Monthly Archives: December 2008

Happy Christmas from afar

Regular readers of this blog will notice how atypically quiet it has been in the last week. Having nearly mastered my book project (all but the “outlook and conclusions” chapter) I took off without much warning and certainly without terribly much planning, heading “down under” in the middle of last week to be in Australia for Christmas/New Year. This is the perfect escape from the darkness and the weather of England–the opposite running of the seasons in the southern hemisphere means that the days are long, the light bright, so far the temperatures mild to warm, and thus for someone burned out from the dark, wet and cold, an absolutely gorgeous experience thus far. The trip is brutally long but the destination irresistible. I am just about getting over my jetlag and starting to just get ready to enjoy being here, so far aside from a few photos at the beach I have not been too ambitious about getting out and seeing things. It is slightly disconcerting for a girl from Minnesota, the land of the white Christmas, to see Christmas decorations everywhere, and hear carols playing, when the weather is so warm and there is no sign (or hope) of snow. I have seen such amusing kitsch as pictures of Santa in the sleigh being pulled by 8 kangaroos (with distinctly different names from the Dasher-Dancer set, such as Kylie!) and glittery decorations like dolphins balancing Christmas stars on their noses. Thus far internet access has not been brilliant, but I’ll do my best to update the world on my adventures, perhaps even photographs, if I can get the blasted internet working on my laptop (I’ve borrowed one at the moment, there is some WEP key fault preventing me from using my own). In the meantime, Happy Christmas to all!

Nearly done

I have been buried in editing a book (sorry, a technical work, nothing interesting about life as an American in England!) for the last few weeks. So it was very amusing to me to become aware of this: (warning, contains NSFW language)

So after editing more than 300 pages of technical text, not all of it written by native speakers of English, in answer to the question, “Who gives a f*** about an Oxford comma?” I say, well, I most certainly do!

Oh the indignity

The scene: I’m in my office on a Saturday afternoon, getting on towards evening. I’m wearing Saturday clothes: faded blue jeans with a hole in one knee, that really needed a belt to stay in place, a gray t-shirt with a green LLBean fleece with a toothpaste stain on it. Hey, I’m living in borrowed accommodations, I didn’t have my full wardrobe at my disposal and truly didn’t plan on seeing anyone.

6 pm: I’m walking down the hallway towards my office, coming back from the lab. I run into a colleague. I address him, trying to be friendly.

Me: “hey, what are you doing here on a Saturday night?”

Him: “what are you doing here? (pauses) More importantly, what are you planning on doing the rest of the evening? I don’t suppose you have a 45 minute general interest seminar you could give for a group of 100 high school science teachers?”

Me: stunned silence. “Um, I can look, I’m really working hard tonight, trying to finish my book before the end of the year.”

Him: “I’m really desperate, the keynote speaker for tonight is really sick and we have no one to fill, you can come to the nice dinner afterwards…”

Me: “Um, okay, let me see what I have on my computer. Can you come by in ten minutes?”

Him: “How about 5? We’re really desperate here.”

Me: “Um, okay, let me see.”

6:10 pm. In my office, checking my computer. Colleague comes in.

Him: “Anything?”

Me: “yes, actually, I have something that might work, but I really was trying to get some work done tonight.”

Him: “Please, we need this so badly.”

Me: “Oh what the heck, I can try. I’m not sure about dinner though, I really should get some more work done.”

Him: “No problem, you can duck out after the talk. Oh, and do you have a laptop you can project from? We were expecting the speaker to bring one.”

Me: (relieved) “Yes, I have this (Asus Eee pc in my desk drawer) and can pdf the file to project”

Him: “Brilliant, let’s head there and get set up”

Me: “I’m really not dressed appropriately”

Him: “Oh, it’s casual, don’t worry.”

7:00 pm. I am introduced to a room full of science teachers who are expecting someone else, and a very different topic. I’m nervous as heck, not remembering the precise order of the slides since I didn’t have time to look through them. I do the best I can. Some of the assembled audience are in suits and ties (or dresses) and I’m still in my torn blue jeans and stained shirt.

7:55 pm. The talk is over, lots of questions have been asked, and I’ve probably gotten the strongest applause I’ve ever had from a talk (I’m feeling totally chuffed). I’m packing away the tiny and trusty machine. I’m swarmed with further comments and questions.

Him: “You’re coming to dinner, right? You can answer more questions then.”

Me: “Um, I guess.” (there is no real choice)

9:55 pm. The three course dinner is done, I’ve sat through it in my torn jeans and my toothpaste-stained fleece. I tell my host I really must be going.

Moral of the story 1: It does get worse than giving a seminar at MIT in your pajamas

Moral of the story 2: I was justified in buying a second Asus Eee pc (one for the office and one for home) because if I had not had this one in my office tonight, it would have been a disaster. (See me try to excuse my penchant for gadgetry…)

Moral of the story 3: If you’re called at the last moment (and make sure the audience knows it!) you are not actually persecuted for being dressed totally inappropriately at a work event.

Epilogue 1: The speaker who I was replacing was a very good friend of mine, and I knew he was ill as he had cancelled a meeting we had on Friday. So to him, get better soon!

Epilogue 2: Tomorrow is going to be damned busy trying to finish the things I was doing in my office at 6 pm when this whole adventure started!

Black tie bonanza

This has been a very strange week. I moved out of my flat and into what is essentially a hotel room–bed, desk and a tiny en suite bathroom, but no kitchen. I have thus been dining out, but in several very different forms. First of all, I am interested to note that the silverware at Pizza Express is also by Robert Welch–I was there a few nights ago for a quite bite and realized the forks looked remarkably familiar. I had no idea how popular he was when I bought my new table settings!

The odder part of the week, though, was the convergence of two black-tie dinners in less than a week’s time–last Saturday night and last night (Friday). I never went to black tie dinners in the states, and this is actually not the first time since moving to the UK that I’ve done two in one week. I have an entire section of my wardrobe devoted to clothes-that-I-never-would-have-owned-in-the-US, mostly ankle-length skirts and dresses. The winter ones are my favorite, actually, because I can wear velvet. Green velvet last Saturday, and deep garnet red velvet last night. Very festive. As usual, though, the vegetarian entree was underwhelming. This is something that really dominates my work functions, the fact that there is such poor veggie food. I don’t really understand what’s so difficult about realizing that replacing meat and gravy with a pile of vegetables and tomato sauce is not actually nutritionally equivalent–unless the vegetables are legumes (they never are) there is no protein in this combination! And as a long time vegetarian/now-pescetarian, I cringe whenever I see tomato sauce on my plate. I’m just tired of it, could live quite happily without ever seeing it again!

And now back to work. This week has been all about trying to finish a huge project of nearly two years’ duration, so I can not worry about it over Christmas. Wish me luck!

Not so bad in transit

I have been forced to move out of my flat whilst fire-hazard upgrades continue. Today was the first real day of this–I thought it just affected my sleeping patterns, but when I arrived home this evening post-work at about 8 pm, I discovered that the places in my flat which used to house (fire or smoke) alarm units now had bare wires hanging from the ceiling. I packed up a few bags with miscellaneous toiletries and clothes for tomorrow, and headed out to my temporary accommodations. I was delighted to find that my non-permanent digs had a shower, not to mention a single tap with temperature controls on the primary bathroom sink. Sure, I’ve lost my kitchen and washing machine for the foreseeable future, but I’ve gained a bit of almost American-style civilized temporary digs. Of course, I now have hotel-style instant British coffee instead of espresso. But in spite of this, they will have to work hard to pull me back into the land of the bath and the two-tap sinks!


I was washing my dishes this morning when something caught my eye on the bottom of a pasta bowl. The brand name was “Churchill” and the logo also said “Made in Staffordshire, England.” It only took one try on Google to find the company, the lion logo is the same as on my bowls. What amused me about all of this is the provenance of those dishes: I’m pretty sure they were purchased at the Pier 1 in Maple Grove, MN. Google maps tells me that I am only about 120 miles from Staffordshire now. Which means those dishes, which cost a few dollars each, have travelled over 8,000 miles in their lifetime, on a roundtrip journey from England to Minnesota and back again.

Nose to nose


I’ve been meaning to snap a photo of this bizarre phenomenon for quite some time–I see it all around the UK and it is certainly something that I do not recall ever seeing in America. Does some Brit want to make an attempt at explaining why nose-to-nose parking is so common here? (And it must not be illegal or it would surely be less common?) And how do you actually do it, since you must have to pull over to the “wrong” side of the road to get into the spot?

It’s a small world after all

Thanks to the magic of facebook, today I had one of those random “wow the world is tiny” moments. I had a friend request from someone I knew in high school, in fact, a good friend from those days when I was heavily involved with musical theater. We were in a show together, so although we were in different high schools, we were friends throughout the senior high years. I was delighted to accept the “friend request” only to discover that one of my “professional friends” (and fellow expat bloggers) was on his friends list, along with the more expected friends of mine from my high school musical theater days. There was a bit of, “wait a minute, how do YOU know so-and-so” and we’re still working out the details, but it made me laugh. I guess this is the magic of facebook. And it’s pretty good when an American in the UK and a UK girl in America happen to have been friends with the same American in America separated by more than a decade.


I had a little soiree for my (work) team in my flat tonight, realizing quite painfully that it had been seven years since the last time I had done such a thing–I like to entertain, so I’m slightly unclear as to how so many years have gone by. I try to justify: in the meantime I had been preoccupied with my divorce, PhD, moving several times, etc. It’s no matter now. Like baking or crocheting, it’s something I like to do but have not done at times when life has made me feel down in the dumps.

I had a great time tonight, I would call the fete a great success and aside from my need to finish cleaning up I have no regrets. It was a wine and cheese party so nothing too taxing, and apparently my cheese selections were not bad. Some were completely gone by the end of the evening, nearly five hours after it started! I did take “before” pictures of my new-and-improved flat as it was set up for the party:



My flat has become almost livable lately, it’s too bad that I have to vacate for the next month because apparently the fire alarms in my building are insufficient and I am not allowed to sleep here over Christmas and for a full month surrounding! I know the Brits are obsessed with fire safety but seriously, this is nuts. ‘Happy early Christmas but don’t come home for a month!’

Shameless plug

This is mostly for people in America, although it is possible to benefit otherwise–see note below on the evils of UK customs.

I have one of those “hadn’t spoken in years until facebook” people in my life who turns out to be quite creative. I ordered a few interesting things from her website — cool screen-printed t-shirts and kitchen towels. I love the hand-made stuff, and I love it even more when someone is brave enough to put their stuff out there to sell. I did it exactly once–I did a photographic exhibition that netted me no money and perhaps negative pride, but I’m foolish enough to have done it once so I’ll probably do it again. In the meantime, let me speak most highly of the little gifts (for self and others) that I got through this site/old friend, although I do confess that UK customs held my things ransom until I paid a five pound import tax so I recommend this as best for shipping within the US! Maybe some day I will again try to sell my wares, crocheted, photographed, or otherwise. For now I have too much job on my plate to contemplate such things but here’s to hoping for the future. And in the meantime, support the local creative types who do have the guts to put it all out there!