30 January 2009

over the bridge(s) we go

St. Paul's Cathedral

I bought "The Stage" weekly newspaper at The National today. It looks very juicy. I am excited to read it. I will probably pick it up every week, like I do The Spectator, a political magazine focused mostly on British politics that, oddly enough, also includes a rather large section of book reviews and stage information each week as well. Odd as these three concerns of life from an American perspective do not necessarily go together but they are all vital to the soul of English society.

The dogs are, from left to right, the PM Gordon Brown and leader of the opposition (and likely next PM) David Cameron

[I tried in vain to upload a pic of The Stage newspaper but this blog is just not having it for some reason]

I went to The National -- the theatre along the South Bank that was once owned by Laurence Olivier and houses three theatre's, and where a few months ago I saw Oedipus -- to buy tickets for two talks they are giving in the next few months, one on Casanova and the other that Alain De Botton is giving. I'm not quite sure what the latter is about but I remember reading Botton's "The Art of Travel" when I worked in a lawyers office in downtown Pittsburgh. It is one of those works that leave a lasting memory, not only the ideas it inspires but the feelings it engenders. It was about his travels through England in the 70's. Already then I wanted desperately to travel to England.

I didn't intend on walking toward the river to St. Paul's, but leaving The National I felt a sudden urge to do so. The sun was out. It wasn't cold. I didn't want to be stuck in my room reading the afternoon away.

I walked toward The Globe theatre, over the impressive Millennium Bridge, to St. Paul's Cathedral where I picked up a hot chocolate at St. Paul's Cafe. Then walked the entirety of Fleet Street, onto the Strand, over the Waterloo Bridge to home.

St. Paul's from Millennium Bridge

This fecking blog won't let me upload any more pictures, so perhaps some more that I shot today will be uploaded later.


In the mean time, congrats to Derek Jacobi and David Tennant who jointly won Best Shakespearean Performance at the Critics' Circle Awards last week.

This kinda broke my heart. Excerpt from The Telegraph:

In accepting his award Tennant, 37, said: "When I was at drama school, I waited at the stage door of Glasgow Theatre Royal to get Derek Jacobi's autograph, after his breathtaking Richard II.
"I was utterly inspired by that night, so to be sharing a prize for Shakespeare with such an amazing actor means more than I can say."

29 January 2009

here we go...

From The London Paper:

One of the weekend's biggest sporting occasions takes place across the pond on Sunday night where the Pittsburgh Steelers are overwhelming favourites to beat the Arizona Cardinals in the Superbowl.

You'll do well to beat 4-11 about the Steelers so anyone having a bet on the match needs to look at the other markets.

If you take it that the Steelers are going to win, their quarter-back Ben Roethlisberger looks a decent prospect at 7-4 -- if you can spell his name on the betting slip.

28 January 2009


We do not travel for adventures, nor for company, but to see with our eyes, and to measure with our hearts. -- John Ruskin

25 January 2009


I took a walk along the river tonight while it is raining, making sure to walk over every puddle along my way, secure with my big snow boots.

London at night while it is raining is curious. People walk slower. Seems like a paradoxical response. I guess in London there is some charm to walking in the rain, with Parliament lit in the foreground. Some were jogging. People are always jogging along the river -- during the early morning, at night, and now I know while it is raining as well.

I couldn't see very well, my glasses obscured by pelts of rain water.

I didn't have an umbrella. I don't use an umbrella in London. It is futile. Either it doesn't rain that much, just a sprinkle like tonight, or it rains very hard and the wind is too fierce. So I haven't had an umbrella since I've been here, although it rains most days.

I tried to feel something transcendent but couldn't. You can never summon those feelings. They only come when you least expect them, not during a picturesque scene like one written for a script of a movie. Scene: London. Setting: rainy, river Thames on the left, Parliament lit with Big Ben chiming in the background. Blocking: character walks slowly through the night, alone, while various couples walk slowly on either side of her. Queue violins.

The theatre is the only thing that particularly inspires me at the moment. The theatre is an affection of reality. I suppose then that it is sad that real life, walking in the rain in London, shouldn't make me feel much. But I suppose in a way that is affectation as well. Our perceptions of it is anyway.

[pic: Sophia Myles]

23 January 2009

Twelfth Night, and upon request: pictures

I went to see the Shakespeare play TWELFTH NIGHT last night.

But, before I show pictures from that, here are ones from today.

Me, demonstrating what I looked like before clarse:

And a demonstration of what I look like after clarse:

Derek Jacobi played Malvolio. The highly-scrupled steward who is tricked into thinking that his mistress is in love with him when he receives a letter, supposedly from her, saying so.

Jacobi. Hardly need to say that he is one of the greats. He was knighted in both Danish and British, like Laurence Olivier. He's most known for his role in I. Claudius . He's also just a really nice guy. And he was in an episode of Doctor Who!

These are the men who, along with a maid, set Jacobi's Malvolio up.

They are the very funny characters (in essence, the fools). Tall dude: Guy Henry as Sir Andrew Aguecheek, who, I will proudly relate, I happened to see a few months ago in person at the RADA and short dude Ron Cook (Sir Toby Belch). You might have recently seen him in Little Dorrit as the Marshalsea prison guard.

Above. Victoria Hamilton as Viola. She is shipwrecked. Thinks her brother is dead. Has no where to go. Decides to join Orsino's (Mark Bonnar) court, but has to be a man. So she dresses and makes herself look like one. -- In Shakespeare's time, this character was played by a man pretending to be a woman who is pretending to be a man. As if the plot isn't complicated enough!

Orsino is in love with Olivia (played by Indira Varma-- stage center). Olivia is also the woman whom Malvolio (right) thinks is in love with him. She is not in love with either.

Viola is sent by Orsino to declare his love for Olivia and Olivia, in turn, falls in love with Viola masquerading as a man.

It all comes to a conclusion when Viola's not dead brother comes on the scene and Olivia, thinking it is "Viola", makes him wed her. All is revealed when both Viola and her brother enter the scene together. Viola relates that she is a woman and Orsino, whom she has been in love with all along, is suddenly no longer infatuated with Olivia and takes her to his heart.

Another pic of Viola. I've just come across Victoria Hamilton in a BBC costume drama series (an actual costume series!) called Lark Rise Over Candleford . I've sincerely liked her from the start. Years ago people were saying she is the new Judi Dench. One critic today said that this is no longer true; that she has come into her own.

So what happens to Jacobi's Malvolio during this time? The true comic gem of the play is that in the letter written by the maid and the two fools pretending to be Olivia (a lot of pretending going on) it is written that he has to do all these strange things so that she knows that he is also in love with her. So that he has to wear bright yellow socks with cross garters and smile ostentatiously. This is the most comical scene, as Malvolio, who never smiles, has to learn how -- of course, it is all overly-dramatized by Jacobi, which makes it all the more delightful as he rarely plays comic parts. He is thought to be insane, is thrown in a dungeon, and by the end of it, when the true origins of the letter are revealed, he states that he will get his revenge, before pompously walking off the stage. We never know what the revenge will be; the play finishes with Viola and Orsino's declaration of love. So, one could argue, the play doesn't really have an ending.

"If I were to see this played upon a stage, I would condemn it as an improbable fiction" is a line spoken by one of the characters as regards the plagiarized letter and the subsequent events that transpire. This is Shakespeare's way of acknowledging the unreality of the events he is presenting.

it is improbable that one should mistake Viola as a man, especially Orsino who, at least in this production, delights in getting as close to him/her as possible. (Homo-eroticism in this play is more than just implied). That Olivia should mistake Viola as a man as well as then mistake Viola's brother as the same person is more than highly unlikely.

But in the end -- whether realistic or no -- the play is terribly fun. Something of an almost sinister delight. And, with the right actors, nearly believable.

a post before clarse

We're reading Wordsworth today.

This seemed apt.

"Alas! Alas!
In vain for such solemnity I looked;
Mine eyes were crossed by butterflies, ears vexed
By chattering popinjays; the inner heart
Seemed trivial, and the impressed without
Of a too gaudy region."

-- Wordsworth, "The Prelude"

21 January 2009

Oh, no, Helen found her camera

I had ten minutes before walking to The Royal Society near Buckingham Palace -- and so, finding my camera which I had unconsciously hit among papers in one of my dawars (I can't spell it just as I can't say it properly) I decided to take numerous pictures of myself. Now as this requires me to hold up the camera backwards where I can not see what is being photographed, as well as in such a way to actually capture my whole person, this proved to be initially somewhat difficult.

That's better. There were many "false starts".

Then I grabbed anything within my reach and took photos of them with me.

Me and Olivier

Me and my King's College I.D. card which I use three times in order to get first into the main lobby of my apartment buildings, then outside into the courtyard, and then the apartment building itself. (I use my key twice as well, once to get into my flat and then into my apartment room). And we have security guards 24/7.

Me and the blanket I am knitting my father.

me and my shoes and bright red socks.

Me and the fourth season of Doctor Who. This was the only thing, other than my laptop, that I carried on board with me from the States.

Me and the Queen (don't we look great together?)

Me and my girlz in the hood -- The Bronte's

I spent the day at The Royal Society which I thought had a collection of eighteenth century women letters since that is the course for which I was going, but it turns out it is a science society, established in the seventeenth century, that includes today a little over a thousand "fellows" that come up with new theories and such like. Newton, Darwin and Einstein were fellows and many other notable beings that I don't know well. The day started with tea that they had prepared for us on a white clothed table. Very fancy place. The building is like a tiny palace. The cafe downstairs is only for fellows. No one else is allowed in. The prices are ridiculously cheap. A whole meal for 2 pound something. It must be well funded, I would suppose. (Probably how much the food really costs). We took a tour and went to the "private" part of the building where, apparently, the president of the society stays when he is not at Trinity College. I enjoyed the day. However, we had to pull things off the shelf after lunch and then give an impromptu presentation on what we found. I was a little dumbfounded since the course isn't remotely scientific. I spoke about Einstein's obituary in the Times, which the librarians got the original for me. There were only like two paragraphs on the guy, with a massive photo of his disheveled desk and an incomplete diagram of something he was trying to solve on a chalk board.

Anyway, it was kind of useless, and I don't think it should have taken all day. But it was nice to actually have something to do all day.

Clare, the prof., came up to me at some point and asked if I was liking the class, despite the fact that it is not my core module (which is 1850 - present; another thing that bemuses me: why am I signed up for an 18c course when I'm 1850 - present?) and I told her I liked it b/c I hadn't studied 18c before. Refreshing to have a prof. that actually cares. She's quite good. Had a lot of insightful things to say throughout the day even though it is not her specialty. Although a bit neurotic. You can tell by the way she speaks and her mannerisms. I'm sure you know what I mean. And all the professors are. Even the students. They all have their quirks and ticks. It is odd to be in an english class that is so english orientated. In which I mean that at Point Park a lot of the other students were theatre majors as well. Very out-going; dramatic -- of course. They brought a free and easy atmosphere to the class and a more, I don't know, avant garde approach to literature. Whereas now I'm stuck with all English majors and they're rather dry. And terribly hardworking in a way that it is easy to tell that they never resisted the mind numbing organized drilling that we all receive from elementary school, up. They are like little machines, ready to do whatever the prof's say's and in the way they have been instructed to do it, without being much aware of their own inclinations.

(I sound like Charlotte Bronte when she writes about her Belgian students).

16 January 2009

Billie Piper talking about The Secret Diary of a Call Girl

Starting on showtime in the U.S. this month.

In which Helen explains what she does at 4:00 am

[a tree still in bloom]

I've been waking at 4:00 am a lot lately. I suppose this is an improvement on going to bed at 4:00 am, which I was doing a lot last semester. The problem is, that the sun doesn't come up until 8:00, so that I have four hours stuck in my room. I could read for clarse but that becomes a bit boring eventually. And right now I don't have much to read.

This morning I ate a pre-packaged bag of sliced apples and grapes that I bought at Tesco's yesterday. I watched a few episodes of Jon and Kate Plus Eight, an American show that follows around a family that has two twins and six other children. What will happen when the kids realize that it is not normal to have a film crew follow you around; when they realize that a camera crew has visually documented all their silly childhood habits. You think showing your future wife or husband a photo of yourself as a kid is bad...

Then watched some behind-the-scenes stuff on the fourth season of Doctor Who. David Tennant has a video diary that he does throughout the season. It's all rather post-modern. The actor taping (becoming the director) of his own life as an actor; while on set and off. He was in a car with Julie Gardner being driven to Blackpool to turn on the town's Christmas lights in the one I watched and of course there was traffic, so police cars showed up to escort them with flashing lights and their sirens on, and it was all very hilarious, with Tennant's always silly, witty, remarks and Julie pulling out her mini-video camera and calling people to tell them what was happening.

And then watched Doctor Who Confidential, a documentary that shows you how they prepare the sets, costumes and best of all shows you the filming of scenes. I always love when they use green screen and the actor has to emote to nothing. Today they showed Tennant having to conduct a rather long emotional scene with Kylie Minogue with only a light to represent her ghostly image. There are also interviews with cast and the production teams. I love these things because it makes you realize what really goes into creating shows that otherwise seem so simple.

But I've gone on too long about that. By this time it was 8:00, the sun was up (or rather the overcast skies were visible) and I went out to take a walk. Last semester I was keen on taking walks at night, about 6:00-ish, across Westminster Bridge, up Whitehall, passed Number Ten, to Trafalgar Square and through to the Strand; now in the morning, I take the directly opposite route across Waterloo Bridge, down the Strand on to Fleet Street. At the latter, I stopped at St. Paul's Cafe today. They sell fancy croissants and drinks. I picked up a small hot chocolate, which cost me about 3.70 dollars. And it is in a small cup. Smaller than a tall drink at Starbucks. Their hot chocolate is the best -- they put real chocolate bars in them.

Back home I walked along the embankment. Saw the man who cleans up the trash every morning. He stopped me to deposit my empty cut of hot chocolate. I was carelessly holding it upside down. I think he may have thought that I would drop it; I would suppose I have a dreamy look on my face when I walk in London. At least, I'm sometimes (well, usually) not really paying attention to what is going on around me.

Now I'm going to read Rousseau and then off to clarse at 11:00; laundry afterward.

Ah, the thrilling life I lead.

Signing off,


14 January 2009

A foggy day, in London town -- and some unexpected occurrences whilst writing this blog

It be foggy on Westminster Bridge this mornin'

I had just gone down a few minutes ago to nap and fire alarm went off. Now I'm wide awake, although I haven't slept since 12:00 pm yesterday. Stayed up all night, doing what I can't even remember. Caught up on bbc shows, read news headlines. I don't know how that divested a whole night, but it did. Watched the sun come up while drinking tea and eating toast and left my room by 8:00. Walked across the Waterloo Bridge to the Maugham Library, my college's library on Fleet Street.

(fire alarm is going off again; like seriously? Fuck it; I'm not going out again).

So, here's Fleet Street (a notorious Dickens setting for his odd-ball lawyers).

(Okay, I guess I better go down; the noise is horrible).

(Okay, less people outside this time. Are they testing us? -- Will they come out a second time, 2 minutes after we last turned the fire alarm on?).

The rather large Maugham Library:

I returned some books at the library and picked up Rosseau's Confessions for a clarse on Friday. Continued walking down Fleet Street, turned right and down to the Embankment.

(Fire alarm off again; they're insane).

(Well, clearly they must be having problems with the system. Went downstairs again. A hand full of people this time).

So, anyway, I walked down the Embankment. Really foggy this morning.

On the far left you can see, barely, the london eye.

Weird Angle. Self-explanatory, I suppose

On my way home. I go across Westminster Bridge from the Embankment and then walk past the London eye to here. The path on the right I walk up, then turn right, past some fancy eateries, some more turns, and I'm home.

Enough pictures. So after this, I went home, dropped off heavy bag, and went to the tube, took the Bakerloo Line four stops to Picadilly Circus, picked up the Picadilly line to Knightsbridge, and had me some tea and scones at Harrods. Was sure to get there before lunch time rush. It is so much nicer there in the morning. Not as many people around. I've never been there when it's been so quiet.

All the fancy foods. It's so weird walking in there, because there are people starving in other places in the world, and Harrods has fancy wrapped candies and hunks of meat hanging from ceilings; lobster that costs more than an average family's monthly rent, cavier that -- oh, don't even let me go there. Stacey knows about the Cavier. And, in case you read this Stacey, the lamp in the lunch room in harrods is still swinging back and forth -- and the lady (the same lady who waited on us who was horrid then and was doubly horrid now -- she insisted there was no more strawberry jam -- and you know how I hate raspberry jam -- until one of the other waitresses told her that there were many in the back and handed me two) -- the lady sat me right under the damn thing.

So Harrods was great.

I must admit, I like the fancy things. I realize the stupidity of it, while I also adore it. I tried to find fancy stationery to write Abby on but they weren't fancy enough. :0 Seriously. It was like -- buy shit for 12 pounds for 10 pieces of paper. Uh -- no!

So, what after Harrods....ah, yes, back on the tube to Regents Park. Decided to loiter about there. Did -- immediately got bored, and scared about the hefty ducks that I swear are going to attack me! There are a lot of them, and they're big. Seriously, Stacey.

So went over to The Volunteer, had a pint of....something, it was a lager, that's all I need to know, and read Rousseau. And steadily as I read, and drank, his confessions started to become more interesting. A correlation, mayhap?

I love The Volunteer. It is a quintessential English pub, and during the week, day time hours, it is hardly full. They sell tea as well as alcohol, and have lunch specials. Really great food. Pub food in England is the best, I've often heard it said. They also play cheeky music, and no t.v.'s.

A man and a woman were canoodling at the table next to me. I don't know where I come up with these things, but I instantly thought that she was a call girl and he was a client. It just seemed that way. Maybe because she was hot, and young, and he was a business man, well dressed, pudgy (to put it lightly), and rather older. And they were in a pub, at 1:00 in the afternoon, on a Wednesday. But they seemed really into each other -- whether each were truthfully so, is up to others to guess -- like myself, who find it more interesting to make up sordid trysts about other people than read Rousseau. It's a lot of fun; it feeds my cynical irony. (I actually don't quite know what cynical irony means, but it sounds like something I would have).

(The maintanence guy was just here. Let's just say my shower hasn't been working quite properly -- draining wise -- and, uh, he took care of it).

A group of guys talking shop on the other side of me at the pub. Beers, sandwiches, talking about a presentation, I think. I wasn't quite so interested in them. -- I did read 50 pages of Rousseau.

(The maintenence guy had a Cockney accent, like Alfred Dolittle in My Fair Lady. Just. Sometimes stereotypes do come true. -- And, clearly, I can't spell maintencence).

After pub, quite tired, and a bit wobbly, so take double decker home, forty minute drive, pick it up only a block from pub. That's practically where it starts; ends at my stop. Goes through Oxford Street, Picadilly Circus, past Tralfagar Square. Probably the best bus to take to see all the sites. And it goes past The Phantom of the Opera theatre. -- Phantom, this Thursday? I think, why not. Haven't been in three years.

So now I'm off to Mcdonalds. Dinner.

Oh, and here's a picture of my dad, so you can go stalk him.

13 January 2009

something I wrote to Abby this morning:

I'm ridiculously happy I am done with my essays. So now I'm just waiting for my other luggage bag; only received one yesterday...It is in the upper forties here, which is nice. Had lunch at Pret a Manger yesterday, like au bon pain. Had a fancy (i.e. expensive) meatball sandwich, which was called something fancy but which was, essentially, a meatball sandwich. Even paid to eat it in the place, as you have to pay extra to eat inside. Looked at the people mucking about the streets. Looked at the Lyceum Theatre across the street where The Lion King plays. London feels different to me this time. I feel different this time. Better. Let's hope it keeps up.

Had my first class in Eighteenth Century women writers (letters, memoirs). The instructor, a woman, an older woman with grey hair that looks very fancy when she puts her glasses on the top of her head, which she frequently does; it doesn't even seem like she needs the glasses. Very soft spoken, very elegant speech. Just as you would expect.


And -- 22 year old women's studies student auctions off virginity

12 January 2009

word limits

This is the school I attend:

There should normally be a 5 per cent tolerance – no penalty being incurred for up to 5 per cent over the limit.

Thereafter 2 marks should normally be deducted for every five per cent until fifty is reached.

After fifty per cent 3 marks should normally be deducted for each additional five per cent.

So, in a 3,500-word essay, the penalty starts to apply when the actual word-count rises above 3,675 words; in a 5,000-word essay, when it rises above 5,250; and in a 10,000-word dissertation, when it rises above 10,500. Note that the word-count required on the coversheet (which will be taken as authoritative by the markers) must be made electronically.

11 January 2009

I'm so geeked - and my bumpy trip

So is it sad that I am totally geeked about the new self-checkouts at my local Sainsbury's? They must have put them in while I was away.

I am back in London. I have to make this short b/c technically I should be working on my essays that are due tomorrow at 4:00 and which I still have about 3,000 words to compose. Oh, the life of Helen.

Okay, so flight to Chicago not so good. Flight more than an hour late in getting in b/c of snow. I am totally unawares of this b/c I don't have a watch. Mine broke a while ago and laziness dictated that it won't be fixed. So I'm swanning about Chicago airport, walking to the tram to get to terminal five, not realizing that my plane is about to leave in 30 minutes. I get to the ba office, there are two girls behind the desk talking, some construction men taking down a very large Christmas wreath, and I tell them I need my boarding pass. The woman starts talking about putting me on standby; I explain that I already have a ticket, that I just need to pick it up. They understand, print it out, and tell me to run b/c they are going to close the gates. This would be no problem if it were not that I have yet to go through security. I have to show my passport, the guy mutters something in his walkie-talkie. I think, oh shit, they think I'm some terrorist and the guy's just called for back-up. After taking off my shoes, my jacket, my coat, taking my laptop out of my laptop bag, placing it by itself in a basket, and go through the metal detector, and run to my terminal with my big man snow shoes back on untied, and find out that the guy at security was letting them know that I was coming and to keep the door open. I get on the plane, everyone is buckled and ready to go, and the flight attendants immediately start the safety instructions and they start de-iceing the plane.

I have a headache. Ask for some paracetamol. I have to fill out this form to make sure that I'm not going to die from taking them (do you have any allergies -- have you taken anything since four hours ago) and if I do die, who can they contact.

My flight into London seven hours later was really turbulent, so much so that the attendants had to make sure everyone was in their seats and if they had their buckles on. Usually the sign goes on, but never have I seen the attendants running down the aisles to make sure everyone was buckled in. They even tightened some of the belts. The guy next to me, snoring, had his seat belt put on him by one of the attendants. Then just as I was worrying that the compartment where my laptop was stowed above me would open (as mine did when I landed in Chicago from London several weeks ago) it did, and a ladies coat fell out. I took off my belt and leapt up, afraid, as I was bopping around and everything else was, that my laptop would fall out.

Landing was horrid too. London had very low visibility which was probably why it was so turbulent. Also, I couldn't see the run way until we actually got on it. Perhaps the captain was still flying when he should have already touched down, because usually you fly over the runway a few feet above it, and then land softly with the wheels barely and then completely touching it, but jesus chris one minute we were in the air, the next we literally banged into the runway. You could feel that the wheels (which were right under where I sat ideally enough) were hit hard by the pavement, that the underbelly of the plane itself could have got a beating itself. And we stopped completely much sooner than you usually do.

Scary, but a bit fun I must admit.

Got home and was hit so fast with sleepiness that I could barely eat before I went to bed at 3:30 pm. Woke at 10:00 pm from one of those deep sleeps where you don't know who you are or where you are and then woke again at 6:00 am when my alarm went off. I thought 15 hours would be sufficient, but was still so groggy that I slept another 6 hours until 12:00 pm. Woke up, determined to finish papers, but still too tired. Slept for another 4 hours and now here I am, one diet coke later (I'm starting my diet coke, uh, diet, after these papers are due), and I'm ready to go -- but for some reason I'm writing this blog.

Okay, now done.

02 January 2009

Cyd Charisse

Cyd Charisse died less than a year ago. A musical movie dancer of the fifties. Probably the best. Here she is with two of the greatest male dancers of her time (and probably of any time), Gene Kelly (in An American in Paris) and Fred Astaire (in The Bandwagon).

In her autobiography, Charisse reflected on her experience with Astaire and Kelly: "As one of the handful of girls who worked with both of those dance geniuses, I think I can give an honest comparison. In my opinion, Kelly is the more inventive choreographer of the two. Astaire, with Hermes Pan's help, creates fabulous numbers — for himself and his partner. But Kelly can create an entire number for somebody else ... I think, however, that Astaire's coordination is better than Kelly's ... his sense of rhythm is uncanny. Kelly, on the other hand, is the stronger of the two. When he lifts you, he lifts you! ... To sum it up, I'd say they were the two greatest dancing personalities who were ever on screen. But it's like comparing apples and oranges. They're both delicious." [9]