Dissertation Delays

On the bright side, my dissertation is complete. On the darker side, it’s currently on a computer I’m locked out of this afternoon. Thankfully, I can get to it by this evening in a worst case scenario. It’s really strange being finished with it and having a few days left to spare. Not sure what I’m going to do for the next few days.

Oh wait, yes I do. I’m going to be packing things. I moved out of Leicester at the end of June, and now the favourite human and I are about to turn around and move to Norwich due to work commitments. He’s going to have an hour commute, and I’ll be on a two-hour commute down to London for my internship. Public transport for both of us, so I imagine we’ll both be sleeping whilst riding in the mornings. I’d say chatting with friends on the ride back, but phone service is admirably spotty on the train lines. I’m thinking attempting to re-read the Harry Potter series over the two months.

It’s going to be another shift in life, but it’s one I’m looking forward to happening. It’s going to be a house and not a flat for a change, and one we both get to create together, rather than feeling like a squatter in each other’s places. It’ll also be doing work directly in a museum environment for me, and I’m so excited to be out of the abstract of academia and back into the real world! From here on out it’s a great internship and job applications galore.

Also in terms of shift, it also feels like it’s time to shift this blog a bit. I suppose you can be a tourist forever, but if you want to live somewhere permanently, it becomes detrimental. I’ll continue to write (and hopefully a little more regularly), but rather than being an intrepid reporter for all things *different* between the US and the UK, I’d like to just write about life as it happens. Things that surprise, comfort, amuse, confuse even. It’s not going to devolve into a Dear Diary thing (I hope), but it just feels more and more awkward to write in the style I have been for the last few months. Instead, I’m going to try to tell stories. Hopefully decently written stories, but stories of settling into a new phase in my life and of all the cast that appear in it. I might even do an overhaul of the blog layout!

So let us spring forth with a new Kate, unencumbered by blog traditions! I’ll start this reformat with a piece I’ve adapted from my fellow blogger Inspired Life and list 20 things I’ve either learned about myself this year, or things about myself that have changed over the last few months.

  1. The further into academia I delve, the worse my cleaning obsessions get. Before university, I was a messy lady. Now, I’ve been spotted vacuuming and wiping counters on a regular basis. I even make the bed! (The bathroom remains the bane of my existence though.)
  2. My accent seems unlikely to change in the near future. The idioms have altered, but I still very commonly stand out as an American. And honestly, I’m fine with it. At first I wanted to do everything I could to blend in quickly, but now I’m finding it alright to just be who I am. Within reason anyway.
  3. I’m learning to better accept that not everyone will like me, and that sometimes you just can’t do anything about it. It stings to find out someone thinks ill of you, but you really can’t please everyone. Just try to be kind in general.
  4. I have been an idiot. Oh, hindsight. I count this as a good thing though. If I can look back at things I’ve done and realised it was a poor choice, then that means at least I’m not as likely to do it again.
  5. There is always time to read. You don’t realise how much TV and internet sucks up your time until you start reading more and realise how far behind you are on pop culture. There’s a balance to it I suppose. I managed to read 53 books last year, and I’m up to 28 so far this year. Some have been school books of course, but a good portion are just for pleasure. The not having to drive places thing really does help with this.
  6. I’ve reached the age where I no longer put my head to the pillow and don’t wake up again until the alarm buzzes. It’s never been insomnia for more than a day, but I’m commonly awake briefly in the middle of the night. We’ll definitely need to move the bed away from the wall in our new place, as being awake in the middle of the night is useless when you’re the one stuck facing the window.
  7. Just like when we moved across the US, there are things I miss from US. Would I want to move back? Not really. Would I like to visit often? Most definitely!
  8. Living the first year of my life with no animals in it has been rough. My chivalric love of cats from afar is getting ridiculous.
  9. I’ve realised that sometimes, the cheapest plane ticket is just not worth it.
  10. Having friends around the world is a fantastic thing, and the ones that keep in contact after all this time will likely be friends for life. With that said, it also really sucks when all your friends are nowhere nearby and you’ve got nothing to do on a Friday night.
  11. I have grown to greatly appreciate adequate public transport. It’ll be nice to drive again at some point, but being able to get nearly anywhere you need to go with public transport and your own two feet is phenomenal.
  12. I’m not sure how long I have to live here to stop being surprised by things, but today is not that day.
  13. I still hold firm that rain and thunderstorms are great. Mists and fogs of water consistently pouring from the sky all day? Not great.
  14. I’ve not gotten any slimmer than when I got here, but for possibly the first time in my life, I’m beginning to feel comfortable in my own skin.
  15. There is, in fact, a point where I can see too many ancient buildings. I never thought it was possible, but here we are.
  16. My alcohol tolerance has gone up considerably since moving to England, but I still don’t think I’ll ever manage to get to the level of drunkenness that the English manage grandly. It’s truly a sight to behold.
  17. I’m not sure I want to continue my education past a master’s degree. I think it might actually break me to attempt a PhD.
  18. If I did go back for a PhD though, it’d be back to my one true love of anthropology and not in museum studies.
  19. Being totally alone in a new city where no one knows who you are and you can do and see what you please is one of the most liberating things in the world. I’d recommend everyone should try it once, even if it’s just a cool new city nearby your hometown.
  20. Watching and learning how a culture works is very different from being immersed in a culture yourself. It’s very easy to say, “Well that’s different from what I know, but it seems to work for them.” It’s much more difficult to allow yourself to be placed into different cultural norms and not rebel against them. Some you will come to accept and love, and some you will consistently struggle with.

— Kate

the internet is coming to get us. well let's get it before it gets us.

Almost Back.

Hello all!

Been busy reading, and rereading, and brainstorming, and writing, and a little morose sulking, and all of those other things that come alongside with dissertation writing these last few months. Side effects include the complete lack of will to blog (“What did I do this week? I sat on the same sofa cushion every day and researched biological growth rates.”), weight gain (an unfortunate product of being planted on said sofa), and general whining (my friends and loved ones are SAINTS I tell you). Thankfully it’s nearly (hopefully!) wrapped up and I should be back to normal-ish by the end of this week or next. Of course, there will be revisions and edits and looking-overs until right before it’s due next month, but at least the painstaking effort of making words appear on a page in sentence form will be done. It’s not all been doom and gloom though, and I’ve had a few glorious breaks in which to get out and see the world. In order to psuedo-catch you all up, I’ll give you the last few months’ highlights in photos.

In early May my favourite human had a job interview down in London, so I decided to take the day off and go wander around the British Museum while he interviewed nearby. That ended up being a stressful experience that no one had planned for. Ordinarily, one needs only to take the train from Colchester to London Liverpool Street Station and then the Underground to Holborn.

We ended up taking a train that stopped once for 15 minutes due to a malfunctioning train in front of us, which then started moving again only to be completely shut down due to an accident on the lines ahead of us. This so happened whilst we were nearest to Shenfield, so due to the train line being closed until police could settle the matter, we had to get out at Shenfield. From here, the options were to take a train backwards to another line that would go into London, or find a taxi, or take a bus kind of backwards and around to the closest Tube station.

We happened to be super lucky and a lovely older couple offered to take us in their car to the nearest Tube station, as the gentleman needed to be in London soon as well. We still ended up being late to that interview, but they were able to slot him in later in the afternoon. Leaving behind a thoroughly rattled boyfriend, I went to wander the museum’s section on Crete and the Minoans.

I’ve always passed by this section, but am usually with others that had no interest, so I was excited to be alone and able to enjoy this obscure section to my heart’s content. And I did. I think I read every single bit of text in the exhibit and even had a little bit of time left over to start into the medieval section. At that point though, the interview was a success and it was time to get the poor frazzled one some lunch and to go back home.

Soon after, I also got to witness British democracy in action, though only from the sidelines. It’s a very weird phenomena to see all these signs and posters reminding you to vote and realising that you aren’t allowed to here. Interestingly though, I did learn that if you are a Canadian or Australian living here, you can vote in UK elections. Commonwealth benefits that Americans obviously missed out on. The only way they’ll ever let me vote is if I pass the citizenship test.

IMG_6853
Watching British democracy in action from the sidelines.

Next was our welcome break from the paperwork monotony at the end of May to Calpe, Spain. It’s over in the Costa Blanca region, near Alicante and Valencia. It was warm and sunny and very laid back, and we had a fun evening in the middle of it celebrating the beau’s birthday!

After Calpe, it was a decently quick turnaround until my parents arrived to see me and tour around the UK. Remember, I haven’t seen them in person since I left in September, so I was SUPER excited to see them again! 🙂 We had a great mix of catching up, explaining the country and it’s quirks, and looking at all kinds of places. We started in London, but left quickly after for Leicester so they could see where I’d spent my last few months. We got to see a Magna Carta performance in the Guildhall, Richard III’s new burial spot, and got lucky and caught the organ player at St. Nicholas’s Church. He let us see the inside, played us a beautiful piece, and even let Mom ring the church bells. She looked like a kid at Christmas. 🙂

Next we went to York. York is just like going back in time when you get to the centre of the city. We saw castles and medieval side streets and ancient pubs galore. We even took a haunted ghost bus tour, which was more silly than scary but still good fun. After a good two days in York, we continued on to Warwick to see the castle. It’s gone a bit commercial these days, but it was still an enjoyable experience – minus the downpour of rain. I did love to see the shock on Mom’s face each time it would start to rain, like it wasn’t supposed to be happening.

Bath was our Sunday adventure, and we fed them a proper Sunday roast before walking the city. The next day we made a quick detour into Wales just to say we’d been there, then drove on to Stonehenge for the majority of the afternoon. You can’t go up and touch Stonehenge anymore, but we had another bit of luck and happened to come in just as the Druids were closing their ceremonies for the summer solstice. It was positively magical! The heritage centre next to the circle is also really well done and makes up for not being able to get as close as you’d like to the stones.

Our grand adventure wrapped up in Reading, but not before we stopped in at Dad’s childhood home in Syresham. Grandpa was in the military in the 70s, so Dad and the rest of the family moved around the world quite a bit. For about 5 years though, they lived in England. Their home is a historically listed property, so it’s still around. Needless to say, Dad was stoked to see it. We only intended to be there for a few minutes to take a photo of the outside and have a quick drive around the village, but the lady who owned the house was actually outside. She was glad to hear about the old stories Dad had and even let us look around the inside. It was such a neat experience to have a visual for all the stories of the place that I had heard as a kid, including the infamous Toast Ghost.

Sadly, we had to leave Mom and Dad from Reading. They took the coach back to Heathrow and safely flew back home. When I called to check up on them this weekend, they’ve already settled back into US summer life, with Dad extending the back deck and Mom slowly deep cleaning her way through the house. I can’t wait until they can come and visit again, though perhaps the next time we’ll stay in one region and make day trips out. Packing a car for four people every day can be more tiring than you think! Still, it was a great trip. 🙂

Now, I’ve just got my conclusion to write and some better signposting throughout the dissertation. And of course all the edits that will inevitably appear after those are written in. Still, I’m only 400 words away from my minimum goal and I can see a future ahead that doesn’t involve staring at my computer all day, every day. I might even get to go for more walks! This summer is full of excitement to come, and I’ll fill you all in later on it. 🙂

— Kate

‘Round and ‘Round and ‘Round She Goes

As per usual, I have disappeared off the face of the earth when it comes to blogging, and as per usual, I will catch you up with photos to tell the highlights of the last few weeks. We begin with the end, as my lectures have wrapped up and we put together our mock up exhibition case. With only £150 and a single car badge as our object, we put together what I’d like to think is a fabulous gallery case. It had its literal and figurative ups and downs, but it finished on a high note! 🙂

I now feel fairly well versed in a long-defunct car company, let me tell you.
Save money – the Clyno way!

The next day after our “opening night” of all the teams’ cases, I had to go down to London to speak with St. Paul’s Cathedral about my possible internship this summer with them. I got the placement!! 😀 I’d love to have photos up for you, but as it’s an active cathedral you aren’t supposed to take photographs indoors. That and the day I was in was an important blessing day for the guilds of London and it was jam-packed with official people in fancy attire. Let me just say that it is going to be SUCH a great summer and I’m looking forward to turning in my dissertation so I can get on to the internship. 🙂

Tickets to London don’t always come cheap, so I spent the day with a friend roaming the streets of London and visiting some museums we hadn’t been to yet. Had a Chipotle burrito for the first time (yes, I had to leave the country they come from to try one), then went to the Hunterian Museum. I would not recommend doing this in that particular order, as the Hunterian is almost entirely animal and human bits and pieces suspended in alcohol. I have no photos because it just felt kind of wrong to take pictures of most of it. If you’ve got any interest in anatomy or the human body though, it’s a free visit and definitely worth the time. If I’d known ahead of time, I would have brought my medically inclined one to come explain some of the diseases in more depth than the museum had.

After the Hunterian, we popped over to the Cider Tap by Euston Station. There are two guardhouses on either side of one of the entrances to Euston, and one sells only craft beer while the other only sells craft cider. It’s good fun and we needed a drink and a chance to rest our feet a bit. After a pint, we visited the Wellcome Collection. (We didn’t intend to make the day a medical museum day, but it kinda happened after we saw the £17 entrance fee for the Transport Museum.) Most of this museum you cannot photograph as well, so I only got a few, but I’d definitely go back. We only had an hour and a half to see the place, but you could easily spend 3 hours in there. The collections rotate, but for our visit they had Forensics, The Institute of Sexology, Genomes, and Modern Medicine. This is another free museum, and right down the road from the British Museum if you want a change of pace.

Back home in Leicester, King Richard III was finally reburied. The city went MAD with Richard decor. A couple weeks on and they’re still peeling Richard themed things off posterboards and signs. God knows Leicester could use the tourism though. For a city this size, a lot of people don’t realise it even exists, and it’s really a shame.

While the festivities for Richard III were still going on, I took a break from my research to finally visit Jewry Wall Museum, just a quick 10 minute walk from my building. Jewry Wall is kind of a misnomer for the place, as it was actually the Roman bathhouse when Leicester was under Roman rule. Most of the building has been carted off over the years to build other structures, such as St. Nicholas’s Church behind it. Parts of it have been visible its entire existance, but the underground structure of the building and the underfloor heating portions were buried and only rediscovered in the 1930s, oddly enough when they were digging to put a community pool in. Needless to say, the pool did not happen. The museum obviously doesn’t get much money, but they’ve got really great artefacts and the staff were some of the friendliest I’ve ever met. It’s a free visit, but toss a pound or two in the donation box. 🙂

The week before Easter four of us all chipped in for a private box at the Royal Opera House in London to see Swan Lake, and we were not disappointed! If you ever get the chance to see something performed there, take it immediately. Though try to not be in a rush to get on the Tube afterwards. That was a whole new level of chaos and shoving.

Over Easter break I got to spend time in lovely Wiltshire again, so we took the opportunity to go to Avebury and let the little one go Easter egg hunting while M and I wandered around the Avebury henge. This stone circle is vastly larger than Stonehenge, and you can get right into it – even touching the stones! I’ve still not been to Stonehenge, but I’ve been told by a lot of the locals that this was the better option of the two anyway. I definitely came away highly impressed.

Finally, on our last day in Wiltshire, we took advantage of the perfect weather and went to spend the afternoon in Bath. As it was a last minute decision, we didn’t have tickets to see the Roman baths yet again, but the city is so pretty that you can easily just enjoy the view and have a nice walk around town for a few hours and be completely content with it. We also tried a microbrewery in town this time, which had some appropriately Roman named brews. I can vouch that the Brutus is indeed delicious.

So there we are. I’m now back in Leicester for a little bit and working on my dissertation all week. It’s funny when you’ve finally got all the open time in the world that you’re not going anywhere exciting, but I’ll try to remedy this as soon and often as time will allow. 🙂

— Kate

Castles? Castles!

Okay, so maybe the title is a bit of a letdown as the photos I’m posting aren’t exactly castles, but still. I get to hop on a train or a bus and after sitting for awhile get to see magnificent old buildings on a semi-regular basis here and it’s AMAZING. With no further ado, let me catch you up on the cool things I’ve gotten to visit in between essays and an exhibition project for coursework. We begin with Hampton Court Palace, one of the famous residences of Henry VIII and his assorted family.

It’s not all beautiful buildings and charming countryside here. There’s mostly the real world of modern Britain, which is great in its own way. An entire country cannot exist on its history alone (contrary to what you may think when visiting the touristy bits).

After the visit to Hampton Court, I got to see such exciting things as a building detonation… (No seriously, that was really cool.)

You could hear the boom from my place with the windows shut!
You could hear the boom from my place with the windows shut!

Then there was the adventure in moving a dead sofa out to be collected by the city council…. (The new sofa is so comfortable.)

The sofa is dead! Long live the new sofa!
The sofa is dead! Long live the new sofa!

There is always something to be witnessed on an Asda trip…

It was nearly 3 feet tall.
It was nearly 3 feet tall.

And there was the one time we came across what could only be described as an onion fight that happened only moments before we arrived. I’m serious.

This weekend, I took a spur of the moment trip to Nottingham. It’s only 30 minutes north of Leicester by train and I’d kept meaning to go, so I finally just went. It’s good for the soul to go wandering a new city by yourself where you don’t know a soul there. I’d recommend everyone try it at least once. I may have to go back when it’s summer and my portable charger is actually charged to have a more leisurely stroll.

 

Well, it’s gonna be more chaos and busy life for me in the next few weeks, but I hope to have something interesting to show y’all again next weekend!

 

— Kate

How To: Get Around With No Car

Getting around without a car in England was something I was looking forward to, coming from a town in the US where the nearest grocery store was 2 miles away and the main shopping area was close to 3. This however is entirely dependent on how close to (or in) a city you live, though even if you’re in the countryside you can get by with just buses and trains if located in the right spot. Even in the cityscape, you have 4 main options: buses, taxis, trains, and feet.

Buses

Buses in Leicester are next to useless if you live near the city centre, as all of the buses terminate in the centre. This means if I wanted to take the bus to university that I’d have to take one to the city centre (going the wrong way!) and then wait for another one to take me the correct direction towards the campus. If you time it right and don’t miss your connecting bus you’ll get in at … exactly the same time as if you had walked. Needless to say, I don’t bother with the buses in Leicester unless I’ve got arms full with grocery bags or am visiting a village on the outside of the city.

However, buses can be useful in other cities. The one in Colchester is useful for the days you really don’t want to climb up the steep hill to the High Street, and they have a few lines that run across the town. How convenient! The only major issue with this is that (in any town, not just Colchester) you need to know the name of the stop you’re getting off at before you get onto the bus so you can pay the right fare. There won’t always be information as to where each bus line goes, so be prepared to look up this information on your phone ahead of time or brave the possible wrath of a disgruntled bus driver and a queue full of people who would really like you to just not get on.

Taxis

Taxis, while not something I’d use on a daily basis, are not nearly as expensive as you would think, and are sometimes very much worth it. Coming home from the other side of town late at night or with a suitcase is well worth the £6. You forget just how much you rely on your car until you don’t have one, as I have a time or two coming home late. If you can, call a private company in town as the famous black cabs are also generally the most expensive. They’re also the only ones that are legally allowed to be hailed off the street, so sometimes they’re worth it on that alone. It just depends on what you need. In this day and age it’s not so much an issue, but still make sure you’ve got cash on you for these rides just in case (and exact change if you’re going to use the bus!). Also be prepared to tip your driver. The tipping culture is much less extreme here than in the US, but there are still times when it is proper.

Trains

Trains I’ve spoken about before, so I’ll mostly just link you back to that entry. With that stated, trains are my main mode of long distance travel around the country. You can still have some trouble getting certain places though, especially if it’s a small village. You’ll need to prepare to catch a bus or get a ride from someone (or even hoof it) in these cases. This should be factored in to getting BACK to the train station too. Also worth noting is the power of the advance ticket. If you know for sure that you’ll be traveling on a certain day at a certain time, it’s well worth buying a ticket in advance. You can book them up to 12 weeks beforehand, and the sooner you do, the more likely you’ll get a great deal. Add in discounts for going at odd/off-peak hours and having a 16-25 railcard discount and it makes traveling much more feasible.

Feet

So you’re getting ready to go somewhere with no car. We’re going to say just in the city this time, as this is the day to day you’ll deal with. You need to become adept at knowing EXACTLY how long it takes to walk to get somewhere. Google Maps on my phone is generally pretty spot on for estimating walking times (24 minutes to campus!), but it’s always wise to pre-walk the path ahead of time or plan extra time to arrive somewhere when the timing is important. You also need to consider the importance that you will no longer have your car to act as a storage unit. You will become your own pack mule and either learn to travel light or develop new tone to muscles on your back and legs.

A good backpack is a must! At first I was hesistant and tried to get by with my crossbody messenger bag, but even the best of them can’t compete. It’s very common to see people with backpacks on though, even if they’re otherwise dressed really smart, so don’t worry about looking odd for it. Also, this should be a no-brainer, but make sure your bag is waterproof. Umbrellas don’t always cover your back side all the way and no one likes soggy papers or (god forbid) a wet laptop. Along this vein, make sure you either carry your lunch separately or be really confident in your food storage. You’ll always be in the worst spot when the broccoli juices leak out and there are rarely ever paper towels in the bathrooms here.

This bag logic will also inevitably spill over into your grocery bags. There are pros and cons to both though. When it comes to it, plastic bags:

  • Cut off blood circulation to your fingers, unless carrying very light items
  • Can’t be slid over the shoulder
  • Always have a chance of breaking due to weight strain or sharp object edges making holes (cereal boxes are notorious)
  • Bang your things around more, which could be devastating to your bananas and/or glass bottles
  • Some places make you pay for using them, to try to get you to be more eco-friendly

Reuseable bags are however:

  • Generally more comfortable (unless overstuffed and then they like to slide off your shoulders)
  • Fashionable or let you show off your favorite things/places (I’ve resisted the urge to pick up many reusable totes from the museums we’ve visited this year)
  • You have to remember to have one with you when you go out, which you sometimes won’t when you pick things up on the way home
  • Usually pretty good about not upsetting the self-checkout machines
  • Great for rescuing laundry, toting things to friends’, etc.

With this in mind, you’ll start changing your shopping habits a bit. The giant hauls of food don’t happen so often when you realise you have to carry it back. It also helps curb any therapy shopping too when you have to lug it all around town and back home. In general though you’ll just be walking around more, so it won’t feel like much. You just kinda learn to plan your life around it. You get in the habit of walking home with people or calling people up to make the walk pleasant, which is really nice. You can also plug in and tune out with music or podcasts. Regardless, you’ll adapt quickly and if you wear a pedometer you’ll find that reaching those healthy 10,000 steps a day is actually pretty easy to do. You’ll also find that you can in fact walk your bum off, but that it makes finding jeans SO much simpler.

In short, while having a car is really nice and I do miss it on occasion, getting by on foot is entirely doable in Leicester and I love it. At this point I wouldn’t want to drive on a daily basis. Anyhow, it’s getting close to dinnertime and I should probably go find something to cook. Talk to y’all later!

— Kate

ministry of silly walks

3 New Cities, 2 New Museums, and 1 Sleepy Kate

It’s been hectic since getting back from Christmas break, but it’s been educational and fun and MAN have I been lucky to see as much as I have in these few months I’ve been here. To catch y’all up with what all has occurred I’m doing another photo-heavy post, but I’ll try to get some actual writing in later this week and (in theory) be back to the usual by this weekend on scheduling. With no further ado, I launch you into the King Richard III Visitors Centre!

After finding the king in a car park in 2012, the Leicester city council rapidly put together an exhibit in the Guildhall. Soon after, they purchased the historic school building nearby the site and created the permanent visitor centre. They were faced with an interesting dilemma in that they actually have no artefacts to display. Richard is being reinterred at Leicester Cathedral next door, and there wasn’t much in the car park to tie directly to the king. However, the exhibition is put on using digital and print storytelling techniques and used 3D scanning and printing to display the skeleton in more creative ways than they could have with the actual thing. It may cost £8 to get in, but I’d say it’s well worth it for an afternoon adventure.

Next was a day trip to Bath. It was a whirlwind tour through, but we hit all the main spots and I’d love to go back at some point. The city is very strict on how they portray their image and it shows in the modern buildings blending almost seamlessly into the older ones.

The day after Bath we were in Lacock. Lacock is the coolest idea for a heritage project. Basically, the National Trust owns nearly all of the buildings in the village, so they have strict control over what is done to them. However, they rent them out for people to live in, and there are still enough shops (albeit mostly for the tourists) that it still feels like a functioning village. One that hasn’t progressed past the 1700s, but a functional one nonetheless. While we were there we got to walk through a house from the 1450s that was available to rent by the week if you fancy a novel holiday…

The next adventure was Brussels, as it was Valentine’s Day weekend and going to Paris would be absolute madness. Brussels was a much better choice, and we had a fantastic time! Unless you’re going to see all there is to see of Brussels and the museums they have, going over a weekend is plenty of time to feel like it’s worth it. Also much better to have good company that can speak a lick of French or Dutch. 😉

Finally, there was our programme trip to Manchester last week to see the Imperial War Museum North as a field trip. They were another case study of very little actual artefacts, but you wouldn’t realise it right away. Most of their displays are papers and letters, but they use multimedia and interactives to really offset what could have been a super dry experience and instead make it a very personal one. It’d be worth a visit if you’re already in the Manchester area.

So that’s all for now, but I’ve got another field trip Friday to Hampton Court Palace outside of London and possibly a visit into London for another wander this weekend. We shall see. It’s just going to be busy whirlwind life for the next month and then dissertations begin after that. Woo.

Wish me luck!

— Kate

How To: Grocery Shopping

I was going to title this “The Tale of Two Tescos,” but I only managed to get a few photos of the second one before the security guard started trying to sneakily follow me around like I was going to steal something or take inappropriate photos. Anyway, I figured for the next few posts I’d do a few How To’s on everyday life here unless something major cropped up to otherwise fill blog space. A week or so ago I was put in contact with a sweet girl who needed some advice on how to get by in England as an American fresh off the plane and I realised I had quite a few stories to tell already that I wish people had told me when I arrived. With that in mind, let us begin!

First and foremost, let us dispel the idea that everything in England is tiny. Yes, the country is old and has been continuously occupied and expanded upon, but they’ve hardly reached peak capacity. There are still rolling green hills of countryside and they’re just as big fans of supermarkets as we are in the US. There are many varieties of grocery stores to go to, but the closest supermarket to me is Tesco, so that’s who you’re getting as an example today.

I’m in the city proper, so I can walk everywhere I need to go and the shops are not an exception. The big Tesco is about a half a mile from my place, so it’s only a 10 minute walk to get there. The only issue with this is it also means walking in the cold for half a mile each way, and one way is carrying back everything you bought. I’ll revisit this later though.

Carrying on, we’re just going to start at the front entrance.

I apologise, but it was freezing and I did not feel inclined to march across the car park to take a photo of the front straight on. If your curiosity is killing you, you can see it here on Google Maps, complete with loitering youths. Also, if you’re reading that sign you aren’t crazy – there are old laws here that restrict opening hours of certain businesses on Sundays and Tesco falls into that category. You run out of crisps at 6pm on a Sunday evening and you’re running to a convenience store. Be sure to note that Click & Collect. I’ll get back to that.

When you walk inside you’ll quickly notice that it looks remarkably like a grocery store in the States. Ooo. Ahh.

Dueling Buggies
I didn’t intend to catch this moment of dueling buggies, but I think it makes the picture all the better.

Looking in to the fruit and veg, you’ll see that they’re all clearly labelled with expiry dates, but look closer… Where are they from?

This is when you realise that America is absolutely MASSIVE and that we can grow almost anything we want in our own country. You’d expect to find state names here. However, Britain is an island about the size of Oregon, so sometimes imports have to happen. You’ll find the locally grown food tends to say so in big, bold letters on the signs over the place they’re in (though not always, as this bag of apples indicates).

Honestly though, you’ll find a lot of the shop looks pretty much identical, or at least in setups that you wouldn’t find particularly striking. I’m a big fan of this style of frozen food section actually. Less likely to be hit by a frozen pea bag avalanche in the bottom shelves.

Heck, even some of the food is exactly the same. Wait, did I move to a new country?

Activia, what are you doing here?
Activia, what are you doing here?

Eventually though, you will find things in containers you didn’t expect and in shelves you wouldn’t have looked on.

I have to say I really love the teeny tiny pints of milk. You may not be able to tell easily, but those little ones on the middle shelf are only a pint! If you’re not a milk fiend, it can be difficult to go through a 2 pint jug and next to impossible to manage a litre one. Even if you are a milk fiend like me, it goes off much quicker here than in the US, so it’s great to get just a little one and pick another up on the way home if need be on another day. (Short shelf life is a trend with all the food here. Seriously guys, what’s going into US food?) Also, the milk jugs are tall and narrow, which is a genius move and should be mandatory to start doing in the States immediately. Suddenly the amount of leftovers hidden behind the milk for days drops by 90%.

And of course, the eggs. I could go on about why eggs are left unrefridgerated here, but I’ll link you to a more reliable source than my own word. You can put them in the fridge if you want to though, and if I have room I sometimes still do because it’s an odd sight to see eggs in the pantry. …And I’m afraid of knocking them over with a box of cereal, but that’s another matter entirely.

There are also a few things which just don’t come to the States, but are fantastic and should market themselves overseas. There are all the fun chocolates and biscuits and Yorkshire puddings of course, but man oh man do you need to try the squash.

SO MANY OPTIONS.
SO MANY OPTIONS.

Squash is an interesting concept. Imagine powdered water flavourings, but it’s real fruit juice involved. Yet no pulp. And it’s liquid. Whilst you could drink it straight from the bottle, it’d be like eating a spoonful of sugar when you’ve got a slight sweet tooth. It’s highly concentrated and depending on personal preference, you only want to fill up a standard pint glass with maybe an inch’s worth at the bottom. From there, you fill the rest with water (fizzy or flat will work) and enjoy! It comes in a ton of different flavours, and it’s probably my go-to decaffienated drink of choice.

Let’s mosey on over to the checkout at this point. Not pictured are the self-checkouts, but they are identical in every respect except instead of a Midwestern woman reprimanding you to please put your item in the bagging area, it’s a posh English woman. Now let’s see if you notice the only main difference in the manned checkout…

IMG_5116

They let their employees SIT! It’s a common sight at cash registers when the employees are expected to be there all day to have a chair (and usually a semi-ergonomic looking one) so they aren’t dead on their feet by the end of their shift. I can only ask incredulously why this isn’t a thing in America because frankly, it’s fantastic and I know folks who would go home hurting pretty badly because they had to stand in one place for 8 hours.

At this point, we’ve wandered the shop and checked out. Now let’s get a look at a Tesco Express (also fondly referred to as the Teeny Tiny Tesco). This one is much closer to my flat, but being smaller they only carry essentials. Great if you’re missing honey or carrots or such for a recipe, but you wouldn’t want to use it as your main stock up place.

For perspective on this shop’s size, imagine a decently sized gas station, but it’s only got grocery store essentials in it instead of an aisle for car parts and two aisles dedicated to sweet things. For example:

Here’s the point where I started getting shadowed, else I would have taken photos of such exciting things as the cereal/grains/bread/soup aisle and the dedicated 3 doors of frozen foods.

So earlier I mentioned something about Click & Collect and having to walk a half mile home with groceries. What’s up with that you ask? Ladies and gentlemen, I am about to share something that will make you insanely envious, as it well should for it is fantastic. Living in England means I have access to the glory that is online grocery shopping. Are you guys ready for this?

Log-in Screen

TA DA. Now this is the way to go for a grocery trip when you need to restock the pantry. Same as with the physical stores, there are plenty of companies that will do groceries online, so look around for what’s the best deal for you. Sticking with the Tesco theme today though, so we’re on Tesco.com. You can look on these websites and play around with them from any country – you can even order so long as it comes to a UK address in the company’s range. I should know, as my wonderful parents have sent me groceries before. 🙂

So looking at this front page, you should notice two main details. First, I need to get to £25 to avoid the £4 fee. And £4 will get you a lot of food, so that’s not going to waste. Second, the Click & Collect has reappeared! But I have no car! This is nice if you want to order your groceries and just swing by to pick them up at the front desk on the way home from work, but doesn’t do me much good. What’s that option on the left though? Does this mean I’m not trudging home with six bags through the cold wind? Why yes, yes it does.

Shopping 1

Let’s do a faux shop to give you an idea of how this works. I can always use some milk, so let’s toss that in the basket. Ooo, no whole milk in 2 litres. That’s okay, I’m a skimmed milk gal myself.

Shopping 2If you get milk, you always have to get bread, so I’ll just check the special offers out. Hey, they’ve got that tasty bread I liked on offer. I’ll grab one! Oh wait, I’ve missed the sale. Thanks for pointing that out Tesco! I’ll grab two! (You can conceivably click the Special Offer at the front page and buy only things on sale for an entire shopping order. I should know. I’ve done it once.)

Money Total

Speeding through the process, I’ve made it to my minimum spending amount and it lets me know how many clubcard points I’ve earned (good to spend on cheaper petrol) as well as any savings I’ve racked up. At this point, this will be the final price. However, I can choose substitute down here if I really want to make sure I get some bread. They could glitch the system and actually be out of that one on sale and allowing substitutions means a bread of equal (ish) value will arrive. (Sometimes it’ll be a nicer item, sometimes lower quality.) If I say no substitutions and the bread is gone, I’ll be refunded the price and the delivery driver will let me know what didn’t make it.

Here’s the basket in full, explaining what I’m buying and what sales I’ve gotten. It also gives a rough approximation of how long the fresh food will be good for, just like the labels found on the produce earlier.

Delivery Address

Next, you enter your details for delivery (blurred out for this occasion). After you’ve confirmed this delivery you’ve got some time available (Tesco says until 8:30 the morning of if your delivery is after 7pm, but different companies have different rules) in which you can come back and change your order around to add anything you might have forgotten or change a carrot for a parsnip or such. Or to add all those heavy tinned goods and soda that you didn’t want to lug back from the shop yourself.

Time Slot 1

You next pick a time slot. As it’s around 10pm now, I’m definitely not getting anything delivered tonight, but tomorrow is still available. Those crumpets will have to wait for another breakfast.

Time Slot 2Hmm, let’s go for the 9-10pm slot because I’m lame and know full well I’ll be in then tomorrow. From here, you just enter in card details and you’ll get a confirmation email. That easy!

It’s at this point that you can run into trouble in flats, and I have. Tesco and Asda both grump and grumble about bringing the groceries up to my flat, but Ocado has no issue doing so. I take the stance that if I’m being lazy enough to have groceries delivered, I want to be able to stay in my PJs if I so desire and tend to go with Ocado so they’ll bring them straight to my kitchen. Your milage (and levels of lazy) may vary.

So yeah, that’s the exciting experience that is grocery shopping here in the UK!

— Kate