Saturday, September 24, 2011

Moving Out

So what happens when you try to help 300 odd students move out? well it wasn't organized that is for sure. Since a Masters degree is only a year here and the majority of the students living in the student village are Msc students they were already done so there was an impromptu party the night before move out. Everyone brought any alcohol they did not want to move or take home with them. Since the head warden was also moving out he contributed all the liquor he didn't want to take with him either and he had received some pretty odd liquor as gifts over the years. Come Saturday there was a lot of people moving out with some large hangovers.
We had set up a way for people to donate stuff to a second hand sale that would be resold to the students coming in. (Had to be sold because everyone would just take free stuff, not what they needed. All the money was donated to a charity) The thinking was always everything gets donated (including half-used boxes of food) or everything gets trashed (creating huge piles of trash).
As I was collecting keys from everyone there were a lot of goodbyes, a lot of people asking for extra time, and I had one friend that had his suitcase filled with all his clothes that disappeared with someone else's stuff. (So was probably on its way to China) As the cleaners went through each flat cleaning them out over the next week it was funny to see them trading and haggling over stuff students had left behind.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Buckingham palace

There are only two months out of the year that you can tour Buckingham palace. If it was up to the queen it wouldn't happen at all but she had to make the agreement for the UK government to help repair Windsor castle after a fire. There was a little part of me that wanted to go as a way to stick it to the man (or woman in this case).
Of course it's a palace so there is over the top opulence. I can't figure out why anyone is surprised that anyone's reality would be distorted living this separated from reality. The gardens were huge which made me feel weird since I knew we were in the middle of London but I couldn't hear any traffic. I do understand there needs to be a balance since there is the need to impress foreign heads of state and such but the longer that anyone stays in these surroundings the less grip they will have on reality. However, I must say it was not over the top as much as the Vatican, hmmmmmm.
What is funny was for how wonderfully understated all the overstatements of wealth were the gift shop at the end was full on tacky. London souvenir shops are kind of famous for putting the union jack on everything possible so I guess the palace gift shop was a step down from that but it did have chocolate crowns and the such.
Of course, the real reason why I wanted to make sure to go this year was because of the royal wedding. During the wedding itself I wasn't really sure why everyone was so captivated by it. Seeing all the details gave me a better understanding. I had more respect for all the tradition, at the same time that I felt a little sorry that they were forced to have wedding a certain way. (Of course any pangs of sorrow quickly went away at the knowledge of how much they spent on the wedding.) I had read the Queen thought that the wedding dress was presented in a way to bring up Princess Di. I do have to admit the dress did look spooky, very ghost like. But everything for the wedding did a good of explaining all the symbolism that I didn't realize was there.
Gift store was tacky

Saturday, September 17, 2011

End of term party

It was the last party of the year. September, so it was already getting cold again but we wanted to do something outside. We hired a laser tag company to come. Basically it was a giant inflatable maze you climbed into. Everyone's gun also had sensors on it so you would just pile into the dark tunnels and start shooting. We also tried having a barbecue but it started raining half way though so everyone was either in the laser tag or village hall with an unlucky few manning the grill.
Later in the night we hired a bus to take us to Oceana club. Of course the British tradition is to pre-drink so everyone imagine you and 50 drunk friends on a coach together. It got pretty loud just getting there.
The reason why Oceana was chosen is because it is huge. There are 3 dance floors: a club, ballroom, and a disco complete with Saturday night fever light up squares on the dance floor. There are also plenty of themed bars such as the Aspen ski lodge and China room. It was the last time we all were going to see a lot of these people so it felt strangely like school prom type event. Of course since all of the masters students were done with their course they were getting extra drunk so instead of being a designated driver I got to be the designated get people night bus person. All in all quite a fun night.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

The "Beeb" TV Nation

The BBC is funded by people paying for a TV license instead of commercials or product placement. This means that when watching American shows my British friends are amazed at how many times shows have that pause for commercials and how short American TV shows are (since they don't show the no commercials). Normal TV means BBC 1, 2, and 3. Channel 4 and 5 are privately owned so they have commercials but not as many as American shows. Any other channels and you need a satellite dish. Since they switched over to digital here all the remotes have an extra red, green, and blue buttons that will interact differently depending on the channel and show.
The funny part is how they enforce TV licenses. If you have a TV or watch live TV on-line (I don't) you have to pay £145.50 a year. (Free if you're over 75, 50% off if you're blind, and £49 if you watch in black and white.) The joke is the enforcement. They send tons of letters. Somehow they knew I moved, even when I didn't fill in an address change. Stores will turn you in when you buy a TV, and if all else fails they have a van that drives around using radio emitters to detect TV antennas in the same way as RFID tags.
Of course living with cheap college students, a lot of them have TVs for playing playstation (and probably watching) and no license. Now if they got their TV antenna detuned it would be legal, but since they are only living here for a year they figure the process will take longer than that. Apparently the TV enforcement will try to lie their way in to the flat. If that fails then they get a warrant. But the can't touch anything so you only need to cover the TV with a sheet. Of course this is all second hand hearsay and they were surprised to hear the vans could pick up TV antennas by bouncing radio waves off of them. I don't really care because there is a TV room on the rare occasions I want to socialize. ( I have yet to watch TV alone and frankly I'm happy with most stuff on because I watch so little that what I do watch feels like a anthropology study of British culture)
Oh and "The Beeb" is the nickname for the BBC.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Much Ado About Shakespeare

A group of friends had seats for the Globe Theatre to see Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing. It was on my checklist of things to do while I was here in London so I jumped at the chance. Now, usually you can get £5 standing tickets the night of the performance. But, standing for three hours straight can be quite painful I've heard from the people that have done it.
The whole theater is a re-construction of what the theater looked like when Shakespeare was originally writing the plays; a protruding stage with three levels of seats that wrap around about 3/4 of the stage. The design means a lot of timber beams blocking part of everyone's view.To add to that the seats we had were at the very edge so we saw most of the acting of the people's backs. Add to this that we were sitting on wooden benches (I paid the extra £1 to rent/hire a cushion) and it felt very authentic.
Of course because it was Shakespeare I could only understand about every other word. Of course, I faired better then the Chinese friends but not quite as good as the British friends. It did make a difference that they were speaking in real British accents. I so much more enjoyed hearing it that way then the proper thespian accents.
While it may sound like I'm complaining, it was quite the contrary. I had a blast. It really felt like they sucked you back in time 500 years. At least they did until I heard the airplane flying over-head. I had read the synopsis of the play so at the end of each scene I could guess where we were in the play and there was a whole lot of physical humor. I would recommend going to anyone that hated Shakespeare in high school because it felt a lot more alive.