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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Latitude 2012

Before you read any further, I have a quick request- please open up a new tab and watch this video as you read this post. It’s a song called “Home” by Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros. It’s one of my songs-of-the-festival, and what makes it even better is that I had NEVER HEARD OF THIS BAND BEFORE LATITUDE. I was persuaded to see it by two very keen friends, Lily and Anna. I turned up knowing literally nothing about them, what to expect, and they were fantastic. So, for me, this is going to become one of those tracks that whenever I hear it from now on, I will be whisked back to Henham Park, Southwold, and the Latitude Festival 2012. Which was amazing. I hope you enjoy the song, and can imagine the whole description a bit more readily with their gorgeous folky charm playing along in the background. I won’t do a journal-type entry.. it would take far too long. Instead, I want to try and give you a taster of the weekend.

Image courtesy of http://www.midaspr.co.uk/

Intro

As I mentioned in the last post, this past weekend was my first festival, and I was very excited to see what it was all about. I was going with a very close friend of mine, who I have known for very many years, called Fred.He had asked me to come along weeks ago, as a kind of wave off before I abandon him for sunny California. It was going to be his car, his tent and his company that I would benefit from over the weekend. Fred was meeting up with his girlfriend Lauren and three of their uni friends there as well. Moreover, a girl I have lived with for the first two years of uni, Lily, was there with her bestie Anna, who we would also share the festival with. I bumped into many more people besides, which is one of the good things about a local festival which can still pull in people you know at university because the line-up is so strong.

The festival actually began with shopping: Fred went and bought the tent on Thursday morning before picking me up. Typical of us in all honesty. We then had a bit of a fiasco gathering last minute purchases from Tescos and Argos-

  • baby wipes (SO glad these were included, they are invaluable during festivals),
  • chewing gum
  • the infamous “jizzy” doughnuts that Fred managed to smear all over himself within about 10 minutes of purchasing, covering himself in stains that would eventually look like… you get the picture
  • some cheap watches that we could use over the weekend if our phones ran out of battery

After gathering all these we belatedly left for Southwold. Before beginning properly, apologies in advance, but there will be very few, if any, of my own photographs of this weekend. I didn’t dare take my camera with such a bad weather forecast! Fortunately, Anna did take her SLR and captured some great snaps of the weekend, which will be dotted throughout this post. All credit is due to her for them though. Disclaimer done.

The buffoons Ben and Fred (Anna’s photo)

The considerably more photogenic Lily and Anna (Anna’s photo)

Arrival

We parked up in an expansive field, and committed to doing only one trip with ALL our possessions and supplies. We had all our gear, a brand spanking new 6-man tent (yes, for two of us, we planned to live like Kings and it’s lucky we did, as will become apparent!), and a chair. My own personal booze stash included two crates of Budweiser (the lager of the Kings in my opinion, so fitting for the high hopes we’d invested in our palace-like tent) and a bottle of vodka. Heavy stuff for a 30-40 minute walk/shuffle to the campsite. We found a spot near some food vans, a water station, and toilets- very convenient. OR so it seemed…

The Night of the Living Rain

The first night was wet. VERY wet. We awoke to a river of mud outside our tent. We had set up at the edge of the block of tents, and the path to the toilets was right past our tent. We were not to know this when setting up, as it had been lush, green grass when we’d assembled the tent. It was fine, but we did suffer people tripping over our guy lines and stepping on the edges of the tent until the early hours as they fumbled their way to the toilet. However, waking up to a river of mud OUTSIDE your tent isn’t so bad… waking up to a pool of water INSIDE your tent is just plain horrendous… as poor Lily and Anna were to find out after the the Night of the Living Rain. So I awoke to a river of mud, and a very early text from the girls, asking to be rescued! Fred was good enough to take them into our tent-palace, so our little group doubled after one day!

The river that appeared outside our tent (Anna’s photo)

What became of the Tent from Hell, which flooded poor Lily and Anna: a diversion to stop muppets standing on our bloody tent (Anna’s photo)

Music

Highlights-

  • Bon Iver

Magical performance, voice and atmosphere. Simple but effective stage set-up, moody lighting, and all round a brilliant show. ‘Skinny Love’ and ‘Flume’ were, of course, particularly good. Goosebump-inducing in fact.

  • Elbow

They played some absolute anthems, my favourite of which had to be ‘Grounds for Divorce’, followed by ‘One Day Like This’. They got the crowd to sing along and were very involved with the crowd, which was good to see. Their sound is well-suited to large arenas and festivals, and their performance was probably the second highest attended overall (Bon Iver being first I think).

  • Lana Del Rey

She blew my mind, as I knew she would. Excuse the brief descent into pure, unadulterated adoration, but she was nothing but gorgeous. In terms of voice AND appearance. She’s had a lot of criticism for being immobile on stage, particularly after her performance on Saturday Night Live. However, this was an ungrounded accusation based on her Latitude performance. Her music isn’t exactly “lets all jump up and down, dance around and mosh” anyway. But she did dance, in a sultry, sexy, very 50s kind of way, fitting for her music. She also got off the stage to get up close and personal with the crowd. At one point, as the stage was outside but covered by a circus-style tent, she lit up a cigarette and trailed it behind her in a graceful manner similar to Marilyn Monroe or Audrey Hepburn. It was a great performance because she captured such nostalgia and beauty in a relatively short set. ‘Video Games’, ‘Blue Jeans’ and ‘This is what makes us girls’ were excellent.

Lana’s performance that attracted criticisms. I just think she was nervous, bless her. Leave her alone.
  • Alabama Shakes

I’ve got a soft spot for most things Southern from the US, and Alabama Shakes are definitely one of them. Think Kings of Leon, with a very powerful (more comprehensible), soul/blues-influenced, female lead singer. Her energy and aggression were astonishing, verging on the psychotic. The Southern rock sound was lush, with fuzzy guitar distortion and blues riffs. A perfect festival sound. Standing there with my Budweiser, it was one of the best times of the weekend and the inner American studies student in me was loving it. “Hold on” was an absolute corker.

Pleasant surprises-

  • Lianne La Havas

I hadn’t heard any of her music before Latitude, but her voice was terrific. Her joy at playing in front of what was clearly her largest gig so far was plain to see. This really enhanced the performance as she was in that lovely stage of her career where she’s not yet become a massive name, and she’s still a bit overwhelmed by it all, or so it seemed from her performance.

  • Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros

As I mentioned in the Intro, these were one of the best parts of the weekend. The band has 10 members, and can loosely be described as a very folky, up-beat, indie rock band. They’re not Southern, but they sounded Southern-influenced to me. What made them so memorable was the manic, Jesus-like lead singer, who seemed off his face on something as soon as he came onto the stage. He was shaking all over the stage, climbing up on rails, dancing with us in the crowd (I looked into his eyes from about a foot away), and occasionally muttering something completely incomprehensible between songs. But another memorable aspect was his relationship to the secondary singer, whom he is actually in a relationship with. Her voice was also very strong. Their on-stage performance was overflowing with the emotion between them ,and the whole band seemed like a large group of very close friends performing together, rather than the slightly more formal performances of other, big-name bands like Elbow or Bon Iver.

Disappointments-

  • Laura Marling

I had quite high hopes for Laura Marling, as many people had really praised her music, but I felt a bit let down. She didn’t really seem to make much effort, or appear to be that bothered. Moreover, whilst she definitely has a good voice, personally I’m not sure it was that memorable or unique. Particularly in comparison to Alabama Shakes, Bon Iver or Lianne La Havas.

  • Paul Weller

Bear in mind this man had been given the glory spot- last day, last performance, main stage. The moody, arrogant, obnoxious swine didn’t even say hello to the crowd as he came on stage, not deeming the communication worthy of one so legendary as himself. Additionally, he hardly spoke to the crowd in between songs. In my opinion, I think he’s got a serious ego problem, because in all honesty he’s just a teeny tiny bit irrelevant nowadays, truth be told. Finally, whilst he is definitely a tight musician, and his band were also good musicians, his own new stuff was incredibly generic and uninspiring. I think the festival could have done with a more fitting farewell, because Paul Weller did not do the rest of the talent that had preceded him justice AT ALL.

Comedy

  • Phill Jupitus

A regular captain on the excellent “Never Mind the Buzzcocks” show, he was hilarious at Latitude. His show was largely based on being a 50 year old father, dealing with a 16 year old daughter bringing home her boyfriend for the first time. For a “sleep-over”… It was a very funny sketch, but I have to admit he did cut pretty close to the wire with some of the gags! I found them very funny, but I could see some younger families slowly, but determinedly edging out of the Comedy Tent. They had fair warning before the performance, so it was on their own heads really. He came across as brutally honest, stating himself that at 50, he no longer really gave a toss how he was received. This shouldn’t be mistaken for arrogance at all- I just think his philosophy was: “you guys have came to see me, I’m here to say what I’ve got to say, like it or lump it amigos”. Which I actually admired if I’m honest.

  • Doc Brown

Ex-rapper and comedian Doc Brown was also very funny. He was very clever in swapping smoothly between spoken comedy and raps. His ‘My Proppa Tea’ sketch/rant was excellent, even if I had caught it on Youtube before. Anyone who can rap about a cupper, and make it that funny, is a very gifted comedian.

Festival Living

I’m a bit wary at how long this post is becoming, but there was so much going on over the four days that I want to get as much of it off my chest as possible. Here are some factors to the four days which stick out in my mind:

  1. Toilets: nobody expects great things from festival toilets, I certainly didn’t. But actually, they were better (in a very loose sense of the word) than I expected. What made them better than my previous assumptions were basically that they actually flushed, and weren’t those horrendous portaloos which come with the risk of being tipped over, onto the door if you’re exceptionally unlucky.
  2. Showers: again, my expectations weren’t high, but they were warm and that’s all that mattered really. They were long metal stalls, and the initial image which popped into my head is probably the most fitting description of them: being disinfected during the Foot and Mouth epidemic that hit us a few years ago.
  3. Food: there was a real range of foods available at Latitude, which was brilliant. My favourite meal was a delicious pie with mash and gravy, proper stuff that was perfect for filling you up. Otherwise, the variety went from oysters and bowls of steamed mussels, through burritos and chilli con carne, all the way to chinese takeaway and the standard burger/hot dog and chips! The only slight downside was the price… you could expect to fork over £6-£9 per meal. I got around this by limiting myself to one decent evening meal per day, and sticking to Pringles and a tin of soup/spaghetti hoops and sausages for lunch, which I had brought myself.
  4. Alcohol: Again, this was very expensive, and the choice was nowhere near as ripe as with the food. The only two drinks I reluctantly paid for were Tuborg lager and Magners Cider. They cost about £4.40 for the pint… with an extra £3 deposit for the plastic glass! Over £7 for your initial pint was a bit steep. My advice would be to bring as much as you can yourself, and develop a way of smuggling stuff into the main arena. My smuggling technique of choice involved the causal anorak-round-the-waist with as many Buds as possible in the pockets/ tucked into the back of my shorts. Worked a charm for me!
  5. Zany: This was Fred’s most frequently used word over the four days, and it always came with mild to overt sarcasm and a smirk. But it is probably the best word for all the wackyness that emerged at the festival. I’m pretty sure I witnessed one guy wrapped up and sewn into a tapestry at one point, which had to be the height of zany over the weekend. But the fashion is exactly what you’d expect, if you’ve ever caught glimpses of Glastonbury highlights etc. I think it’s cool to see all the individuality and creativity though.
  6. Cleanliness: One thing which astounded me was just how good some people managed to look on the penultimate and last days. I felt I did alright for the weekend, and still felt relatively human at the end of it. This was despite the mud and single, mid-weekend shower (grim, but realistic guys- some people didn’t even bother with the one!) However, some people looked positively angelic during it all, and I’ll be damned if I know how they managed it! Maybe it’s because a large amount of people around us suffered the mud and lack of hygiene worse than others, making those weathering it well seem even cleaner, but still! Kudos to those who managed it, boys and girls alike! However, as far as photos go, I liked this one a lot, and think we did ok by the looks of it!

Anna, me and Lily (Anna’s photo)

So all in all, I had a fantastic time, and am very glad that I chose to attend Latitude 2012. I would even dare to say that I’d go again! The music, the people, the atmosphere and everything are all so enjoyable, I think everyone should at least try it once. Now I’m going to head off and wash my hiking boots for the fourth time… in two days!