It’s crazy how fast time flies and how things progress.

Honestly, I pay for this domain name. I need to stop abandoning it for long stretches. Also, if I keep it alive this year it’ll be a 5 year old blog. I don’t think I’ve ever kept a plant alive that long.

So. Anyway.

When last we spoke, it was the beginning of a long, dry, hot summer in the UK. We didn’t see rain here in Essex for over 50 days. It normally rains here at least once a week if that gives you an idea of how crazy it was. Ah, but ignoring the parched earth it was glorious. We roamed the local country park a few times both with and without picnics. We went to Mersea Island and played on the beach. We even accidentally came at high tide and had to drive through the sea a little bit. Don’t worry, the Mini did fabulously.

Unfortunately, one of the side effects of this summer was the need to leave the windows open as much as possible, especially at night to try and drop the temperature in our bedroom from 29º down to 25º (if we were lucky). During the daytime we mostly had to chase flies and the occasional rogue wasp out of the living room because of this, but then the Flying Ant Day Accident occurred.

Flying Ant Day is a strange British phenomena. Normally, these pavement ants do not have wings and are happy to live their lives underground. However, there is a point in the summer that they reach breeding season and all seem to grow wings and fly en masse. (Apparently it’s not just a single day and happens across the UK all summer long, but it’s still an impressive swarm when it happens near you.) This type of swarm is like midges or gnats, but much larger. They don’t really do anything to you other than get in your face, but in a swarm it’s awful.

HOWEVER, they do seem to like the light, very much like moths. And we have a streetlight outside of our bedroom window. “Well that’s a bit creepy to watch, but surely no harm right?” you say to me. Oh but wait. One of us accidentally left the bedroom light on when we’d gone up to open the windows and then shut the bedroom door so the cat couldn’t get out of the house.

Perfect. Storm.

M was still having a glass of water and otherwise getting ready for bed downstairs whilst I came upstairs to sort out my clothing for work the next morning, only to be confronted with something that looked like a scene out of a horror film. HUNDREDS OF FLYING ANTS ALL OVER THE ROOM. They were in the windowsill, the curtains, the lampshade, the bedding, the laundry, and all over the floor. They were crawling the walls and ceiling. Honestly, the photo doesn’t do justice to the horror of it.

My initial reaction was just to stare at them and then scream for M to bring up the fly spray. (Why I thought a can of fly spray would fix this I don’t know.) I stood, riveted in the doorway, somehow thinking that if I took my eyes off of the swarm that they’d all come down the stairs and into the rest of the house. Thankfully, M came up and had more common sense in how to deal with the scene.

Long story short, M emptied an entire can of Raid in our room and half filled a Dyson vacuum with flying ants before we went to bed two hours later, sleeping in the guest bedroom. Everything in the room that could be washed was washed, including the bedding that I had just changed that afternoon. 😥

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Plagues of ants and drought aside, nature decided to just get a bit rude in general. The heat spiked to new and exciting levels, and the train network is not currently equipped to deal with weather so extreme. This had happened last year and there was about a week that it was nigh on impossible to get on a train into or from London.

This year they did try to do some things to help with the heat. A lot of the rails in the stations had their sides painted white in an effort to drop the heat whilst the trains were at the platforms and prevent the tracks from buckling and warping. However, when the weather stations starting predicting a heat spike so intense that it could make new records, the train companies just decided “sod it” and preemptively cancelled trains at about 9:30 the night before. Awesome, right? At one point they could only run a train an hour from Colchester to London, and I’m amazed those trains didn’t get stopped more from overcrowding and overheating inside of them. It was insanity.

Supposedly, Greater Anglia is getting new trains out in 2020 and they’ll all come equipped with blessed air conditioning. Why do I feel like the seats are going to be even smaller though?

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When I was able to get into work, I was able to work on my last project as staff at the NHM. We’ve already processed all the Toxodon fossils that Darwin sent back from South America on his Beagle journey and posted them online, but the chance came to reunite two portions of a Giant Ground Sloth skull that haven’t been together since Darwin cut them into two pieces. Not only did I get to witness the event, but I got to scan said pieces! It was all very cool, and a fitting way to end my work.

You see, I had applied and been accepted to do a PhD at UCL whilst working alongside the NHM. But we’ll get back to that later!

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FINALLY, we got rain in Essex again. It took weeks for the grass to go back to green and the cracks in the earth to heal, but it was amazing to have it back. We joked that my mother in law is apparently a water spirit, as every time she comes to Essex it rains. If we’d have known, we’d have had them over much sooner!

Towards the end of the summer it was finally beginning to cool down, and the Heritage Open Days EU project kicked off, opening access to historical places that are either usually closed to the public or paid entry only. Most everyone went to the castle, but I had a list of some of the more obscure and usually closed buildings that I desperately wanted to see, and a husband with an infinite sense of patience for my love of all things old.

We were only able to do one of the open days, but in that day we went up and down Colchester and managed to see the inside of the Anglo-Saxon church (the oldest in town), the facade that houses the archaeological discovery of a Roman theatre (you can easily walk by it), the interior and the view from the upper floor of the old abbey gate (the only thing still standing of the abbey), and most of the structure of Tymperleys, home to William Gilberd, scientist and physician to Elizabeth I (and now a place with most excellent scones).

Autumn began to creep in with cooler weather, and with it came the time to go back to school again. I could have sworn I was never going to do a PhD, but here I am. In fairness, my future predictions have been pretty wildly off the mark so far, so it’s not exactly surprising.

Before the official start of term, all of us in the SEAHA program (Science and Engineering in Arts, Heritage and Archaeology) convened in a village outside of Brighton for an induction into the way of things, and a chance to get to know and bond with our fellow students. I am so, so glad they did this for us, and not just because the hotel was amazing. Getting to know everyone in advance really helped make the first few weeks much easier.

One can’t stay in opulent hotels forever, and after the weekend retreat we were ready to begin lectures. Of course, this is SEAHA and we are anything but standard, so they included a trip to Stonehenge halfway through the first module, so we could write up a presentation in the second half about what we would do to modify the current A303 Stonehenge tunnel plans to make them better, using our mixture of experiences. It was more of a challenge than expected, but we ended up with new friends out of the experience and I can now tell you far more about the proposed tunnel project than I ever thought I could.

With autumn also came the harvest season, and this year I was feeling crafty. There are shedloads of sloe berries and growing on the side of a quiet road near the fields I jog past, and eventually I got up the idea to go harvest them and attempt a batch of sloe gin. You aren’t supposed to pick them until after the first frost, but the hot summer had rather killed a fair few of them, so I just picked them and froze them in the freezer at home to make up for it.

They were then added into a jar with obscene amounts of sugar, and of course, some gin. We left them to infuse until just before Christmas, then strained and decanted them out. Some have been given as little Christmas trinkets, with the firm advice that they’ll be better if they’re left until about mid-January to drink. I for one am excited to try ours out, perhaps mixed in with some prosecco, or even by making a proper sloe gin fizz!

As it does every year, my birthday snuck up on me. This year is the last year of my twenties. M thought it amusing to get a tiny cake and put 29 candles on it, so I brought out the fire extinguisher just in case. (Did you know you can buy fire extinguishers and fire blankets on Amazon Prime? Best late night purchase M’s made in some time!)

I didn’t really have any grand goals to achieve by the end of this year, and I’m still not sure what I want to do for my 30th birthday party. On one end, I could have a bunch of people around and make a big do of it, or it could just be the two of us on an adventure somewhere. I should probably sort it out before springtime.

Regardless, this birthday was a fabulous birthday, with cake, a new coat I’d been lusting after, and an evening out in the lovely medieval section of Colchester. 🙂

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Classes back in swing, birthday survived, and coats brought out of storage, we trundled into the cool autumn air. Except this time, I had friends from the US coming around with me! As is the Great American Tradition when coming to the UK, we managed to traverse across a wide swathe of the country in a little over a week. The two of them even carried on into Wales, but alas, I had to get some work done for the module. We did try to give them a weird and wonderful ride through bits of the country that not everyone goes to see on a typical tourist tour, but some things you’ve just got to see – like Stonehenge!

It’s always so exciting when people come to the UK, whether or not they’re coming to say hello. Being on an hour’s ride into London means it’s usually easy to catch up with people, schedules permitting. It was hard to part ways, but back to the States they eventually had to go, and the cat finally decided to come out of hiding and take up her roost in the living room again.

Module one was completed with much grumbling and typing, but completed successfully. I’m now at the tail end of module two, which had a bit of a twist to it this time. We had the option to do a basic laboratory procedure in the lecture hall, or we could liaise with our supervisors and do one elsewhere that might further relate towards the PhD. Needing to learn how to run an SEM and process photogrammetric data anyway, I opted to go back to the NHM. Over the course of two weeks I have learned how to dehydrate a specimen, coat it for SEM, run the basics of an SEM, and process photogrammetric images! It all sounds rather fancy for staring at a fly face for two weeks. I’m currently tweaking the write up of my experiment, and it goes in for submission next Monday. Looking forward to what the next module will hold!

In between modules, M and I left the country again. My parents were going to see one of our exchange students and her family, and they were kind enough to invite us to stay at their house as well. We took them up on their generous offer and ended up with an absolutely unique experience of the Netherlands that one could only get from a local, and got to see my parents! I would definitely like to go back to the Netherlands, but perhaps when it’s a bit warmer. Those winds coming off of the ocean have nowhere to go but straight into your bones.

Whilst there, we took a train over for a day trip into Germany as my mom had never been. It’s fascinating to see the sharp difference between the Netherlands and Germany, seemingly just across the border. We’d hoped to see the Christmas market in Dusseldorf, but arrived a little too early. It wasn’t a lost trip though, as we got to see the famous Rhine River and a painstakingly redone Altstadt, built back up after the war.

Christmas showed up soon afterwards in a big way. When not covering our house in tinsel and Christmas cards, we were out and about and enjoying the festive spirit of it all. Got the chance to pop into Paycocke’s House and the Grange Barn out in Coggeshall for their special Christmas hours. It really did feel like going back into Tudor Christmastime, and I only wish I hadn’t gone by myself as it seemed like it’s really meant for company to come along.

Getting closer to Christmas, we managed a long weekend journey up to York to catch up with our Northern friends. I probably should have known better than to go into the Christmas Markets in York, but we braved the crowds and found some fabulous little trinkets and all kinds of snacks! Even managed to score a table with seats in The Three Tuns at peak pub hour in the rain, of which I was far too proud. Finally, late into the evening, we saw the Shambles quiet and then took ourselves back to the AirBNB for the night.

And then before we knew it, the last few weeks had passed and it was Christmas! We went up to Manchester to celebrate at M’s big sister’s new home. It’s a gorgeous new build with a massive back garden. Their days of househunting really paid off. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see much of it, as I appear to have caught food poisoning off something just before we arrived. Thankfully the sickbed was comfortable and M made sure to keep a steady supply of Sprite, so it could have been far worse. Other than that hiccup, it was really good to see everyone, especially our ever growing nephew of whom nobody can rival in Marvel knowledge. Honestly, I’d call that kid first on any game show.

We got back home for New Year’s, had a quiet night of it, and then slowly dragged ourselves back into the real world.

So here we are, a lightning trip into the present. Now that I’m not on the trains for 4 hours every day, I should hopefully be a bit better about popping in every now and then. Until we see each other next, hope you’re having a good one. 🙂

 

— Kate

Almost Christmas!

I’ve gotten my yearly reminder that my website renewal is up, and it finally guilted me into coming back to write again. Blogging on the regular is harder than you would think y’all. So what’s been going on around here since?

Well, Storm Ophelia came across the British Isles. Absolutely ravished poor Ireland, tearing roofs off of buildings and sending in gigantic waves. It brought us a lot of rain and winds, but nothing like there. The main feature that stood out was the creepy yellow sky that coloured England for a few hours over lunch. The photos I took didn’t do it any justice, but it looked like something from a doomsday scenario. Of course, science will always explain the magic, and it turned out to be sands swept up from the Sahara Desert that the storm’s winds carried all the way up to England, obscuring the view of the sun. A lot of folks on Twitter that were familiar with sandstorms said it looked exactly the same as they remember.

It was a good thing we survived Doomsday, as soon after was the arrival of our new nephew! He came into the world with all ten fingers, all ten toes, and the sweetest little face. 🙂 Everyone in the new little family is healthy and home now, though perhaps with a bit less sleep these days. I’m looking forward to seeing them all again this week!

October came to an end, and with it my obligations to sobriety. By the end of the month, I managed to raise £175 for cancer support, and we celebrated November 1st with a bottle of champagne. (I would say I had a drink at 12:01, but let’s be real, I’m old now. It was the next evening.) It also helped soothe the pain of my failed driving theory test on the 31st. I missed by ONE POINT.

We managed okay though, with a chill staycation in Essex the next week. Saw the coast, rode some tiny trains, tried some new pubs – it was like Spain without the sunshine or Spanish language. Catching up on sleep though – that was ace.

Came back to the real world again and straight into another conference. This time, it was to the British Museum for the first 3D conference they’ve held. It was a wide variety from arts to sciences, tiny to massive scales. Saw some folks I’ve gotten to know over the year, and met some new ones that were pretty darn cool.

Back into the daily grind, it’s been all hands on deck at work. Something about the magic of Christmas means everyone needs to get things wrapped up or begun before we all disappear for the holidays. It’s been good though. It’s nice to be busy and useful! When possible, I was cramming in more studying for this next driving test. Nothing says cool kid like reading a theory test study guide at lunch break. After failing the last driving theory test, M booked the next one on a weekend straight away, and it turns out the second time was the charm! We celebrated by going home and going back to sleep after an 8 AM pass.

Before you know it, it was the end of November. My parents enjoyed being empty nesters by going to Las Vegas for Thanksgiving, and as usual we held our feast the Saturday after. This time around, our warnings were heeded and our guests came properly hungry. Everyone still had to be rolled to the sofa afterwards, but it was a definite success.

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The next few weekends had been booked full. We went up to Leeds again to catch up with friends and got to witness the Leeds Christmas Festival in all of its German Market glory. Hopped about the city centre at various bits of nightlife, and even ended up in an old industrial mill that’s been turned into a bit of an events place. That evening it happened to be an Apres Ski theme.

The next weekend was not quite so exciting. Well, maybe snow is exciting for some, but not when you used to live in what felt like Snow Central. Yes, it snowed in England. And properly this time. It started snowing in the night on Saturday and continued nearly all day on Sunday. Not only did it snow heavily, but it didn’t melt. And then it started snowing again on Monday. All the while, I sniffled and coughed on the sofa with a steadily worsening cold. Of which I then passed on to M by Tuesday. I don’t know what’s up with this year’s variety of cold, but it is akin to the flu in severity. You only really get to miss the aches and constant fever sweats. Wash yo hands ladies and gents.

On the brighter side of things, the snow finally melted away completely today, the two of us seem to be functional (if coughing) humans, and in a new Christmas record all the gifts are wrapped by the 17th. So there we are, caught back up on life and the universe. I’ve got ideas and plans for this blog in the coming year, and of course would always welcome ideas from the peanut gallery. Chat more later?

 

— Kate

 

No one woke me up when September ended!

But seriously, that Green Day song has been the bane of my birthday for YEARS now. Oddly enough, no one mentioned it this year. This was finally the year I was allowed to sleep through September ending. Wild. So, what’s been happening?

Well, for starters we have a new and furry family member in our house! Her name is Ophelia and she’s the prettiest kitty in Colchester. (Significant Otter will argue the prettiest ever.) She spent the first week in our house hiding behind the sofa, and the next two only hanging out with us when we were sitting. Nowadays, she goes where she pleases and loves hanging out with us. This does lead to some comedic moments, like this morning when she accidentally fell in the laundry basket and nearly destroyed it getting out. However, she came out unscathed and came to purr on M’s legs whilst he tried to sleep a little longer.

I’ve also been on a bit of a museum binge (Surprising, I know.) recently and been to some new ones. My colleague managed to score some tickets to the Bart’s Pathology Museum, which is only open a few times a year. It’s a room filled with jars of human bits and skeletal remains. Basically, it’s disgusting and fascinating in the same go, and each jar has a little blurb of information on it, so you could easily spend a lot longer than your allocated hour there. It was originally used by the university as a teaching collection, but now the room is only ever used for exams. M says he’s sat some there and was wholly unimpressed. I loved it. Unsurprisingly, they don’t let you take close up photos of the specimens, but you can take room-wide shots. The room itself is cool just for its architecture.

Next was a staff field trip to our satellite museum in Tring. Someone described it to us before going as a Dead Zoo, and that’s actually a pretty apt description. Not in a terrible way, but I wouldn’t go if you have issues with taxidermy. It’s a small museum, but absolutely stuffed to the gills with specimens, and really helpful and friendly staff. Tring is a bit out of the way, but it’s definitely worth a stop. We got a fascinating backstage tour of the collections, and saw more eggs and bird remains in one room than I’ve probably ever seen alive in one area. They’ve got one of the best and most diverse collections for each, so if you’re researching birds, you’ll likely end up in the little town of Tring.

After a museum binge, I had two different work trips through September. First was the ToScA 2017 meeting, in which I had to give a talk on my work with the blue whale. It was only slightly terrifying, and I think it ended up okay. Over the three days, I met a load of interesting new people, learned some new tips and tricks in the tomography world, heard some cool new work going on, and got to have dinner on the HMS Warrior – the first ironclad ship built in 1860!

Towards the end of the month, I got to fly on one of the few uncanceled RyanAir flights up to Edinburgh to attend a Standing Up for Science workshop. While there, I learned all about working with the media as a scientist and how best to get work across to someone who will inherently not know what the topic is on. It was a really handy course, and I met even more cool people in varied fields with some fascinating works. It was a good month for meeting people! Unfortunately, I didn’t have the time to wander Edinburgh as I’d hoped, and was on the last flight of the evening home for a weekend with the family.

Towards the end of September of course, is my birthday! I was working late on the actual day, but the Saturday morning M and I had a nice lie in and then wandered over to the nearby village of Coggeshall. It was such a cool place, with over 300 listed buildings and two National Trust sites. I spent the day blissfully looking at old things, and my beloved M came along for the ride, enjoying a scone with me in the garden of the Paycocke’s House and a pint of beer at the medieval pubs I had earmarked. We ended the adventures with dinner at one of the pubs, which had a steak so good that I think we would both gladly go back the 13 miles to have it again. The weather behaved, my gifts from everyone were fabulous, and it was all in all a really good day.

Sunday morning began October, and with it my Sober October challenge. I’ve signed up to be sober for the entire month in order to raise money for the cancer support charity Macmillan. It’s a great cause and a good reason to give up alcohol for the month. I suspect by the end of it I will be a bit healthier and Macmillan will have a bit more to put towards helping people whilst they fight cancer. I’ll be taking donations all month, alongside of sorry looking photos of me in pubs with friends and a soft drink in my hand, so if you feel charitable, donate a pint’s worth to the cause. 🙂

And most recently, there was the car wreck outside of the Natural History Museum that had everyone in a tizzy. Turned out to be just a really bad taxi driver, and nobody had serious injuries. I wasn’t even at work when it happened as it was on a Saturday, and got woken up from a nap with my phone blowing up to ask if I’m okay. Grumpy yes, but okay. Honestly though, don’t let these things put you off coming to London. It’s a wild city with so much to offer. And if you want to see us here at the NHM, we’ve still got the Whales exhibition open where you can stand next to a flipper for a sense of perspective – and the ice rink will be opening soon!

All in all, it’s turning into a fine autumnal season. I’m looking forward to seeing what October will hold. 🙂

 

— Kate

Museum Job! (Autumn 2016)

So that great news I was hinting about last post? Well, after a few months of job hunting and a few interviews that followed, I was offered work at the Natural History Museum in London! Not only was I getting to use my degree, but I was also going back to being able to do 3D surface scanning like I did at my last museum!

I’ve been steady at work on a few different projects, some of which should hopefully be going live in the next few weeks so I can tell you all about them. All I can say for now though is that I am working in an amazing place with fantastic people, and that I have a really, really cool job. Honestly, the commute is worth it to do the things I get to do every day. 🙂

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My home away from home!

— Kate

And we come back to Thanksgiving (Autumn 2015)

Good lord, not even Thanksgiving last year, but the year before that. How embarrassing.

This would be our third Thanksgiving together, and the first with guests. The significant otter was excited to put our larger Norfolk kitchen to use at full effect. He was even preparing a vegetarian main course for one of our guests! In our house, he is definitely the cook – though I did get to make the desserts. (Not pictured is the pumpkin pie.)

Cupcakes and brownies and cookies, oh my!

M has taken quite a shine to Thanksgiving. I suspect this is mostly due to him getting free license to cook an absolutely massive meal full of complex recipes more than a keen desire to bring Americanism into our home. We definitely still avoid the Black Friday sales like the plague. Regardless, he had been relentlessly prepping for this day for weeks. I’m not exaggerating – WEEKS. He had a spreadsheet of foods needed, when to buy them, and when they’d go into the oven. I’m not kidding on the ‘fond of’ bit.

Finally we get to the week of Thanksgiving and it all kicks off. Because we don’t get the Thursday off in the UK (Shocking, right?), Thanksgiving is generally held on a Saturday for us. This works pretty well for frozen turkeys as the actual day of Thanksgiving is a great reminder to take the bird out to defrost if you haven’t already.

Speaking of turkeys… Did you know it is nigh on impossible to get a fresh turkey before mid-December here? Everyone likes to have them for Christmas, so they just aren’t ready before then. Trust me, I called and walked in about five different butchers around Norwich asking about this. They all looked at me like I had lost my mind. Thankfully, you can purchase frozen turkeys from the grocery store, especially around November time.

So Saturday arrived and I quickly became a kitchen widow. You know how I mentioned the whole frozen turkey reminder thing? Yeah, apparently that wasn’t quite enough time for the size of the bird we had purchased. Thankfully it all worked out in the end. There’s an upside to having a ridiculous amount of food – nobody minds waiting a bit, so long as there’s something to nibble on. And nibble on there was, as M had made a metric ton of pigs in blankets for everyone. Fun fact: pigs in blankets are two very different things in the US and the UK. Be prepared to see a few surprised looks if you don’t warn your guests. Being the blend of cultures that we are, we opted for the UK pigs in blankets for our American holiday meal.

All in all, it was a lovely meal with lovely friends, and we ended up sat around the table playing games and drinking wine until late in the evening. As everyone was winding up and going to bed, The Event happened. You know The Event. Every family has something go terribly awry every Thanksgiving. Someone burns the turkey. The sweet potatoes were forgotten. Someone says something horrible at the table and no one is able to make a swift recovery in time. Our guests were absolutely amazing, so the politics was safely not an issue. In fact, it was M and myself that managed the 2015 Thanksgiving Event of the Year.

I went to begin another round of tidying in the kitchen. We didn’t have a dishwasher at the time, so I was having to hand wash all the dishes as we went. As one would expect, it was total carnage in the kitchen at the time when I swept in to clean another load of plates. It was when I reached over the counter to grab a bowl from the back that I managed to catch the tip of our (recently refilled) glass jar of olive oil.

It fell over, rolled across the counter, and then shattered into a million pieces, leaving glass shrapnel and a quart of slick olive oil all over our brick tiled kitchen floor.

The crime scene.
The crime scene.

Surprisingly for our inebriated state, no one ended up with cuts from the glass. With the immediate danger cleaned up, the next logical step is to mop up, right?

OH MY GOD NO.

But yes, that is what we did next. Drunken logic dictated that obviously we should just get it up with some water and floor soap, so we mopped the entire floor and went to bed whilst it air dried. But when we came down the next morning, it looked like it hadn’t even dried.

Come find out, mopping is the absolute last thing you want to do when it comes to cleaning up oil spills in the kitchen. M of course was reading this the next morning as we gazed in horror at our new glossy floor tiles. Apparently you want to throw as many paper towels and cloth towels you have at it and then let it soak up as much as possible before blotting away the rest in small increments. DO NOT RUB IT ACROSS THE FLOOR.

It ended up taking about 3 months of twice-weekly mopping and letting our socks soak up the grease before it finally faded away, but at least the fond memories of the night have lasted longer.
— Kate

Well, that was unexpected.

i think it's fabulous. every value i've ever held has been questioned and i'm loving it.

There are things to expect when you move to the UK, and a lot of the things (as an American) are either similar or have been warned about in advance. This still did not make it any easier to translate the weather from C to F for the first few weeks, but at least there was warning. However, there have also been things that no one thought to tell me about before coming over. Not always huge things, and at this point it mostly just gets a raised eyebrow and a “well that’s interesting” response, but I thought I’d share some of the ones that come to mind in list form for a change.

The ‘meh’ attitude

I was somewhat warned about this phenomena beforehand, but it’s interesting to experience. It’s likely that I’m just used to the over-exuberant nature of Americans, but it seems like the overarching theme of life in England is ‘meh.’ Not a depressed ‘meh’ or an apathetic ‘meh,’ but almost like a kind of stoicism. Your food came out wrong at the restaurant? Meh, it’s not bad enough to cause a fuss. Come home to a flooded kitchen? Meh, it’s just a bit of water. I’ve heard some people chalk it up to the war mentality of previous generations and others to the weather, but the exact cause remains elusive. Being around it long enough though does prove infectious. Is this good or bad? Meh, I dunno.

People don’t talk to you

This one absolutely killed me the first few weeks here until classes started. I was lucky enough to have made some wonderful friends at the international welcome week as well as having some locals to call up and talk to, but in those mid-day hours I was miserable. In the States it’s completely normal to chat with staff at businesses or strangers waiting wherever you’re at in public, but here it’s almost taboo. My more socially awkward friends back in the US were excited to hear about this, but the thrill of being able to read your book in public undisturbed is quickly deadened when you realise it’s been three days and the last meaningful conversation you had was with a cat wandering the alley by the cathedral. However, sometimes you’ll get a conversation when people overhear you and realise you’re not from around here, which leads to…

People being excited about Americans

I WAS SO NOT READY FOR THIS. I was under the assumption that either A) Americans were common enough visitors as to be unexciting or B) Americans would be at least passively tolerated and possibly disliked. While I’m sure this is the case for some, it’s at least a weekly occurrence that someone will hear me or my fellow comrades of the North American Alliance speak and ask if we’re American. This will then diverge into four typical responses:

Where are you from?

This is problematic as it seems a lot of us move states (or provinces for Canada!) much more often and further than people in the UK move around. This question is usually just answered with “From the US,” but a lot of times people want to know what state. Sometimes I’m from one state, sometimes another, and sometimes both. It’s pretty remarkable if people actually know where these states are. This will sometimes lead to:

Oh, I’ve been to…

It’s always New York, Florida, or California. ALWAYS. Some very few will have gone to other states, but they’ve also gone to one of the three. I am convinced this is why we get asked such entertaining questions, because the Brits are going to the three most extreme examples of the country and expecting this to be America as a whole. The flipside can be said for Americans going to London though, so I try to keep my dramatic sighs to a minimum.

Why are you HERE?

This one only happens in Leicester really. Granted, I got the same question all the time from Westerners when I moved from the Eastern US so I could see why this comes up. It’s not a glitzy city or super historically important for the most part, but Leicester is seriously underrated, even by the locals. There’s SO MUCH to the UK that avoids London completely. This then leaves me with the last response of:

*insert pick up line*

I will give kudos to people brave enough to try this one, but the lines I’ve overheard have been so cheesy. My favorites so far are the guy who tried to convince my friend he was a big deal because he knew someone who was on Downton Abbey, and the drunk ones standing outside between a McDonald’s and a pub that wanted to say how beautiful all American accents were and how they wanted to sing us Spice Girls songs. Never a dull night in Leicester ladies and gents.

The innuendos

On that vein… the innuendos. We remain convinced that nearly anything can and will become a sexual innuendo at some point. I’m not talking pervy people making sideways comments, but in-your-face jokes and puns everywhere. On BBC, on advertisements, in businesses… You name it, we’ve probably seen one. Personally, I find it to be hilarious and a refreshing change of pace from the Puritan legacy left on the US, but it’s definitely something to warn people know about.

The weather

“But Kate, you knew that it was gonna be drizzly and wet all the time!” Wait wait, hear me out on this one. Yes, it does rain much more often than where I was, but that’s pretty easy to do. However, it’s not the dreariness that everyone goes on about. Actually it’s not bad at all. In Leicester, it’s pretty common to have it chuck down rain for about 10-15 minutes and then be fine to walk in. Most of the time it’s just fine with a hooded jacket and a scarf. The hair will curl or wave something fierce, but the only big difference is how early the sun sets in autumn and winter. This is still offset though with all the walking I do. I think I’m still getting more vitamin D than before. That brings me to…

Walking

Yeah, I knew I’d be walking a lot. I did the Google Maps from my flat around the city and figured it’d be at minimum two miles a day. What I didn’t expect was how far I could get just walking. Walking two miles back in the US would maybe get me to the nearest grocery store, but walking two miles here will get me from my flat to the university and back again with the entire city centre along the way and probably a good five grocery stores to stop at along the way. Walking anywhere doesn’t feel long at all either with everything so close together. It is AWESOME to be in this situation and it’s so hard to explain what it’s like in the ‘real’ United States to people here and why I’m so enthused about it. Interesting side note – I discovered after walking these 2-5 miles a day that one can in fact walk their posterior off. I am moderately devestated about the disappearance of my backside!

Walking with other people

Anarchy is alive and well in the UK and it’s seen best in trying to walk down a street. Back in the US the rule of thumb is “drive right, walk right” and when two people come up to each other walking in opposite directions they’ll usually both sway right to avoid each other. You might think “drive left, walk left” would hold here, but you would be wrong. It’s more like drive left, walk in the middle of the sidewalk and refuse to budge until either the very last second or not at all. If you don’t put on a serious game face you’re likely to be walked into a puddle, even if you’re the one carrying six plastic bags and you’re trying to walk through an empty-handed human wall moseying the other way. It’s brutal.

Taking pork to the next level

Americans LOVE to talk about how much they love bacon, but the British have taken it to the next level. BLTs? BLTs are for the weak – just have a bacon butty. Think you know what pigs in a blanket are? Pssht. Pork products seem to try and sneak into a meal almost every day. I’ve got some bacon and pork chops in my fridge as I type this. Being halal or kosher or vegeterian is a challenge here going out to eat, and I’m not sure how vegans manage it. From what I can gather there seems to be more of a push towards alternative food choices, but America needs to calm down the bacon claims.

Instant chocolate meltage

Unlike Hershey’s, the chocolate here is not coated with wax and will therefore begin to melt as soon as it comes into contact with the heat of your fingers. Plan accordingly or try to eat it from the wrapper.

Missing food I didn’t even really like

There was a long and enthusiastic gushing about Little Debbie snack cakes tonight as I’ve yet to see them anywhere around the city. Talking about the powdered sugar donuts that you’ll find in any US convience store was like describing opening Christmas presents. The strangest thing about this though – I’ve never been THAT big a fan of Little Debbie. Probably for the best really. Everyone knows when you leave for long enough you start craving missing items that you love. US Starbursts, Peter Pan crunchy peanut butter, and pumpkin pie are all things that I can get similar products to that will do in a pinch, but they just aren’t the same. It gets weird though when I realise how excitedly I’m discussing Cheetos and ranch dressing, when I hardly ever wanted them when there was access to plenty. I guess it plays into that whole idea of wanting what you can’t have?

Anyhoo, that’s all the excitement you get for this week. Tune in next week as I finish week one of the more practical work of museums and start delving into readings for digital curatorship. 😉

— Kate