Tag Archives: University of Westminster

Scotland Votes No in Independence Referendum

Edinburgh – With nearly all of the results from the 18 September referendum on independence having been announced, Scotland’s status as a member of the United Kingdom is secured. In an election with turnout at well over 80%, the No campaign won Thursday’s referendum by 10 points with a 55%-45% victory. In regards to individual vote numbers, No had 1,914,187 votes whilst Yes had 1,539,920.

While Thursday’s referendum did not result in Scottish independence, the results undoubtedly will result in further political change throughout the United Kingdom. The major No parties, the Conservatives, Labour, and Liberal Democrats all promised further devolution to Scotland, a promise which Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond, MSP stated must be met.

All sides hailed the high voter turnout numbers throughout Scotland, with over 80% of the population casting ballots in the referendum. In particular, the voter turnout rate in Stirling, which voted no, was an incredibly high 90%.

The vote was settled by 06.00 BST (00.00 CDT, 15.00 AEST) with the returns in Fife, whose 139,788 votes against independence put the No campaign over the edge and into victory early Friday morning local time.

Much of the discussion in the hour since the Fife announcement has involved further devolution not only for Scotland, but also for Wales, England, and Northern Ireland, even with talk of a Federal system being established in the United Kingdom in the future.

Trading began in the City of London earlier than normal on Friday, with financial reactions being seen largely in the currency markets, with the pound sterling rising to 1.65 USD (1.28 EUR, 1.84 AUD). The BBC reported that the American markets are also expected to open higher than normal on Friday as a result of the no vote.

British Prime Minister David Cameron spoke from Downing Street at 07.06 on Friday (01.06 CDT, 16.06 AEST), saying, “Like millions of others, I am delighted” with the referendum’s results. “We now have a great opportunity to change how the British people are governed,” the PM continued. He made it clear to note that those commitments proposed by the three pro-Union parties will be taken up by a commission to be led by Lord Kelvin.

“I have long believed that a crucial part missing from this discussion is England.” Cameron went on to announce his support for plans to be drawn up that could lead to a future devolved English legislative body, which would have similar powers to the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly.

No matter the result, Scotland, and the United Kingdom are changed forever. Thursday’s historic vote will undoubtedly be remembered for centuries to come as a major milestone in the constitutional history of the United Kingdom.

Learning in London – A Living, Urban Classroom

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St Paul’s reflected by the face of One New Change.

Shoreditch, London – If I ever wanted to study history, there are few cities in the world that are greater places to do so than here. Not only is my class studying the history of London in London, but we’re doing it by going around and actually seeing the history and how the present is presenting and re-presenting it through museums, galleries, plaques, and monuments. So far, this is the best way I’ve found to learn the history of a place, because it cuts out the Prof. Binns effect to use a Harry Potter reference, in that the class can just be a boring list of names, dates, and battles. Not that I’ve actually had such a class thus far in my academic career, of course. However, the class I’m in right now is by far at the extreme opposite end of the spectrum from such a Binns class. After all, how many history classes have you taken where your classroom for the day is the British Museum, or where your main project is to find something in the history of London that could be better represented or needs to be told in the first place.

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“…how many history classes have you taken where your classroom for the day is the British Museum…”

My paper and presentation is going to be on how the linguistic history of London could be better represented in the Museum of London. In particular, I’m going to be looking at how the languages and cultures of the past, whether Celtic, Roman, Saxon, Norman, Medieval, Tudor, or the more recent generations, impacted the landscape and life of London today. You can see the impact greatly in toponymy. For example, in London one can find a tremendous amount of Anglo-Saxon street and borough names, such as Aldgate, Cheapside, and Smithfield.

My first full day of class was at the British Museum. We spent the day wandering through it, first looking at how the museum told the story of humanity, and then in particular how it told the story of Britain. There were somethings in the museum that I found really interesting and exciting, particularly in the British sections, such as the Barnack Burial, which is a skeleton of a man who died between 2330 BC and 2310 BC. (Source: British Museum). The crazy thing about it is that when I thought about it, I realised that because he was a pre-Roman Briton (the ancestors more so of the modern Welsh than English), this skeleton is probably one of my ancestors. That realisation made the experience more personal, and much cooler for me.

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“…this skeleton is probably one of my ancestors.”

One area that I am most interested in, as can be seen by my mention of the aforementioned skeletal man, is in the peoples who came before the great civilisations and empires of Antiquity. Two such peoples are the Etruscans of Italy and the Minoans of Crete. The British Museum has a collection of Etruscan artefacts, which were a delight to see, as I don’t get to see much save Rome in Kansas City. Among them was a wall painting showing your normal Etruscans from the height of their civilisation. A lot of these ancient things are so eerie because I think about how when they were first made, that culture was probably not unlike our own in that it seemed stable, and ready to continue on into the future. But, they are no longer around, just as one day we will most probably not be around as well.

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“…that culture was probably not unlike our own…”

Another interesting thing that caught my eye was the Assyrian collection. Being a lover of Gilgamesh, I had to take a look at this section of the museum, which was as it should be: astounding. Again in the artefacts that we leave behind, the future can learn more about lost civilisations and cultures. So too, in things such as a wall carving of an Assyrian king wrestling and stabbing a lion, we are shown a particular image of their society, and the power of their kings, that could or could not be unlike our own. I had a good laugh later in the day when at the National Portrait Gallery, I came across a Reubens depiction of a Lion Hunt.

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An Assyrian King stabs a lion whilst throttling it.

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Peter Paul Rubens, A Lion Hunt, about 1614-15.

The thing to keep in mind is that despite the passage of time, the changing of language and culture from one to another, we always remain human. Just as a king in the 16th Century BC may have a fascination with hunting lions, to show his own power and prowess, so too a 17th Century painter would use that same image to depict the greatness of his subject. After all, what is the symbol of English Football than the 3 Lions of England? This is one of the great things about history that I love so much, that we learn so much about ourselves and our culture when we study others. In London, one can see this more so than perhaps in other cities. Here in the courtyard of the London Guildhall, one can see architecture from every period in the City’s 2000 year history from the Roman amphitheatre under one’s feet to the late 20th century buildings on of the Guildhall’s West Wing. This is truly a great place to study history, one of, if not the greatest there is. I am looking forward to next week’s class, as we continue on our walks through London, learning about the past, and how the present depicts it, while keeping a watchful eye on how the future may depict us when we too become the past.

Travelling about London

Shoreditch, London – The first day of class has come and gone. It was rather a fun and exciting day, both at university and out and about in town. If I hadn’t been too sure of my knowledge and understanding of the Underground before this morning, I certainly am as I write this at 20.00 in the evening.

London Underground symbol

“Once one gets the system down, travelling in London is not to bad at all compared to other big cities.”

Once one gets the system down, travelling in London is not to bad at all compared to other big cities. After class got out today I decided to head over to Apsley House, the home of le vainqueur de Waterloo, the 1st Duke of Wellington. To get there from my home station, I had to make one transfer between trains, which wasn’t too terribly bad. The problem came in the fact that I left the dorm at 15.30 and Apsley House was scheduled to close at 17.00, so considering that rush hour was just beginning to wake from its meridical slumber, I knew that I needed to get there a bit faster than normally I would have. So, by walking down escalators on the left (rather than standing on the right as is custom here), and standing on trains near the doors, being the first one to jump off when said portals opened at my transfer and destination (Hyde Park Gate), I was able to make it to Apsley House at 16.20, a good 40 minutes prior to closing time. Unfortunately however, I entered the courtyard and found the sign that read “CLOSED” standing on the steps leading to the front door.

Apsley House, courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons.

Apsley House

In my annoyance I decided to walk around for a bit, after all I was in Knightsbridge, which is one of the nicest neighbourhoods in London. As I walked along I chanced to see a few things I probably wouldn’t have seen had I just gone back to the Hyde Park tube and returned home. Among these were the Libyan and Kuwaiti embassies, the latter of which had a rather large flag in front of it. I would have stopped by to see if I could pick up a couple Kuwaiti dinar, which last I looked was the highest valued currency globally at present. But because of the obviously heavily armed guards in front of the embassy (one was standing talking to the other who was driving a G-Wiz [cute, I know]) I chose to pass onwards and get back onto the tube at Knightsbridge. Now here’s the kicker, where no doubt my Mom will be saying, “Seán, you shouldn’t have…”: I didn’t actually know which tube line ran through Knightsbridge station, I just knew it was a tube station and that I could get home somehow someway. As a matter of fact I didn’t even know which lines went through there until I got onto the platform level (I intentionally left my tube map in my pocket), just as a bit of an adventure. Needless to say, I got onto the only line there, the Piccadilly line, and took that back towards the university, figuring that I might run into some friends if I did that. Though I didn’t run into any other ISA students, I did get an opportunity to try and blend in with the business-folk going home from a day’s work in the City (the CBD). It worked rather well, except for two businessmen who were giving me funny looks because my suit wasn’t black like all the rest of the businesspeople on the train, which granted I’m not a businessman, I’m a historian in training and a filmmaker, so I can wear some colours other than black, blue, and white (all of which I was wearing in one way or another, mind you.)

The G-Wiz (Reva-i outside of the UK)

“(one was standing talking to the other who was driving a G-Wiz [cute, I know])”

I got off at my home station at about 18.00 and made my way over to our local Argos (a UK electronics store). At first the place threw me for a loop. When I walked in all I saw was a big empty space in a small shop. I soon realised that I had to go over to the far left and look in their catalog, write down the number of the item I wanted to buy (a desk fan as there’s no air circulation in my room & no AC either), then take my little slip of paper to the counter and have the clerk type it into the system and take my money. Then I went and waited by a counter on the far right side of the shop, and not unlike Portillo’s, for all you Chicagolanders out there, I waited for my number to be called. After getting the fan, I went home, set it up, and enjoyed a nice cool breeze in the room.

However, I would have to say the two most amusing sights I have seen since coming to London were both involving transport. On the tube last night on the way back from Westminster a health & safety sign on one train had been graffitied so it read, “OBSTRUCTING THE DOORS CAN BE DANGEROUS”. The second was on the way to the university this morning we came upon a G-Wiz that was parallel parked on the side of a street but perpendicular to the rest of the cars, as in it was backed into the spot in question. This is why small cars are the best!

So, to the point of this article (seeing as I titled it “Travelling about London”), what is the best way to get about Central London? In my opinion, if you want cheap and fast, take the tube. Sure, you don’t get to see sights on the way (as you’re below ground), but you do get a good opportunity to blend in with the locals & will reach your destination quicker than if on a bus or in a cab. In regards to buses, they still confound me tremendously. I’m avoiding them for now. As for cabs, the licensed ones are good, but pricey for just one person. So, I’m probably taking the tube home from the opera or theatre for example. Of course, if you’re just staying in one part of town, walking’s a fine way to get about, after all it’s what the locals do. But, on no condition, as I have heard time and again, and seen from afar, never attempt to drive in London if you’re not a local. If you think Chicago traffic’s a pain try coming here at rush hour. Let’s just say the British don’t have the concept of jaywalking, so if there’s a wide enough gap in traffic people just cross the street. O, and also just don’t make eye contact and don’t apologise for going past people on the pavement (sidewalk) or in the tube’s escalators and pedestrian tunnels in stations, just keep moving forward. And for no reason at all stop and look at your map in the open, just keep moving and find a café or sign.

So, with that, I’m signing off for the night. Tá.

Settling down in London

Shoreditch, London – After 6 and a half hours in the air (8 and a half hours on the plane thanks to a great JFK traffic jam), I at long last made it to London-Heathrow yesterday morning (15 June) at 8.00. The flight was quite interesting, and didn’t have much trouble after we got off the ground. About two hours into the flight, for whatever reason I had the urge to lift the window shade just a bit. This “sudden urge” turned out to be quite rewarding, as I got an exquisite photo of the sun just beginning to rise over eastern Greenland.

Sunrise over Greenland, 15 Meith/Jun/Juin 2013 at 3.00 UTC.

“This “sudden urge” turned out to be quite rewarding…”

The Irish coast in Co Wexford from the air

The Irish coast in Co Wexford from the air.

The Welsh coast near St David's from the air.

The Welsh coast near St David’s from the air.

A couple hours later we began to fly over an tír na mo aithreacha (the land of my fathers), Éire (Ireland). We flew in a straight line from about Ennis to Wexford, and then crossed the Irish Sea to another country of which I have heritage, Cymru (Wales). Over Wales, we flew from about St David’s in the west to the mouth of the Severn in the East.

I landed in London, as aforementioned, at 8.00 in the morning and made it through customs by about 9.00. There at Heathrow’s arrivals meeting place, I met up with the ISA London office, and ended up staying there in the arrivals area until 12.00 Noon when we as a group at long last left for our housing. It took us a good hour to drive across London to our building. My room is quite nice actually. It’s a bit on the small side, but is quite comfortable and cozy. The one complaint that I have at present is the lack of air movement, which will soon be redeemed by a fan, which hopefully I’ll be buying at Argos soon. My room is one of six that are grouped together in a flat, which is on the first floor (ground floor in US English) of the building. There are three other people living here with me, two of which are with ISA, and the third with another programme. We share a kitchen, and the third person and I share a toilet (bathroom).

Dorm Room at University of Westminster

“…but is quite comfortable and cozy.”

As I was originally typing this into WordPress last night at about 20.00, I began to feel a bit drowsy. However I was determined to continue with my typing and complete the article before bed. But alas, my computer, being the wise soul that she is (she as in how ships are called she or her) decided to go to sleep as well and stop working properly. So, I too retired for the night. I first woke up around 22.00, thinking that it was the next day already, forgetting in my exhaustion that the Sun stays out here until about 22.30 during the Summer months.

I woke up the next morning at my 7.30 alarm quite refreshed and free from the shackles of sleepiness. After showering (they use two handles, one for hot and one for cold water, thus it was hard to figure out the balance) and eating a light breakfast of a NutriGrain bar, I made my way up to my new parish church, St Monica’s in Hoxton. The Parish is an Augustinian one, and their Mass was quite nice. They had a few songs, without the need of a cantor, and chanted all of the prayers. There were a couple differences, like the priest asking God to “pencil out our sins” rather than forgive them, one which I found quite charming, but otherwise it was much the same as most of the Masses that I’ve attended back in the States or in Ireland. However, I had to leave early and miss the talk on the parish fundraiser as I was due back at the hall of residence for the group meeting for orientation.

For orientation we took the tube to Oxford Circus, which is the closest stop to the University of Westminster’s Regent Street Campus. However, just about 3 blocks south and 1 block west of the University was our true destination for that moment, the ISA London offices on Great Portland Street. The ISA staff have been truly welcoming of all of us on this trip, and one gent from the office, Tom, even took a good hour out of his day yesterday to help a fellow student, Jon from the great state of Wisconsin, (home to Michael Feldman (of NPR fame) and one of my favourite burger places, Culver’s) and I in getting UK mobile phones. We were able to find very cheap phones at the Phone Warehouse for £4.95 for the phone and £10.00 for the plan with O2.

After orientation, Jon and I took a bit of an adventure and made our way down Oxford Street. I told him about a store where he could probably be able to get a much needed electrical adaptor, and we headed in what I thought was the right direction. Turned out I was a bit off in my geography, and we ended up going the wrong way by a couple blocks. So, after turning around and heading back west, we eventually found the store I was telling him about, Selfridge’s. Now, I wouldn’t have even heard of the retail giant had it not been for PBS broadcasting the ITV minseries about Selfridge’s founder, Harry Gordon Selfridge, on the Masterpiece series. We made our way into the store, and soon found ourselves in electronics, where Jon got his adaptor, and I met a very friendly and interesting clerk, who just so happens to be planning a North American vacation, which includes a drive from DC to Toronto. I wished him luck, and we continued onwards and upwards (literally in that sense as the electronics department is in the cellar) to the foodhall, which is on the ground floor. We ate at this nice sort of cafeteria style eatery, simply named Eat, where we both got the store’s signature beef sandwich, which was basically roast beef on bread of your choice, with whatever sort of mustard you wanted on top. Now, I’m not a mustard lover, and when ordering I thought by asking me if I wanted, “American, English, or French” they were talking about cheese. So, thinking English meant a nice cheddar, I spoke thus, and to my horror found mustard squirted onto my nice beef sandwich. I ended up eating the beef that didn’t have the mustard on it, and only the bottom slice of bread, as it also was naked in a sense.

We returned to the ISA office by way of it’s neighbour, the BBC Broadcasting House, and sat around until a tour bus came for the group. We took a nice tour of the major sites of London: Buckingham Palace, Westminster, and the City, and returned to our building forthwith afterwards.

I must say one of the most interesting parts of my day has been what has just happened prior to me sitting down to write this, grocery shopping in the UK. It’s just that bit different from shopping in Kansas City that I just had to mention it. See, I was surprised at just how little meat there was for sale on the shelves. Now of course, this was a smaller local grocer (a branch of Sainsbury’s to be exact), and so they wouldn’t have quite as much as a larger place, but it did surprise me. I ended up spending about £13 on food for the next couple of days, buying bread and preservatives for sandwiches, some pasta and a tomato basil sauce for dinner sometime (keeping with the Pasta & Prayer tradition), and other stuff as well.

So far this has been quite the exciting and interesting beginning to my time in London, and it certainly makes me look forward with anticipation at what is to come. So, for now, tá.