Sunday, February 24, 2013

Spring (Half Term) Break!

Best. Half term break. EVER.

I've spent the week since my last update at Christa's. Her roommate and landlady were out of town so we had the place to ourselves - a rare occurance and one we fully exploited, thank you very much.

What have I done this week you ask? Oh, well, let me see...Thursday we saw the movie Beautiful Creatures which was pretty great. I mean, heck, it had magic, teen romance, and Jeremy Irons - what's not to love about that? And the rest of the week was pretty much spent lounging about her flat watching TV and chatting and...Oh, I went to Primark on Thursday too - got five T-shirts, a blazer, dress pants for a scary low price which was nice. Hm, what else...what else...

Well. There was this one thing...

Tuesday I slept over at Christa's. Why, you ask? Because the next day we took a trip. Where did we go on this trip? 

We got up early Wednesday morning and made our way to the Westminster Park Plaza hotel lobby (who have a very friendly staff even for non-guests, FYI) where a van picked us up and brought to Victoria station where a coach bus and our tour guide were waiting. Tour guide was okay - very well informed, at least, although a bit on the dull side.

The bus set off at about nine and almost two hours later we arrived at...

Windsor Castle! This is where Queen Elizabeth II lives on weekends (no, really - this is her weekend palace and, no, I didn't bump in to anyone I recognized as royal, alas). It has this amazing dollhouse that's an exact replica of the palace itself that was a gift to the Queen Mother, right down to the miniaturized furniture and the functional lawn mowers and lights.

Of course, it's kept in a darkened room where flash photography is prohibited...but someone less scrupulous than I (don't laugh; I didn't say I'm scrupulous - just that there are others out in the world with even less scruples than I - it's a valid point) didn't adhere to the rules and so I snagged this off the internet.

We were supposed to have 45 minutes to browse the grounds of Windsor, which was awesome because I wanted to St. George's Chapel. This is where they have a whole slew of royals buried, including - all together in quire (which also holds the flags of Knights of the Garter) - Henry VIII, his third wife, Jane Seymour (the only one of the six to give him a son), Charles I (who was beheaded by Parliament and buried his head sewn back on) and the infant child of Queen Anne.

We left the chapel with plenty of time to get back to the bus...except it turns out Windsor Castle has ONE exit and once they begin their changing of the guard ceremony, the exit is locked and you're actually held captive while the guard changes. Christa and I were petrified we'd miss our bus and be stranded but we ultimately managed to make it back just in time. Bright side, we got a much better view of this changing of the guard than we did of the one at Buckingham Palace.

Back on the bus, we rode for almost two and half hours - receiving bunches of tidbits about things like thatching and farming and whatever else we happened to see out the window. When we finally got to our destination, we only had about thirty minutes to walk around the site and back out again. It was AMAZING - I totally geeked out, like a kid in a candy store.

Yup, that's right - I went to freaking STONEHENGE! See those stones? They were placed like that sometime between 3000 BC and 2000 BC - a time before cranes and bulldozers and other handy machinery - possibly for religious purposes, but it's not entirely for certain. Thanks to some morons in the '70s who had to go and ruin it for everyone by trying to graffiti the stones, you can't get close to the stones themselves without security present to supervise - which they only do in the early morning and late at night. It was like meeting Elvis or proving a legend; BEYOND epic!

This? This is the Heel Stone. At summer solstice (meaning around June 21), if you stand within the stone circle of Stonehenge and look north-east through the entrance, you would see the sun rise above the heel stone. According to a folk tale from about the seventeenth century or later,
The Devil bought the stones from a woman in Ireland, wrapped them up, and brought them to Salisbury plain. One of the stones fell into the Avon, the rest were carried to the plain. The Devil then cried out, "No-one will ever find out how these stones came here!" A friar replied, "That’s what you think!," whereupon the Devil threw one of the stones at him and struck him on the heel. The stone stuck in the ground and is still there.
And then it was back on the bus once more to head over to Bath. What's in Bath, you ask? Why, baths are in Bath of course - it's all in the name.

There was a hot spring. Romans came. Need more be said? They built it, devoted it to a goddess of healing, spread stories of its mystical properties and people swarmed there in droves...until the Romans bailed, the Saxons took over and the baths were built over. Naturally, couple centuries later they were rediscovered and excavated and now are a pretty popular tourist attraction, with its own museum annexed on. You can't even touch that water behind me in the pictures - it FULL of bacteria and other nasties - but they do have a filtered fountain you can drink from, because, as I said, healing properties. Romans, what can I say? (FYI: water is warm and tastes rather sulfuric and metallic.)

Afterward, we rode back to Victoria station and then caught trains back to Forest Hill (where Christa lives) and hunted down a Chinese restaurant around the corner from her where we grabbed some take-out.

As I said: best half-term break EVER!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Old Friends and New Toys

So, today I met up with Peter.  That's nice, you're thinking, who's Peter and why do I care? Well, ten years ago, Peter and I did our Confirmation together and our moms were friends. Later, he and his family moved of the O-states...Oklahoma? My mom and his remained good friends, though, and so when it turned out he was swinging by London for a spell on business, our mothers put us in touch with each other so we could meet up.

He came by and met me at the house this morning. He brought a jar of JIFFY peanut butter. Do you want to know why the British Empire fell? Because they make the most wretched, bland tasting peanut butter imaginable. How, I ask you, can anyone expect to master the world when they can't even master peanut butter? I mean, honestly - it's embarrassing.

But I digress.

We caught the tube to Westminster (as in where Big Ben and the London Eye are) and then walked down along the Thames, past the Globe Theatre (Shakespeare's stage, people, does no one pay attention in English class anymore?) to a Nando's for lunch. I had the butterfly, of course. We talked about our work and families and television but, honestly, conversation was neither of our fortes and it got a little...strained. When we left, we walked up and around looking for a Mark & Spencer where Peter could exhange some slippers. The first we found was just a grocery store so we had to hope the Tube to Bond street. Mark and Spencer is...well, it's a lot like Wal Mart is trying to be, an all-in-one department store and grocery store, but higher end and, obviously, with some stores being just one or the other, if that makes sense. Anyways, so after Peter got his slippers changed to ones that were the right size, he went off to meet some friends to supper and I went to the Disney Store.

Why did I go to the Disney Store? Because my friend gave me a retro Minnie plushie for Christmas and I've been hunting EVERYWHERE (well, at every Disney Store I've come across and there are a surprising number of them in London) for her matching Mickey. And I finally had! Plus, as a bonus, when I related this tale of woe to the cashier serving me, she tossed in a free Simba plushie as compensation for my trials, LOL. I mean, okay, he was on sale, but still - it was awfully nice of her.

And now I'm off to Christa's to sleepover because tomorrow I have HUGE plans you couldn't wait to hear if you knew them! Ta, loveys.

Monday, February 18, 2013

National Gallery and M&Ms

Today was pretty high on the fun spectrum...probably because I'm a dork and I went to a museum and museums, as everyone knows, museums are to dorks what sanitized bubbles are to germaphobes.

After grabbing an early lunch at a restaurant in Chinatown, Christa and I went to the National Gallery, as planned, and looked at all the pretty, pretty paintings from the last five centuries. The weather was actually playing nice for a change so not only was it pretty warm, but the sky was clear blue and the sunshine was bright and cheery. Naturally, photography isn't allowed in the Gallery itself - must protect the paintings, after all - but I got some exterior shots and, well, Google is such a helpful little bugger.

My friend Michelle would've been so proud; I actually recognized several of the paintings and several of the artists. All that time spent in Art History classes finally put to good use, LOL, although I'm still more interested in the Rosetta Stone and Egyptian mummies than I'll probably ever be in Monet and Ruben. Speaking of artists, not only were Monet and Ruben present and account for, but so were Van Gogh, Cézanne, Seurat, Raphael, and even Michaelangelo. Not to mention the National Gallery is a beautiful building with some gorgeous architecture and interior design, paintings excepted. The whole building is itself a work of art.

Afterwards,  Christa and I wanted to grab some supper but it was much too early - only about 4PM - so we killed time walking to Covent Garden and then back down to Leicester's Square. Do you know what they have in Leicester's Square? M&M World! 

Where they have LOADS of M&M merchandise, most based on their promotional characters, and a surprising limited selection of actual M&Ms. Sure, you can choose your own colour combinations and get various sized bottles/containers full of the candy but regular old bags of milky chocolate goodness? Not so much. Still, the store itself borders on a museum - with lots of photo opportunities, as you see from the above.

Supper happened finally at T.G.I.Friday's where I had the steak (YUM!) and then we walked back to Westminster to grab our trains back to our roosts. Needless to say, it was an awesome day! 

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Weekdays Come and Gone

This week was pretty great.

Monday: Craig sent me to a school in Hayes and Harlington to TA in a Nursery class. It was snowing again so, naturally, the transit system was in a bit of a mess. Had to wait for the Tube and for the train, couldn't take a taxi from the station since none were about, so had to take the bus instead. Ended up being a little late but it wasn't as though it could be helped; this city's complete inability to deal with a little snow would be comical if it weren't so embarrassing. The day itself though went great; I basically got paid to sit in a circle for an hour, then colour Disney characters (Pinocchio, Jasmine, and Ariel, if you're interested) for an hour, then hand out milk and get kids set to go home...then an hour later a whole new batch of tykes showed up and the process repeated. Can you say easy day? Getting back to the house turned out to be much easier than the journey there, likely because the snow had stopped falling by then but, seriously, this city needs to work on that.

Tuesday: Went to Catholic school in central London - you could see the London Eye out of some of the classroom windows. Did Nursery in the morning with some very, very curious little tykes. They were split in to groups for the lesson part of the day so I got to repeat the same lesson two or three times. Otherwise kids just played. One little boy jumped in a puddle and got DRENCHED. Trying to keep him inside afterwards (it WAS cold out there, after all) proved a chore - he alternated between balling his eyes out and hugging me tightly. His mom eventually came to collect him. In the afternoon, I was in a Reception class with some pretty unruly kids; none of them listened and some of them were just out-and-out bad. For example, one little girl pored her milk carton all over a classmate's bag and then, after getting in trouble, sat there tearing pages out of her reading book. Delightful.

Wednesday: Went back to the Catholic school. Got a text that morning telling me to go, so off I went. Came out of the tube station to my phone exploding with text messages from my consultants asking me to call, asking me where I was, telling me they had work for me. Apparently the consultant who sent me to the school neglected to tell the consultants I'm assigned to that I was booked. I definitely felt the love. Was doing PPA coverage. First I had a year four class and got to take them down to mass for Ash Wednesday (my mother will be so pleased). Second I had the other year four class who I taught about the Hindu gods and set them on writing summaries of one of the big three. Third, after lunch, I had a year one class who just would. not. listen. It was like they actually put effort into being naughty. Was almost enough to turn me off ever having children, they were THAT bad.

Thursday: VALENTINE'S DAY! Chatted with consultant in AM; he said it was beyond dead in the office so he didn't want me waiting at the tube station for nothing. A couple of hours later, I was called by another consultant and ended up getting a half day doing reception with a delightful bunch of kids at a school not even two miles away. Heck, it took less than ten minutes by tube to get there, just one stop away and then a short walk through a small park and presto! I was arrived. The kids were great; we made Valentine's Day cards together for their moms, went outside for a bit, watched some short videos about the Chinese New Year and then read Dr Seuss before their parents arrived to take them home. It was awesome. And easy. Afterwards, I went looking for a Chinese restaurant. They tend to be pretty popular - like casse-croûtes at home - so I figured there was a good chance there would be one somewhere among the shops lining either side of the street. I was right. Got some take out (beef in black bean sauce, chicken fried rice, chicken and vegetables and, of course, won ton soup) and then came back to the house for a night of vampire movies - Breaking Dawn: Part II and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. You know, in keeping with the spirit of the holiday and all that, LOL.

Friday: Had the day off. Small surprise; tends to be the case when the break weeks come up. Opted to go to a movie and ended up seeing A Good Day to Die Hard. I blame my dad for this. I have seen the movies of the Die Hard so many times I can recite them line by line better than Sheldon Cooper can run through the periodic table. Barring the second that is because that movie sucked and I refuse to admit it even exists, thank you very much. A Good Day to Die Hard wasn't a bad movie but it didn't exactly live up to its predecessors Die Hard with a Vengeance set the standard pretty high, after all, and had some great cast chemistry going on. What's more, Jeremy Irons was a fantastic villain as Simon. Which was essentially what was wrong with A Good Day to Die Hard - a crappy villain. Even his villainous plan was moronic. Afterwards, I called Christa and we opted to meet up at London Bridge for supper. Walked down along the Thames hunting for a restaurant until we came to the Globe Theatre. We ended up eating at Nando's right near there; it was delicious. Did more walking along the Thames afterwards up to Westminster and Big Ben where we caught the Tube again.

Today: It's been a veg day, just hanging about the house. I've been writing - blog posts mostly but some e-mails and editing on my book too. I've been reading, alternating between Austen's Mansfield Park and Doyle's The Extraordinary Cases of Sherlock Holmes. I've been watching Murder, She Wrote while trying to find something else to watch...maybe I'll circle back to Diagnosis Murder, I don't know. Plan for tomorrow is to check out the National Gallery. As for the rest of the break, there's certainly a wealth of possibilities to fill the time. So far, I already know that Tuesday I'll be meeting up with a visiting friend for lunch and Wednesday...well, I'll tell you about Wednesday on Thursday (or sometime after Wednesday at any rate) provided the plan pans out. ^^

Until next time, mes amies!

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Touring the Sights of London

This weekend was a busy one. Christa and I opted to go around London and see all those sights that just happen to be around. I mean, some attractions, like museums and palaces you visit and tour and learn, and then there are attractions that are simply meant to be seen. Like, say, for example...

See this? This is a screen shot from the BBC's SHERLOCK. This is 221B Baker Street, where Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson live. In reality, it's actually 187 North Gower Street since the real-world Baker Street bears too much heavy traffic and has too many hings labelled "Sherlock Holmes" that would need to be disguised.

This is me at 187 North Gower Street. It's literally around the corner from the train station so super easy to find. Surprisingly easy to find. And at some point in March, Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman will be back there (well, sometimes there, but the show's filmed mostly in Cardiff, Wales) filming the very, very long awaited third season. And I was there. *geeks out!* We also went to wander the actual Baker Street, but, alas, there wasn't much there worth photographing.

In the BBC series DOCTOR WHO, the show's titular character, the Doctor, travels all of space and time in his TARDIS, a space ship of sorts that takes the form of a 1960s police box. Why you ask? Well, to quote the Doctor,
It's camouflage. It's disguised as a police telephone box from 1963. Every time the TARDIS materializes in a new location, within the first nanosecond of landing, it analyzes its surroundings, calculates a 12-dimensional data map of everything within a 1000-mile radius, and determines which outer shell would blend in best with the environment. ...And then it disguises itself as a police telephone box from 1963.
Like the Batmobile, the Serenity, the Enterprise, the Metallicar, or the General Lee, the TARDIS is an iconic vehicle, a stable of both the show and the Doctor, and practically a character in its own right.

This is me and the TARDIS. It's outside Earl's Court tube station. It's a little splatter and has a plaque where it's instructions are meant to be...but, dudes, it's the TARDIS. I'm willing to forgive a few minor details being off.

In the Harry Potter books and films, young witches and wizards catch the Hogwarts Express train from King's Cross Station at Platform 9¾. Basically, the run though a pillar between platforms 9 and 10 and are magically transported through to where the train to Hogwarts waits. Given the popularity of these books, it's small wonder that the real-life King's Cross actually has a Platform 9¾. According to Wikipedia,
When the first film was released, a large floor panel was placed on the ground outside platforms 9 and 10 indicating the Hogwarts Express. It was later removed. Within King's Cross, a cast-iron "Platform 9¾" sign was erected on the wall of the suburban station building containing the real platforms 9 and 10. Part of a luggage trolley was installed below the sign: the near end was visible, but the rest of the trolley has disappeared into the wall. It is common to see Harry Potter fans stop to photograph the trolley or try to push the trolley through the wall to the hidden platform. Due to problems with crowd numbers and renovation work within the station, the half trolley was moved to an exterior wall on Euston Road, and in 2012 to the western departures concourse.
So, of course, I went to King's Cross.

They actually have two attendants manning it - one for crowd control, one to take photographs - and a selection of scarves, one for each of the houses, for visitors to try on for their photo op. I went with Gryffindor, despite the fact that Ravenclaw's colours would've matched my outfit better.

Afterwards, we returned to Christa's place where we had pizza (of the take-out variety) and then headed out again to catch Warm Bodies at a movie theatre over in West Croyden.

Next day we checked out Tower Bridge and the Tower of London (where we each bought a year's membership to the palaces) but it so cold and rainy that we only did the highlights of the Tower before calling it a day. 

GPS is void again this week - half term break is coming up on the eighteenth - so fingers crossed there'll be work for me! Until next time, peeps!

Saturday, February 2, 2013

What the heck just happened?! O_o

So, um, weird day today. Fun, definitely fun, but weird.

I was out with Christa today having a girls' day out basically. We started with lunch at that Asian buffet I mentioned awhile back - Aroma - and then did some shopping (Christa need to hunt down a notebook) before catching Les Misérables. It was a pretty great movie - Anne Hathaway and Hugh Jackman deserve Oscars for their performances and my only complaints were that EVERYTHING was sung with only one or two exceptions and, oh yeah, did we REALLY need to hear the body crack as it fell from the bridge and into the Seine? No, I don't think so.

It was just around 6:30PM when the movie let out and, since I needed new black dress pants given that the ones I brought along are too big now, we opted to head back into the mall to try our luck. It wasn't easy; London fashion is big on skinny cuts (which, ew, no thanks, aren't my thing) so it's like going for water in the desert to dig up some boot cut. We found them. Finally. At H&M. And I also got a pretty nice black blazer too. Came to £45 altogether. Not a bad score.

And this is the weird part, which you should know has a witness should it be so required. I went to the cash and said hi to the cashier just like I always do. The cashier was a guy, about my age, none too shabby in the looks department. Small talk while he rang up my purchases and I paid went like this:
Me: Hi, how are you?
Him: Pretty good, how about you?
Me: Peachy keen. So your weekend's going alright?
Him: Can't complain. Much. Yours? What have you been doing?
Me: Oh, well, you know, the usual: lunch, movie, shopping. Having a girls' day out pretty much.
Him: Are you two sisters?
Me: Nope, friends.
Him: Ah, well, what's next on your plan then?
Me: I think this will be about it.
Him: Doesn't sound like you had too bad a day. Next time you should bring me along.
Me: Give me your number and I'll see what I can do.
...and then he gave me his number and we exchanged names. Turns out his is Damian. I have no idea how that happened. My hair was in PIGTAILS for crying out loud. But it did. It happened. There was a witness. I nearly fainted. I think I may be in shock.

After that, we checked out a bookstore (I finally spent the gift card my roommate got me for Christmas on The Princess Bride and Emma) and then grabbed a small supper at Burger King. We made a pit stop at Sainbury's on our way back to the Tube station - I needed to stock up on some groceries - and that was it. I was back at the house around 11PM.

What the heck do I do with the freaking phone number?! Do I call? Do I text? What's the etiquette on timing this sort of thing? Do I go for casual convo? Ask him out for coffee? Pretend this never happened and move on? Can we go back to the days where people just mingled incessantly each and every night at one ball or another until something clicked? GAH!