December 28, 2012


What an insane roller coaster this year has been.

A year ago I was finishing my first semester at University. I was in a state of perpetual pretzel hoping that I might be able to spend a year living in London, but had no idea if it would actually happen. I was completely clueless about how insanely difficult it would be to get here even if I could... not that it would have stopped me for a second. I hadn't started on anti-anxiety meds yet. I hadn't experienced doing homework in a pub under Tower Bridge or accidentally wandering past the BBC building or knowing that my corner shop sells bread for 15p cheaper than Sainsburys.

Now I rarely have to look at the Tube map to figure out where I'm going. I know where all the good walking-distance pubs are. I have a GP and a National Insurance Number. I've seen several mysterious filming situations and also the Lord Mayor ceremony while randomly wandering the city. I found the best pub EVER, sang karaoke, had my American-ness drunkenly saluted, danced, and wandered London at 3am looking for the night bus to get me home. There's been money difficulty and culture shock and struggles to keep up with my schoolwork. There's also been new friends and new experiences and a lot of stopping and living in the moment with wonder.

I have no idea what 2013 will bring, but I have no doubt it will be exciting and terrifying and amazing and depressing and just plain awesome. Hope yours is the same.

December 23, 2012

Christmastime in London: a picspam

First things first: I finished that damn paper. This morning at about 6am. I immediately celebrated by watching Oz and Hugh Drink to Christmas!, which was far more hilarious than it had any right to be and also kind of got me in the mood for Christmas stuff. Since I wanted to keep myself awake for my weekly Skype call with Mom, I randomly decided to splurge on a travel card and head into London to check out some Christmas-themed sights.

I started at the German Christmas Market on Southbank. Actually I started at London Bridge tube station and chose to walk about two miles along the Thames to the German Christmas Market on Southbank because I didn't think it would be that far. It was a nice morning though, and a nice walk, so I can't really complain. Plus when I finally arrived, I made a beeline for the first "Glühwein" sign I saw. Really must make some of that on Christmas this year. Overall the market was a little bit disappointing... not a lot in the way of German-themed shopping stalls. They didn't even have those giant heart-shaped cookies you wear around your neck, you know the ones... No? Alright, hold on, we'll get to that later.

Since I was just on the other side of the river from Big Ben (and the entrance to the nearest tube station), I decided to meander across Westminster Bridge. It was just a bit sunny, and I suddenly realized I was witnessing a rare phenomenon: the Westminster Bridge Dicks!

Yes, I am twelve. Also HEE! Look at all the dicks!

Close up dicks. This will never not be funny.

That might have been the highlight of my day, I'm not gonnna lie.

Next stop was Hyde Park, where they set up something known as Winter Wonderland each year. I wasn't quite sure what to expect until I walked up to the entrance and saw this guy:

Oh boy...

Basically the place was a seething mass of hyperactive children, on-the-edge-of-their-rope parents, and couples holding hands and schmooping at each other. I did my best to ignore the crowds and just take in the insanity around me. The cup of mulled mead (a brand called Viking's Blood, RAR!) really helped.

One thing I found a bit odd was how German the Winter Wonderland was. It turned out to be about 85% more German than the German Christmas Market I'd just left. In fact, they had dozens of those cookie necklace things I was talking about:

 It's a thing in Germany. Don't ask.

Another thing that was rather insane was the whole carnival set-up. It was basically like an enormous traveling circus except everything was Christmas themed. And German. They had "Santa's Mirror Maze" and a "Christmas Coaster" and the "Barrel of Laughs" in which you pretended you were Christmas Cider being spun in a cask. Frankly I have no idea what's even going on here:

 Except that it's mostly in German.

Oh, and this was also randomly happening:

 It was the "Reindeer Flight Ride." I'm not joking.

I pretty much gave up any expectation when I came upon this:

 Nothing says Merry Christmas! like a haunted house.

 That's actually a Zombie!Santa climbing the tower.
"See you on Christmas, kids! Braaaaaaaaiiiiinsssssss..."

By the time I wound my way through to the end, I was frankly kind of relieved. I'm still not exactly sure what happened inside the gates of Winter Wonderland, but I'm pretty sure I'm not supposed to talk about it or remember too much.

I next wandered down to Harrod's Department Store for their supposedly legendary Christmas window displays. I didn't get a chance to take any pictures because the street was rather busy and I didn't want to be one of those douchey types who stops traffic to snap a picture of everything. Also the windows weren't so much Christmas themed as Disney-princess themed, which isn't really my cup of tea, so I just kept wandering until I got back to the tube and headed towards Covent Garden.

This was definitely the most pleasant and Christmas-y part of the trip. It was crowded as well, but there was a bit more breathing room and the Christmas decor was a bit less... er... terrifying, shall we say? Although I did stumble upon this gem: a Christmas tree made of Jack Daniels barrels.

Traditional British decor.

Actually the one thing all the Christmas markets had in common (including Winter Wonderland... ESPECIALLY Winter Wonderland) was that there was plenty of booze to be had. Not just beer and wine either, but hard liquor in shot and bomb form. You have to hand it to the Brits (and possibly Europeans in general), they never lack in the calming restorative nectar department. Bless them.

I meant to also go to Trafalgar Square, but somehow got it mixed up in my head with Tottenham Court Road, and basically when I realized I didn't know which tube station to go to, I decided I was tired enough to head home. So I did.

Here's a bonus picture, actually taken about a month ago when the famous Oxford Street Christmas lights first went up:


(In case you can't make out the picture, it's one elf diving into a jar of Marmite while another barfs into his hat. The caption beneath says "You either love it or hate it." For the record, I'm the barfing elf. Eurgh, Marmite.)

Random observation of the day: The Little Italy bagel sandwich from Bagel Factory is one of the most delicious things on the planet. I got to have one today. Which means no matter how annoyed I got by people bumping into me or how sore my feet became by the time I went home, today was an amazing day. It's the little things that do it sometimes.

December 19, 2012

Life on the couch revisited

I haven't updated for a few days because I haven't actually been doing anything except sitting on the couch coughing my way through a mild cold and trying to get myself to work on all my overdue papers. Not terribly exciting, I'm afraid.

I did succeed in finishing two of them, which leaves one still overdue and another not due until early January. Unfortunately it's the overdue one that's holding me up. I'm flailing about it for reasons I can't quite pin down, but I think they have to do with wanting the paper to be amazing because it's for my favorite class. I'm intimidated, I suppose. Some part of my brain is telling me I'm not good enough to write this paper. It's lying, I know, but that doesn't stop me from listening.

Fortunately it's for Professor Awesome's class and he's being, well, awesome about it. I at least have a very general outline now, so maybe I can just start writing and worry about the quality once I've gotten past all that horrible white space.

Besides that I'm just waiting for (my one and only) payday so I have an excuse to leave the house for groceries. Depending on the size of the paycheck, I may check out the German Christmas Market (which I'm told is somewhere on Southbank), splurge on a cup of Glühwein, and maybe see The Hobbit. If, that is, I get that last overdue paper done. I'll consider it a reward.

Observation of the day: Even when it feels cold enough to snow here, it doesn't. Or at least it hasn't, yet. Today was all rainy though, which I still love.

December 15, 2012

So... that happened

It's been a rather intense weekend. And there's still more to go...

Thursday night I ended up meeting mostly the same crew from Monday night, Professor Awesome included. This time I managed to go the whole night without disremembering, falling, or otherwise injuring myself. I did spend money that I really shouldn't have, but besides that it was fun. I kind of wish I'd gotten to know my classmates a little sooner.

Unfortunately this led to another day of sleeping and being useless on Friday. I managed to be well rested and ready for work this morning though, so again, yay me!

This is where things get a bit schizophrenic. My shift started pretty well, actually. I got my assigned rooms (a reduced number since I was basically starting back at square one after re-training) and actually got them all done two hours before my shift was due to end. I was quite proud of myself. I offered to help out with anything outstanding since I was scheduled to be there a while longer, and was assigned another room.

That's when it all fell apart.

Basically, everything that could go wrong with the room did. I could not get the fucking duvet cover on properly, so it took me ages to do the bed. That was the first time my supervisor popped in and told me I needed to go faster. Then the vacuum (sorry, Hoover) barely worked. Then my back tried to give out on me while I was cleaning the tub, so that took longer than usual as well. By this point my supervisor had been in two more times, making sure to say "you need to go faster" at least once or twice per visit. Finally one of the spray bottles of cleaner fell apart in my hand and spilled all over the carpet.

I still managed to hold it together, in spite of my supervisor lurking and making sure I knew I had to move faster.

Finally all I had to do was put away the trolley (the stuff with all the linens and whatnot that maids drag around the halls to avoid running back and forth to the linen closets) and vacuum the hallway. Unfortunately the porters hadn't bothered to empty the thing of dirty linen the entire day so it wouldn't fit in the closet until I called to get someone to clean it out already. Meanwhile I ran back to my section to finish the vacuuming while the porter emptied the trolley, which was where I was confronted yet again by the supervisor, telling me I need to go faster.

If anyone heard a CRACK around 5:30pm GMT (that's 11:30am back home), that was my sanity giving way.

A meltdown ensued involving lots of crying and several other supervisors trying to convince me not to quit. To be honest I have no idea why they even cared if I stayed or not... the only feedback I've ever gotten from this any of them is that I'm not fast enough. Even the assistant head of housekeeping got involved and basically tried to prop me up by saying that he knows it's a stressful job, but that's good because it prepares you and makes you stronger.

Uhm. Ok.

What I wish I'd said at the time is: "Seriously? If that were true, I'd be the motherfucking Hulk by now. Stress =/= strength, stress = more and more anxiety until I end up in an institution screaming HULK SMASH at the motherfucking orderlies."

Instead I told him I'd think about it and get back to him. Not that I plan to do either. I'm so very gone from that place.

So, I'm unemployed again. Now I just have to figure out What To Do Next. Fortunately I have a list started, so I'm on the way. Number One is to concentrate on getting my end of term papers done. Once they're in the bag, I'll intensify the job hunt and make a very careful budget for the next month or so.

Also at the top of my list: pretending that I do not have a sore throat or a mouth full of cold sores. (HULK SMASH!)

December 12, 2012

(Sort of) Movie review: Magic Mike

(Things get a wee bit ranty up in here, but I tried to keep it somewhat light after venting off all The Rage in my first draft. Enjoy!)

After a day of stuffing film theory in my head, I got a text from the roomie: "Was thinking Magic Mike, tomato soup, tuna melts."

My response: "OOMG YES PLS." (sic.)

Much amazing food was had and I even managed to get a bit more studying in during the snore-inducing "plot" scenes. I also became kind of curious about the movie, so popped onto IMDb to check it out, which was when I stumbled onto a thread honking about the "double standard" of the movie.

Seriously you guys. I could not stop laughing.

Basically the arguments against the film and the primarily female audience's reactions were made by men crossing their arms and HRMPHing something about how if someone made a movie about female strippers and they made such a big deal about seeing it, women would have an absolute snit.

First of all, at least three movies about female strippers spring immediately to mind. Showgirls, Striptease, and Dancing at the Blue Iguana. Those are just off the top of my head. Already these poor men are losing the battle.

Second, cry me a river. For real. If there isn't a single man out there decrying this film as the direct result of a bruised ego, I'll eat my laptop. They can wave their double standards! flag all they want, but if they conquered their discomfort long enough to watch the film they'd see how misogynist it is. Women are portrayed as either pathetically screaming and waving money around or ready to leap into bed with the object of their lust without a single thought. The male strippers in the movie love their jobs, because they spend their working hours having their egos stroked and their off hours having their dicks stroked, both by slathering fangirls. The one "normal" woman in the film is so shrewish in her rejection of the lifestyle that she swiftly becomes intolerable.

Does this detract from my enjoyment of the film? Hell no. Especially with the DVD release, which allowed me to skip right past all that pesky plot and just watch the dance scenes. I did see it in the theater as well and although I did not witness any of the screaming exuberance that seems to irk so many of these harping men, my friend and I joked throughout about throwing quarters at the screen and get to the damn dance sequences already. And also Matthew McConaughey because he is fucking hilarious in this movie. Alright alright alright indeed.

Most guys I know probably do not feel this way. I'm sure most of them are perfectly fine with the women in their lives, be they wives, girlfriends, sisters, or friends, appreciating the, er, aesthetics of the movie. They may be a little threatened by our attraction to the film's stars, but most of them understand that we women feel the same way when our significant others' eyes start to fall out of their heads during trailers with Angelina Jolie in them. And if we women celebrate the existence of Magic Mike a little more vocally than men are "allowed" to cheer on the lovely Ms. Jolie's topless scenes, it's because women have spent so much time in the passive, "looked at" role and men in the active, "looking" role. If you don't believe me, I have reams of film studies essays to back me up. When this position is ever-so-rarely reversed, we get a little excited.

We shouldn't have to apologize for that. Or for this:

You're welcome, my male-enamored friends.

I should be writing my paper, but...

I didn't post the past few days because I was engaged in/recovering from the quintessential student experience of closing down the pub with my fellow students and also Professor Awesome. Because he's, you know. Awesome.

Speaking of quintessential experiences, I also had one later that night as I wandered drunkenly around central London attempting to find where my Night Bus picks up. It took a long time and a very helpful mystery man named Adam to get me there. Along the way I had a disagreement with the pavement. I lost.

Pavement 1, Melanie 0

But before all the fun got started, I successfully sold two textbooks and netted nearly £18, which means I got to buy litter for the cats and food for all of us last night. Because I'm not gonna lie, the litterbox situation had reached Defcon One and all of us were suffering.

I also attended a Christmas party for the Film Studies department. One of the many things I love about attending University in England is that there is free wine at every event. I mean, every event. There were also nibbles, and I had my first mince pie (which, in spite of the name, contain no meat).

Random observation of the day: American college students love buying rounds. Just because they can. Bless them. Or possibly curse them.

December 9, 2012

What a difference a competent manager makes...

I think I figured out a way to conquer the snooze button problem... adding my cell phone in as an alternate alarm so I have to hit snooze twice as often, which wakes me up more effectively. Worked like a charm this morning!

Today was an interesting day at work. Which is saying a lot because let's face it, being a maid at a major Mystery Hotel Chain is not that interesting.

Thanks to my skive day yesterday, I was oblivious to the staff meeting that started at 9am this morning. I showed up at 10am and had missed most of the meeting already, but I did get there in time for the Housekeeping manager to basically chew the entire maid staff a collective new asshole. Then I got called up to her office for a one-on-one meeting, which made me pretty nervous after my lateness, my skive day, and the fact that I know I'm well behind the curve as far as work performance.

It turns out she just wanted to straighten out all the lack of training I got as a result of being the only part-time new hire. She had been away my first two weeks so hadn't been able to check in until now, only to find that nobody bothered to actually train me properly. Rather than sending me off on my own again, she paired me up with an extremely skilled and very nice gentleman maid (about 85% of the maids are dudes, which is sort of hilarious) who taught me some actual useful tricks that required very little short-cutting to get the rooms clean. Frankly, they should have sent me out with this guy much sooner because I finally learned the real trick to putting a duvet cover on in under 30 second, without breaking your arms - or even a sweat - in the process.

I'm still going to keep looking for another job, because this one is really just too physically intense for me at this point, and also it pays terribly (just a hair above minimum wage and about 25% under London living wage). But at least I feel less stressed about this job in the meantime.

Random observation of the day: I always feel kind of bad when people tell me their English is "not so good." I've yet to meet someone who told me that whose English skills are not perfectly acceptable. Not to mention the fact that I certainly don't speak a second language, like, at all, so as far as I'm concerned they're a hell of a lot better at languages than I am. I wish they'd stop being so hard on themselves... I admire the hell out of them.

December 8, 2012

A little bit of skivving never hurt anyone

Sometimes you just need a skive day, ya know? Especially after the day I had yesterday.

Without going into too much detail, I ended up calling an ambulance for someone last night around 3am. Long story short, the person in question is totally fine and the story isn't actually that interesting. But it did result in a night of insomnia which further resulted in an unexpected day off from work.

Things could be worse, really.

While researching for one of my final papers, I got distracted by the source material and ended up having an accidental Hellraiser marathon. It's been deliciously nostalgic… I adored these flicks and this mythology when I was a teenager. Hellbound: Hellraiser II was the second horror movie I ever saw (the first was Poltergeist 2), when I was maybe twelve years old. Hellraiser: Bloodline (the fourth movie) came out around the time I graduated high school, when my infatuation with Fangoria was at its peak and I was consuming horror movies like they were going out of style (which, for the record, they weren't). Bloodline (aka Pinhead! In! Space!) is the only one I've seen in the theater… after that one they were just churned out straight to video and are now up to… oh, nine? Ten? At any rate, the first four movies were pretty important to my development as a horror connoisseur (doesn't that sound fancier than fangirl?), so it's been a load of fun revisiting them.

Sadly it means I'm not getting much work done. Just for the record, I have a 3000 word essay due on Wednesday, another 3000 word essay due on Friday, a 1750 word essay due on Saturday, and a 2500 word essay with is thankfully not due until January. Plus one final exam on Monday. No pressure!

Random observation of the day: Say what you will about the NHS (National Healthcare System) here in the UK, but I can't tell you how much of a relief it is to be able to summon an ambulance knowing it's not going to put anyone in debt. This is what we're missing out on in the US and it sucks.

December 7, 2012

How to waste a lot of time, but still get shit done

Seriously needing to do something about this snooze button situation. May have to move the clock across the room. UGH, I HATE DOING THAT.

Today was mostly focused on getting to the BFI (British Film Institute, for those of you who didn't take notes yesterday, shameful) library so that I could scan all those pages of research. Remember how I was supposed to bring along my USB drive this time so I wasn't wasting my time looking up all that stuff? Yeah, I didn't either until about twenty minutes into my studies. After much headdesking, I made the hour-long commute back home, grabbed the USB drive, then made the hour-long commute back to BFI.

Finally I could get down to business! It was a full-on musical montage of poring through dusty books and cataloged magazines and harried librarians digging through basements stack for missing back-issues of Fangoria and jotting of careful notes. Finally I had my material all picked out and ready for scanning. This was when I found it that they charge for scanning. Something nobody had bothered to let me know about before this.

Keep in mind, I'm absolutely broke. Like, £.17 in my bank account and £.34 in my pocket broke. The cost for scanning? £.20 per page.

Needless to say, I could only clutch my head as the librarian announced that the library would be closing in half an hour. All this work, all this ridiculous commuting back and forth, for nothing.

Then I glanced at my phone. My phone with the camera setting. My camera, which was kind of like a scanner.


So it's not a perfect solution, and I'll be squinting a lot while I read my materials, but 165 photos later I have what I need, now transferred from my phone to my laptop. Take that, British Film Institute.

Random observation of the day: Some people just do not get the whole stand-on-the-right, walk-on-the-left escalator rule. Mostly those people are tourists with suitcases and oblivious stares. If you come to London, for the love of all that is holy and unholy, do not stand on the left when riding an escalator. You will incite the silent, tutting rage of countless London commuters stuck behind you, unable to do anything because they are too polite to ask you to move.

December 6, 2012

My life is schoolwork

Oh, snooze button. We're really becoming codependent, aren't we? This has got to stop.

After my last sessions of Contemporary Hollywood Cinema (yay!) and British Horror (boo!), I started some research for my various final papers. This involved, just so you know, a trip past the Tower of London and across Tower Bridge. I made a point to eyeroll a little at all the camera-wielding tourists because I'm a LONDONER now and, you know, NDB YOU GAIZ SHEESH. Then I couldn't help but wonder how many times you walk past/over such an icon of London before you stop having to ogle at it.

I'm guessing a while.

After vising Unicorn Theatre for my London/Culture/Performance paper, I moseyed over to the British Film Institute library to do some research for my CHC paper on Paranormal Activity and my BH paper on Hellraiser. Which was when I discovered that they have back issues of Fangoria starting in 1988 and had a combined nerdgasm/nostalgiagasm. Also discovered in order to bring home any relevant articles I'll have to scan them rather than print them, so will be heading back tomorrow with my trusty stolen borrowed USB drive.

Got home to find a package had been left for me with one of the neighbors. The gentleman who lives next door kindly handed over what turned out to be my cigarette order, sent to me from US Customs after they determined that London is actually in the UK rather than the US. Got that, United KINGDOM =/= United STATES. Let's remember that for next time, shall we? Still, it was rather nice of US Customs to send me my cigarettes.

Also got the excellent news that the hold on my account that happened after the whole health insurance debacle* was successfully appealed so I can register for Spring and therefore get my financial aid. Massive relief there. Money is still difficult but at least I won't be forced to cut my time abroad short! A lot of the American associates I take classes with are getting ready to go home after finals, with lots of "I don't want to leave yet!" going on. Every time I hear that I'm so very glad that I was determined to stay a whole year rather than just a semester. No matter how tough some things have been, I love being right where I am.

*If you have no idea what I mean about the health insurance debacle, leave a comment and I'll do a proper post about it.

Random observation of the day: I ended up taking a different train than I usually do to school today, and I'm almost positive the guy sitting across the row from me was Colin Farrell. It wasn't a great angle and also I didn't want to stare creepily, so I'm not 100% sure, but I'm going to call it my first celebrity sighting anyway.

December 5, 2012

A day in the life

It's nearly the end of the my first semester in London. I don't know where the time went, but the quick run-down of my life since I last posted (I don't know when that even was and I'm too lazy to go look) is this: I'm clawing my way through my classes; I'm broke beyond belief (£.17 in my bank account right now, no lie); and I started a job with a hotel which will not be named as a housekeeper, which may actually kill me.

Don't worry, things aren't as dire as they sound. I'm also still enjoying school and the fact that I'm in London, I'm feeling a lot of love for my friends, my Mom is amazing, and Christmas/my 35th birthday are just around the corner.

So! On with business. I'm normally off Wednesdays, but since Professor Awesome was offering a review session for British Horror I dragged myself out of bed at what was supposed to be 8am but turned into 9am after I poked the snooze button a little too much. I did get really lucky with transportation, catching a bus and both trains within a few minutes of arriving at each place.

I've been listening to the latest (2009) 30 Seconds to Mars album rather obsessively on the commute for the past few days, partly because my phone is stupid and partly because the album is EPIC and lots of fun to listen to while traveling. Seriously, try cranking "Kings & Queens" while in a moving vehicle of any kind and tell me you don't have the urge to climb on top of whatever it is and throw your arms out and pretend you're flying. Always helpful for gearing up to sit in a classroom for several hours talking film theory... Luckily Professor Awesome kept it interesting as always, in spite of his noticeable head cold. The good news about British Horror is that I've finally settled on a topic for my paper; the bad news is I only have a week to make an excellent 3000 word essay out of it. Also the class is almost over, which makes me sadface. #FirstWorldProblems

I attempted to sell some textbooks to get money for cat litter. Found out I can't do that until Monday, and only two of the three will be taken by my school bookstore. However, I later determined that I can sell the third book - along with one of the Film Studies books I impulsively brought to London with me - on the internets. w00t! With luck, the total sale will net me around £40. That's a lot of cat litter! And boy is it needed... the damn box is about 80% pee, 10% poo, 10% litter. YIKES.

Now if my cigarettes would just show up... they appear to have been shipped to the US for some reason, but the online store isn't answering me when I tell them I'm in the UK now (as I have been for the last two perfectly successful orders). I am making a trollface right now. Thank goodness for the random pack of cigs I found on the steps into the Tube station near my job and the idiot who dropped a nearly full box. However, the supply is almost out and then I'm in full-on nicotine withdrawal until I have money/get the smokes I ordered. Look out, London.

Random observation of the day: a British girl in my Horror class who I always thought was a bit detached and arrogant turned out to be an amazingly funny and cool person when I finally got a chance to talk to her today. I love when a person I've judged totally breaks down my first impressions and makes me remember why those judgments I make are bullshit, just like the judgments I think people make about me are bullshit.