Tag Archives: Eton

Signs and Wonders

Before I leave England for Scotland, I want to share a few favorite signs and sights that made me wonder.

Like this one, on the back of the toilet stall door at the Waterman’s Arms.  The Clansman function room?  I know it’s clansman with a “c” and I realize it’s probably something to do with a Scottish clan, but still.  In the US there would be protests over this sign.  I guess the word clan just doesn’t have the same association with the KKK as it would in the states.

Speaking of bathroom signs, I always got a kick out of this one at the leisure centre.  Probably some fool had ignored the first sign, which just had words, and they needed to literally paint a picture.

Walking home from the leisure centre, I would pass this sign.  It was tempting to hang a right to find out if there would be liquor barrels bigger than a man.  But the path led to a deserted-looking industrial area and I was always in a hurry, so I will never know.

At home, I kept glancing at the cover of the teacher’s union magazine that arrived in the mail.  The cover story was an important one.  Teachers need to be aware of the effects on children of being involved or even just hearing about traumatic events like the inferno at Grenfell Tower or the mass shooting in Manchester at the Ariana Grande concert.

But I also smirked at the acronym for the organization, and its placement, with rendered the title “The Teacher NUT.”  It seems a bit inappropriate, but it is memorable.  In the US, we have several bland acronyms: NEA—National Education Association and AFT, American Federal of Teachers.  I think I would prefer to be a member of the NUT.

Out on my walks, I would often pass this van.

It could be worse.  It could be Farter & Son.

At the playground in Windsor.  What an optimistic sign.

In the Eton Museum of Natural History.

Do a lot of contractors wander in off the street to use the toilet at the Natural History Museum?  Are contractors considered an inferior type of person, not worthy to piss in the same toilet as others?  Did some contractor create a situation in here, and no one is brave enough to confront him in person so they put up this sign?  I was careful not to make a mess in case there might be a sign “This Toilet is NOT to be Used by Americans” upon my return.

I passed this ominous poster in Windsor, stood a while taking photos of it, then realized I was right outside a military installation and moved along.  I’m sure it doesn’t appear ominous to the target audience—young men with lots of testosterone.

It’s a recruiting poster for the Coldstream Guards, the oldest regiment in the British army.  There is probably a recruiting office here because these are the “guards” as in “the changing of the guards” at Windsor Castle, which is just a few blocks away.  In this role, they wear what’s in your mind right now—the tall black furry helmets and red uniforms with brass buttons.

And this, in London, didn’t make me wonder. It made me feel admiration for a country which had only decriminalized “homosexual acts” in 1967.  Fifty years.  That’s not so long.  Maybe in 50 years’ time we in the US will have decriminalized immigrants.

Julie and I treated ourselves to a couple nights in a room above The George. The only room left was the top floor suite. Julie chose the master bedroom with a spectacular view of the Thames bridge and Windsor Castle.

Unfortunately this room turned out to be the one beneath which smokers congregated and drunks hung out at closing time.  I was in a nook off to the side and with ear plugs I didn’t hear a thing.  I slept fine in my narrow bed except that the floor in the 270-year-old pub was so slanted that every time I rolled over I kept rolling, into the wall.

This was our last supper, roast beef and Yorkshire pudding in the back garden.

Last Hurrahs

It had cooled down, with highs in the low 70s (low 20s Celsius). I checked the weather in Scotland daily and that gave me impetus to get outside as much as possible.

This was late July, for the town in Scotland I was destined for shortly.  Fifty-five Fahrenheit is 12 Celsius.

There were signs advertising something called a Brocas Fun Fair all over Eton. One afternoon after editing a proposal which described torture and the use of mass rape as a weapon of war, I thought, “Now is the time to visit a Fun Fair.”

I was still experiencing vertigo and my Restless Legs Syndrome was getting worse.  Poor sleep combined with vertigo added up to a continuous feeling of physical disorientation, which may have enhanced my Fun Fair experience.

It was a Thursday afternoon, so the place wasn’t doing much business and many of the stalls were closed.  A couple of 10 year olds who were probably skipping school climbed onto a ride and a carnie yelled at them to bugger off, instead of directing them to the ticket booth and inviting them to come back.

In case you thought Americans were the only ones obsessed with guns, there were three booths with shooting themes.

Another depicted what someone must have imagined was a “real American road scene,” complete with truckers and maybe a Harley rider, with skyscrapers and the Statue of Liberty thrown in for good measure.  Then there’s the toy-like boat in the foreground … I’m sure this would all feel magical to a five year old.

I was surprised the political-correctness police hadn’t demanded that this be redesigned—whatever it was.

Wandering back slowly through Eton—the college—I got a laugh from more finger-wagging signs.

I could just hear the Pink Floyd song The Wall playing in my head.

Wrong, Do it again!
If you don’t eat yer meat, you can’t have any pudding.
How can you have any pudding if you don’t eat yer meat?
You! Yes, you behind the bikesheds, stand still laddy!

I read this one three times, then gave up understanding it and walked on.

I spent a day shopping with Julie in Windsor.  She especially enjoyed the grocery stores.  We went to an upscale one, Waitrose, and a tiny local one called Budgeons.  At first glance, a grocery store in the UK looks the same as one in the US.  But if you look closely; if you pay attention to every item individually as though it is a meditative exercise, you will see many things that make you go hmm ….

Or in my case, shudder at the words, “With Jelly.”

For all I know, my local grocery may sell tubs of pork drippings with jelly.  However when I shop at home it is like a military strike—hurry in, grab the same items I buy every time, get out as fast as possible.

We had lunch at the Waterman’s Arms.  Fish and chips for Julie, lamb and mash and a half pint of cloudy local cider for me.

We visited a card shop near the flat.

Part of my new-employee orientation at Oxfam had been to read the communications style manual, which included a directive to “avoid creeping Americanisms.”  By contrast, we have many, many “creeping Britishisms” in America and we love and embrace them.  I could write a whole post about this.

There was a series of cards that mimic illustrations from beloved children’s books combined with adult themes:

Other cards in the series include “The Acid Trip,” “The 12 Step Programme,” “The Halfway House,” and “Bouncing Back.”

I took Julie to Daniel, the department store.  Here she is in the toy section.

I went in to London one last time, dropping in to the Victoria and Albert Museum only long enough to buy my son a tote bag and other Pink Floyd-branded items.  The line for the exhibit itself was a mile long.

I searched Hamley’s, the gigantic toy store on  Oxford Street, for Sylvanian families badger figures for my nephews.  I was distressed that, like Daniel, they were out of badgers so I had to settle for a pizza-delivering hedgehog and a mouse dentist.

 

 

A Long Day

I had six days left in Eton before I flew to Aberdeen to join Lynn’s household.  The weather continued hot and sunny.  I resumed my routine of work and walks.  A friend from Minnesota was coming to England for the first time so we made plans to go sightseeing in London.

I had spent a lot of time sitting on the bus and in meetings during my two-day trip to Oxford, so it was time for a long walk. Or should I say, The Long Walk.

There is a path leading away from Windsor Castle called The Long Walk.  I could Google it to find out exactly how long it was, or I could walk it.

The Long Walk is part of Windsor Great Park, the Queen’s 5,000-acre backyard.  There were no amenities. No signs, picnic tables, food vendors, or even toilets. I kept walking because there was something at the end of it.

As I later learned, The Walk was 2.65 miles (4.26 kilometers), one way.

There was no signage identifying the statue, but Lynn’s husband Richard informed me later that it was “George II, the second Hanoverian King, the last British monarch to lead his army in battle.  Luckily he kept his horse, unlike another monarch who ended up under a car park in Leicester.”

He is referring to Richard III.  I have a hard time keeping the kings and queens straight, but I remember Richard III because he had scoliosis, as I do, and there was a PBS documentary about him where they made this poor guy named Dominic—who has scoliosis—stand in for Richard III to see how much suffering and abuse he could withstand.  It really makes me cringe, watching the teaser for this show.

Back to The Long Walk.  The statue was graceful, as statues of monarchs go.

I heard Polish, Spanish, and Japanese around me; only we foreigners were suckers enough to walk all the way to the end.  There was nothing else to do then, but turn around and walk back.

Undoubtedly the place will be throbbing with revellers for Prince Harry’s wedding in May.

Eton College has three museums: Antiquities, Eton Life, and Natural History.  It was Sunday, and though I was weary from my walk, the Natural History Museum was only open Sundays from 2:30-5:00.

It took me a while to find it, but I enjoyed some more sign-seeing along the way.

I’m not sure what bollards are, but there are a lot of signs about them.

I found the museum before I got swept up in any bollard-related escapades.  The museum was founded in 1875 and was just as I had hoped—small and jam-packed with 15,000 displays of dead things.

Someone had meticulously collected, sorted, categorized, and labeled everything from shells to moths. Someone who needed OCD medication.

There were lots of birds.

And dioramas of dead birds doing life-like things, like eating escargot.

This was a nice little scene of a ship chasing a giant puffer fish.

A glassed-off room contained a horse skeleton and dozens of skulls.  Were they human?  Apes?  There was no explanation.  But I did learn that horses’ front legs aren’t attached to the rest of their skeleton.

This poor owl, named Ollie, was sucked through an airplane’s somethingorother duct. He seems to be in awfully good shape for having met such a tragic end.

Who doesn’t love a hedgehog, especially with a hawk on its back?  Really, my photos should win a “World’s Worst Photos” contest.

A badger, fuzzier than normal due to my poor focus.

There were students there, on field trips. This young lady was learning about the journey of the Beagle and Darwin’s discoveries in the Galapagos, which led him to formulate the Theory of Evolution.  If you believe in that kind of thing.

This painting depicted a 14-year-old boy, Horatio Nelson.  While on a journey to the North Pole, he fought off a polar bear with his musket because it wouldn’t fire.

Like natural history museums everywhere, there were freak animals.

It was a tiny place, which was fine with me because I can only take so many long walks and four-legged ducklings in one day.

Euros and Doors

Mid July in Eton.  I was listening to a webinar about raising funds from European foundations.

Probably a quarter of my job consists of keeping up with what’s going on in my industry. I call it an industry because it is.  We like to think we’re all singing Kumbaya arm in arm while saving people, but without professionals who know what they’re doing, adequate funding, and an international infrastructure to support and coordinate everything, it’d be a big mess  Well, a bigger mess.

The international infrastructure is made up of what are called multilateral institutions, which are organizations that have funding from multiple countries: the World Bank, World Health Organization, and some of the United Nations bodies, like UNICEF.

The other day I was looking for a potential partner in Yemen.  I went to the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) to see who is working there, in what sectors.  Sectors are activities like Water and Sanitation (WatSan or WASH for short) or Health or Protection. I browsed OCHA’s Humanitarian Response Plan interactive map to find other NGOs working in Yemen, in this case specifically in the Education sector.  For better or worse, there are only two in Yemen due to it being in a state of war—Save the Children and Norwegian Refugee Relief. I queried my colleagues to ask if anyone knew anyone at those organizations.  In this case we didn’t have relationships with either organization so my search ended there.

The mechanics are pretty straightforward if you know where to look, but the type of thinking involved is something that takes a while to acquire, and I really like that about my job.  I have three dozen other projects going on at once, large and small, that require the same strategic thinking, focus, communications, and persistence.

There are newish master’s degree programs in international development studies that package and deliver this information.  Most people my age, or with my number of years of experience, have learned it on the job from coworkers, at a conference, or from reading articles in an online community like Devex.

My organization, the Center for Victims of Torture, just got a grant from a Swiss foundation that I found on a European foundations website almost five years ago.  What were the odds— finding a foundation in Switzerland that is specifically interested in mental health and Uganda?  But after clicking through a hundred other foundations, there they were, and after years of Skype and in-person meeting, writing proposals that weren’t funded, and having them visit our program in Uganda, they will now be supporting us in significantly expanding our work there.  It took involvement from 10 people at CVT, and someone else wrote the proposal that got funded, so it was a group effort and we’re all feeling pretty good about it.  When I am sifting through hundreds of foundations that aren’t good fits, I keep this one in mind.

Back in Eton.  The webinar informed me that the 28 member countries of the EU have the same number of foundations and give the same total amount of funding as the US ($160 billion in 2015).  Did you know that IKEA is probably the world’s largest foundation? I didn’t.  The UK, Netherlands, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, and France have the highest number of foundations with the most money, but the French foundation websites are all in French, so it’s a good think I have French-speaking colleagues to check those out.  The webinar made some common sense suggestions, like looking to the former colonizing country for funding (Italy for Ethiopia, the UK for The Gambia, France for Vietnam, etc.) and to look at the donor lists of our “competitors” to see who funds them.

That afternoon, my walk was through Eton proper, where I photographed signs.  I was fascinated by how signs seemed to direct everyone to stay in their lane. I know how rambunctious boys can be, but was it really necessary for the grownups to have separate entrances?  Was a dame—as I imagined—a bosomy older woman with white hair in a bun who wore a flowered housedress and pinafore?  And was there really only one tradesman?

Boxing Day Look Back

It’s a joy to look back at my photos and remember all the warm summer moments in Windsor and Eton, now that it’s bleak and cold outside.  We had the coldest Christmas day in 20 years yesterday—2F (-17C) and we are headed into a prolonged cold “snap,” as they call it.  The high in the next week will be 14F (-10C) and the low will be -14F (-26C).

When there’s a streak of warm weather, they call it a warm “spell” or a heat “wave,” both of which sound lazy and relaxed.  A cold snap feels like it sounds—crisp and harsh—and it rhymes with slap which is also how it feels.  In Minnesota, we exchange wane smiles with strangers in the grocery store the day before the cold snap slaps.

“Gonna be a cold one,” we say.

“Yah, time ta hunker down.  Buyin’ the food supplies.”  This is when you check out what they have in their cart, which is usually lots of frozen pizzas, bags of Doritos, and hunks of cheese.

“Liquor store is next.”

“Yep, good thing they’re open Sundays.”

Minnesota has archaic laws governing liquor sales.  Unlike most places where people drink alcohol, liquor is sold in separate “liquor stores.”  You cannot buy it in a grocery or a corner shop, with the exception of low- or no-alcohol beer.  I actually like NA beer; sometimes I have a hankering for a beer at noon on a Saturday but I don’t want to fall asleep by 2pm, so I have an NA beer.  I still have to show my driver’s license in the grocery when I buy it.

Until this summer, you also couldn’t buy alcohol anywhere on a Sunday.  I guess this was because we were all so busy praying and going church.  Anyway, that ban was lifted and no appreciable rise in sinning has been recorded to my knowledge.

I worked, walked, and worked every day.  This was an ideal schedule for me.  My walks cleared my head and restored my spirits.  I would be pissed off about something I or someone else did or didn’t do, and a long walk in the country erased any negative thoughts or feelings.

This scene reminded me of a Dutch landscape by an old master, only with a vivid blue sky.

Someone had planted a strip of wild flowers.

It was set between a line of trees and hedges and the road, so no one would see it unless they happened to walk along this remote stretch of path.  It went on and on … for maybe a half mile?  I wondered on Facebook why someone would have sown wild flowers in such a hidden area, and Lynn responded, “They were probably planted to attract bees.”  Of course!  They weren’t for people, they were for bees.  But what joy they gave to those of us who stumbled upon them.

Heidi came for a day and I walked her around the Thames meadows where I went swimming and showed her a place I had discovered called Luxmore Gardens.

Of course I had not “discovered” it but it felt like I had, since there was no explanation for why it was there or who created or maintained it except a plaque dedicated to an “Eton Old Boy” as their alumni and former headmasters are called.

We went on a boat tour up and down the Thames and talked the whole time so I can’t say I learned anything new.  They handed out a brochure with all the information and I kept it for months, meaning to read it but I never did.

We ate at the Waterman’s Arms pub.

We talked about going to the continent but by now Heidi was running out of time so we sighed and promised we would do it another time.

“This is the second time we’ve discussed it,” I remarked between mouthfuls of lasagna.

“I know,” Heidi said between sips of the local raspberry cider.  “It’s going to have to stay on the old bucket list until I come back from Aus next time—if you’re around.”

“It’s good to have things on it, right?  How it would feel to have everything checked off?”

Working and Windsor

I was back in Eton after a successful trip within a trip.  That is, a foray into London, then out to the southwest, then a boomerang back into London and back out to Eton and Windsor to my housesitting gig.  I was feeling grungy after wearing the same clothes for three days, but that was more than compensated for by the fact that I hadn’t had to drag a roller bag on and off of trains, tube cars, and buses.

The first thing I did was check the window boxes.  Gwen had admonished me not to skip a day of watering, and I had skipped two.  I was fully prepared to go out and buy replacement geraniums and hope she wouldn’t know the difference.  Whew, they were still moist.  Sorry about that, if you are sensitive to that word—moist, moist, moist!

After thoroughly shampooing, conditioning, exfoliating and moisturizing, I sat down to check my work emails.  No I didn’t.  My first priority is always travel, so I picked up my messaging with Heidi where I had left off on the coach.

“We can take the chunnel to Paris and catch a train to Brussels, then take a coach out to this small town in the countryside that I went to once.  Oh Annie, it’s lovely this time of year!

Or we could rent a car in Paris and drive down to Bordeaux and drink wine for a couple days, or we could catch a RyanAir flight to Zagreb.  Whaddya think?”

I am usually enthusiastic about travel.  Traveling to Paris through the Channel Tunnel on the Eurostar, as it is officially called, is on my bucket list. Normally my adrenaline would be pumping and I’d be all in, but on the heels of the weekend I found myself reluctant.  Plus, the Eurostar would cost around $250, then there would be train fares or flights and hotel rooms and maybe a rental car, and for some reason I was feeling fiscally conservative.  Heidi and I agreed she would come to Eton later in the week to talk about it.

I checked my work email and found the usual post-weekend deluge of emails but most importantly, our concept note to DFID, the British aid agency, had resulted in an invitation for a full proposal, and it was due in a month.

A month may sound like a long time, but it’s not.  These things are always a group effort. Four people were in Amman, Jordan and three were in St. Paul, Minnesota.  I was in the UK and another colleague was in Denver, Colorado.  The US work week is Monday through Friday, while the Jordanian work week is Sunday through Thursday. Everyone worked long hours, but still I never assume they will check email on weekends.  If we didn’t plan carefully we would lose entire days due to the nine-hour time spread from Denver to Amman. There would be holidays in Amman, and people would take time off for summer vacations.

The next day, Monday, I had prepaid ticket for Windsor Castle.  I thought about skipping it, then shook my head and plunging into the coordination work for the proposal, first scoping out a backwards timeline.  I actually made a chart showing that when it was noon in Colorado it would be 9pm in Amman—and so on—too late to expect anyone to respond or attend a Skype meeting especially if they had kids. Conversely, when my Jordanian colleagues were logging on in the morning, fresh and ready to talk or crank out emails which needed replies, it would be midnight in the US.   It would be an advantage, I thought, for me to be in between.

Speaking of Windsor Castle, I’ve seen a fair amount of commentary about how Meghan Markle marrying into the British royal family is either “inappropriate” or “fresh air” due to her being half black, American, and divorced.  I haven’t seen anyone comment on how her father is of Dutch-Irish descent.  I’ve only heard racist remarks uttered by British people twice (first-hand, that is—not on TV, etc), and both times they have been about the Irish. Regardless, Markle will bring new blood to the fusty royal gene pool.

One with the Swans

I waved Sam and Gwen and the baby off as they headed to Heathrow in a black cab with their luggage and all the extra paraphernalia you need to travel with a kid.

I was really happy for them; they are a great couple and now with an adorable toddler I hoped they would all—especially Gwen—get some R&R in the beautiful lakes and woods of northern Minnesota.

I had wondered how working remotely would go. It went really well!  I thought I would be distracted by all there was to do in England, but because I had gone down to 80% time and stockpiled my vacation days, it worked out that I only worked about 24 hours per week.  There was no reason to do this in 8-hour days.  If I worked six days a week, for instance, that was only four hours a day.

In the office, there are phones ringing, the front door buzzer going off, and people stopping by my cube to chat but at Sam and Gwen’s there was none of this, so I could actually concentrate better and draw a line between work and fun time.

I would make eggs with mushrooms and tomatoes for breakfast while listening to Radio 4, then settle down to work.

When I logged on, my email was full of messages from the afternoon and evening of the previous day.  I would get a few messages from my colleagues in Ethiopia or Jordan in the first part of the day, but nothing from the USA until 2pm. This also helped me to focus.  It was easy to knock out four hours before anyone could send me more work.

I clocked off mid-afternoon and went for a walk or to the Leisure Centre to lift weights or take a yoga class.  It was unBritishly hot, with temperatures over 90F (32C) the first week I was there.  It was cooler by the river, which was just steps from the house.  I love how everything in these old towns in jumbled on top of everything else—ancient buildings, more ancient buildings, gates, lanes, walls, towers.

I crossed a meadow to a back water of the Thames with views of Eton Chapel.

Growing up in St. Paul, we were warned to NEVER swim in the river.  The Mississippi River, that is.  If I turned around from these views, I face a swimming hole.  An old guy was swimming, so I returned the next day with my suit.  It was icy cold and took me 15 minutes to wade in; I’m pretty sure those shrieks I heard were mine.

Some families arrived upstream and the kids jumped in and splashed about.  If parents thought this was safe enough for their kids, surely it was safe enough for me.  I stood in the water up to my neck, cooling off and enjoying the scenery—the chapel to one side and woods and swans floating by on the other, their whiteness reflected on the black water.

This was my daily routine for a week, until it cooled off.  I would return home to join Skype calls or polish off more emails before clocking off again, making dinner, and watching EastEnders or some other crap TV while eating and having a glass of wine.

Or, I would try a new place to eat, usually a pub.  I ate at the Waterman’s Arms the first Sunday.

Fish and chips, cider, the Times … the Thames, swans, summer.  It was bliss. This was living.

Except for my Restless Legs. You would think I would sleep deeply with all the fresh air and exercise and heavy food, but I tossed and kicked and moaned and swore up and down and ran up and down the steps all night, every night, trying to get some relief, some sleep.  RLS sounds like a silly condition but it is torment.  Other than that, life was grand.

People have asked if I got lonely.  I did wish for company sometimes, but my friends Heidi and Julie happened to be around.  On weekends and days off I would go to Stonehenge or The Tower or Wimbledon.  How lucky am I to write that sentence?