Friday, July 29, 2005


Hello from Dublin. This is one rainy city. As the sign on my tour bus said, "You didn't come to Ireland for the weather." I spent the day with my fellow UF students on a tour through Dublin, Glendalough, and Wicklow. The countryside is beautiful (photos to come) Dublin has a wonderful Georgian (not the Southeast U.S. kind) charm to it. After the tour, I went to the Guiness factory with Steve and Laura. Right now, I'm back at our hostel. We're drying off and trying to figure out what to do for the evening. Step one: change into dry clothing.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

On the wonders of Victorian plumbing...

Hello, all. We've just arrived back to Cambridge after a mandatory weekend excursion to various sites relevant to the Victorian era. Yesterday, we went a place called the Abbey Pumping Station and Museum (for some reason this won't let me insert proper hyperlinks, so we'll do it this way ) in Leicester (home of the famous John Dudley, Earl of Leicester, for all of you Tudor fans out there). The tagline of this museum is: "Enormous steam beam engines and the famous talking loo!"

The Abbey pumping station was created at the end of the 19th century to pump sewage away from the industrial city of Leicester, where they had an absolutely atrocious infant mortality rate and a high number of deaths from disease due to water contamination. The steam beam engines are, indeed, enormous. The beams weigh over 22 tons. They speculate that they were brought to the pumping station from the ironworks a mile away using a cart pulled by a team of at least 44 horses. They still run the steam beam engines on certain days, and I'm sure that it's an impressive sight. The exterior is quite elegant and the ground floor of the engine room is ornately decorated, even though the workmen (and the occasional city councilman) were the only people that ever saw the interior. There are columns inside trimmed with gold leaf, the interior walls have glazed bricks, and everything is painted and lacquered. They sure took pride in their sewage pumps back then. It's amazing that we have all these municipal services now that we just take for granted. That said, the museum was remarkably dull- except for...

"Flushed With Pride!" Exhibit description: Ever wondered how the toilet developed and how it works or how much water we waste in a day; or how we get water and use it for washing? Then the 'Flushed With Pride' exhibition will answer these questions plus many others. The display, which features the county's only interactive toilet, [MY COMMENT: DOES THIS IMPLY THAT THERE ARE OTHER INTERACTIVE TOILETS IN VARIOUS ENGLISH COUNTIES? DO THEY EITHER GET THEIR OWN DUKE OR A TALKING LOO? THIS WASN'T ADEQUATELY EXPLAINED) showing you how a toilet works, tells the science, technology and social history of Leicestershire's public health. There are displays of sewers, water pipes, some from Roman times, soap, washing machines and baths. There's even a talking toilet! All come together to tell a story of immense importance.

That's right, folks- a talking toilet. Before you get excited, let me specify that it's a perfectly ordinary toilet that has a speaker attached to it. We heard about this exhibit several days before the trip and got all worked up about it, expecting perhaps moving eyes and the toilet lid opening and closing as a mouth, like some sort of W.C. version of Teddy Ruxbin. Let me tell you, it was a bit of a let down. Thankfully, the rest of the exhibit more than compensated for any dissapointment. There was a collection of toilet facilities ranging from an excavated Roman cess pit from ancient Leicester, to early bedpans and primitive water toilets. I learned of the wonders of the water trap and how it saved us all from noxious sewer gases, and I grew to appreciate the labors of the humble nightsoil men who removed waste from outhouses while everyone slept. And in case I was still in doubt as to the mysteries of all things toilet, there was quite a bit of information on our own internal plumbing. Sample display quotes include: "What is urine?" ,"What are feaces?" And "One thing we all have in common is that we all have to use the toilet," which I think is a humbling statement reminding us all of our unity as one human community, and far more likely to bring about world peace than "Can't we all just get along?" (Note: I took more photographs of this exhibit than anything else I've seen since I've been to England. I need to broaden my weekend travels).

Other features of Abbey Pumping Station: Antique tramcars, steamrollers, buses.

weekend, continued

Later in the afternoon we visited Calke Abbey ( ), a unique country house in Derbyshire donated to the National Trust in the 1980's. The house has remained virtually unchanged since the late nineteenth century, when the family that had owned it since the late seventeenth century began to run out of funds. The house is built on top of the ruins of an Augustinian priory (13th century, I think). The priory lands were confiscated in the 16th century by Henry VIII as part of the abolition of monasteries. The National Trust has taken a rather different approach to Calke Abbey than with other country houses. They decided to stop the process of decay and repair the property where it was dangerous, but have otherwise left it as much as possible in the state in which they recieved it. They property has a rather romantic sense of decline about it. The family that owned the house were absolute packrats- they never threw out anything! When the National Trust workers were exploring the clutter, they came across a gorgeous state bed from the early eighteenth century given as a wedding gift from the queen, still packed in crates. One of the baronets was a naturalist and kept a rather disconcerting managerie of taxidermied animals from all over the world. All of them are still on display for our viewing enjoyment. The garden near the house was the type of thing my Mom would have given her right arm to see.The smells and colors of all the blossoms were amazing! In a field in the back near the icehouse, I saw a herd of reindeer-like creatures on a hill overlooking a lake. And if that wasn't cool enough, we got to chase a flock of sheep. Calke Abbey was definitely the high point of the weekend.

We spent the night at dorms in Nottingham University. Some blokes went out to "Ye Olde Jerusalem" pub, claiming to be the oldest continuously running pub in England. (I stayed in bed).

And the next day...

This morning, we went to Tramway Village in Derbyshire, just on the edge of the Peak District. This part of the Peak District looked remarkably like western North Carolina near Asheville and Cashiers, which is appropriate as my boyfriend is visiting that part of N.C. this week (Hello Jay and the H family!). Today was very cold and damp. We walked around the Tramway Village, which is on the site of an old quarry. The entire park is devoted to Trams. They've tried to recreate what a village in the late nineteenth century would have looked like, at least the parts of a Village that would have been exposed to tram routes. The place consisted of trams, trams, and more trams. There was also a crazy fair organ from the 1890s that had creepy lacquered statues that moved in time with the music. There were two high points to my visit to Tramway Village: The first occured while I was taking tea and sandwiches with Emily around 11:30. I caught a bit of conversation from the group of middle aged English men at the next table:

First bloke: "You don't see many midgets around these days, do you?"

Second bloke: "No, you're right. You don't see many midgets around. Why is that, do you think?"

The second highpoint occured when Emily and I took the tram to the far end of the park. We caught a breathtaking view of the countryside on our way there. We took the woodland walk on the way back, and eventually ended up on this ridge overlooking the same valley. We had it all to ourselves, and it was gorgeous! As a bonus, the scenery was obliging enough to remain stationary this time while I took a picture, something it refused to do while I was sitting in the tram.

We spent the rest of the afternoon at an early industrial mill (the name of which I have already blocked out). The afternoon was gray, cold, and rainy. People whined a lot, and the tour was remarkably dull. I am very happy to be back at St. Catherine's. I'm going to spend the rest of the evening doing early research for my second paper, and then try to figure out what I want to do in Ireland this upcoming weekend.


Friday, July 15, 2005

Fireworks at King's College

I spent the late evening with classmates Emily and Stephan at the Sherlock Library in St. Catherine's College . We have keys to the college and to the library, which we can access 24/7. This is helpful, as we are not actually allowed to remove the books from the library and take them back to our flats. It's strange how they manage things here...leaving windows open, not having air conditioning- it can't be good for the books. Then again, none of the books in that room are particularly rare or valuable. I'm attempting to familiarize myself with the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins. I sat for an hour on a window seat next to an open window. The sun doesn't fully set until after 9:30 here, and there fresh are and the views are lovely.

Shortly after dark, we heard fireworks going off outside. We couldn't see them from the windows, so we decided to take a break and run down to the court to get a better view. After vacillating over whether to wait or go, we jogged to the front of King's College. Evidently, there was some sort of celebration. I've never been much of a fan of fireworks before, as I've tended to associate them with strained family trips to Disney World. There was something so exciting and joyous and spontaneous about unexpectedly encountering the fireworks in this setting. There were pauses of a minute or so between bursts of explosions. We stood on the stone border wall outside of King's gate and hoped that the show hadn't ended, and all of a sudden another colorful explosion would appear. The fireworks lasted for another five minutes or so as we stood there. You couldn't have asked for a lovlier back drop than King's College, except of course for King's College as seen from the river.


Hello, everyone. I've been at Cambridge since Sunday evening. We've finally gotten out of traveling tourist mode and have more or less transitioned to busy student mode. Some of you have asked what it is that I am actually doing in Cambridge. Over the course of five weeks, I will be participating in the International Summer School program with a group of thirty five other UF students. We are studying English and Irish Victorian history and literature at St. Catherine's College at Cambridge University. We attend lectures and are required to write two essays. The essays will then be graded and discussed with a professor in a one hour session called "supervisions," an Oxbridge tradition.

Right now, it's the end of a long day and I'm getting ready to go to the Sherlock Victorian library at St. Catherine's to study with my flatmate. My paper will probably explore the "crisis of faith" phenomenon in Victorian literature as present in the poetry and writings of Gerard Manley Hopkins, a 19th century Jesuit priest.

As I will need all available power to study, I'll confine my remaining comments to the discussion of food.

I ate marmite this morning. I don't think I'm ready to talk about it yet. If you've smelled it before, you'll understand.

We dine "in hall" for our dinners, kind of like Hogwarts in Harry Potter, only not quite as majestic. The meats are of ambiguous origin (we determined that Monday's was fish and not pork based on the presence of a fish knife) and generally breaded. As far as institutional food goes, it's not that bad.

My flatmate is ready to go to the library, so I'll sign off for now. I hope that all is well back home.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Westminster Abbey and British Museum

This morning, Emily and I went to Westminster Abbey. The initial tube ride there was rather nerve racking and tense. As the day progressed, things began to feel normal again. The sense of safety is rather illusory, though. There's not much in the way of security- at least that I can see.

Westminster Abbey was fascinating, of course. We saw the tombs of the Tudors and I snapped a shot of the Wilberforce memorial for Fr. Ron. Afterwards, we met up with Amelia at the British museum and saw all the pottery, statues and mummies that have been featured in every history and humanities book since the 1940s.

The pay internet is running out of coin again...more later.

The next day...

It's the day after the terrorist attacks, and everyone is trying to get back to normal. Partial service on the London underground has reopened, as has most of the bus service. Emily and I went to dinner last night with our new friend, the resilient 81 year old Joyce. She's a retired plastic surgery nurse that spent most of her career at an innovative clinic. She kept us entertained with stories of precocious patients with everything from modified hands to burns to sex changes. Afterwards, Emily and walked about twenty minutes to a large park (can't remember the name) and enjoyed a traditional English garden before stopping for a coffee at one of the few restaurants that were still open. After a long conversation, we eventually went to sleep.

Now wer'e off for Westminster. I won't lie- the thought of getting on a tube or a bus this morning is pretty upsetting. On the telly they were interviewing survivors, who were talking about how they won't let the attacks change them. One man was asked whether or not this would discourage him from taking the tube, and he said that it wouldn't, and that it wasn't likely to happen again in the same place. The logic of this is rather odd, as if the attacks were some random natural disaster rather than a planned terrorist attack that could just as easily occur again, barring detection from security. Oh well, times up on the internet account.

Thursday, July 07, 2005


My friends and I are staying at a hotel on the outskirts of central London. Shortly after breakfast this morning, we learned that there had been an explosion at Liverpool station in the underground tube system. At first they thought it may have been an electrical problem, but several other explosions occured at other tube stations and a bus. At that point it was obvious that a terrorist attack was in progress. My friends and I are well. I've only left the hotel today to pick up some lunch at Marks & Spencers. There's a strange, anesthesizing calm among most of the people that I've interacted with today. A woman in her early 80's who survived the London blitz is stuck at our hotel today. My friend, Emily, and I have spent the past hour or two talking with her about various life experiences. She says that people of her generation are used to this sort of thing because of what they went through in the war.

At this point, we are still planning on leaving London on the 10th for Cambridge.

I hope everyone is well at home.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Wandering in London...

Yesterday evening, my hosts, the med-student flatmates, took me to a pub. Jonny insisted that I drink a Gin & T to help me recover from my jet lag. The pub closed around 11PM...I told them how upset college students in Gainesville are that the bars close at 3AM and they looked perplexed.

This morning I dragged my luggage through the tube again (this time not during rush hour) and dropped the big bags off at the hotel in Earl's Court. I spent the rest of the afternoon (about four hours) wandering around the Kensington, Chelsea and Brompton. I stopped for lunch at a Bangladeshi restaurant that served the most amazing aromatic rice, then walked through a Victorian cemetery in Brompton. Eventually, I wandered back to the hotel. My traveling companions, Emily and Amelia, had just arrived. We took the tube down to Trafalgar Square, where everyone was still hyped up from the announcement that London had won the bid to host the 2012 Olympics. Emily and I went to the Portrait Museum and made the holy pilgramage to a tiny sketch of Jane Austen drawn by her sister, Jane. We also saw all the amazing Tudor portraits that featured so prominently in Dr. Sommerville's lectures.

After the Portrait Museum closed, we went to British Museum and explored some of the modern pieces. I saw some amazing Renoirs, Cezannes , Seurats, Monets, Pisarros and Van Goghs, including the famous Sunflowers painting. It is a very different experience looking at the real thing vs. looking at a print. The texture is something that just isn't captured in reproductions.

After the museums, we wandered around and eventually ate dinner in Chinatown before returning home.

As wonderful as the museums were, I think that I enjoyed walking around Kensington and getting slightly lost the much for itineraries.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Heather in London

Hello, all. After months of silence after the initial novelty of blogging wore off, Socialite is back to chronicle the adventures of Heather in England. For those of you who haven't heard, I'm spending seven weeks in England studying Victorian history at Cambridge.

Yesterday marked my first experience in air travel. It went very smoothly, though I didn't get much sleep on the flight. I left the U.S. at 5:30 PM and arrived in London at 6:00 AM. I got to look at the countryside out of the window as the plane began to drop altitude. It was breathtaking. However, I find that some of the wonder of this experience (and others) was somewhat jaded by exposure to similar scenes on television. Looking out the plane window is not entirely dissimilar to looking at a TV screen. This makes me question the merits of travel documentaries and related media. Not to sound too melodramatic, but I think it hinders the expansion of the soul by creating a disembodied familiarity. Previous experience with the film versions takes away from the adventure of experiencing the real thing.

I won't lie- after the plane landed, things got rather stressful. It took a good fortyfive minutes or so to clear immigration, and then I had to collect my baggage and arrange to take the Gatwick Express to Victoria. I felt rather self conscious, as I've never traveled before. I sat on the train next to a very nice English businessman named Richard who had just dropped his son off at the airport. The stress intensified after I arrived at Victoria Station, when I had to take the tube (subway) to the neighborhood of the brother of a friend of mine who has graciously agreed to let me stay at his flat overnight. A friendly and slightly untillegible Jamaican tube worker named Rufus helped me purchase my ticket.

Trying to board the subway in the midst of rush hour with two heavy, large suitcases was a harrowing experience. I had to switch routes twice and lug my baggage up stairs, as most of the tube stations aren't equipped with elevators. Thankfully, several friendly travelers assisted me with my luggage at various points. By the time I reached the station near Jonny's flat, I was completly overheated and exhausted.

Jonny lives in north London near Camden. The high point of the day occured when I encountered Jonny's refrigerator. It's bright red and has the word "SMEG" on the freezer door in metal letters. I had assumed that this was a smart ass bachelor tribute to the vulgarity "smeg" frequently uttered in "Red Dwarf", but it turns out that Smeg is actually a popular Swedish manufacturer of kitchen appliances.

After Jonny left for classes, I took a brief nap and a shower and went outside to explore the area on foot for a few hours. I had coffee and a sandwich at a shop by the trainstation and read a few chapters in an economic history of Victorian Brittain that I was supposed to have completed before the trip. Then I wandered through a commerce center and eventually ended up at the Camden art gallery, where I had yet another cappucino and did some more reading.

Certain awkward yet pressing questions entered my mind...where are the bathrooms? What do I call the bathrooms? Do they have water fountains? Do I tip the wait staff? How much do I tip the wait staff? Do I look conspicuously like an obnoxious and bewildered American tourist?

Eventually, I negotiated my way around everything but the water fountain question. I asked Jonny about it later, and he said that they just don't have them in England like they do in America. He speculates that this is because people are likely to urinate in them.

My self consciousness depleted as I realized that the foriegners outnumbered the actual Brits. It's interesting to hear the immigrants speak English with accents that are mixed- Russian and Queen's English, for example. A barista named Svetlana talked with her fellow Barista (also an Eastern European) of the difficulties of her interracial, intercultural relationship with her Indian fiance.

Little bits of America were around to welcome me. A fast food restaurant advertised "lip-licking good" Southern Fried Chicken, and a strip club called "Secrets" proudly proclaimed that it featured "American style bar dancing." Thanks for the welcome London.