Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Catchin' up to the Half-way Point

As the optimist says the glass is half full, we're happy to say we've fully reached the halfway point of our expat adventure.  Not to say every day is full of optimism - Kerry's latest post pulled no punches!

While my goal is to use this blog to share the fun parts of our year in the East Midlands, January has been a rollercoaster of highs and lows. While Kerry was gone during the first half, my main task was to keep Lucy and Stanley alive.  I held up my end of the deal, and they tolerated me.  They were as happy as I was when she got back.

I did unravel pretty bad, my routine consisted of a long day at work (in early and out late to avoid traffic), gym, eat my man-stew, watch a netflix movie, go to bed, repeat.  I tried to keep the bungalow in decent order, but I did not appreciate how much Kerry does around the place while I'm at work.  [N.B. - Kerry will be referring to this statement many times in the future.]  I did figure out how to use the washing machine and discovered the sublime combination that is a cold Melton Mowbray pork pie smothered in Branston pickle.  I'm not sure if a proper Brit would ever combine the two, but it works.

Tangent:  Branston pickle is most similar to what an American would call relish.  It's a sweet brown sauce mixed with pickled root vegetables, cauliflower, and gherkins.  And gherkins are what an American would call a pickle, or more accurately, a pickled cucumber.  While the origin of the hotdog likely stems from Europe, Wikipedia has not listed a hot-dog variation that is named after Great Britain, so I'd like to take this opportunity to propose that the GB-style hot dog should include Branston pickle.  I'll work on some prototypes and get back to you.  If something works maybe I can add to the Wikipedia article?

After Kerry returned from her big trip we kept the rest of the month very low key with no travel, and a few episodes of homesickness.  That said there were some pretty big highlights that I'll share in this post to catch everyone up.  This post is in the spirit of Eric Idle in Life of Brian, "always look on the bright side of life." Warning - some might find the following link is irreverent (or 'cheeky' as they say here).

First up is the weekend of Jan 19-20.
The snow started on Friday, and persisted through the night.  Since there are no plows, the snow was packed down by cars and turned the hill up to our house into an ice sheet.  While it was only a few inches, it was enough to keep us indoors.   We were looking forward to attending a snatch clinic at CrossFit Nottingham - hosted by Team GB's Olympic weightlifting coach, Dave Sawyer.  It had to be cancelled due to the weather, but has been rescheduled.  

By Sunday, the snow had melted sufficiently that things were back to normal, and it was my birthday!  I told the crew at the gym to meet us at Annie's Burger Shack at the Navigation.  This place serves the best burgers around, with an American cook who's made it her duty to make sure chopped onions, eggs, and breadcrumbs stay OUT of the hamburger patties.

We packed the pub!  I felt so special that so many turned out to join me for a burger.  I had the "Navigation Blues" which is an epic concoction burger topped with a sausage patty, chicken patty, bacon rasher, then lettuce, tomato, and mayo.  I had seasoned curly fries on the side.

To top it off, I was surprised with an ice cream dessert delivered by Annie herself (complete with a hug).  Really started my 30th year off right!  I'm definitely looking forward to what the future holds, and I am so thankful for the friendships that this year has brought us.

Next is the weekend of Jan 26-27.
Some time ago our neighbors (Phil & Christine, a retired couple across the street) invited us to "Ladies Night" an annual 'do' put on by the local Masonic lodge.  It was a black-tie event, so I set up a tux hire, and to be modest, it looked good on me, haha.  Kerry glitter-ized her boot, and our neighbors hooked up a mini-bus to take our group to the event so no one had to drive.   It was a beautiful night full of good food, new friends, and plenty fo wine.  We even managed to dance a bit!  We got back around 1 am, and I walked down to the kebab shop in my tux to pick up some late night eats.  I got some interesting looks by the local pubgoers.

Owning the dance floor

And that brings us up to date with our impromptu trip to Oxford last Saturday.  It was cold, but the sky was blue and the sun was bright, so we just had to get away.  Our 2 hour drive turned into 3.5 when we came to gridlock standstill as they closed  the southbound M1 in Loughborough.  This was painful - it makes being spontaneous not very fun.  3 lanes of traffic had to exit to a country 1 lane road and go about numerous roundabouts until we could join back on the M1 in Leicester.

By the time we got to Oxford (park & ride, under 5 pounds for the 2 of us), it was past noon.  We did not make much of an itinerary, but we really only had time to just touch on a few highlights before things started shutting down.  Our first stop (after a detour for Starbucks "filter" coffee) was the Bodleian library and Divinity school, at the epicenter of Oxford University.  

Radcliffe Camera on a sunny day for learning

There are numerous colleges spread around Oxford which comprise the university, and I didn't take the time to really understand what was special about each one.  At Purdue it was easy - College of Engineering, College of Pharmacy, College of Science, and College of "Liberal Arts" *snort*.  But as many students who were going about their normal weekend routine, it felt like there were twice as many tourists.

Divinity school quadrangle 
At first I was a bit put off that so much of the campus is "off-limits".  I came from a university where anyone could sit in the back of a large lecture hall all day and no one would think twice.  Anyone could wander around the libraries and use the free internet access (with near-limitless access to countless peer-reviewed journals).   I've always said you paid for the degree not the education.

I recall once when I was a sophomore, 2 guys came by my dorm in Cary Quad and said, "Hi!  We lived in this room back in the 70's!".   I sure hope I'm not like that in 20 years.  But here at Oxford, as a tourist, I started to get the levels of security.  Badges, security guards, and gates control the crowds and prevent students from getting harassed.  Fair enough, I have no idea what these students are paying, but what an experience it must be to think of the minds who came before going all the way back 1602.

Learning about the early schola metaphysicae on the audio tour

Admiring the students' bicycles while they're hard at work in the camera -  the massive repository of books and ancient, rare collections reside within the walls, under the ground, and behind the photographer in the "new" library building. 

My favorite type of British architecture -  not sure what keeps it from toppling over.
We had to stop for some lunch at this point, and the tradition has become to stop at a noodle house.  It's a good pick, and we've yet to had a bad experience, but I always end up putting way too much chili oil on mine and suffer the consequences.

Next was to stop in Exeter college, where Tolkien attended.  It was literally across the street from the Bodleian.

At Exeter college gardens - trying to trick security into thinking I'm an academic by wearing my elbow-padded cardigan.

Exeter was small, and no students were around on a Saturday afternoon.  It was pretty cold so they were probably all getting pints and reading old books.

Our final stop was to hit up the Pitt Rivers museum.  This place is a bit unusual - just imagine  a big room filled with stuff from all over the world, grouped by similarity in display cases.  It could not be any further from the sparse focused-theme displays of modern museums.  It's a hoarder's dream collection with upwards of 500,000 items with everything from taxidermed beavers to shrunken Amazon heads.  The focus is on anthropological artifacts grouped by theme.  For example they have a display case full of early combs from different parts of the world.  Everything was so COOL!  Oh, and by the way it doesn't close at 5, it closes at 4:30 and you have 15 minutes to see as much as possible.

Densely packed museum is a bit daunting for a rushed visit

After we were kicked out of the museum (CURSE YOU M1 CLOSURE!!!), the University was getting pretty quiet.  Not known as a party school I guess.  So we made our way back to the bus to get back to the parking lot on the far north side of town.  The parking lot was just a mile away from Wolvercote Cemetery where Tolkien is buried, so i thought I'd swing by to see if it was accessible.  No, of course it closed at 3 pm, but I took a picture through the gate.

A peaceful final resting place for a famous author

So that brings us up to date - looking back at all this I gotta say we shouldn't complain!  We're having so much fun making new friends and enjoying some "different" (non-travel) experiences.  I was remiss how rushed our trip to Oxford was, but it's easy enough to go back for a budget day trip in the future.  

To be honest, sometimes I feel like there are certain differences over here (compared to the US) where you just can't win.  My main issue is with commuting - whether it be big trip agendas, trying to get home by 6, or a simple errand run, something is bound to hit a snag and things unravel quickly or end up costing more than you anticipate.  You gotta stay positive, you gotta adapt and improvise, but it does wear you out and you have to "manage" your expectations.

To end on a positive note, I discovered that New Zeland-raised grass-fed lamb legs  go on sale around here for 1/4th the price of what I'd pay for the same quality back home.  So you can bet what I'll be filling up on in the next 6 months.

Be well, more later.

1 comment:

  1. I couldn't agree more with your can't win assessment. I guess you have to expect to be inconvenienced at all times...