Friday, March 25, 2011

Further irish adventures

If the first travel disaster of the trip was Tilly’s flight being delayed so that she arrived on Christmas Day, when there happens, absurdly, to be no public transport in London (even Wollongong has Christmas Day public transport) so that she had to pay seventy pounds for a cab to where we were staying (‘Some things that happened in london’); and the second was when our train from Edinburgh to Newcastle was about to depart and we couldn’t find the place to print our tickets so we had to buy more on the train (‘English hospitality and castle tours’), then my journey to Ireland for my best friend Charlene’s birthday was certainly the third, and the worst yet.

Let me set the scene. It’s Wednesday and I have an assessment due at three in the afternoon and a train to London at three-thirty. I skip my class in the morning in order to finish it and hand it in with plenty of time to print it out, submit it, pack for Ireland, print out my Ryanair boarding pass, and pick up my train tickets which I’d had delivered to the university for my convenience. I finish my assignment and go to print it out, but the university printer network is temporarily down. That’s okay, I think, I have so much else to do that I can come back in two hours when it’s back up again. I ask the guy at the front desk in the library if he knows anything about when they will be back up, and he replies that I’ll have to go and see the IT Helpdesk; he knows nothing about it. That’s RIDICULOUS. The line for the IT Helpdesk is twenty-people long. As IF the Helpdesk wouldn’t be in communication with the MAIN RECEPTION so they could answer that question.

Anyway, then I head to the post room, where I’ve never been before. I give the man my student card and ask if there’s any mail for me. There isn’t. Huh, I think ... Odd. They should’ve arrived like, yesterday. Then I remember that we paid for the tickets on Tilly’s credit card, so they might have been delivered under her name but to my address, because I definitely put my address on there. I call Tilly because they probably won’t give something addressed to her to me. She doesn’t answer. I call her a further twenty-eight times. She doesn’t answer. Since there’s nothing else to be done, I head back home to pack my bag and write a plaintive status update, which Tilly sees and calls me.

We meet back up again at the mail room and she sees if she has any mail under my address. She doesn’t. I decide to call the train company and tell them my tickets haven’t been delivered, but I’m in the middle of uni with none of my details or reference numbers so the guy isn’t very helpful, and I end up running out of credit halfway through anyway. I buy more credit and call from my room. He insists that they have been delivered. I return to the mail room once again with Tilly and this time we try her address and her name, in case they saw her name addressed to the wrong flat and put the mail in the right one. There's no mail for her at her address either. By this time they’ve seen me three times in like, two hours, and I just decide to explain the whole situation. Then he informs me that for registered mail it’s my responsibility to check a separate list. HOW WAS I SUPPOSED TO KNOW!?

Anyway, the tickets are there but it’s now quarter to three and my assignment still isn’t printed. We go to the computer labs in case the printers are working there, but they’re not. I decide it’s best to just go to the English Lit office and ask them what to do, since no one else must be able to print their assignments either. On the way I call a taxi to arrive at three to take me to the train station, but the lady on the phone says I’ll want it now if I’m going to make it through traffic by three-thirty. This means I have to bolt to the office because the taxi is on its way. When I get there, the receptionist tells me the Library has been taking down people’s details and saving their documents to be printed and collected later, with notes explaining why they’re late. But this doesn’t help me because I have to leave NOW. As a sign that the universe still loves me, my lecturer for that subject somehow happened to be outside the office photocopying things at that exact moment, and I flustered at her until she agreed to accept my assignment by email, thank GOD.

I then RUSH to the place I’d arrived for the taxi to come to, and despite all that, I miss my train by a minute. I thought I was screwed but I hadn’t counted on the politeness of the English. I explained my situation and the lady at the desk gave me a free ticket. Bizarre. That would never happen in Australia. If you miss your train you miss your train. Harden up. Drink some concrete. Rub some dirt in it.

Anyway, from here on out things settled down and started working out for me. Little did I know my good luck wasn’t to continue, but more on that later.

The only thing I was really worried about at this point was that I hadn’t printed my Ryanair boarding pass, an offense for which they make you a pay forty pound fee. I somehow needed to find a place when I got to London where I could access the internet and print it out – but at six o’clock at night? I couldn’t even do that in Sydney, let alone a city I had no idea about. My first objective was to find a cafe that had free wireless, which was surprisingly difficult. A calm had fallen over me, however, because of the way everything had worked out with the previous disaster. I felt at one with the universe (haha), and was enjoying the experience of being alone in London on an adventure.

When I emerged from the Underground, there was a man standing there with a megaphone saying things like, ‘Do not ask questions like “Who created God?” Leave these to the theologians ... Please carry on towards your next material purchase’ etc. It was really entertaining and he had a bit of a crowd around him. I recorded some footage of suspect quality on my iPod:

video
 
I eventually found a Pret cafe (which I really love: they’re really quirky and they’re either genuine or canny in their environmentally friendly marketing) that had free internet, and googled ‘printing internet access London’. I found a nearby internet cafe and navigated my way to it slowly. I think it was called the Galaxy Internet Cafe or something, and there was some pretty cool street art around:





On the way back I came across these kind of art exhibition things and nearly went past, but then I made myself go in and have a look and start a conversation with someone. I did it, but once again I didn't account for the differeing national character. Where the English politeness had helped me before, I now ran afoul of Londoner standoffishness. Pretty sure if someone who was obviously a backpacker came up and started to have a conversation  with someone in Australia they’d be up for it, but they seemed kind of weird about being approached. Still glad I made myself do it though.



 I stayed that night in Stansted because my flight the next morning was really early – like, five or something.  Somehow, because I’d been staying up so late recently, I thought it would be a good idea to stay up all night because it'd be easier than making myself go to sleep early. This was a plan doomed from its outset. I ended up having an hour of sleep and desperately wanting more.

And now, the sad conclusion of my bad luck: I arrived in Cork, met Charlene at the airport and instantly began talking the way we do. While doing so I wandered around taking photos haplessly, not realising what I’d done. I’d lost my wallet.

 Those last moments of innocent joy ...

Obviously I went all around the airport talking to people but to no avail. And I got really pissed off because of the dismissive way the staff on the whole treated me. It just wouldn’t happen in Australia. They wouldn’t just say ‘Sorry, nothing’s been reported’ – they’d suggest what you should do next, who you should talk to, where you could leave your phone number. So frustrating! Service is so bad on this side of the world!

Anyway, that was a really crap way to start my trip in Cork. But I got over it eventually. It was the credit cards I was most worried about, and they’re all sorted now. I lost about a hundred Euro, but that was the worst of it. In those last minutes before I realised I’d lost my wallet I took the picture below of a crow sitting on a sign, but as I took it, it flew off, which augured my bad luck ‘flying off’ because after that I was all good.


Losing my wallet though, did force a temporary stop to my travelling giving campaign. Right before I left I watched an interview with Australian philosopher Peter Singer, where he talked about his aim to change the culture of giving so that donation was an ordinary thing – something which you would expect any decent person to do. You could meet people, conceivably, and casually say, ‘Oh, so who do you donate to?’ I really like this idea, but if I’m going to donate to one organisation I want to do my research and work out which cause suits me, which one I really want to give my money to, and I haven’t done that yet. I can’t really explain it, I suspect because it doesn’t make sense, but I feel a kind of guilt being in someone else’s country and being better off than them. Here I am, a visitor, a traveller in London and there’s a homeless man whose country this is, and I’m better off than him. I just made a promise to myself that, while travelling, I would give something to everyone who asked it of me – even if it’s just always the smallest coin in my pocket (although I think giving single pennies away is more insulting than anything else). I know it’s irrational, but I don’t think giving can really be a bad thing, so I’m happy to keep doing it. It’s either homeless people, charity workers, or buskers, so the money’s never going somewhere it shouldn’t.

Anyway, onto actual Cork. This was my second visit, and Charlz and I basically fell into our old habit of waking up late, wandering around the city, going somewhere for breakfast, then spending the day until dinner in a cafe somewhere drinking coffees and hot chocolates. I’ve really missed our seven-hour conversation marathons in Gloria Jean’s back home, so we had to take advantage of the time we had. It’s hard spending so much time in cafes, though, because they don’t really have the flat white over here, and back home it’s the standard staple caffeinated drink. Without my flat whites I don’t know what to order. Lattes are pretty close, but they come in big effeminate glasses and I feel like an idiot. And cappuccinos? Eh, I don’t really like froth. Luckily, I think the flat white is starting to take hold. I’ve seen it on a few menus with a ‘New!’ sticker next to it, such as at Eat in London. They had it in the Cork Costa, but it was obviously really new and they were trying to fan the flame of its success. They had a deal where you could try it and if you didn’t like it you could have your regular coffee free, but they wouldn’t let you have it in any greater quantity than a small because of the risk, haha.

 Cafe dwelling.

  Beautiful Cork.

While I was staying with Charlz, her friends Robert and Lydia who you may recognise from my ‘beating’ photos followed up on the success of their previous short film starring Charlene, ‘Yay or Neigh’, by including her in a new short scene for another project. Here’s my behind-the-scenes shots:




 
One evening I decided to prepare Charlene for the dazzling life of stardom she was destined to having starred in this role by using my amateur photography skillz to transform myself into a paparazzi stalker:





This time I made a point of taking a photo of Mr Connolly’s bookshop. Lonely Planet has named him as an integral part of Cork’s culture, and he’s a very interesting man. He resents being turned into a tourist attraction, and while I was talking to him (because Charlene knows him) he told someone off for trying to take a photo of him without his permission. I was therefore a bit apprehensive about taking this photo, in case he thought that’s what I was doing, but I got away without getting in trouble.

 That's James Joyce out the front, there.

On Charlene’s actual birthday we followed much the same routine as usual, going to Puccino’s and stuff.



 Entertaining nonsensical tryhard sachets.

A disappointing iced coffee - the Europeans just don't get it.

 Birthday girl.

We also went out to dinner, though, at Charlene’s favourite restaurant, Scoozi’s, where I gave a brief speech in an attempt to embarrass her.

 Antics.

I’ll sign off with a transcript of the speech, for those of you interested/who know Charlene:

'Well, Charlene thought she was going to get out of this, I’m sure, by fleeing to Ireland. She thought she could escape the horrifying embarrassment of a 21st speech and start a new life in the magical hills of Ireland, where none of you would ever discover the embrrasing secrets of her past – well she thought WRONG, JEFF!* Because I’ve pursued her here for specifically that purpose!

I’ve been to a lot of 21sts lately and I guess my goal for this speech is not to be that annoying old friend who spends 20 minutes talking about in-jokes that nobody else gets, but sorry if that’s what I do. It’s hard to avoid.

I guess I should start at the beginning. I met Charlene in 2002 in the first year of high school, where we kind of hated each other, really. Her first impression of me was that I was a lanky elf, which was okay, because I took one look at her and thought ‘Drama Queen’.

But it all changed the next year when  we found ourselves the only two people in our group to be moved up to the top class and had to spend time together. Oh sure, we spent half the time bickering like an old married couple, and whenever anyone insinuated that we liked each other, we’d say, ‘No! I HATE her!’, but behind all the name-calling and hatred was loooove, entirely platonic loooove.

Since the end of those early days, when we actually gained the ability to admit we were best friends, Charlene has always been the one person I could trust to tell ANYTHING and she would understand and never judge me. The dread of coffee shops the world over, we can always be trusted to have seven hour deep and meaningfuls over a single cup of coffee when we meet.

So here’s some things about Charlene that I’ve learned over my many years of observation.

She’s truly hardworking, and she never makes excuses*cough* I’m jetlagged, the wind blew it, the sun was in my eyes …

She’s incredibly trustworthy. I could always confide in her which girl I liked and she even formulated a code so we could talk about it without anybody else knowing. For example, the time I liked a girl called Amy Webb, Charlene came up with the name ‘Number Eight’ for her because eight is the number of legs a spider has, and a spider sits in a web. Of course, all our other friends wanted to work out who ‘number eight’ was. ‘Does her name rhyme with number eight?’ they asked. ‘Pfsh, no,' she laughed, ‘Number Eight doesn’t rhyme with Amy We-…’ My soul melted as she stood there in disbelief that she’d revealed the secret. I stamped on her foot, trying to snap her out of it so she’d say ‘Just kidding!’ or something, ANYTHING!

She’s a shrewd old girl, our Charlene, with aphorisms and observations as diverse as her old saying ‘Things change, Luke; people change’ to the time we were watching a film and three quarters of the way in, her eyes screwed up in concentration, she said profoundly, ‘I think … it’s all going to come together somehow.'

I’m sure I don’t need to tell any of you how expressive and animated she is. But I think this is a marker of how she throws herself into everything, and everything she says she really feels. One of my favourite instances of this is as follows. We were sitting in class and I just grabbed her pen to quickly write something down. A minute later she looked over at me and grabbed the pen back of me in excitement. ‘Oh my God!' she said.  'My dad has the EXACT same pen as this! It’s EXACTLY the sa- Is this my pen?…’

But I think I’ll have to stop it there, otherwise I could go all night. But seriously, I’ve never met anyone as trustworthy, intelligent, hilarious and fun to be around as Charlene, and I envy you all for having stolen her from me. She’s extremely talented, and I’m sure she’ll succeed in her dramatic endeavours. After all, she is a big drama queen.'

*I probably should've mentioned this in the rest of the post, actually. I mentioned in 'University of east anglia: a crytoscopophiliac's dream' that I've been watching a lot of Survivor lately. Well during high school I'd been vaguely aware of this episode where one contestant FLIPPED OUT because some guy like, rubbed up against her naked on the show, and I always remembered her saying 'I was VIOLATED, I ... I was HUMILIATED!' so that whenever someone said they were 'humilated' or something similar, I'd recite that quote and kind of extend it with 'I was MUTILATED, I was GESTATED, I was ... CONCENTRATED!' Just before I came to Ireland I saw the actual episode in context. I don't want to make light of her feeling sexually harrassed, but the way she explodes at the host of the show, Jeff Probst is so vitriolic it kind of makes you laugh uncomfortably. I showed Charlene the video because she remembered me quoting it from high school, and for the rest of my stay we were constantly ending our sentences in 'JEFF!' (with the accompanying hand gesture) the way this contestant spits it at the end of hers. Jeff's just kind of standing there going, 'Sue, I-...' 'Okay, but-...' while she screams at him, 'I was violated, humiliated, dehumanised and totally spent, JEFF! It wasn't 'sorta', JEFF! 'Cause you ... 'Cause his back was to you, JEFF!'

My description doesn't really do it justice, so here's the short clip:



Tuesday, March 22, 2011

University of east anglia: a crytoscopophiliac's dream

You know what's not the most encouraging thing to hear every time you mention the name of the place you've elected to study abroad for six months of your life? 'Norwich, eh? That's - that's really ... out of the way. Why would you want to go to Norwich?' For months, I heard this from everyone - from family in Newcastle to the attendant at the ticket gate in London. Thankfully, their comments were misguided. Norwich is great.

And how could it not be? It comes with the Stephen Fry seal of approval. Apparently he's obssessed with Norwich. Here's what he has to say about it:

'Norwich is a fine city. None finer. If there is another city in the United Kingdom with a school of painters named after it, a matchless modern art gallery, a university with a reputation for literary excellence which can boast Booker Prize-winning alumni, one of the grandest Romanesque cathedrals in the world, and an extraordinary new state-of-the-art library then I have yet to hear of it.'

And I'm pretty impressed with the University of East Anglia as well. 

Our first night, we arrived and almost immediately wanted to just settle into our respective rooms, which I speculate is the result of a month of itineracy. 


 My room, with all the documentation required to go on exchange.


I'm on the top floor of Norfolk Terrace B Block, and Til's across the field from me on the bottom floor of Suffolk Terrace B Block. It's kind of cool - I can see into her kitchen from mine because UEA is made exclusively of windows and concrete. The windows are pretty; the concrete notsomuch, but apparently all the buildings have been listed and they're not allowed to change them.  I think that's okay, though, because the buildings are so distinctive. Norfolk Terrace was just used on the cover of the new Streets album: 


Image from http://1.bp.blogspot.com/


The windows come in handy - I can climb through Til's when I want to visit. That admittedly isn't very often because Til lives with four other girls and about seven guys, all of whom are around eighteen, so her kitchen is generally pretty hilariously filthy, meaning we cook and eat at mine a lot more.


Told you they come in handy.


The first couple of days we were a bit too cool for any of the orientation activities. Don't know why. I guess we thought buying essentials like soap and towels and food in town was more important than a scavenger hunt after six hours of orientation speeches from every official in the damn bureaucracy of the university (not a slight against UEA; all unis do it). We did however go to Zest that first night, which is kind of like a UEA equivalent to Fuel Silo (which I hear is now just called 'Fuel' - ridiculous). They have three or four ready-made meal options every day which are usually pretty good quality, and you can get a drink and a soup or dessert for five pounds. In fact, we're going there tonight. As well as the scavenger hunt, we missed the guided tour of the university, which bit me in the butt later when I had no idea where any of my classes were. But we've taken the initiative to explore it a few times ourselves:










These excursions were necessitated by the beauty of the campus, as you can see above (I think it's quite similar to UOW's - lots of space and fields; apparently it was once a golf course), but also by the absurd timetabling system instituted by the uni this semester, which everyone seems to be up in arms about. No classes have stable rooms, but have to move around the campus to different rooms every week. Everyone hates it, but as a visiting student it does give me more of a chance to see the uni.

Every Friday morning there's a fire alarm test, which is usually really rough 'cause I have a four-day weekend that starts Thursday and I'm usually still asleep. The first week it happened we didn't know what was going on, and Barbara, another exchange student, and I had a hesitant conversation in the hallway about whether we were supposed to evacuate or not. No one else seemed to be emerging from their rooms, so we gathered this was normal and I went back to bed. Then there's also our lovely cleaner Debbie who comes in every morning to collect my bin. She really likes our flat and doesn't report us when our kitchen is messy, I think because they endeared themselves to her last semester with the help of a clean-freak Australian who was on exchange but has since left. She's really funny and, as my flatmates say, 'proper Norfolk', which means I sometimes can't understand her. She also mops the carpet because the vaccuum ('hoover') doesn't reach down the end of the hallway, which I find hysterical.

In the first half of semester I think I was drinking nearly every day ... Everybody always wanted to go to the pub, and there were flat parties every night, and lots of clubs to try out in town. For a while our nights would follow a general pattern of going to the  campus bar or someone's apartment for predrinks, then going to the trashy on-campus club, the 'LCR' (no idea what that stands for) or a flat party and meeting someone who would invite a small group of people back to their flat to continue partying. Once this resulted in being in some guy's room with four or five other people next to a gigantic pile of prescription drugs. That was weird. I think we were partying so much at first because only international students and first years really live on campus at UEA, and both of those groups are prone to drink quite a lot. Unfortunately though, Suffolk terrace, 'the party block' got banned from having any parties this semester, just after we'd been told how legendary the parties of Tilly's flat were.


At LCR - photo by Kelia

And as testament to the trashiness of the LCR, there's this Facebook group called 'Get a Room', where people take photos of themselves with other people hooking up in the background. We contributed some ourselves:




The LCR has themed nights every week, and on pirate night our local Creative Writing friends introduced us to 'death punch', a radioactive green poison comprised of great quantities of vodka, energy drink and mixers, that makes you pretty hypo. Luckily I only sampled - Rob, Sam and George on the other hand, had a pretty messy night:






When we returned to the flat we went MATTRESS SURFING for the first time, which is obviously SO FUN:


Picture by Kate



But while they love their death punch over here, they don't drink goon ... Thankfully there's one brand of cheap cask wine stocked in the UFO (Union Food Outlet), although it's a paltry three litres as opposed to the mighty five-litre juggernaut that is Berri Estates Fruity White. My American friend Sam and I brought a box to our other friend Kim's house and she actually tried to pierce the sack with a knife because she was so unfamiliar with the concept. What do impoverished students drink if not a good old goon sunrise!?

We've been going to Kim's a lot to watch Dollhouse and Diehard and, on Pancake Day, eat pancakes, which has been great. We've also been to see her boyfriend's band, Late Arrivals Club, play a few gigs, and seen her reading poetry one night too. 


Photo by Kim Sherwood

 Walking those pretty Norwich streets.
 Late Arrivals Club at the Cinema City Bar.
 Scrabble before the Late Arrivals Club gig at the Bicycle Shop.
 Finding a wizard at Frank's.
 The three ghosts of Checked Church (when we realised we were coincidentally all wearing the same pattern).


I met Kim one day after class when she, Sam and I happened to be the last three people in the room and got to talking about Joss Whedon, after which she invited us over to watch the abovementioned Dollhouse. The three of us, sometimes on our own and sometimes with other creative writers, frequently have discussions that go until ridiculous hours of the morning, solving all of the world's ills through debate. It's very satisfying. The other night we stayed till six in the morning, despite having class at eleven.


All this socialising has resulted in my perfection of my hangover breakfast - freezing cold iced mocha, freezing cold apple juice, and bacon, egg, cheese, barbecue sauce, tomato sauce, butter, and freshly ground salt and pepper on chewy white rolls. Oh God.





I've been fairly disappointed with the food in Britain so far. I didn't know it was renowned for bad food, but it certainly does live up to that reputation. It's not TERRIBLE, it's just of a noticeably different standard to home. I think I might've expected it to be better than ours due to that inferiority complex of Australia's I mentioned in 'Impressions of the emerald isle'. I have had one amazing meal, though, on Valentine's Day in the Library Bar and Restaurant. GOD, that was good!:






Another exception to the crap food rule was the amazing roast we had the other night at Rob's house. I guess it doesn't apply to home cooked food. I also have to mention Norfolk Apple Juice, of which I drank over a litre in fifteen minutes the other night because it is SO GOOD. But other than my own hangover breakfasts, (and even their bacon is weird and spongey), the Library, the apple juice and also pasties, which are amazing, there's little to get excited about culinarily - at least not in my experience. Service in restaurants and shops is really bad as well. I miss the friendly Australian waiters who come over just to check if everything's all right and if you want more water or anything. I'm REALLY missing Asian bakeries; the English just do not know how to make good bread, or even seem to want to. Barbara hates it as well, and when her boyfriend visited from Austria, she got him to bring some proper bread from home, and we had a little celebration in the kitchen:







As for UK life in general, outside of food, I'm generally loving it. I love that everyone reminds me of characters from Skins or The Inbetweeners. I love the words they use for parts of their houses that we don't (loft, larder, landing, conservatory). I'm really going to miss never being hot, never having to worry that the bit of blanket brushing your leg in the middle of the night is a deadly spider (many times I've flinched, then thought 'Oh wait, it's England, nothing can kill you here'), and not having to seal or Gladwrap any food to keep it from cockroaches.

This is the worst I've seen so far - no harm from this guy.

Some observations on the British character:
  • Everything you've heard about tea consumption and politeness is true.
  • They're AWFUL at giving directions. Literally every single person we've asked has given us a massive spiel detailing every possible route with any additional information they can think of. I've never seen a trait so present in every member of any society. And the way they do it is by mentioning landmarks along the way that are just confusing because you don't know the area anyway: 'You'll come up on the fish and chip shop, keep going past that until you get to the paper shop and turn right, then look out for the post office on the right etc etc'.
  • They say things like 'To be fair' and 'In fairness' on the front of all their sentences, regardless of whether or not it makes sense, and Til and I have found ourselves picking up this and other habits of British emphasis and rhythm in speech.  
  • They're a bit morbid in weird ways. One really strange example is calling 'op shops' 'hospice shops'. Why would you want to make explicit the link between the secondhand clothes you're buying and the recently dead person who used to own them? Just weird ...

  • It's really strange to me how they don't have a way. You know how in Australia there’s a way you walk when someone is coming towards you, i.e. left. You always keep left. You drive on the left and walk on the left and if you’re on the right you’re wrong and you have to move left to let the person coming towards you past. Well here they don’t have a way. They drive on the left, but all their tube signs say keep right, but in everyday life they just go whichever way. Apparently, Gilly tells me, this has given rise to a cheesy joke of a man saying, ‘Shall we dance?’ when that awkward thing happens where you both move the same way to let each other past.
  • And finally, they really love their trashy crap. Nowhere is this more apparent than in their general taste in music and TV. They're definitely not yet over the boy band or the gameshow. I'm starting to think they don't have any good quality television. Their favourite programs consist entirely of those trashy shows that you guiltily enjoy but only permit yourself to watch one of because otherwise your brain will euthanise itself. These include such stunning televisual works of genius as X Factor, which is almost universally talked about; Sun, Sex and Suspicious Parents, where rowdy teenagers are sent on vacation and voyeuristically spied upon by their parents; My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding (what else is there to say?); Take Me Out, which only ran for about six weeks in Australia before being kicked to afternoon TV, The Weakest Link, which finished, what, TEN YEARS AGO, back home?; and, of course, Hollyoaks and Neighbours.
The untaxing timetable at UEA has allowed us to do work, socialise, be tourists, and yet still have our share of indulgent lazy days, most notably the time we bought a tub of Ben and Jerry's ice cream and added chocolate bits and Nutella. The internet is also irresistably fast over here, which means I'm now up to season 14 of Survivor. I went without internet access in my room for about a month when I first arrived because the instructions explicitly stated to plug the cable into the 'data' socket, not the 'voice' socket, and it took me that long to just try the latter, which, of course, worked immediately. Luckily there's some mysterious wireless network called 'Bryan's Guest network' which we're not supposed to be able to access but which we can from our kitchen because our flat somehow has the password.

But back to the lax timetable (eight hours a week). It's really different academically here. That four-day weekend I mentioned has done wonders for my sleeping pattern, NOT, but that might make life easier transitioning to the late-night lifestyle of Europe, when we go over there, and then also with jetlag when we come home. The quality of teaching here, I think, is largely on par with UOW, but the style of teaching I'm less keen on. It's really self-directed, and there's this attitude of, 'By third year, we've taught you all we can and now it's up to you', which I find laughable because there's ALWAYS something more to be taught. And you know, you pay a lot of money to get taught at uni, not to just do your own independent work. I also have to say I was expecting a higher quality of writing from my third-year Creative Writing class, just because of the university's reputation in Literature and Creative Writing, but I have to say it's largely no better, if not worse, than the standard at home. I think it's because they don't have a full degree in Writing here like they do at home, so they necessarily can't devote as much time to honing the craft as you can at UOW. I think the Masters program is the one that might deserve its reputation. 

But if the quality of writing coming out of the undergraduate program isn't extremely high, the attitude to the arts and study is much better here. There's a real culture of appreciating literature and art that just doesn't exist back home, where you often feel embarrassed saying you're studying Arts or Creative Arts. Never in my life have I met so many impassioned people, had so many amazing philosophical/religious/political conversations with truly intellectual people. I think at home we cringe if we talk too much about that stuff, or we worry people will think we're wankers.

Early on in the semester we got a visit from Gilly and Elisa, which was great fun. It was our first real exploration of Norwich, and we got totally lost despite Brian Blessed's GPS contributions. I'm still not quite sure what went wrong, but I think it came down to not taking note of which carpark in which shopping centre we parked in. The visit was cut short, though, by Gilly's need to renovate her house and by Elisa's thinking that her flight was two days earlier than it actually was, which you can read about here.


That about sums up my experience of living on campus in the UK so far. I thought I'd leave you with this striking image of me on an aptly named street in Norwich: