Month: October 2015

Chamber Orchestra

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A few weeks ago, I was fortunate enough to be invited to play with the Chamber Orchestra at Royal Holloway. The group only rehearsed for a week before the concert and it was a collaborative event with the London Mozart Players. Each day there were a few professionals from the LMP who sat in with us and gave us tips on the music we were learning. Two of the pieces were Beethoven: Symphony no. 1 and the Coriolan overture. The piece I got to play was Mozart’s Symphony 31: “Paris Symphony”. At the rehearsals, I got some tips from one of the flutists from the LMP, and I got to ask her the one funny question I like to ask flute players: what she thought of Mozart grace-notes (there are just so many ways to interpret them, it kind of becomes a joke). It was a great concert! I got a few friends to come and they kindly took photos for me. I’m looking forward to the end of term orchestra concert!

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A Night at the Science Museum

This afternoon I had a strong desire to get out and do something (it may or may not have to do with the fact that it’s been a week since the Hannibal convention). I looked up things to do in London and found out that there was a talk entitled “Women in Space,” with this as the description:

“Join French cosmonaut Claudie Haigneré, the UK Space Agency’s Libby Jackson and comedian, writer and radio presenter Helen Keen as they discuss these questions and the critical role woman play in space science, as well as describing their own singular experiences in the field.”

Who would pass that up? Unfortunately, everyone I asked was either busy or wanted to save money. To be fair, most people do regularly plan to go out on Friday nights, so I am the one causing problems with my last minute decisions. Despite my lack of company, and after about an hour of internal debate, I caught the train to London.

I took the tube over to the science museum and made my way up to the Cosmonauts exhibit. This exhibit is focused primarily on the Soviet space program. I was not allowed any photos in the exhibit, but I did write down a few names that were especially interesting. A big portion of the exhibit was dedicated to Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman to go in space, in 1963. The BBC has a recent article about her that’s a quick read:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-34270395.

The other name I got down was Helen Sharman, the first British person in space. She worked as a chocolate chemist before being accepted to Project Juno and sent into space in 1991:

http://home.bt.com/news/world-news/may-18-1991-helen-sharman-becomes-the-first-briton-in-space-11363981632095

The talk itself began at 730 and I got in early enough to get a front row seat.

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Claudie Haigneré (right), the French cosmonaut, and Libby Jackson (left), a flight director at the UK space agency, were the two main guests. Helen Keen (center), a radio host and space enthusiast, was the moderator. Claudie Haigneré earned a medical degree with certificates in rheumatology, sports and space medicine, a degree in biomechanics and physiology of movement, and a Ph.D. in neuroscience. Then, after all that, she went to space! She visited the Mir space station for 16 days in 1996 and then the ISS in 2001. Libby Jackson got her physics degree and masters in astronomical engineering (or something like that) at Imperial college. She always wanted to work in human space flight, but the UK didn’t have a program for that so she worked as a flight director in Munich. She moved back to the UK in 2014 to jump on with the UK Space Agency in their plans to send Tim Peake to the ISS.

One of the first questions they discussed was what inspired them to pursue space travel (for Claudie) and a career in the field (for Libby). Claudie was born right around the beginning of the space race so she was old enough to vividly remember the moon landing. She continued to be inspired by the space race but went on to pursue her multiple degrees. She was working in a hospital when she saw recruiting advertisements for the Russian-French Cassiopée mission to the Mir space station. Recalling the excitement and inspiration she felt as a kid, she thought, “why not?” and applied. She was accepted and went to Russia to train for the mission in 1996. Along the line, she met her husband, who was also an astronaut, and between her 1996 and 2001 missions she gave birth to their daughter. Libby was first inspired, when she was 17, by a job shadow opportunity she had at NASA. Her school required everyone to choose a job shadow opportunity and she suggested NASA, thinking it would be impossible, but they offered her a spot in Houston, TX. She realized that being from the UK, she could probably never work for NASA… plus she really didn’t like Houston. So, she pursued her science degrees and decided along the way that she wanted to work in human space flight. As I said earlier, she ended up in Munich before finally landing her dream job back in her home country.

The discussion also touched on the aspect of gender in the field. However, neither of the guests have particularly noticed much discrimination within the field of space exploration throughout their careers. One of the things they brought up that I didn’t know was the “human computers” employed during the Apollo missions. Since they didn’t have much in the way of computing machines back then they heavily relied on skilled mathematicians to work out equations for the mission. Many of these mathematicians were women, but it being the 1940s the black women who had been recruited did work in segregated groups. Eventually this changed and more on that is in this article (more links because I’m lazy):

http://modernnotion.com/human-computers-broke-barriers-women-science/

The main conclusion to this discussion was that if you want something you just have to pave your own path.

I didn’t take many notes on their talk, but my favorite sorry was told by Claudie. She was speaking about the difference in technology during her two flights. During her visit to the ISS in 2002 she was able to use a phone and internet. She said she was able to get two separate connections to Earth to speak to her daughter, who, on both occasions, informed her mother that she was just too busy to speak for long. Also, when asked about the training, she shared a Russian saying (which I obviously can’t spell) that loosely translates to “Nothing will be as you learned,” which is pretty self-explanatory, but basically means that no matter how long you prepare, not everything will go according to plan.

The quote of the night was the last thing Claudié said: “Space (travel) is not only techniques and equipment… It’s a culture.”

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As ridiculously last minute of a decision as this was, I’m glad I went to the talk tonight. I got to learn about quite a few historical figures in space travel, and I got to listen to some current public figures in space travel discuss their lives and the future of space travel! I may even go to the next talk in this series in November… I’ll just hope that I plan ahead a little better.

Wandering Through Founders

I only have courses on Tuesday and Thursday and a few orchestra rehearsals here and there in the evenings. A lot of my time on campus is either spent writing papers, drinking coffee, or practicing flute. Sometimes, though, I’m left with time to wander through the buildings. I had this opportunity recently, so I thought I’d share photos of the Founder’s building with a bit of history courtesy of the Royal Holloway website.

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Elizabeth Jesser Reid opened the first women’s college of Great Britain, Bedford New College, in 1849. Here’s a short biography about her because she was just an all around interesting woman http://www.reflex.london/history-of-elizabeth-jesser-reid/. A few decades later, Thomas Holloway, a self-made millionaire, decided he wanted to spend a quarter of a million pounds on something useful for society. Holloway followed Reid’s lead and his wife’s advice and used his money to found Royal Holloway College for women in 1886.

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Queen Victoria greatly approved of the idea and officially opened the college, which is why it was allowed the title of “Royal”. In 1900, both Bedford college and Royal Holloway became members of the University of London. They both began allowing male applicants in 1965 and they officially merged in 1985.

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The college was also home to the first female professor in Great Britain, Margaret Benson, who was appointed as a professor of botany in 1912. The school’s motto is Esse quam videri, which means “to be rather than to seem (to be).”

The Nerdiest Weekend

This past weekend, October 16th-18th, was the first ever convention dedicated entirely to Hannibal (the TV show). It was put on by a company that organizes other conventions so they knew what they were doing, but no one really knew what to expect from a convention dedicated just to one show. Fortunately, Hannibal has garnered a bit of a cult following thanks, in part, to the way the producer and actors embrace the fan base.

I found out about this convention before getting to England and I knew I had to go. I didn’t want to spend money on a hotel since I was traveling alone, so I just packed up everything I needed and figured things out as I went along. I showed up at the Renaissance Heathrow Hotel with a small bag of clothes and a purse looking to meet fellow Fannibals. I hung around in the coffee shop for a while where I met a group of older adults from the US, Germany, Canada, and England. The first day of the convention was mostly for checking in, purchasing photo sessions or extra autographs, and a meet-and-greet with the actors for the Gold pass holders. I continued to move around that afternoon meeting people here and there. In the evening, there was an opening ceremony to introduce all the actors before the party.

The actors that attended were Aaron Abrams, Scott Thompson, Lara Jean Chorostecki, Katharine Isabelle, and Kacey Roh all of whom are Canadian actors. Mads Mikkelsen, who plays Hannibal himself, was still on his flight during the ceremony, but they promised he’d be there for the party. Four of us who had gotten together that night weren’t gold pass holders so we didn’t get to attend the meet-and-greet. After the ceremony, we hung around for a bit and I decided I would go into London to stay with a friend and that I would charge my phone before we left. The lobby had cleared out for the party but as we were walking past the hotel entrance to find an outlet, Mads Mikkelsen entered with a group of people. He was in a rush to get to the party, but he walked right past our group. The four of us collectively froze as he was coming towards us and I think he realized because he smiled and cheerfully said “Hello Fannibals!” I’m still not entirely sure which of us made a sound, but collectively we got at least a “hi” and a wave out in response. As soon as he walked past we all just stopped and freaked out a bit. We were later commenting on how English that moment was: that we didn’t run at him or scream, we just sort of froze and politely said hello.

I was lucky enough to have a friend in London with a spare bed in her flat willing to let me stay there for the night. Saturday morning I took the tube back and met up again with my new group of friends at the con. Saturday was full of panels and autograph sessions with the cast. The first panel was with Scott Thompson, a Canadian comedian, and Aaron Abrams, who’s got a similar sense of humor. The two of them together was just like watching a comedy show, with a bit of Hannibal talk mixed in. The panels were all completely open to audience questions so they mostly filled the time telling jokes and stories. The other panels were with Lara and Kacey and then Mads and Katharine. The panel with Mads inevitably went overtime because the line for questions was out the door. As a fan, I appreciate the way he handles questions because he did get invested in exploring the character he played so he always takes all questions seriously and usually has thought out responses to what Hannibal’s motives were.

Saturday evening was also the costume contest. I did have a costume, and got a professional photo in it, but I didn’t sign up in time so I didn’t get to participate in the show. That was fine with me, though, I hung out with a girl I had met dressed as the same character and we sat front row and cheered for the other cosplayers (or Fancy Dress as they say here). After the contest was a dance party for the fans and after that I took the night bus into London with a girl from the con and stayed with her at her uni housing.

Sunday was a little more relaxed. We all got our autographs from Mads Mikkelsen and talked about shows on the West End with him. He was extremely friendly and took the time to genuinely answer any questions people had. After all the autographs and photos were taken we had some last panels to attend. Scott and Aaron had another hour of comedy, which included a reenactment of Dirty Dancing as Hannibal and Will from the show. After Mads and Kacey’s final panel, the convention had a closing ceremony where the actors thanked all of us and wrapped up an exciting Hannibal filled weekend.

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Obviously, no one wanted it to be over but a lot of people were leaving that evening after the ceremony. There was a pretty good sized group of us that had to say goodbye. After the convention was mostly cleared out there were three of us left that were still staying one more night, so we decided to go out to a nearby pub for dinner and chatting. We spent hours talking about Hannibal, Doctor Who, American football vs rugby, and many other things. Eventually, we faced the dreaded reality that the weekend was over and we said goodbye. I slept on the floor of another friend’s hotel room and took the bus back to Egham on Monday morning.

The nerdiness didn’t stop there, though! Monday afternoon I met up with Sarah and Meike at the train station and we set off to Watford to go on the Harry Potter Studio tour. We had about an hour on the train to get there and then a shuttle ride out to the movie studio. I’m just going to say it now to get it out of the way… it was magical. The tour is self-paced so we just jumped in an earlier group so we could stay longer. We watched a little intro video filmed by Daniel, Emma, and Rupert and then we got to enter the doors of Hogwarts into the Great Hall. The guides were there to give us a bit of trivia but then we were set off on our own to explore the multiple sets filled with props, costumes, wand making demonstrations, broomstick riding photos, and the occasional Death Eater wandering around menacingly.

Part of the tour took us outside to the Knight bus and Privet Drive. One of my favorite things was seeing the animatronic props and demonstrations. Certain things were set to move every now and then like a self-stirring caldron, self-knitting scarf, and smaller animals that looked around. There were also sections for set design, original concept art, and the costume department. Experts were also around to explain the type of work they did for the show. One of the wand makers shared a funny story about how often Daniel Radcliffe needed a new wand when he was young because he was always using them as drumsticks and snapping them. He would need multiple replacement wands every few hours on some days.

The last part of the tour took us past the full model of the Hogwarts Castle. This was another part of my weekend that I just didn’t want to end. We took our time through here listening to the film soundtrack that was playing and taking photos of the castle from all angles. The last room had shelves up to the ceiling that were filled with hundreds of wand boxes each with the name of a cast or crew member who worked on the show.IMG_6544

I am extremely sleep deprived and a little behind on school work but this weekend was one of the best nerdy adventures of my life. I met some amazing Fannibals from around the world and I got to meet most of the actors from one of my favorite TV shows. I got to hug Mads Mikkelsen and tell Aaron Abrams not to worry about messing up scientific terms in his dialogue because even people who study science don’t get them all the time. I got to journey to Hogwarts and explore the sets of the most important story of my childhood with friends from Royal Holloway. Now I’m back to “real life” where I have some papers to write and music to practice, but I’m so happy this weekend turned out the way it did.

Until the next adventure!

A Successful Weekend in London

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Buckingham Palace and our tour guide

A portion of the massive fees we paid to Royal Holloway as study abroad students was allocated to “free” trips for us. We were given a pre-arranged coach ride into London with a Blue Badge tour guide who took us around to the usual tourist sites and told us all the stories he had. Our guide was a charismatic man who backpacked his way around Europe in his 20s and 30s working various restaurant jobs and learning the basics of quite a few languages. Then, after earning a degree in English and German literature he started leading tours.

Saturday night was the night of the big match between England and Australia in the rugby world cup. Our tour guide was, obviously, an avid England supporter and any time we walked past anyone in Australian jerseys he would stop the tour to wish them well, and to ensure them that England was going to win. At one point, he even stopped our group and lined us up in a scrum formation to explain how the beginning of a rugby match goes down.

Our rugby demonstration
Our rugby demonstration

We stopped by Westminster Abbey, grabbed some coffee, and then went off to the British museum, which was the last stop before returning home for most of the group. I, however, have a friend from Oregon State who is studying abroad and living in a flat right around the corner from the museum. So, I thanked our tour guide, departed from the group, and went off to find my friend.

Me, the cavalry, and an ancient string instrument with its description from the British Museum:

 

 

 

My friend and I weren’t very prepared for Saturday and neither of us are particularly decisive people so we spent some time wandering through the city. Eventually, we decided we would check out the Tkts booth for discounted theater tickets but it was a little too late by that point and even the discounted tickets were a little too much. Leicester square is a hub of shows itself, though, being the site of most movie premieres. We eventually decided we would just see a movie and try for a show the next day. We quickly agreed that we should see The Man from U.N.C.L.E. since it was so highly acclaimed and looked all around hilarious. It seemed like it was a fun movie to produce because they got to do all these throwbacks to the quirky 1960s spy film shooting and editing styles and the music added to the hilarity of it all. After seeing the movie, we went to a diner called The Breakfast Club, for nachos and milkshakes.

Outdoor gym equipment: The adult's playground (If I lived in London I'd be here every day)
Outdoor gym equipment: The adult’s playground (If I lived in London I’d be here every day)

Sunday was planned out much better. In the morning, we booked tickets for a Jack the Ripper tour and researched brunch places. I’ve learned that in London, everything must be booked beforehand, even your meals. Thankfully we woke up early enough to find the brunch place 20 minutes before they opened. We loitered a bit outside and resorted to playing on a playground until they opened. I’ve also learned that not everything has to be booked if you arrive early enough. We were able to get a table in this cute little tropical themed restaurant with wicker chairs and those stereotypical white tropical vacation fans (If you don’t know what I mean just google “tropical white fans”). After french toast and bottomless Bellinis, we walked back to Leicester square to get tickets to Showstopper! The Improvised Musical. While waiting for the show, we hit up an old favorite of Vince and mine, The Forbidden Planet, a nerdy trinket, book, and graphic novel store.

I mentioned a bit about Showstopper! on Facebook but it really was something that you just can’t describe. It was a group of three musicians (piano, woodwinds, and drums), a director who broke the fourth wall and asked the audience for suggestions throughout the show, and a group of six actors who listened to things the director said to form the story. Audience suggestions for a setting ranged from Middle Earth to a busy airport, to PM Cameron’s college dinner party (the director steered the audience away from that one). We stuck to current events and decided that the opening setting of the show would be the English rugby team’s locker room after the loss the previous night. The show was called “Balls!” We suggested musicals including Wicked, Cats, and West Side Story to give the actors song inspiration. As a result, there was a Wicked duet between two women involved in a love triangle with one of the rugby players. There was a Cats style inspirational duet between two of the main rugby players. Through the intermission they took suggestions on twitter as to how the second act should start and the most popular suggestion was that it should take place four years in the future at the next world cup for the rematch between England and Australia. The director read out tons of funny twitter responses for us to enjoy and for the actors to get more ideas to incorporate. One was from an Australian audience member who suggested we see more of the Australian team where everyone is named Bruce. When the three women came out on stage in hats calling each other Bruce, the director paused the show and said “see what you have done!” The second act included a West Side Story showdown between the English and Australian teams, a scene in iambic pentameter, and a Billy Elliot-style nightmare sequence. That is one of the songs where I remember the chorus. In the second act the English coach had gone to coach Australia and he felt like he had betrayed his team so he had rugby nightmare, the words of which went “rugby nightmares, the worst of all. Rugby nightmares, all filled with balls!” Of course, the musical had a happy ending. England won and the characters were all paired up in relationships by the end. The chorus of the finale was “To be a winner, to take it all, you just need a team and you just need some balls!” After that show, I’ve decided that I like improv musicals much better than written musicals because they are just not predictable at all, and they’re hilariously ridiculous.

IMG_5918At some point in the day, there was a problem on the tube lines and half of the trains in the city were way behind schedule. We had the time and the willpower to walk from the Apollo theater (basically Picadilly circus) to the East End of London. We got there early and had a nice chat with a Welsh couple and our tour guide. I say, “nice chat,” but we did end up on the topic of how awful Donald Trump is, which is a talking point everywhere apparently. Once he was into character, our guide took us on a spooky tour around East London telling us the story of the six innocent women who were brutally murdered by the never-discovered serial killer, Jack the Ripper. He was equipt with a portable projector to show us 100-year-old photos digitally overlaid onto modern photos of the murder sites. He was also accompanied by a friend who kept stumbling in drunk and telling us what life was like in 1888 and how he feared for his girlfriend’s life. We learned by the end of the tour that his girlfriend was, unfortunately, the final victim of the Ripper.

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This morning I caught the train back to Egham and now it’s back to university life for another week, until the next adventure.

Windsor

On Friday, I took a day trip to Windsor. It was a 30-minute bus ride and I had a beautiful sunny day to explore the historical town. I took the bus into the center of town and my first stop was the courtyard cafe, a cafe in a courtyard (accurate advertising) that was accessed through a tiny little alleyway. I had the vegetarian equivalent to an English breakfast and then wandered around the town checking out charity shops on the way. Since I was by myself and mostly shopping, I don’t have many stories so I’ll just use this space to show pictures of Windsor.

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The Windsor Castle:

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Statue of Queen Victoria:

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Windsor Station:

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Buildings on the Thames:

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Me:

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