Sunday, October 30, 2011

Summer Job

There are times when I'm confronted by my own snobbery. Here's one.

There's a summer job orienting incoming students and so forth. I'm interested because living in the UK has taken a bit more money than I'd budgeted for and our pay cut has hit, too. Between the two, a bit of summer income would be more welcome than usual. This job pays about the same as teaching a class. (I could have put in a request to teach a class, but I didn't think of it in a timely enough manner. Stupid me.)

But, this job involves working for the non-academic side of campus, the folks who bring us the wonders of alcohol awareness and other stimulating programs. (See, I told you I'm a snob.) It also involves an application form with inviting questions about why you want the job (MONEY!). Of course, you're supposed to write in the usual bullputty an enthusiastic explanation of how committed you are to seeing that undergraduates get the best start ever to their college experience (it's no longer a college career, but an experience).

It also involves questions about your qualifications to be an advisor. Then there's the one about how I want my advisees to view me. Seriously? I want them to view me as a goddess of all things to do with early modern literature, someone whose brilliance is equalled only by her wit and beauty. I don't think any of them will view me that way, but I'd really like it if they did.

But my favorite question is about what I think students think are the most significant issues for their college experience. It's not about what I think are the most significant issues, or what research shows are the most significant issues, but what students think.

Me, I'd put studying hard and using birth control high on the list, along with paying attention in class and participating in college life. I might also put sleeping enough and eating decently.

Students, I'm guessing they put making friends high, along with choosing a major, and, truth be told, getting as drunk as possible without getting arrested or hospitalized.

I'm guessing research would show that they should also be concerned about student loans and debt. And I'm sure some of them are appropriately concerned about debt and such.

What's on your list, and what do you think is on most students' lists?

I have to look at the calendar and really think about whether the money is worth it to me to kowtow to the other side of campus. (And then, of course, there's always the horrifying possibility that they would turn me down. Talk about depressing.)


Burghley House is right outside the market town of Stamford, so naturally, Stamford is where I went next. Can I say, if there were a contest among English towns for "most picturesque," Stamford would definitely be in the running. This is the Stamford Meadows and the river Welland. It's beautiful, and busy with people hanging out or wandering through.

Here's a picture looking towards the town center, with Rod Stewart talking on the phone. (Probably not, but still, look!)

We walked around the market, but I didn't take pictures in the market because I always feel a bit awkward and never much like the pictures. I haven't had a lot of experience with weekly markets in a market town. My own community has a farmers' market during the summer, and that's my experience. That happens in a purpose built open air structure, and pretty much consists of farm produce with some food stalls (a coffee shop comes, and some bakeries), some specialty crafts stuff (a potter and a couple soap or candle makers), and sometimes plants to buy.

Here, the market was in the streets itself, with some vendors selling out of trucks directly and a lot of clothes, especially socks and underwear. I guess the clothing stalls really stood out to me because I wasn't expecting them. There was also a guy hawking garden clippers.

We got some cheese, bakhlava (yum!), and other treats.

The market isn't all there is to see in Stamford. You knew that. This is the inner courtyard of Browne's Hospital. Browne started the foundation in the late 15th century to house poor folks, and it still houses senior citizens. Of course, the current houses weren't built in the 15th century, but in the Victorian era, with later updates. But still, my brain reels at the idea that someone in the 15th century provided something to care for people and it's still doing so after 500+ years. It's amazing, isn't it?

Think of most things people built thinking they'd be remembered for it. Chapels are still there, and sometimes castles or monuments, but this hospital is still providing a home for some people who need one. I guess I think that's just the coolest thing. (There are other almshouses in Stamford, but this one caught my interest because of the early foundation.)

Speaking of monuments, this one is what's been put in the place of the cross put after Eleanor of Castile's body was moved to Westminster Abbey. Supposedly, at each place the procession stopped for the night, Edward I had a wooden cross erected, and those were later replaced by stone carvings, and mostly disappeared or got weathered. A fragment of the one in Stamford survives, but it's in the museum, supposedly, and this modern monument is in its place.

Unfortunately, the museum is closed. It doesn't say if this is a seasonal closing or permanent, but we weren't able to go in and see the cross or anything else.

There is still part of a wall from the Norman era castle surviving. I'm guessing this is from something inside the castle, rather than the castle wall itself. We walked up to see where the castle wall had been, but there wasn't much to see.

And finally, here's a Tudor era mill, which isn't quite on the mill trace anymore, but the map in the Meadows says that the trace has been moved slightly.

I also went to our own town market the other day, and got some bonfire toffee for the upcoming celebrations!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Burghley House

A pleasant little country house built by William Cecil, Lord Burghley, who just happened to be one of Elizabeth I's right hand men and the Lord High Treasurer at a time when that meant a fair bit of money could find a way to your pocket, or by way of your pocket to your country house.

And this one is stunning. You're not allowed to take pictures inside, but you can believe me when I say it's beautiful and amazing and stately.

The outside is just as cool.

First, there are a bunch of fallow deer about. I gather that the estate keeps the herd, and harvests from it, but I'm not sure. At any rate, it's the rutting season, which means the stags all have antlers, and every once in a while you can see a little conflict happening.

You'll have to click to make this big enough to see the two bucks facing off in the back, behind the doe looking bored. But after a few interactions, one of the bucks turned tail and ran, and was chased quite a ways by the other. And then after a few more minutes, there was more conflict. As you can imagine, this is all quite tiring, so the bucks wander off from the does and have a bit of a lie down.

Happily for me, they don't much seem to care of there are people nearby while they relax a bit, and indeed, this one settled down right near a drive.

The deer are very cool, but the gardens are even cooler. There's a sculpture garden which displays a bunch of art that, I'm told, changes every so often. You walk through the garden, and you come upon something you can't quite make out at first. There's just something that catches your eye, and makes you look, trying to see the form.

These faces are HUGE, way bigger than a person, and somehow very peaceful and quiet in the garden, which feels very relaxed, and not formal. I think there are two faces in the garden, but I may have missed stuff, too.

This one you couldn't really get close to because there was a sort of gully thing. But the rust look (I can't say for sure that it's rust, but it looks like rust color) just blends in beautifully with the plants.

There are lots of other sculptures, too, but these are the ones I'd love to have near my house where I could visit them regularly.

Wandering around, we saw this building and mound area, and read the sign inside that said it was an ice house. They could cut ice from the small lake nearby and store it in the underground area and have it last up to two years, which is pretty darned cool.

And inside is another art installation, I think. (I really don't think any Elizabethan's could have put this up, so I'm going with modern!) It's this weird blue electic thing which works really nicely in the space, though I have no idea how they got it in there.

And using the light from the blue, you can see down to the bottom of the ice house, where the pre-refrigerator folks would have stored their ice. It's brilliant, actually, because they (ice houses) are built into a mound and with a north facing door, so they don't get any warmer from the sun than absolutely necessary, and supposedly they keep quite cool with ice in there. (There's a wire fence thing to keep people like me from trying to get any closer, which is just as well, but looks a little weird in my picture, alas.)

And then you step out a bit, and you can see the form, and it's magnificent.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Help!!! (Tree Identification)

I went to Burghley House the other day, and it's amazing. I'll post more pics soon, even. Meanwhile, I saw this tree. When I first saw it, the trunk and bark looked a lot like a redwood tree to me.

But the needle things look NOTHING like a redwood at all. They're rounded and scaled, and there's lots of them.

Nor do the cones (shown here with my thumb so you get an idea of the size).

For some reason, I've got it into my head that I really want to know what this tree is, but I've been looking at on-line tree identification keys (for the UK and elsewhere) and I'm totally befuddled. But I'm sure for someone, this is an easy call.

Please help me keep what little sanity I still have and tell me what the tree is!


I feel weirdly disconnected from things happening at home. For example, I keep looking at stuff for "Occupy [Wall Street or somewhere else]," and I don't understand what's happening, really. Of course, there's a very good chance that I wouldn't really understand even if I were in the States, since I'm not very familiar with Wall Street sorts of stuff.

I got a letter from the state, and it was dismal. And another from our HR folks, about some tax withholding thing that they did differently or that changed because I changed health insurers for next year, or something. I'm unclear. It was one of those letters that starts out with a statement about how you're getting this letter because you fall into one of three categories, all highly legalese, and the only one I could fit into has to do with changing my health insurer for next year or maybe the your benefits have changed category.

And that was exciting. Being here, I couldn't attend any of the meetings, but as seems to happen almost every year, my insurer has decided not to serve our area, or not to have a contract with the clinic I go to, or blah blah. I've changed insurers about 6 times in 10 years. And I think a lot of my colleagues have, too. I wonder how much time we non Human Resources folks are devoting to trying to figure out our benefits problems, especially in the past few years with furloughs and all.

And while I would never actually do it, I wish I could just tell them to shove their insurance plan where the sun don't shine.

The good news is that we're not having furloughs this year. The bad news is that the pay cut hurts. (And I think that's what the other possibility about the letter I got is, since we're now going to not have certain benefits and others will now be taxed or something.)

Did you see that the governor of Walkerstan is supposedly going to get a 5.4% pay raise. And all state employees will have a pay freeze with the cut in place. I don't know how he doesn't count as a state employee.

I got my course assignments for next year, and now I have to figure out and send off my request for my teaching schedule. But it feels very far away. Still, I love that we get to request a teaching schedule and usually get something pretty close to what we request. I think it's one of those things we do as a department that makes our lives better.

I miss my pals, my biking pals, my eating pals, my just relaxing pals. There are good folks here, but I do miss my pals.

And at 1 in the morning, I miss being able to go use a toilet without having a good chance of passing a student skyping in the hall outside the bathroom.

I think I may have a tad bit of crankiness, eh?

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Cambridge: It's Graduation Day

I went to visit Cambridge for the first time on Saturday, and much to my confusion, it was graduation day. I'm sure someone understands such things, but didn't the term just start? Was Saturday a graduation for people who'd finished up their studies in June of 2011? And then they come back for a graduation ceremony?

At any rate, it was one of those fun days when you see young folks in gowns walking around, often trailed by two beaming older folks.

I started my visit with a pilgrimage to Spenser's Pembroke College. Happily, for me, anyway, the gate was open, and I could go in and wander the quads and garden areas a bit. There were numbers of people wandering, and it had a friendly feel.

After Pembroke, I walked up to King's College and visited the famous chapel where I took the required picture of the fan vaulting. It really is a beautiful chapel, but it felt more like a cathedral than what I think of as a chapel, to be honest. I gather that King's was founded with Eton as a place where Eton graduates would go on to study at Cambridge (I wonder if they still have some sort of formal relationship?) and it didn't sound like it would have had all that many students back when the chapel was built, so I'm not clear why the chapel would have been built as such a big space. But it is!

King's didn't feel nearly as friendly as Pembroke, maybe because it was a paid admission sort of thing where you could only go along this basic path through the chapel? I don't know if it's the same on regular days or not.

Then I walked up to the Castle Mound. It's basically a built up hill with fairly wide stairs leading up, so up I went. And at the top, I surprised a couple of people with champagne and a picnic lunch. One of them rather blushingly told me that they'd just become engaged, so I felicitated them and wished them many happy years together and left to give them some hint of privacy. It did seem like a nice place to get engaged. And no, alas, they didn't offer me a glass of champagne. (But you can see from this picture why I didn't realize there was anyone else up there.)

So now, they'll have a lovely story about the day they got engaged, romantically picnicking at the top of Castle Mound until a somewhat unkempt middle-aged woman with an American accent stumbled up. Lovely.

Back down, I wandered down to see the Sedgwick Museum, because I'd heard they have a ton of stuff from Darwin's Beagle voyage, and what self-respecting me could pass that up? What they have are mostly rocks, and a few journals. I liked the journals best, but wow, he had handwriting that's hard to read!

Mostly, though, the museum felt like a bit of a clutter hall, with lots of stuff, much of which would have been fascinating if I'd had something more to help me understand them.

I guess I was expecting to see some of his bird collection, and was both disappointed not to, but also sort of relieved because after feeling lousy at the Museum of Natural History in London, I wasn't sure I wanted to visit popsicle birds. Except they would have been Darwin's popsicle birds.

I went on to the Fitzwilliam, and looked at Greek and Roman and Syrian stuff, and medieval stuff.

Finally, I walked across the river where there are punting tours, but I didn't have time to go on one, so instead I walked up the backs of the universities, thinking to get a different view. Happily, Clare College had its gate opened, so I went and looked at the river from its bridge. There were a LOT of punters on the river, so many, that there was a punting traffic jam under one of the bridges. From the path, I could see into a tiny bit of what the gate said were the "fellows garden" and it was gorgeous, all green and flowered, and just inviting (except for the locked gate).

And then it was time to go.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011


I think we'll all agree that these two things are true:

1) Computers and systems have grown better (more reliable, faster, etc).

2) Every time someone says they're "upgrading" something in the system, it makes at least one (and often times more than one) thing worse.

How can these things both be true?

Monday, October 24, 2011

Living the Fantasy

For the first time since nearly the beginning of the semester, I don't have anything planned for this weekend. Last weekend I went to Cambridge and Nottingham. I also walked with some friends to the local town just to walk along a canal path. But this weekend... nothing planned.

I could stay here at the Abbey, perhaps taking a walk in the other direction. Or a bike ride.

Or, you could suggest some places for me to go. I'd like that.

And anyone who is kind enough to suggest a place and email me their snail address, will get a personal postcard from me! (Unless there are more than, say, 20, which is pretty unimaginable.)

Ready, steady, go!

Sunday, October 23, 2011


Based on multiple observations of different individuals: It's pretty nigh impossible to skype without yelling.

Corrolary: if the skyper isn't wearing an earphone, s/he will have the noise turned up loudly enough to be heard well in the next room.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Southwell Workhouse

This is every Victorian era novel's nightmare place, the workhouse. This one, in fact, isn't as bad as the ones in the big cities, supposedly, but it still seemed pretty dismal. The reason it wasn't quite as dismal was because it was in a rural area, and at least some of the people who went in would be able to leave seasonally for farm labor.

It's not quite as huge as it looks, because the ceilings aren't nearly as high as in a lot of places you see pictures of, and it's also basically one room deep. One side is for men, one side for women, and there's a back area for children.

The whole place house about 150 people, which would be incredibly crowded and noisy, I bet. These beds have straw mattresses, a single blanket, and that's about it. And the window, we were told (the volunteers gave us a GREAT tour!) would have been locked open, even on very cold nights.

And everyone who could work would have been set to some sort of hard work: gardening, breaking rocks, preparing food, or picking oakum. This is where women prepared food, in the basement, which (they told us) would sometimes fill with up to 7 inches of water. What a nasty place to have to work! Food would be kept up on the bench things, but the women would have to stand in the water while they peeled potatoes and such.

They had a food schedule thing up, so we could see how much food people got to eat, and boy, did they have a lot of potatoes. And gruel. And no, they didn't get raisins, cinnamon, and brown sugar on their porridge, I'm pretty sure.

Oakum is the stuff they used to caulk wooden ships. They'd take old ship rope which was usually caked with tar and such, and prisoners and workhouse folks would be set to tear it apart into the fibers. Then the fibers would be resold to the shipyards and mixed with tar (or pine tar) and used to caulk wooden ships.

I tried to take a picture to give an overview of the exercise yards, but it didn't work out too well. You can see the partially circular parts, though, which is where the outdoor latrines are. Yes, it's just that luxurious.

It's not a widely known fact, but I have a latrine rating system. On a scale of 1-10. It's true. I have a feeling these latrines would have been right down with the very worst I've ever used.

The students paired learning about the workhouse and learning about life in the Abbey recently, and I have to say, from what I saw there was a lot to learn.

And once again, I'm very glad not to live in the Victorian era!

Note to Self

When you ice your sore foot to help it get less sore, your foot gets really cold, and that makes your whole self feel cold.

The more you know.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Wales, Day 2, Llanberis

On the second day, we went to Llanberis, where you can see the National Slate Museum right outside of town and you can take a train up Snowdon or walk, if you have planned well or had lots of time. We didn't. There were no train tickets because they'd all been sold out; and we didn't think ahead to buy them before. Nor did we have the time we would have needed to climb up.

But we did get to see the National Slate Museum, which was well worth the visit because it's fascinating. The Museum is in an old slate processing plant, right near the actual slate mines, and the sad thing is that even though the plant and mines have been closed for a fairly long time now, they've still left massive scars on the landscape. (If you look closely at this picture, you can see someone climbing the side of the scar. Given how slate seems to fracture, that seems dangerous, but I'm guessing these folks know better than I!)

There's also a famous castle ruins nearby, Dolbadarn Castle, which is supposed to be typical of a Welsh castle before the English invasion in that it's quite small (especially compared to, say, Caernarfon Castle!), round, and on a hill. It looks like there are ruins around it from smaller stone buildings.

All in all, we had a gorgeous day, as you can see from my pictures with the almost unreal blue sky.

(Yes, we did visit Caernarfon Castle during this day, too, and it was HUGE, and amazing, and ingenious with arrow shooting slits that LOOK from the outside like ten slits, but in reality provide space for 3 archers each, each shooting from a different angle.)

And on the last day, day 3, we went by Swallow Falls, and we all took the exact same pictures of the falls that everyone else has taken since the gate and path were put in and photography invented. That didn't make it any less beautiful, though.

While I was sitting on this little wall, waiting for the sheep in the first picture to get a little closer (they didn't) or move somewhere interesting (they did, I think), I talked with another woman about my age, also with a camera and an interest in photography about the difficulty of going to the same beautiful spot that other people have gone to for years and trying to take a picture that feels special or unique in some way. She'd set herself a task for the day of trying to take a picture that would capture the feeling of the autumn in Wales that day, which seemed a difficult thing because it was so green and beautiful that it didn't feel at all like autumn to me.

It did get me thinking about trying to take a picture that would be at least a little original or interesting. And one view that I tried to capture was this lone tree seemingly surviving through the slate mining to today. Or maybe it's grown since? Unfortunately, I didn't do a good job of getting the tree to really stand out, but I didn't take my telephoto lens, so I was more limited.

Then I tried to take this one lone tree near the sheep, sort of changing color by itself. But I think I like the other sheep and background picture up on top more, even though it's a pretty stereotypical shot and the sheep aren't quite as big as I wish they were. (I didn't want to actually go more than a few steps into the field because I don't want to bother them.) It would be nice to have a longer time places so that I could wait for different light and try things out again, but that's not happening this time around.

Still and all, Wales was beyond my expectations, and my expectations were pretty darned high!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Wales, Day 1, Llandudno

To give you an idea of how much I liked Wales, take a look at my hotel room. Make sure to look out the window as much as you can. Yes, that's the ocean. THE OCEAN! It was gorgeous! And not rainy, but moderately sunny and just beautiful!

I love the ocean, at least in theory. In reality, of course, it's salty and sticky and if your dog goes in and rolls on whatever dead things it finds, pretty smelly. But it's also just so powerfully beautiful.

I took a picture of me dipping my toe into the North Atlantic. (I also dipped my fingers in. Yes, I'm happy to swim in oceans, but I prefer them a bit warmer. I also prefer when I remember to bring a bathing suit.)

The beach is really rocky, but when you look at pictures taken in the Victorian era (when Llandudno was one of the beach resort places to go), the beaches look a lot sandier. I'm not sure if there's been a lot of erosion or what.

But it's drop dead beautiful. Look at the uplifting layers there!

We stayed in LLandudno for two nights, Friday and Saturday, though most of the day Saturday we spent elsewhere. I really enjoyed walking around Llandudno, though. One afternoon, I happened on the post office, so I went in to buy stamps, since I buy postcards to send to friends and family and wanted to send some off. And while I was there, I asked the counter guy how to pronounce the name of the city, and he helped me. And then some other people also helped with some basics (which, alas, I promptly forgot). That did give me the chance to ask them for a dinner suggestion, and they suggested a pub called The Albert. So that's where I went. And there I had a tasty smoked haddock with mash and some hollandaise sauce and a small cider. It was just about as perfect a dinner as one could ask for.

I got to see some juvenile herring gulls up close. This one even posed for me.

And on the second night, a bunch of semi-old (from the fifties and later to about the 80s) racing type cars were parked along the beach promenade, so I enjoyed walking by and seeing them. I was told (by someone in a racing type outfit) that there'd been a rally with races and stuff and this was the end of the rally thing.

There's a cool boardwalk, which reminded me of Santa Cruze beach boardwalk, except without quite the number of rides I remember. And with a lot more big Georgian buildings all attached along a block, rather than frilly California "Victorians." (I love California Victorians, but they don't look like anything built in the 19th century I've seen here at all.


When I wrote about my visit to York, several folks mentioned how wonderful Chester is. I finally got to go there, but only for a few hours on my way to Wales. Still, they were right. Chester has this incredibly cool, lively, and yet relaxed vibe. Here's a picture of the center of town, basically, taken from the city walls.

The city walls felt less massive and more part of the town in Chester than in York. There were some shops that had ramps from their upper stories leading to the wall, which I found very inviting.

One part of the city walls (from the East Gate, if I recall) goes along side the ruins of a Roman garden walk thing, which is just beautiful.

If you keep going along that wall, you reach the River Dee, which looks exactly like a peaceful river through a smallish city (Wikipedia says it has just under 80K people) should look.

(It's strange, but in the US, I'd expect to see several species of birds. Here, I tend to see either some crows or jackdaws, a gull species or two, and pigeons. I rarely see LBJs just hanging around. Certainly, on a river like this at home, I'd probably see some swallows and a shorebird, maybe a Killdeer or something. I sort of feel this in a general way here, like I'm not seeing nearly as many birds, nor as many species as I'm used to seeing. I do try to keep my eyes open for them, too.)

If you go towards the center of town instead of towards the river, you get to see the remains of a Roman amphitheater! (Here, you can see one of the city wall gates in the background. Double whammy for your photographic pleasures!)

And just to the side of the amphitheater is a small shrine to Nemesis. I guess Nemesis isn't really as scary as I think of her, since she's not just about revenge and such.

Chester also has ruins of an old Norman cathedral which was pretty much closed down after a Tudor era cathedral was built more in the center of town. Then a parish church was build against some of the ruins. The main cathedral looks big, and really does sit sort of right in the center. But I didn't go in because we were on our way to WALES!

Still, I think Chester would be a good place to spend some relaxing time. And I would especially like to figure out how to take some sort of river or canal cruise.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011


Some of my favorite memories from college are of sitting in the stairwells while friends played music and sang, and we shot the bull. I think I learned a lot in those stairwells, about caring for people and being a friend, stuff I needed to learn. I also learned to love some music.

Tonight, I went to a friend's room in the corridor and there was music and singing, and it was as lovely and fun in it's more grown up way as those stairwell sessions in college. This is an unexpected and welcome addition to life in the Abbey.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Updating the Update

The vaccuuming lasted maybe five minutes. Yay!

It's all worked out, and now that I've had a very good night's sleep, I'm much better able to see the humor. The next room over seems to have a fly problem, and they just can't stand the idea of sleeping with dead flies piled on the floor, so they needed to vaccuum when they got back on Sunday night.

I'm sure within the fifteen or so weeks here, I'll do something at least as irritating to them.

There's a big session on the Abbey today for our students, and that faculty member (and spouse) live in the builder's bedroom, so it's one of the rooms that students are going through today. Thus, they wanted it extra clean and tidy.

The idea is that the students are learning to "read" a great house, to understand more about how the household worked, and how people worked within the household. So the students will be visiting parts of the house they don't normally see, the fancy bedrooms, the builder's office, the governess's quarters, the laundry, and so on. Then they'll have to be able to figure out how to get from point A to B as a servant or as a family member (totally different routes), and understand separated those lives were even under the same roofs.

The session at the Abbey is paralleled by a session at a historical "workhouse" so that students will see how three facets of Victorian society lived, a wealthy householder, the servants of the house, and really poor people. Hopefully, they'll also get a sense of other facets, laborers, medium merchants and shopkeepers and such.

Monday, October 17, 2011


It is 9:30pm, and I am ready for bed.

And my neighbors have started vaccuuming.


One More Whine Before I Go to Dinner

Imagine you're delivering your spouse's personal computer to the classroom s/he'll be using in a couple of hours. You look in and notice that there's a class in progress.

Do you

a) Stop and wait to deliver the computer when the room is empty
b) Enter the class, leave the computer on a desk, wave, and walk out

If you answer b), please get out of my classroom. WTF, people? Seriously, putting a computer in a class AT LEAST an hour ahead of when it can possibly be needed is more important than the class currently in progress?

(Earlier in the semester, the teaching spouse came into the room and started commenting on how he was going to leave the computer there, totally disrupting my class. Now I realize, these aren't ordinary classrooms, but these are nonetheless classe in progress.)

Thank you for letting me whine. I have to go eat dinner with my colleagues now and not yell or anything, because of course they don't mean anything bad, but are just not thinking, and it wouldn't normally be that big a deal, but the vaccuuming last night and the students gone wild the night before mean that I'm a little short of sleep and equally short of temper.

Rough Night

See that last post, the one that whines about how tired I was yesterday?

I went to bed. And I was working on getting to sleep, which isn't always easy.

And then, about 11:30 or a bit later, there was a lot of noise, loud clunking footsteps and banging. And I thought, damn, those students upstairs! Sometimes there was a series of five loud footsteps, and then a pause, then five back, and then a pause, and another five, and so on. Sometimes the pause was long enough that I had hope the noise would stop. Sometimes it sounded like it was coming from the other faculty who lives in the next room on this corridor. But it went on a long while.

I wanted to go upstairs and yell, but I'm not sure how to get up to that area, and didn't want to go up there in my nightshirt.

And finally it stopped.


This afternoon, at lunch, my neighbors on this floor, a faculty member and spouse, laughingly asked if I'd heard them vaccuuming at 12:30 in the morning.

I wish I'd figured out it was them and banged on the door when I had to get up for breakfast and lecture before effing teaching, say at 6:30 am.

Who the hell vaccuums at 12:30 am? And then laughs about it?

What could be so unliveable that you'd have to come in and vaccuum immediately, that couldn't possibly wait for regular morning? (I can't think of anything that doesn't involve crossing body boundaries in some Bakhtinian grotesque nightmare.)

They didn't get up for breakfast or have to teach this morning at all. Hi-fucking-larious, I tell you.

Now I have to make a karmaic apology to the students I was cursing from my bed.

Sunday, October 16, 2011


Wales was beautiful!

I'm so tired, though. And when I wake up, a full day of classes and responsibilities tomorrow.

I get to a point on a bus where I just do not want to be there any more. Period. I got there about two hours in on our ride home. Unfortunately, we had another hour and more to go.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Responding with Difficulty

I've been grading essays. One of the bright students in a class wrote an especially abysmal paper. It's sometimes hard to give really helpful feedback even though you KNOW the student worked hard and put in real effort in writing it.

I think, given my small class sizes, that I can afford a generous revision policy, and I think this student, at least, will really benefit from revising the paper. Some students don't, or at least don't seem to, but other students really do learn a lot and are willing to put in the extra time.

I think I was able to write a note that will help this student see at least a few ways to make the paper stronger.

And now, off to get other work done! Life's tough as evidenced by my need to pack this afternoon for a weekend trip to the northern part of Wales. (I know, you're deeply moved by my need for a bit of sympathy, aren't you?)

Before then, I need to print out and give an exam, write some post cards, and go play outside!

I've pretty much been travelling every weekend for the past three, but next weekend I don't have any plans. And then I think it's the weekend after that I'll be going to PARIS!

Thoughts about Wales or Paris?

Tuesday, October 11, 2011


It's fun to hear folks at the Abbey picking up British usage. We're pretty much all taking coaches rather than busses now, and we like our chips, bangers, mash, etc.

One person has decided s/he likes the word "knackered." At the end of the day, s/he will tell us s/he's "knackered" and do it with an amused smile.

I like "chuffed" myself, as I've mentioned.

"Chuffed" sounds somewhat friendly, while "knackered" sounds like you've just had an unfortunate experience at a butchers. Of course, a large percentage of experiences to be had at a butchers would be unfortunate from one point of view, I suppose.

I don't think any of us is "knocking up" our friends in the morning, and that's just as well.

Lake District Adventure

My second morning in the Lake District, I had plans. I wanted to go to see the Castlerigg Stone Circle. I looked at a map with one of the British folks, and he said that it was about a two mile walk up from Keswick, and quite steep. I was a bit worried, being a total whuss and all, but I thought I'd try, so I found my way to the bus to Keswick, about an hour by bus I was told. (Keswick, by the way, is pronounced Kezzick.)

Here's a map so you can follow my adventures for the day. If you look for the longest lake, Windemere, then you'll see Ambleside on the north end. We stayed at Waterhead, just south of Ambleside, and actually on the lake (as you saw from my previous post). If you follow the road up, you will find Keswick, and near it, Castlerigg. Between Keswick and Ambleside is Grasmere. (Can I saw at this time that I love the name "Ambleside"! It's perfect for a place where a lot of people seem to go to go for walks.)

It was also misting fairly thoroughly, not quite to the point of drizzle, but getting close. Never fear, though, because I had on my long johns! (If I ever write a dungeon again, I'm going to put in special long johns of warmth that protect from cold.) And a sweater. And a windbreaker. And I had along a plastic poncho and an umbrella. And my new (from the day before) hiking boots with nice thick socks, and my new (from the day before) hat.

On the bus, after we passed through one village, I realized that I was going to need some help getting off at the right stop, so I asked an older (and by older I mean older than me) woman if she knew if there was a way for me to know when we got to Keswick. She asked me what I was going to visit (because there's more than one stop in Keswick), and when I told her the stone circle, she said that I shouldn't go to Keswick, but should get off the bus earlier, and it was much easier. Then she went up to the front and consulted with the driver, and they agreed.

I had my doubts, but when an older woman tells me that something in her neighborhood works best this or that way, I tend to believe her. But I do get a little anxious, too. So I was getting a bit anxious about finding myself in the middle of nowhere. The thing is, since I'm typing this, you know it came out okay (way better than okay, actually). But when I was sitting on the bus waiting, I didn't know it would come out okay. (Though I wasn't horribly anxious. It's not like I was heading into hostile territory where I didn't speak the language or anything, and where people routinely shoot middle aged white women wandering about.)

Then the bus stopped, and it was, indeed, in the middle of nowhere. There was a wood gate on one side, and a little lane on the other side, and the woman told me to cross over and take the lane. And that's what I did.

The busses are scheduled to go about every hour during the days on Saturdays, so I checked the time and figured that if I'd walked for half an hour without seeing the circle thing (she'd said it was about 15 minutes), and I was doubtful, then I'd turn back to catch the bus at the next hour.

I walked on up the lane, which, happily, was nicely paved, though a bit narrow. At first, it was hedges, and I pretty much couldn't see over them. Then it was a stone wall, which I could almost or barely see over.

Sometimes, there were cattle. Moo. This one looked at me in that way that says, "People make no sense."

Sometimes, there were sheep. They wouldn't get concerned unless I was within about 15 feet or I stopped and pointed a camera at them. Then they'd run a few steps in the other direction. I'm guessing the sheep are pretty much only handled in ways that seem unpleasant: vaccinations, shearing, and the adding of colors on their backs.

We've discussed in some detail the colors on the back among the students and such. I'm guessing none of us has much experience shepherding. One bus driver told us that they were special sheep: the ones marked with green were fed a special diet with mint, and the ones marked with red were fed a special diet with apples, so that the meat would come out flavored. Then for a while I thought that it might be a thing where they put a color thing on the front of a ram so that when he mounted a ewe it would mark her, and then the shepherd would know she'd been bred. But the marks are way too much the same within a flock and different between.

One day I asked someone local, and he said that the sheep were often grazed on common grounds, and that each shepherd marked his/her sheep in a specific way so they could tell them apart. I haven't noticed markings on the black sheep, but it seems more likely than special minty feed.

My point about the sheep was that they seem to want to evade people, but don't seem to want to put much effort into it. And they seem to know they're fast enough to outrun us if they get at least a little headstart, so they put in just enough effort to have whatever headstart seems needful to them. They aren't like dogs that want to be petted even by strangers, or horses that might be curious to see if you have a carrot.

I kept walking up the lane, and then I saw the coolest rock wall thing. It was this gap in the wall, starting maybe gut high, and fairly narrow. At first I just walked past it, but maybe 20 feet later I decided to take a better look, and walked back. And then I saw...

Yes, it's a stone circle! And I'd almost missed it. So I went up the little stone stair leading to the gap and over.

I'm told that on a clear day you get a 360 degree view of some of the tallest mountains in the area, but that day wasn't really clear. Nonetheless, the stone circle was way cool. You can walk right up to the stones and touch them, walk around, stand in the middle, whatever. But while you're doing that, you need to also be careful not to walk right into a bunch of cow or sheep dung. Just saying.

I went to Stonehenge back in August while I was staying in London, and it was good, but this was better because you got to walk around slowly and take your time. There were between 3 and 8 people there (coming and going) while I was there, and everyone was friendly but quiet. I took someone's picture standing in front of a stone with her bicycle, and someone else took a picture of me standing in front of a stone. I don't know quite how to express it, but this circle was friendly feeling in a way that Stonehenge wasn't. The rocks weren't as big, but it felt special to me in a way that Stonehenge didn't.

So now I want to go to more rock circles and see how they feel.

Once I got in there and saw other people coming and going, I realized that if I'd walked up the lane another 50 meters and around a little bend, I would have seen a regular little gate and some cars parked there. But I liked my stile.

I liked my stile so much that I went back and took a couple pictures so you can see exactly how it works. Here's a self portrait of me in my new hiking boots looking down on the steps. Each of the steps is a really long piece of stone that goes through the wall and out the other side to be a step there as well.

Here's another shot of the stairs taken against the wall. In this picture, you can also see the rock mentioned in the wikipedia article, the one that was scarred by being hit by plows over the years, and that the farmer put up.

Except, well, I wonder how much these fields are actually plowed? I mean, the land here is REALLY rocky. It looks like it would be miserable to try to grow crops on. And it was pretty rare for me to see even a small patch of vegetables planted. So I'm not sure that anyone much would have plowed there? Maybe historically they did? I wonder who would know? I should ask our librarian! (I love librarians!)

I tend to figure that people make houses out of rock and walls out of rock when it's really plentiful; when rock isn't plentiful, they find cheaper and easier things to build with--bricks, adobe, timber, whatever. So from the abundance of rock buildings and walls, I think people have been pulling rocks out of the local fields for a LONG time, and they still seem to have plenty of rocks.

After I wandered around the rocks and took pictures and such, I went back over my stile and walked back down the little lane, and waited a few minutes for the next bus into Keswick, where I wandered around the town for a bit before catching the next bus back towards Waterhead on Windemere, which is the place on the water we were staying, and which is near Ambleside. (I gather that "mere" means "lake" so it seems weird to want to type Lake Windemere.)

Where I really wanted to go, though, was Grasmere, so I made sure to ask the bus driver about stopping at Grasmere, and specifically, stopping at Dove Cottage, which is one of the places Wordsworth lived in the area. I'm not a big Wordsworth fan, but being close enough to Dove Cottage, it seemed worth going for a visit. And, Grasmere is supposedly famous for some gingerbread that's made there. If you know me at all, you know I'm pretty much always up for a special trip to get something sweet.

Unfortunately, though the driver said he'd stop and tell me to get off at the Dove Cottage stop, he forgot, and only stopped at the next stop, which was a ways later. Oops. I got off anyway, and actually had the most scary part of my whole trip, walking on the fairly busy road, on an increasingly damp and misty day. I made it safely as you know, or you wouldn't be reading this.

And so I visited a Wordsworth site. And here's the thing. There are a lot of Wordsworth sites around the Lake District, supposedly. There's this one, and the birth site, and the site where he lived after Dove Cottage in Rydal, and blah blah. And each of them has stuff associated with Wordsworth, locks of hair, manuscripts, diaries from Dorothy Wordsworth, a razor, a comb, etc etc.

And looking at them, and thinking about how we pretty much have nothing closely associated with Shakespeare, I was secretly glad because I don't have to deal with the reliquary stuff that Wordsworth people might have to deal with. The Shakespeare industry is plenty more to deal with, but at least we don't have people going on about a lock of hair or something.

The cool thing about the cottage is that it's actually a cottage. A lot of times, you'll see that a building is named "Something Cottage" and then you'll see a picture and it's pretty much a mansion. Dove Cottage is very much a cottage. It's small, with a main downstairs room, a couple more bedrooms or sitting rooms, each fairly small, a kitchen area, and that's it. It's modest, really. And when you think that William Wordsworth and his wife, Dorothy Wordsworth, three kids, and the ever-present Coleridge (evidently he visited a LOT) were all living there, you can imagine that it was pretty darned bustling, and on a rainy day, when everyone was inside keeping warm, probably loud and crowded, too. That made me almost like Wordsworth. (I get irritated at the romantics in general, so if you love them, forgive me.)

It also made me interested to read Dorothy Wordsworth's diaries, though it sounded like there's a lot of this or that person feeling sick, and a lot of long, wet walks.

After the guided tour and visiting the museum, I walked back to the village of Grasmere and found the gingerbread place. Supposedly, there's this one shop, and that's it. And yes, I bought some gingerbread. It was more gingery than most gingerbread is, and fairly good, but it wasn't out of this world amazingly wonderful. So if you're going to go by and are thinking that you might have to stop, you probably don't have to.

And finally, I got the bus the rest of the way back to Waterhead, safe, sound, a little damp, and quite pleased with my day.