Weather-Based Achilles’ Heels

I realise that a weather-based post is perhaps the most stereotypically clichéd blog post a Brit could possibly write on a year abroad, but I just couldn’t resist this.

All British citizens know that we are terrible at dealing with snow. The London Underground shudders to a halt, buses spontaneously conk out, the trains refuse to poke their heads out of the station, schools close due to broken heating systems, and you could probably start steering to the left about a mile before a curve and still make the turn, only you’d be taking it backwards. I think it was a few years ago that Suffolk ran out of grit for the roads because they hadn’t stockpiled enough to last the winter- proving that our local governments even struggle to successfully guide us through snowy conditions!

Of course, that is not to say that there aren’t many people throughout Britain who are well-prepared for snowy weather conditions, perhaps in places where that type of weather is more common (Scotland, mountainous regions of England, and hilly districts in Wales). However, I would be fairly confident in saying those people are in the minority percentage-wise in the UK.

This has been reinforced to me throughout the past week as I have been receiving emails from my family, seeing statuses posted by my friends on Facebook, and catching the occasional weather report on the BBC website; reminding me of how cold, snowy and wintry it can get back home. It’s somewhat hard too picture with the last few days of weather in Santa Barbara, because as of this morning/yesterday, the weather was suitable for sun-bathing, and I even got burned over the weekend! That was a strange experience, given my usual expectations of January!! Still, hearing about heavy snowfall back home did make me miss snowball fights and all the other fun stuff that comes with snow.

However, what makes matters worse is that we Brits see how well other countries like Germany, Poland, Sweden, Norway and Americans deal with snow. Chained tires, huge great vehicles which clear the roads, central heating systems which won’t freeze, etc. It’s not fun to be flailing around like a turtle on it’s shell while the rest of Europe (who regularly deal with snowy conditions) chuckles into their fur-lined gloves at how useless we are with snow.

snow meme 2Point proven.

Source: http://www.memecenter.com/fun/1068667/rmx-heavy-snow

Nevertheless. my time in California so far has demonstrated that we are not the only ones who are particularly rubbish at dealing with a weather event. Mid-to-southern Californians appear to SUCK at dealing with the rain. I cannot speak for northern Californians, and apparently the weather changes noticeably as you get closer to San Francisco and above. Therefore I would expect the ability to improve the further north you travel up the Highway 101. However, based on my own experiences in and around Santa Barbara, which perhaps says more about the student population more than anything, but I have noticed it among other people too, is that the rain is their Achilles’ Heel.

People seem reluctant to go out of their homes when it is raining persistently. I have overheard numerous students genuinely contemplating not going to class because it is raining. We’re talking about a bike ride onto campus of under five minutes here, and STILL people seriously consider that tremendous distance if it is drizzling harder than a fine mist.

Moreover, the roads seem to flood very easily around here, and the surface water that collects lingers for a long time. I don’t know if that is to do with their design, the road maintenance or another factor, but aquaplaning and the implications for cyclists must be quite serious here.

Before I’m accused of trying to deflect German/Norwegian/Swedish attention away from Britain by saying “You think we suck, you should see those Californians flail around in the rain!”, that is not what I’m trying to say at all. In fact, my girlfriend is dubious about these comparative blog posts full stop. She spent a year abroad in Brazil, and also wrote a blog while she was over there. Her argument is that you should treat your time abroad as a separate experience, and enjoy it of its own merit. Which I concur with, to an extent, she definitely has a point. Years abroad are so memorable and enjoyable BECAUSE they can be so removed from your previous experience, they enrich your cultural awareness, and of course, situate you in a completely different place to where you call home. I think she disapproves of what she sees as me haughtily sniffing at things as I make comparisons, which is not what I’m trying to do at all.

However, as a comparative studies student, I have to look at several different disciplines of study (history, politics and literature chiefly), and numerous regions (the Americas). As a result, I can’t help the tendency to be making comparisons in my head, critically evaluating trends and patterns, contemplating cultural anomalies, similarities and differences. It’s what I do, and I enjoy it. (… Sorry baby.)

Therefore, the observation that emerges from these two interesting aspects to Britain and California (they both have a weather-based Achilles’ heel), is that despite our extremely high levels of development; the money, resources and technology available to us, isn’t it amusing that such prominent Western societies still struggle with bad weather?

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Things you learn on a 30+ hour journey

The things I do for a cheap flight. After a lovely holiday back in England with my family and friends, I am writing this blog post while still travelling back to Santa Barbara. Here’s how it has broken down so far:

  1. Drive to Heathrow: 2 hours 30
  2. Being there ridiculously early because we were worried about the M25, and erred on the side of caution: 4 hours.
  3. Flight from Heathrow to Philadelphia: 8 hours
  4. Layover in Philly: 3 hours
  5. Flight from Philly to Phoenix: 5 hours 30
  6. Layover in Phoenix: 11 HOURS?!?!?! (I did book a hotel room, but addled body clock and sporadic sleep on planes meant a weird, fitful, not very restful sleep)
  7. Flight from Phoenix to Santa Barbara: 45 minutes.

Total travelling time: 34 hours 45 minutes.

Ouch.

During this journey, I have learned several things/had things I sort of knew confirmed with severe clarity. Here we go:

  • Don’t look like a Turtle at the Airport.

Bear with me here. I knew that the weather was going to be colder when I returned to Santa Barbara, and I wanted to have more jumpers and some warmer clothes for this coming quarter. However, I was still subject to the 22kg weight limit due to my two internal flights. As a results, I decided it would be smart to stuff my carry-on laptop bag with my laptop, it’s charger, most of my other electricals, 6 t-shirts, and 4 course books for next quarter. Brilliant idea, and I dread to think how much it weighed fully-loaded.

Oh and I had my digital camera bag too, as my second, small carry-on.

As a result, I looked like a human Turtle waddling around the airports.

  • Wear comfortable travelling clothes

Linked to the above, I tried to keep my checked baggage weight down by wearing some of my “heavier” clothes. IE, I ended up travelling in jeans, a long-sleeved jumper, a hoody over the top of this, and then a black jacket to top it all off.

Oh, and I thought smart black shoes/boot things (you can tell I’m a real fashionista, huh?), suitable for a night out, wedding or ANY OTHER OCCASION than a 30+hour international journey would be a good idea too.

Normally, I wear comfy clothes- shorts or fat pants (sweat pants for American readers), a t-shirt and maybe a light hoody. From now on, I will be sticking to this common sense.

Well done Ben, well done.

  • If you have a 10 hour+ layover, overnight, a hotel is THE BEST OPTION

I am so glad I booked a hotel for my gigantic layover in Phoenix. I was very worried about 11 hours, snoozing in a departure lounge, with all my valuables on me, up for grabs as soon as I nodded off.

I got out of Phoenix airport at about 10/10.30 pm, bought an airport dinner fit for a King as I was starving (a cookie, banana, and packet of crisps- all that was available), and then got a taxi to the cheapest hotel nearby, a Red Roof Inn.

I cannot begin to tell you how much of a good idea this was. I have never had a journey to or from Santa Barbara that has had more than two stages (normally I fly from Santa Barbara airport to LA or San Francisco, then head straight back to Heathrow). Moroever, they normally don’t have an overnight layover.

Shuffling up to my room, dumping my enormous hand luggage on the second bed (I had two double beds; and yes, I did jump between the two a few times… my inner child couldn’t resist), getting all my gear off, and running a hot bath could not have been more heavenly after more than twenty hours of travel. Moreover, even though I was only able to get 6/7 hours of sleep, it was much better rest than anything you can try and grab on a plane.

More importantly, as any British citizen or Bill Bailey knows, there was one vital factor left to make it a successful hotel stay…. and Red Roof didn’t let me down: they had tea and coffee making facilities!

Excellent.

  • Burger King’s Croissan’wiches are abominations

They’re round croissants (debatable classification, I have to admit), stuffed with dish-sponge-esque egg, bacon or sausage, and that weird cheese-that-isn’t-really-cheese-but-orange-slime.

I just had one for my breakfast, and boy was it terrible. The croissants are kind of sweet, which made the rest taste strange; the egg was kind of squelchy, and the cheese just sticks in your throat. Overall, I would strongly recommend ANYTHING else for breakfast, pretty much.

So there we have it. Here we have some things I learned in in an unpleasantly long journey. I wrote this post while waiting for my final flight to Santa Barbara, at Phoenix airport. The flight is in one hour, and I will hopefully be back at Tropicana Del Norte, flopped out on my bed, in under 3 and a half hours. Wish me luck!