Monday, February 28, 2011

General Academic Irritation

Yeah... I'm back in the Complaint Department, but not about the essay this time. The essay was finished yesterday- I stayed in my pajamas until about 3:30 because I woke up, sat down at the computer, and worked on that essay. About halfway through that time, I checked the assignment description and realised that I wasn't explicitly doing what it asked and so I had to go back and restructure the entire thing. However, despite all the frustrated growls coming from my desk area, it is technically finished at 2,700-something words. I shall look over it one more time tomorrow to make sure it's actually readable; my eyes were beginning to cross by the end.

But yes... things besides essays. Or that essay, anyway, for part of today's problems involved a different one. But let's start at the beginning, because if Julie Andrews says that that's a good place to start, who am I to argue with her?

After a week of no classes, wandering about beautiful England (who knew it was possible to fall MORE in love with this country?), I kind of forgot what it was like to be in classes. I didn't want to re-learn, especially with RT. I really don't like RT. But because I am a goody two-shoes, I went to class, only to find out that my instructor had apparently sent out an e-mail about today's class procedure. I didn't get this e-mail because I don't get e-mails from professors- that was the first annoyance. The second was that my teacher didn't show up for class, asking us to get into groups and form a presentation. This had nothing to do with the reading we had to do over Reading Week, which had nothing to do with our class whatsoever. And since she announced that she wasn't going to be in class, most of my classmates didn't show up, since they know one another and can contact each other outside of class.
While we were waiting for the possibility of classmates, a fellow American student and I were talking to an English classmate and griping about how we wanted the essays back that we had turned in a few weeks ago. Our English classmate looked at us oddly and said, "They've already been given back." He told us that unlike every other essay I've seen turned in in the department, we don't get the hard copies back- our grades are posted online. He showed us how to get them, which was great, but why weren't we told about this? We were told tha QMUL was very aware and therefore attentive to their international students. I don't need to be coddled, but being told how to get my grades is kind of an important detail.

The other annoyance has nothing to do with QMUL, but my home school. We have to take this ridiculous Global Reflections course. It's worth two credits and is more work than most of the classes here. We have to read or watch these long, seemingly pointless things and then write responses to them, all of which are full of made-up things because there's little to actually respond to. The most frustrating part is that, rather than use one website to keep all of the assignments in order, they use three, none of which are the best sources they could be using. It's all very time-consuming and annoying, and I wish we were just allowed to enjoy our experience abroad and focus on our classes here.

Anyway, I'm done complaining. I made a vlog today, and you can watch that here!

Sunday, February 27, 2011

World Premieres!

This weekend was The Weekend- the weekend that two of my short plays premiered in the QMUL Theatre Company's New Writers' Festival!

It was definitely an experience. I had hoped to attend a rehearsal or two of each to see how things were going, but I didn't end up doing so, for various reasons, which means that I was surprised on Friday night and tonight!

First up was Funeral Circus (I'm sorry that I'm making you follow a link to see the videos- Blogger won't let me display videos. I promise it's just YouTube.) This is a piece inspired by a dinner I went to with my friend Kara, her mother, and her grandmother. It was a lot of fun and when I went to a day-long playwrighting workshop and we were given forty-five minutes to write a scene, that dinner popped into my head and I wrote this scene. It's hardly been edited at all since its first draft, and I was really happy with how it was received and how it was presented. The director added a ton of stuff, all of which I loved. In the original script, the waiter is only in the scene for about three seconds to give the women their desserts, but I thought it was pretty cool to have three waiters onstage the entire time making comments on the action onstage.
Tonight's piece was Funeral Sketch. I promise, I don't only write about funerals. I almost didn't get to see this one- though I had e-mailed them days ago, they forgot to put my name on the reserve list and so told me I would only get a seat if people didn't show up. I looked around crowded lobby and knew I wasn't going to get in- I wasn't even the first on the reserve list! I tried to think of a backup plan and finally decided to ask a girl from my RT class to film for me- I HAD to film it so I could get the reactions of the audience and edit the piece accordingly. Thankfully, fourteen people (which is kind of a lot) didn't show up, so they were filled by people like me, desperately waiting for a ticket.
This piece, though also comedy, is very different- no family dynamics here. It also took me months to write, which is why the audience reaction was a little disappointing... or lack therefore. I'm not sure whether they didn't like the piece or if they were just a quieter audience, as it was a different crowd of people than Friday night. Either way, I saw a lot of places where I needed to do some tweaking. The actors' delivery of lines were sometimes much different than I expected, and there were a few lines that were changed. I loved the projected pictures on the back wall, and even though it took me a few minutes to get that, though the actors are seated far away from each other, they're actually sitting together, I really liked that in the end. And I thought the actors were especially great during the eulogy part of the scene- they made me laugh and I've been living with this script for about a year.
Overall, it was a good experience. It's pretty awesome to have people laugh during a scene and know that you wrote it. And I'm not going to lie- I was extremely nervous before each piece, the same kind of nerves I get when I'm about to open a show. I was shaking and I couldn't sit still, wondering how things were going to go. It was also a very different theatrical experience than I've ever had before. It's the first time I've done something in theatre where not a single person links me with the piece. I was completely anonymous- yes, my name was on the poster and in the program (which thrilled me to bits), but no one here really know who I am. This is something I've never experienced; acting is a pretty public thing, so for better or worse, people know it's you up there and you get feedback of all sorts, Also, while I sat there all nervous... I sat there alone instead of being surrounded by my fellow, just-as-nervous actors. This is is why it was a bit weird to walk out of the theatre... and just leave. And while I'm going to sound like a horrible person, I wasn't a huge fan of the anonymity. I like getting credit for my work. Maybe I'm just immature, and since I do want to be a playwright, I suppose I'll have to get used to this. But it is something very different.

Anyway, I feel extremely honored to have been included in this festival- most of the material in it was truly great. Both of the other pieces tonight really blew me away with both their writing and their presentation. I'm glad to have been a part of it and that my work was seen by real, responsive audiences. There is at least one great thing about the fact that people didn't know who I was- when I overheard that someone liked what they saw, I knew they meant it :)

Saturday, February 26, 2011

*sigh* Frustration

I am working on an essay right now. Well, not right now. Right now, I am procrastinating on the essay by blogging about how much the essay is frustrating me. When I procrastinate, I write/edit anything but what I'm meant to be writing/editing.

Here is the problem: I signed up to write an essay about my favorite-in-the-world play and its film version (which I also love) for my Adaptations essay. Sounds perfect, right? What's better to write about than favorite material? Yes, yes, I thought this, too, naive blog readers.

I joyfully re-read the play. I gleefully watched the movie again and excitedly held the play in front of me while watching it and scribbled down TEN PAGES of notes on the similarities/differences, why certain things work/don't work within the theatre/film setting, etc. I was pretty proud of myself because, from a play that I knew backwards and forwards and upside down, I got to know even better.

Yeah. Yay. Until I found out that the essay wasn't supposed to be 4,000 words long. It is only 2,500. Usually great to find out about an essay, except that I have about ten times too much material for this piece, I don't know what to cut, and here's the worst part- I haven't even used any of my sources yet because I've got so much to say on the play myself that I haven't needed them. And I have less than 400 words left to write- AHHHH!

"But Rachel," I hear you say from your distant, non-play-obsessed Land of the Normal People. "Surely having too much information is not a problem at all. Just cut it down." You think you know all, don't you, blog reader? Yes, perhaps this might not be a problem for you, but again, I am not normal. I can b.s. my way through any essay-I'm rather wordy, if you haven't noticed- but I have a serious problem with cutting things down when I've got a lot to say. To me, it is all important (especially when it comes to my favorite plays.) This is why I am sad. I've got about eight pages of notes left uncovered in this essay and I really really want to talk about them.

*sigh* Well, there's only one thing for it. If I can't talk about it in my essay... I guess I'll just have to talk about it here.

Whoa, did I just lose all of my followers? :p I am kidding, I will not subject you to my insanity. I will just go cry quietly in the corner by myself now :/
P.S. Also, due to the awesomeness that is Jersey Boys, I cannot get Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons out of my head. I would like the awesomeness to quiet down for a bit right now...

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Megan's Visit Part Two

It's travel report day two! Here's what went down on days 3-5:

Day 3: The Queen, Wonders of the World, and Steaming Water

Megan and I got up super early to get ready to leave for our tour to Windsor Castle, Stonehenge, and Bath. We located Victoria Coach Station and found seats to wait for our bus. Though we were annoyed that the bus was a little late, it was only by fifteen minutes and our tour guide was worth waiting for- he was awesome. The bus wasn't packed, which was nice, and the people were much politer than the ones on the Wales tour, actually listening to the tour guides tidbits (or being quiet if they weren't.)

Windsor Castle was first, and the Queen was in! Unfortunately, she didn't come out to greet us :p The castle was really impressive, as was the church connected to it.

We didn't have a lot of time at Windsor- only two hours, and a chunk of that was taken up waiting to get through security. Megan and I wanted to see the castle and church, so we sort of did a speed-tour through both. I really enjoyed seeing it, but I wish we could have had more time.

We grabbed lunch and got back on the bus heading for Stonehenge. To be honest, though I know it's one of the seven wonders of the medieval world and all that, I wasn't incredibly excited to see it... until we started getting closer. Then I realised that I was, in fact, quite excited and went, "THERE IT IS!" when I spied it in the distance.

We only had forty-five minutes there, but it was the perfect amount of time. While Stonehenge is cool to see, once you've seen it, that's kind of it. So soon we were back on the bus and headed to Bath.

I didn't quite know what to expect from Bath. I knew the Roman baths were there, of course, and I knew it had something to do with Jane Austen (though I'm still a little confused about her living there... I thought she resided in the country.) What I found was that Bath is so, so beautiful. Aesthetically, I like more than London; the entire city is still standing in its original Georgian architecture, gorgeous in its uniformity.

We went straight to the baths and were set free to explore them on our own. It was pretty cool to see. The water does actually steam, as you can see in the pictures; it's about 115 degrees. We weren't allowed to touch it, as there's still lead in it, not to mention a large amount of bird poop, since there isn't a roof on it anymore.

Megan and I wanted to go to either Jane Austen's house or the Jane Austen Museum, but there wasn't time, since, though it was supposedly close, we didn't know exactly where it was. I definitely plan to go to those landmarks when I visit Bath again in a couple of months.

Once Bath was done, it was time to go home. The tour was really great (and people were *gasp* on time, which kept everything running smoothly.) I would definitely book that company again.

Day 4: A Slight Tourist Trap

Another early morning dawned on Tuesday when we arose to get our train to Warwick Castle. We had about a two hour train ride to Leamington Spa, where we had to catch another train and take that one for three minutes (literally) to Warwick. The fun part of this was that we had four minutes to make this change. I've made many quick train changes, but usually in stations I am familiar with. So Megan and I once again felt like we were in an action movie as we raced through the station, found out where our train was, and literally leapt onto it shortly before it started moving.

We got to Warwick and handed over the arm and the leg it cost to get into the castle. We bought the tickets from a info place-type thing and there was apparently a tea room there. I was kind of hungry at this point and figured that one of the delicious scones advertised outside the info center would hold me over 'til lunch. But England has joined Wales in its food teasing- there was no tea room in that building. (I should also mention that when we were in Bath, we saw a sign outside of a restaurant saying it had bagels. Megan was desperate for a bagel, as they don't have them in France, so we went in. When we asked for bagels, they looked at us like we were crazy and said, "We stopped serving breakfast at eleven." Then why is the sign out there at four thirty?!)

Anyway, scone-less, we headed to the castle. I was a little surprised by what we were greeted with- two actors dressed in low-quality costumes and greeting us. We entered the castle walls and went inside... and it didn't get any better. Honestly... the place looked like a big tourist trap. While the castle was still standing historically, it was surrounded by rainbow-colored signs and activities, all of which you had to overpay for separately. But it wasn't the fact that there were slightly hokey activities like a sword in the stone and a dragon slayer. It was the fact that everything was so tackily presented- the colors, the spelling and grammatical errors that I had a problem with.

The castle, however, was pretty cool and the scenery was beautiful. Megan and I climbed up to the top of a tower, which was a bad idea. While the view was great, my fear of heights is no less severe for being discovered when I was eighteen, and Megan's not keen on them either. So we carefully picked our way to the walls to take pictures and shakily walked down the 500-something stairs. The things we do for cool pictures.

We left the castle more quickly than we expected, so we got lunch and visited a bookstore- bad idea, as we both got two books (I got a copy of Alice in Wonderland and Julie Walters' autobiography.) The two people who worked at this bookstore were so quintessentially English bookshop people- one of them had round glasses that magnified his eyes by about two hundred percent and the other was smoking a pipe. I wonder if there are some characteristics that would identify one as "quintessentially American"?

That night, we went to Covent Garden to have dinner at Cafe Pasta and while we waited for our reservation time, we visited some of the stores. For some reason, there were a TON of people there, making the tiny shops too full to really enjoy. I got an overnight bag for my future travels and Megan got her first Build-a-Bear! It was a truly auspicious moment in history.

Day 5: Swimming Through Canterbury

I haven't yet mentioned what the weather was like during these days. The short answer is cold and rainy. While it wasn't always the latter, it was perpetually the former. So. Cold. But on our day in Canterbury, the weather really outdid itself by pouring down freezing rain.

We again had to rise early to go to Victoria Coach Station and our coach showed up right on time. We got a little nervous because it made a few local stops, and then a lady whose card didn't work got angry enough at the bus driver that I thought she was going to shoot the place up, but finally, we made it to Canterbury. Megan was nervous that we would't make it back in time for her train home, so we checked that we could get a bus home an hour earlier than we had planned (we could.) It was still pouring and we went right to the cathedral, which was as grand as before. This time, I got to see more of it than I did before, since there wasn't a service going on on Wednesday.

We had made a list of the places we wanted to go, and St. Augustine's Abbey was on the list after the cathedral, so we followed the signs there. It was raining even harder; drops were dripping into my eyes from my eyebrows (I had lost my umbrella on the mad dash between trains to Warwick.) We got to the abbey and... it was closed. For two months. What?! This made me very grumpy, and I wasn't very happy when we trekked further to try to get to the connecting church and came up with a wall in our way. By this point, we were soaked, freezing, and hungry. We decided to go get lunch- our goal was fish and chips and we found it at a pub close to the abbey. Though I've been in England for nearly three months, I've never had fish and chips. It was delicious, and I even ate it with tartar sauce, which I haven't had for years. When we had finished, Megan said, "I vote that whichever of [the two museums we had on our list] is closer, we go there." I agreed. We both looked miserably out the window at the still-falling rain, knowing that though our jeans were still stuck to us and our coats were damp, we had to leave eventually.

We ended up at Canterbury Museum, which was pretty cool, though I was almost too cold to enjoy it. When we finished there, we grabbed something to eat (delicious chocolate cake and ice cream) and then it was time to head to the bus. Our bus driver was very punctual- there was a girl who arrived literally one minute late and he wouldn't let her on.
This was good. What was not so good was the woman sitting in front of us. She could not sit still. She shifted her position every few seconds, fiddling with her phone. Sometimes, a shift in position would cause her to almost contort herself, especially when she tried to put on her seatbelt... but even that didn't keep her in one place. She continued to twist around, causing Megan and me to try to smother our laughter. At one point, she stood up to adjust the lights and continued to contort herself as she attempted to figure out how to work it. She sat down again and undid her either dreadlocked or really dirty hair and flung it around a little, getting startled when her flailing hand hit the window. Then she started to fan herself vigorously with her iPhone guide. Megan and I were a little concerned that whatever drug she was strung out on would cause her to have an episode and slay both us and the old lady sitting in front of her. Thankfully, she got off at the first stop; I really don't think she would have made it back to London.

We got to the city right on time, went back to QMUL to get Megan's bags, and then made our way to St. Pancras. We sadly said goodbye and then she was off. It was an awesome visit and I can't wait to visit her in France in April!

And after all of that rain during her stay... today was sunny, warm, and beautiful. I was walking around without a coat. I'm also getting sick though, either from being around sick people for the past few days or because of all the rain (or both.) I'm really trying to stave it off by taking medicine now and I drank a litre of orange juice today. Hopefully it will go away soon- I don't want to be sick.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Megan's Visit Part One

Readers, it has been a fun-filled, adventurous five days! I have journeyed through England and seen many cool (and some very weird) things. I want to tell you everything, but due to my verboseness, I'll break it up for you. Without further ado, days one and two:

DAY ONE: Modern Art, the E.R., and Pub Creepers

I woke up on Skype at 4 a.m. No, seriously... my friends Stuart and Courtney video-called me and I apparently responded to it like an alarm clock and, still asleep, got up and hit "answer with video." The first thing I remember is Stuart saying, "Isn't it 4 a.m. where you are?" I sincerely hope there was not more before that point. If there was... Stuart and Courtney, I'm sorry. Anyway, while I could have gone back to bed, I elected to stay up and chat with them- I knew that if I went back to bed, I'd oversleep past 6:30 (for which my real alarms were set.) After S & C signed off, I finished getting ready and was on the tube before seven. After getting on the wrong train, I switched and got to King's Cross/St. Pancras around 7:15. Megan wasn't getting in 'til eight, so I wandered around. Not much was open, which was unfortunate, since one of the reasons I was so early was to get Adrienne (who was feeling very ill) some medicine.
After getting some hot chocolate, I found where I needed to wait for Megan and stood there in the cold. The thing I've realised about the major transportation centers in London is that they do not appreciate the warmth that a closed door brings. They prop them open or simply don't have them, and it was very cold outside that morning, so the station wasn't much better.
So many people came out of the doors once Megan's Eurostar train arrived that I climbed up onto a barrier so I could actually see over the crowd. Megan was in the last group to come out and one of the first things she said was, "I can speak English here!" (she's been living in France since August.) We headed straight for Platform 9 3/4 to see if we could make it to Hogwarts. Sadly, it seems the platform is fake :( (:p)

After she exchanged her money and got a weekly tube pass, I picked up Adrienne's medicine and we headed back to QMUL so we could drop off her stuff and get something to eat before heading out for the day. We were determined to get to the half-price ticket booth to get tickets to Billy Elliot. When we got there, there was a HUGE line- longer than I've ever seen, and longer than it's really been ever, as the workers kept saying. We had seen online that there weren't any Billy Elliot tickets left, but we decided to pretend we didn't know this and ask anyway. We did decide on a back-up show, though, just in case. When we got up front and asked about BE, we were informed that the seats were only selling for their full price of eighty-eight pounds.
I love theatre and I love Billy Elliot, but neither of us was willing to pay that much, so we asked about our back-up show, The Jersey Boys. The tickets were more reasonably priced than BE, so we went with that, getting seats for the 3 pm matinee on Sunday.

London was apparently determined to prove itself to Megan by being quintessentially London- though the weather reports had predicted good weather, it was raining. But we had planned to spend two days exploring London, and doggone it, we were going to do it! So we went to the Tate Modern, since Megan actually knows a thing or two about art (I just stare at the works and hope that some meaning penetrates my brain. It usually doesn't happen.) Though I'd been there before, I hadn't gone through the entire (free) thing, but Megan and I did. Again, I nodded in a way I hope was wisely at things I didn't understand.

As we were walking to the Tate Modern, my phone rang. It was Adrienne. The first thing she said to me after I answered was, "Does our insurance cover going to the emergency room?" I stopped in the middle of the puddle-covered sidewalk and said, "Do you need me to come back?" I knew she had been feeling really terrible for the past few days, but I hadn't expected this. She said no, but I could tell she was upset. I told her to call me if she needed me to come back; luckily, though most of our flatmates had gone home, one was still around and was able to take her. It was probably better that our flatmate took her, since she's been going to school in England for a bit (even though she's Romanian) and knew what to expect from the ER. Thankfully, it turns out that it was just a strain of the flu, which has been going around campus. And while this didn't necessarily make Adrienne feel better physically, she was up and off to Scotland the next morning. A trooper, that girl.

After the museum, we got lunch and then decided that we wanted to go see Buckingham Palace and have a photoshoot with Big Ben and his buddies, Parliament and Westminster Abbey. Finding it was the tricky part. We looked at our map and figured out where we needed to get off. We walked through St. James' Park, which is very pretty, though not as much when it's rain-soaked. We made it to the palace and took some photos and tried to figure out how to get to Big Ben. We could see it, but we weren't close enough that any map would show us where it was. But by walking in its direction, we finally found it and took lots of photos.

Adrienne, thankfully out of the emergency room, texted me and asked if we wanted to get Chinese food, so we went back to the dorm and ordered in. Because of how they serve my favorite dish, sweet and sour chicken, back home, I forgot that some places (like Chicago and, apparently, London) serve it soaked in the sauce, which I hate. But I ate it without making too many faces, and the fried rice was quite good.

Megan wanted to know what there was to do at night in London after 7:30 p.m. and I had to think long and hard about this. I asked Adrienne. I asked Laura. I thought long and hard again. Because, since pretty much all the stores in the nation close at between four and six p.m, there was only one true answer, and that answer was going to a pub.

Londoners are really good at going to pubs. I fail at this aspect of being a Londoner. So the best thing I could do was bring Megan to Covent Garden, which has a lot of pubs to choose from. We ended up going to one called the Roundhouse and thus began our evening adventure. First of all, it was really crowded. The (outdated) music was really loud; we had to shout to hear each other and to order our drinks.
We were standing around, sipping our drinks and talking, when I noticed this guy staring at us. I quickly looked back at Megan. A few seconds later, she said, "Uh... there's a guy checking us out." This might sound like the very beginning of a romantic story, but... yeah, no. A few more seconds later, the guy and his friend approached us. These were not cute guys our age. These were two quite drunk guys in their forties. The guy who had been staring at us didn't say anything (we found out later that he was deaf), but animatedly encouraged us to dance to the undanceable music. We did not. The other guy started talking and unfortunately didn't know how to stop. He asked us our names, where we were from, how long we were in England, where we were staying, etc, which we answered with a mixture of short truths and lies. He observed the brand of beer Megan was drinking and noted my pint of Coke, after which point he apparently labelled me the uptight best friend who wouldn't give him what he wanted (kind of the story of my life :p) While Megan wasn't the girl to give him what he wanted either, whatever that something might be, he continued to ask her questions (he asked her long she was in London about ten times, and I'm not exaggerating.) Finally, he realised how short the answers we were giving him (well, that Megan was giving him; I mostly supplied close-mouthed smiles and weak laughter), he left.
But not for long. No, apparently he thought we were catches. He came back over and handed Megan his card, saying that he and his friend were going out for pizza right then, if we wanted to come along. He also gave her his horse-racing tag thingy, which he hung on a strategically-placed button on her coat. He kept hinting that he and his friend were leaving for pizza now... right this minute... they were about to walk out the door... but finally got that we were not going to accompany them and left us alone. Soon after, I finished my drink, Megan put the rest of hers on the bar, and we left, looking over our shoulders and hoping not to run into our creepers (we did not.)

DAY TWO: WWII Bunkers, Victoria & Albert, and Starring in an Action Movie

Day two was the day many things went wrong. We had bought tickets for the Eye the night before, for 6:30 p.m. I planned to print them out before we left, along with our tickets for the tour the next day. But when we went to go do so at 9:15 a.m, the library was closed... during reading week! We found out that it would open at one p.m. Okay... well, we weren't going to wait around for more than four hours to print out some papers. We decided to do the first part of our day, then come back, print the tickets out, and then go to the show.
Because it was the weekend, a lot of the tube lines were closed. Then we got on a train and as soon as we sat down, there was an announcement that that line, too, was being closed. We changed lines, and it took a lot more changing to get to our first stop, Churchill's War Rooms. This museum was pretty cool, all about Churchill's offices and other spaces below ground during WWII with lots of pictures, audio, and room restoration. I really enjoyed it, and so did Megan.

We got out of there in good time and headed to our next stop- the Victoria & Albert Museum. We knew we wouldn't be able to see nearly everything, so we picked a few specific things to look at- the photography, American and European art/other things from the featured era, and the theatre and performance display. I really liked this museum and will definitely be going back. Unfortunately, I liked the theatre display a little too much and when I came out of it, Megan glanced at the time and looked panicked- it was already 1:30. We raced to the tube, which took FOREVER to come and then even longer to get to our final stop... and then we had to walk back to school. Then the printers were acting up. Then we had to walk to the tube again. The show was at three and the tube chose that time to be super-slow. We both sat there bouncing our legs up and down and muttering under our breath. We had to change lines at the very end, but as I pored over the map and Megan continued to check the time (I averted my eyes every time- I knew I would only panic more if I saw the time), we both knew we didn't even have time to be on this line, let alone waiting for another train and then finding the theatre (which, if you're a regular reader, you know is always a problem for me.)
We decided that we would skip changing lines. We would get off where we needed to on that line and then run to the theatre from the further tube station. We did this, and in hindsight, despite getting turned around (only once), we made good time. I felt like I was in an action movie, sprinting through the crowded streets of London, shouting the street names over my shoulder to Megan, who was running with the map in front of her and telling me where we needed to turn.

We finally made it to the theatre about fifteen minutes late. I felt terrible-I hate when people are late to shows, I didn't like that we were those people, and I didn't want to have missed any of the show. However, we didn't miss too much- the first narration bit was still going on. We both sat in our seats trying to pant quietly, not daring to take off our coats and be more annoying, despite the fact that we were hot from the dash through the city.

The show was awesome! I've always been interested in it, but I know that if I didn't see it that day, I probably never would have- it would always have been pushed aside in favor of another show. I'm glad it didn't this time- I loved it! The show tells the story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons who, admittedly, I knew little about. I've heard their music my whole life, but I didn't know it was theirs. It was really cool to hear it again, though, as I have very distinct memories connected to a number of them.
The performers were incredible- I got the Broadway cast recording when I got back to my room and I have to say that while the OBC is good, our cast was better. The actor playing Frankie had an incredible voice (the OBC one is much more nasal), and I loved the guy playing Bobby (the composer, not the gay Bobby, though he was good, too.) The show was funny and a little sad and the songs were wonderfully sung. I was totally taken away by it and I would willingly see it again.
Once the show was over, we had an hour to get to the Eye for our 6:30 "flight." We stopped to get some Cadbury Eggs to recover from the panic of our dash to the theatre and were at the Eye in plenty of time. I had booked us at night on purpose, since when I went on it two years ago in the afternoon, the glare made for some not-so-great pictures. We got much better ones that night!

After the ride, we went back to the dorm and I made dinner 'cause I'm domestic like that :p

Tomorrow, I'll tell you about the three days we spent exploring the non-London parts of England!

Friday, February 18, 2011

BREAK! I Mean... Reading Week.

Yes, today at 3 pm, I had my last class for more than a week! Next week is what the English call Reading Week. At my home college, we have a reading day, where you're meant to study for your final exams, though people usually use it to sleep. Here, while it's the same general idea, it's a bit different. While you are supposed to use it to read material, start/work on/finish essays, etc, we don't have our final exams when we come back. In fact, we've got a month more of school before we're done for the term and then, after a month of complete freedom, we come back and take exams. I can't believe that I only have about four more sessions of each class before school is over.
Anyway, while studying and essay-doing are what Reading Week was technically invented for, people rarely use it for stuff like that. Usually, they travel, and it's so cool to hear where people are going, since it seems like when you're in Europe, every opportunity is at your disposal. Two of my friends left today to spend week in Paris. Adrienne and Laura leave for Scotland soon. Others I've heard are going to Prague, Morroco, Italy, and the like. During my history class, everyone was restless and ready to go home. Even though I'm staying at school, I couldn't stop twirling my pen around my fingers and we left ourf final seminar like the bell had rung on the first day of summer, even though we'll be back in a little over a week.

While the timing of these days off a little weird, I really think a few days off everyone once in awhile is good. My home school rarely gives us days off. We don't get a break in the fall like most of the colleges in the US- our first break of the school year is Thanksgiving- and everyone is really burnt out by that point. I've been known to respond to this by having some semblence of a mental breakdown, but most people handle themselves a little better than I. Even a few days off can be beneficial, and it's going to be great to hang out with my friend and not think about schoolwork until she has to go home (at which time I do actually have to buckle down and draft my essay[s].)

Two things before I go and get my room ready for Megan (who arrives at 8 am tomorrow!):

1) My darling sister (hi, Allie!) has made many remarks that my novel-length entries are, well, long. I do want to try to do a video blog or two, but at this moment, my computer refuses to read the videos from my camera and I'm not willing to use the webcam on my laptop to show you my campus. However, I've been trying to figure out a solution to this problem, and if I do, I will post a vlog!

2) The traffic feed over there has been showing me that visitors from a ton of different places- new locations in the US as well as other countries- have been stopping by. This makes me very happy. Hello, new readers! I hope you keep coming by (I hope my usual readers stick around, as well!) :)

Thursday, February 17, 2011


Today has been fun. Today has been fine. But at this very moment, for some reason, I'm feeling down.

I think I have some guesses as to what is the cause of my down-ness. Part of it came from trying to Skype with my friend Kara and it booting us off our call no less than six times within half an hour, and when we did get to talk for eighteen minutes straight, only her video was working and the sound wasn't great. And while we did talk about funny, good stuff, there was the part of the conversation where I found out some bad news and another part where I expressed my desire for something I really want and realised even more deeply than I have before that there's a 98% chance that I won't get it. And because I am two years old, this bothers me a lot, though not as much as the fact that I don't know how to make that percentage lower. I actually think that my down-ness about this latter thing might have something to do with seeing so much great theatre this week, never mind this month or since I got here.

Also, it continues to irritate me how much people are NOT enjoying their time here. I heard the other night that a good number of people still really want to go home. Like, if they could get on a plane right now, they would. I don't get it. I get missing your family and everything, but a) you're in England, which is amazing and not everyone gets to do this and b) you knew you were coming over her for six months. If you knew you couldn't handle it, why are you here? This is not a shock, length-wise. I just wish people would appreciate the fact that they are in an awesome foreign country that is full of things to do which, though I love my home school, is a very, very different situation than back home, location-wise.

But I'll stop being a Debbie Downer, because like I said, today was fun. Adaptations was cut short a bit due to our teacher going to a conference an hour in, and we had fun playing around with the scenes from 'Tis Pity She's a Whore for the next three or so. I really like all of my classmates (well, the ones that were there today, which is to say, those that attend regularly.)

Since our essays are due for this class in a few weeks, I asked one girl about a few things like the bibliography and the 200 words we had to write and hand in a little later tonight. Basically, her blanket statement was that American papers are ridiculous in how carefully instructions must be followed. Here (at least for all the ones she's written), even if a certain kind of resource is required (a journal, book, whatever), you can basically use anything you want. She saved me hours in the library today by telling me this. An while, if I needed the library resources, it would be fine... I don't really need them for the question I chose. It makes me laugh sometimes when I think of how scared we were made about this system and how lenient the students here seem to find it (and relay these leniencies to us Americans!)
Also, if you can believe this, anyone who was in the same English classes as I was for, well, my entire life- they're not only allowed, but encouraged to use the sentence, "In this essay, I am going to tell you..." It's in almost every professional, published paper we've read, too! I can't believe it; we've had it beat into our brains since about third grade that you never state anything like that. But that's basically their thesis statement (though when my American classmate and I used this phrase, they didn't know what that was.) And while I don't mind this at all- after all, why not just say what you're going to do, rather than skipping around it tossing around flowery language?- I can't get used to it. In the paragraph I sent in today, I used it and felt like I was committing a mortal sin.

I sent off a few postcards and a casting submission today, so if you're reading this and you haven't gotten a postcard from me yet, you may be getting one soon. If you want one and haven't gotten one, let me know!

Also, while today may have turned into an "eh" one, this coming week is one I've been waiting for for a long time- Megan's coming Saturday morning and we will adventure until Wednesday, when she must leave me again. I'll finish my Proof paper, both of my plays have their world premieres (in London... how cool is that?), and I'm seeing a play at a theatre that was particularly recommended to me, so I'm really excited about that. After my class tomorrow, I will be doing much housekeeping to make my room presentable and stocked with yummy British snacks, especially since I cleaned off my desk last night and it's covered in papers again. How do I accumulate so many papers everywhere I go? I have an accordian file that's already being misshapen by all it's holding, and I haven't even been here for two months or printed out all of the documents I was supposed to.

I guess I shall go write to the tune of Come Dine With Me (a British cooking competition show. The narrator's snarky comments are very entertaining.)

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Children's Hour, or I Thought I Was Cooler Than This, But...

Now that I'm breathing evenly again, I can tell you that tonight was ah-ma-zing.

I've been a huge fan of Keira Knightley since I was fourteen years old and saw her in Pirates of the Caribbean (a movie I did not want to see, by the way, but then harbored an obsession for after seeing it, for many, many years.) I've also loved the play The Children's Hour since I was fifteen or sixteen. Tonight, I saw a play I love that starred an actor I admire.

I'd been getting more and more excited as the day got closer, but I seriously thought I would be cool about it. I mean, I'm an actor. I do theatre. What's the big deal?

IT'S A BIG DEAL. It's a very big deal to see someone you're a fan of, especially when you get to see them in action, let alone in a favorite play. We were sitting sort of far away from the stage on the stage level. We had been warned before we bought our tickets that there would be a pillar obstructing our view of certain parts of the stage. We thought it would be annoying when we first sat down, but I overheard one lady say that once you're into the show, you don't really notice it, and she was right.
The play was really good. I actually thought the first act dragged a little bit, but maybe that's because I know it so well, because Adrienne and Laura, who came too and who didn't know the play, said they didn't think it did. The performances were great from the start, though. All of the girls were at least eighteen (WHY did I not try out when they were casting in America?!?!) and they were pretty awesome. Ellen Burstyn was great as the doting, conclusion-jumping grandmother. Bryony Hannah was wonderfully hateful as Mary- I actually rolled my eyes and glared at her character numerous times. Elisabeth Moss, who is very famous here but who I had never heard was really good as the somewhat stoic (and later, very punchy and then very depressed) Martha.
And Keira Knightley... where to start? Well, first of all, her acting. She's been criticised a lot as an actor, but believe me- she can and very, very well. She was very authoritative and powerful with the girls, loving with her fiance, and terrifyingly angry at the end of the show- stuff you've never seen in her movies and is mind-blowing work. I actually thought she was remarkably comfortable onstage- I was expecting her to be too small with her gestures or awkward with the blocking, but she made the adjustment beautifully. Her American accent was pretty good. I couldn't figure out if the actors were slipping on certain words or if they were using Boston accents. And the movies don't lie- she's very beautiful in person, too.

It was also just wonderful to see the show itself- even if the cast hadn't been what it was, I would have been in the audience tonight. Though I love the show, I'd never seen all of it- I'd seen one scene done and then was in the same scene a few years later, but it's not the same as seeing it all full-out. It's just such a great show that comments well on the dangers of lying just because a person is bored. While I do think that the first act moved slowly, the second act was fantastic. I don't want to give away anything about the plot, but there's an incident that happens in the last scene that's horrifying and of course, I knew what was coming. As the final scene crept towards that point, I couldn't sit still, I was so nervous. I kept changing my position, finally sitting with my arms tightly folded, and I was actually shaking. My arms were crossed so tightly that I couldfeel my heart beating much faster than usual. And for the rest of the scene, I just cried and cried, and it was one of those performances after which you just want to sit there and cry. In fact, after the cast had taken their bows and the lights came up, I just sat there with my face pressed into my coat while I cried a little more.

I was determined to stage door stalk afterwards, and there weren't that many people there. Something that freaked me out, though, was the presence of paparazzi. That doesn't happen in America, and it made me really uncomfortable. It was very cold, and I knew that Adrienne and Laura were waiting there because I demanded we do so, so I was relieved when the actors started coming out. Sadly, none of the schoolgirls stuck around- even Bryony Hannah, who played the lead, only signed a few before she left, and that's because someone called after her to do so. However, we did get the autographs of Ellen Burstyn, Keira Knightley, Elisabeth Moss, and Tobias Menzies.

When Ellen Burstyn got to us, Laura commented on the performance (I, as usual, froze and could hardly remember how to breathe. WHY AM I NOT COOLER?!), and Burstyn exclaimed, "Oh! You're American!" Laura said that we were here studying and Burstyn asked where and what. I managed to chip in at this point... I had a conversation with Ellen Burstyn.

Keira Knightley came out then and signed everyone's program. I (along with everyone else) said how much I loved the performance and she smiled and thanked everyone before hurrying to her car. I love finding out that actors that seem nice, actually are.
After those actors left, most of the others had gone, too, so we made our way back to the tube station to go home. We were all extremely giddy, skipping down the sidewalk and talking a mile a minute. I know I couldn't breathe evenly and we were all smiling ridiculously. On the tube ride home, we alternated between talking super-fast and not talking at all, staring into the distance and grinning while stroking the covers of our programs. I seriously thought I would be cooler than this about this whole experience, but it was like I was fourteen again.

It was just an amazing, amazing night of theatre.
(Oh, and a little sample of how theatre nerdy I am- during intermission, we were all talking about different shows we'd seen and Adrienne mentioned a production of Macbeth she'd seen... and she said the title. In the theatre. She stopped in the middle of her story because I think I actually went pale. When she asked what was wrong, I was like, "You said... you just said... it. You said the title. In a theatre. You said it." If there's one theatre superstition I believe in, it's that one- I've seen and heard of a lot of shows having issues because someone's said Macboo in the theatre (in fact, I always call it Macboo, whether I'm in a theatre or not.) Because Adrienne is a normal person, she was unaffected by this utterance, but I actually considered telling her that she had to do the ritual (go outside, spin around in a circle three times, spit, swear, and ask to be let back in.) I knew that that would be too weird, so I didn't... but I was very nervous for the rest of the show. It makes me wonder, though- that's never happened to me while I've been in the audience. Is it just actors saying it that affect the show? 'Cause I've seen some pretty bad stuff go down after an actor's let it slip.)

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

There is No Bad Theatre in London

Like, seriously... knock on wood and all that, but I'm beginning to believe it. I just came out of another production that I did not want to see and ended up loving it (Frankenstein at the National Theatre.)
The funny thing is that I still think the story is terribly boring. I read the book in eighth grade and it was like torture, and I read it with two boys, too, so it's not just my ultra-girliness that kept me from enjoying a book about an ugly monster that kills people. But the production was so well done that I loved it.

The cast was amazing. Benedict Cumberbatch (Atonement, Sherlock [on TV], The Other Boleyn Girl, Amazing Grace, etc.) played Frankenstein and he was fantastic. Johnny Lee Miller (Trainspotting, Dexter, and a lot of other stuff I don't recognise... and he was married to Angelina Jolie) played the Creature, and he was incredible- I respect him so much for doing the role as he did. Apparently, because the role of the Creature is so demanding, he and Cumberbatch switch off week. I heard as I walked out that Cumberbatch is better as the Creature, but I think Miller did a great job.

The two young boys who played William Frankenstein (Haydon Downing and Jared Richard) were great. Naomi Harris (Pirates of the Caribbean 2 and 3, 28 Days Later) was really, really amazing as Elizabeth- she blew me away- and George Harris (Harry Potter, The Interpreter, Raiders of the Lost Ark) was great as the father. Lizzie Winkler was one of my favorites as Agatha de Lacey. It was just a wonderfully cast production.

The sets were simple yet did their jobs well. The lighting was fantastic- there was this accumulation of differently-sized lightbulbs and styles of lamps hanging above the audience and would flare whenever Frankenstein had an epiphany.

The production, aside from being good, was also surprising in many ways. The show began with a ten-minute long scene of the Creature basically learning how to walk and move... and since he's just been created, he was completely nude. This might be the American prude in me, but I was surprised because I've never seen a full nude scene done onstage. There was also the scene where Frankenstein presents the Creature with the woman counterpart he's made- again, the woman didn't have a stitch of clothing on. In less physical surprises, the stage had a rotating center, and they would constantly move the set around to allow literal trains to pass through, houses to appear and disappear... it was awesome.

There was a scene that didn't so much surprise me as scare me as an actor, which was Elizabeth's death scene. I didn't remember how she died in the book, since I read it so long ago, I just knew that she did and that it happened in her bedroom after her wedding to Frankenstein. So I was kind of surprised at the onstage rape scene... but the thing that freaked me out most was that the Creature killed her by snapping her neck. I know the stage tricks and I know it's controlled and how the noise was made... but I just can't help thinking how terrified I would be every night for that scene. There are so many ways that it could go wrong- even being an inch too close to your fellow actor can do actual damage. So scary, and the entire audience gasped when it happened. Also, the Creature has so many combat scenes that he must have to arrive at the theatre so many hours earlier to get all the fight calls (which is what they call it when you come to the theatre early and practice your fights. This happens before every single show, even if you have two in one day) in.

I also liked the show just because I am biased towards the venue. It is a life goal of mine to work at the National Theatre. Such amazing actors have worked there and they put on such high-quality productions.

I forget sometimes how casual the English are about going to see theatre. First of all, the age bracket is a lot broader. In America, it's usually just older people or theatre geeks who go to see theatre. Here, it's everyone. They also don't dress up. I've was sort of brought up, in the theatre world, to dress up for performances, especially evening shows, and now, as an actor, I see it as a mark of respect for the creative team and the art form; I'm a bit of a stickler for it, actually. This is not to say the English disrespect it- absolutely not- but they do wear jeans to the theatre.
They also eat during performances. This really bothers me- even more than not dressing up. Again, as an actor, I say no. A crinkling wrapper in the audience is incredibly distracting, and can you really not go for two hours without eating? And tonight, the girl next to me pulled out a jar of Nutella and a spoon and started eating it! At least she wasn't crinkling, I guess, though she was when she was digging into her bag of sunflower seeds.

Before I went to the theatre, I got a lot of work done today. I went to the gym, read a bit while I waited for Adrienne so I could let her in (she had forgotten her key), which was nice because I don't sit down and read very often anymore and it's a tragedy, went to the cafe and wrote/revised my play for a few hours, watched Proof with the script in front of me and took pages and pages of notes while crying (the story gets me every. single. time.) then got ready for the show. Hopefully tomorrow is half as productive.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Packages and Theatre Snobs

While I did not have a significant other with whom to spend Valentine's Day, I did get a V-Day gift of sorts today! I came back from my RT class to find a large box sitting by my door. I knew it was the package my mom had sent to me, but I was unaware of the awesomeness of its contents. Behold, readers, a box to make any Valentine's Day a good one:

In this box were wonderful things like calling cards, candy hearts, potato chips that are actually potato flavored (it's really hard to find plain ones here), Pop Tarts (unfrosted, 'cause frosted is just gross), a pot holder, Apples to Apples, my copy of Peter Pan for playwrighting reference, graham crackers (you know the story about those), animal crackers (also can't get those here), instant breakfast drinks, chocolate straw thingymajiggers, yummy cereal that's hard to find even at home, some pictures of my own face (...I needed some more headshots, okay?), gum (I could own Violet Beauregarde in gum chewing), and... FRINGE SEASON ONE!!! (I am obsessed with this TV show but do not own any of the DVDs... or didn't! I actually went, "Oh. My. God. Yeeessssss!" when I saw them. I've already watched two episodes [one with commentary] and a bunch of behind the scenes stuff.)

This lovely box made me feel a little better after RT. It's definitely my least favorite class. I really enjoy the seeing shows factor, but the big problem is that I think my classmates believe that to enjoy a show means that you're somehow intellectually beneath those who didn't, so they declare that they hate every show. This isn't everyone, but it's most of the class. I don't understand how, with the shows ranging from Shakespeare, opera, experimental theatre, classic stories, adaptations of classic plays, and a farce-y musical, they couldn't pick out one show that they liked. I liked all of them, and most of them aren't the type of theatre I'd usually go to see. While I may be a theatre snob, the prescription of all of these shows is curing me of that, and they seem to refuse to do the same. As I wrote, I thought Water was brilliant, but I walked into class to people insulting it without taking breath. When I sat down, they asked me what I thought. "I loved it, actually," I answered. I really wish people would be more open-minded, at least for this class. We can all go back to our snobby ways once we're out, but this term, I'd really like to have an RT class where there's not a fog of negativity blanketing the room.

Tomorrow night I'm seeing Frankenstein at the National Theatre. I think I'm going to get there a little early, as they have an awesome bookshop attached to it; I bought many plays when I was there with my theatre posse in March of 2009. And Wednesday, I'm seeing The Children's Hour, which I get more excited for by the hour. I love theatre!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Carmen and the Random Things

I am feeling very cultured tonight- this afternoon, Adrienne and I went to Sadler's Well Theatre to see Carmen. But the version we saw was a little different than the opera one might expect- we saw it done with only flamenco- no words, just dancing! It was part of London's flamenco festival, and it was an awesome experience.

I was actually a little worried about seeing it. Besides the fact that I had never seen any production of Carmen, didn't even know any of the story except that she dies tragically, I had never seen flamenco before. I knew it would be at least an interesting show because of this, but I was concerned that I wouldn't understand the story.

I shouldn't have been worried; I got the story no problem, and the dancing was really cool. It's amazing how much the performers could tell with just a flick of their skirts. The lighting beatifully complimented the gorgeous costumes throughout the entire show, and it was also nice not to have to take notes like that while watching the show! It was a really great first experience with flamenco and I would gladly see some again.

Now for some micellany, a few things that I've noticed or have done but was never been able to fit into my stories:

-There are betting places all over London. EVERYWHERE. The biggest company is called William Hill. I think we have at least four of these on my street alone, and the rest of London is similar. Coming from a place where it's illegal to gamble, it's still a bit shocking to me to see these everywhere.

-Last week, when I went grocery shopping with Adrienne and Megan, we took the bus and I excitedly suggested that we ride on the second level. Even though I've taken double-decker buses while I've been here, I've never ridden on the top. I'm not going to lie- I was excited and it was awesome. It was a beautiful day and it was a very nice ride :)

-When people pack lunches (usually for children), they don't put them in lunch boxes or bags like we do in America. Instead they put everything in a bigger Tupperware container.

-It is a lot more common for people who have difficulty walking to use forearm crutches. You don't see them much at home- I think people will use a walker or a wheelchair before they'll use forearm crutches. Here, however, those who need them- from young kids to the elderly- do, and unself-consciously, too.

-I met with my Adaptations instructor to talk about the big paper we have to turn in next month. We had a few prompt options, and I knew which one I wanted to do, but I had two very different ideas as to a topic. After talking it over with her, it was decided that I would write the paper on my favorite play, Proof, and its film adaptation. I am very excited- I have a good deal to say on the subject, as well as a general passion for the story.

-My friend from home, Megan, and I have been planning our reading week adventure. We were originally planning to go to Dublin for the day, but the price is literally climbing by the hour and we would need to get up around three a.m. to make our plane. This would be a problem, as the tubes don't start until six-thirty (which I couldn't believe), the night buses aren't the safest, and a cab would be expensive. It got more and more impossible as we tried and tried to plan it.

Today we admitted Dublin defeat and planned other things within England like Canterbury, Warwick Castle, Stonehenge, Windsor Castle, a Harry Potter walk, seeing Billy Elliot, and two full days to explore London. I can't wait for reading week!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

They Don't Serve Food in Wales

Today was the much-anticipated Wales excursion! I was really excited to be able to travel to a country for a fairly low price, especially since I probably wouldn't have been able to go otherwise; Wales is nearly a three hour driving trip away from the city of London. And as is the case with most of my adventures here in the U.K., not everything went according to plan...

It all started out promisingly enough. I got up with plenty of time to get ready, leisurely eat breakfast, freak out over next year's theatre season, etc. before heading out with Adrienne to meet the bus at 8:15. They had announced that they were leaving at 8:30 whether they had everyone or not. Even so, we anticipated many people running onto the bus at 8:29. Not so- everyone was there on time (wow... originally typed "well early," which is a very English phrase, or at least, a very QMUL students' phrase... I don't want to generalise) and we actually left campus before 8:30. Hooray!

It took about two and a half hours to get to our first destination, which was Gloucester Cathedral in Gloucester, England.

Besides being a pretty cool cathedral on its own, it's also been used as a set for a few of the Harry Potter films. As a huge Harry Potter fan since I was about nine or ten, this was pretty exciting.

I can see the wizarding magic sparkling in the air!

I wasn't technically supposed to take any of the millions of pictures that I did inside the cathedral- not because it is a working place of worship (which I believe it is), but because they wanted you to pay five pounds to take even one picture. We did not pay, but since there weren't docents in most of the parts of the cathedral, Adrienne and I snapped away like the delinquents we are.

Random cathedral picture time!

Very different styles of stained glass windows than you usually see, though they had mostly "regular" styles.

We were told before we got off the bus at the cathedral that lunch wouldn't be until 1:30. We didn't have a problem with that- 1:30 wasn't that late. But due to the fact that we ate breakfast at seven in the morning, our stomachs asked for food after the cathedral and we stopped and got a snack at a cafe. The bus was late picking us up from the cathedral, but everyone was at the bus stop on time.

We started driving to Wey Valley where we'd climb a hill to get a view of the valley and see England and Wales at the same time.

We were only given fifteen minutes here, but there wasn't a whole lot to see once you'd gazed at the great view for awhile. However, it seemed to be a problem for our fellow group members.

Let me pause here for a moment to explain what our group was comprised of. It was, I believe, entirely made up of international students, which makes sense. I think only about five of us were American. Everyone else, from the sounds of their native languages and accents, were from elsewhere in Europe. And their behavior gave me hope that Americans are not, in fact, the rudest people on the planet; about 80% of the group had any American I've ever met trumped by a good amount. After we stopped at Wey Valley, most of our group lost the ability to keep track of time. They would hang out at each location, eventually wander to the thing we were there to see, goof around in/around/on it, smoke a few cigarettes, throw the butt on the ground, see that the bus was ready to leave and saunter to the bathroom, taking ages to come back out and finally stroll back to the bus.
This was the pattern for the rest of the day. Cumulatively, we probably lost about forty-five minutes to an hour waiting for stragglers (usually for them to stop smoking. At least I know my mom will always be employed... it seems like EVERYONE here smokes all the time.)

Finally, we departed from Wey Valley, finally heading for Wales. On our way, we passed the Forest of Dean, which they decided semi-recently that they wanted to sell to people to do with as the buyers wished. The "foresters" (as the locals are called) as well as well-known people like Dame Judi Dench and Bill Bryson, have spoken out against this.

These signs, as well as yellow ribbons, adorn a lot of trees in the area.

The countryside of both England and Wales is absolutely beautiful! They made sure that we took the scenic route while heading to our destinations.

Once we got to Wales, our tour guide pointed out that all of the signs sport two languages: English and Welsh. It's required that they do, even though only one-fifth of the population speaks Welsh as their primary language, and that is more in the north of the country. Welsh has a lot of consonants in it, and the combinations of some of the consonants signal that a vowel sound is supposed to be used. How confusing!

Our first stop in Wales was the Tyndern Abbey. We were given a little under two hours here. We could go on the guided tour of the abbey, wander it by ourselves, and have lunch in the village right next to it.
Adrienne and I decided that, since we weren't hungry yet after our snack, we'd go into the abbey. We didn't want the guided tour, so we took off on our own exploring the ruins. They were pretty awesome- in much better shape than the Reculver Fort ruins that we visited in Herne Bay last month.

Though the ruins were cool, we didn't need to spend more than half an hour wandering them, so soon we visited the gift shop, got a few things (three postcards for me), and headed out for food. This is where the problems arose.
We decided to try the bigger of the two places; one was a tiny tea room and one was a pub/restaurant type place. We went in, chose a table, stole a menu from a couple who had just said they knew what they wanted, and chose for ourselves. But when we went up to order, I only got out, "Could I have-" before the man behind the bar interrupted me with, "We've stopped serving food, I'm afraid."
I stared at him, taking in the fact that I was standing in the middle of a restaurant with people eating food around me, being told that they had stopped serving food. It was not even three p.m.
We were not pleased, but headed over to the tea room across the street after telling the American boys who had just entered the pub that they would not be getting food, if that's what they were after. Since they were, in fact, American boys in their late teens/twenties, that is, of course, what they wanted, so they followed us to the tea room.
This place didn't have as much of a selection, but I didn't have a problem with some soup and a toasted tea cake. Adrienne and I managed to jump on a table for two under a staircase (this place was tiny) and got in line outside the kitchen to place orders. When the person ahead of us was next, the lone cook announced that she had too many orders and would not be taking any more. Translation: they were also not serving food anymore.

Let me paint you a picture: We are in Wales. And not just Wales, but the Welsh countryside, in a tiny village that hosts some ruins and two eateries that have just taken the "eat" out of their titles. I overheard a girl in our group say that she had been told that the only other places to eat in the vicinity were on the other side of the village. We did not have time to find out how big this village was.
Adrienne and I stalked around angrily for a bit (we're neither of us happy people when we're hungry.) We both had chocolate of sorts in our bags, but we didn't want them to be our lunch- they were more "snacks for the ride home if we feel like it or perhaps as a last treat before we die of lung cancer because of all of our group members' second-hand smoke."

In stalking one direction, I noticed a hotel on a hill across the street. I proposed we go over and see if they served non-guests, and since we had no other prospects, Adrienne agreed. As we drew closer, I saw that they did, in fact, advertise their bar and brasserie. We went through the door marked 'bar,' closely followed by two other girls from our group. We saw a menu on the wall of much delicious food, and a young woman came out of a side door behind the bar and smiled at us. She seemed the nice, food-giving sort that might take pity on some ravenous foreigners. But she must have seen us hungrily eyeing the menu, because before we said anything, she announced, "We're not serving any more food until six."

We slumped out of the bar and back down the hill to the ruins and the other foodless food places. We ran into our tour guide, who explained that the problem had a bigger cause- apparently,all of us students had been told the wrong time to meet the tour in the first place, so we got started an hour late, therefore throwing off the entire schedule, which is why we hadn't made it in time for food. Yay.

Even though it was time to leave soon after that, most of our group had other ideas. They were reluctant to pull themselves away from the various alcoholic beverages that served as their lunches, and when they finally did, they had to smoke... slowly. When they finally boarded the bus, one guy threw a tantrum because someone was sitting in "his" seat (he apparently didn't notice the ten free ones in front of him.) Then, the bus was finally pulling out of the parking lot (twenty minutes late) when a girl cried that she left a bag in one of the shops. She didn't know which. She ran off the bus and into the tea room. Then her friend decided she had to go help her (okay, I know that girls always go to the bathroom together, but looking for a light paper bag together is a new one.) They finally returned and we left at last.

Our last stop, about thirty minutes away, was Chipstow Castle. Since most of us hadn't eaten, we were told we could when we got there. Our tour guide showed us a street with a few eateries and we chose the first one we could find. There, we had delicious cold roast beef sandwiches (my first ever) on delicious bread and french fries. We ate as fast as we could chew since we wanted to get back down to the castle, take some pictures, and then go to the border of England and Wales and be in two places at once.
(Side note about the food- I don't think they eat ketchup with as much in the UK as Americans do at home. We asked for ketchup for our fries and the waitress presented us with a tiny bowl about the size of those paper ketchup cups from McDonald's... for both of us.)

Despite practically choking down our meals, by the time we were done, it was too late to do much of anything and we did want to be hypocrites and turn up late for the bus. So we ran down the hill to where it was parked, snapped a few blurry pictures of the castle (which the group as a whole was too late to go into, thanks to the incorrect start time), and climbed on the bus. We both really regret not being able to go to the border.

But the fun wasn't over yet! Throughout most of the day, our lovely and amiable group members had been complaining about something or another, but we didn't know what. Soon we found out that they wanted to be dropped off at their respective places of residence... individually. This was annoying. While it's true that not everyone lives on campus at QMUL, they knew that we both departed from and arrived at the campus. If they had a problem with that, they should not have come on the tour (though there shouldn't have been a problem with getting back; we were scheduled to be back on campus by 7:30.) So in addition to the initial two and a half hour ride back to London, we had to stop at an extra place, which led us to hitting traffic and making our bus ride four hours long in the end. Adrienne and I (and I'm sure the other sane people on the tour) were not pleased.

However, Wales is beautiful and I really enjoyed what I did get to see. I wish the tour hadn't been spoiled by our poorly behaved group members, but that's what you get sometimes, unfortunately. Hopefully if I go on another day trip, it won't be like that.