Saturday, 17 January 2009

Goodbye, Rumpole

Sad news my friends. John Mortimer, author of the Rumpole of the Baily series of books, has died. There is an article in the NY Times:

I will miss Rumpole's expressions of love for the Magna Carta and the claret at Pommeroy's Wine Bar, and his adversion to returning home to "She Who Must Be Obeyed."

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Armistice Day

Today marks the 90th anniversary of the end of WWI - the 'Great War', the 'War To End All Wars'. The armistice was signed at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, and we observed a 2 minute silence this morning to honor the fallen soldiers from this war and those that have followed.

Many events took place this past Sunday (Remembrance Sunday), including parades and special church services. Henry Patch, who lives in Somerset and is 110 years old, was at a parade locally on Sunday. The oldest living veteran is Henry Allingham, who is 112! (FYI, this year also marks the 90th anniversary of the Royal Air Force.) Here's an article about Allingham, who is a founding member of the RAF:

In Britain, Armistice Day is proceeded by a 'poppy appeal.' I confess, I was confused by people wearing paper poppies (that look like a first-grader made them in art class) on their lapels. But the matter was quickly cleared up and I learned that the poppies serve as a reminder of the fallen soldiers. Apparently, when people returned to the battle fields where so many men died, they were covered in poppy flowers. This red flower has ever since been associated with the blood shed and the lives lost in WWI. So, each year the veteran association makes these paper poppies for the public to buy and wear as part of their remembrance, and the monies raised go towards care for veterans. I bought one for a pound, and wore it on Saturday. Above is a picture of a large poppy on the front of a building in the center of Bristol. And I don't know if you can tell, but I'm wearing a poppy in the picture below- standing in front of a pub with a great name! :)

Thursday, 6 November 2008

Remember, Remember, the 5th of November

So Wednesday was Guy Fawkes Night, also known as Bonfire Night. This is a holiday in England celebrated with fireworks, bonfires, and the burning of Guy Fawkes effigies. I was at a welcome dinner with people from Christ Church on Wednesday night, at the home of Simon and Margaret. Their home overlooks the Clifton Suspension Bridge (more on that later) and we could see people setting off fireworks on the grass across the street. So, who was Guy Fawkes?? Here's some information from the website

In 1605, thirteen young men planned to blow up
the Houses of Parliament. Among them was
Guy Fawkes, Britain's most notorious traitor.

After Queen Elizabeth I died in 1603, English Catholics who had been persecuted under her rule had hoped that her successor, James I, would be more tolerant of their religion. James I had, after all, had a Catholic mother. Unfortunately, James did not turn out to be more tolerant than Elizabeth and a number of young men, 13 to be exact, decided that violent action was the answer.

A small group took shape, under the leadership of Robert Catesby. Catesby felt that violent action was warranted. Indeed, the thing to do was to blow up the Houses of Parliament. In doing so, they would kill the King, maybe even the Prince of Wales, and the Members of Parliament who were making life difficult for the Catholics. Today these conspirators would be known as extremists, or terrorists.

To carry out their plan, the conspirators got hold of 36 barrels of gunpowder - and stored them in a cellar, just under the House of Lords.

But as the group worked on the plot, it became clear that innocent people would be hurt or killed in the attack, including some people who even fought for more rights for Catholics. Some of the plotters started having second thoughts. One of the group members even sent an anonymous letter warning his friend, Lord Monteagle, to stay away from the Parliament on November 5th. Was the letter real?

The warning letter reached the King, and the King's forces made plans to stop the conspirators.

Guy Fawkes, who was in the cellar of the parliament with the 36 barrels of gunpowder when the authorities stormed it in the early hours of November 5th, was caught, tortured and executed.

It's unclear if the conspirators would ever have been able to pull off their plan to blow up the Parliament even if they had not been betrayed. Some have suggested that the gunpowder itself was so old as to be useless. Since Guy Fawkes and the other conspirators got caught before trying to ignite the powder, we'll never know for certain.

Even for the period which was notoriously unstable, the Gunpowder Plot struck a very profound chord for the people of England. In fact, even today, the reigning monarch only enters the Parliament once a year, on what is called "the State Opening of Parliament". Prior to the Opening, and according to custom, the Yeomen of the Guard search the cellars of the Palace of Westminster. Nowadays, the Queen and Parliament still observe this tradition.

On the very night that the Gunpowder Plot was foiled, on November 5th, 1605, bonfires were set alight to celebrate the safety of the King. Since then, November 5th has become known as Bonfire Night. The event is commemorated every year with fireworks and burning effigies of Guy Fawkes on a bonfire.

Some of the English have been known to wonder, in a tongue in cheek kind of way, whether they are celebrating Fawkes' execution or honoring his attempt to do away with the government.


Historic Election

I feel proud to be an American as the Presidential election has drawn to a close. It was a long and hard-fought campaign between two dignified candidates, both of whom I respect. New vistas were opened for women by the campaigns of Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin - two women differing in personalities, approaches and ideologies but similar in their conviction and drive. As a result, the word feminist - in the best sense - can be grasped and used by all women proudly. And the clear victory by Barrack Obama is special not only for it significance in this country's long battle with racism, but also for his inspiration of young and old, for providing disconnected and cynical people with hope. My sister mentioned to me that when she went to vote, there were 3 older gentlemen at the polling station voting for the first time in their lives. That is a beautiful thing. If you have not done so yet, watch both Obama's victory speech and McCain's gracious concession: We can be proud of both men and be grateful that they continue to serve in our government. I have read some of the world's response to this election, and it's exciting. I am also proud of the good voter turn-out (68% by one poll - which would be the highest since 1908!). Thank you to all who voted (I voted absentee), and may we all stay connected - and hopeful - as the euphoria of election night fades and the harsh reality of our current situation faces us. We have a voice, let's not forget that.

Friday, 31 October 2008

Flashback, pt.1: Moving into Bristol

Thought I'd go back in time and catch you up on our move into the Bristol apartment. Our container arrived the end of August and the goods were delivered Sept 2. Ian was working so my in-laws came and spent the day helping out (thanks Mum and Dad!). Things were off to a promising start when the lorry (truck) driver arrived on time with the container. However, they had put a 20' container on a 40' truck bed, which meant the driver couldn't navigate the narrow roads to actually deliver directly to our building. So, the unpacking crew had to shuttle our boxes from the container (parked down the street) to the building using their small van. It took three trips in all, and amounted to much more lifting and carrying for them. But they did a great job and I was pleased. They unpacked everything except a dozen or so boxes of books/kitchen goods/knick-knacks and fragile stuff - as there was no place to put those items until I had put away the rest of the stuff. I spent the rest of the week unpacking the remainder. Here are some pictures of the day (well, at least of all the boxes) - enjoy!

Oh, I almost forgot to mention that our unfurnished apartment was lacking not only in furniture (as expected), but also in appliances!! So we had to buy a fridge (being delivered above) and washing machine in the first week as well. We decided not to get a dryer, so all laundry gets line-dried. There is a funky clothesline apparatus in the bathroom that is getting much use now that it's too cold to hang the clothes outside. And while I'm thinking of it... washing clothes in the UK is a bit different. First, all the cycles on the washing machine are _very_ long. 70 min is typical! (There is a fast-wash option which is only 50 min). Second, there are a million wash cycle choices!! I have to look at the list of programs before each load I wash 'cause I haven't gotten the hang of it yet. But, the best feature is by far the delay timer. I can delay the start of a wash cycle for 2 h, 4 h or 9 h. This comes in very handy as I don't have time for the long wash cycles most weekdays, and I don't want to spend an entire Saturday just doing laundry. So I've found that I can load the machine at night (by 9 pm), delay it for 9 h, and the wash will be done by 7 am. Then it's just hang the clothes to dry and head out the door for school. Not bad, eh?

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Cold ! ! !

Well, it is officially winter here in England. Woke up yesterday to the first frost of the season and by the end of the day the temperature had dipped to below freezing. Spoke with Ian while I was waiting for a bus home and he said it had snowed (!) in St. Albans. (I didn't believe him, but he sent a picture from his iPhone to prove it.) So this morning I dutifully turned on my central heating. The apartment is a bit drafty, which we will try to sort out this coming weekend, but it's not too bad as I can shut the doors to all the rooms and sleep quite comfortably under my duvet. :)

Hope it's warm where you are!

Thursday, 16 October 2008

I finally have internet!!

Hi friends,

My apologies for not updating this blog in the last month, but sadly it has taken that long to get internet into our Bristol apartment. And I haven't wanted to use internet at the university for personal stuff too much. But I can now start posting all these fun things that have been happening to catch you up on life across the pond.

A couple quick things that you may or may not be aware of....

First, it was brought to my attention that not everyone reading this blog may be aware of why exactly I have moved to England. Ian and I moved here so that I could pursue a PhD in Chemistry at the University of Bristol with Varinder Aggarwal. The program is three years long and should be quite challenging. My initial project is applying the Aggarwal group's lithiated carbamate/ boronic ester homolgation methodology towards the total synthesis of the natural product kalkitoxin. Translation for the non-chemists: the group has developed a methodology, or way of making, new carbon-carbon bonds that I will use to make a particular molecule (named kalkitoxin). This will demonstrate how useful the method is and we will publish the results in a chemistry journal (if all goes well). For those of you who are keen to read all about it, here is a journal reference that explains the methodology: Angew. Chem. Int. Ed., 2007, 46, 7491. Another reason for studying in England rather than in the US is that Bristol is close to both Ian's parents (Weston-super-Mare) and his sister (Glouster). Ian's brother is just a short plane ride away in the Canary Islands. So we are looking forward to spending time with the Hallett clan over the next three years.

Second, Ian was working for the now-bancrupt Lehman Brothers firm in London. His division has been bought by the Japanese bank Numora. Ian received a contract with Numora, so we have some stability short-term with that. Obviously, things aren't settled in the financial industry, so we are trusting God for provision with this whole situation. Ian keeps sending me emails about job openings for snowboard instructors ... alas England is not known for its mountain ranges! (There is an indoor ski slope in Milton Keynes - we may just have to check it out for a laugh. I'll definitely post something if we do!)

More posts and pics soon!
Cheers! :)