England

Don’t mention the war, er… BREXIT

There used to be only one topic in the UK whose mention would immediately raise the volume in the room and the blood pressures of all those present…

First of all, a disclaimer about my relationship to British politics. I’m currently living in England, but I don’t plan on staying and no one knows when I’ll be back for more than a visit (not saying it wouldn’t be cool, though). This is the first time I’ve lived somewhere where I have no citizenship rights (other than being a member of the EU- which is a bit ironic in this case) and therefore am less personally involved in the politics here. However, I’ve got ears and eyes and I’m not a stranger to heated arguments after an event or show with a few pints in the system, so I am involved in a small way. I still only have slightly-more-than-rudimentary knowledge about the whole constitutional monarchy thing and devolution. I also inevitably compare everything to what I already know in the US or Germany, so my knowledge is equalized, at best. Still, since I’m here and since it’s a major topic, I figured I’d finally address the elephant in the room.

Though, you know how you mean to do something for such a long time, and you finally get around to it and realize- oh, that moment has passed? For me that moment was writing about Brexit, but luckily there’s nothing more conveniently late to post about than Brexit.

Here we are, nearing 3 years after the original referendum David Cameron proposed to have the constituency vote whether the UK should leave the EU (23 June 2016) , and although the vote was in favor of “leave” 51.9% to 48.1%, the UK is still in the EU. As Daniel Dosenbier (ha ha, probably a pseudonym as I doubt anyone would really be called “canned beer”) put for the Urban Dictionary, Brexiting is like “saying goodbye to everyone at a party and then proceeding to stick around.”

Brexiting

Well, I was sure my moment had passed when Parliament made its decision on the 29th of March,  but since the next chaotic sessions are just around the corner as the 22rd of May approaches, I am technically now ahead of the game.

The 22nd of the month of May is when PM Theresa May (I’m sure I’m not the first to find the name a little confusing this month) wants another chance at getting her deal for Brexit to pass, because May 23rd is the date of the 2019 European Parliament elections (advertisement for it here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R3tErFvAgag; still haven’t decided how I feel about it– the ad, not the elections). Ideally, the British Parliament would pass the May’s deal, not take part in the EU elections, and leave, and life could move on. However, most likely, there will be no agreement, and the UK will either have to decide to leave without a deal by June 1st or vote in the elections and stay and see whether they can still get a deal by 31 October.

Here’s a rather nifty flow-chart put out in the article by Peter Barnes for the BBC explaining the possibilities.

Allowing what can really only be termed political shenanigans to get as far as they have is possibly just a matter of the possibilities defending  their so-called honor at this point. Or maybe it even has something to do with democracy and respecting the rights of the people. But really, all the politicians have to do it fess up, admit they made a mistake in organizing a referendum for which no plan was in place to carry out all possibilities of the vote, and then propose a new plan with a new referendum (which may be the post 23 May plan). Though who am I kidding? I write “all,” but it’s probably the last thing they would do.

Anyway, having a reelection doesn’t solve the situation that more than 6.7 million Britons have issue the EU, and these can range from conspiratorial fears about open borders to legitimate concerns of distribution of wealth and product management. After all, the UK’s entry into the European Economic Union (precursor to the EU) in 1973 resulted in thousands of changes to administrative tasks and realities for the British people’s everyday lives and economies, whether they are aware of it or not. One could say one of the failures of the EU was not being transparent enough about its role, allowing for the media to create narratives that the people believed instead of really understanding what their representatives were voting on for them in Brussels. Furthermore, there is a continuing reality that many people in the EU continue to consider their allegiance to their national-state before looking towards the EU.

I learned a little more about the situation when I visited a talk the night before the last Parliament vote was supposed to take place called “The Lessons of Brexit.” A new locale meant I got to know a new part of Cambridge and it would be good to get some more informed perspectives on the topic, since pub talk can really only get you so far before you’re repeating yourself or the other person.

Readers can actually watch the panel event themselves by clicking the link here or the video below, but my main takeaways were: Brexit has caused us to question democracy, even if it also helps show the strengths of having a democracy, and that maybe the British should pay a little more attention to the people who are unhappy and try and understand why they voted the way they did rather than writer them off as ignorant or ill-informed.

I found it interesting how a vote about staying in the EU could reveal so many other issues the UK has had since WWII, for one a deeply woven prejudice against working-class people in Britain, especially in Britain’s north. Everything that non-leave voters accuse “leave” voters for: narrow-mindedness, xenophobia, isolationist tendencies are traits the “cosmopolitan” (I put this in quotes, because it’s not the cosmopolitanism I believe in) bourgeois and academic class have accused the working class of having for years. Much of the peace Europe experienced since 1945 is because of the EU, and many of the benefits of what has become a welfare state are intertwined with EU policies, however the scales are bound to tip as the last of the generation who lived during the war and are still alive to talk of its lessons pass away.

I say don’t mention Brexit, because most people I talk to now are weary of it- I am too, but it’s a situation that involves questions that should not be ignored.

On a complete aside, but slightly related in this sort of moody post, in “Burnt Norton,” the first of T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets, I get a very strong time-machine vibe, and not just because Eliot goes on about the past and the future being present in the present.

I invite you to read these excerpted lines from 1936 and then tell me whether they seem eerily applicable to today’s mediated world. I think so, and I’m not all that surprised, since all media are just remediation anyway.

Emptying the sensual with deprivation
Cleansing affection from the temporal.
Neither plenitude nor vacancy. Only a flicker [Flickr?]
Over the strained time-ridden faces
Distracted from distraction by distraction
Filled with fancies and empty of meaning
Tumid apathy with no concentration
Men and bits of paper, whirled by the cold wind
That blows before and after time,
Wind in and out of unwholesome lungs
Time before and time after.
Eructation of unhealthy souls
Into the faded air, the torpid
Driven on the wind that sweeps the gloomy hills of London,
Hampstead and Clerkenwell, Campden and Putney,
Highgate, Primrose and Ludgate. Not here
Not here the darkness, in this twittering world.

Scarily appropriate, even today.

Finally, stay tuned! Like a boss, I’ve actually got two more posts lined up for this week. Hope you like them!

a(n) (unfair) comparison between Cambridge and Berlin (part 1)

Despite being  unqualified to comment on differences between Berlin and Cambridge, since I’ve only been here for a month, I figure that’s more than a lot of people, so I’m going to go ahead and do it. Also, it may seem unfair comparing a small university town in England to the capital of Germany- but there you go, those are already the first differences.

I was asked yesterday what my favorite part about Cambridge is and after thinking about it for a second answered: how close everything is.

Now, don’t get me wrong- the public transportation in Berlin is amazing and for every point of departure and destination, there are at least 3 options leaving within 5 minutes or so. However, the city is quite large and the commute times can be a bit rough. My brother had an hour long commute for a year and mine to the university are always at least 35 minutes (if the connections are all perfect). In comparison, almost everything within Cambridge is within 1.5 miles and a 10-minute bike ride. I go home a lot more in-between classes, library work, and evening work or activities, which is a nice lifestyle change.

Another thing I really like about Cambridge is how everything feels like it’s designed to take care of as much of the extras of adulting as possible. People who live on campus in the US know this feeling of having meals and some housekeeping taken care of, but in Berlin, this is not a thing. I can have amazing meals in the Mensa (cafeteria) during the day, but on days I don’t go to the office or classes, I’m on my own. Even though I like preparing my own meals, if I didn’t I would still be much better taken care of in Cambridge.

That being said, the prices here take some getting used to. Maybe it’s the conversion that’s just making me anxious,  but after coming from Berlin, I feel like I’m spending twice as much a week on groceries. Thank goodness for Aldi, because that at least balances out 12 pounds spent on the cheapest entree and a beer at any pub around.

At the same time, in Cambridge’s favor (and being a student here), I do appreciate the housekeeping. Initially I thought it would be weird to have someone come in my room once a week to clean- I mean, my mother taught me better! I can do it myself! But now I do appreciate it. I don’t have to think about it and can focus on work- which is the idea, of course. I also am grateful that the communal kitchens are cleaned, because from experience I know that the chore charts only work as long as EVERYONE follows it.

Alright, that last one wasn’t Cambridge proper, mostly just dorm life, but since the life here seems to revolve around students (and tourism), it’s not a far stretch. That’s something I miss about Berlin- the diversity of people and diversity of the things people do. It’s the center of political and cultural life in Germany, and since those are two of my priorities, I feel quite comfortable and always engage in a lot of intellectual conversation there. Here in Cambridge, a lot of people do things other than studenting- there are tons of music and sports groups- but it feels like everyone has to do everything so well and people take themselves too seriously. They tell themselves they don’t take it so seriously, and try to be tongue-in-cheek about it all, but then they do seem ind of disappointed if you didn’t take it seriously. Furthermore, Cambridge gets a lot of credit for being an intellectual hub, but it’s like they only know how to be intellectual in theory. They’re missing some of the practicality of life getting in your face that I’m so used to in Berlin. Still, it seems like Berlin is facing its own challenges with increasing hipsterfication and gentrification, so who knows how long it is before I’m complaining about this in Berlin as well. I will say that for its small size, Cambridge offers more than its share of theater and music.

Let’s see; I’ve covered food costs, student life, intellectual life- I guess what remains to comment on is the feel of the city and its architecture and green spaces.

I can say that right now I appreciate Cambridge and Berlin equally- Berlin has so much innovation in its architecture and the mix of old and new just hits me every time I see it, but there’s something ultra charming about the old English houses and I also just keep stopping and snapping a photo when I see a new angle on one of the old colleges, or go down some new cobbled street. I so often feel like I can’t take a breath that’s not imbued with history. And don’t get me started on the Cam River- how clean everything feels- or the pretty flowers that are appearing everywhere.

it’s beginning to look like Spring. back end of King’s

I guess, as a runner I’m also grateful for the proximity of Cambridge to seemingly endless fields. I say seemingly, because as I discovered during my first runs in Cambridge, there are a lot of private fields and, in general, just a lot of fences in Cambridge. Colleges are closed off from one another with them, streets often end in more fences. It’s a bit frustrating, since even though Berlin is a concrete jungle, I can just keep turning another corner and almost never end up in a dead-end. Furthermore, Berlin has the Grunewald and the Tierpark and various other green spaces. Cambridge’s green is around the city- still very green, but you have to find it first. And it’s not many trees- just a lot of open fields- which is lovely until you’re trying to get across in 25 mph winds.

But I’m not complaining. I’m quite happy here and I’m getting done what I came here to do, so that’s the most important part.

On that note, here’s the lecture hall photo I promised. It doesn’t seem as novel as it did the first time I saw and sat in it, but it’s still pretty cool.

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Cheers, – Dorothea

 

some London

Well, it’s been over a week since I ended the “week in the life” series and I thought I’d get back with a post much sooner, but now you get to read about three adventures scrunched into one.

But before I do that, let me start off with two notes:

  1. I’ve thought a lot these past days about my choice to come to Cambridge after just two years in Berlin. I have to admit, it’s hard again to be in a new place with new people having to meet with strangers every few days under the guise of networking and socializing. I get really anxious beforehand, get through it alright I guess, and then am anxious about it afterwards. I also wonder if there’s something about me that the first time I’m in the same city for more than a year since undergrad, I find a way to leave again. I know part of it is ambition and wanderlust and seeking out opportunities for academic growth and getting to know new things, but part of me thinks I’m constantly running away from something. I can remember very clearly in high school when my parents were thinking about moving three states north and I was actually excited about the possibility, because I thought it would give me a fresh start. What am I running away from? only I can answer that, and don’t worry, I know here and now is not the time.
  2. on that note, why is it so easy for me to go on for 20-30 minutes writing, but I sit in the same kitchen as a housemate who’s cooking  for the same amount of time and can’t exchange more than five sentences with him? I know it’s not just me, but seriously, I wish I could be as relaxed, cool, and charming as I am in writing (or how I like to believe I am in writing).

But enough of that. Let’s start with the journey to the town centre (don’t kid yourself, Cambridge, you say you have a city centre, but you’re really just a town) where I found the weekly market. It’s a great place with all the typical stalls plus delicious food booths (one offered everything made with Halloumi) in the grace of the Great St. Mary’s Church.

Cambridge City Centre Market

As one can see, the majesty of the buildings and spaces in Cambridge just keep one in awe. But then there are also the small things around town that also make me smile once in a while, like this statue/fountain type thing:

Cat and Mouse fountain

But I have to say, Cambridge very quickly can feel too small. I say it’s only a town in jest; it is a city, but it really does just feel like an overgrown village. A multitude of libraries, churches, and stores do not a city make. To be honest, I was even beginning to miss the sound of 18-wheelers rolling outside my window and so last Wednesday, taking advantage of a return ticket to London I had accidentally purchased on my arrival to Cambridge, I drove to London.

Beyond the fact that it’s just so cool to say “I went to London for a day-trip,” the city, its sights, food, and people, gave me a bit of sanity of which this ancient academic high-pressure-pot had threatened to relieve me.

I did some touristy walking:

And some research exploring:

And some fangirling:

I walked from London Bridge Station to Brick Lane, over Spitalfield, Shoreditch and Finsbury, and through Saint Pancras to King’s Cross. And I generally had a good time, rounded out by some draft Guinness across from the British Library, for which I’m now also a registered Reader. I came back to Cambridge, quite happy with my adventure and three days later made the same journey, though this time with the Hounds and Hares to make it to the Hyde Park relays.

Now let’s not kid ourselves, I was easily the slowest person in a Cambridge jersey, but it was a nice experience all the same. Plus, I got to see a little more of all the cool things just south of Hyde Park that I missed over the summer. 

And I got to see the Royal Albert Hall get dressed up for the 72nd British Academy Film Awards…

Preparing for the BAFTAs at Royal Albert Hall

And? Am I happy about returning to Cambridge at the end of such another day? Of course! Especially since it means I’ll be getting back to work 😉

 

A week in the life of a visiting Cambridge student: Tuesday and Wednesday

I really should have tried to post yesterday, because the Wednesday bit deserves its own post (I’m cheating by mentioning what I did last Wednesday, which marked my official matriculation to the University of Cambridge. Why I have to matriculate even though I’m only here for six months, beats me. But I rolled with it.)

But first, Tuesday:

woke up, fast forward through a few hours at the desk, fast forward lecture, fast forward more hours at another desk, fast forward to interval practice with the Hounds and Hares, where I got my pride handed to me on a platter to swallow, once again (and this was a taper workout, since the H & Hs are preparing for BUCS on Saturday). But it’s getting easier each time I go. My expectations now are way down, so after 2 sets of 3′, 2′, 1′, with 30 seconds between each rep and 3 minutes between the two sets, when I was in the middle, and not the end of the pack for the 200s (which goes to show, I’ve got the fitness, just not the speed over short distances), I felt pretty good. I also ran into the professor who is supervising my work while I’m here, and felt a bit guilty for not working until I realized- wait, he was in the gym, too.

But the life of a CU student isn’t all work and running. I happened to walk by the ADC Theatre during my first week and picked up their program list. I saw that the next play they were doing was the Michael Frayn adaptation of Anton Chekhov’s Wild Honey, and so I went online, booked the ticket and forgot about it until Monday evening.

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my push pins just happened to be bees.

Wild Honey, also called Platonov after the title character, was Chekhov’s earliest known completed work and this production of the ADC was quite good, and I would have enjoyed it very much had it not decided to rain on my way over to the theater (which was only a mile away, but still) and gotten me soaked. After shivering through until the intermission, I conceded I should probably head home. Good thing too, because in those 1.5 hours the rain had turned into snow. Thankfully, I didn’t wake up with a cold this morning.

Wednesday:

My actual Wednesday today wasn’t exciting at all. As I mentioned, it sprinkled snow overnight, which made my morning run exciting (read: exhausting) and biking to get groceries a bit of an adventure. It also made for a nice view from my spot in the library.

But otherwise, it was a really quiet day. Not like last Wednesday where I was invited to both a Formal Dinner and a Ceilidh.

Random fact, but did you know that the word “blazer” actually originated in Cambridge? Once upon, the Lady Margaret Boat Club (ooh fun fact within a fact: rowing is one of the few sports at which Cambridge students compete at an elite level) had scarlet jackets that they referred to as blazers. Sports clubs in Cambridge continue to distribute blazers (usually blue) to the successful members of their teams.

I learned this when I was looking up the dress code for a Formal Dinner, and this is something I’ve been quite anxious about, already thinking about it in Berlin while packing. Turns out, there are varying degrees of “formal” at Cambridge, and a Formal Dinner is usually just “smart” (basically anything goes except jeans, sneakers, or flip flops) with the wearing of a gown.

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please excuse my very blase look and lame background. I didn’t think I’d share these with anyone except my parents and now I no longer have the gown (rented it), so this will have to do.

A gown, you ask? The men wear them too?

Yup. You didn’t hear the Hogwarts students complaining about their robes, did you? Except maybe Ron Weasley and his dress robes. The gowns are part of the academic dress of Cambridge University and there are a few rules as to who (with what academic degree) wears what gown. And they, for all their pomp and circumstance, are comfortable enough and make one feel wizardly and foolish at the same time. A few of my fellow students and I agreed that probably everyone realizes it’s a bit silly, especially for something like a dinner, so we’re all just participating in this joke of tradition. Or something.

The dinner itself was a three course meal with the three knives and two forks and two spoons and two glasses and just way too much going on. But it was a nice experience, and the professors I ended up sitting next to and across (apart from a debate that hovered dangerously around violent about Brexit) were pleasant and made sure I got up when I was supposed to and kindly looked past the fact that I managed to spill wine all over the crisp, white table cloth (in my defense, I was sitting where two tables were unevenly joined).

After successfully making it through dinner, and post-dinner drinks, there was the ceilidh.

Pronounced more like “kaley,” the ceilidh is another example of spelling not quite matching up with how it’s pronounced. Since being here, I’ve learned that in words that come from Scottish Gaelic,  an “mh” is more like a “w” or “v” sound while the “dh” is a “ch” or “gh” sound. That is why ceilidh is also written ceili and the name Niahm sounds like “Neve”. I still don’t know what to do with “bhfuil”, which is supposed to sound more like “well,” but it’s a good thing I’m not here to learn Gaelic.

Really, though, the ceilidh is a social event that can involve music, storytelling, singing, and dancing. Last Wednesday it was a dancing ceilidh organized and hosted by the MCR, which does this annually. MCR, which stands for “Middle Combination Room” is a collective name for graduate students, fourth-year undergraduates and postdocs at the college– basically a graduate student society. Imagine a barn dance or square dances or any other organized dancing event where someone at the front tells everyone what to do from traditional dances and then everyone just has fun, that’s what this was.

It was a lot of fun, and a pretty good way to end the week.

And thus endeth this mini-series in my life. Now I’ll return to my regularly scheduled programming of random posts and observations.

 

 

A week in the life of a visiting Cambridge student: Monday

Although, as I’ve mentioned, the week here doesn’t “officially” start until Thursday, it doesn’t make getting up Monday morning any easier. However, it helps to have the obligatory lecture to get one out and ready long before noon.

Today I visited a lecture on colonialism and anti-colonialism, a history with which I am fairly familiar, but can always use a brush-up, especially by scholars who have devoted much of their careers to researching and understanding the topic. It’s a bit surreal to talk about British imperialism and colonialism from within Britain, whereas I’ve always talked about it from an outsider’s perspective, either the U.S. or Germany. I also visited two talks in a research group I’m participating in (on Nationality Construction and Identity, I think you can kind of start to get an idea of what I’m interested in for my PhD). They were in Gonville and Caius College, and I’ll give you three guesses on how to pronounce Caius. Much to my surprise, this is the “Gonville and Keys” everyone was mentioning my first week here. Why “Caius” is pronounced like those things you use to get into your car or front door has to do with the vanities of an Englishman from the 17th century. It’s not a lot different than Hyacinth Bucket trying to get others to call her Mrs. Bouquet in Keeping up Appearances, mind you.

Name aside, the college is old- almost as old as Trinity. And maybe even more beautiful because of its relative smallness.

And today helped me begin to understand why Noël Coward sang “”Only Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun.” Since being here, I’ve only properly seen the sun twice. One of those times was today- and oh, what a sight. It made me want to stand in its full strength and just let it warm me up- which, in 3 degrees Centigrade is quite a feat. It also made me want to take pictures of places I’ve been talking about:

The University Library, lengthwise and vertically to try and give an idea of how impressive this building is.

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The river Cam, with a few people getting punt rides (I’ve yet to go on one of those- or do rowing, for that matter)

and

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The back of Clare College

The crazy thing is, these sites are all within 5 minutes of one another.

For dinner I had reheated noodles with pesto and cheddar cheese, so that pretty much tells you how exciting the rest of my day was. I’ve been here for two weeks now! So, I think one can say I’ve pretty much moved in.

Side note: I will reply to the comments to yesterday’s and today’s posts tomorrow! I just wanted to get this post out on its proper day, but I really should be finishing something else first. Thanks for your replies, though! I do appreciate them.