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 ÂŁ175 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

 

Camping – in Tents!

So after Lyme Regis we literally came home, unpacked, did some laundry, repacked, then headed out the next day. The weather was a bit concerningly grey, but we carried on with high hopes into the Suffolk countryside.

IMG_4522M and I had debated what our plans would be if we ended up with fellow campers right next to our pitch, but it ended up being entirely academic. There were a few folks in the cabins nearby, but we were the only ones camping in a tent in the entire section. Apparently the camping season doesn’t really start at the beginning of May as we were soon to see, but no matter – no queues to use the bathrooms in the mornings!

The sun was starting to hide behind some grey clouds, so we put the tent together as quickly as possible. This being our first time putting the tent together, it took about twice as long as the booklet suggested and we may have forgotten to put some bits and bobs in the right areas. Meh, nothing died. Eventually though, we had a tent with an airbed and all our kit for the next 3 nights. This called for a trip to the nearby village for BBQ supplies.

We came back about an hour later with a comical amount of meat and gave the new collapsible BBQ a go. For a little thing from Sainsbury’s, it was really impressive! With meat a-cooking, we had a good first night until the sun set.

With sunset came a wickedly cold wind and an impressive temperature drop. When the jacket, coat, and blanket bundle wasn’t cutting it, a trip to the nearby pub was in order to defrost a bit. The Star Inn ended up being really nice, so we booked a table for dinner there the next night.

The next morning the two of us awoke, cracked the ice off our sleeping bags (I kid, I kid.), and got ready for the day. We discovered that our gas cooker really doesn’t like high winds and had to give up on some perfectly good sausages for breakfast. Had some thick bread from the supplies instead, then cracked on for Southwold.

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Choppy waters when we went.

Southwold is on the coast and is about 30 miles east of Ipswich. It’s an old town, with records of it in the Domesday Book, though the town has shifted and changed a goodly bit since. In 1659 a massive fire swept through and destroyed a large portion of buildings. Some of these sites were never rebuilt upon and have become little greens around the town. There are still plaques that mark these.

Nowadays Southwold is mostly a beachside resort town, with nearly half of the homes there for holiday rentals. Other than tourists, they are also the site of Adnams Brewery – who are the largest single employer in the area. We popped into the shop of the brewery, but didn’t have a booking for the tour. Maybe some other time. Instead, we walked down the pier into the angry ocean. The weather may not have been fantastic, but the off the wall show we found definitely made the walk worth it.

As the rain got worse in Southwold, we thought it best to travel back inland to our tent. The rain did not follow thankfully, and after a short nap we walked over to the pub again to enjoy a nice warm dinner. It did not disappoint! The pub seemed to be having a community night whilst we were there. There was a jumble sale in the back room and a sewing group having drinks in the front while somebody played a random assortment of tunes from his many vinyls near the entranceway.

It was at this point that one of my Twitter friends asked if you could camp at pubs. Well, maybe not at this one, but you definitely can at others. Something to consider when in England I suppose.

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A very determined M heading for food.

The next day we got back in the car after breakfast and drove out to Sutton Hoo. I may have badgered M a bit for this one, as it was geeky archaeology, but he did get some ice cream out of it.

Sutton Hoo is the site of an Anglo-Saxon cemetery. What makes it special is that in the 1930s they managed to find an undisturbed ship burial containing a wealth of artefacts. Not only were the artefacts outstanding in their own right though, but they also gave a lot of new information on the period of early English history. They suspect the person buried in the ship was none other than Raedwald, ruler of the East Angles, who was a powerful king and was a major player in bringing Christianity into England. The burial is often compared with the Old English poem Beowulf, and in the visitors centre they make plenty of comparisons in the artefacts found and the verses of the poem.

The only downside to Sutton Hoo is that nearly all of the artefacts found were donated to the British Museum. They’re all on display, so I’ll likely head down soon to have a look at the originals now that I know the context. In the meanwhile though, the centre did have very well done replicas that gave a feel for the level of wealth and prestige that the objects were meant to have at the time of the burial. The level of craftsmanship in the sword alone was incredible.

We made it back to the campsite in the late afternoon, had another nap, then headed over to the shops for a last BBQ dinner. (I blame these naps on the air mattress, which refused to stay inflated overnight.) It was a bit warmer, but the wind was still biting. After dinner, we ended up in the ‘living room’ area of our tent to escape it.

IMG_4605.jpgNothing says holiday quite like a beach, so we queued up some Death in Paradise and enjoyed our last chilly evening sheltered away from the elements.

Definitely learned our lesson on early spring camping, but I’d like to say we’ll do it again soon. Maybe again later this summer in August when the weather is most assuredly going to be warmer. Will have to see if the significant otter needs a bit of convincing though. All in all we made the best of the weather and now know how to make a makeshift wind break in order to cook breakfast sausages in a pinch. Also that I am rubbish at packing for the weather and should probably listen to my husband when he tells me I didn’t bring enough layers. Maybe. Anyway, it’s getting closer and closer to glorious summer days!

 

— Kate

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.

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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

The British Museum and Relearning to Drive

Hello all! Been a busy week, but not with much to report back with that would excite the general public. I did enjoy getting to drag my favorite Englishman through a city in England he’d never been, but I’m dying to have some of the folks back in the US threatening to come visit come do the same tour. I can only imagine the comments. Thursday was the day with the most photographs this week as the museum studies department took a field trip down to the British Museum. I think the photos can stand for themselves to sum up what only a fraction of this museum has to offer.

I’ve been to the British Museum before, and I need to go yet again before I am satisfied that I’ve seen all I wanted to see. Maybe. There’s so much!

After our field trip, some of us stayed afterwards to do the London Dungeon tour, being the day before Halloween and all. If you’re a fan of blending history and pop culture with some shock scares, then this is an excellent adventure. We witnessed Jack the Ripper stalk the streets, the plague sweep through the country, and even took a boat tour through Traitor’s Gate. Mind you, they don’t mention just how much queueing is involved, but I still think it was well worth it with friends to wait with. We all grabbed a bite to eat and wandered around a little bit before we took a late train home to Leicester afterwards.

 

Friday in seminar the group discussed some of the ethical issues to be found in the British Museum (And there are loads to be discussed, really.) and from there I hopped on the train to Colchester for the weekend. There wasn’t much going on for Halloween in Leicester, and Colchester was about the same. The pubs and bars had people dressed up, and a few shops had paper pumpkins or skeleton stickers on their windows, but Halloween is celebrated with nearly the same enthusiasm as Earth Day in the States. Mostly just a reason to dress up and get a drink. Or just get a drink. Saturday however, was a more exciting prospect as I was finally convinced to hire a car for the weekend to get a feel for how to drive in England.

 

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My valiant steed.

What we thought we were getting was a Ford Mondeo (Ford Fusion in the US), which while a wider car in the UK was not all that bad. What we actually got was a minivan. A really nice new minivan, but a tank of a vehicle for such tiny English roads. Giggle now as I complain about that size, but imagine taking almost half the width off a US road and you’ll understand why it was so concerning. This poor behemoth straddled both lines of the road nearly all the time. Taking the car out of the car park, I actually got immediately into the right hand lane… Thankfully I had the ever-patient M (This man is seriously a saint.) in the passenger seat to guide me through staying on the correct side of the road and all the roundabouts we went through. You don’t notice it when you’re walking through the towns and cities, but I swear to god that half of Colchester just consists of roundabouts. Was honked at probably a good 6-7 times through Saturday as I got a crash-course (but no car crash!) in the English rules of the road I didn’t realize. Yes, as an American over the age of 25, you can in fact just hire a car with your US license. I would personally recommend to have the UK ban this practice as it’s got to be causing a significant amount of chaos on the road. I think I only managed because I had someone to tell me what I was doing was wrong. The amount of honking did go down exponentially over the next two days, but it’ll be some time before I’d be completely confident with driving in the UK as much as I was in the US. A necessary evil I suppose.

Otherwise, it was a mostly quiet week, a wonderful weekend, and now a sickly start back into the week as I deal with a persistent cough and itchy throat that have snuck up on me. Yay for new germs. Bonfire Night is tomorrow, so I hope I’m feeling well enough to get out and see some fireworks, but if not there is the perk of being in one of the tallest buildings in Leicester. Hope all is well wherever you are, and I’ll speak to y’all on the flip side of my next major essay. Wish me luck!

— Kate

Revenge of the Pumpkin Spice Latte

So I cannot tell you how many people felt the need to mention to me before I left the US, “Oh Kate, I bet you’re really gonna miss having pumpkin spice lattes in the UK. They don’t have those there.”

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For the record everybody, they do. About it in terms of pumpkin flavored anything though, so don’t start packing your bags too quickly. Oh, while we’re griping, let us discuss the grocery delivery fiasco. In the UK, it’s geographically small enough to feasibly manage grocery delivery orders. Yes folks, you can order all the groceries and household goods you’d buy on a regular trip to the store online and have them bring it to you. Depending on the time of day, this service runs you ÂŁ1-ÂŁ5 and an hour slot that you will definitely be in the house for. You can even look online at places like Tesco, Asda, or Sainsbury’s for an idea of how it all works. Super spiffy stuff honestly.

The fiasco began when my things were due up to be delivered. The delivery truck was about 5 minutes over the hour time frame, which I was fine ignoring, but then it just went downhill. The Tesco delivery guy finally calls my phone to say he’s here. Little odd he’s not using the intercom, but I buzzed the door open. Wait 10 minutes. Call the number back, it says the phone is off. Wait another 10 minutes. March downstairs to see if the van is here. It’s not, and the ever-patient security guard tells me there hasn’t been one. Call Tesco customer service line and explain this. They call the driver and then tell me that his phone is off. Of course it is. They tell me deliveries only run until 11 and that he may still show up (it should have been here from 9-10 that evening in the first place), but they can rebook the delivery for tomorrow just in case. Then rebooked “just in case” for 9-10 the next morning.

It did finally show the next morning at about 9:45. The delivery driver that morning let me know he was a few minutes away and so rather than wait around more than 5 minutes, I just marched downstairs. (Well, took the elevator. Nine flights of stairs is a bit melodramatic to march.) The delivery driver was just waiting in his truck for me to come down, though no one had told me this was the deal. He said he couldn’t leave his truck alone with where he was parked, so he then gave me my baskets and a moving dolly to take them upstairs myself. The maintenance guys were checking smoke alarms on my floor and were as confused as I was about why I was taking my stuff up myself. They said I should have kept the dolly. I briefly considered it. However, it wasn’t that particular driver’s fault, so I brought it down nicely and then grumbled back upstairs to put away the spoils.

Otherwise, it’s been another fantastic week here in Leicester, with a lot more hands-on experience than previously. On Tuesday we had an object handling session with bits of the Wellcome Collection that have ended up in the department here to get a feel for objects outside of their information. Using touch, smell, sight (and perhaps a little Googling), we had to try to pull together some information on objects and what made them so fascinating. It was difficult for some things, but others like this sawtooth nose were pretty easy to do.

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The crumbly bits at the bottom of the photo were actually news articles pasted on to the artifact when it was collected in around 1906.

There was rain on and off throughout the day with some impressive 40-50 mile per hour winds coming in from the leftovers of Hurricane Gonzalo. This didn’t seem to deter any students though. I personally witnessed a few sitting at the tables outside of the library, hunched over their plates and mugs, determined to have their lunch regardless of whether or not it tried to blow away. It also didn’t deter any of my fellow students from showing up to our first Museum Society meeting to vote on what all we’d like to do as a club for the year. There were some fun ideas like the upcoming trip to Liverpool or an ugly Christmas sweater party, as well as more practical ones like an essay-swap read-over day or a motion to get a microwave for the students to use in the building. (We’re far enough away from the Student Union to make it difficult at lunchtime if you need to heat a meal.)

Wednesday was a study day in the flat for the most part, but by mid-afternoon I had to wander up to the building for a Think Tank session about cabinets of curiosity through time and how they’ve influenced modern museums today. Did you know the word ‘cabinet’ used to just refer to a place (usually a room) that held objects in it, and not just what we consider cabinets today?  These privately owned cabinets, or kunstschränke, were the precursors to museums today, and some big name places like the Ashmolean and British Museum started as donated kunstschränke for the public to finally have easy access to visit. Also (and surprisingly), most collectors were actually from the professional class – apothecaries and merchants and such, not kings and princes like many people would think. Towards the end of the lecture we were put into groups and set loose to create very quick mock-ups of exhibits that behaved like cabinets of the past using objects we’d brought into the room and some provided to us. The group I worked with were all so creative and clever, and I think we were all pretty pleased with how it turned out with only 10 minutes and a dead wasp. (It’s nigh on impossible to see in the photo sadly, but the narwhal tusk is pretty obvious.)

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Thursday evening was a really cool experience in which quite a few of us from the department went to the Diwali celebration on the north side of the city. What is Diwali you ask? To quote Wiki, “Diwali or Divali also known as Deepavali and the ‘festival of lights’, is an ancient Hindu festival celebrated in autumn every year. The festival spiritually signifies the victory of light over darkness, knowledge over ignorance, good over evil, and hope over despair. The festival preparations and rituals typically extend over a five day period, but the main festival night of Diwali coincides with the darkest, new moon night of the Hindu Lunisolar month Kartika.” It just so happens that Leicester has the largest Diwali celebration in the world outside of India, so of course it was a must-see!

Friday was another evening of celebration. Four people in the department all had birthdays in close succession with one another and decided to just have an event of it. This ended up being the perfect conclusion to the week with dinner at the Marquis and hopping over to The Pub afterwards. (Let us not discuss how confusing this pub’s name is. It’s like an Abbott and Costello scene all over again, but worse because the English are unfamiliar with Abbott and Costello and trying to explain this just gets you looks of deeper confusion.)

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Otherwise, this has been a quiet weekend in with lots more reading and outline sketching for the impending essay due up in a few weeks. It’s getting nippy outside and the sun is setting much earlier, but all is still fine and dandy over here! Hope all is well wherever you’re reading this from. 🙂

— Kate