Saturday, 27 October 2007

A Walk in the Hills

Faced with the choice of either doing my reading or taking a walk through the contryside I chose the latter (which produced the following pictures).

This is the very beginning of my walk. Once you get out of the ugly university buildings you are greeted by plenty of fields (like this one) most of which are used for rugby practice. It also just so happens to look like a scene from my favorite movie of all time, "Emma".

The path leading out onto the main road. I'm loving this whole fall concept. We don't really get much of it in California.

Hello sheep!

It's like something straight out of "All Creatures Great and Small". Very friendly cows as well. Not entirely sure I was supposed to be in their field though.

The break in the hedgerow that I took to be a path, of sorts.

The road home.

A house I wouldn't mind owning.

Colours. On leaves. What a concept!

In conclusion, England is very English looking. Who would have thought?

Friday, 26 October 2007

Mind the Ducks!

Today is a miserably grey (British spelling intentional) day. About 90% of my friends have gone away for the weekend. Hence I did what any sane student at Lancaster would do... I went to visit the ducks. Yes, we have ducks. Just down the road a ways is an old stone farm house with a pond and a number of ducks, some chickens, and very large and very ill-tempered goose.

These were the first two to see me. I expected them to run away but, silly me, they thought I had food and were most happy to waddle on over.

Blue/green ducks. Who knew?

I sat down on the bank to commune with the ducks. Bad idea. They all seemed to think I had bread for them and conseqeuntly I was surrounded. Eek!

Duck butt. I think this one was mad at me... with good reason I suppose.

Here we have the line of ducks, chickens, etc. headed off up the road to where two very nice girls had brought them some food.

Which left me all alone with the goose (who decided he'd rather hiss at me than get fed). Stupid goose.

All in all it was a lovely little self-pity trip. My daily dose of advice to all of you is that, should you ever find yourself out of spirits, find a duck, and take pictures of it. It's great fun.

Thursday, 25 October 2007

London Calling

This past weekend I decided to ditch a few classes and head to London for a long weekend. I met my friend Lizzy there (who is studying in Norwich) and we had a grand old time. We stayed in a hostel right on the edge of Hyde Park and spent our days and nights wandering the streets of London.

Here I am looking really excited to be in my first ever red phone booth!

The outside of St. Paul's Cathedral

The inside of St. Paul's. I would not mind getting married in that. Not at all.

The view from the top of St. Paul's (post 200+ stairs climbed).

Frolicking in the trees outside the Tate Modern.

Home to the best brownie I have ever tasted. This place was filled wall to wall with nothing but chocolate in its many forms. Yum!

Me outside of Buckingham Palace. Nice place... not very cozy.

We sat in Hyde Park (my favorite of all the urban parks I've ever seen) for a good two hours. While there we got to watch this model boat race on the lake.

And finally, on a completely ditzy note, the haircut inspired by London (and it's ridiculously fashionable people).

So, to sum up... I am moving to London the first chance I get. It was beautiful, fantastic, exciting, inspiring, fairly clean, and just plain old jolly good fun. The hostel left something to be desired due to the guy from Spain throwing up on the guy from Italy's bed at 3am and waking the whole dorm up. Really, they were all nice people. I just hate being woken up for things like that. Bleck! I hope to get back down to the city very soon and encourage you all to do so as well.

P.S. They even have "mexican" food in London. It's bland, but it's there!

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

A Taste of Academia

* The following is a piece of writing I did for a creative non-fiction class here at Lancaster U. It paints a nice picture, don't you think?

Why is He Wearing a Sequined Thong?

In general, I try to be an open minded and understanding sort of person. Unfortunately there are many things in life that I will just never be able to understand and consequently hate with a fiery passion. Beans on toast, leg warmers, beets, people who walk unbearably slow and insist on taking up the entire footpath whilst doing so… these things and many more I could happily do without. I had been hoping that as I got older the list of hated things would cease to grow with such rapidity. Sadly, my arrival here in England has added one, and possibly the worst, item to my list.
Dance clubs. Oh, how I loathe dance clubs. Whoever decided they were a good idea for socializing ought to be dragged out into the street and trampled by a hoard of sweaty young adults in varying degrees of half-nakedness. Or should I say clubbing clothes? I’ve never really understood the difference. In any event, I suppose I ought to give a bit of background for this abhorrence of mine. It seems only fair to do so.
Not so long ago I was introduced to the idea of a dance club. I had just stepped off the coach from Manchester to Lancaster and arrived in my flat. I was immediately struck by how friendly my flatmates were as they all insisted I come out clubbing with them that very night. Having never been to such an event, drinking being illegal at my age in America, I decided to throw caution to the wind and head on in to town. I was jet lagged, I could hardly see straight from exhaustion, but god damn it, I was going to dance!
As the hour of 10pm rolled around, my flatmates knocked on my door to see if I was ready to go. I had just spent the better part of an hour attempting to look presentable but when I opened my door I suddenly felt as though I’d just rolled out of bed wearing a potato sack and slippers. Each and every one of the girls in my flat was dressed in what I can only describe as the kind of clothing I see in fashion magazines and go “huh, that looks lovely and monstrously uncomfortable.” I had never seen so much glitz and glamour in my life. Back home in California we always accepted anything better than track pants as dressed up. I was very clearly no longer in my element. However, in the interest of getting to know people, I simply sucked up my clothing shame, stumbled into the cab, and prepared for my first ever dance club experience.
Upon arrival in said club I was instantly unimpressed. Not only had they robbed me blind at the door for a cover-charge, my lungs were now filled with the excrement of a cheap fog machine and my ears were already pulsing with terrible techno remixes of mediocre songs. Really, Britney Spears is bad. A remix is not going to fix that. Deal with it. In fact, I would wager that most of the people in dance clubs only put up with the music because they are a) drunk as all hell, and b) in a state of mind that can only be classified as a frenzied state of near insanity. Soon, however, my lungs adapted to the lack of oxygen and over abundance of smoke and my eardrums went numb. It seemed I had now grown my clubbing gills, as it were, and was ready to venture into the crowd.
It took me a grand total of five minutes in that sweaty gyrating multitude to realize that it really wasn’t for me. Perhaps it was my utter lack of dancing ability or maybe it was just a wondrous presence of mind but whatever the reason, I had to get out. These people were insane. I’m sorry, but it is just an unnatural phenomenon for people to actually enjoy such a pastime. First of all, I am fairly certain their must have been at least five strings of “Fresher’s flu” passing around the dance floor at any one moment. It’s hot, it’s sweaty, it’s unsanitary, and really that which is called dancing is nothing more than planted feet and a hip shake here and there. I was getting so overly cynical standing in my corner surveying the madness that I knew something drastic needed to be done. So, I headed for the bar.
As it turns out I really have no problem with dance clubs… after enough alcohol to kill a baby elephant has passed my lips. In my opinion there is no other way to even come close to enjoying such a place. And, as I surveyed the scene through my newly found beer goggles, I became convinced that the rule held true for at least 95% of the people there. I suddenly had a vision of me standing there with a magic device that robbed everyone on the dance floor of their drunkenness. The room was instantly filled with utterly bewildered looking people wondering the following: why on earth were they drenched in sweat? Why were they drenched in sweat that wasn’t theirs? Who were these two completely strange people pushed up against them? Was that actual music punching holes in their eardrums? Or was it, as it sounded to be, actual tracks of cats dying? And above all, why oh why was there a guy wearing nothing but a sequined thong and some neon body paint? Slowly each and every person filed out into the streets, blinked up at the strobe-light-free sky, took a deep breath, and bustled off to some more worthy source of amusement. Sadly, like most of my fantasies in which I have a magical device to get rid of that which I hate, this one was soon ruined by reality. I heaved a great sigh, then did what any self respecting club go-er would do. I downed another shot of something or other and wedged myself into the sweaty mass of dancers.

By Kate Hetland

Sunday, 14 October 2007

A Proper Weekend

Up until now, weekends here have either consisted of endless hours in dance clubs or me coughing the night away in my room. Neither of these two options really tickle my fancy, to be perfectly honest. Don't get me wrong, I like to dance here and there, but it just seems to get old faster for me than for others. In any event, this weekend I managed to turn the tables on weekend activites. My flatmates had told me about these two great old pubs called the Water Witch and Three Mariners respectively. I have been trying to get to a nice traditional pub since I got here. Somehow, however, I always seem to either end up in a jazz club or in (you guessed it) a dance club. I was beginning to wonder if such a pub even exisited. I can now say that it does. And it was fabulous.

The first place we stopped (The Three Mariners) was a delightful little pub situated down by the canal in a little grove of trees. It was all very dark and Halloweeny in a cheerful kind of way. They just so happened to be giving out free pints of cider so we took ours and occupied one of the many picnic tables in the trees. The following picture is of me (with a slightly over-excited expression and some free cider) and the pub in the background.

The group that went consisted of my roommate from freshmen year (Linsey), our friend Justin (also from UPS) and our token Brit for the evening, Leo. One thing I've noticed is that, for some reason, at some point in the night the conversation always turns to politics. Tonight was no exception. I must say it's always a good time, and this evening was especially amusing as Leo attempted to explain how British and American political parties compare with a couple of leaves on a table. I was quite surprised to find out that both Democratic and Republican parties are farther right than their British counterparts. Yet another reason to like England I believe. Below is a picture of the leaf demonstration.

For our second act we four headed down the canal to The Water Witch (pictured below). This is perhaps my favorite place in Lancaster thus far (aside from the castle, of course). It's a great little pub with every ale you could ever want, a very cozy atmosphere and, if it's not raining, canal-side seeting with some very friendly swans included. Lovely. Simply lovely.

Yesterday evening (Saturday) I was roused from a very intense reading session of The Brothers Karamozov by an almighty cheering coming from the bar outside my window. Curious to see what all the fuss was about I bundled up and headed out. Turns out England was playing France at rugby... and it was a HUGE deal. The bar was absolutly packed with people. There was a small corner in which the french fans had been banished but they kept their sprits up with bright flags painted on their faces and such. It was a great time. British sports fans sure know how to watch a game. Lot's of singing, chanting, taunting (I did actually feel sorry for the french as they were outnumbered about 10 to 1) and just plain old screaming. I don't know a whole lot about rugby but I can tell you it is one of the most fun sports I have ever watched. I was hoping to play it myself, but sadly that idea was blocked by their insane athletic fees. Humph. In any case, if you have never seen a rugby match, do. But make sure it's with a bunch of poeple native to the country who is playing. It's fantastic!

So there you have it. That's my kind of weekend right there. And now I get to finish it off by reading hours and hours worth of gigantic books. I sometimes find it sad that they actually want me to study here in England. Alas. I'll leave you now with a picture of me with my first chips in a paper cone. They even give you a little fork. Go figure.

Thursday, 11 October 2007

Well Mannered Violence

*Please note that the following may very well be a gross generalization of various cultures. That being said, it is a personal blog, so with any luck no one will actually care.

Those of you who have ever had the misfortune of playing cards with me will know that I am an avid fan of "spoons". This is the game in which all players eventually end up scratching and clawing their way to the middle of the table to grab a spoon before their rivals manage to do so. Most often, I am playing this game with men. Now, in my experience, this game is one that shoves chivalry of any kind out the window with an almighty heave. Most guys I know will not hesitate to punch the hell out of anyone, male or female, who gets in the way of them and their spoon. Don't get me wrong, I myself have drawn blood in this game. It's just always been a bit shocking to me that the "never hit a girl" rule is so quickly done away with. Tonight, however, I have discovered that this is not a world wide problem.

This evening, in an attempt to feel less sorry for my cold/cough ridden self, I dragged my aching body to the neighboring flat of some friends of mine (mixed Americans and Brits). While the rest of the university was off dancing the night away to the usual techno remixs, we six sat around the kitchen table and decided to play cards. The Americans at the table quickly recommended "spoons" which the Brits had never heard of. They learned quickly, however, and we soon had a very loud and quite dangerous game going. After a few rounds we decided to spice things up a bit. We took those spoons and placed them outside the kitchen at the end of the hallway. The goal now was to be able to push your way past all others out the door, into the hallway, and grab your spoon before the rest of the hoard fell on you. I, being used to playing with American guys, was prepared for injuries akin to those obtained in rugby (which, by the by, I am now playing). The outcome, however, was somewhat different than expected.

When the time came for everyone to launch themselves into the hallway the only other female in the group was knocked down. I am slightly ashamed to say that I did not stop to help her but pushed a few guys out of the way and continued to hurtle down the hall. As I looked back, however, I saw something that was absolutly shocking to me. One of the British guys had actually stopped to help her up. Granted, he had been the one to knock her down but still... had this been the average American co-ed he would have simply run over her in his pursuit of spoon glory. And the whole game was like this. Not once did a Brit harm a hair on my head. Odd, but appreciated. Hence I come to reason number whatever-number-I'm-on-now why I like England. The men here, while perfectly able to kick the crap out of someone should they wish to, do not do so to women when playing cards. Or at least not the ones I've met thus far. I think that says a little something positive about a country.

Saturday, 6 October 2007

Back to Basics

On arriving here in Lancaster I quickly realized that I had, much to my horror, forgotten a few very important items. I'm not really a fussy person when it comes to general surroundings but my bedroom is a different story entirely. No matter where I am, if I'm going to be there for more than a few weeks my bedroom has to be arranged just so. The second I stepped into my room here I nearly cried. There was nothing, I repeat, nothing, to make the room at all home-like. I was surrounded by bare wood furniture and a bedding pack provided by the school (it's all pale hospital blue... not very cozy at all). I didn't mind that I was thousands of miles from home, or that I didn't have any food yet, or that I had no idea where my classes were. None of that bothered me at all. The room situation, however, caused my first (and only so far) breakdown. Over the past week, however, I've been able to collect a few things to make bedtime a bit less traumatic. I'm including some pictures below so those of you who would like to be able to place me in your minds (i.e. Elana) may do so. This way I'm no longer just floating around in some ancient city but sitting in a proper building.

1. This is me in my little English room.

2. My little rose bush. I named it Jane and it's made all the differnce in these spartan surroundings.

3. Nothing like cheap overhead lighting to get you down. This little guy was my solution to the problem.

4. Cheers for university poster sales.

5. Last, but not least, the view from my window. That's the offending bar on the left.

Friday, 5 October 2007

The "cute" factor

While riding the bus into town today with a freind of mine (also an American) he posed an intersting question. Back in America we both find land without mountains to be quite boring and, well, rather ugly. Here, however, while we are surrounded by mostly fields and small hills everything is absolutly stunning. That's one of the main things I've noticed about England so far... it's absolutly beautiful. Even things that are most often ugly are gorgeous.

Take, for example, the shopping district here in Lancaster. It has everything your basic run o' the mill shopping mall would have such as drug stores, department stores, shoe stores, fancy boutiques, and so forth. Now, in America these things would be crammed into a huge block of a building with no windows and a usually seedy atmosphere. Here, however, these stores are spread out along small stone alleys and, get this, they all have windows that let actual sun light in. Go figure. The picture above is of the main shopping street on which I was able to buy a blow dryer in the drug store as well as some freshly baked bread from a roadside stall just outside. Sidenote: it was the best bread I've ever tasted!

Aside from the shopping areas, pretty much everything else is cute as well. The farms almost make me get teary-eyed. Those low stone walls winding through pristine fields with a small (i.e. not huge, red, and falling down) farmhouse in the distance just get to me every time. Even the cows look like someone arranged them in that formation on purpose. They just know how to stand in the perfect spot under that perfect oak tree to make the whole picture amazing. I keep meaning to go for a stroll and get some great pictures of these fields but as I have yet to purchase wellies such an adventure might prove deadly. Soon though.

Last, but not least, even the traffic here makes me happy. Don't get me wrong, I'd prefer not to sit in it. I do, however, like to look at it. I wonder if we just added a couple of red double decker buses to our traffic back home would we like it better? It might be worth a try.

Thursday, 4 October 2007

The dining experience

Generally speaking, I try to be open minded when it comes to food. French fries dipped in a chocolate milkshake? Sure, why ever not? My understanding nature, however, is now being tested. Whoever decided that baked beans on toast was a good idea should be dragged out onto one of these cute country lanes and trampled by a horse. Or maybe not. The point here is, I am starting to be a bit baffled by the food here.

For my first example, everthing seems to taste ever so slightly of bananas. I cannot explain this, but for some reason every pasta, sandwich, and biscuit tasted has a vague essence of banana. Also, and I know I should have been prepared for this, they serve potatoes with EVERYTHING. The picture above is a good illustration of this point. I ordered a panini which is, I believe, an italian dish (and if not, I've just made a bit of a fool of myself. Well traveled indeed). Now, in the States one can expect to either get their panini on its own wrapped in tacky fast food foil or with a salad of some sort. Paninis are heavy enough without adding on something more. And yet, when my meal came it was surrounded with potatoes as well as an occasional (and highly offensive) beet. Oh how I loathe beets. But that is neither here nor there. I was just astonished to find potatoes on my plate. They were good, have no doubt of that, but they seemed lost and out of place. I think there have been at least two different kinds of spuds in each authentic meal I've had here. And get this, chips (i.e. fries) are a near obsession here. We have two refrigerators in our flat and my flatmates have half-filled both with bags of frozen chips. After a night of pub crawling the sentiment usually revolves around "hey, anyone fancy some chips?". No offence to the British or potatoes but, well, where in God's name is the bloody lettuce when you need it?

That is, I suppose, the biggest change I've noticed in myself since I got here. I have never been much of a salad person. My opinion has always been that if I was meant to eat a heaping pile of greenery I would have been born as a rabbit or other furry woodland creature. Now, however, I would give almost anything for some good lettuce and actual salad dressing. Funny how these things work out. Sadly, all I've been able to find is some shredded lettuce of questionable origin with one tomato slice and a bit of salad cream on the side. I think I cried a bit inside for that one.

Really though, the food here is not bad. A great deal of it is right tasty. It's just very different. And, being human and all that, I have a hard time with "different". Who knows, I might learn to love potatoes. Or I might just start joining the cows in the fields across the way in munching the grass. They seem friendly enough and most likely willing to share. I suppose I'll really just have to wait and see.

Wednesday, 3 October 2007

First Impressions

So, here I sit in my own tiny Lancaster University room. It looks as though this room was spit out of Ikea directly. It's very modern, very wooden, very clean, very European. The lucky ones in my flat have views of the countryside (cows, sheep, and cottages included). I, sadly, have had no such luck in the view department. My window looks out on the Lonsdale College bar. While it is a very nice bar, and is handy enough to be located less than 100 yards from my front door, its occupants can be very noisy at night. Ah well.

Thus far the university experience here is much different than what I've ever experienced or expected. For those of you familiar with the UC Berkeley campus, that's what I compare this to most. It's HUGE. I'm lost 80% of the time and I love it! From my college to the center of campus it's about a 15 minute walk along a field and then through a few other colleges. I suspect I will find this less enjoyable when the wind, sleet and snow begin. For now, however, I'm enjoying it well enough. The student body here is also far more diverse than UPS. I suppose that's to be expected. After all, who really wants to study in Tacoma if you've come from a country like Norway, France, etc? I love walking to the store and hearing at least five different languages on the way. I even got to practice my German while queuing for the ladies room. Good times indeed. And speaking of foreign languages....

For those of you who told me I wasn't really going to a foreign country because they speak English here... they don't. I'm living with a girl from Yorkshire, and if you've ever happened upon such an accent you'll know that it's quite foreign indeed. I can usually tell what she's saying but I have to concentrate a bit harder than expected. There is, surprisingly enough, a whole lot that's lost in translation here. While the Brits and I speak the same language the words just don't always match up. For instance, at dinner last night I had just finished my heaping plate of steaming goodness (i.e. various meats, potatoes in about five different forms, samosas, baked tomatoes, etc.) when my friend Faye asked if I "fancied a pudding?". Never one to pass up a good pudding I said I'd love one. You can only imagine my surprise when I was presented with a plate of cheese cake. I asked if they'd run out of pudding to which Faye responded that what I had in front of me was pudding. As it turns out all dessert here is called pudding. Only the snobs call dessert "dessert". Good to know I'm considered a snob here as well I suppose :-). Also, salad dressing does not exist here. You get salad cream on your iceberg lettuse. It's horrible. I now hate salad more than I ever thought possible. It's like coolwhip seasoned with God only knows what on lettuce. Not good. But at least they try.

Thus far the biggest cultural change I've noticed is the amount of socializing that goes on. I have been prodded into hitting the town each and every night I've been here. And we're not talking quiet pubs here (which is all I really want). We're talking huge dance clubs jam packed with sequined clad undergraduates and pumping the latest in techno dance music. They seem to love it here. I try my best to keep up but generally end up choking on the smoke from the smoke machine and getting dizzy from the strobe lights. I suppose it will just take some getting used to. Another main difference is that poeple are just plain nice here. They're always stopping to ask how they can help me as I stumble down the city streets with arms full of grocieries trying to remember which adorable cobblestone street the bus stop is down. It's very comforting.