Monday, 2 March 2015

moving house

this blog has moved!

please find me at 

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

On leaving

Less than one month from now, I leave LA.

It’s not possible to write fully about the dozens of incredible people here who have shocked me with their kindness and generosity and who quite frankly I can’t believe aren’t offering to move to the UK. How the hell is life supposed to happen without you guys, seriously? I’ll yearn for your hugs and smiling faces every day. You’d best stay in touch.

I keep playing over in my mind what it will be like breaking through the (inevitable) clouds and seeing the green fields of England spread out beneath that British Airways plane.

Want to hear something stupid?

I’m scared. Really, really scared.

It’s not even that I’ve been away for that long. I haven’t so adapted to LA life that the UK seems like a foreign concept to me. No. This is scary because this will be the first time in a long while that I’ll be coming home without plans to leave again soon.

I recently realised that leaving is what keeps me going.

Leaving is hard, but exhilarating. Leaving in itself knows no destination, only newness; its promises are unknown, and therefore infinite and endlessly exciting.

My mind confuses staying with stagnancy, and tricks me into thinking that the pit of depression is on just the other side of stopping still. It needs to learn the value of sticking around, and perhaps one month from now that lesson will begin.

Leaving has been something of a way of life. From the age of seven, when my parents split up, I was constantly leaving one existence and entering another.

My parents would park their cars some distance apart in a supermarket car park. I’d open the car door, grab my rucksack and walk out in the night air over to the other car, entering my other life. 

Sometimes it was hard to keep track of my two selves, the ‘me’ of my two families, but it was comforting to know that I’d soon be departing one existence and taking refuge in another, just as things might get tricky; this movement and inevitable departure was constant refreshment and a constant fallback.

What happens when that is taken away?
When I first lived abroad, I used to say ‘Back in the UK….’ 
When I returned, I’d say ‘Oh, in Paris we used to...’. 
Here in LA, I bore people with tales of places I used to know, ‘In Moscow we would go to...  but in Odessa it was more....’
‘What? I thought you were from England.’
‘I am.’
My friends have an incredible grace that keeps them from telling me to shut up. They listen patiently and smile enthusiastically. I love them so very much for this. But the conversation moves on to X Factor, or the latest gossip or something else you haven’t thought about for a long while, and ‘back home’ starts to feel somewhat foreign. As soon as you’re back, you begin to long for the things you loved about your other temporary ‘home’; you find yourself bringing these things up in conversation, not because you want to sound incredibly ‘international’ (daaaarling), but in a desperate attempt to bring them back into your reality somehow.
Home is no longer simply home. Home is many places, and no place, all at the same time.
Let’s go for many places, rather than no place.

Perhaps  ‘home is where the heart is.’ (apparently it was Pliny who said this, according to my google search ‘Home is where the heart is who said this’)

 Does this give hope for those who leave?

 I’ve left my heart in a few different places. A piece of it lies in Wimbledon Park, still another in Odessa; some of it belongs to our students in China, but a chunk will always lie in the Surrey fields; wherever my parents are, part of it will be too, but Moscow, Paris and LA also have claims to it; another sits in the old village of Alonissos, whilst a sizeable piece is happily lost somewhere in a library in Cambridge.

Calling these places ‘home’ is nothing but a privilege.

And it’s okay.  There have been other travellers on this path.
It is written...

Hebrews 11:13-16 The Message (big fan of this translation)

 Each one of these people of faith died not yet having in hand what was promised, but still believing. How did they do it? They saw it way off in the distance, waved their greeting, and accepted the fact that they were transients in this world. People who live this way make it plain that they are looking for their true home. If they were homesick for the old country, they could have gone back any time they wanted. But they were after a far better country than that—heaven country. You can see why God is so proud of them, and has a City waiting for them.

So, while here on earth, we will always feel a bit unsettled and out of place.  But someday, we will finally be home again. This is my hope.

For now, there is tea. The ultimate home from home.
What am I saying.... I am totally British.

P.S. If you know me you might know that this is one of my favourite songs of all time  it seems kind of pertinent to what I wrote/have been thinking about and is just a great track all round :)

Friday, 31 October 2014

Notes on a scandal(ous rate of pancake consumption)

My history teacher called upon me in class the other day: ‘Elise, you look deep in thought. Please do share with the class what is going through your mind.’ Truth was that I was purposely putting on what I hoped was a thinking face, and had precisely no opinions on the conquests of the Mongols, or in fact any thoughts at all other than 'must keep eyes open'. Very occasionally, however, a thought does pop into my mind whilst I’m exploring the crazy world of LA and USC. My capability to write in paragraphs seems to have been severely reduced, so I will tell you some of those rare thoughts and details of some random occurrences in the form of a lovely list. There is no order, rhyme or reason.

1. Large parts of LA can seem flat and boring. You get to see the benefit of this, though, when you go just beyond the flatness and climb above the city to see it stretch out in front of you.

 Failed jumping shots are my favourite. Especially at Runyon Canyon, where your goofiness gets a good backdrop.

2. I had naively believed that, if anything, milk was the main addition you might make to your tea and coffee. Enter flavoured creamer.... life revolutionised. There are so many flavours and so little time to try them all, but it’s a worthy goal.

3. People in this country really seem to hate stairs. I hadn’t previously thought that ‘elevator culture’ was a thing, but it is alive and well here. Why walk up one flight when you could wait 5 minutes for a metal box to take you there?

4. Pancakes are more appealing than the LA artsy crowd. A friend and I went to a party in the arts district of LA last week; it was some kind of interactive club night .... thing. We were not entirely sure. But there was an interesting crowd. And the free bar was worth staying for.

 Strike a pose.

But we abandoned ship in favour of my FIRST EVER TRIP TO IHOP. An actual HOUSE OF PANCAKES, and an international one at that. Let me tell you, if you’re in downtown LA at midnight IHOP is the obvious place to be- where else would you find 4 types of syrup at that time? And the opportunity to release your creativity in such a productive way?

5. Studying here is pretty different. One thing I’ve noticed is that processes (eg the whole process of writing a paper) are often divided into more individual stages. For example, next week we’re handing in an annotated bibliography for our history class, vs the Cambridge normal style of ‘You have approximately zero hours to read for and write this essay: GO!’. It feels like it should be easier and less time consuming like this but I am so unfamiliar with working in this more structured way that I feel like I’m shooting in the dark slightly; it’s also frustrating to research sources for topics on which we will never write a research paper. (Please don’t get me wrong, I DO NOT have the desire to sit and write a research paper. But the principle of doing work when you aren’t going to have the chance to actually convey any interesting idea is kind of annoying). In one of my classes there’s also a lot of rote learning which means there is little possibility for bullshitting your way through- nightmare for an arts student.

6. This very same class, although I think their system of examination is not the best, has some pretty great perks. The deal is that we watch pre-release films and have a Q&A afterwards with the director or producer (or sometimes other interesting people from the films). We recently saw ‘The Judge’ and had a Q&A with the producer Susan Downey who was very interesting, but I was very distracted in thinking OH MY WORD Robert Downey Jr’s baby is inside you. So I blame her pregnancy for my certain failure in this class, because that is a reasonable attitude.

7. To the British director who said he had taken US citizenship and loved the US ‘can do’ attitude: Mate, what is wrong with you? We have a healthy cynicism.


The atmosphere is something else when you get thousands of people together praising God. Last Thursday I went with the lovely people of Young Life to the Hillsong United concert at the Forum here in LA. For those of you who don’t know, Hillsong United are a Christian band (you might be thinking, what the hell does a Christian concert look like?) Despite being told that they were ‘over capacity’, the wonderful Ben somehow managed to sweet talk the ticket lady into getting us in, and with incredible seats.  (hooray for the greatest of YL leaders!!). I know people whose lives were truly changed that evening. It was immense. Here's a sneaky video I took just to give you a flavour.... now that is my kind of church.  Somebody else uploaded this... I just love hearing all those voices.  

No night at a concert would be complete without a midnight snack.... enter the incredible pancakes at The Pantry. And BACON. Ohhh the bacon.

9. San Francisco is very, very cool. As are parents who come across the world to visit you! My Dad and Stepmum were in town a few weeks ago, and before they came to LA we spent a little time in San Francisco.

We saw the Blue Angels fly for Fleet Week

Alcatraz beckoned to us from across the water

Ai Weiwei gave us some crazy beautiful colours.

10. Your first ever piece of pumpkin pie is a special thing.


12. When I first got to classes here I was pretty intimidated as people just seemed to have an awful lot to contribute to group discussions. Or even, you know, not in discussions but just in the middle of a lecture. My silence was conspicuous. Then I actually stopped to listen, in the midst of my alarm, to what some of these people were saying. Which was often NOTHING or next to it. There are, of course, some exceptionally smart people here who have truly fascinating things to say, but so many people seem to just be talking for the sake of it. This seems like one flaw of being graded for ‘participation’. I will always remember how one of our professors from the US at uni in the UK would say ‘I love these awkward silences in our supervisions. Because when you do finally say something it’s fairly likely to be of value.’ I truly don’t mean this as a catty comment, but this desire and almost need for your voice to be heard really strikes me in almost every class I go into.

13. I was recently introduced to the ‘ENO’ (or in its verb form ‘to ENO’) – read colourful hammocks which one should hang between trees on campus and drink coffee in.

Just hangin’ around. 

14. Fairly often articles on mental health will cross my path, and I was particularly struck by one point in this Buzzfeed article. No. 15 [when recovering from depression] Colors might pop; everything might look “more vibrant, as if some sort of noir-grey filter has been lifted and [you can] finally see things as they are.

YEESSS. I always talk about how going on the big group trip to Korea was like ‘seeing in colour’ again. Everything just looked more ALIVE suddenly. I don’t know if anyone on that trip will read this, but you were (and are) immense and I love you, dear and crazy friends who love to sing karaoke and drink soju.

Vaguely related to this- I’ve been helping out where I can with the USC branch of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Check out the October campaign :)

15. Teaching kids in middle school is great, especially when one of the boys finds you a new fact about Crystal Palace every week, just because they’re your Dad’s team. (of course the first question you ask your new British teacher is what team they support, just before asking if they drive a Rolls Royce)

16. I do not understand sororities (or fraternities, for that matter) one bit. Maybe next time I will attempt a better articulation on this topic, but for now.... WHY?!  Eloquent summation.

17. Life can be pretty damn good.

(take a selfie with a sheep)

From LA with love. xxx

(from Alcatraz with apprehension?)

Thursday, 25 September 2014

'Fight on' and other stateside stories....

Before I say anything, please listen to this. This is the USC fight song, and I heard it just about non-stop for the first week of being here. Band practice happening near your room is a great thing.

So, today I write to you from the living room of our little apartment on the campus of the University of Southern California (USC) in LA, where I’ll be until Christmas.

I just found out the results of the Scotland referendum (okay so evidently I wrote this a few days before posting...the BBC does not take THAT long to stream information over here), and man alive am I happy that we are still a United Kingdom. I may or may not be listening to Land of Hope and Glory.

But back to the land of the free... (because we in the rest of the world are obviously terribly oppressed, it would seem)

I’m here representing my beautiful Queens’ College in the Queens’/USC exchange programme, and am having a pretty incredible time. Although I keep forgetting, the official reason for being here is to take classes (more about the less official and more fun reasons in a sec). The university very generously said I could take whichever classes I wanted (part of me wanted to see their reaction if I tried to take nuclear physics- do you think my physics GCSE would be up to that?), and given the incredible film school here I opted for 2 film classes, along with a history and an international relations class focusing on my beloved Eastern Europe. What I had forgotten prior to the first class was that one of the film classes is a grad class, and lots of people in it are in the process of completing their PhDs in film. Utterly terrifying, when the only films you can really talk about are Soviet musicals (thank you, Russian degree). Strangely, that particular genre hasn’t come up yet. It turns out that international relations essays are ever so slightly different from wacky Cambridge literature essays, so I’ll let you know exactly how bad a grade I get at a slightly later date.

One really cool thing has been the class called ‘Theatrical Film Symposium’. In this class they show pre-release films, complete with anti-piracy security guys with night-vision goggles, and then do a Q&A with some people who worked on the film, usually the director and producer or editor. We just saw ‘This is where I leave you’. I had to resist the urge to tell the director to please tell Tina Fey that I love her/want to be her.

I should really say also that the people running the exchange here have been wonderful, and have truly looked after me. Going far away can be a tad scary, so I am very very grateful for this.

In other vaguely school-related antics....

We had new student convocation- I say ‘we’, but really I just kind of snuck in with the freshmen and transfer students- who doesn’t love wearing gowns though? *Cambridge flashback*

Before the semester started I took part in international orientation, where I got to work in a team to create skits based on the traits of a USC student (YEYYYY ORGANISED FUN I LOVE YOU) and was told valuable information in a talk: ‘You WILL feel uncomfortable sometimes in a new culture. This is normal. You are perfectly normal.’ Good to know.

Okay so that accounts for what should be taking up most of my time ahem.... not so much.

Going on adventures in this insane city has been about a million times better because of the people you will see in the pictures in this post. I have been so ridiculously blessed on every stint abroad with amazing people who are willing to hang out with me. Here it has been really fun to meet quite a range of people, from freshmen to ‘proper grownups’. I love them.

The LA county fair was a 'must-see' and great mainly because of the huge range of fried foods on offer. Things were fried that probably shouldn’t have been, and it was immense. Antonio and I sampled fried avocado and oreos. Both avocado lovers, we wanted to hate this abomination of a beautiful food..... but it was great. I also had a nice chat with a man selling beer, who saved me from his colleagues who were suspicious of my UK driving licence (okay, provisional licence....) : ‘I went to England in 1956, we took the boat, it was a very long trip... then I went in 1964....’ 20 minutes later I got the beer and it was totally worth it. Other than the food the highlight was definitely the farm animals, and for me it was getting to ride there on an uncomfortable but iconic yellow school bus!

The lovely lady who organises the exchange on the USC side promised me that, despite any lack of interest in sport, ‘football’ (if you can call it that, America) is something that I’d want to see. So I went to my first ever game, had absolutely no idea what was going on, but loved it. The whole campus goes crazy on game days, with ‘tailgate’ parties going on for hours before. A one-hour game suddenly becomes a whole-day event. The most incredible thing, though, was the amount of college pride and ceremony to everything. Marching bands, cheerleaders, yell teams....

Although this is before the stadium really filled up, hopefully you can get an idea of the scale of this thing. You may notice that people seem to be waving their hands in a trance-like way.... yes, it does look like a cult. This is the USC gesture which is the same as the V sign. Often this is accompanied by a shout of ‘Fight on!’, but at the game the chants got a little more complicated, including some very fast spelling of Southern California. Not easy post-beer, I can tell you.

A few of us have strategically made schedules which include no classes on a Friday afternoon, which has meant the onset of FRIDAY ADVENTURE TIME. This is the best time. Here are some photos of recent Friday fun:

Manhattan Beach

Santa Monica

Jumping in the waves is the best.thing.ever.


Big fan of these kids (and of bibimbap, of course)

First ever Jamba Juice- a momentous occasion. 

In other fun, there was a Hollywood hike with the wonderful Young Life (these guys are the best, check them out)....

.... we ate rooftop birthday cake....

....explored the oldest part of LA, Olvera Street....

.... saw 'Rosemary's Baby' at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery ...

(Bronte was excited about the apples/peppers or whatever is in that bag)

....I stood amazed at the Welcome Week pool party.....

.... and we learned some valuable lessons regarding British culture. Aha. These kids had to learn about marmite, tea and digestives.

One of the biggest joys has come from being reunited with the beautiful Kaitlyn, who I met on the first half of my year abroad in Paris. She took me to the LA institution (well so I’m told) that is Roskoe’s Chicken and Waffles. My mother’s reaction kind of sums it up: ‘Waffles and chicken? But not together, surely?’

Yes, together. And gloriously so. Too good.

Then and now:

Love love love.

It was also great to hang out with a lovely friend from Cambridge who was here for a few days :)

People have been asking me post-graduation how it feels to be a ‘grown up.’
My roommate Kat and I laugh in the face of such a suggestion.

I'll leave you with the view from our living room window, which speaks joy and awe into my heart as I look at it.

Oh, and FIRST SNOWCOOOOONE. Equally beautiful.