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BE THE MAGPIE

PhD’ing on tactile access to microscopic objects. All about anthropology, archaeology, museums, cats and bad puns. Tell me your favourite history fact.

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Hello all! Been a busy week, but not with much to report back with that would excite the general public. I did enjoy getting to drag my favourite Englishman through a city in England he’d never been, but I’m dying to have some of the folks back in the US threatening to come visit come do the same tour. I can only imagine the comments.


I’ve been to the British Museum before, and I need to go yet again before I am satisfied that I’ve seen all I wanted to see. Maybe. There’s so much!


After our field trip, some of us stayed afterwards to do the London Dungeon tour, being the day before Halloween and all. If you’re a fan of blending history and pop culture with some shock scares, then this is an excellent adventure. We witnessed Jack the Ripper stalk the streets, the plague sweep through the country, and even took a boat tour through Traitor’s Gate. Mind you, they don’t mention just how much queueing is involved, but I still think it was well worth it with friends to wait with. We all grabbed a bite to eat and wandered around a little bit before we took a late train home to Leicester afterwards.


Friday in seminar the group discussed some of the ethical issues to be found in the British Museum (And there are loads to be discussed, really.) and from there I hopped on the train to Colchester for the weekend. There wasn’t much going on for Halloween in Leicester, and Colchester was about the same. The pubs and bars had people dressed up, and a few shops had paper pumpkins or skeleton stickers on their windows, but Halloween is celebrated with nearly the same enthusiasm as Earth Day in the States. Mostly just a reason to dress up and get a drink. Or just get a drink. Saturday however, was a more exciting prospect as I was finally convinced to hire a car for the weekend to get a feel for how to drive in England.


What we thought we were getting was a Ford Mondeo (Ford Fusion in the US), which while a wider car in the UK was not all that bad. What we actually got was a minivan. A really nice new minivan, but a tank of a vehicle for such tiny English roads. Giggle now as I complain about that size, but imagine taking almost half the width off a US road and you’ll understand why it was so concerning. This poor behemoth straddled both lines of the road nearly all the time. Taking the car out of the car park, I actually got immediately into the right hand lane… Thankfully I had the ever-patient M (This man is seriously a saint.) in the passenger seat to guide me through staying on the correct side of the road and all the roundabouts we went through. You don’t notice it when you’re walking through the towns and cities, but I swear to god that half of Colchester just consists of roundabouts. Was honked at probably a good 6-7 times through Saturday as I got a crash-course (but no car crash!) in the English rules of the road I didn’t realize. Yes, as an American over the age of 25, you can in fact just hire a car with your US license. I would personally recommend to have the UK ban this practice as it’s got to be causing a significant amount of chaos on the road. I think I only managed because I had someone to tell me what I was doing was wrong. The amount of honking did go down exponentially over the next two days, but it’ll be some time before I’d be completely confident with driving in the UK as much as I was in the US. A necessary evil I suppose.


Otherwise, it was a mostly quiet week, a wonderful weekend, and now a sickly start back into the week as I deal with a persistent cough and itchy throat that have snuck up on me. Yay for new germs. Bonfire Night is tomorrow, so I hope I’m feeling well enough to get out and see some fireworks, but if not there is the perk of being in one of the tallest buildings in Leicester. Hope all is well wherever you are, and I’ll speak to y’all on the flip side of my next major essay. Wish me luck!


— Kate

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  • Kate

So I cannot tell you how many people felt the need to mention to me before I left the US, “Oh Kate, I bet you’re really gonna miss having pumpkin spice lattes in the UK. They don’t have those there.”


For the record everybody, they do. About it in terms of pumpkin flavoured anything though, so don’t start packing your bags too quickly. Oh, while we’re griping, let us discuss the grocery delivery fiasco. In the UK, it’s geographically small enough to feasibly manage grocery delivery orders. Yes folks, you can order all the groceries and household goods you’d buy on a regular trip to the store online and have them bring it to you. Depending on the time of day, this service runs you £1-£5 and an hour slot that you will definitely be in the house for. You can even look online at places like Tesco, Asda, or Sainsbury’s for an idea of how it all works. Super spiffy stuff honestly.


The fiasco began when my things were due up to be delivered. The delivery truck was about 5 minutes over the hour time frame, which I was fine ignoring, but then it just went downhill. The Tesco delivery guy finally calls my phone to say he’s here. Little odd he’s not using the intercom, but I buzzed the door open. Wait 10 minutes. Call the number back, it says the phone is off. Wait another 10 minutes. March downstairs to see if the van is here. It’s not, and the ever-patient security guard tells me there hasn’t been one. Call Tesco customer service line and explain this. They call the driver and then tell me that his phone is off. Of course it is. They tell me deliveries only run until 11 and that he may still show up (it should have been here from 9-10 that evening in the first place), but they can rebook the delivery for tomorrow just in case. Then rebooked “just in case” for 9-10 the next morning.


It did finally show the next morning at about 9:45. The delivery driver that morning let me know he was a few minutes away and so rather than wait around more than 5 minutes, I just marched downstairs. (Well, took the elevator. Nine flights of stairs is a bit melodramatic to march.) The delivery driver was just waiting in his truck for me to come down, though no one had told me this was the deal. He said he couldn’t leave his truck alone with where he was parked, so he then gave me my baskets and a moving dolly to take them upstairs myself. The maintenance guys were checking smoke alarms on my floor and were as confused as I was about why I was taking my stuff up myself. They said I should have kept the dolly. I briefly considered it. However, it wasn’t that particular driver’s fault, so I brought it down nicely and then grumbled back upstairs to put away the spoils.


Grocery delivery is worth it for not having to walk back with drinks in cans alone.Happy fridge!Mom and Dad bought me this round as a housewarming gift, and even sent along some Halloween decor. Gotta love modern technology that makes this possible!


Otherwise, it’s been another fantastic week here in Leicester, with a lot more hands-on experience than previously. On Tuesday we had an object handling session with bits of the Wellcome Collection that have ended up in the department here to get a feel for objects outside of their information. Using touch, smell, sight (and perhaps a little Googling), we had to try to pull together some information on objects and what made them so fascinating. It was difficult for some things, but others like the sawtooth nose were pretty easy to do.


There was rain on and off throughout the day with some impressive 40-50 mile per hour winds coming in from the leftovers of Hurricane Gonzalo. This didn’t seem to deter any students though. I personally witnessed a few sitting at the tables outside of the library, hunched over their plates and mugs, determined to have their lunch regardless of whether or not it tried to blow away. It also didn’t deter any of my fellow students from showing up to our first Museum Society meeting to vote on what all we’d like to do as a club for the year. There were some fun ideas like the upcoming trip to Liverpool or an ugly Christmas sweater party, as well as more practical ones like an essay-swap read-over day or a motion to get a microwave for the students to use in the building. (We’re far enough away from the Student Union to make it difficult at lunchtime if you need to heat a meal.)


Wednesday was a study day in the flat for the most part, but by mid-afternoon I had to wander up to the building for a Think Tank session about cabinets of curiosity through time and how they’ve influenced modern museums today. Did you know the word ‘cabinet’ used to just refer to a place (usually a room) that held objects in it, and not just what we consider cabinets today? These privately owned cabinets, or kunstschränke, were the precursors to museums today, and some big name places like the Ashmolean and British Museum started as donated kunstschränke for the public to finally have easy access to visit. Also (and surprisingly), most collectors were actually from the professional class – apothecaries and merchants and such, not kings and princes like many people would think. Towards the end of the lecture we were put into groups and set loose to create very quick mock-ups of exhibits that behaved like cabinets of the past using objects we’d brought into the room and some provided to us. The group I worked with were all so creative and clever, and I think we were all pretty pleased with how it turned out with only 10 minutes and a dead wasp.


Thursday evening was a really cool experience in which quite a few of us from the department went to the Diwali celebration on the north side of the city. What is Diwali you ask? To quote Wiki, “Diwali or Divali also known as Deepavali and the ‘festival of lights’, is an ancient Hindu festival celebrated in autumn every year. The festival spiritually signifies the victory of light over darkness, knowledge over ignorance, good over evil, and hope over despair. The festival preparations and rituals typically extend over a five day period, but the main festival night of Diwali coincides with the darkest, new moon night of the Hindu Lunisolar month Kartika.” It just so happens that Leicester has the largest Diwali celebration in the world outside of India, so of course it was a must-see!


Friday was another evening of celebration. Four people in the department all had birthdays in close succession with one another and decided to just have an event of it. This ended up being the perfect conclusion to the week with dinner at the Marquis and hopping over to The Pub afterwards. (Let us not discuss how confusing this pub’s name is. It’s like an Abbott and Costello scene all over again, but worse because the English are unfamiliar with Abbott and Costello and trying to explain this just gets you looks of deeper confusion.)


Otherwise, this has been a quiet weekend in with lots more reading and outline sketching for the impending essay due up in a few weeks. It’s getting nippy outside and the sun is setting much earlier, but all is still fine and dandy over here! Hope all is well wherever you’re reading this from. 🙂


— Kate

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Hello all!


It’s been another busy, quickly-gone-by week here in Leicester. Started officially with Monday, but Tuesday was my big day – a field trip to Sheffield to see the Weston Park Museum with the department! We all filed on to a double-decker coach bus and got a lovely view of the M1 traffic for part of it, and English countryside for the rest. I also learned the new time lapse feature of iOS 8 is not good for closeby hillside. Needless to say, that was a scraped video project on the way back.


The museum itself was a refreshing break from the lecture hall and the misting rain of the day, but it was definitely geared first and foremost towards children with adults as an afterthought. Why they haven’t just rebranded as a children’s museum confuses me, but I will refrain any judgment until I get a better feel of the museums in the UK. Learned some really neat things about both Sheffield’s ancient and more recent past, and the immersive exhibit sections were phenomenal. I really should have taken more photos!


When the coach pulled back into the city, the three of us living in the same building (Henceforth referred to as the North American Alliance as we’re from America and Canada respectively) stopped by Morrisons for supplies to make a Taco Tuesday happen. (It was amazing with Daniele cooking, obviously.)


I must go off on a tangent about Morrisons here in Leicester. It is MASSIVELY large. For my American friends, think of just the food section of a Walmart. It almost looks out of place in this area with its size. However, they’ve got a really good selection for the most part (I’ll write a piece just on groceries at some point. It’s fun.) and we even managed to find El Paso taco shells. Perhaps the biggest thrill of the trip though was finding electric mattress pads on sale. Of course, it’s since warmed back up dramatically, but it was misty and rainy and cold the few days before and it just sounded magical at the time. It’ll continue to be magical when the winter sets in for sure. You may be asking what an electric mattress pad is exactly – it goes under the fitted sheet but otherwise behaves entirely like an electric blanket. I actually prefer them as they radiate heat rather than scald on certain spots. (Can you tell I live an exciting life?)


Wednesday was a short day in lectures, with a quick group discussion about our trip to Sheffield. Other than that, I just paid rent (Ouch.) and ended up flaking out of the baking society meet up (pun very much intended) due to the gross weather outside. It was a soup and blanket kind of evening.


Thursday was a lively day. Met up for the Student/Staff Committee and am now a proud member for the year, which sounds promising. I didn’t have any classes for the day, so went out to see the Global Market being set up in the city centre. Did a quick look through the maze of wonderful smelling pop-up tents and picked up some delicious Dutch frosted waffles on the way home. Yum!


The weather was kinder for extracurricular activities that evening, so a group of us museum studies students went to the Real Ale Society and had a fantastic night of it! (If you haven’t caught on yet, a society here is basically a university club in the US.) A bit skewed in favour of men, but tasty beer and a bunch of science-related fields meant that it was a good time. Was told at one point that one of the guys’ uncle was in Downton Abbey, but I have trouble believing this. Then again, they do only have so many celebrities… (American stereotype imposed there.)


Friday we got our results back from our practice essay and no one burst into tears, so I can only assume we all did okay. Definitely room for improvement, but the markers were all very specific in what to improve and were actually very constructive and not critical of it all. We also had our option module briefing, in which we were given eight options to pick from. We were told that it always balances out so that everyone seems to get into the option they wanted, but when they told us we needed to pick a backup option you could see some tension form in the room. I’m sure it’ll all be fine, but I think everyone will be sure to write some impassioned reasons as to why they need to be in a specific section in the short space given to us to do so. I know I did. 😉


The weekend was uneventful for the most part. Finally settled on a topic for my next essay – the ethics of bodies being displayed in museums. Talk about some cosy reading in bed! Also went by the Global Market one last time before they closed for the weekend, and introduced my mom to online grocery shopping and delivery through Tesco. That’ll be arriving tomorrow night and I am SO EXCITED. Food gifts are some of the best gifts. 🙂


Now this week is off to a decent start with the bodies in museums lecture going on this morning. It’ll be a great springboard for working through my essay over this week. Other than that, it’s been a typical Monday. Will speak again later!


— Kate

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