Europe Photoblogging, Part 1: London Life
By Dwip September 8, 2014, 3:36 pm Comments (0) RSS Feed for this post

Before we kick off the great mass of awesome touristy stuff, I want to take a moment and talk about where I was and what I was doing from 3/27/04 to 6/13/04 while I was in London.

For the spring term of 2004, as part of my final year at Oregon State, I lived in England as part of the AHA study abroad program with a small group of other Oregon and Washington students. While technically affiliated with the University of London, we were in practice our own little group of Americans in our own little building.

That said, we lived with English host families in the greater London area, I believe all in the northwestern part. I lived in a place called Eastcote, about 45 minutes out of central London on the Metropolitan line of the London Underground, which I shall hereafter refer to as the Tube:

That street photo that heads this post is the one I lived on, though as a practical matter it’s entirely indistinguishable from every other street in the immediate area. In fact, the main distinguishing features of Eastcote were that three or four of us lived there, and for some reason or other the local pub, The Manor, became the hangout for our entire group of American students plus an entirely seperate group of US Marines and their Navy corpsman who just so happened to live in Eastcote as well. Pub nights were pretty fun in that clash of cultures sort of way.

I and my roommate Mike lived with the Long family, whose house you can see above. Great folks about my parents’ age, with two cats, a bunch of kids who were all grown, and a history of hosting AHA students to keep the house lively. Had a great time with them.

One of the distinguishing features of English houses is their fantastic gardens in the back. As you can see, my host family did quite a job with theirs, ably assisted by one of their cats, Twitch, who you can see in the background on one of his rare forays away from the windowsill.

This is the Eastcote Tube station, whose morning and evening Metropolitan line trains I rode to and from London proper every day, and whose Piccadilly line trains I rode much less often to various events.

The other end of my journey was King’s Cross station in central London. The part of it that serves the London Underground is, well, underground, but outside and down the street is the fabulous brick Victorian St. Pancras station, which was a nice sight on the morning walks to and from the AHA building.

The other major landmark on the daily walks to and fro was Holy Cross Church, another Victorian edifice that I initially mistook for something much older.

Past some gardens and apartments and things was the ultimate destination, this building, which housed the AHA offices and classrooms and a tiny little triangular room with a toilet contraption that looked like it was designed by steampunk gnomes and for all I know predated World War I.

No, seriously, that thing was crazy.

While there, I took courses on British theater (more on that later), Roman Britain (MUCH more on that later), and the ancient Near East (ditto). The latter two were taught by Dr. Steven Garfinkle, a Washington history professor who among other things was my roommate’s advisor, and whose two small kids immeasureably brightned our days.

In the event, the AHA building was our home in London, and when not out and about in the city, this is where I was half the day.

This is The Brunswick, one of those mid-century concrete monstrosities that blight the face of so much of England. For our purposes, it had a Safeway (a west coast US chain that was strange but somehow comforting to see in the UK), a fantastic noodle and rice place that had the virtue of being both delicious and cheap, and this little Turkish corner place that made fantastically unhealthy but fantastically good fish and chips.

It was also on the way to places I really wanted to go like the British Museum, so I spent time every day wishing for some eye bleach.

Right next to the AHA building is St. George’s Gardens, a surprisingly nice little cemetary and island of calm in the urban jungle that is London.

This is the main draw of the Gardens, the grave of Anna Gibson, granddaughter of a guy you may have heard of, Oliver Cromwell. The caption reads:


6th daughter of RICHARD CROMWELL
2nd wife of THOMAS GIBSON,
Born at Hursley Hants, 27 March 1659
Died in London 7 Dec. 1727

Not really what I expected to find in some random little park, but that’s London for you.

We saw a lot of plays while in London. Even for the people not in the theater class, we had weekly theater trips as group outings as a cultural thing.

From the top left:

* Tickets and pamphlet for The Reduced Shakespeare Company, an American comedy outfit primarily notable for The Complete Works of Shakespeare – Abridged. I saw that as well as The Bible: The Complete Word of God (Abridged) on my own dime at various points. They’re a riot.

* Tickets and pamphlet for Journey’s End, a play about the trenches of World War I. There are entire books to be written about the effects of that war on the British psyche, but I can certainly say it affected me – the stellar acting, set and costume design, and sound left me feeling that I actually was in the trenches with the men in the play, and there was a portion where they simulated an artillery barrage that has stayed with me as a moving experience.

Relevent Blog Post: The Guns of Love Disastrous

* Tickets and pamphlet for The History Boys, a play that later became a movie about British schoolboys. What we saw was a rehearsal the night before the premiere, before it became a huge thing and a movie and all. Liked it, though the National Theatre is another one of those post-war concrete monstrosities inflicted upon the British by necessity and well-meaning architects.

* Ticket for the movie Troy, which I actually saw in Brussels but included here for some reason. We will have more to say about Troy later.

* Ticket for the movie Kill Bill Volume 2, which Quentin Tarantino fans will know. It came out while we were in London, and for a time there were posters of the Bride in her wedding dress with a katana everywhere. We all went as a group on our own dime to see it, after a nice drunken party at someone’s place watching the first movie.

Relevent Blog Post: Killed Bill

* Ticket for The Skin of Our Teeth, a play which I frankly do not so much as recall ever seeing and so can tell you no amusing stories about. I think it was pretty good as most of the plays were, but damned if I can tell you now.

* Tickets for a backstage tour at the National Theatre as well as Cyrano de Bergerac. I quite enjoyed reading Cyrano – it’s a funny, witty sort of play. I was much less enthralled with the actual production, which was one of those modern art sorts of affairs with little costuming and set design which consisted almost entirely of scaffolding. One of the few things I saw in London I came away dissatisfied with.

* Tickets for the exhibition and for Romeo and Juliet at the Globe Theatre, a rather old-fashioned sort of place nobody’s ever heard of featuring plays by some random dude. This is one of those experiences everyone who goes to London ought to have – the play was familiar, and yet the experience was just a little bit different from any other I’ve ever had. Also, the theater itself is spectacular.

* Tickets for Love’s a Luxury, a comedy that I remember very little of other than it was supposed to be our exposure to “theater in the round” and that halfway through I got the worst earache of my life and was rather preoccupied with things other than the play. I spent that night and at least one other attempting to sleep sitting up on the couch because of the pressure, heavily doped up on Panadol.

Relevent Blog Post: The Wretched

And now for coming attractions. While we all did a fair amount of exploring on our own (indeed, the program was set up that way), we also took a number of trips as an AHA group. We’ll be talking about them all in some detail later.

For now, from top left:

* Pamphlet and flyer from Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford.

* Pamphlet from the Royal Pavillion, Brighton.

* Pamphlet from Chichester Cathedral.

* Map of the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford.

* Pamphlet from the Roman Baths, Bath.

Next post, I’ll talk about some of the more touristy things from London.

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