Early morning photos

As I promised yesterday, I went out early this morning to catch some photos of the coast at sunrise. My body clock has been messed up, so yesterday evening, my 6pm nap turned into 5/6 hours of solid sleep. Not cool, given I’d planned to go out and have my first brewski at Imogen’s house (look at me speaking the lingo). That meant I was awake at midnight, and was for a good couple of hours. Calvin was in the same boat, but unluckily for him, he had an exam at 9am to look forward to. Long and short of it is, here are some early morning photos off the coast of IV. I haven’t touched any of these photos with editing software, by the way. The light and the camera were all I needed today. It would have felt wrong to change these. Enjoy.

Anacapa Hall, my home for a few days.

The beaches have a lot of seaweed, but I couldn’t really give a hoot.

I kind of like the glare in this one, I know photography connoisseurs will sneer. Let ’em.

Sunrise over the mountains that are just set back off the coast all along this stretch of the American coast.

However: Mountains = Tectonic Plates. Tectonic plates = earthquakes. Earthquakes = Tsunamis. Just don’t tell my Mum.

Campus Point.

This is where I first got goosebumps on my jog yesterday morning. I was struggling to compute such an amazing running route.

Pier, sunrise, boat. Clichéd but what can you do.

I saw my first pelican yesterday. Actually, I saw three with Imogen, flying in formation, like a squadron or something. This was as close as I could get to any this morning, with full zoom on. Before taking this photo, there had been about treble this amount of pelicans, but most of them flew away. These guys must be the hard ones that have nerves of steel, as far as birds go.

Talking of firsts, here’s the first racoon I have ever encountered. This little critter was positively brazen compared to the pelicans, I was about 2 feet away from him when I took this. They’re bigger than you expect them to be, must be the rich pickings in IV. This one was the size of a small-ish dog.

Another one of the sunrise, sorry. But just look at it…


The Canary has Landed

I started writing this blog post at 6am today, because travelling has messed with my body clock, and I get up pretty early anyway. I am actually writing this whilst waiting for the sun to come up, so I can go for my first laid-back jog, to get the lay of the land.


I have just been for said jog, and it was absolutely stunning. I jogged along the coast, round our lagoon (yes, you heard correctly, our L A G O O N!) and up to check out Tropicana Del Norte. At one point I literally had goosebumps, as I ran through a palm tree-lined path, looking out as the sun rose over the Pacific, it was that beautiful. I will be going out again tomorrow morning, but with my camera, I promise. 

Travelling alone for the first time was a pretty surreal experience. I knew what I was doing, as I travelled to Texas with a mate of mine, without adults, and that had been a very smooth experience. The same was true for this journey. I twiddled my thumbs a lot at airports. I looked at expensive cameras, Ray-Bans and whiskies in the duty free, that I knew I couldn’t afford. Bought a breakfast I could afford, but still felt like I was being mugged all the same. I heard a baby crying over my new noise-cancellation, bass enhanced earphones; and felt more impressed than angry. I watched about 5/6 films on the transatlantic flight. I made limited conversation with the lady next to me on this flight. I met my first two young Californian couples at LAX, who insisted on trying to push me through a massive queue when they learned I had a connection flight. This last one was kind of embarrassing. I truly was the bashful Brit, faced with these loud, but well-meaning, interested and cool Californians. Bless ’em.

However, the most memorable part of my journey had to be on the last stage, during the flight between LAX and Santa Barbara- a short 30 minute flight, where the taxiing to the runway felt longer than the flight itself. The plane was tiny. As I walked up to it form the boarding gate, it did cross my mind whether or not we passengers would have to peddle this tin can plane for take-off. One piece of carry-on luggage had to be strapped into a window seat as there was not enough space to hold it in the overhead compartment. I volunteered to move seats, and as a result, ended up sitting next to W Mitchell. He was sitting in the front row as he had a wheelchair, but I did not know the extent of his injuries. This ex-Marine had not only been in a motorbike accident that left him with 65% burns on his body, he had also lost the ability to walk in a plane accident 4 years later. He is an author, speaker and motivator; who travels around offering advice and encouragement about how to move forward, personally and in a business-sense. But, like I said, I did not know this at the time. What made an impression on me was how friendly he was, talking to me about what I was going to be doing in Santa Barbara, giving me interesting information about the areas we flew past on the way north along the coast towards Santa Barbara, and telling me about his numerous travels around Europe and the UK. He even gave me a lift to the Anacapa Residence Hall from the airport so I wouldn’t have to get a taxi. His hospitality, friendliness and conversation were more than welcome, and I was grateful to have such a pleasant experience for my first extended interaction with anybody on my year abroad. A good start.

(There is an appropriate Stephen King quote that I wanted to add in here, from 11.22.63 but I have left the notebook where I wrote it down back in England. I will try and edit it in at a later date).

I arrived at Anacapa, got my key, and met my room mate for the next couple of days. His name is Calvin, and he’s originally from Hong Kong, but went to high school in Austin, TX. He is coming in as a Freshman and is as psyched, if not more so (but I doubt that), than me. He’s off on his orientation at the moment- the international students who are here for four years have an earlier start than us EAP students (Education Abroad Programme). Mine begins on the 24th of September. I just can’t wait for all those let’s-sit-round-in-a-circle-and-say-our-names-and-an-interesting-fact-about-ourselves. If you missed me pressing the “Sarcasm button” there, here it is in black and white. Don’t get me wrong, I can’t wait to meet new people, interact with my classes, flirt with waitresses etc etc etc, but those activities are…well… lame. Still, I guess they break through the “What shall I say? Shall I speak first?”-type barrier.

Anyway, I unpacked the essentials to see me through the 3 days I’d be spending at the Student Hotel, showered ,and then went for some dinner with Calvin. We plumped (pun intended- read on and you’ll see what I mean) for a pizza restaurant in IV (Isla Vista). It was great, but I made a rookie error with the size of pizza that I ordered. The individual was an 8″ and they had plates on the wall so you could see the size. Looking at the individual size, I was probably making this face :


However, next to the medium it said that it served 2-3 people. Looking at the wall plate, the pizza didn’t look so big. I thought to myself: “Me man. Me eat medium size pizza at very least. If not large. HOO HA HA.” I ordered, bought a “soda” (God I’ve missed unlimited refills, with the small exception of UK Nandos and Pizza Huts, we don’t have that), and sat down, awaiting my BBQ Chicken pizza. I was a fool. It arrived, and there must have been half a bloody chicken on it, and a Cathedral City-sized block worth of cheese on it. It was topped properly, and put many pizza-serving restaurants in the UK to shame with their frugal distribution of toppings. I had fallen into the trap of forgetting just how big portions are stateside. I am woefully ashamed to admit that I only ate half, and took the rest home in a doggy bag (another thing we don’t really do, as I explained to Calvin, who looked at me with bemusement when I told him this). In my memory, this is what the pizza looked like:

Source: http://melbournepizzadelivery.com.au/

This is a slight over-exaggeration, but you get my drift. Lesson learned: take what you thought you could eat in the UK, and either two thirds or half this, and that’s the size meal you can eat in the US.

After the meal, I waddled back with Calvin, and finally at just after 10pm local time, after 26 hours of wakefulness (I can’t sleep on planes) I went to bed. As I mentioned, my body clock isn’t quite right yet, but I managed to sleep till 5.30, which isn’t too far off. The jog was refreshing and beautiful, so I may have to factor in more jogging/cycling along the coast into my fitness regime. Who knows.

Later today I will be meeting at least one of the girls who is also from Warwick University and studying at UCSB, Imogen. We have been in contact over the summer, and she moved into a house on DP (Del Playa, the street closest to the beach, and coincidentally the “Party street”) a while back. I am looking forward to meeting her and her housemates, and being shown around. I’d say I don’t like feeling like a newbie Freshman, but I’d honestly be lying. I’m enjoying marvelling at the gorgeous scenery, amazing campus, whilst trying to compute what my All-American year abroad experience will be like! It’s a good feeling.

So, apart from having my pizza-based masculinity significantly reduced, I have had an excellent journey, and start to my year abroad. Long may it continue.

California Countdown

I had meant to write a post exactly 4 weeks before I fly out to California, but I was away from home and a computer, so that scuppered my good intentions. It seemed like a good time to talk about how I was feeling, what was happening with the year abroad etc. So now I’m writing this post with LESS than 4 weeks till take off, which is crazy. I know this time will flash by, and that’s equally exciting as it is scary. Quite a few of my course mates are now at their respective universities across the Pond, and I’m getting twitchy to start my own journey and experience.

The anticipation for my time in California has definitely intensified in the last week or 10 days. That feeling has been there all summer, and it’s been a process of balancing this and meeting people/ spending time with and visiting family/ sorting out formalities for the year abroad/ working to earn some money. So it has been a strange summer really, juggling all that has made me feel I can’t get it all done, see everyone I wanted to, do everything I had planned. But I’ve done all I could given that I was being pulled in various different directions, and that’s just how it is. The only major concern I have with regards to the summer is that with work (I have had two jobs this summer, my regular work at a beach cafe, and recently some extra work doing some labouring with a stone mason to renovate a house as he knows I have done physical work like that before) I haven’t had the chance to meet some people at all yet, and others I haven’t seen as much as I’d like to. I’m worried I’ll lose contact with some of them, but hopefully the last few weeks and the opportunities that Facebook/Skype offer will remedy that.

However, summer isn’t over yet, and I still have a lot left to look forward to: a family holiday in the Dordogne, a childhood friend’s 21st birthday, a farewell party which I’m only just starting to organise, and other bits and bobs. Moreover, I have been speaking to another Warwick student who is going to UCSB as well (who also happens to be in the Dordogne at the moment, not far from where I’ll be, how freaky is that!? Small world), and she seems really motivated and positive about it all, which is fantastic. She’s going to be arriving earlier than me as well, so at least I’ll have a tour guide who’s already been through exactly what I will be going through in those first few days of adjustment. I hope it goes smoothly, without major hiccups, for all of us!

There’s not really much left for me to do at the moment, and my to-do list includes:

  • Get the address for the nearest T-Mobile branch in Isla Vista/Santa Barbara, so I can sort a stateside rolling contract ASAP when I land.
  • Get the address of the “Student Hotel” at UCSB which will be my immediate crash pad before moving into Tropicana Del Norte.
  • Google some of the main locations in and around the campus Isla Vista that I will need to know about: supermarkets, ATMs, the health centre etc.
  • Exchange some sterling into dollars for those (most probably expensive) first few days, where taxis and takeaways will be the name of the game.
  • Double check the forms and identification etc I’ll need for entering the States. There has been some talk on a Facebook group for British students studying in the US about horror stories where incoming students haven’t gotten the Visa page of their passport stamped, and have faced frustrating legal problems because of this small error by the airport staff.
  • See if any of my reading lists have been released (so far, only two of my 4 classes have released them) so I can try and get them cheaply before flying across, to save myself some hassle in the States.

Basically they are just final checks that need seeing to, so I’m as prepared as I can be. I know a lot of my course mates are much more pragmatic than that, and some of my friends are going over without having sorted accommodation, and plan to wing it a lot more than myself. Admittedly, some of them (those going to Argentina, for example) haven’t really had much of a choice, but I still admire them for undertaking all that! I have to feel as prepared as I possibly could be, otherwise I freak out a little. Not that I envisage that I can foresee every tiny development or unexpected twist, and I’ll deal with them as they arise. However, I don’t think being organised before big events like this is a bad thing, by any stretch of the imagination!

But overall, it’s an exciting time. The beach, the surfing, the weather, the parties, new people, new cities, and new classes all await me. 25 days left to go. California, prepare yourself!


Diary of a Gym Monkey #1

It’s the eve of Latitude, so I thought I’d make a quick update on progress with the Blast WorkoutThat’s the name of my new summer gym programme, shown to me by a friend who works at my local gym. He’s not only my trainer as such, but he’s also using the same programme. This is good as we can compare notes; and he can offer me advice if certain parts don’t work, or alternative approaches are better etc. In a way, it’s also satisfying to know that someone else is suffering just as much as I am on it!!

This first week (or so) has been very challenging, and the programme is VERY demanding. It’s an approach that I’ve never used before. Rather than being high weight and low repetitions, or the opposite, low weight and high reps, this actually takes elements of both. One of the main characteristics of the programme is starting lighter on higher reps, warming the muscles, but ensuring that you increase the weight and still hit comparatively high reps. For example one exercise on the chest workout goes as follows:

Decline Chest Press

Reps: 12     10     8     6     8     10     12

This is based on pyramid training. You increase the weight with every set up until the set of 6 reps, then work back down again. The difficult part is, if you select a challenging weight to begin with, by the time your on the 6 reps, you’re strength is fading, and lowering the weight back down again is breaking into endurance training.

Effectively, you’re exercising the muscles, then just pushing them above and beyond fatigue.What’s more, each workout tends to have 5-6 exercises, but the penultimate or last exercise is just a HUGE amount of reps, done in as many sets as it takes you. But boy oh boy, you HAVE to hit those reps. These can be as high as 150 reps of a certain exercise. At the end of such an exhausting workout, when your muscles are trembling and you can hardly pick yourself up off the bench, forcing yourself to hit 150 reps, eventually chipping away at it with 4 or 5 reps a time, is hell. So overall, it’s a bit of a killer really.

It’s a 5 day programme, so I workout on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, with the last two being rest days. It breaks down as follows:

Monday- Chest and abs

Tuesday- Back and cardio

Wednesday- Shoulders and abs

Friday- Arms and cardio

Saturday- Legs and abs

Thursday and Sunday should really, more accurately, be described as “pain days“, but that’s besides the point. I’m not going to sit and type up all of the programmes as a) it would take ages and there’s only so much flexibility with writing these blog posts, and b) it’d just bore you with all those numbers and tables that wouldn’t really mean much. Instead, I thought I’d describe some of the high/lowlights and summarise what I’ve found out on the first week or so of being on the Blast Workout.

  1. I can tell this programme works, and I apologise for being so brutally honest, as I sweat like a pig when I do it. It’s not a pretty fact, but it just goes to show that it’s challenging and it’s doing the job! Which is great as far as I’m concerned.
  2. I swear I started to feel gains and get leaner from very early on in the programme. Maybe this is to do with the fact that it’s a big change in workout style, shocking my body. Still, I’m not complaining about that! Seeing results so quickly is fantastic!
  3. Linked to the above, as it is such a different style of exercise, I’m going through a phase of “finding my feet” (or shoulders, or chest, or back or whatever… you get the point). As the reps and weight increases are so different from my previous programme, I’m still sounding out what weight I should be using at the start. It’s just a stage I have to go through, but I know my own strength, and what is a challenge and what’s just plain unachievable. So far, I usually hit on a good balance between something I can actually complete, while still facing a challenge after the second or third time of doing each workout. I haven’t gotten some exactly perfect yet, but that will come with time.
  4. It’s less frustrating to over-estimate the initial weight, rather than under-estimate. It’s a new programme and I’m still very enthusiastic about it, and this optimism carries me through exercises that are perhaps a bit too heavy. Instead, it’s when I under-estimate and find that the weight has been a bit too low that I get a bit annoyed with myself. Again, I’m sure this will be rectified with time as the weeks pass by.
  5. Exercises that are a bit different from what I’m used to are causing me a few problems. They’re hitting muscles unused to being exercised, or hitting them in ways that they aren’t used to. This isn’t a bad thing, it’s all part of a new programme, but it has screwed me over a couple of times on rest days. In particular, the leg abductor machine has left me hobbling around for the last couple of days. Imagine sitting down, back up straight, legs closed together in front of you. The machine at my gym operates as if you were to open up your legs and close them together again, but with the obvious addition of weight and resistance. It’s a strange exercise, because if you have fairly strong legs, but haven’t done leg abductors before, you can operate with pretty heavy resistance. But as it’s a very targeted exercise, and not a familiar action in everyday life, the next day you are going to know about it! A couple of days ago, I was sitting there, all smug and proud, doing these damn exercises on nearly the maximum weight on the machine, only to find myself limping around like a fool for the next two days!! I’m still feeling it three days later! Another thing to adapt to I suppose!
  6. The workouts take less time, as ideally you give yourself 30-40 seconds rest in between sets. This means that a workout can be done in 35-50 minutes time, which is very handy. This depends on how busy the gym is and how accessible equipment/ weights are at the time.

To summarise, the new exercise programme is working a treat. It’s challenging, different, showing results after a very short time, and it doesn’t take up too much time! Anyway, I should really go finish off my packing for the festival tomorrow- wish me luck!

Post-Exam Freedom!

At. Last. FREEDOM! I cannot begin to tell you how good it has felt over the last couple of days to have finished all my exams. To me, it seems that the general consensus among my friends at Warwick and other students at the moment is: Relief at finishing > Concern over how well exams went. Which isn’t really a bad thing, unless you know it’s gone disastrously… and then… well… what’s done is done and there’s not much point doing yourself in over it. Finishing just feels too damn good after weeks of preparation and stress to worry too much about the results. Save that for the couple of days before your results are released, if you have to.

Also, I am now in the process of sorting out my room mate for my year abroad, at the INCREDIBLE Tropicana Del Norte, where I will be lucky enough to live next year. Giles  and I agreed to try and sort out sharing a room, but this is still unconfirmed and being worked on (for those of you who missed his previous cameo in an earlier post, he’s my course mate who’s from Warwick and also coming to UCSB next year). It seems like we may have to share with strangers as lots of people seemed to grab single spaces in double rooms very early on, so there were none left by the time we tried to sort it. However, some of these have now disappeared, so who knows.

I have to say though, now that I’ve finished exams, there are some aspects to the examination process which I think are pretty poorly administered. Take, for example, my last exam. It’s a US politics module, and it has been really enjoyable. The subject matter has given us a better understanding of the monolith that is American politics, but more importantly, the lecturer and seminar tutor have really made it easy to approach. Even for someone like myself, who had never studied politics in any shape or form prior to taking the module. Nevertheless, I was assessed in a 50/50 split, between a 3000 word essay and an exam. The essay bit I was fine with, the exam, not so much. The exam, if taken as 50% of the module like I did, is two questions in an hour and a half. 45 minutes per question, but let’s be realistic (taking planning and reading into consideration) and say that the maximum writing time per question is 40 minutes. 80 minutes to represent a year’s worth of studying. That’s all the time we have to demonstrate our knowledge on topics as complex as the political culture in the US, as massive as the US Congress, or as elusive as the impact of religion on political processes. Moreover, when you think about that exam as a percentage of our degree, it’s even more incredible. That exam constitutes 5% of my degree, assessed by 80 minutes of frantic scrawling. It may not seem like much, but 5% isn’t something to be sniffed at in the broader picture of the degree as a whole. Especially when, like I said, you’re attempting to wrestle a cogent argument on such sweeping, large and complicated topics.

On the other hand, you could argue that it forces you to be quick-thinking and responsive, and able to coherently cover the questions in a succinct manner. Or, more realistically, you try and predict what question will come up, identify likely areas, study the recurring aspects to the topics, and even go as far as having ready-prepared essay plans memorised for specific questions. How is that assessing us?! To paraphrase one bloke I overheard in a student pub, where’s the thinking involved in that? In my opinion, you could suggest that it’s testing memory, not knowledge.

Please don’t get me wrong though, I am not particularly slating that specific module, because it seems applicable to many other exams at university, not just the US politics module. Nor am I bemoaning the system, I just think that assessment needs to be tweaked so as to be more representative of the year’s work as a whole body. Perhaps we could have more frequent, lower percentage, examinations throughout the year- four 25% exams throughout the year, or a 40% essay and two 30% exams, spaced accordingly to the course topics.

Still, I’m just spitballing here, and noting this opinion as it has become apparent to me after finishing up my second year at university. Which is still a fantastic idea in itself, and the new freedom has been a blast so far. I’m sure the novelty will wear off 4-5 weeks into summer, when I’m back into a regular work routine at my little job in a beach cafe and driving my parents bonkers with erratic and excessive eating habits (I eat like a horse and I love the magically refilling fridge that comes with returning home). Well. The idea of finishing second year is fantastic… until I think that I have now completed half of my degree… and am halfway towards actually… having to… get……

…. a job.


The Meme Revolution

In the last week or so, I had my first meme experience. University students are always looking for increasingly elaborate ways to procrastinate: Sickipedia, DamnYouAutoCorrect and other amusing wastes-of-time are hugely popular at the moment. Students will do anything to avoid that seminar reading, grammar test, lab report or essay. (Yes, before you scream “HYPOCRISY”, I’m also guilty as charged here!) However, the newest craze to hit Warwick University has been our “University of Warwick Memes” group. In just over a week, 5200+ members have joined it, and at the time of writing this post, 1058 memes had been submitted.

God, I can’t believe the amounts of times this thought has occurred to me after a heavy night out… The beauty of memes is they can put across simple notions that have such universal appeal!

Before joining the group I had a vague awareness of memes, but since witnessing their popularity first-hand in the last week, I decided to look into them a bit more. Turns out, the word “meme” refers to an idea that copies itself and spreads around. In the internet age, this can generally refer to anything like songs, edited videos, cartoons: it’s just something that is shared by the online community, which aims to put across humour or an opinion.
The memes I have recently witnessed fit into the cartoon section. Usually, a photo or basic cartoon is annotated with lines of text. They can be hilariously funny. The Warwick ones are largely centred on plays-on-words involving the Koan (an infamous rotating sculpture outside our Arts Centre), the rivalry we share with Coventry University, or Science vs. Humanities student banter. I can see why they are so successful. They are very simple, satirise popular cultural images, and can be very witty. The money being made from posters of popular memes is apparently substantial. Some say you can even afford to live in the Bluebell accommodation at Warwick if you do particularly well… but I highly doubt that.
Anyway, after several wasted hours browsing through the memes page, I decided it was high time to try and create my own meme. To begin with I overestimated the complexity of producing a meme… I even went out of my way to acquire Adobe Photoshop from a very well-connected graphic designer friend of mine. However, it turns out that there are specific websites that generate memes with very minimal effort, such as http://memegenerator.net/ You just select the photo/meme background, input your text, click on a button and BAM, there’s your new meme. It really is that easy. Perhaps this goes even further towards explaining why they are so popular- anyone, even the most computer-illiterate among us, could quite easily pick it up. My meme virginity was lost to this little piece here:

Consideration for others.

I was quite pleased with it, it got quite a positive reception on the meme group page. Any uni student reading this will know how much of a relief it is when trawling through a particularly dull chapter, only for a series of ever-so-helpful underlinings to crop up, drawing you to the key info amid a sea of academic rambling. Nothing is more relieving than getting your seminar reading done in half the time, because your margin-note guardian angel has saved the day, once again.

So if you’ve got a spare few minutes on a lunch-break at work, are already pottering around on Facebook, or have decided to give yourself a well-earned break after writing that particularly tricky 11 word sentence in you essay due for tomorrow, browse some memes! There are some gems out there to be found. If you’ve made any particularly good memes, or stumbled across a gem yourself, please feel free to post links below.