Monthly Archives: July 2010

15 hours tick tock tick tock

Having been up in Newcastle for work since mid-day Tuesday, I am now on my “15 hours at home until I depart for Singapore” interlude. Nearly 3 hours already gone. Boo.

I have a feeling that Newcastle is lovely. Everything I saw of Newcastle was lovely, although admittedly that was not so much given the 15 hour days I was working while there. And yes, I know that some people would not consider a work dinner “working” but those people have not had to do enough of them, I do say. For after a long day, nothing makes one scream quite like a work dinner when all you want is some peace and quiet and solitude. Or maybe that’s just me. Who knows.

I will have to return to Newcastle and see it properly. I heard tales of bliss concerning wandering along Quayside and of castles on the nearby beaches, and frankly the nice cool weather suited me just fine (especially when working and wearing a black suit in July….). But this was not one of those trips. A useful trip, for certain, but not a trip in which place matters. Sadly Singapore is shaping up to be similar–I have so many meetings and events planned for the time that I’m there, that I do not anticipate doing any touristing in Singapore at all. Of course, I have been there twice before, but still.

Lest I waste any more of my precious home minutes writing this bit of drivel, I shall run now for dinner and suitcase unpacking-and-then-repacking because that’s the kind of week this is. I swear, come October when I have no plans to spend a single day away from this gorgeous new flat, I will be a very happy girl. Until then, I will be in Singapore amongst other locations across the globe. Sigh. Whoever thought globe-trotting was fun???

Britain and the Burqa

Two weeks ago, when travelling on the tube in London, I saw a girl wearing a niqab (face covering veil) in person for the first time. (For the pictorial explanation of face-covering veils, such as the niqab and burqa, and headscarves, such as the hijab, the BBC has a great slideshow, linked in this article.) The girl was travelling in a group of three, with two young gentlemen, and they had clearly all been out shopping. They got on the tube and the boys indicated for the girl to sit down while they remained standing close by even though there were free seats on either side of her plus others in the tube car. They rode the tube for only a few stops and all got off together, carrying their high street shopping bags.

The issue of facial veiling has been a hot topic across Europe of late. The grounds for a ban range all the way from public security to women’s rights. France recently passed the first stages of legislation to ban face-covering attire in public, and there has been a pretty serious debate raging in Britain on the same topic. Various voices have called face covering “against the British way of life” while others have said banning face-covering would be “un-British”. Not being British, I have a hard time reading into the nuances of what “British” means in these competing contexts–clearly everyone wants things not to be “un-British” but people are having a hard time defining what exactly that means since the argument is being used on both sides of the debate.

David Mitchell published a rather screechy commentary on the topic today in the Observer. (Seriously, Mr. Mitchell, do you not have an editor there at ye olde Guardian corp. to fix errors of grammar like saying “I should not of done this!” when you mean “I should not have done this!”) His view seems to be that of the “banning the veil would be un-British” sort and he has some pretty harsh commentary for the large (his number) 67% of Brits that support such a ban.

Before I go any farther, let me first comment on the repeated statements from the Tory MP trying to forward veil-banning legislation, that people just don’t cover their faces in public in Britain because it affects their ability to communicate. Without coming down on either side of this debate, I could not help but giggle at the fact that face covering only seems to be extreme in Britain because the climate is so darned mild. Back in Minnesota, come January or thereabouts, all people male and female tend to cover their faces in public due to necessity:

I don’t know why the young dear is not wearing MITTENS, however–normally that would be a requirement when a face-scarf was also required!

Of course, people in Minnesota also routinely wear balaclavas (a.k.a. ski masks) for the same warmth-inducing purposes. And I’m just using Minnesota as an example, there are many other places around the world where people are accustomed to extremely cold weather and where the only exposed skin on display is right around the eyes.

My point overall (and I do have one) is that covering one’s face is not universally considered to be a threatening thing; there are many of us quite accustomed to only being able to see someone’s eyes when they are out and about. And yes, I recognize that it’s different talking about frostbite avoidance and religious modesty. So does the facial veil on a muslim woman make me uncomfortable? Yes, but only in the context of the way it is associated with the separateness of women, such as the episode I described at the beginning of this post, in which the girl was set apart from her male companions and left to sit alone while they chatted to each other. And in this context, just as in many other difficult debates, I think a ban would be too inflammatory, and is the wrong way to bring about positive social change. But it’s going to be an interesting few months watching this one play out here in the UK.


There were always going to be some lifestyle adjustments that came along with my move. For, in exchange for the wonderful mod cons that make this place fabulous, I was leaving the very center of town and moving outside the “ring road” into a far more “suburban” region (in spirit if not in name, as officially I’m still “in town”). I’ve been out here just over a week now, although admittedly I twice last week stayed at my old place in the city. Both times after having been out for dinner and finding myself losing energy for the trek. And I also took a taxi to work twice last week when I did stay out at the new digs. I just need to recalibrate my thinking about when I get up versus when I need to be somewhere! It was a 15 minute walk before and now it’s more like 40. And the public transport links are good but with the (1) walk to bus stop, (2) wait at bus stop, (3) ride bus, (4) walk from bus drop-off to office thing, that’s also about a 40 minute endeavor to be on the safe side. So I need to re-orient my thinking and get used to the new timing. The walking distance was always intentional, as I love walking and love the exercise it brings and in the mild English climate it’s quite do-able year round. Living in the city I was not getting enough of a walk in each day, unless I went out to the gym (which is right by my new flat, yay!) purposefully. So things are falling into place but I’m still making adjustments, which was tough given how busy this week was, the fact that I had a head cold, and the fact that I’m out of town part of each of the next two weeks. I know, I know. Believe me, the travel is about to slow down dramatically, but I still have to take the trips that were planned prior to my deciding to take this flat and to try and slow down a bit. But fortunately this has, thus far, been a nice, quiet weekend of unpacking and cooking and generally enjoying the new place, and appreciating the multitude of things available in the enormous Tesco only a few blocks away. I keep buying frozen food just because I can!

Dispatch from Heaven

My lovely mother left yesterday after an amazing approximately 72 hours in the UK. We got the kitchen in my flat completely unpacked and stocked on Friday night, and managed to cook in it several times. We even ate at my new dining table. We had a few fun outings–Legally Blonde, the musical was hilarious–and a few interesting meals out in addition to our awesome dining in, and of course some very (ha ha) fancy wine. We did an ABBA singalong by watching the Mamma Mia! DVD. It was great fun. We have to do it again some time soon. This was the first mother-daughter weekend we’d had since I moved here; the summer of my UK job interview we spent a few days together in Budapest and a few more in Amsterdam. It was great to have her here and hopefully we’ll do a repeat in something less than four more years.

The second best part of the weekend (aside from the mother-daughter bonding, of course) was being in my new flat, and from here I am now writing this. I had the shock of my life this afternoon when the broadband installation technician arrived ten minutes early (and that’s slightly early for the 5 hour time-slot range into which he was scheduled) and everything actually worked the first time. So now I have a flat with all the mod-cons including high-speed internet. That’s high-speed internet that is completely my own (as opposed to being on the work network) so I celebrated by logging into my iTunes account and downloading movies to rent. Yay catching up on rom coms without having to be on an airplane!

I was supposed to go to a pub outing tonight for my team, but I was too tired. From the arrival of my Mum early on Friday, through her departure yesterday, meetings all day yesterday and a dinner, and a working day all day today with one of my visitors, I was in desperate need of a quiet evening alone in my new home. (I’m like that, when I was married I used to have to kick my ex out to get some quiet down time.) Or maybe it’s just that I really didn’t want to leave my new flat–I’m happily nesting in my new digs. I’m just so happy to be home.

Since my last post…

I last wrote from London, where I was on my way to Horsham to hang with one of my favorite mixed-nationality couples, Mike and Shonagh. Horsham was lovely, and deserves a post of its own when I get around to it. That was Saturday. Then Sunday I spent all day packing. Monday I had a visitor all day at work and then had helpers move the first set of stuff to my new flat. Tuesday I had to go to Germany. Wednesday I had to have an all day work meeting in Germany, and then my return was an absolute nightmare. That will not get its own post as I’m still traumatized and wish to forget the whole thing. Except the part where I made a new friend on the airplane. Which was its own little bit of awesome in what was otherwise the worst day of 2010 so far. But the key bit is that the story of Germany ends with my getting home finally at 3 am. Which then ruined today, because I slept through my 11 am and subsequent meetings, only waking up at 1:30 pm. Oops.

But today was good, because first the proper movers (as opposed to members of my team who happen to own cars that have lots of room for boxes in them) came to do the appraisal of my moving costs, so the final process will be underway shortly, and then I went to the new digs to try and get at least a little bit organized before my Mom/Mum arrives tomorrow from Minnesota. We will be staying at the new place, with its shower.

Because the “real” move hasn’t happened yet, and my hideaway bed/couch is still in the old digs, I shelled out £30 on this:

Knowing my mom, we will fight over who “gets” this as opposed to the real bed. I will never forget the time my over 80 year old grandmother (Mom’s mom) came to visit me in Michigan and absolutely insisted that SHE sleep on the inflatable bed. Now admittedly the other choice was a waterbed (this was NOT my place we were staying at, it was my ex’s parents’) so perhaps that was sensible, but it always makes me smile when I remember it. Because if any one story described my grandmother perfectly, this is it (well, not just that part–the whole visit. Maybe that should be a blog post soon.)

So I wandered around the flat this evening, enjoying these:

The new dishes were my housewarming gift to myself. Because that’s just the kind of girl I am. And so OF COURSE they needed to be washed after coming out of the boxes. Cue new dishwasher. Yay!

The last six months have been absolutely manic and I am really run down at the moment. I’m so pleased that soon I will be nesting in my new flat, spending weeks tweaking the furniture arrangements and what goes where in the kitchen cupboards. Because things like the Germany trip really have been getting to me. I never have time to think any more, it’s always GO GO GO GO GO. Act. Play a role. The role of science diva, except that science diva does not get time to do any science when she’s so busy acting the role of science diva. This must stop.

Mom arrives at Heathrow at noon tomorrow, and we have a jam-packed weekend of fun lined up. Friday night, we will be unpacking boxes and organizing my kitchen, lining shelves in my closets (multiple closets!) and starting to get the place in shape. I know, fun vacation for my Mom! But I have this feeling there will be wine and giggling and that actually she will love it. Saturday we will be at a top secret super-important event, which was the motivation for her trip. Sunday we’re going to see “Legally Blonde” on the West End, because what is more “Mother and Daughter weekend” than that? And Monday she goes back to America and I go back to work, with a 3-day visit from my favorite ex-employee. The next few weeks are going to continue to be busy, with trips to Newcastle and Singapore, before things finally calm down and I get my annual beach holiday/visit to Minnesota trip. And after that, I’ve declared a moratorium on travel and I’m going to hang out in my new flat and that’s it. Because I’m weary and I need to get back to basics. And basics had better involve fewer instances of 2 am Stansted immigration queues and more instances of my feeling calm and happy and productive.

A bit of London randomness, I admit

NFAH is coming at you tonight from very central London, in a neighborhood in which I have never spent any time but which is conveniently located for the combination of what I had to do today (meeting in SW7) and what I get to do tomorrow (visit Mike, from Postcards from Across the Pond, and his better-ha ha!-half Shonagh in their town south of London). So I’m camped right by the train station that will take me to Horsham in the morning, and experiencing a bit of London tourist fatigue. Riding the tube in the heat is rough. Riding the tube in the heat with a huge group of Greek and/or Italian (take your pick) immature teenagers is brutal.

It has been one wicked week. That’s my first bit of randomness. I had dinners for work two of the first three nights that I was back in the UK, and by Thursday morning when my alarm went off, I thought I was not going to make it. I had meetings and a workshop and all sorts of other things to do, and it was bloody hard. This morning, miraculously, I woke up before my alarm and feeling fine. Exactly as predicted: a 5 hour time difference and five days to get back to normal. Interesting.

I took this ad photo in the tube station this afternoon:

OK, I’ve ranted before about the British tendency to drop words, but this is ridiculous. “Every little helps” huh????? “Every little bit helps” would make sense. “Every little help” might make sense. But this does NOT make sense.

London in the summer, scene of ten thousand fashion crimes. Did you know tube tops were back? I can assure you it’s not pretty.

My day got totally messed up when I realized on the train into central London-town that I did not have my cell phone charger cable and I had already drained my battery by 1/3 answering work emails (thinking I was being all efficient and things). Thus I had to take a trip to the Apple Store off Oxford Street, after my meetings were done, in order to get one. I had never been in the flagship London store, and my goodness I will not go back. What a mess. Note to Apple: I am pleased you are having such success but the release dates for the iPad and iPhone 4 were a wee bit too close together for my comfort level when trying to buy a stupid phone charger cable. And note to self: stop forgetting to pack the darned things, this is the THIRD time since you’ve lived in the UK that you have had to go scrounging for a new cable, this time in London, once in Germany and once in the US. Ridiculous! I now have so many of the things that there should be one available to leave in every single piece of luggage and/or computer bag-type things that I have. Grrrr.

The guy in front of me in line at said Apple store bought three iPads. THREE.

Beware, my fellow bloggers, we apparently develop computer skills when we do this, assuming that we do more than just write the posts using the graphical interface and a standard blog template with no customizing. Have I mentioned that I am now the webmaster for a work-related organization, based on my (minimal) knowledge of using WordPress as a CMS? It was when I started talking about “search engine optimization” at the meeting today that I realized that it was all downhill from here.

Thank goodness my hotel has a ceiling fan, and a powerful one at that. But, of course, no air conditioning. Great weekend to be at a hotel in London, when it’s actually pretending to be summer. And oh the displacement activity when I should be at home packing for my big move.

Happy Friday, everyone.

Back in the UK for ahem American Independence Day oops

I arrived back “home” in England today, late but in one piece. And yes, I am well aware of how ridiculously silly it was for me to fly from the US to the UK on the overnight flight July 3rd, to arrive in the UK in time to celebrate my country’s independence from the country in which I choose to live. Complicated, these allegiances. I love both my countries. Neither is perfect. Let’s move on.

The big news, especially for long-time readers of this blog (read: those who have been around long enough to have tired of me complaining about the same old things ad nauseum) is that on Wednesday I will be picking up the keys to my new flat.


And get this: it has a freezer, a dishwasher, closets, a shower, a washing machine that is NOT in the kitchen, and is about twice the size of my current, very over-crowded one bedroom flat.

Now this will have consequences. Anyone who has been paying close attention will have noticed that I’ve been living the life of a vagabond. In the first half of 2010, I have been in Texas, France, Germany, Virginia, Michigan, Maryland, China, Switzerland, and Pennsylvania. For many reasons this has GOT to stop. First of all, I’m exhausted from all this travelling. But more importantly, my comfort in my new flat will come in exchange for a significant change in life-style, since my current living conditions are work-related and thus heavily subsidized, and I will be going at it solo on the private market in the new digs. So my free funds for fun travel (admittedly of which only France and China qualified from that list) will diminish, as will my funds for work travel that is not perfectly or fully subsidized (including the things that I forgot to turn in the reimbursement forms for because I was too tired from all the travelling….) I suspect this is a good thing. Because I suspect that deep down I was accepting all the speaking engagements that I was being offered on the grounds that I would be able to stay in a hotel and take showers.

So there we have it. This week I celebrate *my* independence by getting myself into some more comfortable, grown-up living conditions. It may also mark my officially putting my feet down a bit, and stopping waffling for a while about where to make my permanent home: for now, this is it.

You learn something new…

I’m from Minnesota. I may have mentioned that before. We Minnesotans tend to be fiercely proud about our state. But I learned something new about Minnesota last week and I’m still a bit in shock about it. It turns out that any Civil War buff who knows their stuff will know that it was Minnesotans who turned the tide at the Battle of Gettysburg, which (along with the Battle of Vicksburg) is seen as changing the direction and eventual result of the Civil War.

Why did we not learn about this in school? It sounds sort of important.

I came upon this startling information in Gettysburg, where I did a battlefield tour when I was in town for a local arts festival on my way to a work thing in State College, PA. I learned so many interesting things, like about the craze for cyclorama paintings in the late 18th century. Again, who knew?

Minnesota only became a state in 1858. (Trivia note: The University of Minnesota, founded in 1851, actually pre-dates the state!) Several of the maps around the official battlefield museum did not have Minnesota on them and thus did not identify them as being unionist. But our little group of soldiers made a huge difference, and at significant sacrifice. The monumental inscription tells the story best:

On the afternoon of July 2, 1863 Sickles’ Third Corps, having advanced from this line to the Emmitsburg Road, eight companies of the First Minnesota Regiment, numbering 262 men were sent to this place to support a battery upon Sickles repulse.

As his men were passing here in confused retreat, two Confederate brigades in pursuit were crossing the swale. To gain time to bring up the reserves & save this position, Gen Hancock in person ordered the eight companies to charge the rapidly advancing enemy.

The order was instantly repeated by Col Wm Colvill. And the charge as instantly made down the slope at full speed through the concentrated fire of the two brigades breaking with the bayonet the enemy’s front line as it was crossing the small brook in the low ground there the remnant of the eight companies, nearly surrounded by the enemy held its entire force at bay for a considerable time & till it retired on the approach of the reserve the charge successfully accomplished its object. It saved this position & probably the battlefield. The loss of the eight companies in the charge was 215 killed & wounded. More than 83% percent. 47 men were still in line & no man missing. In self sacrificing desperate valor this charge has no parallel in any war. Among the severely wounded were Col Wm Colvill, Lt Col Chas P Adams & Maj Mark W. Downie. Among the killed Capt Joseph Periam, Capt Louis Muller & Lt Waldo Farrar. The next day the regiment participated in repelling Pickett’s charge losing 17 more men killed & wounded.

It had never occurred to me to do Civil War battlefield tours before, and Gettysburg was not on my “to do” list in terms of trips and tourist things, but I am so glad I got to see it and to learn about this. The longer I’ve lived in the UK, the more interesting I’ve found American history! And in this case, “Minnesota’s Own” really did make a big difference.