London Life Updates: Brexit, Barbecues, and Rugby 7's Bacchanalia

It’s been a hella long time since I’ve blogged some updates, and I swear I have a good excuse.  As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I’ve been contracted to write a Religious and Moral Education curriculum ::Pause for you to compose yourself after laughing uncontrollably:: for a school in Sierra Leone.  The school hires teachers from the community, many of whom are not traditionally trained as teachers, so each lesson plan must be very specific.  I actually type out everything the teacher should say during the lesson.  As you can imagine, it’s a very tedious task and takes about two-three hours to write each lesson.  My most recent contract was for two unit maps, 32 lesson plans (to cover 48 hours of class time), all associated resources, and four unit tests, and I had a little less than two months to complete them.  When I wasn’t working, traveling (more of that to come), at the gym or archery class, I was working on the curriculum.  As a result, I’ve had to let some things slip to the wayside, the easiest of which was unfortunately the blog.  Not that I expected people to be waiting with bated breath, nor is this the longest stretch I’ve gone without blogging (my “record” is six months), but I enjoy blogging for posterity’s sake and for keeping my creative juices flowin’.  So I too felt its absence.  Okay, so what’s been going on lately:

Work

Work has been going well, and I’ve already learned a lot in my 2.5 months there.  I’ve become more familiar with our members, different programmes and courses offered, and human rights’ issues in supply chains.  There’s definitely been a learning curve, further complicated by my still learning British spellings/sayings (Did you know that “enrollment” only has one ‘l’ in the UK? So it’s enrolment, which just looks…weird), but I’m definitely feeling more comfortable in my role.  In addition to my regular receptionist duties (ordering lunches, making coffee/tea for meetings, ordering supplies, scheduling the office party, taking minutes, scheduling meetings, booking travel, doing data entry, etc.), I’ve also defrosted a fridge, learned the intricacies of a hot water boiler thermostat, coordinated a mass mailing, and organized our storage closet (called a cupboard here).  I do a lot of “odds and ends” type jobs also, so I keep pretty busy.  My biggest f**k up was probably not ordering toilet paper (called toilet rolls) before we ran out.  So I guess I’m doing alright; well, maybe not to the people stranded without TP…

The big project I’ve been supporting is a survey set to go to 40,000+ suppliers about the impact of retailers/brands’ purchasing practices.  It’s the biggest survey of its kind (It’s become a running joke to refer to it as such basically every time it’s referenced), done in conjunction with ILO, and I’ve been providing Administrative support on the project.  So far that’s entailed taking part in the planning process (I hope you read that as pro-cess), which has many sub-steps in itself, creating Non-Disclosure Agreements and Security Statements re: confidentiality (Gonna add ESQ to my name), getting quotes for various contractors/consultants, and creating the actual survey in SurveyMonkey.  It’s been an exciting project of which to be a part, and I’ve already learned a lot about the effects brand purchasing practices can have on its suppliers.  Maybe I’ll share the results with Elliot ;).  We just sent the pilot to 50 suppliers, and the big cheese (aka the actual survey) is scheduled to go out in two weeks.  I’ve been super busy with that, and it’s taken up most of my free time at work.  You know, when I’m not using a screwdriver as a makeshift ice-pick on our fridge. So all is well at work, and I really like the people there.  We’ve done a few happy hours, and have played ping-pong a few times at a nearby outdoor table.  Euro 2016 has also provided a pretty fun atmosphere, since we have a pool going and drew country teams at random.  I had Poland, who held their own for awhile before getting knocked out by stupid Portugal in OT. Stupid Cristiano Ronaldo and his stupid sculpted abs of glory…

The Brexit

Let me tell ya, NO ONE saw the “Leave” side actually winning the referendum.  Even when Elliot woke me up in the morning and told me, I had to grab my phone to confirm that he was serious.  No one he and I had talked to was in favor of leaving the EU, and the only campaigns we saw on London’s streets were from the Remain camp.  Granted, we live in a pretty liberal city that’s home to a large immigrant population, so it’s not the perfect litmus test for the country.  But after all the experts (you know, the ones people are sick of hearing from) warned about the catastrophe the UK would find itself in if they voted ‘Yes’, you’d think people would see the wisdom in voting Remain.  El and I have kept pretty abreast of arguments presented by both sides, and it was crystal clear that the Brexiters wouldn’t be able to deliver on their promises (immigration for example) AND strike desirable trade deals with the EU.  Sure enough, now their leaders are slowly creeping away from the spotlight and backtracking on their campaign promises.  Boris Johnson, who looks like a dictionary entry for “buffoon”, already withdrew from Prime Minister consideration, and Nigel Farage, who sounds like a horrible to the point of almost being amusing nut job, just resigned from his position at the head of UKIP (United Kingdom Independence Party).  It’s a massive clusterfuck, and no one seems to know what to do next. After the pound took a major hit, people around here started freaking the eff out, and there have been several protests and a petition for a second referendum that’s been signed by almost 3 million people.  Local shops by my work were closed the day after the vote, and there was just a general air of sadness over the city.  There are still a lot of unanswered questions, and El and I are hoping for a quick rebound of the pound.  You know, because that’s what we’re paid in.  “Let’s go to England!”, we said.  “We’ll be able to save more because of the exchange rate!”, we said.  “Now, we’re f**ked,” we say.

Traveling

Sneak peek at a blog to come

Sneak peek at a blog to come

We’ve done a lot of traveling over the past few months, and I’m backlogged on those blogs.  At the end of May, we went to Lithuania and Belarus to  visit our friend Ryan, and at the beginning of June we took a WWII themed road trip through Normandy (including being on the beaches on D-Day), the Champagne region, Northern France to the Maginot Line, Bastogne, Germany, and Luxembourg.  I’ll go into more detail in the blog post, but it was one of the most unique trips we’ve ever taken and may be my travel planning masterpiece. We have a few day trips lined up for the rest of July, and then in August we’re going to Dublin for my birthday weekend (Can you believe my Irish ass still hasn’t been to Ireland????), Stavanger in Norway to visit some of my favorite people ever (The Wynn family from Spain), and Inverness for a weekend in September.  I’m using about half my vacation allotment for trips back to the States (Ross’s b-day and Meg’s wedding in which I’m a bridesmaid), so a lot of our trips are weekend jaunts.  Quick, but still enough time to have some adventures.

Red, White, and Blue-Yah

When you think about it, it’s really kind of amusing that I spent our Independence Day in the country we declared independence from.  It’s also weird to think that I could’ve been British; thank goodness for those sassy colonists!  So, I send an email every Friday alerting staff to events in the week ahead, and this week’s was called “Special Freedom Edition”.  There I laid out my plans for celebrating the holiday: barbecuing, wearing red, white and blue, and walking around the office occasionally screeching like an eagle.  You know, typical American stuff.  Considering the original Brexit was 240 years ago, no one is still pissed that Americans celebrate 4th of July here.  Well, maybe those who hang on to the “good ol’ imperial days” do, but normal people are chill.  The Brits obviously don’t celebrate the 4th because, as my coworker put it: “That’s like celebrating a divorce.”  Well put.  Although I had to work on the 4th (boo), I made sure to wear my American flag tank top and brought a “need sunglasses b/c it’s so bright” red, white, and blue cake.  Thanks to my mother who sent blue cake mix and red frosting, I was able to wow my colleagues with the delicious chemicals of Americana.

Our friends, Ross and Nicole, threw a big 4th of July barbecue at their flat in Shoreditch on Saturday, and it was awesome.  Not only did everyone get decked out in their American best (ie Hulkamania t-shirts and socks with flag capes), but there were plenty of good food and drinks to be had: sausages, burgers, potato salad, guacamole, tomato & avocado salad, and stuff for ice cream sundaes (including these massive marshmallows that tasted like heavenly pillows).  Everyone ate way more than their fill, and all the decorations were naturally red, white, and blue.  In addition to some 4th decor (thanks, mom), a spare grill and some grub and beer, we brought our trusty Chicago Bears beer pong table along for the ride.  Priorities.  Even though it was a party celebrating an American holiday, Ross and Nicole (who’s from New Zealand but born in South Africa) have a lot of friends from a number of nationalities, all wearing red, white & blue in solidarity with us.  In addition to the Brits, there were Germans, Russians, French, a Canadian, and an Aussie.  The number of non-Americans actually dwarfed the number of Americans, but hey, a party’s a party.  Ross had to instruct his British friends on what kind of beer to bring for pong, since they’d be likely to show up with a Belgian 9%.  Despite his instructions, there were some Brits who still happily presented their offerings of 5.5% beer.  Bless their hearts for trying.

Four score and seven beers ago...

Four score and seven beers ago…

Ross and Nicole live in a kick-ass flat that has a great courtyard perfect for party central.  They’re in a seriously great location, and one of their neighbors is Annabelle Wallis aka Grace from Peaky Blinders aka Jane Seymour from The Tudors aka Coldplay’s girlfriend.  I’m a big Peaky Blinders and Tudors fan (not so much Coldplay), so I was hoping she’d make an appearance, but she’s apparently filming some movie with Tom Cruise.  Nicole is on a mission to become friends with her, and she even spotted Chris Martin doing yoga in Annabelle’s flat.  Because of course Chris Martin was doing yoga.

The party was a blast, and there were a few rounds of beer pong and flip cup before the Germany-Italy soccer game.   Regardless of the country in which it took place, it was a true (red, white, and) blue party for the ages.

Rugby 7’s in Twickenham

Despite Roger Goodell’s painfully obvious desire/attempt for the NFL to catch on in Britain, the pigskin still hasn’t exactly taken root in people’s hearts.  Given the importance of sports (or sport, as they call it) in the social climate of London, it was time I decided on a popular UK sport to follow.  I’ve tried to get into soccer, but that’s failed to excite me other than when Poland was winning me some money.  Cricket is way too confusing with its 10,000,000 rules, hurling is…f**king weird, so that leaves me with rugby.  At the risk of sounding like a creepy middle aged woman at Chippendales, that’s a sport I can get into: jacked dudes in little shorts playing a rougher version of American football.  The only problem is that I know next to nothing about it.

So Elliot bought us tickets for the Rugby Sevens Tournament at Twickenham in May, and I needed to know my shit.  Ross and Nicole introduced Elliot to a few of their friends before I arrived, and the group agreed to buy tickets for the 7’s tournament on May 21st.  Rugby Sevens isn’t a whole lot different than regular rugby; the differences are that there are only 7 players on the field and play is only 7 minutes each half or ten minutes for a competition final.  With fewer players still running the entire length of the field, they poop out pretty quickly.  Hence the shortened game time.  That’s all well and good, but it’s also important to note that the one in Twickenham is an international competition with Olympic bids on the line, so the stakes are decidedly higher.

Rugby Seven is traditionally, wordwide, a massive shitshow.  People get dressed up in costumes, lots of drinking occurs, and shenanigans are abundant.  Each Rugby Sevens has a theme, called “Fancy Dress”, and people dress accordingly.  Well, there’s always one bad apple that spoils the whole bunch, and there must’ve been a whole bushel at last year’s Twickenham event.  At first, the promoters refused to allow people to dress up because so many neighborhood folk had complained.  Then, they realized they’d have a fraction of people buying tickets, so they relented a bit and said that people could dress up, they just weren’t going to promote a particular theme.  I don’t fully understand how things go viral, or how this crazy contraption called the “Internet” works exactly, but someone started a Facebook page announcing that they had an insider who “confirmed” that this year’s theme was Under the Sea.  The Facebook page had thousands of invites, and word spread like hot cakes.  Since we were going as a group, we decided to dress in costume together, and the ultimate decision was to go as Team Zissou. Elliot freaking loves the Life Aquatic, and I myself am a fan of Wes Anderson anything, so we were totally on board with this decision.

Some say she's the brains behind Team Zissou.  Then what is he? He is the Zissou.

Some say she’s the brains behind Team Zissou. Then what is he?
He is the Zissou.

Ross and Nicole agreed to buy enough red beanie hats for everyone, but folks were pretty much on their own for the top and bottom part of the costume.  Elliot (for some reason) has two short sleeve, baby blue, button down shirts in his possession, so all we did was buy a roll of navy blue cloth tape and make accents along the front and sleeves.  Elliot chastised my taping over the buttons decision and cut button holes in the tape himself for me.  In exchange, I cloth-taped the sides of the baby blue scrubs we had express ordered from Amazon.  We make such a good team.  Love is patient, love is kind, love is cloth taping your spouse’s clothing for a drinking fest…

We met Ross and Nicole at an Overground Station near their place in Shoreditch, and had a few mimosas and/or Bud diesels on the ride to the train station.  When we switched over to the rail service to Twickenham (about an hour away), we were swarmed by people in fancy dress, all either already shit-faced or on their way to Hammered Town.  There were some ho-hum costumes (When the theme is Under the Sea, you don’t get creativity points for going as the Little Mermaid), but there were also some pretty clever ones.  There was a group of young lads who dressed up like lifeguards and fashioned “oxygen tanks” out of liter bottles, duct tape, and a snorkel tube.  We also saw a few Poseidons, a group of girls wearing “Make America Great Again” hats (presumably b/c we all want to drown Donald Trump), and one other random Steve Zissou.  I have to say that we were the most original, and coordinated group, although we had to explain to a bunch of Brits who we actually were.

After a squished train ride, we met Marina and Tony outside the Twickenham train station and made the walk to the stadium.  Along the way, there were all sorts of food vendors selling things that smelled all sorts of delicious.  Nicole and I also popped into a convenience store and briefly joined the random dance party that had started up.  The atmosphere was definitely a party, and joining the fun was a must.  It was like a Bacchanalia.  Minus all the sex and tearing people limb from limb.

Once we got to the stadium, we met Jan and Emil, two other friends of Ross’s who were already inside.  There really was no sense of order to the event, and people were already in our seats, so we up and moved about five times throughout the day.  No one really cared about who sat where, so we ended up with a good view no matter where we moved.  The weather was awesome, and it was super fun to watch the different countries play the shortened matches.  When the American team played, our group went nuts cheering, and the group of schoolkids behind us took our lead and also started going crazy cheering.  Every time we scored, I’d turn around and high five the kids behind me.  They were cracking me up, and part of me wished I was as cool as them.

Twickenham Stadium

Twickenham Stadium

After a few hours of matches, drinks, lots of drunk people doing insane things, and one disgusting pizza, we all piled into the train back to London.  When we were leaving the stadium, I ran into my co-worker, David.  We both knew we were going to Twickenham, and we joked, “Have fun, maybe I’ll see you there!” but didn’t actually expect to see each other in the big crowd.  What’re the odds.

When we got back to London, we decided to go with Jan and Emil to Bavarian Beerhouse for dinner.  A German soccer game was on, so the place was packed, but Jan spoke German to the hostess and before we knew it we had a table outside.  The weather was great and the food was delish, but Elliot and I both gave a look of dismay at each other when Jan brought out liter steins of Hefeweizen for the group.  The kind of look that when I saw El’s face, I could practically hear him groan.  After a day of being in the sun and drinking light beer, a liter of Hefe was not high on our priorities list.  But to refuse a beer from a German seemed like some sort of death wish, so we happily prost’ed and thanked him for the drink.  We hung out at Bavarian Beerhouse for another hour or two and made friends with a stag party (bachelor party).  Normally stag parties in the UK involve all sorts of costumes and have an unspoken “This is bro time; no strangers allowed” rule, but these guys were looking to make friends.  They were intrigued by our Team Zissou costumes, and soon they were all sitting at our table talking Game of Thrones and America with us.  Not those two topics together though.  One guy looked me dead in the eye and said, “Tell me how much you love Game of Thrones.”  Uhhh, I love Game of Thrones? It was like a request a middle school kid makes of their first boyfriend/girlfriend.  How do you satisfactorily answer that? Although they were a bit quirky, and the groom to be stole our bad ass Twickenham tickets, they were still entertaining and fun to be around.

Rugby 7’s was a definite blast, despite (or because of?) the shitshow atmosphere, people in costume, and dudes in tiny shorts.  We’re already looking forward to next year’s celebration, where hopefully the theme is Game of Thrones and I can tell everyone how much I love it…

Random observations:

  • There’s an American food store here! Granted, it’s £5 for a small bag of Combos, but it’s nice to know that I can easily get a Goldfish and Gatorade fix
  • Every runner seems to wear these little backpacks while they run.
  • Tank tops are called vests.  Not sure what vests are called.  Torso thongs?
  • An American thing that I’ve noticed doesn’t translate here is saying “Okay” or “Alright” to show someone you’re listening.  The Brits just make these noises like “MMMM” and vary the volume and enthusiasm accordingly.
  • People refer to their calendars as their “diaries”.  So when I have to look at people’s diaries, I half expect them to say “Dear Diary, Today was a great day!”

Random Updates:

  • I bought bronzer for the first time in years because my skin has taken on a ghoulish pallor from lack of Vitamin D.
  • I finally decided to brave the London roads on my bike (my mom mailed me my lock key), and I got about ten minutes before getting a flat tire…which forced me to walk my bike the three miles back home.  So I’ll probably never ride my bike here again.
  • I sprained my ankle missing a step in a park, so for a week or so I got to know the bus system pretty well.  It’s really convenient but woe to anyone who tries to ride on a rainy day.  It’s like being stuck in a small space with a hundred guys from Along Came Polly.
  • Elliot’s still awesome and kicking ass and taking names at work.
  • It’s pretty fun to be the token American, because then I’m the authority figure on slang (I should say I’m on fleek) and Americanisms.  I’ve had it pointed out to me that I say, “I KNOW! (Really enthusiastic intro) Riiiiiight??? (Increasing in pitch as I say it)”, but I think that’s more a Courtney thing than American.
  • I went to see Kit Harrington in Doctor Faustus on the West End.  The play was kind of bizarre, and there were more naked people than I’m used to seeing, but it was still well-acted and entertaining, and I got to see Jon Snow in his underpants.  Imma call that a win.
The North Remembers

The North Remembers

The King in the North!

The King in the North!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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