Friday, February 26, 2010

Aye, hi

Howdy all. Apologies for not reporting in for a while; February has been a whirlwind of activity, from work, friends, visitors, and travelling. As it is, i'm blogging from Dublin. One of the Irishman's mates from uni is getting married tomorrow so we took a day off from work to sit back and relax Irish-style. I'm currently sitting in his parents' kitchen painting my toenails (peeptoed heels for tomorrow).

Back to what I've been up to: nothing good, to be honest. And by good, I mean healthy. Despite a major budgetary review for the month's finances, I spent a lot of February eating and drinking everything. Remember that running resolution? Heh. It was replaced by runny stinky cheeses in Paris and lots of deliciousness in London. My friend Matt was here early in the month as I told you, and we ate all of Borough Market. Then my bestie Kat and her boyfriend visited for a week and the floodgates opened. We ate curries, Thai, Lebanese, and Chinese buns in London, and more foie gras and cheese and wine in Paris than should be legal. When they left, I was sad to see them go but my stomach contracted slightly with a sigh of relief.

But the best part of Kat and DK's visit was the big reveal of a secret I've been keeping since September - DK proposed!!!! I helped him with some ring details long distance via gchat and keeping that secret has been killing me. It was horrible to dance around he topic while we were shopping and chatting during their visit, so when he finally popped the question I was probably more excited than she was initially. But by the time she left, her smile was brighter than the sparkler on her finger.

So with all the love and kisses in the air, my Pisces nature is reveling in the good vibes. I'm looking forward to March as my birthday is next week with some dancing in the plans, and then some serious getting down to business on the running plan. Though I am loving all the eating and drinking and celebrating, my stomach is reflecting it accordingly. Yikes.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Girls don't cry

I try to keep the public/private divide intact on BloodyBrill, despite what you think after having read my previous post about poop, which is why you don't know much about my work or where I work or what I do. I allude to my job and my career, but I don't believe in sticking my foot in my mouth virtually. Plus, come one - everyone can find everyone these days on the ol' interweb.

But I will share my frustrations in this forum more often than not, and I think that's acceptable. My latest is that I just had my performance review (or appraisal, or whatever). I haven't had one since this time last year, and so much has changed at work and in the economy and my life in general that frankly I sort of didn't want to know. It didn't turn out too bad - definitely could have been worse - but the number one piece of feedback I received was about crying. I am considered, across my office, to be overly emotional and prone to crying way too often.

Now. I'm not saying I haven't had to duck into the loo every so often, or gone behind closed doors to let out my frustration, both here and in New York. I know it's considered a sign of weakness for women to cry in the workplace and that generally it's bad for one's career if they're seen to constantly break down at the drop of a hat (which apparently is the general consensus about me), and yes, I get it. But dammit I am so angry about the really ridiculous double standard that exists in British culture. Women shouldn't cry, shouldn't have any emotional response at all to anything in the workplace, but also are treated like second-class citizens even when they do show a characteristic stiff upper lip. I've never seen a culture so crude, with all female PAs and EAs, where the all-male old-boys club is still going strong, and where women more often than not carry the bag in the colleague relationship - and not the handbag. It's absolutely disgusting and one of the biggest disappointments I've had since moving to the UK.

In New York, if you're a confident, strong, articulate, smart woman, you can go anywhere, do anything (with ok maybe a bit of luck). But here, no way. Even in a creative industry women are still weak and still volatile, so men have to run the show. The head of my company is a woman, and I'll bet she still encounters the same crap I do. I feel for her, and for every other woman in business in this country. I know that my sometimes frequent work breakdowns (becoming less frequent, but still) don't help crush the stereotype. It's probably been the hardest thing for me to overcome since moving here, because it's a vicious circle: treat a confident girl like crap, even she will cry - and then you'll treat her more like crap, because she's acting like a girl. It's not fair, but I suppose life isn't fair.

I had an interesting conversation last week with an old New York colleague, and relayed this Catch-22 to him; he sympathized, but reminded me that I did want international experience and this was the dirty underbelly of it. I didn't like hearing it, but I know he's right. I guess it's up to me to prove to the world that us Jersey girls can take their poop and throw it right back. With an English accent.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Everybody poops

Last week I had to make a pretty humiliating phone call to the Irishman. It went something like this:

me: "Hi, it's me"
him: "Hi" (when he's at work he is very serious on the phone)
me: "I have a confession to make"
him: "Ok"
me: "You know how I felt a bit sick after the curry we had last night"
him: "Yeah"
me: "Well, before I left for work I went to the bathroom" (he leaves for work earlier than me)
him: "Ok..."
me: "And now I feel better, but..."
him: "Uh, okay..."
me: "Well, uh, I mean, what I'm trying to say"
him: "YES?"
me: "I'mreallysorrybutwhenIflusheditalldidn'tgoawayandItriedtousetheplungerbutitdidn'tworksoI'msorrythereisapresentforyouwhenyougethome."
him: "Oh right (chuckle). That's okay. Gotta go bye."

I'm recounting this ridiculous episode for you because it's actually something that's been on my mind for nearly a year now - the way British people deal with, well, poop. The topic came to my attention when I realized soon after moving here that every bathroom (or "loo") features a toilet brush. Not just residential bathrooms, mind you; every loo in my office has a toilet brush, every pub and bar toilet stall has one, even public restrooms like in train stations have them. Obviously I've scrubbed a toilet in my time, but I didn't quite grasp that if you use a toilet and leave a little behind it is common courtesy to scrub it away. I grew up in a house with four bathrooms - my father is quite proud that there is one for each of us - and it is a testament to my mother's housekeeping that the bathrooms were always spotless. But the toilet brush remained far out of sight, in the cupboard with the cleaning supplies. In college and my subsequent apartments, I only had one shared commode and then I think our toilet brushes lived next to the toilet just for convenience's sake, but I don't think anyone used it unless it was with the toilet bowl cleaning solution. I asked the Irishman once about this topic, and he was incredulous that it wasn't part of my psyche to understand that brush + bowl = scrub more often than not. I didn't want to attribute this behavior, or lack thereof, to Americans overall; maybe it's just me and I didn't want to flush my entire nation down with me. But I am curious about this cultural difference, so American readers - what's your loo etiquette?

It's that time of year again...

when I lose the Irishman every weekend for two months to international rugby. Last year Ireland won the 6 Nations tournament with a Grand Slam, beating all each of the other 5 countries (England, Scotland, Wales, France, and Italy), and are gunning to defend their title. The Irishman is pumped for this year's competition, so much so that when I was courted with a romantical suggestion of going to Paris for Valentine's Day for the second year in row I knew there was an ulterior motive: of course Ireland is playing France in Paris on 13 February. The Irishman thought it would be wonderful to spend the weekend in the City of Lights/Love, with an entire day devoted to watching gigantic men in tight shorts jump on top of one another. Actually, as long as #15 Rob Kearney is playing for Ireland, I'm FINE with watching a rugby game, but I had to reject his sentimental offer. He got his wish in the end, though, as friends from the US Kat and DK are going to be here next week, and we're all going to head across the channel for the weekend so the boys can go to the rugby and the girls can go to Chanel. Sounds fair, no?

To be completely honest, I do enjoy watching a rugby game in the pub with the Irishman and his mates, but I get really really nervous. I've come to adopt the Irish team as my own, and I get really upset if they fall behind or miss big plays. Now that they are defending their title, I couldn't actually watch their first game yesterday vs Italy. Even though it was an easy game, and the won handily, the thought of sitting through a heartwrenching loss is too much for me. So I watched the pregame show with the Irishman, and then went shopping. It looks like that's going to be the status quo for my weekends for the foreseeable future.

Saturday, February 6, 2010


I spent the day yesterday up north in Manchester. The third largest city in England, it's a little bit over two hours northwest of London in Lancashire. It is the home of Manchester United, and Manchester City, (football teams) and I was sent on what I am calling a "strategic tourism" mission; I am working on a new project at work that requires developing an intimate knowledge of the heart and soul of the city. Given that my dream job is being a professional tourist, I gladly jumped at the chance to get on an early Virgin train and spent the day traversing the town.

Manchester, or Manchestah as it's said with a Manc accent, is an underdog city. It reminded me a lot of Philadelphia in that it has a strong civic pride in its industrial past, and is searching for a new identity in a digital age. Manchester's history is rooted in the industrial revolution and scientific advancement; it was the home of the textile industry and at one point actually produced 70% of the country's fabric (I went to a museum, obviously). The automated looms that allowed the textile industry to flourish were invented in and around Manchester, first atom was split in Manchester, and the periodic table of elements was developed there. But it is also famous for recent cultural events - its downtown was bombed by IRA bombers in 1996, and "Cool Britannia" poster boys Oasis epitomize the city's gritty swagger.

I went up to Manchester with the design director on my project who went to uni there - the University of Manchester is a top-rated school and the city has several other colleges and universities in and around it, also like Philadelphia - which was brilliant as he took the lead and followed his nose around his old stomping grounds and I got to just follow along. The city is so small, like Philly, that you can traverse it easily and we got to see pretty much every neighborhood. There are amazing little pockets of youth and hipster culture in areas like the Northern Quarter, as well as some truly hideous tourist traps like the Printworks. Manchester has its own version of the London Eye; the man in the tourism office told us that on a clear day you could see all the way to Wales from the top (my companion asked me rhetorically why anyone would want to see Wales, but that's another blog entry).

One of the stereotypes of Manchester, and the north in general, is their friendliness compared to "Southerners" and their strength. Walking around the city, residents were kind, willing to chat and answer questions, and much more open and effacing when compared with the cynical wariness of Londoners. But they also all looked old before their time, weathered by the cold and the history of hard labor. Even though many of industrial factory jobs have gone, the economy in Manchester hasn't replaced them with white-collar positions. The people in Manchester have an air of resignation to them, like they've seen it all before, and nothing is going to change, so they're just going to go down the pub. Which they do a lot. But Manchester is also one of those places where people walk down the street and know all the people they pass, and stop to have a chat. It's a big small town.

So after walking around for eight hours, photographing every inch of the place and taking occasional pint breaks (well you know, it is the best way to get to the heart and soul of a British city), I got back on the train to return to London. I shared the carriage with a Mancunian hen party. In some ways, that group of ladies cackling typified Manchester – tough, dressed a bit, well, over the top, they were on their way down to London for the weekend to have a good time. But their home was Manchester and they were proud to be from there, and I suppose that's the point.

Pictures are coming... I just haven't taken them off my camera!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Friends & family

I was pleased to leave work last night at quarter to 7, rather than 11, and even more pleased that I was rushing out to meet the Irishman and my friend Matt for an Indian curry. Matt has been here since Friday; he is employed by the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City, and is here until Wednesday installing several pieces of art at the Tate Modern. While the Irishman headed north to Edinburgh for a stag weekend, on Saturday Matt and I headed down to Borough Market and stuffed our faces. We had both the raclette and the chorizo sandwich from Brindisa, which kept us happy as we then went over to Notting Hill. We finished up the day at my new local pub, The Drapers Arms, staying there until last call. I had such a relaxing day, and it was really refreshing to go back and revisit the touristy "must-sees" of Borough and Portobello Road. When you live someplace exciting like New York or London, you actually relish visits from out-of-towners so that you can go see things that the longer you live there the more you take for granted.

Two weekends ago my parents and grandmother were here; Mom-Mom is going to 82 next week and this was her first international trip! She was quite a trooper, keeping up with my parents who are professional tourists and take their touring very seriously. This visit the highlight was a trip to the Tower of London. I've always gone past the queues and crowds and scoffed at all of the Americans with their cameras waiting to go inside to see the Crown Jewels, but it is actually really cool and if any of you (Brit, Londoner, or otherwise) have never been I highly recommend it. Did you know that the Yeoman Warders (the Beefeaters) actually LIVE INSIDE? And the ravens are HUGE. And the Crown Jewels... holy crap, BLING. Worth it for £15 or however much each ticket cost.

I think the nicest part of my family's visit, though, was when the Irishman cooked Sunday roast for all of us. He takes a roast very seriously, and planned the menu for days and days in advance. The outcome was amazing, of course, and my parents added a bottle of organic red wine that they discovered when they were in Napa last fall. It was such a nice family gathering - too bad my brother couldn't been there - and the Irishman was extremely pleased with his efforts. The parents really loved his food, and I'm starting to suspect that they like him a lot more than me.