Thursday, 28 April 2011

Fabulous Things About America: Part 1

I know I packed my camera cord, but I have no idea where I packed it. Perhaps, it is in with the presents for the nieces and nephews. I hope that I didn't leave it with the socks that I couldn't find and therefore did not pack. When the camera cord turns up, I'll post some photos for you.

I spent a long time last night trying to find the light switch in my sister's bathroom. Or rather I looked at the wall outside the bathroom for ages and waved my hand around in the doorway looking for a pull switch. I finally gave up and felt my way to the toilet. This morning it dawned on me that the switch was on the inside of the bathroom next to the door.

More importantly, I was greeted at the door by the smell of banana bread. I ate it with lashings of butter. No one called it cake, and it was the very best welcome to America snack ever known to woman.

I hope you are all well. What else shall I eat while I'm here?

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

On the Way to London

I don't prepare for travel well. I'm fine for the actual traveling. It's the getting ready that knocks me for six.

The travel dreams always begin classically. The Greeks also dreamed that their Trojan horse was boarding, they'd forgotten to pack and had no idea what they'd done with their passports. For me one anxiety dream begets another. The other night I dreamed that both my parents had been murdered via the oh-so-likely vehicle of a car crash. In the dream one of my sisters and I had to set all to rights, but we couldn't figure out how given all of the hard grieving we were doing. The problem is that it sometimes takes me hours after a dream to sort out what is real from what is produced by the ether of mind. I spent the next morning trying to shake the dream. I kept reminding myself that there hadn't been a car crash, that there was no rush to sort out funeral plans, and that my parents were still alive. Except that last one isn't quite right. Mom's been dead for sixteen years now. It's that part of the travel dreams that I couldn't cope with this time around--the part where I think everything is as it should be only to remember it isn't.

I finally wrote a packing list last week and packed. It made the dreams stop; though, I've had to repack since then. It's odd what I thought I needed until I realized that I didn't really want to carry it. Fair warning to the family: I washed ten pairs of socks. I can't find them now, so my feet will probably smell.

Thursday, 21 April 2011

There's An Election Acomin'

Posting of Elections, Guildhall, Bath

 It's election time here in the UK. Elections to the National Assembly are taking place in Wales. Northern Ireland will be electing officials to both the Northern Ireland Assembly and to local councils. Scotland will be electing members to the Scottish Parliament. Here in England the elections are local. You could think of it as elections to the city or town councils in the States. These are the people who decide such things as zoning, traffic patterns, rubbish collection, parking allocation, and rents on city-held properties. Folks here in Bath are far more aware of their local representatives than in any place I have lived in the U.S. Both the Lib Dems and the Conservatives are hoping for high turnouts across the UK because there is one more very important issue at stake. 

The British are being asked if they want to change the way they elect Ministers to Parliament. That's not quite true. They're being asked if they want to go from electing Ministers in a first-past-the post-system to an alternative vote system. In the current system (fptps) the party which receives the most votes in any constituency gets that constituency's seat in Parliament. Since this is a country of three major parties and many minor ones, a party that received 30% of the vote could feasibly take the seat. Under the proposed system, each voter would be allowed to rank the parties in order of their preference. The party with the least votes in round 1 would be dropped. Then second choices would be added to the first choices until one party had made up 50% of the vote. Confused? You can read more here. I have more luck explaining these two systems to Americans than I ever had the American system to the British. There's a reason for that. The British are very smart. They value their votes. They do not understand a system in which the whole country could vote for one candidate and another candidate could still end up in office.

 I did try to get a photo of a 'No' sign, but one can only point their camera at people's windows so many times before the locals get twitchy.

A bench outside Bath's Guildhall.

I'm off to the States in a few days. I wonder what I'll find there. In the meantime, I'm packing. I'll annotate my packing list for you.

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Fabulous Things About England # 30: Famous Landmarks

Solsbuy Hill of Peter Gabriel fame

 You know that Bath is famous because of Peter Gabriel, right? His recording studio is just around the corner in Box, Wiltshire. Box is, of course, less famous for housing Box Tunnel, which housed munitions and important people in WWII. More famous than Box Tunnel is Box Hill, which features prominently in Jane Austin's Emma. As famous as Austin has made Box Hill, Peter Gabriel made Solsbury Hill even more famous.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

In Which I Have To Think

A View of Bathford

Sarah has suggested that it might be good if bloggers defined what they hoped their blogs achieve. That sentence construction is very British. Sarah is English, and she managed to say it more bluntly, "I thought it would be so cool to read through a post that really defines what your blog is about." Signs that you've been in British academia too long: You believe in your own brilliance. You're offended at the idea that your teaching might be more important than your research. You cannot write in anything but the passive voice.

I suppose those problems of the cultural language of British Academia are how this blog began. I wanted a space in which I could share, sometimes bluntly, my life outside of British Academia. I love this country (defined both as the UK and England) for the life it offers me. I wanted to share that with the larger world.

When I began the blog, I saw three possible goals. I was working with international students from the US and Nigeria at the time. Every term, they would come in and give me a list of things they wished they had known before arriving in the country. I hoped here to share some of those things with students and others who were coming into the country. I wanted to move beyond that to share those Fabulous Things About England that keep me here. Finally, I hoped to build a large enough reader base that might one day read a book I've written.

Local Race Horses

That last goal is no longer a way of defining this blog. Rather, the blog is one way of sharing an eclectic way of viewing the life I have here. It's a life that I love and value, and one that often frustrates me. When I began writing here, I did not tell my friends and family. Slowly I began to share it with all of the people who have joined me at important junctures in my life, and it has become a way of staying in touch with my community and making new friends. 

You can pop over to Sarah's to read more about the hows and whys of people's internet spaces. Just click the button below.

Monday, 11 April 2011

The Television Screen.

It's gorgeous outside. The sun has just dipped below the hills west of the house, so the fields below the are innumerable shades of green and the neighbors horses are gently grazing. I'm watching friends and thinking about everything that somehow must get done tomorrow. It isn't much really, but I'd like to finish the shawl I'm crocheting and that feels like a pleasure. As a child of protestant America, I'm not allowed to do the pleasurable until the work gets done. I'm likely to finish that shawl sometime next January--unless we're suddenly allowed crochet hooks on planes.

Sherry at Wherever She Goes  in Alaska has given up her family's home internet and television. They've not done it for the same reasons that so many essayists and editorialists seem inclined to mention. It isn't about saving her daughter from the red monster, nor is it about rejecting a modern way of life.  Rather Sherry and her husband would like to buy a house one day. Getting rid of the telly and the intermonster have done all of those other things for them, but it is also allowing another $100 a month to go towards that one-day home.

My current big purchase dreams are a sewing machine, a bed of my own, and dishes. It's difficult for me to remember that the Great British need to buy a home isn't part of my own experience or make-up. Culture here demands that one of a young person's goals should be to own a home. There are some good reasons for that that I may get to another day when I'm feeling brave. But it wasn't until I moved here that I ever thought that owning a home was important. I certainly didn't see renting as a problem, particularly since I didn't have children.

While I could now, given the right job in the right income bracket, afford a mortgage in the States, I carry a lot of student loan debt. Even at the height of the economic-ruination bonanza, I wouldn't have been able to get a mortgage for exactly that reason. So what money I do have to save goes in the sewing machine/new bed/dishes category. I'd happily give up the television for a sewing machine, but we don't pay for television. I can't give up the internet--I use it to do my job. And for me, there are many other negotiations involved.

When I moved into the flat, I only expected to be here for eighteen months. A year before moving in here, I'd given away or taken most of what I owned to the transfer station, left a few boxes with friends, and simply left some of it behind in the cabin. Giving those things up wasn't difficult; the reality of living out of two suitcases was. I no longer owned a bed or a chair, so I tried not think about who else had slept in the beds in my rentals. I tried to remember not to balance my coffee cups on a the couch cushions, and I was very careful not to obtain things I might want to keep. I did bring a skillet, a soup pot, cutlery, and bedding with me.

Back then, it made sense to move into a partially furnished house with a housemate who had enough kit to fill out most of it. Over time, my own belongings have begun to bulge from my room, off my bookshelf, and out of my cupboard. More than that though, I'm longing to make a home of my own. I don't want to need to apologize when I break a glass. I want to be able to put my headboard against any wall in the house rather than having to think about our shared wall, I want bowls that aren't blue. It all comes down to another desire--I want my life and decisions to stop being made on the basis of transience.

When I first moved into the flat, we didn't have a landline or internet. I did most of my work at the local or uni library, and I felt like I was allowed to watch telly when I got home. I did a three-year master's degree in the States. Inevitably, I had class on a Thursday night. For the following year and a half, I taught on a Thursday night. Those first six months of evenings in this flat were spent getting caught up on Friends two episodes at a time. I got into the habit (or back into the habit) of keeping the television on for the sake of noise and company.

It is looking increasingly like I am not going to find a job that pays enough to keep me in the country under the points based system. Still I need a job in addition to the teaching I do online to live out my UK visa days. As I said, the television isn't mine. I don't own it, and it sits in communal space. I'd like to see it gone because my own will-power isn't enough to keep me from turning it on and ignoring the things I need to be doing on the internet.

Sunday, 10 April 2011

Memorial Service for James

Early this month, I mentioned that a young man had gone missing from Bath. He was found early last week in the river Avon. His family and friends are in a lot of pain. They have planned a memorial service at Bath Abbey on Monday night. My thoughts are with his family and friends who lost him too young.
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