Archive for October, 2012

I did not realize this was a thing

2 October 2012

A childhood spent watching Masterpiece Theater has not prepared me for the fuss around:

  • Electricity. Every plug is controlled by an individual switch and sometimes two or three more switches between the electricity main and the actual outlet or hard-wired appliance. Some switches are located out of reach over doorways for extra security. At work, my use of a (grounded, surge protected) power strip triggered an emergency rewiring intervention by Estates to give me a proper cable rail with switches. Why are the British still so scared of electricity?
  • Classic rock tribute bands. Beatlemania and Bjorn Again were reviewed during my New York period as one-off novelty acts. We play a lot more covers these days, thanks to American Idol and Glee but we’re not into the full Madame Tussaud’s experience. Here there is an entire industry of touring simulations – not just superacts like ABBA and Queen (the Beatles re-enactment market is still catered to by Paul McCartney) but AC/DC, The Eagles, Marc Bolan, Tina Turner, ZZTop. I expect to see a Bay City Rollers tribute band coming to the Ipswich Regent any week now. There is also an industry of touring ’50s rock’n’roll musicals – Grease and knockoffs. [1]
  • Property. It’s a worldwide mania, of course. Even I, long a defender of renting because it gave me the never-exercised flexibility to move to Shanghai on a moment’s notice, now subscribe to property ads in three cities and read them the way 20somethings used to read personal ads. The difference is that here the property market takes up a huge share of property itself. Every second storefront seems to be an estate agent – the defining face of retail in Ipswich, like opticians and mobile phone stores used to be in Helsinki or shoestores in Nis, Serbia.
  • Christmas lunch specials at restaurants. The traditional American Jewish Christmas is Chinese food and a movie [2], but here even the Christian majority eats out and works in the restaurant trade on the day.
  • Valerie’s Patisserie. People on Streetlife are very excited about this chain cake shop coming to Ipswich. Good for them, but I would be more thrilled by independent vegan restaurants full of animal rights literature so I’d have somewhere to feed visiting friends.
  • Hard water. The water in Helsinki was definitely not pH neutral, it destroyed several kettles, and I now realize it was probably soft water, acidic. There is no mistaking the white lime on my saucepan here. I have bought the special variety of Yorkshire tea for hard water and am investing in Brita type filtering products, though it might be cheaper to drink bottled water.
  • Jolly hockey-sticks language, particularly noticeable during freshers week at the university but creeping into memos as well: Have a go! Have your say! Do a taster course! At the same time as I’m hearing all this determinedly non-heavy, non-committal exhortation talk, the default personal greeting seems to be, “Are you all right?” Which in my world, is used to people who are already in tears, i.e. clearly not all right. As an opener, from a stranger, it seems like asking for a ketchup burst.
  • I am all right though.

    [1] I once saw a Bryan Adams cover band (not tribute band, they appeared as themselves) called Different Ape at Kaarle. They were much better than you might think and also sang U2.

    [2] You cannot do this in Helsinki, by the way. The place shuts down more comprehensively than you would think possible for 24 hours from about 4 pm December 24. No buses, nothing. I strongly recommend organizing a party where people arrive ahead of time with sleeping bags, or skipping town.

    facts about Ipswich

    1 October 2012
  • If people elsewhere know one thing about Ipswich, it is the Ipswich Town football club. Even my Icelandic ex-flatmate knows Ipswich Town, which was an early member of Premier League (-fixed) and is now cannon fodder for teams like Blackburn Rovers who are cannon fodder for the Premier League. The logo of Ipswich Town is the Suffolk Punch, a breed of draft horse, which is pictured in white on a blue background although it is chestnut in real life. I like to think this recalls the white horses carved into British chalk hills in the Bronze Age, the early Middle Ages, or the advent of the heritage industry (depending on the hill and the Internet history source).
  • If people know a second thing about Ipswich, it’s that five sex workers, all women, were murdered by a serial killer here in 2006. The man convicted of being the “Suffolk Strangler” is serving a life sentence. One of the victims was named Anneli, but before you ask, she was not Finnish, impeccable sources report.
  • Ipswich is sometimes claimed to be the oldest continuously inhabited trading town in Britain. At the moment, however, people are debating whether the trading tents in the town square are unsightly and should be moved to make way for … something. Like a piazza, whatever that is. The empeered former head of Marks & Spencer suggested it on a flying visit so we have to take it seriously.
  • Ipswich also has Britain’s newest university campus, University Campus Suffolk, where I’m working. It opened in 2007 and before that Suffolk was one of the last two, three or four (underlying source says “a few”) counties to not have a university.
  • Ipswich defines itself in relation to the following fixed stars:

  • Norwich, the country seat of Norfolk as Ipswich is of Suffolk. The football rival, the city that got the University of East Anglia over Ipswich, the city that is said on Streetlife to have the bigger, better stores. (It even has Clas Ohlson, the Ikea of hardware, which could motivate me to visit.) Norwich is England’s first UNESCO City of Literature and bid to be England’s City of Culture 2013, losing to Derry-Londonderry.
  • London. The train ride takes only an hour and 20 minutes, but a last-minute ticket costs about £30 one way, and more than £500 for a monthly pass, so most people will not be casually running down to the city. There is a commuting class visible around the station, but this isn’t Oxford or Scarsdale, more Stony Brook or Lappeenranta.
  • Bury St. Edmunds is another Suffolk town with a UCS satellite campus and, according to the Streetlife commenters, a livelier, better preserved shopping district that draws people away from Ipswich.
  • Colchester, the main town of Essex (although not the county town, which is Chelmsford). is said by various Wikipedia-level sources to have been the capital of Roman Britain, or at least a regional capital. Boadicea led Celtic Iceni rebels from Norfolk, as well as the Trinovantes from Suffolk and Essex, to attack Colchester around 60 CE. Ipswich thus stands in a similar supporting role to Bedford at the Battle of Lexington and Concord. These days people know Colchester for football, the University of Essex and a big train station.
  • Felixstowe is a suburb or satellite town of Ipswich located on the actual coast with a big container shipping port, whereas the smaller Port of Ipswich is a miniature dockland on the Orwell River. I am envisioning The Wire, Season Two (the Ipswich murders would be Season Three and I do hope nobody is inspired to re-enact Season Five).
  • Cambridge is technically just an hour or so further north, but from the perspective of most of Ipswich, might as well be Neptune.