Saturday, May 30, 2009

“Would you like me to show you how it works?” questioned a man’s voice in a thick British accent. I turned around to greet a smiling face with eyes, hidden behind Aviators.

“Absolutely,” I replied as the man led me to the middle computer in a row of Apple Macs.

“It’s really easy, you just record yourself saying a word and then you can string it together with videos of people saying other words, to form a video sentence,” he said.
Five minutes later I had my first youtube account with a video of me and two other people forming the completely coherent sentence, “Procrastinate, London, Cheesepuffs.”

This can be found on the website which was created by Rizwan Muhammad, an interactive media production major at Bournemouth University.
He created the site for his final project but hopes to implement the idea at his job this summer by allowing wedding guests to instantly record a sort of video guestbook.

“My boss didn’t really like it,” he replied “but he has been divorced like 3 times.”

Rizwan is one of hundreds of senior media majors throughout the United Kingdom who are showcasing their final projects in this year’s Free Range 2009.

The event is held yearly at the Old Truman Brewery, a run down warehouse set up into sections for different universities. In T1, the largest section, I’m drawn to an eerie projection of what looks like zombie limbs ripping, played to the repeat soundtrack of someone cracking their joints. I quickly move on to an image of a cow broken in half with smaller calves running out of it. Next to that I find my favorite poster; a picture of several trees with deep roots and a quote reading, “I love deadlines. I don’t sleep and I have no social life,” (an unfortunate truth).

“Free Range is a way for students to share their ideas and showcase their work for potential employers,” said Rose Thomas, a graphic design major from the University for the Creative Arts Epsom.

She sits next to a large poster she made with the words “Graphic Design is a way of clearly communicating ideas using text and images,” written across the top. The sentence is written over and over again with words erased until it finally reads, “Graphic Design is a way of communicating.” Walking around it is clear to me that some of the most creative minds in the country are here doing just that; communicating their innovations.

As I enter back into the Interactive Media section I’m once again greeted with Rizman’s smiling face who cheerfully acts as my tour guide showing me the work of his classmates. He introduces me to Vic Bishop, who quickly informs me that everything he knows about New York City he learned from watching “Friends.” Fair enough.

Vic then shows me the game he created, where the player stands in front of a web cam and clicks on a body part (let’s say their hand for example) and a puppet appears in that spot on the screen. The player can then move their hand in any direction causing the on screen puppet to move along with them. I asked him why he didn’t make it so that the puppet can individually move his hands and feet.

“I was working on that,” he replied.

Rizman then led me over to what appeared to be a drum set from the popular video game rock band.

“Have you ever played the game rock band?” Rizman asked.

“Yes…but not well,” I admit.

He explained that this game, created by Aneurin Barker Snook, is similar to rock band except there are no songs, instead the player creates their own music by hitting the notes in various patterns at their own pace. I sit down at the drum set and spastically start pounding away at the drums in what is a very poor excuse for a rhythm. Rizman laughs and Aneurin takes my place at the drum set. He starts jamming and soon a small crowd gathers around him and starts clapping along. As we continue to clap along, one guy in the crowd turned to me and asked if I went to school with them.

“No, I replied, I wish.”

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

London is...

London is ...

Raining, maybe not at the moment like it was earlier this morning but it will again soon enough. For a city so gray and cold for most of the year, it amazes me how vibrant and bustling it always remains. Riding around the tube I feel completely comfortable like I’ve finally figured it out, like I’ve finally figured this city out. That is until something happens that completely catches me off guard.

I think my problem is that I compare London to everything I’ve learned and everything I know. When I call home I describe Piccadilly Circus as the Times Square, Camden Markets as the Canal Street, and Chelsea as the Upper East Side. Only this is London not New York and perhaps when I stop needing to find parallels I will stop being caught off guard.

London is simultaneously old and new. Walking around you see a Mercedes 2009, whipping past the remains of a wall over 1500 years old. While I have spent years studying European history, actually seeing such old relics of the past intrinsically woven among new architecture never ceases to amaze me.

For these reasons I’m not quite sure how to describe London. I’m trying to remember how I described Costa Rica when I came back home last summer. The truth is I just told people that I loved all of it; the people, the places, the culture. That seemed efficient enough because describing your love for someplace is like trying to describe your love for someone, there just simply aren’t enough words.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

You may say that I’m a dreamer… but I’m not the only one

Climbing up the steps of the underground, Baker Street appears no different than any other bustling street in the city of Westminster, London.  The street made famous as the residence of the fictional detective Sherlock Holmes, now boasts a museum dedicated to Holmes. However, that place was not the destination of my journey to Baker Street today. Instead I walked two doors down to The Official Beatles Store of London.

Upon entering, I was greeted with the sound of John Lennon and Paul McCartney’s voices singing “Baby you can drive my car.” I cringed. After being forced to listen to the Beatles on long car rides with my mother as a child, I developed a serious disdain for the group. I even went as far as hiding her “The Beatles One ” album, which still remains hidden to this day (sorry mom.)

 In high school I unpleasantly discovered that I was more the exception to the rule than the norm. I learned to keep my opinion to myself, as my classmates wandered down the halls in Beatles shirts excited that we would be playing “Eleanor Rigby” in our next concert.

 Now I’m staring at a Beatles guitar pick trying to understand what was so great about them in the first place. The Official Beatles store is a surprisingly small space, stacked from floor to ceiling with Beatles memorabilia. Any place of the wall not supporting a shelf is covered with Beatles posters. 

In the far corner, a television mounted high on the wall plays a continuous stream of Beatles performance footage. A wide variety of all too familiar Beatles shirts and patches fill shelves in the one center isle of the store.

 As I make my way toward the back, I roll my eyes at the inflatable Beatles dolls, and John Lennon action figures. Locked in a case sits a collection of Beatles glass figurines. There are shelves of Beatles socks, Beatles alarm clocks and my personal favorite a “Stg.” and “Pepper” saltshaker set.  I’m ready to leave the store, but not without getting a gift for my mom first.

 To the right of the cash register, my eyes are drawn to an original vinyl of the Stg. Pepper Album.  It rest next to a variety of original Beatles records. As I picked it up, I notice the bookshelf behind it is filled with Beatles books and DVDs.  

Flipping through “The Beatles: Complete Scores” I am shocked that there are actually hundreds of pages filled with full scores and lyrics. In an era when singers barely sing, let alone write their own songs, I’m impressed that Lennon and McCartney actually wrote nearly all of their own material.

 As I bring my purchase up to the cashier, I find myself humming along to Lennon’s Imagine playing on the television. Behind the obnoxious screaming fans and annoying Beatles action figures, there was in all fairness a group of talented musicians and songwriters. While I will never list the Beatles as one of my favorite bands, put their songs on my Ipod, or walk around in their band T-shirts, I can at least respect them as musicians. After paying for my mother’s gift I curiously ask the cashier what was her favorite Beatles song.

“I hate them all now,” she replied. I smiled and left knowing I’m not the only one. 

Friday, May 22, 2009

Okay, Okay I get it...

So I have a confession to make. Something I try not to admit to back in the states and something I certainly don’t want to admit to over here in London. I’m not really a big fan of the Beatles. Actually that is an understatement, I can’t stand most of their songs!

I felt a need to mention this to Professor Parkhurst yesterday, seeing as how we will be going on a Beatles tour sometime next week. He did not take my announcement well. This morning we each received a weekend assignment in out inbox. Mine was to explore and write about Baker Street.

So I took the tube with Rachel and Michelle to Piccadilly Circus and we explored the area down to Baker Street. Upon reaching the end of the street I found none other than the official Beatles store of London. I didn’t go inside per say but I did get the hint. Who knows though tomorrow is a brand new day. 

Listen to London

As I roll over in my bed, before I even open my eyes to see the sunlight pouring in through my window I can hear the sounds from the street below. The voices, bus engines, ambulance sirens and car horns echoing through my window make it feel like the city is alive with its own heartbeat and breathing. Walking around the East End streets of London yesterday, what intrigued me most was how one moment you hear the roar of traffic and then you turn down a alley and hear the soft rustling of someone sweeping their front stoop.

We walked down one such ally on our way to lunch at the Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese. Located right on Fleet Street, the former headquarters of the British Printing Press, the dark exterior gives a deceptive impression as to how far the building dates back. On the inside, the creaky floor boards, narrow steps and passage ways leading to more tables in the dimly lit basement give tourists a feeling of entering into another time. Portraits hang commemorating famous writers like Samuel Johnson and Charles Dickens who once drank here. Looking at an original copy of a Tale of Two Cities open to the page where Dickens mentions the pub, I felt like if I was quiet enough I would hear Dickens pen scratching against the paper, writing in the corner behind me.

After lunch we went to St. Paul’s Cathedral. Walking through the revolving door into the Cathedral it read, “This is a House of God.” A seemingly obvious statement for a Church but this church was like no other I have ever seen. Organ music played as when made our way to the center of this completely jaw dropping, architectural masterpiece. If God truly were to have a house on this earth his address would be St. Paul’s Cathedral.

Climbing up the 257 steps to the Whispering gallery (No I didn’t count I just read the sign) gave us an incredible view looking down into the Cathedral. Named the Whispering Gallery because the acoustics of the dome are so perfectly sound you can whisper into the wall and be heard on the other side of the room. Next we climbed even more spiraling stairs to the Stone Gallery, which runs along the outside perimeter of the dome giving you a breath taking panoramic view of the city of London. The photograph does not do justice to the incredible view.

Our final stop of the day was an exceptionally long but also exceptionally informative Blitz tour of the bomb damaged done by the Germans during WWII. The guide showed us stone stumps that once supported churches and buildings before the bombing. She told us incredible stories of men and women buried for hours under the rubble of what once was their homes, and the people who taking shelter in the tube at night continued on with business as usual during the day.

Our tour took us right back to St. Paul’s Cathedral. From the onset of the war, the Cathedral was watched over round the clock by a group of men who put out firebombs. The Cathedral sat in silence, (the only bells that could ring were those warning of an air strike) for the duration of the war scarred with shrapnel. St. Paul’s became a symbol of hope for the British people; as long as their magnificent Cathedral could make it through the attacks so would they. Today the bells of St. Paul ring out proudly, to remind the people of London of their spirit never broken and their city never silenced.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Lines of London

Staring out my dorm window I can’t help but smile and be thankful at how incredibly lucky I am. From here I can see almost the whole of London; Westminster and Big Ben softly glow yellow next to the white arc of the London Eye. The city skyline looks surreal. It’s an incredible mix of old gothic style cathedrals reaching past the red chimney lined houses with the occasional sky scraper that could have been plucked directly out of New York City itself. Looking at the skyline it’s clear to me why writers, musicians or really anyone looking to discover something have always flocked to this city.

Walking around the city today I encountered the most unfortunate of lines, the tourist-attraction waiting lines. Perhaps the most cliché and in my opinion most boring of these attractions, was the changing of the guard. A rather pompous unnecessarily ostentatious event where tourists stand for about an hour to watch a group of men dressed like little toy soldiers march into the gates of Buckingham place, play some music and switch positions.

My classmates and I got to the music part till we were about ready to march out of there ourselves. Unfortunately, the British police had other plans and informed us that we could not leave because the queen was behind us. As we all turned sure enough a black car drove by with the queen sitting in the back seat. Unbelievable! I’m in this country only 48 hours and I already got a glimpse of the queen driving by, meanwhile its been 20 years without even the slightest look at the president. I guess that’s just how it works. I equivalate it to seeing a shark the first time you scuba drive. Queen, shark both rare and utterly shocking when seen up close.

We really have that British officer to thank for making us wait to cross that line to leave. If he hadn’t, we would have never seen the queen. So maybe it really isn’t that bad waiting in those tourist lines after all. I’ll continue to think about it as I sit back, and look out the window at my favorite line of them all.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

London is...

London is gray. You wake up as the clouds roll in and it pours casting everything in a damp gray shadow. Caught without an umbrella and you’ll finding yourself walking down those gray streets much faster to your destination.

Like the weather several other aspects of the city seem stereotypical.

Find a royal guard and you’ll also see dozens of tourists (many of who are American) teasing, taunting and photographing him hoping they will be so lucky to make him smile, or in our case smirk at them. Go the Tower of London and hear all the stories of centuries of torture and the cruelty of Henry VIII towards his unfortunate wives. Walk into a pub order fish and chips and wash it down with a round of beer.

But underneath the gray skies, there is another side of London missed on first impresions. Look close enough and you can see where ancient history and modern day city intertwine. For instance, the streets bustling with cars serve as the back drop for the last remains of the Roman Wall; a stronghold built by the conquering Romans in the year 200A.D. Look up as you walk and you’ll notice the beauty of the city with its ornate golden architecture some 400 years old. And if you listen to a local Cockney speak you’ll be surprised to hear their distinctive dialect and rhyming slang.

That is the London I came to see and look forward to exploring in the weeks to come.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Procrastination Station

So it is 1:30 in the morning, less than 48 hours before I step foot in London and I’ve decided now is a good time to start my blog. The only reason I remembered to start this blog (which I should have started over a week ago) is because driving home in the thick fog, reminded me of a poster I have of Big Ben on a foggy night taped to my bedroom wall. Watching my best friend’s headlights cut through the eerily thick fog in front of us seemed representative of my lack of visibility when envisioning this trip to the UK.

I’m really not sure what to expect. I hope to fall in love with the city of London like I have with New York City. I hope to have new experiences and awesome tales adventures to share with my family and friends when I return home.

I remember when I went to Costa Rica I was looking for something different. Growing up in suburbia, I never really had much to complain about, thus not much to write about when it came to writing about my experiences. I once had a published author who grew up in my same boring town tell me ‘If you can’t write what you know, write what you’re willing to learn more about.”

Last summer I trekked through the jungle, up and down the beaches of Gandoca, Costa Rica in search of nesting sea turtles and came back with a new experience to write about. However, if there is one thing Digital Journalism taught me this semester, it’s that you can take the simplest, most mundane event and turn it into a story if you dig deep enough. My hope for my trip to London isn’t having the drastically different experience to write about but finding the less obvious story seen only by those looking with fresh eyes.