Two Minutes Before Midnight

It’s two minutes before midnight, and Maddy and I have just returned from The Clifton, a cosy pub just down the hill and around the corner from my flat. Molly, my Chinese flatmate whose dream is to marry an Australian and live on the Brisbane beach, joined us and over a few pints, we enjoyed the evening.

It’s probably only because I’m in a new country that my eyes notice people and details in ways I wouldn’t at home. Like the thin man sitting at the table opposite ours, reading the newspaper, sipping a pint of dark ale, and eating a bag of crisps as though it was eight am in the morning, the ale a coffee and the crisps a croissant. The noise of conversations and music filled the room, but he just sat quiet, reading the newspaper as though you could hear a pin drop.

I like the energy of Bristol. I like that from the moment I wake up and cross Queen’s on my way to the library to the moment I hit the pillow, something is happening. Cyclists are breezing down the street, girls in boots are busybusy with someplace to be, and lights are always on in the pubs. The other morning, Maddy and I went to Wetherspoon’s for a stack of pancakes and sausages (all for only £ 2.20), and men were crowded round the bar sipping pints as though it was eleven o’clock at night. Rule #1 about Bristol: it’s never too early or too late for a cider. Rule #2 about Bristol: Don’t order anything other than a cider.

Another thing about Bristol is that grocery stores, be it Tesco’s, Sainsbury’s, or Waitrose, are always busy. To the point of queues (lines!) being a normal feature. Dairy products, bread–almost everything–have fewer preservatives, and thus shorter expiration dates, but the more frequent trips to Sainsbury’s are worth it. The little 49p baguettes are almost always warm, and the milk and yogurt taste fresher. I certainly spend more time preparing meals here, and though I’ve always enjoyed cooking, I enjoy it especially here. When I’m not traveling, my days revolve around reading lists and finding necessary books, and sometimes deciding what to have for dinner feels more exciting than it should. A point of variety. And it’s rewarding, that no matter how many chapters I have left, I can at least do something from start to finish. That’s probably why baking and cooking have always been fun for me; every other detail of my life can be messy and incomplete, but in following a recipe you commit to completion. Otherwise you can’t have your cake. And I, at least, can’t enjoy my cake unless the mixing bowls and spoons are cleaned and put away. Hmmm. I have a feeling I might be baking quite a bit this term. Let’s just hope I’m not the only one eating everything…

To sleep!



Back in Bristol

After over twenty hours of travel time (Minneapolis-Newark-Brussels-BRISTOL!) and zero winks of sleep, I’m back in the lands of pounds and pence, rolling green hills, driving on the wrong side of the road, battered sausages and endless walking. I’m home in Bristol feeling slightly exhausted and lightheaded, but nestled safely in Clifton  nonetheless.

The journey back easily counts as one of the most interesting. Brady, needing to get his Subaru repainted after it was egged by bored fifteen-year-olds, had me follow him to the body shop in his roommate’s car. I followed him to the shop in Bloomington, and I hopped into the passenger seat and he took over the wheel. So far so good. We were on our merry way when less than a mile from the airport, Roller’s car began stalling.

“Brady! What’s wrong?” I was flying Lufthansa for the first time and needed some extra time at the airport.

“We’re out of gas.”

Fortunately, God allowed us to be right next to the Radission  Hotel, and just as we walked into the lobby, an airport shuttle was approaching. Needless to say, it was the most romantic send-off of my young life (do you catch my use of irony?).

Best bit of being home::this guy

Though I felt ready to return to Bristol and into the usual rhythm of my life here, leaving home is never easy. Especially when a girl has a little Scottie named Audrey and a handsome boyfriend who cooks her dinner and organizes her suitcase. I’m very thankful I was able to spend almost a month in Minnesota, and even though it wasn’t a white Christmas (there’s a first time for everything), I loved being home around the tree with Maria, Luke, Joey, Gina, Drewby, Jackson, Nani, Gigi and baby Sophie all the same.

Big Joe asleep with the little girls

A scattered and incomplete list of highlights from being home include: making gingerbread houses with my girls (“Hope, why does yours look like a cardboard box?”), squeezing in a few dates with Mr. Johnson, TJMAXX (need I say more?  Yes, I did have my share of Becky Bloomwood moments), the luxury of driving on the rightside of the road and not walking absolutely everywhere, long walks with Audrey around Fargo and Minneapolis (goodness, I miss that one), Moxie Java coffee compliments of my girl Amee, conversations with Bridgette and Natalie (‘Emwee, what you do-do?’), study dates at the cosy Hilton (thank you, Momo), the Johnson residence, and Ikea; baking in a proper kitchen (with ingredients already stocked!), a New Year’s Eve kiss…I’m very grateful.

And now, to excite myself about returning to Bristol, a list of reasons why it’s good to be ‘home:’

-Cream Tea (this alone actually does it!)

-Bright green grass to mess up my new Puma running shoes

-My sweet fellow MA friends

-Returning to my favorite coffee shops

-A new term with new classes and new reading lists

-Ralph Pite (my Johnny Depp-esque professor for Victorian fiction)

-Chips and cider

-Upcoming trips around the UK and Europe with Maddy, Jess, Brady, Lisi Bumba and Maria

-My baby French press missed me.

-Cabot Circus (even if it’s just to window shop)

-Beginning a new year in a different country

-Handing in the essays which consumed most of my time at home!

And now to hibernate like a baby polar bear (at least until eight am when I must get to the library or die!).



We Go to Oxford

Wanting to take advantage of the tremendous places within arm’s reach of Bristol, six of us  MA students left Temple Meads Station on a bright and sunny Saturday to explore the haunts of Oxford, the city home to the second oldest and arguably best university in the world. The distinctive atmosphere of Oxford was palpable within minutes after stepping off the train. As we  left platform two and and walked into the city, the air tasted different. In the words of Miss Genevieve Gardiner, a Canadian beauty and fellow Romantics student, “I can just feel my IQ going up!”  Anyone could increase their intelligence in this place, whether from the pristine beauty of the lecture halls  or the pressure of living up to Oxford’s expectations.

Of course, the city was lovely not only due to the immaculate architecture and cathedrals, but the green, green grass and beautiful gardens seemingly waiting behind every small corner. Of Oxford’s thirty-eight colleges, we toured just two; Balliol College, the University’s oldest college, and Worcester College. We also enjoyed visiting Christ Church and the University’s Ashmolean Museum, Britain’s oldest public museum.

At Christ Church with Gen, Ashley, and Caro

I enjoyed the train ride as much as anything.  Life feels purposeful on a train, which probably explains why I enjoy traveling as much as I do. For once, I can put away the books and to-do lists, tell my mind to be quiet, and just look out the window and know I’m moving forward. Better than even the train ride and exploring Oxford was getting to know my classmates better. I’ll be the first to admit I’m a bookish individual who can easily withdraw from large groups of people, and coming to Bristol, I feared my classmates might also be introverts. Not just anyone endeavors to earn a masters in English, particularly when the practicalities of finding a job with an arts degree are not so hopeful. I should have known not to worry as it was He who brought me here, and of course, the individuals I’ve been meeting from my program are wonderful.

Genevieve is a gorgeous girl from Toronto who wanted not just a masters, but an international adventure. So she came to Bristol. We instantly bonded when we learned we both left boys at home.

Me: “Yes, I felt really bad leaving. It’s always harder being the one who stays…and Brady’s a little needy.”

Gen: “Jon is too! He won’t let my sign off Skype.”

Then there’s Caroline, or ‘Caro,’ a proper British girl with the loveliest red hair and freckles (and green eyes!) I’ve ever seen. She is also frequently hilarious and wears the most darling outfits, because of course, in the words of Caro, “The worst thing a lady can do is let herself go!” While in Oxford, I took the opportunity to record some ‘Caro-isms.’ Here are a few of my favorites (please read in your best British accent:

“I quite like poodles.”

“I want to live in an old estate and wear period dress. I was born in the wrong century! But, I’d want modern technology and plumping and make-up, so I guess I just want to live in a renovated old estate and wear period dress.”

“Daddy is taking Mummy to a hotel in the country for the weekend, and Mummy will be so happy!”

It’s quite helpful having a British friend to help navigate the many cultural differences here, and Caro is quite the expert. We also miss our terriers very much, who happen to be cousins, or so we’ve decided.  Caro has a Westie named Soda (in honor of cream soda) and of course, I have little Audrey who may or may not live up to Ms. Hepburn’s reputation.

I met Ashley by chance during my second day in Bristol when she heard my familiar American accent. We couldn’t believe our luck when we realized we were in the same program, and celebrated by going shopping. It’s been a luxury to bemoan the small cultural problems I’ve encountered with a fellow American (yes, we miss our cars), and to excite each other about studying overseas. Ashley is here with her husband Brian who took his only year off from working in the military to study archaeology. I love that they’re experiencing Bristol together and, though it makes me miss Brady, Ashley and Brian are quickly becoming one of my favorite couples.

I’ve also enjoyed getting to know Hikari, a self-deprecating and brilliant character also studying romanticism. Boasting dual citizenship (from the UK and Japan) it’s very interesting to talk about his ‘dual-upbringing’ of sorts and his many life experiences. He has every right to be snobby, but isn’t in the least.

Being in Brisol, an ocean away from the Gotta Hotel (home to my large family), has also reminded me of how much I enjoy doing things by myself. This has probably been the greatest luxury of being in England. I only have to look after me; get to buy whatever groceries I like, which lately has been loads of Brie, clementines, dark chocolate, noodles and curry); and have complete freedom over how I structure my time. When I first arrived I was set on finding a job, but the pleasure of having everyday to do just what I like is becoming a bit too hard to give up. Even if the majority of my time is spent in the library reading Keats, Wordsworth and Coleridge, I get to spend most of my time in the library reading Keats, Wordsworth and Coleridge!

Now to make some dinner and brace the rain,



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June 2023