Sunday, December 06, 2009

Metafilter meetup, part 2

This is what happens when I attempt to use a flash. Sigh. But these pictures are still hilarious.

Metafilter meetup

We brought cupcakes with dulce de leche frosting! I think we brought about 14 and left with 2. Well done, guys.
Apologies for the blurriness of these photos. I'm crap at indoor photos.

Best photo of the evening. Lucky girl.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

A Neglectful Author

That's me. I haven't updated in almost 4 months! Happily, this is because I've been busy living in the real world.

Winter has come and gone. Not surprisingly, I spent most of it inside. My plan for going to Germany fell through, so Christmas was spent quietly at home. I think it was very English--I had a roast, opened crackers, and watched the Doctor Who special on TV. On Boxing Day I saw Morris dancers for the first time and then spent the day at a friend's house. New Year's was spent quietly at home. The rest of the winter was also enjoyable. There was lots of snow, at least by Gloucestershire standards. It was all quite typical for me. Well, almost. Because England is so temperate, most of the snow had melted by the end of the day, so we ended up with more slush than anything else. There was enough snow for M to get out of school at least one day, though. We had lots of fun throwing snowballs and building snowmen.

In December, I also began volunteering at a nearby charity bookshop. The heavy presence of literature in Cheltenham is one of my favorite things about the city. There are some specialized shops, like Cooking: The Books, and some chains, like Waterstone's, and some independent booksellers, like Moss Books. There are also loads of charity bookshops, whose profits support various causes. I currently volunteer for the British Red Cross and Oxfam. The former is for convenience's sake, because it's just down the road. Oxfam, however, is an organization I've wanted to find a way to support for some time. It started as an organization dedicated to fighting world hunger but is now devoted to fighting poverty. Though I've never been to the third world, I've seen enough poverty to want to do something about it. Part of me wants to be very directly involved, but I quite like my position at the bookshop. I spend most of my time in the back, but quite like my fellow volunteers and the occasional shift on the till does provide opportunities to interact with random strangers. Always exciting!

So life goes on, more full of enjoyment than I have any right to. The sun has been shining extraordinarily often; the daffodils are blooming, and tulips are budding; my ears are full of music and my heart is full of peace. I could live this life for a while.

Sunday, December 07, 2008


The cuppa is the true English icon.

Yes, tea is more important than beer, curry, or even the Queen. (*gasp*) Although these factor into ordinary English lives some days, tea is a constant. I only know one English person who doesn't drink it. Some people over here are progressive and drink coffee as well, but in a crisis their true nature emerges and they find themselves nursing a lovely cup of tea. There's even a UK Tea Council.

So why tea? I think it's a necessity in light of the climate here. Although I know it's a relatively recent addition to English culture, I can't imagine life here without it. (Side note: Many people here say the same thing about curry.) Coffee seems too bitter and strong for the English. Most prefer weak tea, white, i.e. with milk. The amount of sugar depends on the person, though K takes 2 and is often mocked for it. Really strong tea is referred to as builder's tea. However it's prepared, though, it is a part of life. My favorite thing about visiting an English house is being asked if I'd like a cup of tea, and the question is invariably one of the first things out of the owner's mouth. I assume this is because tea is inherently relaxing. It's smooth and warm, and that can only raise a mood. I guess tea is, like alcohol, a social lubricant. I can say from personal experience that it is much easier to talk to a stranger while holding a steaming mug of tea than in most other situations. I wish I could do it in the States, where I'm at a huge social disadvantage as a non-coffee and minimum-alcohol drinker. Because tea is so ingrained in English culture, it also provides conversational topics. How do you take your tea? Have you had a traditional afternoon tea? Favorite type of tea? Is milk added before or after the tea? How much do you drink a day? The answer to the last question is usually 3 or 4. Tea breaks are a part of work as well as play. I saw a Bob the Builder mug in a charity shop, and it said, "Time for a tea break." My two-hour choir rehearsal always breaks for tea, which someone kindly brings in along with biscuits. I've been volunteering at a couple of bookshops, and at both of them I'm regularly asked if I'd like a cuppa. I was also show where the tea, cups, and biscuits were kept. I find it all quite charming. I'll miss English tea when I leave.

Apologies for the incoherency of this post.


Sunday, October 05, 2008

An obligatory update

I just realized that I haven't updated in over a month. This is due to a a sad lack of both creativity and activity.

Someone I passed on the street the other day said that winter's here. I don't know if that's true just yet, but it's certainly on its way. Trees are now as yellow as green, and pavements are piled with crunchy piles of amber and rust. Puddles generously lend their sheen to the streets. It's only 5 October, and I already have to wear a scarf everyday. So mostly, I feel cold these days.

Fortunately, the cold is not entirely oppressive, and I am still happy to walk into town to visit the library or run errands. The library, oddly, is playing a more central role in my life than it ever has. I don't work there, nor am I particularly pleased with it. However, my days are very flexible, almost unbearably so sometimes, and I have not yet found a replacement for the Artisan. Pubs and restaurants are plentiful in this wealthy city, but I cannot find a coffee shop that I feel comfortable at, especially if I want to read or write but not order anything (and considering my so-called salary, I'd rather not). Thus, the library has become a second home. I go there during the day to get personal work done, whether that be studying Latin for a couple of hours (and the Latin's coming along painfully slowly, mostly because I hardly ever open the book), journaling, or writing grad school essays, which recently became my main focus.

So there you go. An update. Life is as monotonous here as anywhere else.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

On antisocial behavior

From What I Do: More True Tales of Everyday Craziness by Jon Ronson.

I'm considering hiring a bookkeeper to help me manage my receipts. A bookkeeper called Eric comes over for a trial session. I leave him to it.
"Eric," I shout after a while. "I'm going out. Help yourself to coffee or whatever. OK, bye!"
I saunter down the stairs and practically gasp. Eric has got his coat on. He's walking towards the front door too. I realize to my horror that the two of us are equidistant to the door. And we are walking at an identical pace. If this continues unabated we'll be leaving the house at exactly the same time and will consequently be forced to walk along the road together.
Oh no! I think.
I look frantically around for something that might authentically slow me down. But there's nothing. I have my keys in my hand. My coat is zipped up. I'm clearly ready to leave. I catch Eric's eye and give him a pleading look to say, "One of us has to stop this madness before it spirals out of control and we end up walking down the road together with nothing to say to each other."
Think laterally, Jon, I think. I've got it!
"I'm just going to the toilet!" I say.
"Oh," says Eric. "I left something downstairs."
I hurry up to the toilet. Eric hurries down to the kitchen.
Inside the toilet I ponder Eric's demeanour as he said he'd forgotten something. It was obviously a ruse and he felt the same way I did about us leaving together, but why? I know what [my wife] Elaine would say. She'd say, "Eric just wanted to be your friend and you made him feel small, didn't you, with your antisocial behaviour. That's why he ran back downstairs. It's just like that time we had Bill round and you sat on the Internet all night. It was the rudest thing I've ever seen anyone do."
"I can't believe you're still going on about that Bill thing years after it happened," I'd reply, before adding, with a triumphant glint in my eye, "And the fact that you're always citing that single incident is proof that I'm only rarely antisocial."
Anyway, Eric's demeanour throughout the incident was equally awkward. He clearly didn't want to walk with me just as vehemently as I didn't want to walk with him.
His antisocial attitude makes him interesting, I think. I can relate to that. What an interestingly antisocial self-assured person.
Now all I need to do is wait here in the toilet until I hear him scamper away.
So I do.
I'm going to hire him! I think.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

A Study of English Customs. #1: The Pub Quiz

In high school, I was a member of Academic Team. Yes, I was one of those nerds who loves showing off her random knowledge of trivia and meaningless information. I believe most people who enjoy trivia are considered nerds in America. The English, on the other hand, have made trivia and general knowledge an art form. (I say English because I don't know if this extends to the rest of the UK.) If you've talked to me about my time abroad, you've probably heard me talk about QI, which stands for Quite Interesting. Basically, Stephen Fry conducts a round table of comedians to talk about random stuff for half an hour. It's fascinating, entertaining, and enlightening. The BBC also broadcasts shows like Eggheads, Battle of the Brains, and Mastermind, all of which center around knowledge. Mock the Week gets a panel of comedians to discuss/focus on news stories which broke the previous week. America's only equivalents are Jeopardy and Who Wants to be a Millionaire, and maybe The Daily Show--though that's broadcast here and is a bit of a stretch regardless.

All this says nothing about the general population, of course. We all know that what's broadcast on television doesn't necessarily reflect the public's interest, and I'm not going to bother looking up ratings. What does indicate that trivia is a popular phenomenon is the presence of pub quizzes. Tuesday nights at a pub down the road are dedicated as quiz nights. I went with K and a few of her friends, because I'd heard about pub quizzes when I was here before, but never quite made it to one. I didn't really know what to expect.

The Pub Quiz Experience
Apparently, there's a Wikipedia entry for pub quiz. I'd say it's pretty accurate. The quiz started unusually late at this pub, at half past 9. Apparently there were complications with the mic; at one point the announcer said something like, "If this is anyone's first time to a pub quiz, they must be wondering if it's always like this. It's not." So apparently my first pub quiz was exceptional, and it cut out a round to make the game go more quickly. Usually, there are 6, including one film, one music, one picture, one connections, and two general knowledge rounds. For the picture round, each team is given a copy of a sheet with pictures of people on it--I think there were 10 on the one we got. The subjects are usually celebrities who are topical--Bernie Mac, Isaac Hayes, Michael Phelps, and the latest Big Brother evictee were on it--but may be bizarre celebrites or people from the pub as well. Teams are generally formed by table, and I think almost everyone in the pub, ranging from high school-age to maybe mid-60s, participated. The connections round was quite difficult. Each question's answer connects to the next somehow, and they're all connected by one subject, which is the answer to question 10. (There are 10 questions per round.) I didn't follow it, but apparently the connection this week was Madonna, and somehow next week's will be connected to her. The music round consisted of 10 song clips played back-to-back without gaps. 1/2 point is awarded for song title, and 1/2 point for the artist. For the entire game, answers are to be written down on a sheet handed out about 10 minutes before the start, then turned in after all the questions have been asked. The film round didn't happen this week, but I think is self-explanatory. General knowledge is, as you'd expect, a catch-all. Sadly, as I was fairly useless this week, I've forgotten most of the questions that were asked. I remember the ones I was able to answer--"In what children's film do Michael and Jane live at 17 Cherry Tree Lane?"* and "What disease gets its name from the Latin word for crab?"** My team was all right, though; we tied for 11th out of approximately 25-30 teams. I was pleased, anyway. The prize was 10 pounds at the bar.

While they were calculating the results, they had 3 individuals come to the back for a chance at a different prize. When the staff passed out the answer sheets, they also brought around a jar and raffle tickets. For a pound, you could buy a ticket which would be entered into a raffle. If your number was drawn, you had a chance to go to the back and answer a question. If you answered correctly, you would win all the money in the jar. This week, it was a little over 90 pounds. If the first person answered incorrectly, a second person would get a chance, and then a third if that person failed as well. If three people failed, the money would roll over to next week. Unfortunately for me, someone won on Tuesday. I shall have to go back, though, to try my hand at more of this trivial pursuit.

* Mary Poppins


Tuesday, August 12, 2008

A Room of My Own

The nausea didn't begin until the descent. 7 1/2 hours of a settled stomach were lovely, and the ache between my ribs and bellybutton that began as the "Fasten seatbelt" sign lit up just did not please me. I breathed deeply, closed my eyes, and tried not to think about what was happening. I was not caving into my shy nature by not speaking to the girl seated next to me. I was not stealing the socks Virgin Atlantic provided. I was not arriving at my new home without grieving the loss of my permanent one. I was in a temporary state of queasy denial, refusing to accept the situation I had begun to get myself into months ago. Later, K, the woman I'm working for, asked if it (meaning the area, I think) was what I expected. Inveterate truth teller that I am, I had to confess that I hadn't really expected anything. I had no idea what was coming. I couldn't think about it, or I would have drowned a pool of nerves.

As it turns out, it seems there was little to be nervous about, anyway. My flight departed and arrived on time. I got through immigration with a mere cursory glance at my German passport. My luggage was waiting on Belt 2 in Terminal 3 of Heathrow Airport, and as I had nothing to declare, I passed straight through to the main terminal. Just on the other side, I quickly spotted a small sign with "JENNIFER" written on it being held by K. The meeting was surprisingly painless; there were a few awkward moments, but we seem to get on well. We have similar taste in music, and found enough common ground to survive a 2-hour car ride, though she's much more outgoing than I am. The little girl I'm taking care of, M, is away on holiday with her dad, but K assures me she's excited to meet me. After getting to spend a few hours in my new house and see my new private space, I'm looking forward to it as well. I think I will be comfortable here, and that will make me much more confident with her. She still sounds like a bright girl (She just turned 7, and is reading Harry Potter by herself.), and I've seen her room now, which I feel does say something about her. I think it'll be all right. My room is lovely, too. It's on the upper floor and has a huge double bed (Actually, I think that's rather a shame, as it's such a small room.) and a wardrobe. We'll install shelves and put together a dresser; the biggest disadvantage to my room is that there's no storage space, not even an underbed. Sadly, there's no room for a desk, but I think I'll be able to use my windowsill. The view is nice--I'm overlooking the garden and from my bed see only trees. I also have my own bathroom with an amazing tub and an equally amazing view of the garden and the neighbors' gardens. I think I'll adjust to this place well. It's quiet and beautiful and feels quintessentially English. I'll put pictures of the lane we drove down on Flickr later. I've hardly seen anything more poetic. I may head to my first pub quiz tonight, as K often goes.

adopt your own virtual pet!