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:
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.
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.
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:
- 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.
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: