Happy Thanksgiving Weekend!

Am still cooking up another blog post or two if anyone’s tuned in.  Apologies for being such a bad blogger as of late.  More soon!

 

 

One year of blogging.

So, the blog.  Blogging about blogging is probably like writing about writing, which might be terribly indulgent, but it seems appropriate at the one year mark.

I’m very ambivalent about blogging.  It seems like it would be great–no overhead, a vast potential audience, blog from anywhere. But there are a number of problems.  The notion of writing about one’s life to, oh, everyone on the planet, especially mixed in with all the other noise of the web seems daunting at best.  I much preferred the zine world, where one could write about anything and then schlep the little DIY pub to ye olde zine shop, zine distros, etc.  The zine audience was controlled, so there was some privacy and therefore, maybe more authenticity in the writing.  There’s something also very “Hey!  Lookit me, lookit me!” about a blog, and I’m usually disappointed by the writing in popular blogs.

Still, it’s an outlet.  A few of the virtual conversations I’ve had with folks in the last year have sustained me, mostly other expats telling me that they get it, that they were in the same boat.  (Thanks to you!)    It’s something to do while trying to create a space for myself in a new country.  BPRB offers WordPress practice, and let’s face it, one’s gotta try to keep up these days.

So after a week of two of consideration, I’ve decided to keep on blogging despite not showing up in the WordPress search bar under the name of my blog, which baffles me.  The IT husband can’t figure it out either.  It took quite a long time for Google to find me (months) but I haven’t found anything in forums that indicates that WordPress takes a year or more.

I’ve thought about doing an “after a year in the UK” post, but I think I’d be redundant.  For what it’s worth though, in a nutshell: the house is just about finished, is on the market, and we will possibly buy another that we’ve put an offer on, which is risky without me having solid work.  It seems crucial to be in a less extreme environment though.  The job search continues.  I’m still playing with various combinations of teaching qualifications and always have tons of forms that must be filled out yesterday.  Still do not have the driver’s license, and need to get that.   Am glad to at least be working part-time, even if it is just admin, and earning a few pennies.  Writing some reviews for Medway Broadside, and monthly book chat with the marvelous peeps of the Medway Book Club.

The romantic expat life, eh?   The biggest realization in the last year is that I’m in a weird position being an expat who isn’t with a bit of disposable income.  Those expats and trailing spouses can travel, do local things, and the TS can take afford to take classes if need be.  I’ve found that talking to other expats can be awkward because they don’t understand that I’ve moved here on a shoestring and they usually assume that we’re in a different bracket.

I wonder about taking two steps back, or in this case, about twenty steps back when it comes to work, whether it will make sense in the long run.  C. and I have no idea where we’ll be living in two years, five, ten.  When establishing a house and home is so important, this feels shaky instead of exciting.  I crave a home base more than anything else now, and have learned that I still like travel, a bit of adventure, but want to feel like I have a home and a life to return to.

In early September, I always go back to Rilke’s poem, “Autumn Day.”  (Scroll 2/3 way down for Edward Snow translation, which is best, in my opinion.)   “Lord, it is time.  The summer was immense.” and “Who has no house now, will never build one.”   The summer was indeed immense–an April of sun, and then the endless light of May, June, July.  In fall, a descent, permission to consider mysteries and troubling questions, to retreat.  Sleep so hard we wake not knowing who we are; darkness, and what we might find there.

Oxford and Falconry Visit

C. got a Groupon owl/falconry experience for our anniversary months ago, and we decided to combine it with a weekend visit to Oxford with anniversary gift $$ from my mother.  We found a bargain room at the Holiday Inn Express, which was OK except that I had to sleep on the pull-out couch and C. got a horrible kink in his neck (super soft mattresses).  The weather was cold and blustery most of the time (minus the twenty minutes where we managed to get a few great pics of St. Mary’s), so now we have horrible colds, but I enjoyed the architecture of the colleges, and of course, the BIRDS.

St. Mary's

 

There’s a wonderful place to sit by this college, with old vaults and a natural foods café.  Tons of students gathered for pictures in their gowns, tossing up their graduation caps.  I wondered what it would be like to study here, rushing to an exam while tourists swarmed with their cameras.  I heard a story about Oxford banning students from taking money from tourists, since students wear their capes for exams–excellent photo op and easy money for students.

Tower, St. Mary's

A sign at the bottom of the tower warned us about the number of steps–something like 127. There’s only one set, so those going up have to squeeze by those going down.  The view was worth it, but as I pulled myself up the many narrow, twisty-turny flights, “I’m getting too old for stuff like this” went through my head more than once.

Radcliffe Camera from the tower

All Souls College from tower

On a little street near St. Mary's. Dream life: that I use this door every day to go to work in an office full of books.

Green Man.

A store in the covered market. Think I'll go back for another degree...minor in truffles?

Garden store at covered market.

Christ Church near meadow

FALCONRY & OWLS

Falconry at Fallowfields, Oxfordshire (No long 'i.' Say "Oxfordshurr")

Huge garden on premises. Sorry, but this is so Peter Rabbit....

Some of the raptors here (hunter birds) are rescues, but many are bred in captivity and the falconry centre buys them. This would be the case for birds actually used in falconry.  All the birds seemed extremely well-cared for and loved.

Snowy owl. It's sleepy time.

Not sure what kind of owl this is, but he's clearly in REM sleep. Geez, people, it's not even noon yet!

Me with the UK Barn Owl--one of five kinds of owls in the UK

The other kinds are the little owl, the tawny owl, the long-eared owl and the short-eared owl.  The first lesson in holding an owl  is to choose a tree.  Then, become that tree.  Keeping an owl up on a “branch”–the highest point–keeps the bird from climbing to your head.  (Fun fact: how much does this owl weigh?  8 oz!  Owl bones are hollow and their bodies are super light so that they can fly swiftly and quietly to  their prey.)

C. has a turn

Anthony and trainee.

Two faces of falconry: the blue blood Oxford guy and the rugged country guy.

I want one of these hats (the bird's)

Rewards were strips of meat. Anthony came by and placed them on our gloves and the birds would then land there.

 You know how people look like their pets…?

I think Anthony would take this as a compliment. I know I would.

Groombridge Gardens

A few weeks ago we visited Groombridge Gardens, near Tunbridge Wells. This place is fantastic. They have traditional English Gardens, Japanese Gardens, tons of squawky peacocks, and a raptor centre. Not to mention an “Enchanted” forest offering plenty of hiking options.

Despite a bit of a shower, we enjoyed the day.

New Sample UK Driving Theory Test Questions

Just in case you haven’t attempted to answer all 9,742 UK Driving Theory Test questions (like I have), and are studying for the test, you might want to check these out.  Alternately, maybe you’ve experienced the massive thrill of actually passing your test, so perhaps you’d like to relive the sense of  triumph you may have felt on that day.  Perhaps you will leap out of your chair and do a victory lap around your office or home.  (It at home, watch out for the coffee table and all those sharp corners.  We at BPRB are not advocating any mishaps.)

Correct answers on Key at end.  (No cheating!)

SAMPLE QUESTIONS.

1.  You are driving towards a tunnel when you realize your vehicle has been struck by a meteor.  Your vehicle is on fire and you are now in the tunnel.  There is a lorry ahead, overturned and blocking the exit to the other end of the tunnel.  In your rearview mirror appears a large truck towing a caravan filled with what could be explosive materials.  The truck is rapidly approaching and careening.   You should:

A)  Honk at the overturned lorry.

B) Slow your vehicle, turn on your dipped headlights, and wait patiently.

C) Quickly reverse into the truck and prevent it from entering the tunnel.  Leap from your vehicle, ignore flailing lorry driver and bound towards the emergency pedestrian exit.  Once outside the tunnel, make yourself a nice cup of tea.

D) Quickly exit vehicle and roll towards overturned lorry.  Drag lorry driver from lorry and proceed to emergency pedestrian exit unless engulfed in flame before reaching exit.  Once outside of tunnel, make a nice cup of tea for yourself and for the lorry driver.

E) Honk at the meteor.




2.  You suddenly find yourself transporting a bus of small children.   You have determined that the tyre tread is less than 1.66 mm and that the octane level of the bus’ petrol is less than regulation standards.   There is a light drizzle and fog with occasional hail and cyclone-level winds.  On your journey you will need to use your:

A)  Hand brake, dimmed headlights, an emergency safety triangle and spare tyres

B)  Mobile phone, sidelights, an emergency safety square and spare petrol

C) Spare petrol, dimmed headlights, a photo of William and Kate and road map

D) Spare tyres, anti-lock brakes, scones and road flares

E) Celine Dion CD, dimmed headlights, some fags and cigarette lighter




3.  While approaching a level crossing, you see the following sign:

You should:

A) Have stayed in bed

B) Proceed with caution and use your dimmed headlights

C) Honk and increase speed as much as possible through any intersections

D) Call your husband and ask him what to do

E) Exit on the left from where you had entered

(Photo credit: Science Photo Library)




4.  Which of the following are NOT allowed on the motorway?  (Select two answers)

A)  Oversized trucks hauling 2.5 tonnes of llama feed

B)  Trucks pulling caravans with a medium-sized stabilizer tow bar and red vinyl interiors

C)  Any vehicle equipped with a very loud stereo system and a copy of “Bohemian Rhapsody”

D) Females wearing merely platform heels and lingerie in January who are at risk of hypothermia

E)  Motorcyclists who have not updated their ROV or their CAT stickers within the last four months of their QUADER probationary period or have not achieved DITTA status




5. Elderly pedestrians are walking along the pavement wearing red reflective lights as earrings and lanyards. One pedestrian also carries a hemp tote bag with a decorative reflective yellow bird. This means:

A) That you should honk at the pedestrians

B) That there is a UK Burning Man called “Mildewy Man”

C) That the pedestrian with the tote bag is training for the Olympics and may attempt to hurdle your vehicle

D) That the pedestrians are on an organized walk and you cannot join them as you have not booked ahead

E) That hemp is a multi-faceted fabric appreciated by walkers, artists, and outdoor enthusiasts of many ages

KEY:

1. B

2. A

3. E

4. B & D

5. D

To pass you must have answered all questions correctly without more than 2.5 seconds of hesitation. If you failed, sorry! Better luck next time!

Coupla Parks & a Priory

After almost a year here, I’ve learned two things:  in England, the weather can rotate through all four seasons in one day, so you’d better bring layers galore, and two, the countryside does bring a little bit a heaven to go with the little bit of hell you might have to endure with the weather, etc.  I can’t drive on the motorway yet so haven’t been able to go to the gajillion nearby gardens I’ve been dying to visit, but today, I’m afraid for C., he was cornered.

Now that the house is pretty much done, C. and I can have time together on weekends to do things as he’s not so busy with DIY, which = significantly less fantasizing about fleeing to South Carolina.  Last weekend we got to go see the X-Men movie (great, definitely worth paying the $ to see in the theater), and we visited a Priory close by.

Today we went to Groombridge Gardens in Tunbridge Wells (pics in separate post).   Last week I walked through two parks in London–Regent Park & Green Park–on my way back to Victoria Station.  It’s been a nice, green week despite the rain.  Or, maybe because of it.

Regent Park, Queen Mary’s Gardens

Green Park, London

Aylesford Priory, Kent

Aylesford Priory is just about a half hour from us, and it’s a great opportunity to see a thirteenth century site with some gorgeous grounds.  If you’re into quiet contemplative places, they have spots for folks to find a little peace, quiet and solitude.  Aylesford Priory was also a resting place for pilgrims on their way to Canterbury, which is about a 45 minute car ride away.


Friar. And me.

Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go

I finished Never Let Me Go (2005) a few nights ago, and was expecting to be hard hit.  A friend had said the ending would “Really f. me up,” which fueled a quick turn of the pages.  Strange impetus, right?

But I think I would have been riveted anyway.  The bizarre flatness of the narrator (Kathy) and the parceling out of small details about the predicament of Hailsham students (who attend a school that prepares them for a “unique” future) drive the novel, as well as the increasing ominous sense that something is wrong, despite such a controlled setting with near-constant predictability.

I wasn’t hard hit by the ending initially.  I’d been expecting at least a poor night’s sleep.  But after a trip to London that involved a somewhat bizarre class-related experience, I started thinking about Kathy’s voice again, and the final scene of the novel.

And now the impact has finally settled in.  Took me a few days, but I think I see what Ishiguro might be implying, especially in light of the themes in The Remains of the Day.  I have a feeling that the sense of being disturbed is just starting.

A NYT Book Review reveals that Ishiguro was born in post-Nagasaki Japan, and later worked (in England) with the homeless as a social worker for three years.  Finding this out, and that he was eventually disheartened by this work, gives Ishiguro further credibility for his rather bleak outlook on the plight of some individuals in society, as well as the poignant existential trouble he must have faced when working with some of the most vulnerable of all groups.

One of the issues Ishiguro raises is that of prescribed and ascribed meaning in our lives, especially the latter. Since humans are inherently meaning-making creatures, we will do so under any circumstances, as illustrated by his characters.  But does this meaning actually hold in the end?

In other words, aren’t we just deluding ourselves?

What makes this question all the more brutal (a term that seems unavoidable, also admitted by the Times reviewer) is that Ishiguro’s characters don’t descend into cynicism, bitterness or nihilism, at least not permanently.  A refusal to “go gently into that good night” might infuse the novel with some degree of fire and the spirit of human rebellion, but the seemingly polite acceptance of the students’ fate is the most horrific element of the novel.  One keeps expecting retaliation, and there are hints of this, but nothing on the scale to which one would expect.

“You poor creatures,” one guardian (a teacher/parent sort of role at Hailsham) says.  “You poor, poor creatures.”   Poor indeed.  But are our lives really so separate from the “creatures” of Hailsham?

(Spoiler alert–stop reading here if you intend to read the novel.)

The other question Ishiguro raises is “Can humans be so easily controlled?”  In Ishiguro’s dystopia, the answer is a resounding “Yes,” despite the lack of true humanity of Hailsham students.

What then, defines humans exactly?  Is it the existence of a soul?  The sense of choice?  The ability to love and to feel compassion? Are there those, in the real world, who exist simply for one purpose, to fulfill a certain role, who will die after having served that term?

Not only does Ishiguro imply that humans (or a human clone) can be easily controlled, but that those with full human desires might be born into a set fate which renders that sort of fullness and the dream of happiness delusional, and any sort of hope for dignity embarrassing and foolish.

So how many of us get to be fully human?  Is this right reserved for a select group?   What does it mean to be fully human, and what defines an absence of humanity?

I wonder how much Ishiguro’s experience of moving to England after the age of six influenced his sense of the class structure in England.   One can’t help but wonder too, if this isn’t what the novel is about, at least in part.  Yes, the questions about humanity are unavoidable, but given the British class issues in Remains of the Day, perhaps it’s the case that class and social hierarchy allow portals to such larger questions about humanity.

There have been times, like yesterday, in leafy Marylebone, when I feel like I am conversing with a differently-formed creature, a creature born on another planet with an entirely different view of the world, due to our class differences.

The solution to my current predicament was solved, in his mind, with a few swift measures, thereby rearranging all the players and all of my options.

“There,” he seemed to be saying, as if setting a throw cushion on a sofa, finishing the new arrangement of a living room.

In the world of the upper class, it’s true; things can be changed or manipulated.  In the world of the working class and the quickly-deteriorating middle class, there are usually zero options, or a few risky ones. One’s learning curve is how to choose the least worst path of action.

No one is literally in the same situation as the Hailsham students of Never Let Me Go, but Ishiguro’s metaphor did, in the end, f. me up.

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