Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich

Entries Tagged as 'Andrew R'

Future is looking Greener

May 11th, 2010 · 1 Comment

As I finish up the last bits of Qualls’ paper, I realize that one more blog post is necessary. Surely it won’t affect whatever grade these things actually get, but it seems my civic duty to address this.  The election is over–in case you were living under a rock– and not surprisingly Green didn’t win, they didn’t even get third (as I had predicted). However, what they did do was once again double their percentage. This election they scored over 14% of the vote, which is quite impressive. This increase may be connected to the disappearance of the ‘legalize cannabis party’ (I’m not joking) normally found in Norwich. As noted on their website, the Green Party now supports a gradual integration program of decriminalization.  Adrian Ramsay, despite his best efforts and the immense student campaigning, did not win. Alas. But campaigning really needs to be done on a two year scale, so if anything I consider this election nothing more than campaigning for the next election. And besides, Brighton got a Green seat, which is what really needed to happen. Once one seat is attained, the rest will follow….unless you’re from the RESPECT party.

So why didn’t Green win in Norwich south? I see there being three reasons: the targeted demographic, students and civic workers, were possibly too lazily idealistic, people were too afraid to vote for an “other” party, or the Lib-Dems just did so incredibly well that other third parties didn’t really stand a chance.  Honestly, the TV debates really helped out Lib-Dems; I would argue they gained the most from them out of any party, and with their national status, it would have been difficult to compete. Nevertheless, I think this was a further learning experience for the Green Party, and they will definitely continue to gain support within Norwich South. Maybe next time boys.

On an unrelated note, I realize we’re all gearing up to leave England. And by we’re all, I mean you guys are. I’ll be staying Europe side until August, and I’ll be keeping a general blog. If anyone is interested in getting the url for it and checking up on the whacking misadventures of Russ, send me a message or something. Hope you all had as good a time as I did.


Tags: Andrew R

The Importance of Being Earnest

March 15th, 2010 · 4 Comments

I have yet to observe the party beyond a grunt level of going door to door. So I shan’t bore you with another rousing explanation of how cold it gets after a few hours in the rain with doors being shut, albeit politely, directly in your face. However, I did get a chance to hear Adrian Ramsay give a lecture last week, so I’ll rabbit on about that instead. The talk was pretty basic, essentially just outlining a general history of the Green Party and their present day goals. Nothing a seasoned veteran wouldn’t already know. Never the less, it was a good opportunity to get some times with the demos. The Green Party has done a good job of interacting with the younger voters, especially with university students. Their Internet and forum based campaigns are more versatile and reactionary than many of the larger, more cumbersome parties out there, and they have a large portion of student or post-graduate based internal support.  This support probably comes from the fact that students don’t yet have to pay for actual houses or have severe tax issues.  Too that end they’re still doe-eyed and idealistic — they still believe we can insulate all the houses for free.  But this seems to be a common thread for many of the smaller parties. When a party doesn’t have actual power, they just promise to give lots of door prizes — just look at the Lib Dem’s campaign.

Despite Green Party’s focus on young voters, I found it strange to see how hard Mr. Ramsay attempted to dissociate himself from our age group. He is definitely older than me, but seven years tops (he was elected in 2003 at the age of 21), which in political terms is practically nothing.   He may have been doing this in an attempt to legitimize himself, to be looked up to, or he may realize he needs to be focusing more on the more middle class/middle age votes.

This last idea scares me: we are constantly being driven further to the center. New Labour knew it, Cons definitely know it. The Conservatives will pretty much get every vote right of center withing the first and possibly second standard deviation, therefore, they need to put their policy as close to the center as possible as a means of snatching up as many votes as possible. Labour did this as well, although it later cost them by creating a split into Lib-dems and Labour. I see the Green Party of Britain and Wales becoming more formalized, which is partially a good thing. It means they have better organization, more potential funding and actually have a chance of winning seats. But it also means there is a potential slip in ideological stances; it means the green party could start shifting to the middle and lose its initial purpose. I don’t foresee this truly happening as the green party still relies on wedge issues, but it is a potential outcome.

Does the Green Party really have a chance at winning though? Honestly, I don’t think this time around, which saddens me. I will say this, the Green Party has gone from 1.4% to 7.4% in three election. This could simply be a reactionary movement away from labour, as most of the votes were taken from said party. But you know what, a votes a vote. First passed the post is a war of attrician, greens might not win this time, but i bet they’ll be in the top three this time. The election is potentially coming up soon (May 6th), so I guess we’ll find out soon enough.

Also of interesting note: the Sunday before break, there will be a Q&A session with four of the Norwich South candidates, seats are still open if you’re interested, but you’ll also be able to watch it on TV. Check it out, might even spot me!


Tags: Andrew R

To Greener Pastures

February 15th, 2010 · 3 Comments

You wouldn’t think it’d be so hard to volunteer your time to people. And yet, I was surprisingly difficult to sell my labor to people.  I only begin this post, which will eventually be about what I am doing for the HUM 310, with what didn’t work because it made me really step back and think. We’re all humanities at a liberal arts college, which means we aren’t preparing for a specific job, not really. We’re preparing how to think and know how to adapt at a specific job. That is a liberal arts education’s strength and weakness. I started out as an IR major and then switched over to Anthropology because I wanted to work more on a humanistic level. Then I found Biological Anthropology and forensics and that whole world, and I was certain that was what I wanted to do. But several failed internship opportunities later, I’m studying Art History at a university in England with barely any experience beyond various odd jobs I’ve picked up to pay expenses. And it freaks me out a little bit. Senior year is rapidly approaching and with it the “real world.”

Recently Adrian Ramsay spoke to my British Politics class, and I really connected with what he was saying — be it out of desperation or genuine interest, I am still not sure. Adrian Ramsay is the leader of Norwich South’s Green Party Councilors, and he is currently running for an MP position. The idea of a third party getting a national seat is a bit baffling for us State-siders in our two party dominated world. In the States, a third party is nothing more than an annoyance that reminds democrats that they’ll lose votes if they don’t at least make shout-outs. But when I contacted the Norwich Green Party and got a chance to talk with its members, it seemed like there was actually a chance to make a difference. I talked to them about my research paper. They were eager to help and even a bit curious.  After spending two years studying foreign policy and macro-systems, I was surprisingly relieving to find myself amongst a grass roots party system. Even in the rain and the sleet, these were people that were passionate about this and as we huddled around the kitchen eating vegan stew, everyone talked about how far they had travelled just to support an ideal and a man. I have no intention of soap boxing green politics. Rather, I have been given an opportunity to combine ethnographic work and my lost love of politics. If only there were some bones to study right? It was just so amazing to see politics on a personal level: no tv, no radio, just the man running for politics serving sandwiches and stew in his kitchen. Further, after all the work was done, the group all went out to eat Indian food in Norwich like a big, happy green family. I sadly didn’t bring any green, so I had to head home on the bus. I feel as though seeing them interact outside of the political work area is a critical aspect of how they interact with the community as a whole, and I hope to observe this next chance I get.

I was asked to go out with two other volunteers and go door to door and discuss green politics with people, test the waters as to a general base of support.  The two guys I went out with were more interested in the political realm than the environmental one, which I thought was interesting, and they did not live in the Norwich area. My Watching the English sense was tingling. The thought of intruding in on these people and asking them such personal questions seemed like a disaster waiting to happen, yet it wasn’t. I even spoke with a woman about Green Politics with moderate success. People were eager to speak with us and talk about how they wanted local politics to change. It was only when we switched over to the national elections that people became uneasy. There is a large percentage of civil servants in Norwich, and they are scared. Scared of losing their jobs to a Tory government. I don’t blame them but at the same time, one cannot wallow a self-induced lack of efficacy. Don’t say you want to vote green, but vote Labor instead of green simply based on a fear. 

The Green Party also brings up an interesting question: is it really an anti-party anymore? Many of the people I have spoken with have mentioned that it is an anti-party. Yet the Green Party operates within the set political system, in an attempt to change it from the inside. The Green Party has become significantly more efficient since its days in the early seventies, when it was nothing more than an interest group.

The majority of people I spoke with weren’t actually from the Norwich South area and would not be able to vote for Adrian. This seemed like an initial flaw in my research, yet it speaks to what Norwich represents to the greater Norfolk area. Norwich was once the second largest city in England, and it still commands immense cultural respect from the areas around it. Were the green party to win a seat here, it would most likely help to ignite a chain reaction. Each person counts, each person matters. But at the end of the day, I was also left with questions.

The Greens did not even have a leader up until recently, and yet it is a rapidly growing party. Does this speak to a shifting trend in politics, one that vears away from party hierarchy and arms-length membership? Why is the green party replacing labor seats? What does this say about the state of the local and national political structure and the potential cultural changes that are occurring within Norwich?

I find it rather corny to end with questions that I have not found the answers for yet, so I’m going to end with something else I observed in Norwich: doorways.  Doorways in Norwich are fascinating. No one will contest that Norwich Cathedrals are stylistically beautiful. Even the buildings in the town vary from Edwardian, and what they call Victorian (do not get me started on that one). I am not saying every house is like that, there were definitely exceptions, but for the most part the houses were remarkably practical: single face, hints of neoclassical, maybe even a little bit of Elizabethan. From my understanding this has to do with bombings during WWII and population explosions, but I’ll have to do more research. My point is, they aren’t the prettiest of houses. The doors, however, have had an immense amount of time put into them. You can find columns, pilasters, intricate ivy workings and arches practically stolen from Gothic cathedrals. They were beautiful. As we have discussed, this is more than likely an expression of “castle-envy” and an attempt at blurring the lines between country house and house. There is a similar symptom in America, although we normally project this insecurity onto our modes of transportation or a TV, rather than a housing fixture. The English see land as the most important symbol of wealth, dating back to the vassal system. I’m not going on a communist rant, but why do we pick a much more nomadic, tangible and less subtle means of showing our cultural capital? And I end on a question anyway.


Tags: Andrew R

What’s hip ’bout the airship? Steampunk in the UK

January 22nd, 2010 · 1 Comment

So this is by no means what I am doing or my presentations; however, I felt it would be of interest to you folks anyway. Over winter holiday, I went to visit the MHS (Museum of the History of Science) to see their exhibit on the art that has come out of steampunk movement, both and England and worldwide. It was fantastic, and I definitely recommend it as it is running until  February 21st.

For most people, the idea of steampunk (and the movement surrounding it) is quite foreign, so I will do my best to explain what I believe it to be. I stress that this is strictly my interpretation, as it is a severally decentralized idea with many interpretations. The way I see it there are three major aspects of steampunk. The first being the history surrounding it. The second is the art that has come from it, both literature, music and painting. And the third, is the DIY(do it yourself). 

It is difficult to pinpoint when “steampunk” first originated.  The OED places the term steampunk around 1987 by Jeter in Locus; it being based off of the previous genre of cyberpunk, which is is an entire different subject.  Despite its fairly modern coinage, steampunk has arguably been around since the Victorian era (whence it is based).  Works from Jules Verne to H.G Wells sought to look into the future of technology, using what understanding they had around them.  In more modern works, steampunk looks at modern technology and wonders how the Victorian era would have created it. How would our society have benefits or been illed if the social atmosphere of the 1800s had continued to present day?

As the art exhibit showed, steampunk is still inspiring people today to push the boundaries of what art is. There were beautifully remastered keyboards, fitted with wood panels and type-writer letters, a light fixture that was simply amazing. There were, however, less practical aspects such as a teleportation device. This blending of functionality and impractically is a keystone of the steampunk dogma. It doesn’t truly matter if something makes sense; it is almost as if steampunk asks us to question the rationality of our modernity.

The exhibit itself is very well laid out and organized, and it is a great forum for learning more, seeing its capabilities, and talking with international artists about their motivations and techniques. If anything it was great simply for the people-watching aspect. I will not embarrass myself by putting up the picture of my get up, but needless to say I went in full nerd glory. What was nice about the experience was that dressed up and not dressed up basically gave each other the same looks of curiosity– anthropologists observing a foreign culture. It felt as though there was a mutual understanding of appreciation and acceptance.

What I found most amusing about the whole experience was the music that has come out of the steampunk movement. As with many DIY groups, the instrumentation was weird to say the least.  While it wasn’t at the show this guitar is probably one of the neater things I have seen. You even have entire bands devoted to steampunk such as Abney Park.

Do it yourself comes into play for obvious reasons as there isn’t really a plethora of steampunk outlets. But it also works as a means of expression. Once you’ve sown together your first frock coat, or even your first button, there is a strange sense of pride seldom found in modern activities, not unlike finishing a painting or running a 5k. Obviously with our budges as they are arts and crafts probably aren’t on the top of anyone’s list, but it is interesting to see how much you can create with recycled goods. While it is by no means on par with Dickinson’s removal of the lunch trays (or the creation of a sushi bar), I would argue that steampunk is up there in the sustainability zone.

I think my only quarrel with the whole idea is that people often forget about the societal norms of the Victorian era.  As we have learned there certainly were social reform movements going on through Queen Victoria and Prince Albert such as the opening of parks and the support of artistic movements. Overall, however, the Victorian era was set by ridge social ques and mass oppression.  At the exhibit a young female artist tried to explain to me how the Victorian era was a period of femenistic empowerment, which is absolute bollocks. The idea of sexual equality is something only sense in period pieces when a director needs to have a head strong, coy female lead so as to attract a larger demographic (cough Guy Ritchie cough).  For that matter, sexuality in general was severally hampered. Showing your calves, man or woman, was considered an outrageous fopaux.

Much as its brother genres of the science fiction realm, it allows us an interesting thought-experiment and temporary escape. But the modern interpretation of steampunk has drifted further away from its Victorian roots. This decentralization is both a blessing and a curse, as it allows for vast array of artistic expression. It is for that reason that it is so amazing something like the exhibit at the MHS could have been put together and still seem cohesive.

If you’d like some more info on steampunk feel free to ask me anything. I don’t claim to know too much, so here are some sites that know better.




Tags: Andrew R

VA vs. John Soane Museum

September 24th, 2009 · 1 Comment

 Firstly, I realize that blogs have become old hat and that many (if not all of you) no longer read them. However, this has been sitting in my Gmail draft box for a dreadfully long time and if only out of annoyance for the Draft(1) icon, I am going to post it. I took to comparing the two last museums I went to. Are they comparable? Maybe not, but I thought they were trying to impart the same message to the viewer, which makes them comparable in my book.

What was it they were trying to show? I think as all museums do, they were trying to capture as much history as possible. But what is different about these two museums is the breathe. In a way it seems they tried to find the essence of beauty, and they tried to find it in many forms. But more importantly, they were both museums dedicated to the lives of those people who sought out that beauty and tried to make it accessible to us all.

Everyone seemed to have gotten hung up on the fashion section, and maybe it’s because I’m a guy who doesn’t really care for wedding dresses, but I didn’t think it was that offensive. The wedding dress is a big deal in English culture, and I imagine for Victoria and Albert it was a big deal too. Queen Victoria became severely depressed after her husband died, marriage was important in those days (a confusing thought in our modern society). But what gets me, is there were so many other fashion exhibits to look at; so many stranger ones. Namely the future fashion stuff, which I pray is not the future of fashion.  I particularly liked the stuff of The Porter Gallery though. I really like when artists play with the concepts of what art is. I’m not some high brow art snob but if I’m going to stare at something for ten minutes, I’d like it to challenge my perception, make me think, make me question. Telling-tales did just that. They also have a really good website, which i provided a hyperlink above to. I also really liked the Leighton Room with the paintings and sketches of gardens. How wonderful the English landscape is!

When you talk about the John Soane’s Museum, you must of course first talk about the building itself, for it is as much an item on display as any book or statue. The museum is mostly top-lit, with a similar feeling as another building he designed: the Bank of England. (the Bank of England isn’t worth going to just for the architecture) Other than that, however, the place feels like a labyrinth. There are folding panels, mirrors and strangely placed doors. It is also as eclectically put together as the objects it holds. You go from Roman to Gothic with a step through a doorway and then right back into neo-classical with another. The body of work itself is quite extraordinary. The thing that kept running through my head was that each of these pieces had been sought after, hand selected and cherished. The building was Soane’s soul materialized; he sunk every ounce of his being into collecting and creating. I wonder if with the same resources he had, I would have followed the same path. What dedication he had. And yet I felt almost saddened: the place was absolutely cluttered at some points, and I couldn’t help but feel like he was attempting to fill a void in his life with statues and paintings. When I asked a clerk about John Soane’s personal life I found it to be, indeed, quite depressing. John Soane died a widower and estranged from his only surviving son. So at the end of both the museums we are left with the why. Why did each of these two museums begin to tell a narrative, and why are they the way they are now? For Victoria and Albert, I think they were trying to bring beauty to the masses. This seems to go along with other projects they did including welfare programs and The Great Exhibition. On the other hand, I look at Soane’s collection, and I see loneliness. With his death he handed over everything he had ever worked to collect, almost as an attempt for people to remember him.

Tags: Andrew R · Museums

Protest clashes and Immigration Issues

September 15th, 2009 · 5 Comments

I don’t know how many people have been keeping up with the London news, but I thought I’d share a bit of info because it seemed relevant to the class. Over the past week there has been an ever growing tenuous situation. Firstly, we narrowly missed a 24 strike from the RMT. But secondly, and more prevalently, on September 11th near a Mosque in Harrow there was a clash between the Unite Against Fascism (UAF) and the Stop Islamization of Europe (SIOE). The protest had been led by the SIOE and was meant to mark the 8th anniversary of the Twin Tower attacks. I would like to pause for a moment and ask how many Americans have ever shown a demonstration for the 7/7 attacks, let alone escalate to violence over it? The apathy of our nation comes in handy for once. 

Seven people were arrested on September 11th, and a week before, on September 5th, 90 people were arrested when a disturbance broke out in Birmingham. These clashes between anti-immigrants and Muslim/leftist groups have been going on as far back as May; however, they have had little in the way of collateral damage.

As mentioned above, America and UK handle protests and outbreaks very differently. While I wouldn’t go as far as to say it’s a hobby, England does have a tradition of riots and violent protests. They enjoy a good scuffle, and it seems to alleviatetension at least to some degree.  Our history with national conflict has been rather limited. The British on the other hand are amazingly efficient: they pack a protest with more police than protesters and basically encircle the people, an amazingly intimidating deterrent for your average protest. The majority of the 1.6 million Muslims in the UK are situated in England, and now with the rising conservative/anti-immigration tide approaching it will be interesting to see if small scale scuffles will be enough to satisfy the hunger of  protesters. This also brings into question the over-asked question of what is an englishman? When are you no longer an Immigrant. And more importantly does being a member of organizations like UAF automatically make you a target for anti-immigrant scorn? One thing that I did find interesting also was the idea of leftists and Muslims teaming up together, this idea leads me to believe it isn’t necessarily an immigration problem, but rather a non-immigrant one.  Guy Fox, IRA, SIOE: for a nation who preaches secularity, they sure love their religious fights.

Anyway, cheers

Tags: Andrew R

Farewell to Arms

September 14th, 2009 · 1 Comment

You can tell our time is London is winding down by the mass influx of required posts; it would seem pubs is the one people have been holding off on the most.  I feel bad as I continue to bring up Kate Fox’s book Watching the English, as we are going to be reading it soon anyway, but I think that attests to what a good choice it was for reading.  She is one of the few anthropologists I would actually read out of enjoyment rather than the pursuit of knowledge (No one really wants to read Jared Diamond, the man is drier than a desert).  What’s nice is that she is both an insider and an outsider; I mean by this that she has the privilege to make frank comments about the British without offending anyone, yet she has the background of an ethnographer. Anyway, that long rabble was just an explanation of the biases I came into the pub scene having.

A common theme with all British life is knowing one’s place; this applies to class, cross walks, but more importantly ques. The greatest offense one can do at a pub is getting in the way of a person and his cellar-temperature beer. There is in fact a distinct social script depending on where you go. For the most part, in the more upscale pubs, there is simply an unwritten code where you wait your bloody turn. However, in the younger and louder pub, one must take a more aggressive approach, which is equally acceptable: a person shows up to the bar, checks out who is leaning into the counter the furthest and then leans according to his placement, gradually marking his territory with a further lean-in as it gets closer to his turn. Both more classier and collegy pubs follow the same script if two people believe they have arrived at the same time. The British have an interesting way of complimenting people, where they play down themselves so as to gain a compliment from the other person, who in turn plays the same game.  It is similar in a pub scenario: two people will go back and forth as to who was truly there first until one of them admits defeat and accepts the first drink. For the most part bartenders seem to be more bored by this then anything. Surely they will call a wanker out if he’s jumped the que, but for the most part they are looking for the most efficient way to serve alcohol to people. Which brings me to the next biggest faux-pas: buying drinks separately. It doesn’t matter where you go, if you’re in a group buy those drinks together (especially if a friend like Baron is paying).  What I do enjoy is the concept of tipping– i.e there is none even if you eat food there. Similar to in American, it seen as a very nice gesture to buy the bartender a drink; in order to do that you say “and one for yourself.”

One of the greatest things I have ever come across in my life(next to pasties) is the great equalizing nature of the pouring system in this country. More than anything i think this speaks for the true nature of the British. When you order a shot in America, the bartender will eye it and guesstimate. Normally it comes out correct, but sometimes you get a little more/little less. In Britain, people don’t really care about getting more, they just want to get exactly what they paid for, exactly what they feel they deserve. They don’t look to cheat the system by complaining about the amount of beer– you paid for 330 ml, that’s what you get. That is beauty.

There is a common conception that I’m going to have to slightly disagree with: pubs are indeed an area where the British let go of their reserve more than other places. However, beyond a football match, the patrons seem to rarely interact beyond their bubble of friends that they came with to the pub. From what I have seen, within a pub there is very will in the way of co-mingling. There is a sort of comradery though, an invisible thread that binds all the patrons in a unified understanding of common purpose and intent, which is quite beautiful and harmonizing.  Going outside for some reason changes things quite a bit, and it may be because of the smoker’s-bond, but it is often there that you’d find people talking to people they hadn’t met before that night. This is of course shifting with the more youthful (dare I say Americanized?) pubs. As the more “authentic” patrons, such as the businessmen, the construction workers and the local drunks, are pushed out in favor of the more profitable groups, the pub scene changes. More and more you find pub owners who own six or seven cookie-cutter like pubs. So whereas in any other market, supply and demand would kill off many of these pubs, artificial inflation keeps them afloat. And yet as I say this, I have never seen an empty pub, except when it was closed. Further, historic pubs like those subsidized by CAMRA are slowly getting addicted to the tourist teet– as much of London is.  A valid point brought up in my tour was ‘why?’ Why keep these historic pubs afloat if they are simply becoming mausoleums for the glory days of British ale? Their answer, from what I’ve gathered is simply: because we are British. Even if they have become nothing more than relics to be gawked at, people still should pay their alms. Why do we keep these churches around when they could just as easily be turned into cafes, dance halls or web publishing companies(all of which I have seen here in England)? They retain cultural heritage, and people will do whatever it takes to maintain them. If you sell out, at least you can still think of days gone by, when the Viaduct wasn’t filled with loud Americans trying to get into the cellar for a photo.

Before I begin with the Orwell thing, I’d like to say I have been to a restaurant by the name of The Moon Under Water right off of Leicester Square Station, it paled in comparison to the fictitious one that Orwell describes. Rather than diving into the topic, I’d like to note how much I liked his use of stylistic shifts; the entire time he’s talking about the pub it is flowery and light, but he shifts to reality and with it shifts his style into one of  flat tones and matter-of-fact explanations.

As far as my favorite pubs, I hate to be so plain, but I honestly don’t care about the decorations at all. As long as they are relatively sanitary, the place can be as run down as it likes– adds character. The most important thing for me is cheap food and pitchers. Pitchers are a necessity.  If I want to drink and relax, I’ll go to the Aran House garden and drink some wine with my buddies. I go to pubs to socialize and be around other people who seem to be having a good time. Sure it’s neat to see pretty architecture and a neat history, but the history isn’t going to help me with my growling stomach and the pretty ceiling isn’t going to satisfy and thirst at all. I think that is why I am able to go back to the Court time and time again, even after my buddies are sick of it: beer and burger 4 quid. It doesn’t get much better than that. And you have that guy standing at the bar always laughing about something. The garish 80’s music and the rowdypool players just add to the experience. This may be simply from my personal drinking experience, but I don’t like the idea of drinking alone. This is why the pitcher is such a good idea, and quickly becoming a staple of the pub environment. While some may scoff at the idea of a pitcher, it is closer to a pubs original purpose than one might thinks. People, huddling around each other to stay warm, trying to get their caloric value in for the day with a pint of beer. If I had to pick out the best atmosphere of a pub, I’d say the Blackfriar, I really like the way it’s structure, giving a very intimate feeling to the patrons and enveloping you in the gorgious wood carvings. As far as bartenders go in a good versus great pub, it’s all about respect. You treat them with respect they treat you the same. As long as they get the drink right and don’t screw me on the change, nothing else really matters.

Of course, the Marlborough Arms will always have a place in my heart: it was my first after all. We have a close relationship with Justin, the food isn’t bad and they have some really good deals on spirits. It has a relaxed environment, and yet a lighter attitude then other pubs I have been to this month. But what is it that makes the Marlborough Arms a good pub and not a great one? I feel like it’s almost too static for me, but other then that I can’t figure out why we quickly left our first love in the dust of time.

I do pray I’ve sufficiently answered the prompt because I don’t know if I could bare to write much more for fear of being stoned later. But it is interesting as I look back that I have sort of chose the “dances with wolves” version of a pub: I want the British charm and nobility with the rowdiness and technology of an American bar.

Anyway, cheers

Tags: Andrew R


September 13th, 2009 · No Comments

My two drafts for legitimate topics seem to have evaporated, so instead of writing about something that might help my grade I’m going to talk about something that has made England a thousand times better: pasties.  My family visited today, and it turns out it’s a Russell tradition to like pasties, and historical facts. Pasties most likely were created in Cornwall in the Tin mines. (as a note, Tin mines have always been a crucial aspect of Britain’s appeal, even back to the days of the Romans). The idea behind them was that they had a big crust. The big crust was there because tin miners weren’t able to get to the surface for a lunch break, so they needed to have something to hold onto with their dirty mits without contaminating their food. Pasties would often have meat and potatoes on one side and apples or some fruit on the other– main course and desert all in one. Mines got quite cold, but pasties did not, which also made them ideal for miners.  The crusts were thrown into the mines as alms to the nefarious spirits, known as Bucca, in the mines.  Pasties have remained a great way to cheaply, yet efficiently, feed people. The tradition of pasties carried over with the Cornish miners into Pennsylvania. In the late 1800’s it would be brought west with the gold rush. There the pasty’s English history would meld with the local flavors of Mexico. Stories of Bucca’s also followed with the pasty into the new world, taking roots in both Pennsylvania and the West coast.  Don’t worry, some boring long post will be sure to follow.

It got me thinking about the history of a food though, what goes into the design of something. I eat the crust, dirty hands or not, but it once served a dire purpose. I know I’ve already written something about the Pitman Painters, but I can’t help equating this wonderful food to them. Like the painters, the pasty caught on in popularity with people beyond the mining communities; it became one of those “authentic” things you eat when you go to a place, and it thus lost a large portion of its original purpose and meaning. Of course the closing of mines in England didn’t help its cause, but I wonder what other foods have interesting histories that have been lost to time.  I won’t be silly enough to ask some existentialist rubbish about the meaning of life found inside a pasty; a pasty is nothing more than it sets out to be. Sure the insides are a surprise, but it is nothing more than bread filled with something to keep you going even in the blackest of tunnels. In that simplicity and innocence, it finds perfection. So may be I have found the meaning of life in pasties, there are worse places to find it.

The info that I didn’t already know came from my father Rex Russell, and a pasty salesman named Henry who worked in Victoria station. Thanks for the info and the good pasty.

Anyway, cheers

Tags: Andrew R

Give us the money Lebowski (and bourgeois?)

September 11th, 2009 · 3 Comments

So it seemed like everyone was enthralled by the play, The Pitman Painters, last night. It was amazing, simply put.  However, as I have already mulled to a few of my classmates, I am uncertain of its socialist/communist tendencies. I felt more like it was a critique of socialism (which I realize is not the historical case). It ended up just feeling very nihilistic to me, rather than inspirational. Maybe nihilism isn’t the best word but if nothing else the play was laced was dramatic irony. I look at the play, and I think of all the dreams, passion, and attempts to stand up on one’s own feet, and all I see is failure. Small details like the unemployed guy (dies when he enlists) or Oliver (stays a pitman; I’ll talk more on this as it is arguable he succeeded), or even their teacher (who gets the great position yet will soon be forgot and left to obscurity) are quite noticeable; however, it is the grander theme of a system or dream letting us down is what leads me to feel this falls into the realm of nihilism rather than a socialist commentary. The last scene in particular shows this I think. Oliver has turned away from the bourgeois’ attempt to enslave him with money (hurray for the working class!), and he paints a banner for the socialist movement. Everyone is having a beer and cheering, saying “surely they’ll have to listen to us now.” But we as viewers know this not to be true. And then, when you think it is only a subtle joke between you and the playwright, the projector lights up explaining to us that there was never and academy at Ashington and the group broke up soon after the play took place. We further understand that the socialist movement in Britain did not succeed; they probably all died poor miners. In all likelihood (as Paul pointed out) Margaret Thatcher personally beat up each of the Pitman Painters.

The only thing I could think of as a positive explanation was this: the play was supposed to represent a moment, a snapshot, of human existance where people got it right. Just like in a painting, for one second the world is still and clear. We have no idea what Mona Lisa did right after her portrait was taken; she could have been attacked by wild dogs. However, in that one moment truth was found. And then the moment passes, we become disillusioned, our skills fail us, or our dreams betray us.

But onto happier things: I loved the accents, not just because linguistic anthropology has always given me goosebumps but also because I thought it is an interesting device to show class struggle and friction; it is something we rarely get to play with in the United States (other than your usual southern jokes). What I liked best was how we as the audience were able to understand the pitman more clearly as the play went on, as if we were becoming part of their group, integrating as the art instructor did. This might have been done on purpose, or their might not have been any change at all to the dialogue and I was simply able to understand more easily. Either way, it was a neat technique.

Anyway, cheers

Tags: Andrew R

A piercing where?!

September 9th, 2009 · 3 Comments

So, last night we went to the Royal Albert Hall for an orchestral concert. I really liked the first and the last piece, and although i only took a short nap during the second piece, I spent most of the evening thinking about the architecture. I kind of felt like we were sitting at the bottom of a pond, looking up a lilly pads and gazing out onto a greenly- illuminated organ. There was even a frog. I had done some background research on good old Prince Albert before because of my trip to Kensington Gardens. But I realized that most people probably don’t know much about Prince Albert or what he did for British society. Other than being the name-sake of some painful looking rings, he doesn’t really come into conversation much on the day to day basis. Prince Albert was a consort, which meant he had no actual power or duties, but I guess that’s what you get when you marry your first cousin. Anyway, because of this he had to look elsewhere to make a name for himself. Thus he looked to make social changes. He dipped his hands in the abolition of slavery in the colonies, child labor laws and social welfare. As I mentioned in a previous post, he was a great supporter of the arts; the monument dedicated to him expresses that quite efficiently.  He was also one of the first people to introduce new areas of study into Cambridge.

So why is it that he goes so unsung other than through the efforts of his wife’s broken heart? He halted potential war with the United States, for Pete’s sake! I would wager it is his status, and the classist infrastructure of English society. In his own words “but the difficulty in filling my place with the proper dignity is that I am only the husband, not the master in the house.” (courtesy of wikipedia and Albert to William von Lowenstein, May 1840, quoted in Hobhouse, p. 26). To everyone else, he was just the husband and so all these actions he did were, I think of selfish endeavors rather than actual attempts to better the world. Surely it all ended well and good, but i wonder if he had been King, would he have still gone through with his crusade for the poor and downtrodden, or the artistically inclined? Maybe it would have gone the same way. After all Queen Victoria opened up the parks for the factory workers and worked to create a stronger constitutional monarchy.

Also as a note: the Prince Albert piercing has not connection historically to our good fellow, except in sharing a name.

Used this source and the one noted above: http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/historic_figures/albert_prince.shtml

Anyway, cheers

Tags: Andrew R