Category Archives: entertainment

Beach holiday

I’m on my annual beach holiday, in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Thus my silence, I’m enjoying the one time a year that I can turn off a bit. And realizing how European I’ve become in loving my two week beach holiday!!!

I’m walking on the beach a great deal and cooking many interesting things. Like things that require Velveeta. And jalapeƱos. God bless America!


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.

British jobs?

More than once, in response to Gordon Brown’s comments about “British jobs for British workers” I’ve heard someone snarkily comment “exactly what IS a British job?” I came up with a few ideas of jobs for which I could not come up with a non-British direct equivalent , and I’d love it if readers came up with more. Anything left in the comments will be added to the updated post and attributed to the commenter (with blog links, etc.)

Not from around here’s list of uniquely British jobs:

  • Office tea cart lady
  • Contractor specializing in repair of Grade 2 listed buildings
  • NHS death panel member
  • A-level test administrator
  • Bedmaker/scout
  • League table compiler (pick any one, schools, universities, investment bankers)
  • Red-top tabloid writer
  • Page 3 girl casting agent
  • Shipping forecast radio reporter
  • Fascinator maker

There must be more … What are your suggestions?

Dear So-and-so, January doldrums edition

Dear BBC,

Thank you for giving me a much needed laugh with your very straight and serious piece about the TV show Glee (I watched all 13 existing episodes while in America recently). Best excerpts from the BBC piece:

“They are uniquely American,” says Peter Ling, professor of American Studies at Nottingham University.

Can I have that job? I think I’m (over) qualified. Surely giving quotes to the BBC about what makes something “American” is easier than what I actually do all day. And I’m guessing he gets paid quite a pretty sum for that job since “professor” here means something more exalted than it means in America.

The irony is that glee actually began in Britain, around the 1700s, according to historians.

Ah, the requisite “claim the original idea” line. Never like the Brits to allow any American success story to take place without trying to grab credit.

One factor that could explain why this touchstone of American culture is all but unheard of in Britain is America’s focus on competition. Glee isn’t just about the joy of singing – many show choirs compete at national level.

Right. Britain’s obsession with league tables for anything and everything and the fact that you can bet on anything and everything at one of several bookmaker shops along the high street are clear indications that Britain has no interest in competition.

I love Puck.

Glee-ful, NFAH

Dear book publisher,

I swear, absolutely swear, that I will get that editorial work done this weekend. I have no idea why it is taking so long. Well, actually that’s not true, it’s tedious as hell and I’m ornery about doing it and really tired of looking at these same 350 pages for over two years of various versions. But regardless, expect things on your desk Monday morning.

Being an editor is totally unglamorous, NFAH

Dear self,

When, oh when, are you going to learn to stop saying you’ll do things that you know are a good idea but you don’t actually want to do, such that you get to the time and date and have to cancel at the last minute because you’re completely out of bandwidth to do things that are a good idea because of the many thousands of other things you actually have to do?

Get a grip. Learn a lesson. And start saying NO more often.

I keep trying to tell you this and you’re not listening, NFAH

Dear Barclaycard,

I am completely speechless at the fact that you have just upgraded me to a platinum credit card all of two years after I had to fight so hard to get any credit card at all. WTF?

British banking is a puzzle, NFAH

Dear Apple,

It’s amazing that you are generating so much buzz with this whole “will they or won’t they” tablet thing. But I have to admit, I’m a devoted Mac-head with desktops and laptops both at home and at work plus an iPhone and two iPods and actually I have no idea what a person would do with a “Tablet” so I have no interest. Sorry.

And oh yes I love my (shockingly non-Mac) Kindle, NFAH

I Google You

I have been fairly honest, blog-style, recently in discussing the fact that I have recently discovered that my ex-husband (back in America, where I am not) just got remarried and my discovery of this information came thanks to the wonders of the internet. Imagine my surprise then, when I discovered that one of my favorite Indy Rock Star artists had recorded a song called “I Google You”:

The lyrics are here.

Said Indy Rock Star is Amanda Palmer (twitter @amandapalmer) and she is my current muscial obsession (anyone who can write lyrics like, “who needs love when there’s Southern Comfort and who needs love when the sandwiches are wicked and they know you at the Mac store” AND sing them in a catchy tune that I cannot get out of my head wins it in my book!)

The Google-y lyrics were written by her fiancee, the amazing writer Neil Gaiman (twitter @neilhimself) who happens to have a kid that works at Google. He also manages to beat out Stephen Fry in some polls of “British superstars who tweet” even though he’s spent the last few decades living near my home town of Minneapolis. It’s all so web 2.0 and so romantic. (And I’ve been sucked into it totally for the last few months but we won’t go there!)

The bottom line is as such: Amanda Palmer is awesome, and her music is worth listening to. I need to stop Google-stalking my ex-husband, although I keep writing about it because I just found out he got remarried and I even managed to score a photo of the happy couple. And Neil Gaiman is more than worth a read, although most people know that. And Amanda Palmer is awesome, and her music is worth listening to. I’ll stop now.

Dear My-Poor-Neighbors,

No, that sound you heard this evening was not actually the wail of cats being repeatedly tortured for a prolonged period of time. That was me, trying to see if I could re-discover one of my hobbies.

With my apologies, NFAH

Long-time readers of this blog will know that, aside from being a science-y type, I have long had musical aspirations on the side. This started with piano lessons, ages 5-17. There was a hiatus, ages 17-25, and then I decided to take up the violin. Half on a challenge (someone told me once that as a piano player I was not suited to do it). Half on a desire stemming from having played keys with a string orchestra in high school. Took violin lessons for four years ages 25-29, but then when I finished my PhD things slowed down again. Darned jobs and all that. I managed a year and a half of singing in a semi-pro choir when I came to England ages 31-32.5 before my job got too busy for three nights a week, and in that time recorded two “real” classical-choral CDs, which was fun. (Note to commenters who asked about my CDs on a previous post–email me and I can send you details! I believe those who asked all know my email or if not drop a comment and I’ll send you the links.) It was sort of an opportunistic thing. I sang in a choir in high school, and did musical theater, but mostly because I also played the piano for the choir and did piano accompaniment for theater stuff. I never really wanted to sing the way I wanted to play the piano, or later, the way I wanted to learn to play the violin.

But then, last week, jet-lagged and fresh off the plane from America, back all of ~20 hours, I got a mass email looking for amateurs for an orchestra. And I started drooling. Because I took up the violin in graduate school, I did not have the history with the instrument that most people, who take it up in primary school, have. I have played songs by myself and duets with my teachers. I have never played in an orchestra. And man, do I want to!

Problem number one then arose immediately. My original violin is in my parents’ basement in Minnesota. I’m here. My second (!) violin is here, but it’s electric!

There are two reasons for my having moved the electric violin to England and having left the ‘analog’ version at home. One, I live in a one-bedroom flat in a densely populated town (this is England, is there any other kind?) The “silent” violin is brilliant and much less of a guilty thing for me to play in such circumstances–what noise they hear is nothing compared to the richness of what I hear through the headphones. Two, and most peculiarly, the thing was always more comfortable for me to play compared with my “real” instrument, which I had first and for several years before I got the Yamaha. It has an integrated shoulder rest, and I even tried to buy the same brand of shoulder rest for my “real” instrument and it still did not feel as good. And my teachers hated the bow that came with my “student violin kit” and loved the bow that came with the Yamaha. (Geeky engineer in me says: Go Carbon Fibre Technology!) And let me note that mine was NOT a cheap student violin, the thing cost me a fortune and was paid for in installments when I was in grad school doing my PhD, at a time when I did not have lots of money but was still splashing out for the instrument and for lessons. ANYWAYS, I digress. I moved, I brought the electric violin with me. I played it occasionally in the first few months that I was here, but then joined the choir and got really busy. Used my digital piano a fair bit during that time to learn my alto parts, since I was a bit rusty at the singing thing, having not done much of it since high school.

(Um, yes, in addition to the violin, I also moved an 88-key digital Kawai piano to England. These things always sound reasonable in my head but when I write them on the screen they start to look funny… maybe this is not a good time to mention that in addition to the electric violin and digital piano I also brought over my Grandmother’s vintage Tenor Banjo that she played in the 1939 World’s Fair… now I really digress. There is clearly much here in the category of “a story for another day”.)

The electric violin had not been getting much use until today, when I had the chance to go to the orchestra’s first rehearsal to try and decide if there was any chance that I could join in. I got the instrument tuned up this afternoon in the most geeky manner possible (fitting, of course) using a tuning app that I have on my iPhone. (I bought the app on the recommendation of a fellow violin player at work, even though I had not been doing any violin playing. But hey, today I needed it and was so glad that I had bought it!) I played around with the violin, went to the first hour of the orchestra rehearsal, and then came back and tortured my poor neighbors with said violin for another 45 minutes. It’s really not actually “silent” although it’s much quieter than my student violin kit ever was.

The verdict: perhaps unsurprisingly, given the fact that it’s been 4.5 years since I was in lessons, my violin playing is rusty. Really rusty. Cat torture rusty. I am lacking the callouses on my fingers and the strength in my arms that I had developed when playing the thing most days. I also have to be realistic about the fact that, since I took the instrument up as an adult, I will never have the natural feel for it that a kid who started Suzuki method classes at age 3 would have. I am also realistic about the fact that I have never been the most gifted musician ever, I have been more in the mold of “hard work, practice, practice, practice” (much to the chagrin of my very gifted, plays the piano by ear, father). BUT, all of that said, I had a fun time playing the violin today, and I think I might have to do that more often. So apologies to my neighbors, the tortured cat noises are likely to continue. I may not be sufficiently gifted or practiced to join up with the orchestra now, but I’m unlikely to stop trying, and planning for next year. I may try and find a teacher here, and acquire another “real” student violin kit (and sell the one sitting in my parents’ basement gathering even more dust than my electric had been gathering in my flat here). I got a new music stand today, and it’s set up in my living room, next to the nicely tuned electric instrument in its case (until tomorrow, when I’ll have another go at the books I was playing from in my first year as a student of the instrument–that’s how far back I had to go today!) It’s just too nice to have something interesting to do at the end of a long, boring technical day spent in front of a computer, and dealing with the endless administration and paperwork associated with having a grown-up job.

Social Media and the Expat Life

I had a visitor over the summer, right before I left for America, with whom I had a lovely walk in the sunshine and a nice dinner before he succumbed to jetlag and went to bed early, leaving me to pack for my trip. We had an interesting discussion about expat life and the role of social media. I should preface this by saying that he’s an expat several times over, living now in a third country (and continent) from the one in which he was born and another in which he has lived. When it comes to social media and friends “in the computer” I’m a fan, he was not. I rely on my facebook and twitter peeps and bloggy friends to provide me with some structure. Although, as he noted, if the people are all in the computer, are they real people? Do you end up feeling MORE lonely instead of LESS since you don’t have the human connection that comes with “real” people in your life?

It was an interesting question, and one that I have pondered on more than one occasion since that discussion. Do I think of myself as lonely? I obviously have plenty of time to myself, and spend a great deal of that time sitting in front of the computer communicating with strangers. But I’m ready with my rebuttal now, a few months after the fact. Because the people stuck in my computer have, on more than one occasion, transmogrified into real people. In the last six months or so, I have met up with Kat from 3bedroombungalow, Mike from Postcards from Across the Pond (and Pond Parleys) and, most recently, Michelloui from Mid-Atlantic English. All American expats, all living here in the UK, all blogging about our collective experiences. And people who I can now consider friends “in real life” because they have crawled out of the computer and into the restaurants in my neighborhood. Pretty cool, that. So I will keep justifying my hours spent on social media, and thank my lucky stars for the fantastic friends I’ve met through this computer screen.