Saturday, April 30, 2011

Jaffa Cake Debate & Other Random Facts about the UK

 The best part of staying with family in a country that isn`t your own is that you acquire a host of knowledge in just a week! In a short eight days, I learned about British confectionery, castles, beheading, literature, traffic circles `roundabouts`, football (soccer), and enhanced my `British`` vocabulary to the point where I wonder at the linguistic marvel that makes up the English language.

Jaffa Cakes are little chocolate covered biscuits (cookies), that have a spongy cake type texture, but are shaped like your average cookie. Now, in the UK,  VAT (their 20% tax on goods and services) is exempt from breads and cakes. Mcvities, who makes the original Jaffa cake (named for the Jaffa orange marmalade filling) went to court, arguing that Jaffa cakes were in fact a cake, not a cookie. They won that one, on the basis that cakes start off soft and go hard when stale, while biscuits start off hard and go soft when stale. The Proctor and Gamble Pringles brand  subsequently attempted a similar exemption, claiming that their crisps (chips) were actually a potato product, and therefore should be exempt. Well, the sensible judges on that case decided that the highly processed, greasy, additive infused crisp was actually just that - a crisp!

Check out the news story here!
In my attempt to find Jaffa cakes, I only found the Jaffa Viennesse biscuit (to the left)! Sunny and Nia found me the original Jaffa cakes the next morning, and I must say, they are much nicer than the biscuit!

Here are a few other facts I learned during my stay:
  •  Horlicks is an amazing malt drink that makes you sleepy
  •  Spiral staircases in castles are designed with the railing on the side which is most convenient someone descending the staircase (so intruders ascending the staircases have trouble slashing their sword)
  • A slash key is called a `stroke``  - slashing is a slang word for urinate
  • Henry the VIII was responsible for England`s transformation from Catholic to Protestant, as the Catholic church would not allow him to divorce his wife (so he changed the country`s religion)
  • The silver line on the London Tube is called the Jubilee line to celebrate the Queen`s 25th (Diamond) Jubilee (25 years in her reign)  Click here for more details!  Or, click here to see the 10 year old girl who won the competition for the Queen`s Jubilee official emblem
  • Blue Peter is a program run throughout the UK with competitions and activities for children.
  • Lionel Massey is the best football player at the moment
  • Football players in Europe make more than hockey players in Canada
  • There is no VAT on books (which makes them cheaper, actually than Canada!)
  •  The Metro App  is a great tool to download for your mobile, to get metro maps for virtually any large city in the world. Click here to download it
  • There are no garbage bins in London train and tube stations due to fear of bombs
  • UK tuition fees are comparable to Canada at the moment (3000 GBP per year for a 3 year undergraduate program), but are set to TRIPLE next year. UK citizens can go to school in other countries in Europe for the cost we pay here for textbooks
  • A purse is called a handbag, and a wallet is called a purse (unless you`re a guy, then it`s a wallet)
Speaking of linguistics, my next monthly book review (May) is likely to be Bill Bryson`s The Mother Tongue, which delves into the regional differences of the English language. I got through most of it on the plane, and will have to find time this week to finish the final few chapters! Stay tuned for a review!

Saturday was my last day in the UK - for a very short period of time, I hope.  I brought back gifts for puppy, of course - After dinner Carob mints (not real chocolate of course), and a Manchester United lead (they`re not called leashes here!).   I was trying to find her a union jack collar and lead set, but I couldn`t find one anywhere. Once you get your passport, puppy, you can pick it out yourself!

Friday, April 29, 2011

A Day at Sussex University & Family Time

After the royal celebrations, Uncle Steve, Aunty Viniti and I decided to take a day trip to Brighton to visit Tina, who we had dropped back to uni Monday evening after the Charlton football match. Just an hour outside of the London Borough of Bexley, Brighton is a university town situated on a picturesque seaside (two seasides in one trip – yay!). I love being by the water, perhaps due to my Aquarian nature, although I’ll readily admit I’m a horrible swimmer and very unskilled surfer).
The Brighton pier is every university student’s dream; it’s littered with pubs, and centered on a carousel and penny carnival style amusement park, with a boardwalk right down the middle. Students just back from Easter holidays held hands and walked down the seaside beach, local artists set up upcoming shows and those who live in the area walked their dogs to enjoy the beautiful weather.  Take a look at the beautiful Saint Bernard we had fun with!

Can we say claustrophobic?

Randomness on the Ceiling of the Pier's main bar

Nia's British Cakes
Cedric the Saint Bernard
Sapna & Jhaiji
Uncle Steve & Cedric the Saint Bernard
Sapna & Jhaiji

The day before was a relatively quiet day in Bexley, as I visited Jhaiji, saw Sunny and Nia’s new flat (apartment), and took walks near the Thames and along the Crayford neighbourhoods to Bexley town centre. Although it has only a small shopping centre, I did manage to find a few souvenirs and bargains, including a Manchester United lead (it’s not a “leash” here) and “After dinner Carob mint dog treats” for Kiara! I miss you puppy!!!! (and your passport is in progress!) Wouldn’t it be so nice to see extended family more often?

Aunty Viniti & Sonia in Sonia's apartment - Poor quality mobile photo so I had to turn it into a sketch!

A Regal Wedding - William & Kate

All of England watched today as William and Kate tied the knot - in the most regal, celebratory way possible. Even the locals, who will have to see BBC replay (and replay, and replay) the event all week, admit that England does regal events...well, royally. Although I originally intended to make the trip down to London to join the 250 000 fans in wishing the couple the best - but really, I'm glad I didn't. Times Square at New Years in 2007 (see blog entry here) was crowded enough, and at least there, you could get a spot to see the ball drop. Here, thousands and thousands crowded Hyde Park, Trafalgar Square, Buckingham Palace and The Mall (pronounced maowl), trying to catch a glimpse.
Of course, I had to get into the photo booth!

Kate's dress was gorgeous though! I'm sure copycats will pop-up in shops everywhere, dresses that mimic her lacy, ivory dress with a modest train (well, modest for royals, anyway). Aunty Viniti, Uncle Steve, Jhaiji, Sunny, Nia, Tina and I watched the royals at Jhaiji's house. I've learned so much from Nia on the history of this beautiful country. Compared to the most 200 year history Canada has, England has a wealth of stories; you could spend weeks in museums and castles! Although we did dabble in European history in high school, none of it was as fascinating to me then, as it is now, nor was it as detailed. My next trip here will be a quest to understand them better!

 As a Marketing person, one comment I do have to make is that their "adverts" here are much more entertaining and creative! Check out the T-Mobile add below - it's hilarious!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

A Day in Chelsea, Oxford Street and Tottenham Court Road

Wednesday was a beautiful day to putter around London and visit the area of Chelsea, Fulham (where the posh people live and international students go to school). The weather was gorgeous and I had enough time to take a leisurely stroll and buy a William and Kate mug from Emma Bridgestone.  I laughed when I saw her designs, since I saw them last week at Chapters, thinking they were a new, Canadian brand. Lol!

After an hour in Fulham, I took the 15 minute train ride to Oxford Circus. Instantly, I was reminded of Singapore - the crowds, the amazing shopping complexes (Topshop, River Island and Next specifically) and the vibrant energy that permeates the streets. I absolutely love it!  Expensive, I know, but wow, what a vibrant atmosphere (though clothing prices were about the same as Canada).

Caffe Nero is one little gem I had forgotten about before landing at Heathrow. Aside from Costa Coffee, the Italian espresso shop that rivals Starbucks (not a fair rival, in my opinion.
Costa wins every . time!) In fact, I visited 4 coffee shops on Wednesday, including two in train stations (I wouldn't recommend them, least of all "Delice", a French delicatessen knockoff that seems to think squirty tomato sauce and mozzarella belong inside a croissant).

  After some power shopping on Oxford Street, I met Lisa for an Italian dinner (read about her adventures on her blog,

Sapna and Lisa at Tottenham Court Road While advertised on many sites as London's "little Italy", there really were only a handful of Italian shops! So, we chose the first one and had a delicious meal of pasta (I love the fact that holidays are made of daily cheat meals! :)

 After dinner, we took a walk to Tottenham Court Road, where there are shops, shops and more shops, from the tacky ones that sell British flags and tourist souvenirs, to Waterstone's and clothing shops. 

Lisa, Mike and I walked up to Charing Cross, where I took the train south back home. Perfect weather, quaint stores and big retailers, posh schools and regular streets - I loved it all!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

League 1 Football: Charlton Athletics Club

Monday, a public holiday here (Easter Monday is not optional!) was a fantastic opportunity to see a football (soccer) match. Though Charlton was in the Premiership (the top of the 4 main leagues in the country), they recently slipped to the third rung.  Charlton vs. Rochdale, the particular match I saw, was a 3-1 win for our home team. I even managed to get a collector's pin to add to the travel pin board I started when I was eleven.

At the end of the match, which was enhanced by Bob Lawrence's commentary, I had a chance to meet a football player. Unlike hockey games, football here has no live commentary, but our fellow season ticket holder had enough comments to keep us all entertained. Bob Lawrence is a radio voice-over artist, and is quite well-know here. Check out his website for examples.

Sapna & Chris Solly

Check out our goalie, in pink!
After the match, the football players and their fans hang around, as the players sign autographs and take pictures. Here's a pic I got with Chris Solly, a 19 year old player who scored one goal this season.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Broadstairs: Perfect Sunday at the English Seaside

England's balmy weather this past week is adding a beautiful hint of optimism to my trip. To be perfectly honest, I didn't realize that England had such a beautiful seaside! Late Sunday morning, Aunty Viniti, Uncle Steve, Sunny, Nia, Tina, Rachael, Tom and I took a one hour road trip to Broadstairs, a quaint town on the Southeast coast of England. British accents, historical shops, delectable icecream, and cobblestone lanes that Charles Dickens himself walked down - added a hint of history and culture to our adventure.

Although I realize Vancouver has similar beaches and similar ocean views, there is something about England that draws me to explore, clams me down and forces me to evaluate my decisions. Conversations with family help me re-evaluate, forgo my argumentative nature and accept my culture. I will, however, forgo Edmonton's inexpensive cost of living, snow and bitter cold for London's fast-paced, "dear", rain - or at the very least, Vancouver's high priced clouds.

To those of you who believe in the power of visualization and the over-marketed concept of the Secret, you know that one's perception of possibilities in the world is reality. In fact, a dangling "I heart London" key tag now jingles with my Canadian keys.

Take a look at the Glog (blogging poster) below for a collage of Broadstairs, Kent, England!

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Hever Castle: Anne Boleyn's Childhood Home

Royal families in Great Britain punctuate the country's history, with their marriages and divorces, childbirths and deaths, speeches and actions. One week before the upcoming royal marriage of William and Kate, I visited Hever Castle, near Seven Oaks in Kent, where royals and rich families spent their days.

After the Tudors bought the castle, it was home to Henry VIII and his first wife, Catherine of Aragon. As Catherine could not bear

Outside the castle gates, by the moat and drawbridge.

him a male heir, Henry's interest soon strayed and he fell in love with one of Catherine's ladies-in-waiting, Anne Boleyn. Catherine was, of course, the mother of a female heir, Mary, Queen of Scots. Secretive and frowned upon, Henry and Anne continued their affair until Henry convinced the Pope to give him an annulment of his marriage to Catherine, based on the grounds that England needed a male heir.

Henry quickly married Jane Seymour, who gave birth to a male heir, Edward, and the couple divorced 6 months later. Later, Henry fell in love with Anne of Cleves, and therefore charged Anne Boleyn with treason and had her executed; she was sentenced to the "kinder" beheading by sword, not axe, as a beheading by axe could be drawn out (torture instruments are showcased in the castle as well). After Anne of Cleaves death, Henry married Catherine Howard, and then Catherine Parr, who ran the castle as a household. Hever castle passed hands a few times, finally falling into the richer families in London, John Jacob Astor, an American businessman who fell in love with England. He soon teamed up with the well-known Waldorf family (yes, the owners of the famous Waldorf-Astoria hotel chain). One of Astor's property companies now owns the castle.

To update those of you who marvel at the complexity of the royal houses, there are many: the Houses of Wessex, Normandy, Blois, Plantagenet, Lancaster, York, Tudor and Stuart. The Windsors are the current English Royal Family, and some of the House of Wessex is married in.
Check out the family tree below, and go to , where you can click on the House you want to learn about, then click the royal figure, and learn all about them!

Apparently The Tudors (about the personalities in the House of Tudor beginning in the 16th century) is a great rendition of British history in action - I've yet to rent and watch the four seasons in this series!

Above: Anne Boleyn in The Tudors
Below: A beautiful swan on the Hever castle grounds - thanks, 300mm lens for my Canon T1i!

Check out the slideshow below. Pictures of the inside of the castle were prohibited(see for their own copyrighted photos). I did get a beautiful view of the outside, though!

It's really fascinating to be in a country where history goes farther beyond the 19th century.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Go Ask Alice & Wit - Two Journeys Through Drugs, Cancer and Death

I'll admit I chose this month's book for the cover - well, for the name "Anonymous", author unknown (or rather, simply not disclosed). Set in the late 1960's, book is the real diary of a regular teenage girl who is tricked into taking LSD for the first time and re-enters the world of temptation by choice. Her struggle to get clean, stay clean, reunite with her family and avoid sabotage by those who want to see her suffer with them makes this simple, hour long read, an intriguing drama. This diary makes me realize how small our problems are compared to those who are addicted to something, anything. Control in our own lives seems somewhat limited.

In fact,as I read it, another short story, a play, came to mind. Admittedly, I read it to help a student with a paper, but the short account has a powerful theme. W;t (Wit, with a semicolon instead of an "i"), is the story of a pause in a professor's life. She is a hardworking professor who specializes in the poetry (on life and death) of John Donne. When she suddenly falls ill with ovarian cancer, detected at the last possible stage, she realizes there is no one to call; she has isolated herself from her family and friends. Doctors give her two days to live, and she evaluates her life. Ironically, a first year student in one of her classes (which are intense, serious lectures delivered with an all-work, no fun attitude) is now her doctor. Just as she was, he is blunt, hardworking and serious in his work and diagnoses Vivien as analytically and critically as possible. Suzie, her nurse, represents the fun, lovable, enjoyable part of life that Vivien regrets she never had.

Only her graduate professor - a man as hard working, grueling, and dedicated as she, visits her during her final hours.

Anonymous and Margaret Edson, the author of W;t, present opposite characters as protagonists - one is a teenage girl trying to discover life, while the other is a middle aged woman suddenly faced with death. Both authors present the strong motif of family - one in its presence, the other in its absence.

As I write this, on the 8.5 hour flight to visit family in London, I am struggling to evaluate my own life and balance my dreams with reality. It seems so strange to me that one negative conversation, one idea, on the brink of a vacation - can turn an exciting flight into an eight hour headache.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Kiara & A Yaris

My little red Lego car died last Sunday - one year too early! Or so I thought a week ago. Now, it seems it didn't die early enough! Enter a $10 000, 2 year old, 35000 km, beautiful silver Yaris. Cute, compact, sturdy and reliable, it seems like a steal of a deal, at only six grand more than my 2000 Hyundai Accent. I'm so happy it gave way this year and forced me to spend money on a depreciating asset :)

(I know, I know, the wheels are kinda hideous, but the car is cute!)

The best part? Take a look at everything that was wrong with my old car (and this is just the top few)

Lego car =

- Broken cupholder (this makes top of the list, people; it could barely hold my latte!)

- No block heater - in Alberta!!

- Half-ass heating (seriously, in Alberta...)

- Broken clock

- Broke speed dials on the radio

- No A/C (ok, well the weather's not that great, anyway)

- Broken bumper with cord hanging out - and no, I had the mechanics at work check, this was not a cord for a block heater

- very chipped windshield (it is so nice to have a new windshield and mirrors that work)

- Oil that must be filled every two weeks - yay, only oil changes and not leaks and burning on this one! Kiara, thank goodness, had no trouble at all, trading up to a Yaris.

Here's a picture of my beautiful puppy, who, according to the DNA test I had done on her, has one side purebred Labrador and one grandparent on the other side who was a German Shepherd (Alsatian for the Brits :). She also has 1% to 10% West Highland Terrier in her. Smart fun dog + smart guard dog + smart crazy dog. Sounds right. Thanks!

In other news, I've hired the trainer back for a few sessions before the UK - apparently I'm severely anemic so the doc set me up with a nutritionist. I aced the requisition test, except for that one score - I was supposed to be 70 to 300 in Feratin, and guess what, I was seven! You try to find vegetarian sources of iron.

Boo. Dieticians are legally obligated to sell you the Canada Food Guide - a LOW PROTEIN, high carb diet that I will NOT go back to. So, iron pills, spinach and so many other veggies and carbs that take forever to add up to 18 mg of iron. And this lady seems to think that with hot yoga, MMA, running Kiara, etc. I need over 2000 cals a day to maintain weight, and at least 1500 to lose it. Ha. Yeah, right. I'm not getting duped into her ideology that there is no "ideal" weight, only a weight you feel happy at.

I'm just about blue belt in MMA (their computer system messed up so they're a little behind on belts). Now, though, I'm in another type of fight.

Personal Trainer vs. Dietician.

Dietician vs. Personal Trainer.

Goal: Lose 7 lbs that crept back in the last six months.