Our time across the pond

Currently I am missing Birmingham, UK something fierce.  In the fall of 2009 my husband and I spent four months in the city.  I was on academic exchange for my graduate program, and during our time overseas I attended classes, travelled the country, taught English at a school for young Afghani asylum seekers, spent a week in Switzerland – in short, I had the most amazing and profound adventure of my life.

As we crawl closer to September – the month we departed for the UK – I cannot help but reflect on our time spent in Brum.

Here is a brief snapshot of the start to what ended up being a truly brilliant, beautiful, and life-changing time:

Day three/four in Jolly Ol’ England.  Baaaaaahhhh.

Yesterday we moved into our new place.  The night previous Marc had seriously destroyed his stomach (the tragic mistake?  Purchasing a can of Carlsberg lager on our way home from dinner as an accompaniment for six individually wrapped cake pastries that were amazing, yet deliriously rich and quite heavy on the tummy) and spent most of the night in agony, pacing around the hotel room.  This, coupled by the fact that we had spent a good portion of the day walking around the city left us completely knackered (in the parlance of our times, or at least country) and we managed to not only sleep in past breakfast, but past check-out.

Hotel room!
Hotel room!

Stress was had. 

And we had ALL of it.

Also I’m not sure I would do very well as a regular student at the University of Birmingham.  The campus seems to be run in a “laissez-faire” kind of way, which does not sit well with neurotics and obsessive compulsives (aka-me.)

I met today with my tutor, who was lovely and personable and we discussed my course sign up, but mostly we chatted about the campus and how easy it is to sit in on other professors’ courses as long as you contact them first. 

There is a PoliSci introduction this Friday from 11-12 that will cover everything course-related and although I didn’t want to make her go through everything that I would be hearing in two days’ time, it was all I could do not to jump up from my seat and yell out “WHY THE CAN’T WE DO ANYTHING BY A STRICT SCHEDULE I AM NOT GOOD WITH BLURRY LINES.”

She was so calm as she sat there telling me that as long as I had signed up for my courses by the second week of term (bloody October 10th or there around) I would be okay.

My guts were roiling just thinking about this.

The campus is phenomenal, with lovely red brick buildings that stand in sharp contrast to the velvety green of the grass that spreads around the campus like a deranged serpent in pursuit of higher learning (or maybe just to munch on the ankle of an undergrad or two.) 

Campus clock!

I am excited to explore the European Research Institute and attend the guest lecture series available to all students. 

I am excited to attend classes where I will actually be interested in the material in hopes to rediscover why I actually fell in love with academia in the first place. 

I am excited to ride my bike along Norfolk Road wearing my chunky boots and pink tuque, daydreaming about the city’s Christmas market while trying not to get killed each time I forget which way the cars are coming.

Birmingham Adventures 040
Christmas market!

I cannot believe that Marc and I will be here for but four months. The city is powered by a maddeningly seductive electricity that I have yet to discover anywhere in Vancouver.  This spark runs through the multicultural signposts standing at each street corner, and in the form of head scarfs and turbans and skin colours that range from the palest pales to the deepest blacks.  It is present in the bustling how-to-do of New Street and the downtown core, in the cheap but flavourful takeaways that take up space on most street corners (and often in between), and the men selling fresh dairy products down at the open air market, bellowing over and over about their jumbo sized eggs, sold either in a half or one dozen cartons.

This country is also bloody fantastic due to the amount of candy available EVERYWHERE.  As I sit typing this I am eating a package of “Quarter Pounders” drinking a class of Diet Cherry Coke. 

I feel a bit of existential angst every time I set foot in a grocery mart: there is so much to choose from I find myself asking “what’s the point?  I’ll never be able to try all of these products!”

Further, I used to think that I drank quite a lot of tea and only now realize how silly I was in my naivety.  M and I drink somewhere between eight to ten cups of tea a day, more on days that we spend time in the company of friends.  It will be running through our veins in no time and I’ll find myself transformed into Kevin McDonald’s Tetley addict, imagining that Dave Foley dressed as a giant tea bag is chasing me around my flat shouting “COME ON…DUNK ME!  DUNK ME!”

Birmingham Adventures 114
Rugby game tea!

I may need help.

Or at the very least, another cuppa.


We’ve got it down to a tea

Today, as my mother would also say, is a day for the ducks.

This awful perma-drizzle that we’ve going on is pretty much the equivalent of operating within the water arc of the world’s finest (but also largest) sprinkler.

Or, to put it in much simpler terms: it’s like living inside a very, very, low hanging cloud. (Which isn’t that too far off from the truth – the sky is so low, I feel as though I could touch it, if only my name was Ms. Stretch.)

Also, it’s DANG cold.


For someone like me, who has terrifically bad circulation, this is a recipe for disaster.

For one, my hands are always freezing.

This, of course, means that every time I introduce myself to someone and shake their hand, I get the obligatory “your hands are so cold!” to which I have to reply “well…you know what they say – cold hands, warm heart!”(After saying this for some reason I always feel like dancing a short jig, or slapping them on the back, or something equally as strange) and then they think I’m basically a nine hundred year old weirdo.)

Full disclosure: that observation is only half-correct.

Seriously though, whilst at work (when I’m not typing away like a typing thing), I have to alternate warming my hands between my legs (when I have them crossed,) sitting at my desk, lest I lose feeling in them for what can range from a couple of minutes, to pretty much the rest of my day.

There were times in my undergrad when I would be writing an in-class essay and I would lose all feeling in a two, or three of my pen-holding fingers. They would grow strangely stiff, before turning a (terribly off-putting) bone white (with just the faintest tint of blue),  and I would be stuck rubbing them for what seemed like hours, post-exam, in order to get them back to a “normal” range of motion and, you know, hue.

Unfortunately, I’m pretty sure one of my office mates (a rather shy and awkward gentlemen) thinks that I am completely barmy, because every time he walks by my office I have my hands mashed betwixt my legs.

I am sure that his impression of the situation is this: me (el grade pervo) mashing my hands (enthusiastically) in my general crotchular area ALL THE FRIGGEN TIME.

(I am well aware that “crotchular” isn’t a word, but I feel as though it is the best way to sum up what it is I am trying to describe.)

No joke, sometimes when I see him casting (covert) glimpses into my office (although this of course could just be a symptom on my growing insanity, and or paranoia) I just want to yell out “I’M NOT A PERVERT! MY HANDS ARE JUST REALLY COLD!”

Even though these are probably display cookies, I still want to eat them all.

In my head, the “I am not a pervert” part would always be done in the voice of Richard Nixon.

(Okay, now I know for sure that I am completely deranged.)

Anywho, today my delightful and hilarious colleague J and I went and had tea and macarons at the lovely little French bakery Soirette, just down the street from us in Coal Harbour.

It was such a brilliant way to spend our lunch hour, on an otherwise dreary and bleak Friday afternoon.

We both decided to order “Pink Champagne” tea (seriously out-of-this-world amazing – it was a black tea with strong raspberry undertones, that somehow came out yellow when poured!) before selecting three cookies to taste.

J chose passion fruit, fererro rocher, and salted caramel, whilst I picked (also) fererro rocher, lemon, raspberry.

For real, I could eat these tasty treats until they started growing out of my ears.


In short: they were simply divine! Crunchy, but smooth – silky and flavourful, but not overpowering, nor were they too sweet.

My favourite was hands down the raspberry flavour, and J gave the salted caramel her top marks.

Come on. Dunk me. DUNK ME!

Afterwards, we strolled up the street, talking the long way back to our building. When you are filled to the brim with sweets and tea, facing the rain-soaked murk is such an easier task!

(Although, living in Lotus Land, you have to be extra careful not to have your umbrella crash into the many others parading down the sidewalk. We had a few close calls.)

Also, am I the only one of the mind that if there is even the minutest possibility that an individual could use their parapluie as a substitute for their tent the next time they go camping, it might be just a tad too large for everyday use?

This is the kind of flower power Mario and Luigi fight AGAINST.

Come on people, we’re (possibly) in a recession here. Learn the art of downsizing!

Speaking of outrageous excess, a couple of week ago I was walking the south Granville corridor (I could probably just stop there, couldn’t I?) when I espied the current window dressing at the store Anthropologie.

I don’t know if 1.) I am becoming more and more disconnected from what is actually “fashionable”, 2.) I am turning into a cranky old codger, or 3.) the fashion industry is trolling us all, (perhaps the answer is a mixture of all three) but the clothing on display was (to me and to put it mildly) MAJORLY OBJECTIONABLE.

Skin tight, floral-print skinny pants and some kind of fishing net inspired, mesh top?

Good grief.

Do not want.

But of course I went inside (with the full intention of trying the outfit on to further illustrate my point), however my upchuck reflex was fully engaged when I saw not only that the pants were priced at $240.00 (!!!) but that they also had wide-legged floral nightmares for sale (priced at a similar amount).

No. Just no.

Good thing my fainting couch was nearby, because the intake of that information alone damn near well killed me.

Still no.

(Okay, I won’t lie, I did try on a couple of cute dresses, and some non-violent seizure inducing priced pants, but none of these articles of clothing took my breath away, so they remained at the store for another day.)

P.S. I am still thinking about that Zara dress from Monday. I may just have to return for another try…

In terms of my blue mood from this past Wednesday, I have not been one hundred percent successful in righting myself to my normal level of joie de vivre – but do not despair, my lovely cyber pals –  I am getting there.

Slowly but surely – one macaron, one potential party dress, one fashion diatribe at a time –

I am getting there.