Tag Archives: UK

Christmas in London

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London at Christmas is, by far, the most magical place on the planet. Since visiting I have developed a deep and unwavering love of how the English flawlessly pull off this widespread holiday. I’m nearly convinced there is no actual North Pole, but instead Santa holds up in a little shop on a side street of London. Between the lights along Regent Street, The Eye, the Museums lit up at night and every single square inch of Harrods there is really no comparison to anything I’ve ever seen before; Or smelled for that matter. On Westminster Bridge there is always someone selling roast chestnuts and the moment I laid nostrils on them I would have sworn I’d never smelled anything so scrumptious.

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In North America, Christmas seems to be ALL about the commercialism, the shopping, the spending, the economy boosting power of women with credit cards and men with no time so will essentially buy anything. We just survived Black Friday and here in Canada, and although it’s not the crowd control nightmare that it is in America, I still don’t like going within a mile of any major shopping centre. I won’t dwell on the details of this strange and unnecessary tradition because frankly, it’s stressing me out. Bottom line is the ‘Holidays’  here are not so much about giving people time off to spend with their family and loved ones. They’re about long hours, out-doing both yourself and others around you, and stress in general.

While in London and its’ surrounding boroughs during the weeks leading up to Christmas, I felt a certain magical charm that came from somewhere in this city. Whether it was the meat pies in shop windows, Christmas puddings on display, a light and magical snowfall, subtle twinkling lights on everything or just the general cheeriness of everyone about, it was so lovely I swear my heart grew three sizes and I genuinely felt the true meaning of Christmas.

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So now, every year I scramble around, desperately trying to find that feeling again. I walk the streets at night, I peer into all the shop windows, I brew all the mulled wine, cider and hot chocolate I can get my hands on, but something about it all is missing. There is a London factor that’s been absent from my Christmas’s for the past few years, and no matter how hard I try to infuse it into this culture, I am simply unable to recreate it.

 

It may just be magic after all.

– Hailey Jane


And I’m Back!

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After a fortnight in old Blighty, I successfully made it back to Canada and have been running around like a directionally challenged chicken with its’ head cut off, ever since.

Crossing half the country twice and a bit can really take it out of you.

A Quick list of things I learned while on Holiday:

-I am allergic to relaxing for more than three seconds when in a different country.

-If I’m going to misplace something, it’s going to be REALLY important and too expensive to replace. (I.e. my Railcard)

-After years of mocking and scoffing, I now secretly like the Twilight films and One Direction.

-I can eat broccoli without vomiting!

-Nutella is AMAZING!

-Famous people just walk around the streets like they live there or something, instead of that magical place in the sky that I believe all TV creatures go to when they call it a day.

-Suitcases can fall out of a bus at top speed on the highway and survive with ‘but a scratch’.

-British plumbing is my arch nemesis.

-I don’t know how we survive at home without pick and mix, and Jammie Dodgers.

-You can buy someone’s old glass eyeballs in Lewes if you want to.

-Airplanes now interior decorate in the fashion of nightclubs.

-Heels and cobblestones don’t mix well

-I’m still super good at sneaking around places I’m not supposed to be.

-I wish I went to school at Oxford….Sorry Trent, we can still be friends though.

-I look a bit too comfortable in a peasant costume, which has weakened my belief in my ultimate destiny of world domination.

-You can be 11 kilometres up in the air and still wave at someone out the window.

-Dogs can go to pubs? What madness is this?

-Canadian bookstores have A LOT to learn about being awesome…

-Vegemite tastes like Marmite, but worse 😛

 

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-Miss Hailey Jane


Zen and the Art of Packing

I’ve got a week to get my shit together, think I can do it?

A common female problem...

A common female problem…

It’s the beginning of the EPIC LIST phase of travel preparation. Ideally I would have all of this on paper weeks ago, but where’s the stress in that? So here I am, 8 days to departure, ‘listing’ like it’s going out of style!

It’s like the act of making the list is useful and counts as getting something done. I also think that is procrastinator logic at its best.

So to give you an idea where my head has been lately…apparently reading Harry Potter and shopping for boots is taking precedence over calling my credit card company and locking down the travel insurance situation. If I don’t get on that soon I’m told a policy will be taken out ON me, and the benefits will be reaped when I kill myself in a horrifying Cream Tea accident or at the hands of a disgruntled Beefeater who didn’t appreciate my insights on relocating for enough time for me to get to wear that neat crowny thing for a little while. C’est le vie.

That being said I have done the basics. I bought pounds already, which was depressing and I hope I remember that while I spend them frivolously; and I’ve got the wardrobe covered. Not the wooden boxy thing, although one of those that magically transported me over the ocean would be more than handy. Power converter has also been obtained, ink for printer to print train and bus tickets has also been taken care of, and I dusted off my ‘out of country’ mobile phone. I swear that Nokia would survive the apocalypse.

I’m downsizing this year and only taking the basics, so instead of half of a library, only one or two books is going to have to do. No more than the BARE ESSENTIAL clothing is making it into that suitcase, no matter how much I think I’ll need those suede high heels, that second pair of plaid pants, the third..maybe fourth black turtleneck (What can I say? it’s my nature) or the black dress that I will almost certainly not even wear. If I have to hurl that case onto a moving train, I swear it’s going to make it this time. And ideally won’t get stuck as often in the paddles at the stations. That was a bit embarrassing.

As much as people despise packing for these sorts of things, I think it’s kinda fun, albeit mean to all of the items that end up as “the weakest link” and get a very over-dramatic boot, because that’s clearly what my life is like.

I just need to purchase enough maple syrup/maple candy to both gag and drown a beaver, then I’ll be basically all set to go!….basically.

Wish me luck, and let’s hope my inner organization demon shows its’ ugly head and possesses me long enough to get me off in one piece!

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Miss Hailey Jane


Oxford or Cambridge?

Salutations!

The days are creeping by at their usual rate, and with the passing of each one I’m getting that much closer to my departure date.  I’m so freakin’ excited I can’t even handle it.  That being said, I thought I should start laying out the broad plan of my two week stay, and found some space in the middle that would be perfect for a little adventure of my own.

I’ve always wanted to visit Oxford and Cambridge. Everything about what they were in their glory days just makes me beam with satisfaction. Yes I’m all too aware of the sexist and classist nature of their origins, but to think of the sheer number of people I admire that have come out of there just boggles my brain.  Not to mention the leg meltingly beautiful campuses…and I haven’t even really seen them yet.

A bit of background for you too, the University in Canada that I attended, Trent University, is based on the Oxford and Cambridge College system. This means that in your first year you will live in a building that is called a college, and will always be associated with that college through out your years at the University.  Your academic advisor’s are all in that building (if you could find them), your food usually came from there, there were inter-college rivalries, tournaments and  of course some classes were held within the building as well.

Champlain College at Trent University

Champlain College at Trent University on a snowy day.

The most important thing about the college system though, was how you made your friends that first year.  Ninety percent of the people I knew from school had made friend circles strictly within their college. Most other Universities seem to facilitate friendships within one’s program, who you take classes with and so on, but at Trent we lived and shared most of our experiences outside of class, with the people who shared our College. Mine was called Lady Eaton.

The similarities to the Oxford and Cambridge template did not stop there, we even hosted a huge rowing tournament on the Otonabee River called Head of the Trent which was a major event each year. Teams from across Ontario came and competed for the prestigious title, and all year round we would see rowers up at the crack of dawn practising for it.

My point in all this being the Oxford and Cambridge system of schooling is subconsciously ingrained in me and I had always secretly dreamed of going there some day. It’s too late for me to attend classes (unless I sneak into one…which would be an AWESOME IDEA), but gosh darn it, I’m gonna visit! The problem is I think I only have time to tackle one of them and am having a hard time choosing.

Cambridge is the one that stands out at first, being the home of such greats as David Attenborough, Stephen Hawking, Douglas Adams, Nabokov, Isaac Newton, Laurie & Fry, Darwin,  Cleese & Idle just to name a few off the top of my head. After looking at the list…It’s just ridiculous.

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Cambridge

Oxford though, holds the names of Rowan Atkinson and Richard Curtis, Oscar Wilde, Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Terry Jones and Michael Palin, Hugh Grant, Neil MacGregor…again the list just goes on and on.  How on earth am I going to choose between the two?

Oxford

Oxford

It will likely boil down to which location fits better along my travel plans, and that’s looking like Oxford on the way-ish from London to Coventry, but I would love to make the time to see them both. And dont worry, I”ll be sure to tell you all about it when I get back!

I’m open to opinions and if anyone has a story or recommendation, please, I’d love to hear it!

Wish me luck!

Regards,

Miss Hailey Jane


My First London

After experiencing the tilt-a-whorl of emotions that was A Considerably More Pleasant Moment in Time, smelling the smells and feeling the feels, and then drinking one of the most necessary coffee’s of my life, I and my companion hopped on a train from Gatwick and headed straight for the heart of London. Being my first time, naturally I sucked up every little new feeling I could, including being wobbled around on a train and track that may or may not have been built before there were strict safety guidelines. It was overcast when we arrived, and as I stepped out of the train station onto the London streets I was engrossed with how different every little thing was, yet fundamentally the same.

The people all had the same basic destinations, the office, work, calling on family or friends, buying groceries and other necessities. It was just they all did it in a rather different way, in much smaller cars, on much bigger buses and on windy-er more complicated streets.  The buildings were significantly shorter but were squished together and arranged with more talent, and everything seemed so much older. There were shiny buildings, but they were not the dominant feature of this iconic city. I was thankful for this.  We walked along the South bank of the Thames, past London Bridge, the new one, and then on towards Tower Bridge, the massive and beautifully designed crossing that defines the beginning of east London. The first thing I thought as I looked at it, was ‘Who the hell decided to paint it that awful blue?’.  Cool bridge, terrible colour, it’s a shame really. And just so you know, I totally felt like Bridget Jones as I  crossed it.

Tower Bridge in London

About crossing it…I had been carrying my luggage along behind me thus far, heading toward Fenchurch Station to continue the rest of our journey to Southend on Sea, and it was at this point when I encountered the most terrifying set of stairs I had ever seen in my life, that led up towards the bridge. OK, maybe they’re not THAT bad, but let’s keep in mind I am thoroughly exhausted. After an 8 hour night flight without sleep, five hour time difference, customs, endless queues, a train ride and then walking across London lugging approximately 20 kilos plus a carry-on full of books, plus a purse, I wasn’t sure I was going to make it. After slight motivation, I came around, and thought ‘I’m in London, dammit, I should be able to fly up these stairs!’. Well I didn’t quite fly, but after lots of very unfeminine grunts lots of laughter and a lot of “Sorry, pardon me”s I made it to the top, and crossed the Thames for the first time.

On the other side there was another terrifying set of stairs, very much exactly similar to the set I had just conquered. Of course there was, why wouldn’t there be. All of my pride and self praise for making it up the other stairs vanished instantly.  I eventually conjured some extra gumption after huffing and puffing a bit, and made the decent, only slipping and nearly falling to my death once….maybe twice. I swore to myself to pack lighter next time, but we all know that was a big lie.

We stopped for a well deserved break in front of the Tower of London. We had a quick drink and cigarette and talked a bit more in depth about what the two of us had been up to over the past four years. It felt like we hadn’t been apart that long, but the amount of things we needed to tell each other was a good indication that there was a lot of time between us. It would take nearly the entire two weeks to relay all the necessary information. It would have taken less if several existential life altering crisis’ hadn’t occurred in the meantime. But more on those later.

The November air was crisp and cool, and we loaded up again and trudged along in front of the Tower, snapped a few photos and then wandered around to the train station. On the train, after very embarrassingly fumbling with my change for fare, because I had never seen any of it before, there were more “I can’t believe you’re really here”s and “I can’t believe I’m really here either”s. Even though I was completely exhausted I was perfectly happy, and knew I was going to really like it here.

The Tower

As we arrived at Chalkwell station, the cabby was just about the most upfront and personal stranger I’d ever met in my life. I was a little nervous about how nice he was being, and when I say nice, I don’t mean polite and courteous like the average Canadian, I mean complimentary and in your face about it. The first thing he did was grab my bags and say “A beautiful girl like you shouldn’t have to carry your own bags” loaded them, and then when we got in (as I quickly got over the steering wheel being on the wrong side) he asked where we “lovely ladies” would like to go. When he found out I was visiting from Canada, he was full of praise for us Canadians, and continued being just as friendly all the way to the house. He unloaded my bags for me and walked them to the door. I could really get used to this!  My friend told me that was perfectly normal behaviour and that I really should get used to it, and also learn to take a bloody compliment without turning beet red.

Once inside I explored the tiny kitchen, funny light switches (that to this day make me happy), the funny faced outlets and the strange toilets. Everything was completely recognizable, just a little different. It was like I was in some strange parallel Universe, but I liked it. I then half unpacked my suitcase and had the most fantastic shower pretty much ever. It was absolutely glorious to be able to wash the ‘airplane’ and ‘streets of London’ grime off of me, I swear that stuff is like a film on your skin. After I was done and had dressed in a clean set of clothes, we sat down and had a delicious cup of coffee, and for the first time in about 24 hours, I relaxed, and it felt like home.

-Miss Hailey Jane


The Life Hangover: England at its finest.

An excerpt from what was going to be the greatest thing ever written.

August 10, 2011.

           I have the sudden and impulsive urge to organize everything in my life again. I’ve moved from my day planner to here, this fresh and new notebook that will be the object of my documentation of this particular trip to England.

People are funny….people are suspicious.

            This is my third adventure across the ocean in less than a year and to most people this sounds rash and impulsive. “Another meaningless expense” they say with their eyes, “Why don’t you try somewhere else this time?” radiates from their domesticated opinions. But I’m afraid I can’t do that, not yet, because I have been plagued by the life threatening disease of mindless love.

I am in love just like that couple over there under the rosebushes across the path. Pure and starry eyed love. I am in love with the sights, the sounds and the smells. Even the grime of London has filled my heart with pure joy from time to time.  Cold cloudy days, crisp breezes blowing my ratty hair across my face and hot cups of coffee with friends who never judge, yes, this place is a vivid depiction of all things truly beautiful.

“Good for you” she says

“Good for you!!” they all seem to say as I bounce happily through the streets. But I know like any blissful night of binge happiness I’ll wake up with a headache and an extreme feeling of regret, wondering where I left my metaphorical underwear.   Yes, the life hangover. Anyone who’s ever been truly happy for a time has had one. And right now I’m looking into the near future, predicting its looming presence, but I really shouldn’t worry now, no, not now. Right now I’m far too happy.

What I want to know is why this place stirs up my insides so much. What about the subtle differences between here and the wide open spaces of home has got me so infatuated and so utterly addicted to this place?

Here I am not strange, I am not odd, eccentric or crazy, I’m just me; A young girl with pretty green eyes and a funny accent.

Could it have been the freedom? The ease of basic transportation, an ability to get up and go anywhere, visit ancient buildings in beautiful bustling cities, see castle ruins smattered across the landscape, one in every field it seems. Seeing so much evidence of human history and the people who made it, etched onto blue plaques along the streets. The is history that oozes out of every building in this country, and it would dazzle even the most seasoned North American Scholar.

Even the smells have a way of tormenting my tempted heart. The second I got off the plane, after revelling in the ecstasy of viewing the patchwork landscape peek through the clouds, I could smell that unique, indescribable and euphoric scent that meant I was here. London smells of gravy, Brighton smells of the sea and the streets of Leigh smell like fresh coffee and chips. Each smell unique in both aroma and the heart string it plucks. These reasons all contribute in part to the long distance relationship I have unavoidably established between the whole of myself and my dearest England.

I picked up a book at Waterstones this afternoon, and I think it just might be the thing to encourage positive change in my life, maybe even the world. Simply entitled “Shit happens, so get over it”. This should really have been my mantra for some time now, but better late than never I suppose. Now if only I can stick to it. As a rule I tend to wallow and fester in my negative thoughts so much it eats away at whatever shred of happiness I have left.  That’s what She tells me all the time, “Shit happens, get over it”.  It all made so much sense at the time. Her advice always does, but something in my brain has went off, a red flag, what if She was wrong, what if it all turns around on me, goes under, what if “Good for her” turns into “Slut” and “Ingrate” and “Homeless Gypsy”. These are my fears. If this trip so far has taught me anything, it is that regardless, I’m not going to be able to stop.  Tone down perhaps, but not stop. “Shit happens, so get over it”….Is this shit?

Trying to sort out one’s life isn’t as easy as some people make it out to be…

        It’s funny, at home going so for long, so many days all alone in my apartment. Wasting the days, one by one, sun up, sun down, rinse, repeat. The one thing that made my day worth living through was seeing him at the end of it for a measly two hours, or more so the hot frothy cup of coffee at Starbucks of all places, while poking at my laptop, talking to ‘England’. Ironically this habit has turned me into a coffee snob. But now all suddenly being surrounded by people here in England, new people, around all the time, I find that my conversational skills are in desperate need of an oil change. It’s been so long since I’ve had to really use them; it’s been so long since I have been in so many different social situations in such a small amount of time. There’s only so many people that will except remarks about the weather as legitimate conversation here. Rats, there goes my trump card. I’m more or less just used to comfortable minimal interaction, a sort of “give me coffee” hermitism, and the odd bit of basic customer service banter acquired from years working at the grain store. All of these seem more than useless in this setting. There is no reason at all to complain though, it’s a good thing! I keep telling myself “get out more”, well… this is definitely out!

There is a little bug in my ear that makes me fear this particular attempt at personal growth in the depths of my bones, but that’s no reason not to try.

       It’s remarkable how different places that are so the same can actually be. And a Life Hangover is something that I’m not really looking forward to. But making memories is what I think it’s all about, and some of the best are the ones you review through a piercing headache and two Tylenol, while consulting the porcelain God.  Wish me luck world!  And I really shouldn’t worry, it can’t be anything a little coffee can’t fix.

-Miss Hailey Jane