noises in the dark parts of the building.  Just to keep things interesting.

  8:45pm- Settling in for the night.  Will probably start by making a mess of Bill's office and then breaking some of the locks downstairs.  And if I'm really ambitious I may hide the sandwich press.

  Midnight- Cleaners are here.  Can't find any bin bags.  Hahaha!  They'll never guess where I put them.

Accurate or inaccurate as this may be, we try and stay on Elsie's good side. On a side note, does Elsie write with a hint of Bridget Jones' style?
Elsie has her own chair.  Sometimes she lets Bill sit in it.


19 January, 2012

Proper 'Football' Anyone?

As newly arrived students from the USA you will know that the two games that decide the participants in Super Bowl XLVI take place this weekend.  I suspect that the Patriots and the Giants will win, but what do I know?  Ask Packers and Steelers fans about upsets!

Now that you are abroad, you need to get 'inside' local culture and engage in some comparisons and reflections.  The first thing you need to know about American football is that it has deviated so far from the evolutionary tree that it has become a new species [Darwin, Origin of Species, p. 655].  It is certainly misnamed.  'Hand' Ball suits better than football.  Who uses their feet in US football other than punters [time in game may be 1 minute] and the placement kickers [ditto]?  Most players use their feet the way the rest of us do, i.e. to stand on, to walk, to run, etc.  Occasionally a coach might kick a bottle or a piece of equipment in frustration, but that's it.

There can be no doubt that American football is a tough game and that the players are fit.  But the fitness is undermined somewhat by the numbers of substitutions made, the 'special' teams, and the stop-start nature of the game seems a lot easier in US football to have a 'breather' than in other versions of the foot game.

Contrast rugby football.  Three features stand out: (A) the game is longer, (B) substitutions are rarer and (C) most important, the game is 'continuous', i.e. there are few stoppages other than for injuries and infractions.  Finally, players wear little equipment, no helmets, very little padding and, rumour has it, they like to down a few pints after each game.  In brief, here's a game that should have broad appeal to young men and women.

Join Bill at a match this Saturday afternoon in Blackheath.  And win a fiver by telling Bill (in person) which other word used in US football is a serious untruth.  If it were a truth the game would need to change considerably.