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People and Clothes

There are a lot of people in London. In fact, I was told today by a very official BBC source that there are more than three people in the United Kingdom and at least two of them must live in London (although what this means for Wales I have no idea). I really enjoy watching them as I go to work in the mornings. I especially like seeing what they have to wear. Now that’s it’s starting to get colder, we’re getting into my favourite fashion accessories: scarves, boots and gloves, and Londoners are making full use of them. While generally I just feel vaguely jealous at the women I see on the bus and the tube who can dress themselves properly, I’m also picking up a lot of ideas for my own wardrobe.

Because I have no money (but I can’t really complain about that anymore can I? Everyone’s in the same boat now…) I have to decide carefully which articles of clothing and accessories to buy. Someone’s jumper might catch my eye; or I’ll watch for nice sweaters as I’m in desperate need of them. As always, I find myself most conflicted about the footwear. Do I borrow the style from the woman with the tall, tight-fitting boots, the teen with the slouched boots, or just get something upsettingly boring and practical but will keep my feet warm and dry?

Possibly my favourite kind of outfits to study during my commute are children’s school uniforms. Honestly, these things are almost disturbing in their rigour and complexity. I’ve seen six year old boys and girls with their blue shorts or skirts and tights, black shoes, blue blazers, white button downs and matching book bags walking to school with their mums. The best part, however, are their little hats. What school thought it would be a good idea to make young children wear hats with uncomfortable straps under the chin every day? This is stolen from St. Mary’s Primary School website:

Girls (Y1 – Y6)

Plain navy blue coat or anorak.
Yellow and navy ties (to be worn with long sleeved blouse).
Plain white long-sleeved blouse (winter) or short-sleeved blouse (summer).
Plain navy blue cardigan/jumper or sweat shirt with school badge.
Plain navy, white or grey socks or tights.
In Winter, plain navy blue skirt or navy blue pinafore dress or long navy trousers (no leggings, jeans or corduroy trousers).
In Summer, any plain style dress in traditional blue and white check gingham with short sleeves and collar.
Plain navy, white or yellow hat (optional straw hat in Summer). In hot weather children should be encouraged to wear their hats during each break time.
Plain navy blue or navy blue and yellow scarf of regulation design.
For wet weather, a packable navy blue raincoat i.e. cagoule.

And, as if that weren’t enough….


Black, brown or navy shoes (or sandals) with laces, straps, buckles or Velcro with flat heels.
Trainers, boots or open sandals are not to be worn in school.
Suitable strong winter shoes are advised after October half term. Wellingtons or long boots should be worn to school in the snow and indoor shoes brought to change into.

I’ve left out the sections on required hair style, jewelry (no digital watches allowed… these people must not be very happy), PE kit, and other items.  I would take a picture but that would be somewhat creepy.

In any case, as I go to work in the mornings I love seeing what people are wearing. I either get great ideas for my own wardrobe, or marvel at what people make their children wear.

I don’t really care what people wear on the way home because I’m too tired to pay attention.

Uh oh

Just a quick note to prepare everyone for Impending Doom.  No, I’m not talking about the economic crisises, the fact that 5000 Londoners were left unemployed on Monday, global warming or the fact that, thanks to overnight inflation bread and eggs now cost about as much as petrol.  It’s something much more serious.

My camera seems to be dying.

I’ve replaced the battery three times in the last two weeks and the camera works for about two hours and then tells me the batteries are low (which is a bald-faced lie.  Or as bald-faced as a camera can be).  At least I can still get it to take pictures for now but I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that after four years and the amount of stress I’ve put it through it’s starting to get a little run down.

Sad, though, because now that I’m buying bread and eggs at atrocious prices and giving my change to former bankers in the streets I won’t be able to get a new one any time soon.  Here’s to hoping it holds out through my next trip.  I’m thinking Ireland at the end of the month….


Tomorrow evening I’m going to the Colby ‘Alum in the City’ event for London. This has the potential to be wonderful or wonderfully awkward. This is the first official Alum event I will have attended (fair enough as I only graduated four months ago) and I know at least one other person from my graduating class will be there. I’m going to approach this as a networking event – a chance to find people with whom I have something common who live in London.

As far as networking events go, I have to say, I’ve been doing quite well. Last Friday I went to the Daily Candy book launch party for the UK publication of their book Fictionary (published in the States as The Lexicon) and I swear, I couldn’t have found a better networking event if I had tried. Of course, the massive quantities of free champagne and chocolate made it especially easy to strike up a conversation with a stranger, and thank goodness I did. I had gone alone to the event (and felt woefully unfashionable with all the London fashionistas at the event) but the people I met were just wonderful and, incredibly, I met someone who had gone to the same school as I had in Palo Alto (Castilleja). Although she had only been there for two years while I had been there for seven, it was an incredible coincidence and just goes to show what a small world it really is.

I’m not going to be remotely worried about my unofficial reunion of sorts with Colby people tomorrow. I’m sure I could work myself up into a Ronnie and Michelle style lather over what to wear and what to say and how to talk up my last four months. But I know that there’s not much that could beat the life I’m living now and I’m just excited to have some social interactions that don’t involve social networking. Hail Colby, Hail.

What does the term “Last Night of the Proms” mean to you? Well, if you’re an American, bets are high that it means absolutely nothing. I was, of course, familiar with the BBC Proms after my Sunday afternoon of modern pipe organ music; and knew it was an eight week music event that runs each summer bringing classical music of all sorts to London however I figured the final evening performance of the Proms might have a bit more pomp and circumstance and self-congratulations than ordinary but would otherwise just be another concert. How wrong I was.

As someone who did not grow up watching the Last Night on BBC1, I’ve found it a bit difficult to properly explain the evening. This except is from the BCC Proms Wikipedia page:

Most people’s perception of the Proms is taken from the Last Night, although this concert is very different from the others….

Tickets are highly sought after…. advance booking must include six previous concert stubs, plus an application for a Last Night ticket…. Some standing tickets are sold on the day, just as for other concerts during the season. Prommers with tickets or wishing to buy them on the day of are likely to queue up much earlier than usual (even overnight) in order to ensure a good place to stand in the hall. The resulting cameraderie adds to the atmosphere. Fancy dress is an optional extra: from dinner jackets to patriotic T-shirts. Many use the occasion for an exuberant display of Britishness.

Ann, my flatmate, had mentioned the event over the previous weeks but until Saturday morning, when the two of us arrived at the Royal Albert Hall at the ungodly hour of 8:30am, I had no concept of how truly popular this event actually was… or any idea what to expect.

The Queue (Part I)

The entire process begins with a queue. The British like to queue. They’re good at it and when other countries beat them in the sports they’ve invented, at the very least they can ‘tut’ and say “well! At least we weren’t making a mess of the queues!” or some such comment. As I mentioned, we arrived at 8:30, and were about fifty places into the queue for people who didn’t have tickets but wanted them for the lower arena (as opposed to the queue for people who did have tickets for the arena, those who wanted tickets for the gallery, and those who did have tickets for the gallery). In front of us were several hard core Promming fans who had spent the night. The queues steadily grew and at 11am, we were given tickets with a number on them… telling us our place in the queue. This allowed us to leave under strict instructions to return by 3pm as the queue would be checked again and if we weren’t there we would forfeit our place.

Fancy Dress

If you were told to wear fancy dress to a party in America, you might be expected to wear a dress (if you’re female) or suit and tie (if you’re male) whereas in Britain it’s the opposite. Fancy dress denotes something similar to costume party and so while a number of people did wear black-tie and ball gowns to the Proms (yes, even though they had to stand outside in the queue for hours), just as many were wearing things like strategically placed Union flags; fuzzy cowboy hats; aprons; wigs and false mustaches. Ann and I dressed up nicely during our brief reprise from the queue, grabbed a quick lunch and hurried back so as not to miss any of the quintessentially British queuing.

The Queue (Part II)

From 3pm until we were allowed into the Hall at 7pm (for the 8pm performance) we queued. And let me tell you, if queuing were an Olympic sport (*note to London 2012 Olympics planning committee*) we would have taken gold. Not only did we retain our place in line, we picnicked, made friends with the people beside us, survived grouchy queue monitors from the Hall, and took part in an impromptu sing-along.

Perhaps the best bit of the queue was meeting a fantastic group of London students whose music knowledge put mine to shame but still allowed us to spend the rest of the day hanging out with them. I got tips on upcoming operas, met a real Welsh girl (I still wish I were Welsh), compared picnics, and discussed differences in the party scene between American and London universities (note to my fellow Americans: we lose). Despite the fun we were having outside, it was starting to get a bit chilly, we had been sitting outside all day, and the excitement was rising so we were perfectly happy to be let into the Royal Albert Hall.

The Proms (First Half)

The only time I had been inside the RAH before was for the rather unique experience I have alluded to earlier. This polar opposite event had about 100 or so people and I had about three metres of space to myself on the arena floor. Now, however, I was packed in with 1500 others just on the floor level but when the music began, it hardly mattered. The BBC Orchestra and Choir provided the backup for baritone Bryn Terfel who sang a number of pieces including Puccini and Verdi and, just to mix things up, sea shanties. By the interval, I was quite engrossed in the music. I always forget how much I enjoy live classical music and sharing it with 5000 other viewers made it even more special. The only thing that seemed to be missing was the emphatic flag waving I had been promised….

The Proms (Second Half)

If anything, the anticipation was greater entering into the second half of the show. This was what the people had come to see, the real reason these people had been in the queue for the last twelve hours, and the BBC Proms Last Night that Brits know and love. There is no better way to demonstrate the event than with an actual clip of the night:

Yes, I am one of those people waving the Union Flag singing Rule Britannia. I also sang God Save the Queen.

I think after the final song, in which we all held hands and sang Auld Lang Syne I started to get a bit of a sense of the cultural heritage that this event holds for the British. There was something spectacular about this one instance when both flags and patriotism are aired and rejoiced in. In the USA, there is a constant undercurrent of patriotism. We can disagree with the government, with our peers, or with our culture but there is an element of pride in that disagreement – what a great country, we think, where I am allowed to be a dissenter. How proud we are of the stars and stripes whether it’s the 4th of July or any average Monday. I’d never gotten the sense that there was such pride or patriotism in this somewhat confused former imperialist power where I now reside. So it was with relief and joy that, like a suppressed memory the flags, national songs and love of Britain was finally released on the night of September 13th. How could the country not rally around, raise their children to watch, and, of course, queue for hours for this event?

And because there’s no chance of such a show of British patriotism until this time next year, just for good measure let me say it once more; God Save the Queen.

Alright, this is definitely the last Hamlet-related post for a while (until I see David Tennant play Hamlet and then you won’t be able to get me to shut up about it.  Again.) but I just wanted to do a quick plug for my article I’ve written for Spoonfed about the Underground Hamlet event.

Hamlet at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre

Send the link to your family and friends, it makes my job as marketing director easier and it makes me happier that I know people are reading my article!

Here’s a teaser:

23:59 on September 6th. Shakespeares Globe Theatre is packed with a sold-out crowd wielding an unlikely assortment of objects including a model of K-9 and a real stuffed deer that would make a taxidermist proud. There is a sense of excitement and overcaffinated anticipation palpable in the air as the crowd prepares for the three and a half hour marathon that marks the one year anniversary of Underground Hamlet. Read more…

The complete Paris itinerary (as it actually happened) coming to a blog near you soon!