Monday, 31 March 2008

Super Smash Brothers

Here's a list of people/things/characters that need to be in a Super Smash Brothers game, regardless of their connection to Nintendo:

- Daniel Kramer (Final Smash: "Intensify...Intensify...Intensify...BOOM!" Taunt: "yeeEEEAAAHHHHhhh.")

- The Queen

- Facebook (like Mr. Game and Watch, but with newsfeed and stalking instead of sausages and all)

- Nutella

- Martin McDonough

- Richard III

- Lady Macbeth

- Cid Highwind

- Doctor Who


Drop a post with who you think should be in it, with details. This is purely for fun, as I'll be in Ireland for the next few days starting on Wednesday, may not post until after that, and so it'll be interesting to see what piles up.

Sunday, 30 March 2008

An Improbable Sunday

Here is a sequence of events. Believe of them what you wish, but I'm telling you that they happened. Of course, the whole point of this blog is that England is merely a figment of everyone's imagination, so you have a perfect reason to disregard what I'm saying.

- Daylight savings time started in England. As such, I was late for the Methodist church service I wanted to go to.

- Half an hour late for the Methodists, I hopped over to the Exeter Cathedral's 11:15 Mattins service, where the pastor ate a tin of dog food during his sermon.

- At some point either before or during the tin of dog food, Helle Slutz - a friend from Kenyon who was studying abroad in Cork, Ireland, but visiting her sister studying abroad at the University of Kent and so travelling with her sister and two of their french friends, one of whom had a passion for seeing cathedrals - noticed that I was attending the service, and waited with her friends in the cathedral, who were wandering around being tourists.

- After the service, Helle tapped me, and we all went over to the nearby Cafe 21 to have an authentic Devon Cream Tea.

- I decided to write this blog entry.

- I wrote this blog entry.

And that is how a minor time shift drastically affected Griffin's day, for the better.

And actually, looking further back, there's one missing piece to the puzzle, if not causually, then thematically:

Saturday Night, before Daylight Saving's Time began:

- I watched Stranger Than Fiction.

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

An Hour in Dawlish

Today I went to Dawlish. It's a £2 train ride away, and, according to Lucia Pizzo, there's really good ice cream there. I even think I remember her saying there was an ice cream FACTORY, but I don't know whether I made that up or not. So I put on my Orvis British-looking rhinohide jacket, my Orvis British-looking madras cap, grabbed my Young Person's Railcard and saddled up to catch a train.

It's vital to know that I had £20 pounds to live on the rest of the week - I've got decent food supplies but I could use a re-stock on several key items, like bread and milk. £2 train ride to Dawlish, 18 left.

St. David's station was its usual self, except this time, while walking there, the notion of spring hit me like a ton of bricks. Things have really gone green here, and there are little flowers popping up everywhere. The sun actually DOES come out, and consistently as well! And it really reminded me of how happy I was to be at Exeter, not somewhere in London (sorry, Londoners), because of the sheer amount of life.

Dawlish is the first stop on the train to Paignton - I don't know where that is, but it's apparently further towards Cornwall than Dawlish. It's also one of the few trains that I've taken that goes AWAY from London, and the trip showed me an entirely new part of Exeter, and the countryside. I'd never taken the Paignton line before.

One thing I saw was the ocean. Within 10 minutes. We passed by Topsham, where I'd been, on a train line that crossed the bay and I thought to myself how I'd seen this train from a ferry only 5 months before (see Nanci Griffiths is my Porn), and then we passed by Powderham Castle - even more specifically, I saw the road that I nearly hiked on with Wendy et al. to get to Powderham Castle, I was riding the train that was right next to it. Through a tunnel we went, on the other side, I had a moment where I looked out at the ocean, and the sky was cloud-covered, but light. And since there wasn't enough blue in the sky to make the water blue, it was whitish, and I really had another moment where I couldn't tell where the horizon was, where the sea ended and clouds began. I felt distinctly like I was on the train in Spirited Away.

I got off the train on a sunny day in Dawlish - the station was rusty, since it was right next to the sea (literally). I got off, and there was no crowd, no rush, no hurry. The train itself really resembled more of an ancient transport system used by a fallen technologically advanced civilization in Final Fantasy VIII (Esthers, were they?), or IX (I'm thinking Lindbulm post-getting-the-crap-blown-out-of-it), or VII (Midgar +500 years.). Actually, that's probably in most FF games. Anyway, the point is that Dawlish, from an American standpoint, is an odd mix of the Jersey Shore (sans the complete tourist attraction), a carnival, a small Florida town (sans the warm weather), and with a dash of Wisconsin (in that there's an odd obsession with dairy products). The town center is really more of a town oval, revolving around a park and a stream that runs directly into the ocean (it's about 3 ft. deep, max, and you can literally play in it as it heads out into the sea.), and a big green in the center. Around this oval are a variety of neat stores, and pastel-colored houses, which you only ever seem to find in seaside towns.

The beach at Dawlish is more or less just the space near the ocean. There were the remnants of something nearby the mouth of the stream, but it was really just for kids to play in. The jetties seemed useless as waves never got too big, and the sand is brown and pebbly. No lifeguards, no entrance fees, it's just there. You deal with it. More on that in a moment.

Dawlish does have a love of ice cream. As I said, Lucia Pizzo told me of great ice cream adventures to be had. Mmm, I thought to myself, an ice cream factory. I'll go find it. Either a) Lucia mislead me, or b) I exaggerated in my own mind. Dawlish has no ice cream factory. I stopped in to get a pasty (I'd had nothing to eat that day) and, after paying, tried to pull a suave, Final-Fantasy-esque talk-to-the-non-player-characters-to-garner-information. Either I botched my Charisma role, or I just flat out made myself look stupid, but I walked up to them, suave, and said that someone'd told me there was an ice cream factory around here, and I wondered if they knew where it was. They looked at me funny, as if I'd come in and said "excuse me, can you point the way to Willy Wonka's chocolate factory, a magical place of mystery and wonder?" They told me there were ice cream shops, but no factory. And I got the distinct feeling that if I talked to them again, they wouldn't repeat what they were saying over and over again. After recieving my pasty (you recieved "pasty"), I apologized and left.

Dejected, I found a place on the green to eat my pasty, and was approached by a seagull, that literally emmitted a cooing kind of noise and kind of grovelled. I think it'd learned how to beg. I felt bad giving it a pasty though, which has meat in it, and so I ate the whole thing in front of it and threw away the remnants. Does that get me dark side points?

Resolved to enjoy my time SOMEHOW, I wandered the town oval, deciding to go to anywhere that advertised ice cream. The first was Gay's Creamery, which claimed to have locally produced Devon ice cream, and take away cream tea sets. Yum, think I. But, as it turns out, Gay's Creamery was not really much about the ice cream at all. It was really just a freezer behind the counter and some cones, just barely more advanced than Shaker Maker (see Uncanny/Milkshake). What they did have, though, was large quantities of locally produced sweets, and more. Devon chocolates, Devon toffees, Devon clotted cream fudge, and, of course, Devon cider. In case my Topsham trip went poorly, I bought myself an emergency bottle of Devon cider.

After getting my ice cream cone, my cider, and a tub of clotted cream (YES), I found a little bench by the central stream and ate my ice cream cone. It wasn't that bad, I thought. Yes, I was alone on a day trip while other people, like Ken, were in Paris, and yes, I had yet to find the mythic ice cream that Lucia had mislead me to seek, but I had ice cream. I had clotted cream. Inspired by an option in Gay's creamery, I went to dip the one in the other, but slightly broke the tub of clotted cream trying to open it. Not enough to spill it, the cap was/is just unsecure. But ice cream + clotted cream ended up equalling "okay." Things weren't that bad. Then my cone broke, not sufficiently enough to ruin the ice cream, of course.

I decided, at that moment, that was my trip to Dawlish. It's pretty nice - SNAP.

But, in that, it had its charm. There were the gulls and ducks I kept passing on my frantic search for ice cream. The bush of what I came to call "Sommerset Roses" after the red rose faction from the War of the Roses, that sense that you were actually involved in some kind of cosmic comedy. I kept thinking of the idea of "comic angels" in stories, like It's A Wonderful Life and Love Actually. I finally found the tourist center, and I asked the lady there about ice cream, and she pointed me to a little shop on the sea side of the oval, called "Sticky Fingers," that looked more like a newstand. Except, on the sign above it, was the store's claim to fame: it'd won some nation wide ice cream contest. So I went in, got myself a brownie-cream scoop in a chocolate dipped cone, some clotted cream chocolates, and went out to the beach.

The beach, like I said, is really just where the ocean meets the shore in Dawlish. Maybe there's more attention in the summer. The train is propped up by some cement supports that make it resemble its own little Normandy beach - shrunk down to 50 ft long. The train heads off into another mountain, and if you go out onto the jetty, you can see one of those rock formations you often see in pirate movies, where there's the cliff/mainland, and then a sort of lower-case "n" shape of rock that sticks out into the water.

I went as far as I could go on the jetty, and was alone, and sat there. Me and my ice cream and the gulls and the sea. I came to a series of conclusions:

First: I was missing a variety of things. These include:

- Someone else. I'm still mastering the art of traveling by myself, for myself.
- A camera.
- T.S. Eliot. I couldn't help sitting there and thinking back to lines like

"At the source of the longest river
The voice of the hidden waterfall
And the children in the apple-tree
Not known, because not looked for
But heard, half-heard, in the stillness
Between two waves and the sea.
Quick, now, here, now, always -
A condition of complete simplicity
(Costing not less than everything)
And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well..."

Okay, so not the whole thing, but Dawlish requires Eliot. Bits and pieces of that kept bubbling up. It's a very meditative place, the end of a jetty. Think of this bit from The Dry Salvages read aloud on a jetty:

"The river is within us, the sea is all about us;
The sea is the land's edge also, the granite
Into which it reaches, the beaches where it tosses
Its hints of earlier and other creation..."


"That the future is a faded song, a Royal rose or a lavendar spray
Of wistful regret for those who are not yet here to regret,
Pressed between yellow leaves of a book that has never been opened.
And the way up is the way down, the way forward is the way back."


"... And right action is freedom
From past and future also.
For most of us, this is the aim
Never here to be realised;
Who are only undefeated
Because we have gone on trying;
We, content at the last
If our temporal reversion nourish
(Not too far from the yew-tree)
The life of significant soil."

T.S. Eliot demands light waves and a jetty.

Second: I was going to have to come back, because I couldn't really accomplish Dawlish without at least one of the three missing things above.

So, with a bit of sorrow at a side-quest uncompleted, I went to go get on the next train home. I had spent about an hour and a half in Dawlish. But before I left, I slid down the seaweed encrusted part of the jetty to get as close to the water as possible. On the train ride back, I kept smelling some fishy, grimy smell. Then I realized it was my shoes. And I was happy.

"Every poem is an epitaph. And any action
Is a step to the block, to the fire, down the sea's throat
Or to an illegible stone: and that is where we start."


I had one of those "oh" moments today. My stomach was sick from the ice cream and the cider, and Stephanie Reiches said something like, "you look so sick. This is what you look like." and she imitated me. And I said to myself, "oh. That's the nature of drama. Right."

Monday, 24 March 2008

Norwegian Euphamisms

My Norwegian friend Thomas and I were talking about euphamisms regarding the bathroom today, such as "taking the Browns to the Super Bowl" et al., and he informed me of some interesting Norwegian ones, loosely translated into English:

"Taking the Browns to the Super Bowl" = "Calling for the Moose"

Vomitting after a night of heavy drinking = "Talking in the Big White Telephone"

I'll continue to report on this as new euphamisms arise.

Sunday, 23 March 2008

This Blessed Isle

Now that I've come at least three quarters of the way through my English experience, I have to sit here and wonder, what does it take to be British? Is it just the tea, the class struggles, the calling of things what they're not usually called (i.e. cookies = biscuits, etc.)? Or is it something else?

Because the dissimilarity between British and American culture is readily apparent. I was talking to a lady in church today (separate story, but I went to Easter Communion at the Exeter Cathedral. It was pretty sweet.), who was originally from New Mexico but had moved to Bristol and stayed there. For the most part she spoke with a Bristolean (?) accent, but here and there I could sense semblances of American left in her voice. She showed me around to the grave of Charles Wesley's brother, who was an organist in the Cathedral and got his own burial place beneath it, and we just talked about differences in cutlure: across America, across England. How New Mexico and Santa Fe were one world, and Bristol was another. The geography, the cultural influences (in this case, the presence of Spanish/Mexican influences on Easter practices), political climates, so on and so on.

Of course, the similarities are just as easily visible: England imports a lot of American culture, and returns things like ideas for American Idol and Dancing With The Stars. And Doctor Who. The only two places a musical can be "born" and recieve any amount of success is either on Broadway or in the West End. And, I mean, we both speak the same language.

But what kind of life do you have to lead in England to become English? Do you have to be raised here? Apparently not, since I know at least two people I'd consider English who both were raised in America. And if it can grow on you, what does it take? A proclimation of ideals? Do you renounce manifest destiny, the hope of becoming a movie star, and the American Dream in favor of taking up the Realm, politeness, and the Queen? What on earth is a national identity made up of, and is it a conscious choice, or is it just a sort of lump of all the experiences you have rolled into one?

I love being different here, but I love fitting in. Not that Englishness and I have always gotten along very well, as the occasional emo-rant on this blog can illustrate. But when it comes down to it, I do love being in dialogue with Englishness and English culture, as an outsider. But then, I get offended and start ranting when someone honestly suggests that "American" is a separate language. I rant to myself about how that's denying my cultural heritage.

But is England my cultural heritage? The English are said to have two books: the Bible, and the Complete Works of Shakespeare. That's what was put in the time capsule in Our Town. To what extent is the American experience a reinvention of the British one? We both had bloody civil wars. We both struggled with the question of when it was right to overthrow a king. What is the American Cultural Heritage, anyway, if not somehow connected to where we all moved in from anyway? Apart from whether democracy can work, and what the equality of man could be, in the end, what major questions has America answered in 300 years? What are our defining characteristics? All I can think of is what we're percieved to be. We can be perceived as wealthy, or idealistic, or business-driven, or stupid, or laid back, or wild, or any number of things. But among all these percieved characteristics, I can't think of one thing that it takes to be American. And maybe it's as simple as national identity not existing at all. Maybe it's just a label and a handed down set of themes that historians and literary critics dictate to us. Maybe it's that in America you can be whatever you want to be. That sounds oddly sappy.

When I was in Bath, I was talking to a high-school-age student involved in His Dark Materials. She said that she couldn't understand why anyone would ever come from America, to England. England, she insisted, was dull, and slow, while America was fast-paced. I told her England was quieter, and I don't remember exactly what else I said but my feeling about it is that England is more profound, that still waters run deep. And, in that, I can't see why anyone, being English, would want to go to America. I mean, a change of pace is always good, and of course people often don't appreciate things until they step back from them, and maybe not everyone in England particularly likes the English lifestyle, but if you've got this inborn connection to the culture on this peculiar, wonderful little island - if you can tell someone's birthplace and education just by hearing them speak, if you've endured the weather here, and been brought up with the BBC, and lived among solid history - why would you want to leave? Why would you want to give that up for the American experience, which seems somehow more superficial, or at least less profound? I mean, I've got a family and friends in America, what have you got, Hypothetical-British-Person-To-Whom-I'm-Speaking? You're just a conceptual target for my direct address. You don't even have feelings.

The clouds move faster in England, and the weather is more sporadic. Tea solves everything. Faith is easier to talk about, but only %2 of people attend religious services. When you turn 18 you get a bigger pint of beer than the one you're used to (apparently). People are most commonly nice, though some get frustrated by little things (like paying before you bag your groceries). Lots of people have dogs but only a few let you pet them. No one talks about personal subjects unless you corner them. More people have seen Shakespeare than you would normally expect. Grape jelly doesn't exist, clotted cream does.


I'm headed off to Dawlish and Glastonbury soon, so I'll try to get in some good travel writing about them. Thanks for keeping up with my adventures so far, my readers, even if they don't often make much sense.

Friday, 21 March 2008

A Ghost Town

Just writing to say that Exeter is a frickin' ghost town when everybody leaves. Like everybody. Ken left this morning, meaning my only source of entertainment - his copy of Super Smash Brothers Brawl - is unaccessable. Whatever is a boy to do.

I'm trying to get an RPG going when people come back, either Exalted or Werewolf (possibly of the Wild West variety). Leaning towards Werewolf, but there's plenty still to learn...

Wednesday, 12 March 2008


I had a quintessentially British moment the other day:

Two of my friends from my Music and Theatre class went out to lunch in the break between our two three-hour sessions. They came back covered in mud. In the best way, these are the kind of girls who are energetic enough, and human enough, to still play in mud. "What happened?" everyone asked, and they said they'd found a big patch of mud behind the Imperial (the nearest pub, across the street in fact), and they'd had the sudden unresistable urge to tackle each other and goof around. I just realized this could sound sexual, looked at in the right way. It wasn't. It was utterly pre-school. They spent the next few hours laughing crazily, saying how it had been such a release for them, to just go and play in the mud and have fun.

After class, they implored me to come play in the mud with them. Hesitant, I obliged, saying I'd just come and hang out, and not play in the mud myself. The mud was literally just a patch on a hill behind the pub, between some tables set up outside. It existed because patrons walked on it a lot, and the weather was, as usual, wet. I decided, what the hey.

The game was run at the mud as fast as you could, and then jump onto your knees and see how far you could slide. This included sliding on your side, chest, face, etc. I managed to get just my jeans completely covered. This is what happens when you don't have SNOW IN THE WINTER!

After about five minutes, someone from the Imperial came out, and in the plainest and calmest of all voices, asked what on earth we were doing. My friend tried to explain that they were playing in the mud, to cheer up the other girl with us. Again, plain and calm, though the ire lurking in wait was starting to become visible, the man fussed at us about the sod costing hundreds of pounds to redo each year. My friend answered that it wasn't much damage at all that wouldn't have come up from people walking on it anyway.

Then, politely (but boiling - my friend insisted he was laughing inside), the man told us to sod off (i.e. fuck off, for those unfamiliar with the term).

And it hardly detracted from the experience at all. If anything it made it funnier. I even thought of a good comeback five minutes later:

Mr. Impy: Sod off.
Me: Sod off, get it? Get it? Cause we're on his grass. Sod off. No? No?

I think it's funny.

Anyway, in retrospect, this just rang true to me as inherently British. There is some kind of rigid authority, Victorian in its love of rules and not showing feeling, who can't see past the commodity of the grass to the joys that the younger, more innocent (dare I say, Dickensian?) children see in the mud. And the children play in it, not caring about what he thinks. And he yells at them, though material arguments don't make a dent. Finally, he concludes with the most polite equivalent of "go fuck yourselves" that I, as an American, have ever heard. And this discipline does not matter at all, it's in fact just a way of life, part of the game. We packed up and went home after that.

My jacket still has a patch of mud on it, and I wear it like a badge.


Ken took us to a milkshake place that he found recently, called the Shaker Maker, or something like that. The central conceit of the store is that the "menu" is really just a big wall of practically any kind of candy, biscuit, fruit, ice cream, whatever! You name it, they'll stick it in a blender with some ice cream and milk and give you a milkshake. I had a milk-chocolate-hobnob milkshake. They'd never made one before, so they took three milk chocolate hobnobs, put in some vanilla ice cream, some milk, blended it, then let me try some to see if three hobnobs was enough, and asked if I wanted more. I settled for three, which ended up being a good number. It was amazing!



And, for your viewing pleasure, here's an old favorite:

Monday, 10 March 2008

When November Ends

English weather is, essentially, many months of November. Actually, since November, it's been November. So about four months of November. Just last night there was one of the larger storms in the year, with winds ripping through Exeter and tearing things apart, blowing trash everywhere, and so on. Now it won't stop being windy, and November has broken.

November being over is a joyous occasion though. No longer are things dull and only partially green. The green's flaming up all over the place, the flowers are blooming, and even though things are wet most of the time, things are growing.

The sad version of England, I'd like to think, is falling away. For a spring season, I feel oddly autumnal. I'm preparing to leave, after all. It's not quite to the get-your-ducks-in-a-line stage, but I'm encountering people I haven't spoken to since last semester, and I'm reminded how much I need to hang out with them before I leave. Maybe I'm just too wistful for my own good.

Saturday, 8 March 2008

Medieval Echoes

"Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past."

-T.S. Eliot, "Burnt Norton" Four Quartets

"So our human life but dies down to its root, and still puts forth its green blade to eternity."

-Henry David Thoreau, Walden.

"Glory is like a circle in the water,
Which never ceaseth to enlarge itself,
Till by broad spreading it disperse to nought."

Call me pretentious (again), but I had to include these quotes.

I just went and saw Henry VI, parts i, ii, and iii, in addition to Richard III, all at the RSC's theater in Stratford, all by the RSC, and, together with the Henriad which I saw in January (mentioned earlier in "The Difference Between a Cow and a Bean" and "The Dirty Duck"), means that I have seen all eight major Histories, and only had to read one of them. It's odd, I can't think of any other way to see any of them, including the often-performed Henry V or Richard III. In the second scene of Richard III, when the body of Henry VI is wheeled on and Richard tries to seduce Ann in front of it, how can that have any meaning without seeing the rest of Henry VI? Henry's wounds open up again in the presence of Richard and bleed before him, but without seeing Henry's pilgramage in the other plays, or the scene where Richard murdered Henry (or did Henry martyr himself? He spends the scene subtly prompting Richard to murder him), if you hadn't seen Richard rip a Bible to shreds and proclaim that he was no man's brother, that he was himself alone, and then whimper, how could this scene be anything other than an awkwardly timed seduction? What on earth does one think of ex-Queen Margaret when she comes on and curses the entire cast of the play (in this production she carried her dead son Edward's skeleton around in a bag for the whole play, and opened it during the curse, assembling another part of the skeleton with each prediction), except that she's some crazy deposed monarch? Actually, she's lead armies against the Yorks, had one of their young children murdered and stuffed the blood-soaked hankerchief into the father's mouth, sacrificed much for her son Edward's sake, divorced Henry VI for his attempts at peace, but you can't get any of that without having to sit around for another 10 hours of Henry VI.

The effect of producing all eight, from the RSC's perspective, is that no show is divisible from the others (though for some reason they set Richard III, and only it, in a semi-modern world with uzies and Kevlar vests, but even then it draws on the other seven.). The weighty significance that people put on one moment, or one scene, or even one show (like Richard III) was nullified, spread out into the larger whole, and ultimately for the better. No one had any "Here's My Famous Speech" moments. It was all just the rampant course of history. This fits in with the theme of the plays as well, so much is gained in the course of the Histories, and so much is lost. Henry V takes his entire play to gain land in France. By Henry VI, that land has been lost because of the War of the Roses. There's nothing close to the certainty of the Divine Right of Kings, although people throughout the play keep trying to invoke it. No one can trust each other because they've spent the whole time stabbing each other in the backs. By the end of Richard III, when Henry Tudor finally takes Richard down and ends the War of the Roses, you're happy just to be on the upper end of the wheel, but you're fully aware that history repeats itself.

The other thing I really liked about the play, as in the script, is the character of Henry VI. In Richard II, Shakespeare told the story about a more introverted, sensitive man who happened to be born as a king, and what a tragedy it was that he was such a thoughtful person (somewhere - Richard can be a serious ass most of the time), but he couldn't manage a state. Henry VI is another such person, a generally good person who was born a king, and crowned at a very young age. Throughout Henry VI, part i, you see him innocent and young, and oblivious, as machinations happen all around him, and you think "Oh gosh, he's gonna get it by part iii, SO bad." Part ii begins like that, but then he actually realizes how much he's been used (as the War of the Roses begins all around him), and gosh darn it, he stands up for himself (or tries). And he doesn't die (yet)! It's so refreshing to see someone who's a pretty okay guy not get corrupted by a position of power. He doesn't make the best political decisions, but he holds his own. And then by part iii, it's not that his incompetance finally undoes him, it's that he realizes that he wasn't cut out to be king, though he tries to use his power to stop the War of the Roses, rather than getting too caught up in it. By the time Richard gets to him, Henry is more a king in ceremony than practice, and although he's been captured by the Yorks, he uses his time to study the Bible and meditate. In such an inherently war-time drama, it's good to get an outside perspective from the violence, and that's exactly what Henry helps you do. And it's even better to see a potentially tragic character get his act together and pursue self-actualization, without having to die for trying (he dies cause Richard can gain things out of it). Richard II approaches this state by the end of Richard II, but he realizes it right before the murders come to get him.

And it's these two characters, Richard II and Henry VI, that I really care for the most, out of all the Histories. It's these two that only ever get a shot at the deeper meanings behind what they're doing, from Richard's "now doth time waste me" (mentioned in The Dirty Duck), to Henry's contemplation on a grassy hill:

"Would I were dead! if God’s good will were so;
For what is in this world but grief and woe?
O God! methinks it were a happy life,
To be no better than a homely swain;
To sit upon a hill, as I do now,
To carve out dials quaintly, point by point,
Thereby to see the minutes how they run,
How many make the hour full complete;
How many hours bring about the day;
How many days will finish up the year;
How many years a mortal man may live.
When this is known, then to divide the times:
So many hours must I tend my flock;
So many hours must I take my rest;
So many hours must I contemplate;
So many hours must I sport myself;
So many days my ewes have been with young;
So many weeks ere the poor fools will ean;
So many years ere I shall shear the fleece:
So minutes, hours, days, months, and years,
Pass’d over to the end they were created,
Would bring white hairs unto a quiet grave.
Ah! what a life were this! how sweet! how lovely!
Gives not the hawthorn bush a sweeter shade
To shepherds, looking on their silly sheep,
Than doth a rich embroider’d canopy
To kings, that fear their subjects’ treachery?
O, yes! it doth; a thousand-fold it doth.
And to conclude, the shepherd’s homely curds,
His cold thin drink out of his leather bottle,
His wonted sleep under a fresh tree’s shade,
All which secure and sweetly he enjoys,
Is far beyond a prince’s delicates,
His viands sparkling in a golden cup,
His body couched in a curious bed,
When care, mistrust, and treason wait on him."

Yum yum yum.

And having just come from a "what on earth am I doing in England?" crisis, to a "oh, I'm a capable person" revelation, it's good to see an unsure king discover who he is and what he can do.

And speaking of capability, my adventure in Stratford didn't just include the plays.

We had tickets to the Henrys, that's for sure, but Richard III had long since sold out. But, the theater reserved ten tickets that it released only on the day of the performance, first come, first serve. So, after Kenyon-Exeter resolved to be a part of this, I, and I alone, woke up at 6-ish in the morning, and was at the door of the Courtyard Theatre, with both a meager breakfast of digestives, hobnobs, and coke, along with a copy of The Everlasting Man, and I was the first in line. I waited there until 9:30 - the rest of Kenyon-Exeter showed up at around 7:30, but one other person had arrived in the meantime, meaning that we didn't get all ten tickets. Patrick Smyth and Ann Pedke, among other people, ended up waiting in line for no-shows right before Richard III, and the two of them ended up scoring SWEET seats house center, ground floor.

But I waited for hours for Shakespeare tickets, and that is enough reward for me. I've never woken up early to get in line for anything before! Not a concert, not Star Wars, nothing. It's intense.

Plus, the girl who showed up in the meantime, who got the second spot in line, was really nice, and we ended up sitting next to each other cause we both got crappy early reserve tickets. Her name was "Veritie," and as soon as I heard it, I said "oh... 'Truth.' " She said not many people get that. And she was pretty and stuff.

I just thought it was very Morality Play of me to sit watching Richard III, which centers on a character based on Vice characters, while I was sitting next to Truth, who was a pretty, early-twenties Uni student.

And I had one final moment of Shakespeare geekdom. I'd never seen or read all of Richard III before. In fact, of the Histories, I'd only ever read Richard II beforehand. I'd never seen the end of Richard III, but when we got to it, and Richard was killed, and Henry went to crown himself, he says the following:

"Abate the edge of traitors, gracious Lord,
That would reduce these bloody days again,
And make poor England weep in streams of blood!
Let them not live to taste this land’s increase,
That would with treason wound this fair land’s peace!
Now civil wounds are stopp’d, peace lives again:
That she may long live here, God ..."

-- And then, the actor paused, I mean he'd been pausing all the while, but there was just enough time for my thoughts to align themselves. I had been going with the meter, going with the logic, and it was the very end so I was extremely attentive, and, although in retrospect I suppose it wasn't that hard to do, I intuited the last two words of Richard III. I mouthed them with the actor silently while he spoke them out loud:

"... say amen."

Wednesday, 5 March 2008

An LGBT with Olive

We were discussing the acronym LGBT today - Ken, Patrick Smyth and I - and it was put forth that "LGBT" should be some kind of sandwich. But what would it have in it?

Barbecue Chicken
and Tomato?


Lamb fries
and Tom Basinger?

I'm interested to hear.

Also, we studied Voyage today in Contemporary British Drama, which made me get out my Cambridge Companion to Tom Stoppard last night and read up on his politics. My Companion was published in 2001 - before Voyage - so it wasn't much help finding material relevant to the play, but it re-introduced me to all of the reasons that I like Tom Stoppard. Beyond the wordplay and the prismatic structuring (a term used often by Wendy in class), Stoppard refuses to provide a singular voice or message in any of his shows, because a definitive answer would stop, or at least oppose, an individual's questioning abilities. Larger over-arching movements - like the post-modern movement he is so often shunted into - are, as one essayist described it, "countries" that he moves through: he speaks the language but is only ever a periphery member, never a citizen. Becoming a citizen would give his shows a voice, they'd suffocate his ability to toy with an idea.

And beyond that, the "never a citizen" bit is always interesting, considering his relation to Vaclav Havel and the Czech revolution from the USSR. He actually really got involved in it - USSR agents stole a petition he was taking back from Prague for Amnesty International!

And this isn't hero-worship, by far. The real Mr. Stoppard would probably hate talking to me and I've accepted that we'll probably never bump into each other. It's more that I've been reading his work for years, now, and I always come back to his plays understanding more and more. It's a neat little phenomenon, that.

Cheers, Mr. Stoppard.

Tuesday, 4 March 2008

Teeny Todd

For your viewing pleasure:

We discussed this in Music and Theatre. That's right, we discussed THIS in Music and Theatre. I heart that class. It features "You Could Drive a Person Crazy" from Company.

Monday, 3 March 2008

Level Up!

This is the tale of a sidequest:

First step, rally funds. This was tricky, because the exchange rate is never pretty, but I managed to get together some pounds to head out to Tesco with.

Next, at Tesco, I got to run around and select from whatever was leftover. It was six in the evening, you see, and the large parade of Monday shoppers had come and gone. It turned out that I was missing a green pepper, tabasco sauce, worchestire sauce, french onion soup, and red pepper - I think that was it. But all other gumbo ingredients were purchased, and some were finagled. The only sausage they had there were British, breakfast, cumberland sausages, which was not what I needed. The only chorizzo they had there came in thin slices! So, I bought some cumberland sausages and made due. But, I did get two secret bonus items!

Extra Virgin Olive Oil - why settle for less when the oldest in the world drinks two glasses of it a day? It's supposed to work wonders for almost any and everything in your body

Quinoa: (keen-wah, like Quina!) a super-food that Clay von Carlowitz got me on to. It was tucked back amongst other healthy foods at Tesco, and I checked the bag out. It can be substituted in for pasta or rice...hmm... Aquired Quinoa! ::Zelda item song::

Next, loaded with groceries, I began to return home, but made one final stop at the Co-op to look for a green pepper, and there it was! Aquired Green Pepper! ::Zelda item song::

Alas, when I got back, I got back late, and had to go make buckeyes with Ken, which was an amusing and rewarding experience in its own, but a complete and utter side-quest to my already important side-quest of making gumbo! I got to eat some though, so it was all good - you throw a buckeye in front of a roving Griffin, and he'll stop to eat it. It works much better than sylkis greens or kupo nuts.

But, once they were finished, and even though it was 11 p.m., I went about making my chicken-sausage gumbo. At first I thought I had too many vegetables, but then a sauteed them, and they shrunk. Then I had to deal with the cumberland sausages, which aren't meant to be cut up before they're cooked so they kind of squirted around. I managed it. Then there was cooking chicken, and I'm a huge freak about salminella, and how I don't want to get it, so that was interesting. And I almost set off the fire alarm with all the smoke in the kitchen, so once all the ingredients were cooked I stopped and waited for probably 5 minutes and just vented the kitchen.

Then came the making gravy from powder (because NO OTHER GRAVY EXISTS IN ENGLAND), and straining out all the little chunky bits that didn't want to disolve. Then I split the soup contents into two pots cause there was too much, so I had to halve everything I was doing. There was this awkward phase where I was putting a little gravy and then a little cream of mushroom soup for the broth, then stiring. And it was all working, until I put the soup in first, and when I went to strain the gravy chunks, I left the strainer on top of the just-plopped-in soup, so I had this gravy-soupy mass stuck to the bottom of the strainer, it was all quite amusing. Then stuff started sticking to the bottom of the pan, it was crazy.

Then I cooked the quinoa. An interesting experience, because quinoa, when it's cooked, looks like this. It's crazy! It has naturally occuring swirls in every bite! And it fills you up right quick, especially when served with chicken-sausage gumbo on top of it, which turned out to be AMAZING.

And I know this sounds absurd, but the sheer act of cooking in the kitchen for probably something like 3 hours, followed by the discovery of quinoa being good, followed by the even better discovery of the gumbo being good, has really made my, well, not life, but week, at least. I don't often get things right - I get things close enough to good, or acceptable, or something, but there's aren't a lot that I can claim to have done outrightly right. This gumbo was right, because it was tasty. And I'm kind of ecstatic about it.

Level up!

Utopian Brain Gumbo

I have three adventures planned for today:

Firstly: I have emailed my dad and procured the tasty, tasty recepie for his Chicken Sausage Gumbo, which I intend to make on Wednesday, when all us Americans gather round with all those French people and all those people of other nationalities and make dinner. I have my shopping list, and so there are two sub quests here. First, I, like Quina the Blue Mage, must go and procure all the tasty ingredients, although, unlike Quina, I have a definite gender and do not fight using a fork. Then, once ingredients are found (some optional ingredients, like Okra, will probably involve me completing some kind of side quest, dressing up in drag a la FFVII, or some such business), I get to play Frankenstein with them and experiment until I finally get something resembling gumbo out of them. It'll be a fun time tonight.

Secondly: I get to read Voyage, the first part of The Coast of Utopia by Tom Stoppard. It'll be an adventure.

Thirdly: An email just went out from the neuroscience department - I signed up in the beginning of the year as a volunteer in science experiments - and they want people who are interested in wearing a tiny camera for a few days, and then later are shown some images that it took while under an MRI. And if you bring a blank CD, you get to keep your brain pictures! And you get £15! I think I'm doing it, I just need to check my schedule. Meaning, that on the days that I'm wearing this camera, I need to be having magical amazing adventures so that I can remember them. They specifically ask to have you doing something rather than just sitting in your room. A call to adventure!

It'll be fun.

Sunday, 2 March 2008

The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul

So I've got a computer with a keyboard that sounds like a typewriter, which has lightened my mood immeasurably for this post.

Dateline: 2 March 2008. University of Exeter, Exeter, United Kingdom. Stop

Given departure 26 June 2008 - Hildesheim - the suggested options are put forth for peer review. Stop

One: Write. Stop

Two: Meditation, research necessary, but most likely a good cure for the "long dark night of the soul." Stop

Three: More Roleplaying Games. Proved useful after first semester, why stop a good thing? Stop

Four: Long walks. Worked for C.S. Lewis, and also mom. Stop

Five: Travel. Re: expensive; limit wanderings to nearby, select specific destinations for distant travel. Stop

Six: Fix computer, alt. : buy a CD player - music is essential. Stop

Seven: Cream Tea. Stop

Eight: Puppies. Stop

Nine: Personal reading, outside of class reading and thesis reading. Stop

Ten: Write worthwhile blog reports of life in England. Stop

Normal coverage, sans crisis, will resume momentarily. Most likely tomorrow. Stop

Saturday, 1 March 2008

A Midterm Crisis

Sorry I'm in this funk, but it has laregly to do with England, so though it is an emotional response (which I said I wouldn't cover in this blog, only to break that rule pretty early on), it's firmly grounded in England.

I'm having a midterm crisis. Spring break is coming, which means that there's not much sand left in my England hourglass, but enough to get something done. There are two countries left in the UK that I will have left to visit once spring break is over, if all goes according to plan, those being Wales and North Ireland. There is the mythical abroad-relationship I have yet to find, since no one will touch me (no pun intended) due to my expiration date. I want full-blown "the one that got away" romance, darn it, but no, no one wants to get attached and then have to end it in a number of months. Forget that noise, I want to be rendered utterly contrite and heartbroken when I leave England, I don't want it to be just another matter of consequence. I want romance (dare I say, love?) that makes me forget that I have an expiration date.

Oooh, deep. Maybe I'll revise that so it's not quite so completely and utterly emo.

This being cynical thing really isn't as fun as all the cynics I know crack it up to be.

Anyway, the point is that now is the point of brainstorming solutions to the problem, the problem being that I want to have an amazingly rewarding end to my Kenyon-Exeter experience, but what does that entail? A complete piss-up with random British people? Various tickets to Wales, North Ireland, the Czech Republic, France, Spain, Kosovo (A NEW COUNTRY, IN OUR LIFETIME, A SECOND VELVET REVOLUTION), Italy, Iona (an island off the coast of Scotland, not really a country but more of a destination. And there's no airport...)? Is it trips to London? Is it non-stop research? Or playwriting? Or exploring?

I guess this is the old "I never saw Paris" situation, except I'm not dying. I just probably won't ever be back to Europe, is all. And I have these fluctuations between sprees of action followed by collapses of inaction, the first being: what on earth can I do? Let me think of everything; and the second being: maybe the essence of England is just being here, and maybe having tea. I think this is the same reason why my room is always a mess: OOH! I could color code my entire bookshelf...but I still need to fold my clothes...oh well, none of it will ever get done, but the idea is what counts.

More on this crisis as it develops. But in the meantime:


A Springtime Epiphany

And that is:

Life in England is approaching normality. I've gotten used to it. England still holds wonder around corners, but I'm used to the corners being there. I'm finding America harder and harder to remember, and with the amount of growing that I've had to do, just as a person, time has warped, and I feel more and more like America is a distant past rather than an eventual future.

That said, of course it's perfect timing that I'm reaching this state now, a handful of months before I have to go back. By "perfect timing," I mean both that it's too bad - all sarcasm included - but also that it makes sheer sense. I don't have my deadline of a return to America in the near future, and I've been here long enough to feel like it's a significant amount of time.

And it is a significant amount of time! I've been here for five months! Five crucial months of my college experience, which couldn't be spent at Kenyon, which couldn't be spent with all my friends at home, which couldn't be spent moving around in the little friendships and intricacies, which I couldn't spend playing with my dog, or spending quality time with my family, or exploring America, or seeing American theater, or working in an American job, participating in American politics, reading American magazines...

There's probably a lot more to that rant, but I'm going to cut it off there. This may end up being one of my more ranty, impassioned entries. I don't quite know yet, it's kind of a strange place to be.

There are who seasons of shows that have come out that I've missed entirely, not that this is unusual since these things rarely penetrate the Kenyon bubble, except through filesharing. But I don't even have that! I have the BBC. When I went to Scotland I had Scottish TV. I had the Glasgow regional network. There's not that much good on. And I'm a token - remember how I used to say that being in England made me feel special because I was novel? - I'm a token. Take American politics, you get asked a lot about Barack and Hillary. People talk about Hillary like she's this evil witch that they can vote out of office. And they look at you, like the fate of the world is resting on you, and I guess in some ways it is, and then they change the subject to British politics because you aren't saying anything. Or if you do say something, you drop words like "democrat" "republican" and so on, and they nod knowingly and have large conversations, but who in England knows the reality of dealing with democrats and republicans?

Maybe I'm just angry at England for being normal. This isn't a disillusioned "the magic is gone" rant, but maybe things are starting to get to me. People not saying what they mean, is one. My run in with my directing lecturer after the class was over ("Griffin, I read your portfoilio, and it was really funny." when I didn't mean it to be funny at all), or just unexpressed thoughts you can see - or think you can see - lurking behind people's eyes ("The nerve, did he just take my place in the cue?"). I'm tired of stratification - people can talk about class here to no end - and hills, and endless drizzling, and the complete and utter lack of winter. Maybe that wanderlust that England ignited in me is now spurring me onward, I don't know.

Few. That rant is out of the way. I leave you, as often is the case, with Shakespeare (in particular, more Richard II):

This land of such dear souls, this dear, dear land,

Dear for her reputation through the world,

Is now leas’d out,—