God save the Queen and her Navy

A busy week with my parents here in London! Here’s a highlight, from Thursday’s Victory Day celebrations. (The concert was commemorating the end of the Second World War, as well as the sailors of the Royal Navy who served in the Arctic convoys to Russia — including my grandfather, Peter G. Andrews!)

The Belfast's guns have a range of twelve miles. So watch out, suburbs.

The Belfast’s guns have a range of twelve miles. So watch out, suburbs.

We’ve also seen three plays, which I will review for posterity below.

  • One Man, Two Guvnors: The most British play I’ve ever seen, a slapdash comedy set in 1963. Hilarious, even if a certain percent of the jokes went way over our heads. There’s some extended improv sections that bring the house down. A
  • Singin in the Rain: A stage adaptation of the greatest movie musical of all time. This version suffers in comparison, as the leads can’t quite match the charisma of Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor, and Debbie Reynolds. But nonetheless it’s entertaining, and the audacity to actually dump gallons and gallons of water on stage for the titular number is a bold move that pays off. B+
  • Jersey Boys: Not my cup of tea, so much. The story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, your enjoyment of the play will basically depend on your patience for their music. I didn’t find their story particularly compelling — and listening to British actors wander around with JOI-ZEE accents for two hours can be torturous — but everyone else seemed to be having a good time. (Median age: 65.) C

also we have been eating lots of tasty stuff before the theater like this lamb shank

also we have been eating lots of tasty stuff before the theater like this lamb shank

Finally, and perhaps most excitingly, we saw the Queen! Wednesday was the State Opening of Parliament, which is like the State of the Union but with everyone on horses and substantially more gold. The Queen delivers a speech — written by the PM and the Government — outlining the legislative plan for the year. (Unlike the SOTU, this Speech takes about four minutes.) But first there’s lots of pomp and ceremony, including the Queen and the Crown Jewels being transported from Buckingham Palace to Westminster. So we went and camped out near the Palace, giving us a chance to watch the Horse Guards set up their posts and the various Jewels to trot past in carriages. Finally, the Queen zoomed by, and it was cool.

pretty nice car you got there, the Queen

pretty nice car you got there, the Queen

this band is very happening

this band is very happening

One week left here! Also great as always to see my Aunt Joan twice, and finally visit the house in Chiswick where she and my grandfather were born in the early 1920s. It’s been a great week and a very good way to close out my time here.

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Three weeks left

Hey howdy hey! Hard to believe that I’m heading back to the United States in less than three weeks. It’s been a while since the last post — these last couple weeks have been a little low-key but there are now a few updates worth posting on this here blag. (Remember, you can click on pictures to embiggen them!)

A good day to cricket

A good day to cricket

  • It’s hard to believe but I do sometimes have to do actual schoolwork here at school. Last weekend, I wrote a pair of papers on Parliament, and I have one more left before I can go home — political patronage in the early Middle Ages. (You might know this time period as “the Dark Ages” but it turns out that historians do not like this name very much.)

It is tough to write papers when the days look like this

It is tough to write papers when the days look like this

  • I had a great plan all set up for last Thursday: I was going to take the train to Norwich, a part of England where my long-deceased ancestors used to live, and hang out there for the day. Unfortunately, Transport for London let me down for the first time — delays and congestion in the Underground turned a 25 minute journey to Liverpool Street Station into a 55 minute one, and I missed my train. However, I am not one for letting plans collapse (particularly at 9:30 am, when it is my policy to usually be fast asleep), so I walked over to the Tower of London. It was a warm and cloudless day, and I listened to some entertaining (if probably inaccurate) tales from a Beefeater, took a look at some Crown Jewels, etc etc.

This seems like a rather sanitized version of the gruesome head-chopping-off process

This seems like a rather sanitized version of the gruesome head-chopping-off process

The White Tower

The White Tower

  • The next destination on this improvisational, jazz-esque afternoon was the Borough Market, another short walk over Tower Bridge and past the Belfast. Tasty porkbelly, crackle, and applesauce sandwich… nom. From there, I bicycled back to my dorm, about three miles, and was nearly hit by a car only twice!!

London old & new

London old & new

I am sure this is what William the Conquerer envisioned in 1066

I am sure this is what William the Conquerer envisioned in 1066

  • Joking aside, I’ve been experimenting with biking around and the results have been improving — in the sense that I no longer feel like my death is imminent every time I hop on. I’m not a bad biker, but I don’t have a ton of experience in urban settings and on top of that the British have all sorts of weird squiggly lines on the roads and by the way THEY DRIVE ON THE WRONG FREAKING SIDE WHICH IS CONFUSING. I did bike from school back to home yesterday without any complications which was certainly a victory.

Sometimes you know the weather is going to get bad very quickly

Sometimes you know the weather is going to get bad very quickly

  • The final excitement recently is that I walked over to Hyde Park for the first time, which is about fifteen minutes from Goldsmid House. It turns out that it is quite a nice place, particularly on an afternoon where the weather is nice. The weather here has been improving steadily — 60s and 70s, sunny, and sunset around 8:30 pm — which has in turn increased my capacity to walk, run, and bike around the city.

I was looking for FDR the whole time but didn't find him

I was looking for FDR the whole time but didn’t find him

So, what’s next? On Sunday, my mother is making the trans-atlantic hop and visiting London for the week, which will be a good chance to show off the few things I’ve learned about Britain during my time here. After she leaves on Monday (the 13th), I’ll be on my way to Barcelona on the 14th for three days to visit Nate, enjoy some warm Mediterranean sunshine, and embarrass myself with my limited ability to speak Spanish. Then it’s one day to wrap up my life here and head back to Delaware on the 19th.

Baroness Thatcher’s Funeral

Dominating the headlines in Britain today was the funeral of former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Her coffin processed from Parliament to the funeral in St. Paul’s this morning. So naturally I woke up and walked over to Parliament c. 9:50 am. All a bit anticlimactic as the hearse zoomed down Whitehall at 10:02.
thatcher

Having nothing else to do, I took the tube over to St. Pauls where there was quite a crowd. However, I had a very weird angle — saw the Queen’s car drive up and heard the general singing of “God Save the Queen” but did not see the Queen actually getting out of her car. After the band played her coffin into the cathedral I left because really not much point of standing around.

Thatcher is a controversial figure — but to my eyes there was not much evidence of protest… though, not much evidence of love either. Everyone just seemed to be interested in what was going on. The whole thing is a minor controversy — it’s the most expensive funeral since Churchill’s and she received full military honors despite her divisive figure on the national stage. People are blaming the very unpopular Cameron gov’t for playing it up to boost Tory morale. At least, that’s my very rudimentary take on the current political situation.
thames
So, just a short update on an interesting event I saw today. The weather here has been beautiful all week with the exception of the three hours of the funeral today, culminating with this great nightscape from my evening walk tonight. Pictures from the second half of my trip coming tomorrow!

Back in Britain and Trip Photos (Part I)

Hello there! Rome and Paris were fantastic but I have not the energy to do a blog on them at the moment. This morning I hopped on the Eurostar and was back in London before I knew it, where the weather has been… spastic. But everyone speaks English so that is a step in the right direction.

And I will have my vengeance, in this life or the next.

“And I will have my vengeance, in this life or the next.”

I’ve put pictures from the first half of the trip up on facebook — even if you’re not a member, you should be able to view the pictures by clicking on this link. Please alert me if it doesn’t work for you! Rest assured that these photos have been curated and captionized so you get the highlights.

I see a beautiful city and a brilliant people rising from this abyss...

“I see a beautiful city and a brilliant people rising from this abyss…”

Over the weekend I’ll throw up a post on Rome and Paris and post pictures from the rest of the trip. But now it is time to relax a bit.

Shane visits, good food, and more football

Hello everyone! Sorry for the limited posting in the last few weeks. My computer did indeed bite the dust last week, and I have acquired a new laptop to replace it. (I was worried about the new one having a UK keyboard; the only noticeable difference is that the 4 key has a pound sign on it! I have been very busy preparing for my trip to Europe which kicks off on Thursday. I’ll post an abbreviated itinerary on here before I leave — almost as much for me as it is for all yall out on the internet.

The highlight of the last week was the visit of my friend Shane for Monday and Tuesday. I’ve known Shane since kindergarten (1997, so 16 years?!) and it was neat to get a chance to show him around Europe for the first time. (Though he travels incessantly due to airline connections, Shane is more of a warm-weather guy; I loaned him one of my jackets for the two days he was here). We did most of the stereotypical London things — pub food, English breakfast, picture with Big Ben, taking the tube, and a football match (more on that later).

Proof that Shane was here

Proof that Shane was here and was very cold

Yesterday I went out to Sutton to see my Aunt Joan; she was (as always) very hospitable to me. I helped her change the ink cartridges in her printer and we went out to lunch at a pizza-type place. It was the first time in the UK that I have not been perplexed by their interpretation of Italian food. Though the best food I ate this week came courtesy of the Borough Market this afternoon, where I consumed a kangaroo burger — it was delicious.

Surprisingly, this tasted incredible

Surprisingly, this tasted incredible

Soccer Football update: I’ve been to three more games since the last post here on the blag.

Brentford FC 1 Scunthorpe United 0 — Two Saturdays ago, I went out to the west fringes of London to enjoy this League One (third division) match. The area I was in had no seats, but it was a beautiful sunny day; in fact, I was quite overdressed for the occasion! 

Yay we scored a goal let's hug the fans

Yay we scored a goal let’s hug the fans

Dagenham & Redbridge FC 2 Torquay United 2 — I took Shane out to the extreme east of London on Tuesday night to take in a League Two showdown (along with a paid attendance of 1,000 additional spectators). It was bitterly cold and periodically featured a snow shower. The football was equally dreary. Despite a penalty and a red card against Torquay in the third minute, “the Daggers” couldn’t produce much, and settled for a draw when Torquay scored from a PK of their own in the 87th minute.

Skyfall at Dagenham

Skyfall at Dagenham

Leyton Orient 4 Carlisle United 1 — Today I went out to the charming borough of Leyton, which is near the Olympic Park, for this match in League One. Leyton has a relatively modern stadium — they seem to have built apartment buildings in the four corners of their ground to make additional use of their property. Some fans were able to simply sit on their balconies and take in the game! The outcome of this one was never really in doubt, as Leyton scored in the 31st, 45th, and 65th minutes (getting the Carlisle GK sent off on the last one) to keep the game well within their grasp. Fun fact! In the seven matches that I’ve attended, home teams are a sterling 5-0-2. Perhaps they should be paying me to attend.

Sun peeking out in Leyton. Notice the apartments at the corner of the pitch.

Sun peeking out in Leyton. Notice the apartments at the corner of the pitch.

I’m down to my last week of school here; two papers and three days of classes before I can head off to France etc. next week. There is no question that I have found studying abroad much more challenging than I expected coming in to it. Though I think I’ve made the most of my time here so far and learned from it, I’m looking forward to the chance to break my non-existent routine a bit and explore lots of new places. But first, I have to come up with some things to say about early medieval Europe. Cheers for now.

Broken

Hi all — the lack of recent updates can largely be blamed on the recent fatal heart attack suffered by my laptop. Much more challenging to work up entertaining legible entries on my iPad. A full report to come later in the week. Leaving for Paris etc one week from Thursday!

Soccer, law, and music

No time to waste, let’s get right into the blag!

  • Saturday was my visit to Craven Cottage in SW London, home of Fulham FC, to watch another soccer match. The most exciting part of this game was that Brek Shea, a 22-year-old American winger, made his debut appearance for visiting team Stoke City. America is perpetually struggling for respect as a soccer nation, and every player who makes it to the Premier League is an enormous opportunity for the national team. By a stroke of luck, Haley, Sylvia, and I were sitting right next to the Stoke supporters, who greeted Shea’s entrance to the game in the 25th minute with a U! S! A! chant — and another one when he forced a penalty in the 55th minute. However, that penalty was saved by Fulham, and a spectacular 45th minute goal from ex-Manchester United striker Dimitar Berbatov sealed a 1-0 victory for the home side. A great game to attend.

Just before kickoff

Just before kickoff

  • My history of Parliament class met at the UK Supreme Court on Wednesday. Judiciary duties used to be handled by the House of Lords, but fairly recently it was decided that a more American modern approach was needed and the Supreme Court was set up in 2009. It meets in the former Middlesex Guildhall, near Westminster Abbey and Parliament, a space that has been modernized to hold some courtrooms and a small exhibition in the basement about the history of the court. (My favorite bit was the “gift of friendship” given by the US Supreme Court — a tiny marble chunk of the Supreme Court building in DC.) We sat in on a case involving something called quantum meruit which was actively sleep-inducing. The court’s twelve justices (all addressed as “my Lord” or “my Lady”) sit in panels of five or seven to hear cases, and they peppered the attorney with questions about this case which I’m sure was very important but really was very hard to follow.

Most disappointingly, they did not wear robes and wigs in court, though these ceremonial robes are broken out occasionally

Most disappointingly, they did not wear robes and wigs in court, though these ceremonial robes are broken out occasionally

  • After this excitement, I met up with Haley — her last day of five in London — and we explored for a while. Sights seen include: Borough Market, HMS Belfast, the Globe, Millennium Bridge, St. Paul’s, Somerset House, the Eye, Parliament, and my dorm! (One of those things is not like the others.) We went out to dinner at a place called Nando’s, which specializes in chicken of the extraordinarily spicy variety. Pretty good. I’m glad I got a chance to show her around — definitely two months here has improved my capacity to act as a tour guide when necessary. She was also a good sport to take this picture of me:

My dad took a series of these "conehead" shots of my mom during their travels many years ago — trying to carry on the tradition!

My dad took a series of these “conehead” shots of my mom during their travels many years ago — trying to carry on the tradition!

  • Those of you who know me know that among the things I dislike are extremely loud noises, extremely crowded rooms, and heat of any type. However, I quite willingly put up with all three last night to check out a sold-out show by a “dream-folk” band called Mt. Wolf. They sound sort of like a more rocking version of the xx, using a wide variety of instruments — acoustic and electric guitar, acoustic and electronic drums, a string quartet, and keyboard all featured at one point or another in their set. Always exciting to become “hip” with the “youth culture.”

Flashing lights

Flashing lights

I think that’s probably all for the time being. Among the goals for the weekend: more football (hopefully Brentford vs. Scunthorpe), more Borough Market, new shoes, possibly another museum. Hard to believe that my trip to the mainland is just three weeks away. Hope everything is going well with all yall back in the States!

Albertopolis: why it’s good to marry Queen Victoria

Back in London and back to school — 60% done with my semester all of a sudden — so here’s a short update on the week so far.

  • I got back to London with essentially no major problems in transit — other than that I actually got to Paddington before the first tube of the day actually ran! However, I made a rookie mistake and slept from 9 am to 3 pm on Sunday, throwing all of my various schedules completely out of whack. I have not yet totally recovered! (The jet lag did give me a chance to plow through House of Cards on Netflix, which I recommend if you have it.)

A happy moment from the trip home

A happy moment from the trip home

  • The weather in the first part of the week was excellent, with two (rare) days of nothing but blue skies. Tuesday’s class architecture trip was to “Albertopolis” — the museums and other cultural buildings in South Kensington that were organized by (and built in memory of) Victoria’s husband Prince Albert. In case you were unaware she was extremely in love with him, which is reflected in his absurdly gaudy monument in Hyde Park.

Seems about right for a Prince Consort

Seems about right for a Prince Consort

  • We walked past Royal Albert Hall to the Victoria and Albert Museum, which is a massive and spectacular collection of all sorts of trinkets and items from history. Despite spending an hour there on Wednesday and another half-hour there yesterday (when I confirmed that it was a short half-hour walk away), I’ve barely scratched the surface of how much stuff there is inside.

The impossibly beautiful chandelier in the main entrance of the V & A

The impossibly beautiful chandelier in the main entrance of the V & A

What a nice day it was

What a nice day it was

  • It’s taken a lot of energy to try to get back in the swing of things but I’m making progress. Plans for my trip in March-April are beginning to come together (one month away, somehow!). My friend Haley who you may remember from adventures in Milan is in London for the next five days so I will be exploring a bit with her, I’m sure. Tomorrow we’re going to see a match between Fulham FC and Stoke City FC — if you’re in the States, you can watch live on ESPN2 at 7:30 am! (I’m sure this offer appeals to many of you…)

A fro-yo place in South Kensington — Harry Potter readers will understand the meaning

A fro-yo place in South Kensington — Harry Potter readers will understand the meaning

All for now.

A sad week and two days in Parliament

Hello, all. This has been quite a difficult week for me and my family. After a sudden recurrence of cancer, my grandmother passed away this morning. She was 79.

I am returning to the United States tomorrow, assuming the non-intervention of this enormous blizzard, to be with my family. Being across the ocean as this sad situation played out over the last week was very difficult, but I’m sure it has been much tougher on my mom and her family. She is at peace now, and we can take some comfort in that.

Amidst this chaos I did do a few Britishy things. Specifically, I visited Parliament on two consecutive days — Tuesday with my London Architecture class and Wednesday with my History of Parliament class. This was actually kind of neat, as we got two different takes on the same material (my history professor helpfully muttering to all of us after each cute story from the tour guide that its contents were “complete nonsense”). On Tuesday they were debating the gay marriage bill in the House of Commons, which we couldn’t see but was still very cool to be near. We were also taken up on the roof which presented some spectacular and rarely-seen views of Big Ben.

Big Ben up close and personal

Big Ben up close and personal

The second tour gave us the chance to enter both the House of Lords (very ornate) and the House of Commons (much less so). Neither room has the capacity to seat the entire house (only about 450 of the 650 MPs could squeeze into the Commons if necessary) and so we actually encountered an MP putting her name on a seat for the Prime Minister’s Questions that would take place later that day. The entrance to the Commons chamber is guarded by a spectacular statue of Churchill — hands on hips, gut sticking out — but sadly no pictures were allowed past Westminster Hall (the oldest part of Parliament, constructed by William II around 1090 and the location of the trial of Charles I, among others).

Another roof shot.

Another roof shot

Wednesday afternoon I visited the British Museum for the first time, partly because I will be writing about it for my London Architecture class. I had forgotten just how much I loved ancient Egypt as a kid (and apparently I still do), spending about an hour in that section and another hour with the ancient Greeks. Cool to see the Elgin Marbles, which were accompanied by helpful leaflets from the museum explaining why there is no way in hell the Brits are giving them back to the Greeks. I also met this fun statue of the Egyptian falcon god Horus, who I am now convinced is my spirit animal.

The Pharaohs were said to be Horus in human form, so if anyone would like to make me King of Egypt I can submit this photograph as evidence

The Pharaohs were said to be Horus in human form, so if anyone would like to make me King of Egypt I can submit this photograph as evidence

Anyway, I think that’s all for now. I just got back from venturing out to see Silver Linings Playbook — the only serious Oscar contender other than Argo that I have yet to see — so perhaps I will report soon on the strangeness of English cinema. Otherwise, a bit of packing and journey planning tonight. Tomorrow I will be flying to Philadelphia on British Airways and will be back in America for a week, which will be very strange in its own right. I am looking forward to being home and seeing my family again.

Cardiff, the Borough Market, and Sutton United

It’s hard to believe, but I’ve already been in England for a month! What better way to celebrate then by leaving it? The highlight of the last week was my day trip to Cardiff, Wales on Friday — but let’s take things in chronological order.

  • On Wednesday afternoon I went to the National Portrait Gallery, which was excellent. Have you ever looked at a history textbook? Well, if there’s a picture of a historic figure from England, the source is almost certainly a painting that hangs in this Gallery. It’s a fascinating collection of five hundred years of changes in government and, perhaps more importantly, fashion. (Ruffs have gone out of style, I think, which is too bad for Queen Elizabeth I.) I also attended a UCL basketball game in the evening, which is the topic of my Columbia Spectator column today.

The Brits are totally on top of this "Super Bowl."

The Brits are totally on top of this “Super Bowl.”

  • Thursday saw a trip to the “Borough Market” on the recommendation of my Aunt Diane. Located south of the Thames, near the London Bridge and the brand-new Shard tower, the market is a collection of all different types of butchers (dead animals hanging everywhere), bakers, jam-makers (elderflower and gooseberry, anyone?), fresh produce, cookies and candy, wine (incl. chocolate wine which was odd), and much more. I had a lamb-burger and mulled cider for lunch, but really just enjoyed the atmosphere — this is clearly a popular spot among Londoners. 

oooooh jam

oooooh jam

  • I rose early on Friday to head to Cardiff, an easy two-hour journey west by train from London’s Paddington Station. It was a beautiful day in Wales, which it must be said looks exactly like England only with marginally more sun. At least, that was my impression of Cardiff. The most jarring difference is that there is a bunch of gibberish written below all of the usual English signs in the town, which I take it is Welsh. Welsh looks like nonsense words and sounds like it also — I didn’t hear anyone speaking it on the street, but some of the videos in museums were bilingual, and Welsh sounded like someone hacking up a lung. 

what is this nonsense

what is this nonsense

  • The primary destinations on the day were three museums. The first was the National Museum of Wales, which featured some Welsh painting (underwhelming) and artifacts (fascinating) — there were also some paintings by Monet which were quite beautiful. I visited “The Cardiff Story,” a small museum tracing the history of Cardiff from a relatively small and worthless city to the capital of Wales. Very modern and interactive. But the best was Cardiff Castle (Castell Caerdydd) where I spent over two hours. Audioguides are a great invention — I slowly paced around the grounds, which include walls reconstructed on the site of old Roman fortifications, a Norman “keep” dating back to the 12th century, and a Victorian manor house constructed by one of the rich owners of the property. There was also a museum of the history of the Welsh soldier, where the Welsh guide deduced I was from “the States” and subsequently proudly pointed to a regimental banner the Welsh stole captured during the War of 1812. 

Steep hill + moat + archers = this would be difficult to capture, I reckon

Steep hill + moat + archers = this would be difficult to capture, I reckon

  • By this point, it was 5:30 and getting dark, and I decided to walk about thirty minutes from the city center to Cardiff Bay. This was a bad idea, as it almost immediately started raining and made me an extremely unhappy camper. I checked out the Senedd (the seat of the Welsh National Assembly), the “Dr. Who” experience (expensive and closed), and the new Millennium Centre concert hall (grand). I walked back to town, rain thankfully completed, and enjoyed a wild boar burger at a British joint called Gourmet Burger Kitchen (like Shake Shack, sort of). I ambled about for a little while longer — lots of people were out and about, as the next day would be the kick-off match of the rugby union “Six Nations” tournament and the streets were filled with pregaming Welsh and Irish. (One bonus point if you can name the other four nations!) I was back in my room in London by 12:30 am, exhausted but glad to have made the effort.

Cultural understanding

Cultural understanding

Facade of the Millennium Centre

Facade of the Millennium Centre

  • The next morning I headed back out to Sutton to get lunch with my Aunt Joan. We were joined by her friend Elizabeth — despite the distinct age gap between me and the rest of the party, it was quite a fun time. We went to a restaurant at Epsom Downs (a racetrack) which I had been to with Joan and my family in 2010. The food remained tasty and I tried a “shandy,” a drink that is about half beer and half carbonated lemonade.

Joan and I

Joan and I

  • Following lunch, I went to watch Sutton United F.C. play some soccer football. Sutton plays in the sixth division of the English league system; they are the approximate equivalent of a low-A or fall league baseball team. The pitch was little more than a muddy field — I was told that they had had several games postponed due to the field quality — with a stand on one side and something resembling a long dugout on the other side. The advantage, of course, is that I could hear literally everything going on on the field, and it was interesting to watch a real neighborhood team in action. I bought a yellow-and-brown scarf in the club shop; in the course of the exchange it was again deduced that I was “not from this country” but this and the minor faux pas of wearing an Arsenal hat while talking to a Tottenham supporter did not diminish their hospitality. And despite the cold I stuck it out until the end, Sutton scoring from a penalty kick (42′) and from a corner (85′?) to outlast Eastleigh (who scored a pointless goal in the 90+5′) – 2 to 1.

Sunset over the main stand

Sunset over the main stand

That’s more or less all for now. I had my first coursework due today and was up late writing it. Only two more days of class this week and then, somehow, I’m halfway done with my courses here?! I don’t have any class next week for reading week so Wednesday commences an eleven-day break. A good time to explore. I’m thinking of all of you back at home.