Posted by: jackterrett | May 26, 2010

Week Eleven: Goodbye WGC, Hello USA!

My last week in Welwyn Garden City was an easy and relaxed one.  At Heptares, my projects were winding down and I did my best to say goodbye to everybody.  The guys at work threw me two “going-away parties” at two local pubs: the younger crowd on Wednesday at ‘The Doctor’s Tonic’, and then with the Chemistry group for dinner at ‘The Red Lion’.  Both were a lot of fun and it’s a shame that we hadn’t done more casual outings over the past few months.  Friday was my last day at work and then I spent all of Saturday with my Grandparents down in Kent.  After my farewell run around WGC on Sunday, I flew out back to Boston from Heathrow (narrowly escaping the incoming volcanic ash cloud – it shut down the airport a few hours after I left – and the pending BA cabin crew strikes!).

Although I was very excited to return home to the United States, I enjoyed my twelve weeks abroad and found them eventful.  The experience I got from working at Heptares will be extremely valuable over the next few years as I continue to do Chemistry research.  I was hoping that these three months would answer a lot of questions about my future career and life plans, but I’ve really found no definitive answers.  All I know is that I could live in either England or the US, I could pursue a career in the Biotech industry, and that I am fairly capable of keeping myself alive for a short period of time.  This experience demonstrated to me that it is easy to pursue work opportunities abroad, even if you’re a stranger in what seems like a foreign land.  Even though it will likely be the presence of family and friends that influences where I choose to live and work, I’m almost certain this will not be the last time I work abroad!

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Posted by: jackterrett | May 10, 2010

Week Ten: Hung like Parliament

After a few months of raucous weekends and catching up with friends, this week was fairly subdued in comparison.  With only two weeks left in England after my return from Spain last weekend, I felt it was time to wind down and get ready for my departure back to the good old USA.  This involved a weekend at the Grandparents (Mum’s parents) in Mill Hill, London, which included (but was not limited to) a trip to the hospital, dinner at the Gate Pub in Ackley, a great deal of gardening, and watching the Spanish Grand Prix with my Grandpa over a delicious lunch of ‘ready-made’ meals!  That was about as exciting as last week got for me, although it was a welcome rest.

In other news, the country is a-buzz with last week’s inconclusive general election.  I’m not sure how much coverage this is getting Stateside, but this is the only news over here at the moment, and has been since last Thursday.  Simply put, neither of the two major parties got a majority of seats in Parliament – to be in control of Parliament (and hence have your party leader become Prime Minister) you must have over 50% of the seats.  In this uncommon situation, called a Hung Parliament, a coalition government must be formed of various parties and seats until the magic number of 326 seats is reached – the Conservatives have 306, Labour have 258.  This puts Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats (the third major party – currently with 57 seats) in a very sweet spot.  Over the last few days, the Conservatives and Labour have been courting the Lib Dems, trying to convince them to form a government with them.  The fate of who becomes next Prime Minister and which political party is in power rests in the hands of the third party leader!  Very loosely, this would be like Ralph Nader deciding whether Al Gore or George Bush became President in the 2000 election!  This gives the Lib Dems tremendous bargaining power and will likely demand Cabinet positions in return for their backing.  One of their priorities is electoral reform and smartly so – they received 23% of the popular vote, but only got 9% of seats in Parliament!  All parties are stressing, however, that a stable government is the ultimate priority!

And to make matters even more interesting, Gordon Brown announced that he is going to step down as Labour leader.  This is likely to give a strong boost to Labour’s chances of securing the Lib Dem backing as Brown is considered by many to be the reason for Labour’s poor showing in the election – a new leader would give them a fresh start.  That said, it seems hardly appropriate to back the political party that received less of the popular vote – Labour has clearly lost their mandate to govern.  It seems to me (and I’ll be biased as I voted Conservative) that the Lib Dems, despite their political differences, should back the party that got greater public support.  Fortunately, I’m not too opinionated on the matter so I’m in it for the spectacle more than anything.  Labour would argue though, that with Lib Dem support, they would have a combined greater popular support than the Conservatives.  And the spread of the vote is also something to take into consideration – the Conservatives only got 1 seat in Scotland, 8 in Wales, and none in Northern Ireland.  By the numbers, a Conservative government should deserve to rule, but there is certainly a concern of ostracizing everyone outside of England.  Whatever happens, it should be an exciting few days…or weeks…or months…  Well, maybe it won’t be that exciting…just long…and tedious…  And there’s always the possibility of another election…  And if the politicians can’t decide and work it out by themselves, guess who does?  The Queen.  Yes, it’s true.  Personally, I want to see that happen.

Posted by: jackterrett | May 3, 2010

How To Vote By Post

With the General Election rapidly approaching (this Thursday, May 6th!), I’m furiously figuring out who to vote for.  Ironically, even though I’m in England, I still have to submit a postal vote as I’m registered in a different constituency than the one I’m currently living in.  Please observe the elaborate instructions and paperwork I need to navigate in order to vote by post!

I’m closing in on a decision, but I’ll welcome any suggestions between now and tomorrow, in case you’d like to influence me one way or another.  I have four choices: Liberal Democrats, Labour, Conservatives, and UKIP (UK Independence Party).  Each party has policies that I like and dislike, so I’m definitely the epitome of the “undecided voter”.

Posted by: jackterrett | May 3, 2010

Week Nine: Barcelona!

What a weekend!  I got back yesterday from a tremendous (and mostly sunny) weekend in Barcelona with Donny and Fay.  Much Spanish was learnt, Catalan culture was experienced, and friends with street vendors were made, among many other great things!

Donny and I arrived in Barcelona on Thursday and promptly checked into our hostel – the Barcelona Urbany.  We had a cozy private twin room with ensuite bathroom on the twelfth floor, with great views across the city and out to the ocean.  We began our exploring with a run along the beach (sun’s out guns out, of course), marveling at the old naked men on the beach and the similarities in warmth and sights to San Diego.  We then met up with my sister, Fay, who’s been studying abroad in Barcelona with the Dartmouth program for the past several weeks and she took us on a short tour around the city, which included the Sagrada Familia cathedral (designed by Antoni Gaudi and still under construction!) and gelato!  As Fay had a ‘Flamenco’ concert to attend, Donny and I continued to wander through the city streets, ending up on the habour with our two new best friends – San Miguel and Estrella Damm!  Trying to save money, we chose to walk everywhere, rather than take the Metro (even despite it’s very reasonable price) and returned to the hostel exhausted after walking several miles.  However, unbeknownst to us, our night was far from over.  As we exited the elevator on floor #12 of our hostel, we were faced with the most incredible and unlikely occurrence I’ve ever experienced – four Midd students (3 from my very close-knit Freshmen hall) were right in front of us!  After an awkward few seconds of double takes, we rejoiced in the realization of what had just happened and quickly began to explain our situations.  Drew Harasimowicz, Lauryn Torch, Ben Benson, and Litsey Corona are currently all studying abroad in Prague and had decided to take a week’s vacation in Barcelona…in the same hostel as us…on the same floor…three doors down.  What are the chances?!?  And they were just heading out to hit up the Barcelona club scene, and despite our exhaustion, Donny and I couldn’t exactly say no to hanging out with them.  Fortunately, the hostel provided free entry to the clubs and we all went in taxi convoy to Shoku, a club on the beachfront (we found to our chagrin that we were back where we’d started an hour ago, over a mile from the hostel…).  We hanged out there in a little Midd pack for a while before heading our separate ways – us via foot, back to bed!

The next day we did the beach!  It was another hot and sunny day on the Mediterranean and we lounged on the beach (next to an old fat man smoking a cigar) and time to time, tentatively dipped our feet in the cold water (Donny however insisted on going for a very brief swim!).  Later on, Donny and I took to Las Ramblas (the famous street of street performers, shops, and restaurants) to search for team outfits to look like true Spaniards for our game of beer pong (with the Dartmouth kids) later that night.  Lots of the parks in Barcelona have permanent ping pong tables in them – perfect for setting up a game of beer pong and confusing the locals.  The sound of pong seemed to attract every Dartmouth student in the surrounding area until we had about 15 people grouped around the two tables (two of which went to the same high school as Schmidty, so we had a New Trier photo-shoot to prove it).  Due to lack of experience, Donny and I were shamefully outclassed (even by the girls!) – next time we’ll insist on a more Middlebury friendly game of stump or wizard staff!

Saturday we played tourists and along with Fay’s friend Steph, visited the 1992 Olympic Stadium and two famous houses designed by Gaudi.  We then went to Park Güell (also designed by Gaudi) to get stunning views over the city and saw the famous Gecko statue.  That night, Donny and I pregamed in the hostel with Drew and Ben before going out to get dinner with Fay on Las Ramblas.  We couldn’t decide where to go for ages until we saw a restaurant called “Colon” and knew it was destiny (apparently it’s Colon, which is Columbus’s real name, but details details…).  After a dinner of Tapas and Bikini (just a fancy name for a sandwich), we took to the street where we were inundated with offers to go on pub crawls and go to clubs for only 15 Euro (a typical exchange would involve “Are you guys looking for a good night?”, “Why, YES WE ARE!” Donny would reply and grab as many leaflets as possible).  We also met some genius entrepreneurs who were selling cans of beer out of bags on the street – unfortunately we weren’t able to haggle them down from their 1 euro per can pricetag.  Unquestionably, the highlight of the night was visiting the flaming shots bar called ‘Chupitos’.  They had over 200 choices of shots, with very imaginative names.  Of those we sampled, there was Bin Laden, Sadam, Harry Potter, Titty Twister, Viagra, Animal Balls, Semen Up (we didn’t try this one…), and the mother of all drinks, the Monica Lewinsky!  The bar was tiny but it got extremely crowded and we met up with Ben, Drew, Litsey, and Lauryn there too.  Naturally, with the bar on fire half the time, it got very hot!  This was a fantastic way to cap off the great weekend – if you’re ever in Barcelona, definitely go to Chupito’s…and don’t order the Monica Lewinsky…Donny learnt that the hard way.

Posted by: jackterrett | April 27, 2010

Week Eight: Egham Exploits and Marathon Madness

Despite being in the UK now for 8 weeks, I only finally this weekend met up with my old friend from my school days back in England – Mike Perera.  We both went to Sir Roger Manwoods school and he’s one of the few people I’ve kept in contact with over the years (usually staying at his house once every summer on our annual trips back to England and France).  Currently, he’s attending Royal Holloway, University of London, and is furiously revising for his final exams (he graduates in June as Undergraduate is only three years long in the UK).  After work on Friday, I took the train over to Egham (home of his University), met up with him and his friend Victor, and sped off in his old tiny car at ridiculous speeds down narrow streets (reminding me of many traumatic experiences of being a passenger in Tyler Prince’s car!).  We spent the evening catching up on the past two years, eating Domino’s pizza, playing video games (notably Fifa), and finished it up with a lift and abs session.  The following day was a great example on a day in the life of Mike (at least, during exam week).  When he wasn’t studying, we went to watch Manchester United play Tottenham Hotspurs with a bunch of his avid football supporter friends (on TV this time, I’m afraid).  As a Man U fan, Mike was very pleased with their 3-1 victory.  In fact, the day was chock full of football – we spent about 2-3 hours that evening kicking a ball around the local student neighbourhood (shadowed by signs that clearly said “no ball games”).  The evening involved more socializing and lazing about in the form of a tense few games of poker.  Except, this was ‘Dare Poker’!  In this version, the player is blind to their own cards, but can see everyone else’s, with the overall loser being forced to do a dare.  There is no skill involved per se, as you have no idea what your cards are, but it comes down to who has the balls to place a bet blind.  If you don’t bet (and win), you end up bleeding chips and, voila, you’re doing a dare!  Fortunately, I dodged that bullet, but three unfortunate souls were not so lucky.  What followed was a combination of drinking a “dirty pint” (any kitchen ingredients are fair game!), running through Egham in your underwear (past cops and chavs alike), and bathing in the water fountain in the high street!

On Sunday, I said a groggy farewell to Mike (7:30am…ugh) and got the train/bus into central London to watch the world-famous London Marathon!  The men’s elite race started at 9:45am, so I headed to Tower Bridge which was around 12 miles into the race.  As I expected, it was heaving with people around Tower Bridge, so I walked down the course eastwards, watching the wheelchair race as they came past intermittently.  After a mile or so of walking, the men’s race finally arrived and there was a fairly large front pack still jostling for position (see photo above!) including defending champion Sammy Wanjiru.  Soon after they’d passed, the women’s elite race whizzed past heading the opposite direction (I was on part of the course that overlapped – miles 14 and 21).  I stuck around to see the men return, this time much more spread out with eventual champion Kebede having a solid lead (Wanjiru was nowhere to be seen…).  I saw some of the mass race too, but didn’t hang around too long to search for the celebs (although I did see a leprechaun running!).  Before heading home, I checked out the finish line (very busy!!!) right on the mall, opposite to Buckingham Palace to watch (I guess I should say hear, as I couldn’t see anything!) the awards ceremony.  The whole atmosphere and excitement has really inspired me to run my first marathon!

Now, only a three-day workweek before heading off to Barcelona with Donny to see my sister!  I can’t wait!  Oh, and as I’m writing this, I only have 10 more work days left until I return to the US!  Yeah!

Posted by: jackterrett | April 22, 2010

Week Seven: Weir, Wolves, and Vampires

Another week, another friend visits me in the glorious City of Gardens – how popular am I???  Saturday morning I met up with my great friend and fellow XC runner from Middlebury, Ben Weir, who’s currently studying abroad in Ferrara, Italy and was wrapping up a couple of weeks of vacationing around Europe (good man saves the best until last!).  We spent the day in London, but instead of seeing all the tourist attractions (we’ve both seen them all before), we went to a Premiership football match that was playing in the city (Wolverhampton at Fulham).  I’d be meaning to go to one for quite some time, so I was as excited to see it as Ben was.  It was very clear when we got close to the stadium that we were in the right place.  Getting off the train, we were mobbed by a huge crowd of drunk, sweaty, fat men who were switching back and forth between singing/shouting “we shall not, we shall not be moved!” and “we are Wolves!”.  Clearly, we were in the middle of the Wolverhampton fan club, so we made sure not to mention any allegiance to Fulham, and sang along with the rest of them.  Huge mobs of people were heading towards the stadium from all directions and there were a great deal of Police Officers keeping everyone in check.  The match itself was riveting – we had seats right behind one of the goals (surrounded by Wolves fans as it was the away end, we made sure not to cheer for Fulham too much!) and everyone stood up in anxious anticipation every time the ball came near the goal.  Unfortunately, no goals were scored and it ended 0:0, although this seemed to please all our fellow Wolves as they were the underdogs going into the match and improved their chances of not getting relegated from the Premier League (in case you’re interested, at the end of the season, the bottom three teams out of twenty get relegated to the lower league for the following season).  After a quick photo-shoot outside the stadium (four attempts at one photo still did not yield great results – thanks Fulham fans!), we made our way home to Welwyn Garden City.  We polished off a great day by watching what critics call “the must-see movie of the year”: Twilight.  Both Ben and I thoroughly enjoyed it and are itching to watch the sequel New Moon!

Having had a taste of English sporting culture on Saturday, we decided to get a bit of an English history lesson on Sunday.  We kicked off the day with a casual run and then went to a famous historical site called Hatfield House.  Queen Elizabeth I spent her childhood here and the house itself was later built for King James I.  The house is a fairly typical stately home, but Ben and I really thrived in the picturesque gardens and grounds.  We went in search of the famous Oak Tree under which Queen Elizabeth I was sitting when she heard of her ascension to the throne in 1558, but were shocked to find that it’s been replaced with a puny new tree.  It was so small, you could barely sit under it (next to it maybe…), and so we immediately left the premises in anger and disgust (not really, the grounds were beautiful and walking around in the warm weather was fantastic, but we did feel a little cheated).  We finished off our short stay in Hatfield by visiting the Galleria (the local shopping mall) where we indulged in closing time stale snacks at Costa Coffee and searched for our next movie experience.  We couldn’t really top Twilight, so settled on ‘500 Days of Summer’ – a really good movie, although I can’t help feeling depressed after watching it (the very opposite of my post-Twilight high).

Ben had originally planned to go back to Italy bright and early Monday morning but, as I’m sure you’ve heard, some volcano in Iceland erupted engulfing the UK in a cloud of ash.  This resulted in Ben’s flight being cancelled indefinitely, so he stuck around for Monday and Tuesday, living it up in Gardens Central and getting as much British TV as he could possibly desire while I was bringing home the bacon at work.  Nevertheless, we filled our two extra evenings together with great English culinary delights: Fish & Chips and then Papa John’s pizza.  I bet no airline offered this sort of service!  What more could a stranded traveler ask for??

Oh, and on Wednesday morning, Ben ended up taking a train back to Italy (London to Paris to Milan to Ferrara)…about 24 hours door to door and a lot more expensive…  Damn volcano.

Posted by: jackterrett | April 15, 2010

Historic Day for British Politics

I came to the UK at the perfect time: last week Gordon Brown officially declared the UK  general election would take place on May 6th.  Having not had the chance to vote in the US in 2008, I’ve been looking forward to the chance to exercise my democratic right to vote and even more exciting is being in the country while it takes place!  Today marks an historic day in British politics.  Tonight will be the first ever Prime Ministerial TV debate, modeled identically on the US Presidential debate.  Britain has never particularly emphasized the charisma, showmanship, and attractiveness of Prime Ministers running for election – this has been a very American phenomenon – but tonight is the night that all that changes (perhaps inadvertently so, but nonetheless it does).  Consistently for the past 50 years, incumbent Prime Ministers have rejected the proposals for TV debates between the leaders of the major political parties whereas their opponents were in favour of them.  Their reasoning?

Margaret Thatcher (Prime Minister 1979-1990): “We’re not electing a President, we’re choosing a government.”

John Major (Prime Minister 1990-1997): “Every party politician that expects to lose tries that trick of debates and every politician who expects to win says no.”

Simply put, if you’re ahead in the polls, you have far more to lose than gain from a TV debate and as the incumbent has the power to decide whether or not one takes place, it has never happened.  You’re only going to hurt your lead if you bring the other party leaders up to your level.  However, in poor Gordon’s circumstance, trailing horribly in the polls a few months ago (it’s a little tighter now), his only chance of being reelected is through the risk of a TV debate.

Tonight the leaders of the three political parties will go head-to-head in a format that they’re not used to at all (no jeering, no cheering, no shouting…basically nothing like the House of Commons).  They are Gordon Brown, leader of the Labour Party and current Prime Minister, David Cameron, leader of the Conservative Party and currently leading in the polls, and Nick Clegg, leader of the Liberal Democrat Party, a smaller third party but with the potential to steal seats in Parliament.  I have very little idea how their policies differ and that’s why I’m so excited to watch this TV debate.  Although it may just come down to simple things:  Gordon’s Scottish resilience…or David’s youth and charm…or Nick’s…ugh…giddiness to be included in the debate…?  Regardless, this event is unprecedented here in the UK and the buzz about it is huge.  So better start cooking my dinner and pop the tele on!

Posted by: jackterrett | April 13, 2010

Week Six: Döner and Tracksuits

After a taxing three day workweek, I took off early Thursday afternoon, hopped on the train to Gatwick, and had my first EasyJet experience (no assigned seats, just a free-for-all!) direct to Berlin Schönefeld.  As soon as I arrived on German soil, I was greeted by Dan and a very hairy Donny (complete with beard and majestic mane – truly embodying the Berlin bear) and a half-litre of Hefeweizen was immediately thrust into my yearning, outstretched hand.  So excited to taste the elixir of German life, I downed it quickly and was, again, immediately greeted by a second beer whipped out of Donny’s backpack – this time Dunkel (dark beer).  I had arrived in heaven!  We hopped on a bus, and then the U-bahn, in search of a bar to celebrate my arrival in style.  Understandably, I hurried to finish my second drink so as to be all ready for the Berlin bar experience.  But, to my mixture of dismay and awe, Donny pulled out a third container of Dutch courage from his Mary Poppins bag.  What luck!  The three of us hit the streets with Hefeweizen in hand and confidence in our step…only to find Berlin strangely deserted for midnight on a Thursday.  Nevertheless, we found a placid sports bar in Westphalweg, where we proceeded to celebrate more, watch the Masters Golf, and make friends with a Berliner with an affiliation to Chicago named Wolfgang.  Later on that night, we made our way back to Donny’s place of residence – a seventh floor room of a Studentenwohnheim with beautiful easterly views over Berlin’s skyline.

The next morning we were made aware of Donny’s east-facing dorm room – a bright and unyielding wake-up call.  Despite that fact, we got up slowly, went for a run around the local “hobo village” (garden allotments that have become miniature homes), and headed out for a walk around town.  The previous day, prior to my arrival, Donny and Dan had purchased some sexy looking track-suits for just over 10 Euros: they had wanted to look like true Germans…well, East Germans…or Bosnians…or basically the general Eastern European youth look.  Once I saw how svelt the two of them looked, I insisted on getting a tracksuit too, so we headed off to ‘Woolworth’ – the store that sells everything…for cheap.  Understandably, I ran home to change into my new purchase, which was followed by a photo-shoot indoor and outdoor (next to a well-chosen urban wasteland shot covered in graffiti – see above!).  Now that we all looked like true East Berliners, we departed to engage in a true German sport: Miniature Golf!  We took it extremely seriously (although not as seriously as the man who worked there – he made a point of teaching us how to play the game, hold the club, and kept showing us how each course should be played for maximum effect!) and after a solid two hours, Dan emerged victorious, while Donny and I wrapped it up with a dead tie!  We walked home with our heads held high and satisfaction in our hearts.  Once back at Donny’s zimmer, we met up with another Midd student in Berlin, Jenny Lindsey, and had dinner: pasta and, of course, WURST!!!  Now that our stomachs were as full as our post-mini golf egos, we took to the town once again.  We journeyed all over the city (not before stopping off at the local ‘Spät Kauf’ to stock up on beverages and supplies) and took many photos (check Facebook).  The fun was only momentarily suspended when I almost got run over by a maniac driving a Mini – fortunately for me, Donny saved my life by making a selfless dive to push me out the way.  Thankfully, neither of us were hurt, but even more shockingly, Jenny managed to capture the moment on camera (look above).  To finish off the night (and recover from our traumatic experience), we made our way to Donny and Jenny’s favourite eatery in all of Berlin: Mustafa’s.  This fine street vendor served popular Turkish cuisine items called Döner and Durum (chicken, sauces, potatoes, veggies, and numerous other delicious items in either a wrap or toasted bread).  I totally understand why Donny goes there at least once a day!

Not surprisingly, the next day (Saturday) was also a slow start.  Under a cloudy sky and increasing rain, we headed over to Jenny’s apartment (a fancy apartment in Alexanderplatz, in the centre of the city) for breakfast.  We then travelled to explore a famous landmark in Berlin that neither Dan and I had seen yet: the Olympic stadium (famous for the 1936 Olympic Games, Adolf Hitler, and Jesse Owens).  Unfortunately we arrived at a time when the stadium was full and inaccessible – a Bundesliga football match between Hertha BSC (Berlin’s team) and Stuttgart.  The sound from outside the stadium was deafening and as we were not allowed in, we wandered around the stadium and stopped at an outdoor café which was showing the match on a TV…almost as good as being inside (at least the sound matched up!).  Before heading back to the city proper, we did a few stretches and warm-ups to look like true athletes (oh yes, we were still wearing our tracksuits of course).  By the way, Stuttgart won 1:0, boo!  That afternoon/evening we explored the Holocaust Memorial, a remarkable structure of 17,000 blocks of varying height (the trick: the floor is undulating and is much deeper at the centre).  We had dinner at Burgermeister (the “best burgers in Berlin” that I mentioned when I was staying with Stanis back in February) and then boldly planned to stay up all night (both Dan and I had flights home at 7am Sunday morning, which required a 5am departure time…oh, and we were flying out from separate airports on opposite sides of the city).  We started this marathon effort confidently with trips to several bars and more Hefeweizen, but as we tired, we all agreed to finish up the early hours of the morning watching episodes of South Park and the Modern Family back at Jenny’s apartment.  Nevertheless, we made it to 4am (albeit with a few short snoozes), said our farewells, and headed our separate ways, ambitiously navigating the U-bahn and Schönefeld airport all by myself.  I made it home to England fairly effortlessly (sleeping all the way…) and thought I’d recuperate with a 2 hour nap in the afternoon…that turned into 6.  But I was still able to get a full night’s sleep despite that small mishap.  After that weekend, I needed it!

Posted by: jackterrett | April 6, 2010

Week Five: Easter Weekend with Kaufman and Westwood

Happy Easter!  What an amazing Easter weekend it was for me – spent with two respectable, leaders of men: Dan Kaufman and Tim Westwood.  Dan arrived on the red-eye at a bright and early 5am on Saturday morning in London – the start of his weeklong European extravaganza.  I met him in busy King’s Cross Station, 3 and half hours later (he slept on a bench, shivering from the cold).  We went off in search of some food and stumbled upon a café where Dan was able to enjoy his much dreamed of Full English Breakfast (sausage, egg, beans, toast, so on and so on).  While we caught each other up on how our lives were going, we journeyed through the capital, hitting up all the traditional tourist destinations – Piccadilly Circus, Covent Garden (we were there so early the market hadn’t even been set up yet), Trafalgar Square (and Nelson’s Column – holler at yah Nathaniel), Buckingham Palace (where we saw a horse brigade and some unnecessarily armed soliders), and everything in between.  Turns out Dan is quite the London scholar and knew his way around better than I did.  Shameful.  We spent the rest of the morning at the Tate Modern museum where we scoffed at modern art, but had a lot of fun walking through a pitch black container (special exhibit apparently) trying to scare people.  Lunch was a delicious affair, bought off stalls at Borough Market (Wild Boar for Dan, Chips and Muffin for me…no surprise there) and had a friendly chat with a man from the Czech Republic who’d lost his passport and needed some financial assistance so he could survive for the next three weeks before he got another one.  Whether or not he was telling the truth, he’s now our homeboy and he told us to call him up if we’re ever in Prague.  Following lunch, we stopped by the Golden Hinde and St Paul’s Cathedral (where we frolicked joyfully outside underneath the blossom trees) and then explored Harrods where we walked through almost every section and tried not to get kicked out for taking photos (oh and the humongous Easter egg was still there…).  Later that afternoon we headed West to watch the annual Oxford-Cambridge boat-race, a bit rushed due to having had so much fun in Harrods.  We arrives at Putney bridge just in time it seemed and ran onto the bridge as we watched the two teams row casually underneath.  They clearly hadn’t started so we settled ourselves comfortably overlooking the East side of the river.  After a while we got suspicious, as the other side of the bridge was packed with people, four rows deep in places, whereas on our side, we had any spot we desired.  A little worried, I asked a nearby police officer whereabouts the race was going to start (note, on our side of the river were loads of press boats, and throngs of people on both banks, so surely I thought something must occur here).  “Officer, which side does the race start on?” I inquired.  “Over there” he said, pointing to the other side, “but it goes under the bridge, turns around and then goes back over to the other side”.  “Umm…are you sure?” I said, thinking that it is very unorthodox for a boat race to turn around in the middle, especially one of such significance.  “Oh yes” he confirmed.  “Hmm, ok.”  Being the trustworthy people we are, Dan and I stuck where we were and even remained unphased after we heard a loud cheer and saw the helicopters overhead gradually disappear into the distance.  Turned out the race didn’t turn around.  I hadn’t thought so.  Nevertheless, we managed to watch the finish on one of the big screens set up for the occasion and enjoyed the cheer of the Cambridge supporters once the race was won.  At least we saw them warm up…for about 5 seconds.

After a marathon effort, Dan passed out for 15 hours back in Welwyn Garden City – entirely deserved and needed.  On Sunday, we ran around the Welwyn area (mid-afternoon at this point) and came across a funfair but unfortunately we had no money on us to pay for the dodgems or merry-go-round.  Just as well really, as we needed to save our energy and enthusiasm for that night.  That evening, we took the bus to the University of Hertfordshire – we had tickets to a club where a very famous British DJ was performing.  TIM WESTWOOD.  I cannot really do him justice in a written explanation, so look him up on Youtube and imagine listening to him for a good three hours.  As you would suspect, it was a pretty funny experience.  He’s such a playa that he even let me have a photo with him (see above) and give him a hug! – unfortunately, however, it turns out he only smiles if you’re a girl.  Definitely worth it though.  The majority of his set comprised of dance/hip-hop remixes followed sporadically by questions I cannot repeat here.  Basically, they all followed the same form, “If you want…(insert various sexual act here)…make some noise!”  What a classy gentleman.  But everyone did, in fact, make some noise…  After the show was out, rather than taking a taxi (which, in retrospect, would have been the logical choice), we decided to walk home from the University.  It was about 4.5 miles.  When we eventually made it, we were very glad to get to bed.

Not surprisingly, we earnt our second lie-in of the weekend on Monday (Easter Monday = no work for me again!).  Following a slow start, we headed back into London (but not before tuning into Victor Guevara’s radio show: “Special Guest Appearance” on WRMC 91.1FM, Champlain Valley, 8-10am EST on Mondays, or listen online http://wrmc.middlebury.edu/ – he gave both Dan and I a shout-out…it’s only fair to reciprocate…).  We spent the majority of that afternoon scalping for West End tickets and as we were extremely undecided on what to see, it took a long time.  We eventually settled on the play ‘The 39 Steps’, a comedy with a 4-member cast in the style of Alfred Hitchcock – £15 each!  Dan had yet to experience a true English pub on his visit, so we grabbed some dinner at what we thought was a “true English pub” in Soho.  Turned out we were conned just like all the other tourists seeking a “true English pub” – it was full of foreigners, both staff and customers…an imitation English pub!  Oh well, if it serves pints of beer and ‘Ploughman’s sandwiches’, it’s all the same to us I suppose.  The show was terrific – I’d highly recommend it.  Our “limited view” (the reason for the huge discount in price) was actually not so limited – true, there was a thin pole which blocked a tiny bit of the stage, but it came with the added virtue of no one else sitting in front of us…therefore, clear view!

Tuesday rolled around and it was back to work for me.  Dan headed off to meet up with Donny and Stanis in Berlin where I’ll be joining them all in a couple of days.  Now, I’ve just got to get through this three-day week…

Posted by: jackterrett | April 2, 2010

Week Four: Family Reunion

Now four weeks into the job, everything has become very normal and time seems to be flying by.  It’s shocking to think that it’s been over five weeks since I was back at Middlebury, bumming around, eating free food, and generally mooching of the college and my friends.  Fortunately, my Mum visited this week to prevent me from slipping into boredom and loneliness following the fun of Donny’s visit.  She stayed with her parents and came over to visit Welwyn Garden City a couple of times to investigate what I’ve been up to.  I even got treated to two meals out at local pubs – called the Crooked Chimney and the Plume of Feathers – for very traditional English meals and drink (none of that 21 year-old nonsense over here, not that it matters anymore!).  This saved me from a couple more feeble attempts at cooking my own food, which I can tell you I’ve kept unadventurous and simple!

My Mum and I went to Cambridge on Saturday – the first time we’d been there in a couple of years.  Being an alum of the University, my Mum was able to get us in free to most of the Colleges’ grounds (shocking that you have to pay in the first place!) so we wandered through some of the most touristy ones (notably King’s College Chapel).  We also spent time walking alongside the river watching the punters go by and then explored the city itself (passed by some pretty bad street performers, trying to break-dance – it was hard not to watch them as they were so bad, so perhaps that was their idea?).  We got lunch in a café where we had the good fortune of sitting next to four middle-aged men who were furiously doing crosswords (my guess is that they’re four professors who get together every Saturday lunchtime to solve crosswords) – a little ominous foreshadowing for Nat, Tyler, and me as that basically sums up much of our J-term…  After leaving Cambridge, we spent a short amount of time at Madingley Hall (where my Mum used to work right after graduation) and then walked around the nearby American Cemetery – apparently the only WWII American cemetery in the UK.  We headed home to Mill Hill, London, where my Grandparents live, and after a meal out at a restaurant called the Fishery with all four of us, I stayed the night there.

On Sunday, my Mum, Grandparents, and I headed off to Beckenham, South London, for lunch with my Uncle (Mum’s brother), Aunt, and two cousins.  On route, we passed by the 2012 Olympic Park, all in various stages of construction – we could see clearly the main stadium and the Velodrome, which is expected to be the first completed venue.  It was an interesting family reunion as some of us hadn’t seen each other in many years, so it was fun catching up (even though we’re not likely to see each other again for several years).  The following day, my Mum was kind enough to take me grocery shopping after work to save me carrying numerous heavy bags through the streets (such is the dilemma of having no car!).  She then flew home to the US the following day (it was great to see you Mum!) and I’ll see her next when I return home in May!  I’m now almost halfway through my foray outside the US – really hard to believe it’s going so quickly!

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