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Quiz Love

I love British TV and one of my favorite genres is the quiz-themed.  For me, it is relaxing, and at the same, ironically, provides a chance for me get hyped shouting answers at the telly– cathartic when you’re in a country where you have no friends, family or work colleagues to talk to just any time.  My favorites (in order) are:  University Challenge (BBC), Mastermind (BBC), The Chase (ITV) and Eggheads (BBC).

I began to follow a full season of University Challenge (meaning, start to finish) last year. When I was in the US, I would catch it on delayed run on YouTube. I have also introduced a few American friends to it, and they love it.  Which makes me wonder why Quiz shows are not as big or common on American TV, but anyway.  I digress.  University Challenge got a spike (not just in viewership but in social media buzz) largely because of Canadian Eric Monkman and his team mates Justin Yang (also Canadian), Ben Chaudri (who has made “Nominate Chaudri” a popular byline when you need help with answers) and Paul Cosgrove (he of the bemused smile and closing-bracket sitting position) from Wolfson College, Cambridge.  And also the team from Emmanuel College Cambridge led by Bobby Seagull and his baby-faced teammates.  Monkman’s tight-browed intensity and booming voice is a stark contrast to Seagull’s smiley enthusiasm, but they seem to share an endearing lack of arrogance or self consciousness.  And altho neither team won the Championship — that honor went to Oxford’s Balliol College (led by Joey Goldman) — they came out with their own cult following.  The bromance also produced radio stints and a book  (which I must admit I have yet to get a copy, but I will).

So far this year, the show is at the quarter finals level.  My favorite team is Ulster University — if only because, or maybe precisely because, they are so out-of-the-mold of the teams or winners:

  1.  They are from Northern Ireland (largely under represented in UC)
  2.  Their average age is 50 which makes them often more than twice the average age of their opponents (“You’re never too old!”)
  3.  They are a very good, solid, cohesive and fast team
  4.  They are NOT Oxbridge (to point out the obvious)
  5.  Their spirited, excitable and animated expressions when they get a question right or wrong.

They have that underdog quality that makes you just want to root for them, because they represent the quiet and deadly potential, nay power, of the unexpected.  I really hope they win (they lost to St. John’s Cambridge, but still have another shot) or at least go through to the semis.  Go Ulster!

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Bird Watching

When I tell friends in the US about the “British things” I like or do when in the UK, I get reactions like eyes widening (or rolling) or raised eyebrows.  Drives home the reality that my lives on either side of the pond are VERY different, and this oftentimes makes my interests on one side of the pond sound quite incredulous to people on the other.  But I always say “vive de difference” as it is always difference, diversity, even incongruence, in life that makes things inviting and fun.  The latest thing I have developed is (get ready for this) BIRDWATCHING.  In Chicago, I don’t get the chance to see the variety of birds that i can when in our little village in the UK.  I can tell you though that at any one time when I look up the sky in the Windy City, I can see at least 3 planes flying northwestward over Lake Michigan, en route to Ohare International.  Mechanized flying things that roar, not quite as graceful as birds and their songs.  And so I started noticing these feathered friends from those daily look-outs from the window by the kitchen sink here in England, and hearing their tweets and calls.  What a refreshing treat.  Not long after my father-in-law gave us a colored poster of common birds (pull out from a Sunday paper) which piqued my curiosity even more. Add on a day at Caernarfon Castle with the RSPB (Royal Society of the Protection of Birds) selling (and me buying) lapel pins of a host of bird species to raise funds, and the serendipitous £1 find I got from a charity shop (RSPB Pocket Guide to British Birds by Simon Harrap) the very next day, and there we have the perfect storm of the birth of a new hobby.

Over Christmas, Hubby bought me a pair of binoculars, specifically, a NIKON PROSTAFF 7s 10×42.  They are not the typical small little things that birdwatchers can thrust into the pockets.  More the type you hang on your neck while you move around. They feel “substantial” — which I like, because they have more the feel that you’re holding a piece of equipment rather than a toy.  The best part of it is that it is lightweight, for all the power it packs in.  IMG_3358

I keep on the window sill the RSPB pocket guide, and a more expansive “Birds of Britain and Europe” by Rob Hume. I like that both books either describe the bird voice/sounds or illustrate their flight pattern.  Both books also provide a cross reference to confusion species or similar species.  I also have a small notebook where I have begun to note down the birds I have seen and where.  For now, I think the most special one I have on the list is the Great-Spotted Woodpecker which honored us with its presence when it came for the bird-feed pellets we have just put out.                                                                                                                            With his bold black wings decorated with little white dots, and a bright red crown and under tail — what a beauty.  We now have 3 feeders in the backyard, and we like to think it has become Blue Tits Central in this little neighborhood.  They fly together, and oftentimes we have finches, blackbirds, chaffinches, robins, starlings, chubby wood pigeons and even the odd pheasants joining in there party.  I am so looking forward to more of these glorious feathered creatures, in number and types, coming over in the spring and summer.

“…I keep looking for one more teacher, only to find that fish learn from the water and birds learn from the sky.” ~ Mark Nepo (author, in “Facing The Lion, Being The Lion, Finding Inner Courage Where It Lives”)

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Snippet on Adjusting to Life in the UK

I realize that I haven’t posted in a while; and I am a little half-hearted about jump-starting it with a grumble.  In particular, it will be about (the virtually non-existent) customer service in the UK…. again.  It’s the one thing about  UK life I can’t quite get my head around, just because it’s a puzzle that in a country where everything is about civility, politeness and niceties, very few stores (or “shops”) seem to be able to get it right.

Today I headed into town to run a few errands at the bank and the post office.  Too early for the return train — and yes, I DO have to rush back home as I have a conference call to Chicago by 9:30 Central Time — I decided to go to Debenhams to use up an expiring gift card.  The gift card had a 24-month lifetime, and we got it as a wedding gift 2 years ago.  Hence the urgency to use it before its expiration.  I got a few small things at the home section, and headed up to pay.   Here goes the convo at the till:

Cashier :  Hi, you alright?

Me :  Hi, yes, I’m good how are you (waited for her to scan the 2 items, tell me the total, and then I handed over the gift card)

Cashier :  (peering from the top of her bifocals for some time and swiping it) — Do you know how much money you have on the card?

Me : (slightly surprised why it was up to me to tell her how much was left on the card — she could swipe to find out couldn’t she? — and trying to remember how much I had left on the card).  Hmmmmm…. I’m not too sure.   I think I might have around £120-something on it….

Cashier : (looking back at me)  So, in other words, — you do not know…..

Yup, those were her words  — “so in other words, you do not know….”

I am only slightly amused, but  mostly annoyed at myself, for being thrown off by comments like these, especially when they come with an accent and a nose in the air (literally, as it tried to hold up her bifocals).  I am not too sure whether to react the “American way” of always being right as customer; or to tread the polite line of putting sales staff softly in their place by a slight change in my intonation, the right choice of words, or the just-enough raise of my right eyebrow.  It really is tricky to make that split-second decision to either dare to be yourself and risk awkward attention; or to live as the Romans when in Rome and tone everything way way down.  I just know that each time I come over to the UK, I do not stay long enough to get out of the mode of being the visitor or the outsider, and to know how to deal with situations the way locals do.  But because that is my choice and this is my life, for now all I can do is sigh.  Until I get it right, if they don’t.