Friday, October 30, 2009

All Hallows' Eve-Eve

On this Mischief Night (Devil's Night for your Michiganders), I find it necessary to reflect on Halloweens of yore, and my weird traditions/memories.

Over here, Halloween is primarily a childrens' holiday, sure some people dress up, but since fancy dress (costumes) are a common occurrence on any night of the week (I kid you not), I suppose it doesn't hold the same special place in the hearts of the English, though apparently it's a bigger holiday in Scotland and Ireland. MASSIVE fail England. Massive fail. Clearly, Halloween is one of the best nights of the year.

Despite the fact that in America, for women, it has largely become a chance to experiment with various careers (Slutty Nurse, Slutty Librarian, Slutty Sanitation Worker, etc.), it does remain one of the few times when you can express your creativity in a real and meaningful way. I love the unexpected costumes that people come up with. Case in point, my sister went as a towel rack (two towels attached to a bra). Yet others have gone as "The Fall of Man" by Magritte. Absolutely brilliant.

I tend to have wonderful May. Sadly, despite my efforts to remember these, I inevitably fail. I was considering going as Max from "Where the Wild Things Are." Unfortunately, my onezee didn't come in time (oh, don't worry, it's still on the way). Plus I was facebook-threatened if I went as that. So I didn't. Instead I'm going as Patrick Bateman from American Psycho. For those of you who haven't seen the incredible movie that is American Psycho, behold (I can't embed):

I'm excited. I even printed the business cards:

I suppose it reflects something in me that I'm a little OCD about the details. OK, so the font isn't Cillian Rail, but I did manage to get something similar. Also, I found the Four! album cover and have my CD printed and ready to go. So it's not the most creative, but it works given my limited resources.

Last year, I was a banana split, the year before, a hipster, other years I've been sports themes, usually due to a lack of forethought. But, I always get really excited about Halloween. By far, my best costume ever was a man in the shower, done when I was in elementary school (Briarwood Bulldogs!!!). My mom, dad, and I built a shower curtain around me that I could wear, with a shower head and cascades of glittering blue foil in the place of water. It was quite the costume. I may just repurpose it again if I get the chance.

Halloween in elementary school was always something special. The day would start out with the music teacher coming on over the school's PA system and playing a recording of Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D Minor. Then, the day's announcements would be read in a commensurately scary tone. After that it was onto the classroom Halloween party, provided by the PTA mothers. Pumpkin cookies (natch), apple cider with dry ice, and likely a game of bobbing for apples or some such activity would take place. When we had library on said day, we knew we were in for a treat. Though we had some pretty sweet (for the time) technology, like Laserdiscs, the scarier movies were always played on that little tape/filmstrip combo. Essentially it was a film projector where you would play a tape of someone reading the story, and at the "ding" you would advance the frame. It was AMAZING. Trust me. Anyway, it was usually something like something about a haunted house or, my favorite, Saint-Saen's Danse Macabre, with oil paintings to accompany the music. A must-see for any 10 year-old. The younger grades would have a costume parade, full of pride in their various costumes of dragons, witches, ghosts, TV sets, and M&Ms. It was always one of the best days of the year.

At some point Halloween became less about the day and more about the night, with the obligatory parties, jungle juice, and flip cup tournaments. Though it's changed in the way it's celebrated, I still get giddy on the day before, hunting around for that perfect accessory. The one that makes the whole costume. I can't wait to see the creativity on display tonight.

Even though it's the night before, since the party is tonight, Happy Halloween. Shortly, I'm off to an old gothic house to celebrate with my coursemates and friends here. To my DC/Chicago/NYC/KC people, wish I could be there with you all. I'll be sure to raise a glass tonight. On to show these Brits how it's done!


Monday, October 26, 2009


Well, I finally managed to get a few pictures of my flat and of the campus. It's not much but I'll try and get more in the next few weeks. To take you on a tour from campus back to my flat, I present...

Our student services center

One of the older buildings on campus, which forms the Clothworker's Court

The park I walk across (Hyde Park)

The street where I live

View of flat from the outside.

My kitchen

My Room (some things never change)

Classes are beginning to get a bit more interesting. Although Research Methods continues to be a snoozer, we do have a few essays in the next few weeks, so I suppose I need to start getting prepped for that. Unfortunately, I tend to write best under pressure, so I fear what the days before the essays are due will bring. On the upside, my shipment of wine from the Naked Wines should be coming soon. 6 bottles of (hopefully) decent wine at £6 each. Sounded like a deal to me. And a coping mechanism for the coming weeks.

Next week is reading week meaning no classes and a chance to catch up on all the readings we haven't been doing. In reality I'm sure I'll spend a few days reading/writing, but I'm hoping to take a day trip somewhere. Maybe to York or Durham if the weather holds.

The weather has turned fully into fall. It's started to get a bit grey and rainy, but the leaves are changing, so it presents nice contrast, at least. Plus, it's a good excuse to eat heavier foods (storing my fat for winter).

Speaking of fat, while I've been running on a (semi) regular basis, I have yet to actually go to the school gym. This is primarily because it's terrible. Seriously, it looks like the weight room in our high school. I'm glad they're building a new one, but for now, it's still daunting to have to go, sign in, and work out on one of the 20 treadmills they have--shared between 30,000 students. Maybe I'll go tomorrow. Then again, maybe I'll just eat. I'm much better at it.

Friday I finally made it to the theater downtown to go and see The Fantastic Mr. Fox with a friend. It was comforting to know that the overcharging of concessions has made it to England. 1 student ticket, a small popcorn--which could have fed a small village--and a "small" coke (same story) set me back £12. That's about $20 for those of you counting. I think I'll skip the food next time.

I didn't mention it in my previous post, but the place where I saw The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus is one of the only gas-lit movie theaters left in the UK. It's pretty cool. A balcony, non-stadium seating, a lack of cupholders, and the soft flicker of gas-light (seriously) during the film give the whole experience a very pre-WW1 feel. I think I'll be attending there more often.

In other news, my upstairs neighbor continues to blast his subwoofer right above my head. As I'm writing this. Ugh. Sadly, I don't think reasoning with him is going to do much. So I'll just use my tried and true technique of banging on the ceiling. Fortunately, he has really good taste in music. Unfortunately, I don't want to listen to the bassline of the new(ish) Animal Collective CD five times in a row.

I did just find out that William Fitzsimmons is coming to Manchester on November 13th so I may try and go see that if I can recruit anyone to go.

Also, I have my debit card! Finally. But I got locked out with my PIN number, so I can only buy things online until my replacement PIN comes.

The subwoofer is getting to me now. Time to go punch some holes in my ceiling. You think I could just leave headphones at his doorstep? Also of note. He sounds like a bleating sheep when singing. Just sayin'.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

On Food

To be honest, the food here has not taken much getting used to. There are certainly more meat pies and their variations (pasties, etc.), but aside from a few things, I'm able to get most of what I need/want. I can't say much about the restaurant scene, as I've only been to two or three thus far, but the curries are AMAZING and generally, the quality of prepackaged foods are years ahead of what we have in the U.S. Also, food is far less expensive.

I'm not going to get into a rant about food politics, though I certainly could, but needless to say, it is far more likely that someone of limited means could buy a healthy meal here than in the U.S. What's interesting is that looking at people and the kinds of food they have in their carts, even though healthier options are cheaper, people still load up on the processed carbs in the form of sausage rolls, bakewell tarts, and mince pies. This is making me somewhat reconsider my stance on food politics in America. Although I wish that the fruits and veg were cheaper at my local Whole Foods or Safeway in the States, there is a very large cultural barrier that may never be broken down when it comes to getting people to eat healthy. Simply put, tradition often rules out over logic. I truly think the only way that food policies could get people to eat healthier would be to tax the hell out of the foods with higher calorie/fat ratios, to discourage people from eating them. This is not something that will likely happen anytime soon, though. Nor should it. In spite of what the hall monitor in me wants.

What is nice though is that I don't have to worry about high fructose corn syrup when I go to the store, since it's banned here. So many food companies have complained that they would have to reformulate all their brands and food prices will go up, etc. Given what I've seen, this doesn't seem to be the case, since most of those foods are produced globally. Honestly there's not THAT much difference in taste between an Oreo here and one in the States, I don't think most people would be able to tell the difference unless they were looking for it.

I know I said no food politics. I lied.

Anyway, I'm a big fan of the Indian food over here. It outranks the U.S. stuff by a mile. But given Britain's colonial dealings with India, I suppose it should. The pizza here is by-and-large pretty weak. I have yet to find a proper stonebaked pizza with the charred crust. I'm still feeling around for a decent sushi place. Unfortunately the "New York Maki Rolls" (whatever THAT is) at the sushi place on campus are pretty crap, though the fish itself isn't too bad. I haven't tried it here yet, but from what I hear, Mexican is pretty much a lost cause. And barbeque? Ha. I was pleasantly surprised by a nice Italian place only a few (30) minutes walk from me. I'll probably be spending more money than I should there.

Burgers, despite their ubiquity here, are generally pretty average. I'm not sure what the British definition of burger is, but in the states, it's generally meat, salt, pepper, and maybe a bit of garlic salt/onion powder. Apparently it's common to put in things like breadcrumbs, egg, and onion. To me, this is a meatball, but to each their own, I suppose. I did make a proper burger tonight, with Shake Shack sauce (nb: the sauce recipe is amazing, I highly recommend you try it), which was exciting. It was probably 90% of what I was expecting, though the meat was a bit different, and I can't find a Kosher dill here to save my life.

Also, I miss delis. I'm really considering opening up a (sustainable) kosher deli with decent pastrami here. Max's doesn't look to promising from what I can tell online. I have yet to head to Myers to see if I can procure some pastrami, but I'll probably head over there soon and bring back a proper deli sandwich for my coursemates. Hopefully they'll have kichel, my all time favourite jewish food (aside from mandel bread).

Either way, I'm slowly readjusting to my D.C. routine of cooking decent food. But it's hard with limited pots, pans, and cookware. I make do, though. At least I can find most of the same food.

So far, so good on the food front. I'm going to keep my eye out for decent mexican and sushi. I'm sure there's a proper pizza place SOMEWHERE. I continue to add to my list of British foods I don't (and probably will never) understand, like Salad Creme and various fermented yeast products. But, the pasties are amazing, the water is potable, and the veg is fresh.

Monday, October 19, 2009

One Month, One Post

It's been almost one month since my last post, but upon reading Paige's blog(ue), i am determined to write at least something to my slowly dwindling followers. Over the past month, I have certainly had the intention to write several times, yet friends, reading, or the overwhelming sense of there being too much to say has delayed me to this point. No more. Now, since we last left our hero...

Overall the move-in was rather painless. Aside from the unpleasant surprise of not having any plates/cups/cookware, things went rather smoothly. All I have to say is thank god for Wilkinson. It's more or less a midget Target, though without the good design. Luckily, glasses, cups, and plates can all be had for less than £1 per piece, so despite overspending on bedding, some comfort could be drawn from the 4 for £1 drinkware.

The first night, there was a "Pub Etiquette" social through the international office. Some lesson. More or less they said "don't push to the front of the bar, and order ale or lager." Gee, thanks for the tips. But despite the remedial lesson in alcohol consumption, I did manage to meet some new faces. Naturally, any time I heard an American accent, my ears perked and I introduced myself. Mind you, it's not as if I only talked to the Americans, but there's some commonality there, and many of them were grad students, so it was nice to find people my age, since many of the students at the pub were deceptively young. I ended up chatting with a few people, and we decided to head off to another bar--DryDock--which is, I kid you not, a ship on the side of the road. Too many pints later, I headed home with new friends in my phone and a sore liver.

International orientation continued throughout the week, with various seminars and meetups; some of which I attended, many of which I didn't. I think the week is primarily geared for people not from english-speaking countries, so much of the time was spent comisserating with my new friends. By the end of the week, I was registered, had done a tour of the city, and had a cadre of new friends, which inevitably led to many nights out at the pub/clubs. Typical freshman stuff. But all of it fun.

My flatmates had more or less all moved in (save for one) by the end of the first week, so we had the obligatory flatmate bonding over movies, food, and pints. All in all, I really enjoy my flatmates. All of us are quite different, but we all add perspective to the mix. Our final flatmate moved in the day before school began on the 28th. So five of us total, four of which are postgrads, three of which are from England, two of which are international, and one of which is a woman. Quite the diverse flat. We're like the UN, but with better style.

Classes started on the 28th (I think), after a day-long orientation to our program, a short group activity, and a trip out to Hebdon Bridge to see an old mill which was converted into a sustainable tourist attraction. It was nice to get back out into the countryside for a short hike, and getting to know my coursemates better was certainly beneficial, though, remembering names was not exactly the easiest thing. Thank God for facebook.

There are maybe 80 of us on the programme overall, but we're all in various sections, each varying in size. My section, Business Environment and Corporate Social Responsibility, has 12 people in it, many of us international. It's quite nice, too, that many people have worked for a bit, so I'm not the oldest person in my class (though I'm certainly in the running for that title).

Classes, thus far, have been rather uneventful. Most of us in the overall programe have about 60% of our classes together, so it's been nice to form a community. Since many, if not all of us, have the same Introduction to Sustainablility class, it was good to have others to commiserate with during our first essay: "What is Sustainable Development?." Now please, answer that in 1000 to 1500 words, using academic references. Ugh, what a disaster. Either way, I'm really enjoying the time with my coursemates. We all went out for a night after the essay was turned in (evidence of which has been appearing on Facebook). It's been nice to have a community within my course whom I can hang out with, as well as those outside of my course.

Other things I've done: went to see "Caucasian Chalk Circle" with a friend of a friend (who's now simply a friend), did several nights out, went to a proper Italian dinner, meet up with a friend from high school, saw a documentary at school, and, oh yes, rock climbed.

That's right. I'm a climber now. I have the shoes to prove it. And the chalk bag. So far I've only been on a few trips with the Mountaineering club, but it's been great fun. I like a lot of the people in the club, and though I'm quite terrible at the actual climbing, they're all very helpful to a novice such as myself. I'm sure pictures will follow at some point. Just this past weekend, we went to Northumberland for a weekend trip to climb a few crags. Though I fell off more often that I'd like to, I'm slowly getting a hang of the technique, and soon, I should be able to lead...something. We'll see.

Obviously, that's not the most comprehensive overview of all that's happened, but it'll have to do for now. More on life here later. Not much later hopefully.

Oh, and I saw The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus tonight with a few friends. Interesting movie, though more for the art direction than the actual acting. Still, I liked it. But I have weird taste in movies, so take that for what it's worth.