I’m going to try to post a new blag every five days or thereabouts, and tonight seems like as good a time as any. I’ve been sidelined a bit by a nasty flu-like bug that struck on Dec. 31 and has slowly devolved to a persistently irritating cough. So tonight it’s a fun evening of cough syrup!
That’s not to say today hasn’t been productive so far. I registered with the NHS practice near UCL. At risk of offending Republicans—a risk I’m usually happy to take—let me say that so far the NHS is the most civilized health system ever. I just had to turn in a short form and show a student ID and, boom, I’m good to go. I can walk in at any time during open clinic hours (about 3 hrs a day) and be seen, or make an appointment for a longer checkup. The receptionist (quite rightly) looked baffled when I asked whether she needed anything else from me (insurance card, proof of address, a bag of my blood). To make things even better, the sun was out!
This prompted a walk over to King’s Cross rail station, which most of you might recognize as being a rather central location in the Harry Potter books. It only took a few minutes of sleuthing to find the entrance into the wizarding world. (FYI, you can click on all of my pictures to embiggen them.)
Seriously you’d think they’d have a guard or something.
Joking aside, I found this spectacularly cool. Even cooler was when, after a short Tube ride, I exited at a station called simply “Arsenal.” This is the central stop in the north London neighborhood of Highbury, home of Arsenal Football Club—the “soccer” team that I adopted as my own a year and a half ago. Arsenal, established in 1886, have a lot of talent but perennially fall short in basically every competition, making them a natural fit for my Philadelphia/Columbia upbringing. (Also, I mean, how cool of a logo is a big cannon?!)
If you try to beat us at football, we will shoot you with a cannon.
At this point in the English football season something called “The FA Cup” is kicking into high gear. The FA Cup is an ancient (first played in 1872) competition in which basically anyone is allowed to compete—all the way from top clubs like Arsenal and Manchester United down to amateur village squads with names like “Brangenham and Thistlecorp United” (note that this is not a real team). Last year’s edition saw 763 teams compete, though most of the lower seeds are weeded out before the Premier League teams start to play.
Anyway, Arsenal drew a Welsh club called Swansea (they are also in the EPL) in their first match, which was played last Sunday. The tournament is single elimination, BUT if you draw with your opponent it forces a “replay” at the road team’s home stadium. The first Arsenal-Swansea match ended in a 2-2 draw, forcing a replay this coming Wednesday at Emirates Stadium (known simply as “the Emirates”). And, due to the short notice, some tickets went on sale to the general public (rather than just members), so I was able to grab a ticket! A full match report will be forthcoming next week. I’m very excited for this experience.
The name “Arsenal” actually comes from the club’s beginning as part of the Royal Arsenal. So the omnipresent cannons make sense.
Yesterday, enjoying the early stages of my long weekend, I also made it over to Westminster Abbey, which is constructed in a slightly different architectural style than Emirates Stadium. It’s one of my favorite buildings in the world, a place where you can accidentally walk over the remains of three of your favorite composers (Edward Elgar, Ralph Vaughan Williams, and Gustav Holst). There’s also a huge number of dead royals lying around, including the original Queen Elizabeth. What a boss. I can’t even imagine how the place must be for a coronation or royal wedding. Outside, a bit of exploring revealed that that the English have already named a street after me!
I would prefer “Awesome Peter Street” but this is fine also.
Foodwise, it’s been another successful week. A trip to the pub on Wednesday night revealed that, yes, the English do know how to cook a mean hamburger and chips. Tuesday night I had vegetarian curry at an Indian place near campus that was really very good. And I did some cooking last night—chicken tikka masala (from a can) and custard (also from a can)! See these pictures, also noting the strange shape of the Diet Coke bottle in the background.
They really do not have custard in the States. It is tasty.
The glass bowl cost two pounds and I already broke it. Whoops.
Only two more brief anecdotes before I hang up my keyboard for the night. One is that I ended up in a techno dance “night club” on Wednesday night. I don’t have much to say about this event other than that it was a singularly awful place and yet I’m still glad I went—now I am very confident that such places are really not for me.
The other is that Jeremy Bentham, the utilitarian thinker, is considered the “spiritual” founder of UCL, in that he merely suggested that such a university be built and then left it to other people to actually do the hard work. (Bit of a Ben Franklin type, I think.) Anyway, one of the legacies of this is that Bentham’s body resides in the UCL main building. And when I say resides, well…
One of the creepiest things I’ve ever seen.
Yes, that’s actually him. Bentham requested that they preserve his skeleton and dress it up in his clothes, sticking his mummified head on top, to create something called an “Auto Icon.” However, something went wrong in the head-mummification process, so they use a wax fake. (You can find a picture of his head, which is kept in the college safe. It is really, really, really dead-looking.) So Bentham is just sitting there, all the time, watching you. It’s whack.
That’s all for now. One piece of “housekeeping” — I think there’s a way to sign up for email updates for anytime I update this thing, so that might be useful for y’all to look into.