Thursday, 31 July 2008

war museum

Jen and I have had a few interesting days out this week. On Monday we went to Camden, Covent Garden and the National Gallery. Yesterday we went to Canary Wharf and the Imperial War Museum and today we went with Bree to Bath and Stonehenge.

Yesterday's adventure involved us meeting up with Matt and Ant for lunch at Canary Wharf, where they work. We enjoyed our Carluccio's with the baking crowd--we felt very relaxed compared to all those people in suits rushing around.

After Ant and Matt returned to their offices, Jen and I headed back to Waterloo to the Imperial War Museum. It is housed in part of an old mental hospital. Outside there are these two imposing cannons.

They are cannons that were used on British naval ships during the first half of the twentieth century. The further one was used in D-Day landings.

I took this picture of Jen overlooking the large entrance hall which is filled with tanks, planes, cannons, and a mobile periscope cart.

We went to the Imperial Museum mostly to go through the Holocaust exhibit. It was very well laid out and thoughtfully arranged. Nice use of fonts and backgrounds helped me see which quotations and stories were taken from Nazi propaganda and stories of survivors and victims. There were some really good posters, videos, sounds recordings and models. Jen and I were both moved and were glad we went. It was hard work but we felt that we learned quite a lot and came as close as could be said to enjoying it.

Afterwards we sat out in the park for a rest before heading off home again on the bus. We both really like sitting on the top deck and I've realised these last two weeks that I prefer travelling by bus than by train (although it usually takes four times longer to get anywhere) because I get to see so much more.

Tuesday, 29 July 2008

statistics and a city walk

I spent the morning at home, doing some statistics. I am studying the A2 module statistics in preparation for teaching it soon. I managed to avoid statistics during my degrees but now my hatred of it has faded and I'm actually quite enjoying it.

After lunch I headed out on one of my city walks. I walked from Green Park tube past the Ritz Hotel and along Jermyn Street. It's an area of town where there are lots of men's tailors. I was amazed at the window displays--how interesting ties and shirts can be made to look!

Then I popped into Fortnum and Mason, a famous speciality store. This window display surprised me because it looks like there are fresh strawberries in the bowl.

Fortnum and Mason are well known for their jams and preserves. I went and browsed in the jams and jellies section and saw hampers and fresh sweets on sale as well. Check out the chandeliers that were lighting the whole floor.

London goodness

On Sunday afternoon Ant and I went out to see The Dark Knight with two of our friends. It was a really good movie, although perhaps a bit scary for its 12A rating. Afterwards we headed across the street to a restaurant called Blue Hawaii. We ate all you can eat BBQ: first you collect an empty bowl and fill it with your choice of vegetables. Then you add some raw meat on top (beef, pork, chicken, gammon, calamari, and prawns to choose from). Then add a ladle of one of several types of oil and two ladles of sauce (there were about about fifteen choices!). Finally you add spices and take the bowl to the BBQ chef. He is cooking on a massive dome-shaped hot plate. He takes your bowl and spreads it over the cooking surface, catching any drips in the bowl and then tossing with the sauces. It cooks for a few minutes, while he arranges it with his big sticks. Then he collects it all up for you into a new bowl--voila, a perfect bowl of BBQ veg and meat.

Yesterday I spent the day with Jennifer shopping and enjoying London. We headed over to Camden market first. There are so many stalls along the high street and the canal and in maze-like market areas. We saw so many interesting things and smelled lots of delicious food. Jennifer wanted to buy some little gifts for her friends before she leaves. We visited lots of jewellery stalls to find the perfect earrings. In the end of the stall holders gave us each a free pair of studs. I loved one particular stall that was selling loads of costume jewellery in bins.

Here are the three small things I bought. My free studs are in the middle--aren't they tiny! The ring on the left cost me 49p. The moisturiser is from Lush, an amazing cosmetics company.

Jennifer and I went to Covent Garden after lunch and we also stopped by the National Gallery to see a few paintings. My favourites there are a Vermeer painting of a woman playing music and the Impressionist rooms. I have always loved the Monet paintings of water-lilies, the most beautiful paintings of which are in Paris, which I saw with my family when we were travelling in Europe when I was a teenager. Yesterday we also saw the Coastal Scene by Seurat, which is a beautiful pointillist painting, and Van Gogh's Sunflowers, an essential stop for Jennifer's only visit to the National Gallery. The colours are incredible and the online images don't really do it justice, in particular the background yellow is a lovely bright, clean lemon yellow that seems hard to reproduce.

Saturday, 26 July 2008

with Tawnya in London

It was really nice yesterday to have Tawnya visiting. We were close friends in high school; last month was our ten year high school reunion! Neither of us felt like we missed anything by not going.

She arrived early yesterday morning (flying overnight from Canada) and so to fight off the jet lag we headed straight out for a day of sightseeing. Tawnya really wanted to go on the London Eye. It is something I have never done before and was looking forward to. It is more than 400 feet tall and rotates once per half hour. We paid to take a "flight" in a capsule (along with other tourists) and see London from overhead. The views were stunning. The London Eye is on the south bank of the Thames, near Waterloo station. In this picture, Buckingham Palace is surrounded by gardens of St James's Park.

Just across Westminster Bridge the Houses of Parliament can be seen in all their grandeur. Just to the right and the back of them is Westminster Abbey.

Tawnya making a face for me. :)

In the picture below I am looking down to the capsule in front of us as we rotate downwards at the end of our "flight"; the Thames stretches upstream past the Houses of Parliament.

After the London Eye we walked over Westminster Bridge and around the cabinet war rooms. We headed through St James's Park. It a royal park and beautifully maintained.

The changing of the guard was happening at Buckingham Palace when we arrived there. Unfortunately there was a large crowd already gathered there and we found it hard to see. But we listened to the band (they were playing selections from Grease of all things!). We saw a bit of moving and marching before we headed onwards.

Our London Eye tickets got us discounted entry to Madame Tussauds wax work museums. There are so many realistic models of famous people there. You can walk right up to them and pose with them. Tawnya took loads of pictures there, which I can post when she sends them to me, including one of me kissing Shrek. For now you will have to see the one picture I took with my phone, of Nelson Mandela.

After a short nap at home, we headed back in to meet Tawnya's friend Andrea and go to a Proms concert at the Royal Albert Hall.

The concert we saw was excellent. Tawnya and I had tickets and Andrea did the actually "promming": she got a standing ticket available half an hour before the concert. Prom 11 featured Debussy's Noctures, which are musical impressionism, trying to describe a scene. The first movement is called "Nuages" (Clouds) was originally described as depicting "the unchanging aspect of the sky and the slow, melancholy passing of the clouds, ending in a grey colour softly tinged with white."

The second piece played was a world premier of a composition called Troubled Light by Simon Holt. I was glad for the programme notes again and I felt better able to appreciate the five sketches about colours. I was highly amused by the composer's comment on movement three, "Ellsworth": "I have taken as a starting point his [Ellsworth Kelly's] painting Yellow Relief with Black from 1993: a large, acid-yellow triangle surmounted by a much smaller, black triangle. The piece follows the shape almost to the letter."

The third piece was Musorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition, which I have heard before and really like. All three of these pieces got their inspiration from visual or auditory sources. It was really edifying to listen to the music so well played and so thoughtful. Tawnya and I were a little envious of the prommers in some ways: we saw that they were able to sit or stand as they wanted and a few were lying very still on the floor at the back of the Arena. Now that would be a wonderful way to listen to a world-class concert in the Royal Albert Hall.

Thursday, 24 July 2008

new glasses on order

Have I made a mistake? I just ordered these glasses. They are a little more adventurous that have ever had before. I am still going to use my old glasses, which I love, but these will be for days when I am willing/trying to stand out a bit more. They are due to arrive in a week or ten days, so I will soon show you what they look like on.

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

summer reading, part 1

Today I finished reading The Code Book, the book that I started last week. (Oh, the holidays! Reading!) Last week when I went to Matt's second maths camp to give my topology talk the speaker before me was Simon Singh. He is a popular science writer; Ant has read his book Fermat's Last Theorem a few years ago and loved it. (I also bought a copy of The Code Book and a copy of Fermat's for my head of department and second in charge as summer presents.) The Code Book was an interesting historical tour through cryptography, with little stories about all the people behind the different ciphers. I especially enjoyed the later chapters about encryption systems DES and RSA; I've studied the maths behind them during my degree. And I understood about Schrodinger's Cat for the first time (haha!), discussed during a chapter about quantum computing and cryptography.

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

filing and tidying

I have spent large portions of the last two days at work, sorting out the post-school year messes. Yesterday I filed every paper that has every crossed my desk. Today I took down all the year old (and older) displays to prep for putting new ones up--all the old posters were torn and stained and worn out looking. Here's the room at the end of the day today. All the posters are newly laminated, sorted on the tables by type. I put up only one set of posters today--you can see them on the right end of the bulletin board. I also snagged another filing cabinet today (it's the one in the middle), which is a windfall of the greatest proportions. There is a huge waiting list in the school for things like that. I have befriended the caretakers over time and today it paid off. When I emailed asking for a cabinet this one appeared!

And I organised everything else and labelled it: there are trays of paper (three types), boxes of loop cards and games, and tins containing string and colouring pencils. I feel proud that for the first time in my teaching career, every piece of paper is filed and (almost) everything else is sorted. Usually there are papers heaped everywhere and piles of things waiting to be put somewhere sensible.

Tomorrow I plan to go in to do the last few tasks: set up next year's teaching folders and tidy the mangled stationary in my desk drawers.

Monday, 21 July 2008

life expectancy

I found a tool today, Vitality Compass, that uses the answers to a survey to predict your life expectancy and healthy life expectancy.
My actual age: 28.75 years
My biological age: 23.7 years
My life expectancy: 96.7 years
My healthy life expectancy: 85.6 years

Who else wants to take this little test and tell me how they did? I am amazed that the prediction is that I will live to 90+ years. That's scary, in a way. But with health and strength, long years could be a blessing.

The website is for a book, The Blue Zones, that studies five area (zones) of the world where people regularly live to over 100. One thing most of these people had in common, for example, was a regular inclusion of nuts in their diet. Here's a Venn diagram showing the main findings.

Sunday, 20 July 2008

celebrating Ant's birthday

Ant's birthday celebrations were an extended affair this year. (He deserved to be spoiled a bit: I have missed his birthday for several years and this year it had to be delayed until after the Texan mission team left.) I gave him a Wii for his birthday, and his friends gave him several games. My hunch has been proved correct, the Wii is a wife replacement. It is very addictive and he is utterly engaged in it. He loves Guitar Heroes 3.

Last Sunday we went out for a pub lunch after church, also ostensibly in honour of Ant's birthday. We sat outside in a lovely courtyard and most of us ate roast dinners. Jennifer and Ant were enjoying themselves immensely.

Saturday, 19 July 2008

mixed emotions

I am relieved that school is finally out for the summer! The last few weeks seemed to drag on and on. My fatigue level has reached critical so I am looking forward to some serious relaxing. I have a long list of books to read and look forward to having the time to get around to them.

I am very sad that I don't have my passport back and my holiday plans are up in the air. I wanted to visit Halifax and also go cycling in France. I will probably go cycling somewhere in the UK, which will be lovely, no doubt. But there is no suitable substitute for visiting with my family in Canada. :( I am still praying, though, that it will arrive soon. Any day now, perhaps.

I am sad that my friend Sarah is moving away from London this summer. I will miss her and our cycling trips, shopping excursions, work talk and chatting.

Sunday, 13 July 2008

activities week

Last week at work was activities week, a week off timetable during which all the Key Stage 3 children (11-13 year olds) try new activities and go on trips while the older children are at work experience or on study leave. I was accompanying the year 9 mixed week and tried a lot of new things with them. On Monday we went to Chessington World of Adventures. While the students and one crazy teacher went on roller coasters, scary or wet rides, a few other teachers and I rode the monorail, which was very calm with a nice view over the park.

Then we walked through the zoo sections of the park. Here is the lion sleeping on top of his hut (the yellow monorails is above him).

We also saw the tigers and gorillas.

There is also a sea life centre at Chessington and I loved that. The fish were all so brightly coloured and the layout of the tanks meant we got to walk through and around all the schools of fish.

On Tuesday I was helping out at one of Matt's maths camps at Imperial. I gave my (apparently famous) topology lecture, containing my favourite maths joke of all time! There's a long build-up while I talk about the Mobius strip and the Klein bottle and explain that I wish someone would give me a Mobius strip scarf and Klein bottle hat for my birthday. Then when I finally get to the joke, I always laugh hysterically and the students look at me with a blank expression. Sigh. (Never heard the funniest maths joke of all time and wonder what it is? See appendix below!)

Afterwards my stint at the maths camp I went across the road for a visit to the Victoria and Albert Museum. I love seeing the fashion, textiles, and design there. For the first time I went through the jewellery exhibition.

Here are some stunning carved stone "windows". These are 19th century window screens made in Agra, India, copied from 17th century designs.

I love the geometric designs in the Islamic art section.

Here is the Ardabil carpet, lit for ten minutes every half hour to preserve its life. It is massive (about 10.5 by 5 metres) and all handmade, of course, since it was completed in 1540.

Last, but not least, I got a hair cut this week. I wasn't planning to get it all chopped off, but my stylist, Victoria, suggested a change. I trust her and so I said yes. I really like it when it's straightened (as in the picture below), but I don't really have the patience to do this all the time. I plan to scrunch it wavy most days and hope that the triangular aspect of it grows out soon.

appendix: the funniest maths joke of all time

(a) What is a Mobius strip? You could read about it on MathWorld, but it is preferable to make a Mobius strip out a strip of paper and see for yourself why it is so bizarre. You need to tape the ends together after making a half twist in the paper. Then colour one side of the strip red (or another favourite colour) and observe that, in fact, the Mobius strip only has one side. Cool, eh? It also only has one boundary edge; convince yourself by running your finger along one edge and arriving back where you started after travelling around the whole boundary.

(b) What is a Klein bottle? To make the Klein bottle, start with an open cylinder and then paste together the ends with a half twist, identifying opposite points on the boundaries. This is easiest to do in four dimensions. In three dimensions it has to be understood with a pesky self-intersection. You can see that the inside is really the outside; the Klein bottle has no interior. It actually has zero volume. Also, it has only one side, since if you trace with your finger all over the surface you will find that you can reach all of the surface.

(c) What is the joke? I really want a Mobius scarf and Klein bottle hat, and anyone can buy it for me. Choose any one at all, since, you know, one side fits all!

(d) Is that really the funniest maths joke of all time? Are you kidding?! I'm rolling on the floor laughing. There are other funny ones, of course. Would you like to hear some more another time? :)

Thursday, 3 July 2008

"happy canda"

I hung up my huge Canadian flag in my classroom on Tuesday and wished all my students Happy Canada Day. I taught my year eights about ratio, with me mentioning that the Canadian and UK flags both have the ratio 1:2 for their width and length, whereas many other flags are in the 3:5 ratio. At the end of the day I got a card from one of my tutor group (a nice group of year sevens), which read, "To Mrs A..., Happy Canda, from Sean". Aww.

After work Sarah and I headed up to Trafalgar Square to Canada Day London. We enjoyed bison cheese burgers and said hi to Justin, who was on the organising committee and also working on the Tim Hortons stand. We bought two cans of Barq's root beer, but Sarah said it tasted like she expected Dettol would taste (a spray cleaner!) so I had 1.something cans and we ditched the rest. There was a folk singer on stage and stands all around for the Canada shop, Alberta and Zoom (the sponsors) and Canadian tourism. We were people watching and Sarah commented on the number of hockey jerseys. I felt silly for not having remembered to wear red and white, which the majority of the Canadians were.

It's charity week at school and today I participated in the Sponge the Teacher event. Here I am with a two of my colleagues waiting to get pelted with wet sponges. Students paid 10p per sponge, with money going to our three chosen charities.

Another part of charity week is tomorrow we have a mufti day--the students pay a contribution to charity to wear their own clothes for a day. We also get to wear casual clothes. Since it's the 4th tomorrow we are having an American themed mufti day. So it will be red, white, and blue for me tomorrow.

Also on the American topic, the church has a mission team of 12 coming from Texas who arrive tomorrow and stay for a week. We've been planning so much for them and we're really excited to seeing what God will do over the week as they do park ministry with us, hand out gifts to commuters, and run programs at the church.