Week 2: Charles I Was Here

“WAS THAT A PARROT?!” is not really something I was expecting to hear while driving around London.

But for the record, yes, yes it was.

Every once in a while, you have to stop and remind yourself where you are, and brightly coloured birds in a park in London is one of the most disorienting things imaginable.  Never mind the herd of deer crossing the road in front of your car—it’s the birds that are confusing.

I have never been so perplexed by a parakeet.

Which I apparently don't have any photos of, so here's one with Ellie and Emma with Tobias (we decided he needed a name).

Which I apparently don’t have any photos of, so here’s one with Ellie and Emma with Tobias (we decided he needed a name).

And here's one with Tom and a bumble bee.

And here’s one with Tom and a bumble bee.

Richmond Park is less than a mile’s walk from uni, and it’s quite easy to forget where you are once you get there.  It’s ridiculous.  While London is all concrete and cobblestones, Richmond Park is all grass, trees, and deer.  Lots of deer.

Seriously, just don't.

Don’t think I’m kidding.

"Er....  Where are we again?" --Everyone

“Er…. Where are we again?” –Everyone

Richmond Park was originally a commons for the locals to use as field and pasture, but in 1625 one of many plagues hit London, and Charles I escaped to Richmond Palace, rather than stick around and die like everyone else.

It was Charles I that decided the commons needed to be put to better use as a hunting park, and so in 1637, he walled it in and brought in 2000 deer.  This did not make anyone happy.  The people around the park didn’t just use it for farming purposes—they needed the timber from the trees for firewood, etc.  Obviously, you can’t take down a wall and expect 2000 deer to stay put, so a ladder was erected instead, allowing people to cross the wall and gather timber (and people continued to gather firewood from Richmond Park all the way up through the 1800s, when the practice was finally prohibited).  When Charles II was king, he had ponds added to the park for the deer, including the Pen Ponds near the centre of the park.

I think...

Jubilee Pond

Okay, history lesson’s over.  Now it’s ambiguous story time:

There’s a telescope on King Henry’s Mound (a high point in the park named for Henry VIII) through which you can see Saint Paul’s Cathedral (well, you can see it without the telescope, but the telescope just makes it easier).  Well, at one point my flat decided that it would be a good idea to go on a night walk to Richmond Park and walk all the way across the park to King Henry’s Mound to the telescope—at night.  And if you think that a group of people living in the famously haunted dorm would be perfectly okay taking an extremely long walk through a forest at night, you couldn’t be more wrong.  We were all quite glad to get back to our ghost.


And get a Chinese.

And get a Chinese.


Week 4: The Apathy Subsides

I said before that nothing had really happened to make me feel like my trip abroad was anything less than normal, but that’s because I hadn’t gone to the Tower of London yet.

I’d seen the Tower, of course, but I never went until it was time to go for my history class.  And to be perfectly honest, I don’t think I spent very much actually paying attention to the lecture my profs were giving—part of that was because they weren’t telling me anything that I hadn’t already learned from my history classes at Western, but it was also because I spent most of the time thinking, “Holy hell, this is awesome!”

I honestly can't tell you what they were talking about while i was off staring at this thing...  (Yes, this is a dragon.  Yes, it is made out of swords and guns.  And it MADE SOUNDS.)

I honestly can’t tell you what they were talking about while I was off staring at this thing…
(Yes, this is a dragon. Yes, it is made out of swords and guns. And it MADE SOUNDS.)

These are not just windows.  These are THE windows.  They came with the Tower.

These are not just windows. These are THE windows. They came with the Tower.

The Tower dates back to the eleventh century, when William the Conqueror invaded England with the goal of taking the throne from then-king Harold.  Edward the Confessor had died without an heir, and Harold was his next of kin.  Unfortunately for Harold, William insisted that Edward had promised him the throne upon the king’s death (I can’t help but imagine this playing out as some kind of playground quarrel with two boys fighting over a toy, complete with the “IT’S MINE—HE SAID I COULD HAVE IT” mantra being thrown back and forth).  After defeating Harold in the Battle of Hastings in 1066, William started construction on the White Tower.

And what a lovely tower it was.

And what a lovely tower it was.

Flint Tower

Devereux Tower and Legge's Mount (and metal archer dude).

Devereux Tower and Legge’s Mount (and metal archer dude).

One of the cool things about the Tower of London is that it was built up against the London Wall, built by the Romans in the second and third centuries—the old Roman wall was used as part of the defense for the Tower, and not only that, but parts of the London Wall are still standing throughout the City of London, including around the Tower.

A statue of Emperor Trajan in front of the portion of the London Wall at the Tower of London.

A statue of Emperor Trajan in front of the portion of the London Wall at the Tower of London.

Remains of part of the Roman settlement at the Tower.

Remains of part of the Roman settlement at the Tower.

Other cool things about the Tower include the ravens, the fact that it was once the Royal Menagerie (complete with lions and grizzly bears), and Anne Boleyn was beheaded on Tower Green, and is buried in the Chapel of Saint Peter ad Vincula, next to the White Tower.

"If the ravens leave the Tower, the kingdom will fall..."

“If the ravens leave the Tower, the kingdom will fall…”

The memorial outside the Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula, listing the names and dates of everyone executed at the Tower, including Robert Devereux, Lady Jane Grey, and Anne Boleyn.

The memorial outside the Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula, listing the names and dates of everyone executed at the Tower, including Robert Devereux, Lady Jane Grey, and Anne Boleyn.

And Beefeaters, of course.

And Beefeaters, of course.

Week 7: Hey, Jude

You would think that Halloween would be the interesting part here, but it really wasn’t.  No, the interesting thing that happened this week was winter storm St Jude.

St Jude is a bit of a mystery to us.  In fact, I am convinced that in the case of a zombie apocalypse or other catastrophe, Roehampton is going to be the place you’ll want to be.  Why?

Because St Jude never happened.

Roehampton's greatest casualty to winter storm St Jude

Roehampton’s worst casualty from winter storm St Jude

My flatmates and I spent a good portion of our evening browsing our Twitter feeds for information on the storm, and we were constantly checking to see when the storm was going to be at its peak, but…  Nothing ever happened.  Around the time it was supposed to get bad, a few of us threw on the lightest, least rain-worthy clothes we had and went out to play in the rain.

That’s what we’d been waiting for: the perfect time to go play in the rain.

And play we did.

Nothing here--just shenanigans.

Nothing to see here–just shenanigans.

Car park turned water park.

Car park turned water park.

The residents on Southlands probably thought we were insane.

The residents of Southlands probably thought we were insane.

Tom and Charlie being Tom and Charlie.

Tom and Charlie being Tom and Charlie.

The aftermath.

The aftermath.

Hellie has the right idea...

Hellie has the right idea…

...but Charlie wins.

…but Charlie wins.

Now, the thing about St Jude never happening…  I am a nocturnal person—there is simply no other way to say that.  I was awake all night.  My curtains were open all night.  I did not see any rain—at least no more than there had been when we’d gone outside.  And yet…

And yet, things like this happened...

And yet, things like this happened…

That’s really it.  I mean, according to the news, around 5:00am was the when most of the damage occurred.  All across London, trees were uprooted, bridges collapsed, and construction projects fell apart.  But I was awake at 5:00am—I’m telling ya, Roehampton is magical.

There was one thing that happened on Halloween that was pretty fantastic though:

This is why my flatmates are brilliant.

This is why my flatmates are brilliant.



Week 8: Subculture Tangent, or It’s a Bad Idea to Let Me Loose In Camden

This is a bit of a combination post because there are two separate incidents that more or less rely on each other for discussion.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that I love goth music, and the awesome thing about England is that this is where the goth subculture got started.  Out of the mess that was punk rock grew goth, led by Siouxie and the Banshees, Peter Murphy, and many others.

In the US (especially over here in the west) goth isn’t nearly what it is in Europe.  I mentioned to a German professor that I use German music to practice my listening skills, and when the exchange of

“What kind of music do you like to listen to?”

“Eh…  Goth rock.”

happened, the prof’s response was “Well, you won’t have any problem finding music then!”

While the comment was specific to Germany, it’s true throughout Europe, and London is no different—as anyone who has set foot in Camden would know.  (Camden is well known for it’s alternative subcultures, especially goth and punk.)

Throughout my time in London, there were several bands that I listen to regularly who were playing in or around London, and while I missed quite a few of them, I did manage to hit two.  Back in week four, a couple of us from the flat went into Camden to the Underworld nightclub to catch Voltaire’s London gig, and then almost a month later, I took a trip out to Bristol with my friend Maggie to catch VNV Nation at the Fleece, a popular club for alternative rock gigs.

If you had told my fifteen-year-old self that I would be seeing Voltaire live, I wouldn’t have believed you.  First of all, I lived in Idaho, where there is no goth scene to any degree, and I’ve never been one for concerts.  And VNV Nation doesn’t tend to tour America very often, which is really the case for most goth musicians—when they do, they stick to the east coast where the scene is quite a bit bigger (ironically enough, it’s pretty big in Florida…).

So, there was that…

The real reason I want to bring it up, though, is because between the two concerts, the variety within the goth subculture itself was amazing.  A lot of people don’t realise that there is more than one type of goth, and between the two concerts, I saw almost every single one of them (I can’t imagine what I would have seen if I’d made it to either Diary of Dreams or Combichrist!).

Background:  Voltaire is certainly goth, but he’s also filk.  That is, quite a bit of his music would appeal to science fiction/fantasy fans, and he uses a lot of folk music techniques.  He’s not gloomy, he’s not aggressive, but he is hilarious.  He monologues, and it’s great.  He makes snide comments in the middle of a song.  He also drinks a bottle of Captain Morgan while onstage, and he can be a bit offensive (if you’re the type to be offended).

Exhibit A.

Exhibit A.

The eye-patch makes it.

The eye-patch makes it.

VNV Nation is on the opposite side of the scale.  They’re serious.  They’re more than a man on a stage with only a guitar and his voice.  They’re big.  But you’d never guess they were goth by listening to them, or by looking at them.  But they are.  Ronan formed the group in the early ‘90s, so they’re part of the original movement.  They are, for lack of a better word, inspiring.

Exhibit B.

Exhibit B.

Ronan has a lot more energy than people expect him to (so he says).

Ronan has a lot more energy than people expect him to (so he says).

So, two different types of goth music: acoustic, dark, and funny; electronic, light, and energetic.

With that, you would think that you would get two completely different groups of goths attending the concerts, but the funny thing is, you really don’t.  It’s true that VNV didn’t draw much, if any, from the Renaissance/vampire crowd, and Voltaire didn’t pull too many cybergoths, but otherwise, there was quite a bit of cross-pollination between the two.

I find that to be a lovely thing.  I love how the culture thrives in London, and I love how you can go to two completely different concerts and see quite a few of the same types of people, but the diversity of the crowd is anything but small.  If anything, I just liked to see what kinds of people listened to the same music I do, and the variety was surprising.  Both gigs ranged from “I just got off work” to “You don’t know this, but I sleep in a coffin every night,” and that’s amazing.  If nothing else, I’m glad I got to go to London if only to see and experience this subculture in its natural habitat.

My fifteen-year-old self would have died.

My fifteen-year-old self would have died.

For the last song of the night, Voltaire invited everyone up on stage to sing with him.

For the last song of the night, Voltaire invited everyone up on stage to sing with him.

Ronan is so much fun.

Ronan is so much fun.

My friend Maggie went with me to Bristol to see VNV Nation, which was awesome.

My friend Maggie went with me to Bristol to see VNV Nation, which was awesome.

Week 10: Birthday Shenanigans

There was only one thing this term that could possibly overshadow my birthday, and that was Christmas.  But we haven’t gotten that far yet, so it’s my birthday we’re focusing on now.

Around the flat, we were always talking about going on day trips together—getting everyone together and heading off into Central for one reason or another, just to see the sights and hang out.  This really never happened.

Except for my birthday.  I turned twenty-four this term (yay?), and I wanted to do something awesome.

My birthday ended up being a two-part deal, but that wasn’t a problem in the least.  First and foremost, I went into Kingston with several of my flatmates, and we all joined together to subject ourselves to the mercy of Old London Road Tattoo and Piercing.  That, in and of itself, would have made my birthday fantastic.

The guys around the shop were amazing, Cree, our artist, was wonderful, and the shop, aside from being highly recommended, is connected with a bar called The Fighting Cocks, so how could we not go?!  (We never did get around to going to the bar though, which is unfortunate.)

So... this happened.

So… this happened.

Skip ahead to Thursday.  After sitting through a three hour philosophy seminar about death (happy birthday!), we gather the troops, walk down to Barnes Station to take a train into Waterloo, and make our way to the London Eye.

I saw the Eye almost every week, but I never got a chance to actually go on it until my birthday.  Seriously, though—BEST BIRTHDAY EVER.  The best part, though, was that everyone had a lot of fun.  It was the first time we’d all gone out as a group, we were doing something we’d all been wanting to do, and we all just had a good time.

Not my birthday, but you get my point.

Not my birthday, but you get my point.

We chose to go on the Eye at night, which was amazing.  There are interactive screens inside each capsule that tell you what you’re looking at from any direction, and it was a clear night, which meant we got to see the city in all its sparkly glory.

See?  Sparkly.

See? Sparkly.

The Eye is at Jubilee Gardens and is Europe’s largest Ferris wheel at 443 feet tall, and 394 feet in diameter—it’s ridiculously huge, with each capsule large enough to hold twenty-some adult passengers, so the eighteen of us were able to all go in a capsule together, which made the whole experience that much better.  And getting on and off is absurdly fun because they wheel never stops moving—you have to time it just right to get everyone on or off in the few seconds that the capsule is on level with the landing.  They say that the Eye rotates slow enough that you can walk on and off, no problem, but I distinctly remember doing a bit more than walking.

Nathan asked if we were doing a serious pose or a sexy pose--he chose sexy (but since when has that been new?).

Nathan asked if we were doing a serious pose or a sexy pose–he chose sexy (but since when has that been new?).

The other cool thing about the Eye is that, you know how Ferris wheels never seem to last long enough, or they’re the sketchy carnival ones that leave you hanging in the air for ever?  The London Eye takes thirty minutes to make a full rotation, so there is none of that dissatisfaction about the ride being either too long or too short.

Westminster Palace and the clock tower from the Eye.

Half an hour is plenty long enough for photos.

Half an hour is plenty long enough for photos.

And shenanigans.

And shenanigans.

After the Eye, we went across the street for fish and chips, and then back to uni.

And then cake happened.

And then cake happened.


Week 5: Bring Out Your Dead

The next class trip we made after the Tower of London was to Westminster.  We started our day at Westminster Hall and then made our way over to the Abbey, which is pretty much the coolest thing in the world.

This is the only photo you get of the Abbey.  Just 'cause.

This is the only photo you get of the Abbey. Just ’cause.

From several different perspectives, the Abbey is amazing.  The only way I can think to explain what happened is to say that, In the beginning, Westminster Abbey started as a Benedictine monastery in 960.  In 1065, Edward the Confessor moved in at Westminster Palace, saw the Abbey, and decided he wanted it as his own.  That’s the quick explanation.  It’s also a bad one, but…

The Abbey as it is now was built by Henry III in 1245, and the Gothic architecture is stunning.

But the really cool thing about it is that there are over 3000 people buried in and around the Abbey, including plague victims and soldiers who died in the World Wars.  And of course monarchs, like Edward the Confessor himself, Henry VII, and a couple of Henry VIII’s wives.

There are so many memorials around the Abbey, but the coolest (non-royal) one is probably Isaac Newton’s, right in front of the choir.  Another great aspect of the Abbey is the Poet’s Corner, which commemorates some of the greatest British poets and writers like Jane Austen, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and John Keats, though not everyone is actually buried at the Abbey.

We were also at the Abbey long enough that we got to attend Evensong if we wanted to, which was awesome.

Now, Westminster Hall is a large, extravagant hall built in 1097 by William II, with reconstruction beginning in the 1390s under Richard II.  It’s so big that they needed other halls around the area to conduct everyday business in because Westminster was overkill.  And besides, the very first act of official business to be conducted within the newly reconstructed Hall was Richard’s own deposition.  Because that’s what happens when you make love, not war.

See?  It's giant.  And awesome.

See? It’s giant. And awesome.

On a side note, Oliver Cromwell, who was involved in the assassination of Charles I, was originally buried in Westminster Abbey, but was later exhumed by Charles II to be put on trial for treason.  His corpse was found guilty, and he and his conspirators were sentenced to hanging and beheading.  Neither his body, nor his head remain at the Abbey, though there is a statue of him outside the Hall (because the English love to commemorate people who commit treason).

Pictured: Hilarity

Pictured: Hilarity



Predeparture, or Is This Shock or Apathy?

[This post is late because I didn’t have sufficient internet access until about two hours ago, because airports aren’t known for their internet, and I finally got to sit down…]

How is it that I can be sitting in a TGI Fridays in the Dallas/Fort Worth airport, and I’m still less nervous than I am whenever I visit my mother?  I’m not nervous.  I’m not overly excited, and I’m not huddling in a corner somewhere (and I’ve only taken my anti-anxiety meds once).  No, I’m just having dinner, drinking a hard cider, and watching sportsball while I wait for my 9:30 flight to Heathrow.

You know what I’m stressing out about right now?  This blog post.  Because the truth is boring and there is no easy way to say “I feel nothing.” It’s not because I’m not thrilled to be going to London, don’t get me wrong—it’s just that I guess I don’t have much in the way of expectations.  I decided a long time ago to leave all of that behind.  It’s like I’m not studying in London—I’m just moving somewhere else, and moving somewhere new isn’t new.

Of course, I say this after having been on an emotional roller coaster from Hades for the past week.

Either way, I expect tomorrow to be hectic, stressful, and fabulous.

And I really want to see this thing:


Millennium Bridge

Now if only my knee had gotten the “only pack what you can carry” memo….