Thursday, March 31, 2011

Just found this tucked away in my email archive

This is a response to an email I received from a USC student who was interested in applying to study abroad at Kent in 2006. I just stumbled across it and figured I'd share. Enjoy.


Dear kristen,
I am an anthropology major here at USC. I am thinking about studying at the University of Kent for my study abroad. I found your name listed on the study abroad office’s virtual advising network. I was hoping to ask you some questions about your time in England.
Did you enjoy studying in Canterbury? What was the university like? Was it easy for you to find your way around campus? What were the classes like? Was it expensive to study at the University of Kent? Did you live in a dorm? How did you find the people there? Were they friendly? What did you like to do on and off campus? How was the weather in Canterbury? Would you ever like to go back there again one day?
I would really like to know what you thought about the University of Kent and England. It will help me to make up my mind. Thank you so much for your time.

show details 6/30/06

Hey A----,

You may want to take a deep breath and make a sandwich before you start reading--i tend to be a bit verbose in my praises of Kent. My year there was hands-down the best year of my life thus far, and I'd recommend it to anyone with enough guts to get on the plane. That said, i'm also aware that studying abroad is not for everyone, and some people have a seriously lousy, homesick, put-upon, offended time in the UK. It really depends on how you approach it.

Let me first cover my ass by stating clearly and directly that people are going to dislike you for being American. I've had many friends study abroad and come home screaming and yelling that they didn't make a single friend abroad because the moment they opened their mouth they alienated people with their accent. Nobody, in any country, likes Americans these days, so travel with that in mind. (Its not just the Bush administration's fault, though they've certainly helped. Americans have a penchant for being loud, bossy, impatient, rude, and ignorant in foreign countries, and if you pair that with our reputation for having money and power you'll breed a resentment streak a continent wide.) The easiest way to avoid the evil eye from your classmates is to say "i didn't vote for Bush." (even if you did--if you want to make any friends, do not associate yourself with the Republican party, support for the Iraqi war, or Christianity).

On with the answers to your questions:

I Loved Canterbury. The town is adorable--its an ancient walled, moated city with cobbled streets and more historic buildings than you can shake a stick at. Your Kent student ID card will get you into the cathedral for free at any time, and its always worth a wander. (Tourists have to pay anywhere from 8-13 pounds for admission and tours except during services) Its also crisscrossed with parks and paths that are so pretty you can't avoid picnicking in them. The town is always packed with tourists and shoppers, particularly around Christmas. C-town's proximity to Dover allows it to be a very inexpensive field trip destination for French and German school groups, so you'll do well to avoid large groups of children with giant backpacks. (There are hourly ferries from the Port of Dover to Calais, France, and foot passage costs 7 to 11 pounds. Always good for a booze cruise--beer and wine are much cheaper in France! And its only a 20-minute train ride there from central Canterbury.)

Canterbury has more bars and restaurants within its city limits than there are days in the year. Most of them are far out of the average uni student's budget, but there are a few that are worth your while. I recommend the Old Buttermarket (in the square across from the entrance to the cathedral) and the Cherry Tree (on a side road off the high street--its just a little ways down from Methven's bookstore on the right. the canterbury whole foods store is visible at the end.) Cherry tree has happy hour every day from 5-8--most pints are 2 quid! (best deal you'll find off campus.) It is also a haven for overpriced designer shops and boutiques (hence the Christmas shoppers) so if you want to shop, be sure to save up for a couple of years.

Erm...where was i. Canterbury's night life is so small its laughable. All bars close at 11pm, and the city's 4 private clubs stay open until 2am but have a cover. What most uni kids do is drink at the bars until closing, then stumble home and keep it going there until the neighbors call the police. So if you like the club scene you're going to be disappointed.

All university buildings are hideous at Kent. I think its actually a requirement written into the school's charter. The ugliest buildings by far are Eliot and Rutherford colleges (they're mirror images of each other), though Darwin runs a close second, and wins the "most contorted and difficult to navigate" award. The campus is layed out very simply and in a linear fashion, but the academic buildings resemble Escher drawings when it comes to getting around them. Eliot and Rutherford in particular are famous for having floors halfway between other floors, stairways that lead to nowhere, hallways interrupted by courtyards, and no semblance of a coherent room numbering system. The only times i've gone into Keynes college were to go to the bar on the main floor so i haven't really looked around the rest of it.

The university is by itself at the top of a big hill--it is a good mile's walk to town, so there's no non-university buildings around. The view from the library is stunning! The campus is very self-contained--you actually don't have to go to town ever if you don't want to (though where's the fun in that?). The school has 2 restaurants, 9 bars, a nightclub, 2 small grocery stores, a theater (for touring shows and movies), playing fields, and religious centers for students (the catholic student center has its own bar). Sports are not a big deal--most are just intramurals and never compete outside of town. The biggest student gatherings are at the Venue (the nightclub) on weekends and Pound-A-Pint night at Woody's bar in Parkwood.

Concerning housing...this is where it gets confusing. Kent offers two styles of housing: catered and self-catered. (i.e. we feed you or you feed you.) Catered housing is dorm-style in one of the four colleges, or self-contained school units. Darwin, Rutherford, Eliot, and Keynes colleges are massive, ugly buildings that contain classrooms, bedrooms, department offices, restaurants, ballrooms, bars, courtyards, theaters, lecture halls, lounges, shops, and game rooms. I've actually known students to not leave their college for weeks on end. Anyway, in these situations, you generally live on a hall in a small bedroom by yourself and share a potty and a shower with 5-6 other people. You have a sink in your bedroom. The residence hallways have doors at each end to block out some of the noise from the rest of the building--not that it matters 'cos they're party central 24/7. Residence in the colleges includes breakfast and lunch every day in the central ballroom, though breakfast is very early in the morning and the food is...urgh. can we say rubbery eggs?

The other housing option is self-catered, which is what I did. Self-catered accommodation is in a large community of townhouses about a half mile from the center of campus. (its a pleasant 10 minute walk down a very nice, well-lit path. the only time it sucks is when the paths get icy.) The area is called Parkwood, and the townhouses have 5 or 6 bedrooms and are arranged into courts of anywhere from 10 to 20 houses. Everyone gets their own bedroom (the idea of shared accommodation is rather foreign to the English) and the 5 bedroom houses have a full kitchen, powder room downstairs, and potty, shower, and sink upstairs. The six bedroom houses have a really big kitchen and dining room, potty and shower downstairs and up, and sinks in each bedroom. (I lived in a 5 br--it was a bit tight but nice.) the residents are responsible for keeping their bedrooms clean, though housekeeping comes through weekly to mop the common areas, clean toilets, and replace tp. The stoves are gas, which rocks, but the ovens are gas too, which sucks. just so you know.

There's a third option available now, which is a couple of big multi-storey buildings just on the edge of Parkwood which have suites, but i really don't know anything about them because they were being built while i was there. More info can be found at

Near the center of Parkwood is a complex which houses a grocery store, a laundromat, a housing desk (staffed with nice people who'll sell you laundry tokens when the dispenser breaks) and Woody's bar--the best (and cheapest) bar on campus.

Keep in mind that at Kent, as with most British schools, university accommodation is offered to freshers (first years) and erasmus students only. Second years and beyond live in houses all over town, though many are in a large community of townhouses about a mile off campus.

You are likely to find that all of your neighbors are really, really immature--even compared to American freshmen. There are reasons for this, most notably the fact that many Kent students have spent their entire youth education in same-sex schools. While this is not necessarily the case outside of the Southeast, be aware that Kent is a snotty rich kid uni and many of them went to very expensive grammar schools. Hence a lot of people will act like they've never seen someone of the opposite sex before and get really stupid. Disease transfer is rampant throughout the first semester. Be Careful.

Classes. Ah, class. The least significant part of my study abroad experience.

Each department behaves differently, and as I majored in theatre i doubt what I have to say will bear any relation to your experience. But across the board there are certain tendencies--a full courseload is 120 hours over three trimesters. Most classes will be worth either 15 or 30 hours, though i've heard that varies when you get into the sciences. The first two trimesters are spent in class, and the third is for exams. The theatre department did not offer any classes below 30 hours, so it meant that i had 2 classes (modules) each term. yeah. 2. But i had at least 4 class meetings (classes) a week as each module had both a lecture and a seminar. The seminars were the best part, hands-down, as you really get to discuss the course material with your teacher and a small group of classmates and debate or even bicker about how you feel about it. ALWAYS BE PREPARED FOR YOUR SEMINARS.

My grades in the lecture/seminar classes came from one or two short papers (2500 words), one dissertation (5,000 words), one presentation (at least half an hour including questions and discussion--you basically teach a class on your subject matter and lead the seminar), and participation/attendance. Note i did not include exams in that. The theatre department did not have exams. I actually had 6 entire weeks free to fiddle around and have a good time. This is, unfortunately, not the case for other departments.

My classes second semester were weirder--whereas first semester each lecture was one hour and each seminar two hours, second semester i had one class that met two hours on monday without the professor to prepare a performance and seminar for tuesday. The tuesday class was 5 hours long and included presentation, lecture, seminar, performance, discussion thereof, and often a film of the next week's play. (it was Modern European Theatre 2: Beyond Naturalism. DO NOT TAKE THIS COURSE.) The other class that term was a 4-hour acting class, but it was fun.

The classes have less, but harder work than American classes. you are on your own for a lot of it--not only acquiring texts from the library and reading them, but for finding research materials and preparing your presentations. Nothing is spoon-fed to you, and grading is tough. Moreover, every paper and exam is graded twice--both by your professor and an external grading board, which checks for plagiarism and cheating. Nobody earns a grade above an 80--they don't believe in perfection, or anything near it. But a 70 is an excellent grade.

A professor can make or break a class--i had two excellent professors, one sucky professor, and one bitch who artificially lowered my grade because she didn't like Americans. There's no excusing that. The sucky professor knew his stuff but he wasn't nice and tore everyone apart for their commentary, even when the student was right. Oh well. I learned a lot, i did a lot of research and a Whole lotta writing, but i didn't really care about the classroom. I made b's (known in the UK as a 2.1 or a 2.2--might i suggest you google the UK grading system? its a nightmare.) but they transferred back to USC as "pass" and did not affect my gpa.

The easiest and best way to meet people is to go to the campus bars. England is a drinking culture, so if you don't drink for whatever reason, people are going to think you're weird. They drink, but second years and up drink responsibly--it looks bad to get plastered too. Alcohol is not put on a pedestal in the UK--its consumption is permitted and encouraged among college students--so people are less inclined to abuse it the way we do here. My favorite drink at Woodys was the Snakebite--it is half cheap lager, half cheap cider, with a shot of blackcurrant syrup thrown in. Very pink, but yummy (though a lot of people hate it. just try it once!)
Without alcohol, most people are not particularly willing to talk to strangers. It is up to you to strike up the conversation, though once you do, chances are they'll be more than ready to talk to you for days. I made a lot of friends just by being genial and southern--it surprised a lot of my friends to see the number of folks who would wave and say hi to me every time i walked to class. Don't act like you're afraid of the locals--they can smell fear. Just be chill--don't apologise for being American, but don't gloat about it either. The last thing anyone wants to hear is "well its better in 'Merica 'cos..." If they see that you're willing to accept their culture for what it is, they'll be more likely to accept you.

Native Kentish folk tend to be more friendly and open than Londoners, who are trained from early childhood to expect anyone who strikes up a conversation with them to be a mugger or sex offender. Bar talk again is easiest.

I actually saved money when i went to Kent--the housing is cheaper! USC has an arrangement with UKC in which you pay tuition to USC (if you're in-state it means you can keep your life scholarship) and housing to Kent, and their exchangers do the same. When i was there the pound was worth $1.93- 2.00, so the cost of living was massive, but i budgeted carefully and came back broke, but not in debt. (I earned about $6,000 the summer before so i had that, LIFE, and my stafford loan to support me.) A few tips for not going broke:

don't buy textbooks if possible--check them out of the library
don't take the bus into town--its a very nice walk
shop at Tesco instead of Marks and Spencer (groceries)
pick a day or two for drinking each week
take out cash once a week and try not to use your debit
if you shop for clothes or other stuff, shop outside of Canterbury.
buy electronics in america!

Oh, random side note--there is a path that leads from Parkwood all the way to Whitstable (six miles--whitstable is on the water) its a BEAUTIFUL walk and was one of my favorite things to do on slow days with friends.
Canterbury is a 1-hour train ride from London (2 hour by coach (bus) but half the price). I dated a guy who's family lived in London, and got to spend three weeks with them over spring break (christmas and spring breaks are both a month). It really is a cool city to visit, though not really a great place to live. too crowded for my tastes.

Weather. umm. If you get seasonal depression, might i suggest the south of France? England is routinely gray. You get the odd pretty day in spring and summer, but don't expect anything besides gray, dismal, rainy weather. On the plus side, though, it doesn't get insanely hot or cold, and we got a foot of snow three times, to everyone's enjoyment!

Would i go back? I've been trying to get back there for a year now, but scheduling and finances are rather prohibitive. I dream of Canterbury still--i didn't want to come home. I still don't want to be home. One year there and i'm trying to become a citizen. The biggest draw is the people--they're typically very liberal, very chill, and very secular. I like that in a culture, though USC students have gone over there and wanted nothing more to come home for those exact three reasons. They have no patience for prejudice against anybody (in response to American congressional debate over homosexual marriage, Ireland went and formally legalized it) and they can respect diversity among people and cultures without cramming it down your throat, and their government is forced by the people to use funding responsibly and reasonably.

I helped a girl get over to Kent for this past semester--she hated everything about it. She didn't make any friends because she refused to go to bars, studied too much, and convinced herself it was her calling in life to witness the Bible to the crazy heathens of the UK. Most people rejected her solidly, and told her why. After three months of this policy her dad finally told her to loosen up and try doing as the romans do. Not only did she start to have fun, but people started to want to be around her. By the time it was time to come home, she didn't want to either.

Okay, sorry, i know this is long. take it in stages. There's a lot of worthwhile information cloaked in opinion--i can't write any other way.

Hope this has been useful! Let me know if/when you have any other questions or would like to see photographs. I have about 1,000 of canterbury, my social life, london, Paris, Barcelona, and campus.


Wednesday, March 30, 2011

No. NO. You are an adult.

Here I am. 26 years old. Highly educated, proven capable of handling a wealth of tasks with ease, courtesy, and warmth. Able to hang upside-down off the side of an aircraft carrier with a drill in hand Monday, then collate investment documents and tax mailings with precise attention to accuracy Tuesday, and with great decorum put clothes on hungry women Wednesday. I am bright, capable, versatile, and ready for a committed, rewarding career.

So WHY am I seriously considering applying for weekend gigs on the South Bank for a pittance?

No. I am a grown-up with real debts and real responsibilities. I should not think that my place is in a company-logo tee shirt surrounded by tourists on the sidewalk. That's one small step above standing on the corner waving a cardboard arrow toward the nearest McDonald's--a gig a homeless guy I know in Baltimore takes occasionally in exchange for burgers. I have worked too hard on my education to think that I don't deserve self-respect and a living wage.

But what education do I actually have? As far as business-sector skills are concerned, I have very, very few--and only ones that I've gained on the job. Touch-typing, filing, mail distribution, correspondence, dictation, teaching CEOs to use their computers...all tasks I've only undertaken as a low-paid temp. Nobody wants to pay people enough to not only eat but pay for their rent AND their student loans to hang lights and build fake walls. There's too many highly-qualified technicians out there who are happy to do it for free because someone told them that after a few years of interning and volunteering, the money'll start coming in.

This is not actually true. There are always enough recent graduates and hopeful young people to exploit that the need to pay people doesn't actually come up. If they start demanding money, you just find someone new. Now that I have a MA in being exploited I've moved up from being a dime a dozen to a dime for five, but still. A two-year turnaround on burnouts is plenty of time to keep your theatre staffed and your coffers full.


Oh I'm sorry I missed that lunch date, Arthur, but with a degree in maths and another in astrophysics, it was either hitch a ride on a spaceship or head back to the dole queue on Monday.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011


I just finished reading The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot. It was an excellent read and beautifully edited. (Before this I read in rapid succession all but two of Jasper Fforde's comedic novels, such as The Eyre Affair and The Fourth Bear, all of which contain at least one glaring typo for every five pages, so I felt this was noteworthy.) While heart-wrenching and painful to read (particularly when Skloot and Henrietta's daughter Deborah find Elsie's mildewing autopsy report) occasionally disgusting (watching Zakariyya eat over a pint of ice cream off a paper plate), and reminiscent of all of the time I spent in high school learning to hate myself for just how much white people have abused black people for centuries in the USA, I nevertheless had room in my brain left over to consider the more pragmatic issues surrounding Mrs. Lacks's cancerous tissue.

The big question that dominates the end of the book regards the ownership of components of the self once they have been voluntarily removed from the body. No one argues that if someone hacks off someone else's arm for the fun of it, they should put it back, or at the very least compensate their victim for the harm they've caused. But if a surgeon removes a damaged or damaging component of a willing patient, should the patient still have some claim to it? I'm referring to tumours, gangrenous appendages, iffy-looking moles, ruptured appendices--all things that A. people are better off without, and B. won't survive on their own once they're cut off.

If biopsies, blood samples, and other bits and pieces are useless to patients, and will more than likely rot or be discarded if given back after testing, then it makes sense that people who not only have a use for the samples, but know how to keep them useful should keep them. Figuring they're doing all the work to keep the cells alive, preserved, or indexed, and spending all the money on formaldehyde and electricity to run deep freezers, it's only fair that, given the opportunity, they should be allowed to earn the money back from any commercially viable discoveries they make using said samples.


Patients did put in all the effort of growing those tumours from the outset. Whether or not the friendly doctor saved his life by removing it, and whether or not he wanted said tumour, the patient did do all of the primary work. Not only that, why shouldn't the patient be compensated for all the time he spent in pain, nauseated, bedridden, coughing up blood, and generally having a lousy time of it? We have this concept in our world that people should pay to get better, not be paid for being sick. But being sick is work--indeed, for some people it's the most difficult work they've ever undertaken. It may not always be work that supports a profitable enterprise, but if a patient is undergoing some course of treatment it has the potential to. The fact that some people volunteer to make theatre doesn't mean that practitioners shouldn't be paid if the show makes a profit. Surely if a researcher wishes to be paid for his medicine, he should compensate everyone who worked to achieve it.

Now, Henrietta may have waived her eligibility for compensation--not because of something she signed in life, but because her cancer cells went out of their way to sabotage years and billions of dollars' worth of research all around the world. I mean, I'm sure there's a breach of contract violation in that somewhere. If nothing else, it made a lot of people unhappy when they thought they'd made breakthroughs, only to realize that no, they'd just made another freezer-ful of Baltimore Black Lady. Maybe that's what happens when you harvest malignancies without informed consent. Henrietta let science make great advances and save millions of lives, but she got some pretty good jabs in for her trouble.

Anyway, a very well-written, touching, and pragmatic book that approaches the reader like you're an interested adult--at no point did I feel patronized, but the style likewise never dropped into unintelligible medical jargon. I'm very glad Skloot took the time to do it properly (the project took her ten years), and to communicate with Henrietta's family as people--to not only get their story, but to help them understand what happened to their mother, and how she changed the world. I'm grateful to Henrietta Lacks.

And Georgios Papanikolaou.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Poked, Prodded, and Tea'd

So, I just got back from the colposcopy clinic. A very nice (man) gynaecologist did exactly what the procedure says on the tin, with a bonus prize: the colposcope has a camera built in, which was hooked up to a monitor, so I got to watch. The nurse (woman) kept me distracted and talking and I didn't really feel any discomfort, but I was absolutely fascinated by the whole thing. My cervix is exactly the same colour as my gums! There was a little spot, about the size of a pencil eraser, that turned white and looked odd, but the doctor didn't think it was a big deal. He took a cylindrical biopsy of it with this long skinny contraption, and got me to cough when he did it and somehow I didn't feel a thing. (I also didn't watch the monitor for that bit.) Well done there, I think.

Meanwhile the nurse was asking me about where I came from, oh isn't it warm there? You said you came here as a student, what did you study?

"I...erm.. What Did I study?" I was entirely too fascinated by my own personalized NOVA show to remember anything about myself. "My mom's a nurse too, but she works labour and delivery. This is so odd--I'm having a hard time believing it's me I can see." "Do you want to have kids?" "No, that's not really the plan." "Well, if you decide to have babies, they'll grow just behind that." "I'm well aware of that, I just mean I feel rather detached, more like I'm watching a science programme. Is that the string from my IUD?"

Afterwards I asked to see the biopsy, and found it fascinating, which made the nurse laugh like a drain. And there was a condom on the handle of the colposcope. And instead of foot stirrups they had these sort of curved leg pad things, far more comfortable. And everything smelled of vinegar. (The naughty cells react to vinegar, so fair enough). The lighting in the hospital is terrible, but the place was clean and well-appointed.

No one but me in the waiting room spoke English, but there was another waiting room just around the corner full of pregnant teenagers and their boyfriends, all of them white and dumb-looking. I wandered in there on accident and was briefly confused because they all had numbers, but the receptionist hadn't given me one. I was also the only person in there who had come alone, which got me some pitying looks until I realised I was in the room with pictures of babies all over the walls when I should have been in the room plastered with posters for cancer support groups. Way to make a lady feel comfortable.

So now I get to wait three weeks for the biopsy its thing, I suppose. Are they going to try and grow it? Or make a slide of it and examine the cell pattern? I suppose I could look it up. I'll go do that.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Inexperienced and Unskilled, but suck at digging ditches

Hello world. I need a job. I've been working for about ten years in a diverse array of fields, off and on around my education, all around the US and now London. Well, I say working in London. I say working.

Okay, scratch that.

See, I've had the fun experience of either never being asked to do anything--quite literally, sit in front of this desk and wait for the phone to ring though it probably won't--and doing highly-skilled and important tasks that I'm not actually supposed to be doing for busy bosses who have eventually decided I was competent.

I have a large résumé, but it's full of short contracts, internships, temp work, and good jobs that I nevertheless did without a license or proof that I knew what I was doing. I'm a good MIG welder (untested) a strong rigger (unqualified, and with lapsed belay certification from 2004) a skilled carpenter (scenic, unverifiable), and a capable lighting electrician who can work safely at heights (unconfirmed). I've competently operated cherry pickers (without a license) and can drive a car (in the USA). I've maintained and repaired vehicles (with my dad) and can fix and upholster furniture (though the last place I did this as a job I left after a screaming match with my misogynistic boss who tried to make me cut Styrofoam with a hot knife without proper ventilation or a clean respirator while mocking my Wiccan co-worker for being a heathen and 'playing around with voodoo').

I have about 6 months (over three years) of administrative experience. I have a master's degree (in theatre) and a valid work visa (for 2 years, the point of which is to help me find a job that will sponsor me indefinitely, which is a burden no employer wants to deal with). I've never been fired (but I've had dozens of contracts lasting four hours to three months) and have spent the past six months volunteering (as a lighting technician in dodgy-at-best theatres and found spaces). I'm organized and efficient (when I have to be) have a pleasant telephone manner (with an American accent, which is inappropriate for a truly British company) and can type 95 words per minute (when it's warm out, otherwise my fingers lock up and I can manage about half a sentence before I start spewing gobbledegook.)

All told, with my CV and personality...I wouldn't hire me. Maybe I can go into landscaping. I quite like plants. Check out my lavatera seedlings:

And my tulips, as they get going:

And my daffodil (yes, just the one)

and my whatever the heck this is:

Green thumb? Perhaps not. More like greenish toe, but not in a gangrene sort of way.

Oh the life of the dabbler, the short-term gigger. The Temp. Too competent to be an amateur, but too inexperienced to be a professional.

Thursday, March 10, 2011


So. A letter just came through the door inviting me down to the girls room for a poke-n-prod.

Erm. To rephrase. I've received correspondence from my local NHS trust informing me that I have an appointment for a colposcopy. Apparently my most recent Pap smear turned up a HSIL, or High Grade Squamous Intraepithelial Lesion, or Severe Cervical Intraepithelial Neoplasia, which I've had a fun hour or so of reading about. At my appointment in 2 weeks I'll get the fun experience of having a 3% acetic acid solution spread on my cervix to see if it turns white in areas where there's a high concentration of cellular nuclei. I'll probably be biopsied and may even get to experience the sublime joy of the LEEP (looped electric excision procedure, which sounds a lot like the slice-n-toast knife in The Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy film) And then, joy of joys, I'll get two more Paps over the next year, and annual pappage over the next 10. Whee, who doesn't love the sound of that?

Interestingly, in my last hour of low-grade-panic-driven research, I've learned that the plastic broom I've always associated with Pap tests is not very good at collecting cells, which might help to explain why my 2009 Pap came up completely normal but all of a sudden in 2011 it's come up hellafuckedup (technical term).

I've also learned that the person who detected my abnormality is called a Cytoscreener, which is awesome. Thanks, Cytoscreener, for helping me stay healthy.

I've known for a while that most everyone has at least one, and probably several strains of HPV. I know I have had at least 2, now--I also got a verruca from lifeguarding at a summer camp in 2004. Kids are gross. I had to have the verruca frozen off with liquid nitrogen which was astonishingly painful. Like, it felt kinda funny for a sec while the doctor was applying the goop, then he got up and left the room just as a bolt of lightning shot from my heel to my hip, causing me to clench up and jerk around like a rabbit in a snare while emergency lights flashed red in my head alerting me to the fact that my foot had been cut off. If the same thing has to happen to my cervix, be prepared for a killing spree. Getting an IUD was bad enough.

I like the way the letter was phrased. To paraphrase: "you're probably fine, this is all fine, don't worry, you're great, we love you, cancer, you're a good person, you're better than healthy, it's probably nothing, do not miss your appointment for any reason, this happens all the time, it's downright routine, hugs and kisses, NHS." Kinda like that time I was grabbed by a London transit police officer to have my Oyster card checked after a fault caused me to get smushed in the gate--ID badge, big smile, mind if I check your card? big smile. I'm sure it's fine, you look like a good person who wouldn't try and get away with not paying, criminal, big smile, there we go--the person ahead of you must have not touched the reader properly, big smile.

Oof. What is it, when people tell you not to worry, it just makes you even more anxious? Like when people tell you it's not going to hurt, you totally know it's going to be a gore-splosion, or when someone in a bad movie says "nothing could possibly go wrong." I'm sure I'm fine, I'll be fine, and even if it has the potential to be not fine, it is still in a it's-fine stage of not fine. But nevertheless...AAAARRGGGHHH.

As for silver-lining thinking: At least I'm not in the USA without health insurance right now. I have a valid NHS number and a valid work visa.

As for appropriate responses to that line of thinking: FUCK YOU, REPUBLICANS. I'm safer in the UK than at home, despite massive blows to the NHS under a Tory-led initiative to try and privatise and profit-drive healthcare because they're mass-murdering wankfucktards who have no concept of I can't afford it EVEN IF MY LIFE DEPENDS ON IT and therefore assume that poor people just don't care enough...even with those EVIL IDIOTS in charge, I'm BETTER OFF than with YOU.

Without tax-funded women's health centres like Planned Parenthood, many women will not receive Pap smears. They won't be able to afford them, or at least won't see an appreciable cost/benefit ratio to paying to have them as often as they should. They will not detect problems early. They will not have the fucking chance that I think I have...fuck. Fuck fuck fuck. Fucking republicrats. Fucking religious aristocracy trying to punish all us naughty heathens for our normal, human behaviour. Fuck you, yes you--judging me for bringing all this on myself with my youthful indiscriminate actions. If you hadn't told me not to, I probably wouldn't have. I pay my fucking taxes... (descends into incomprehensible mewling)

And Guess what I started reading on Monday?

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
, by Rebecca Skloot.


Saturday, March 05, 2011

March in London, or "What are Begonias supposed to look like?"

My poor, sad, confused house-plant. I have no idea really how to care for it, or if I'm even supposed to at this time of year. I just looked at a bunch of pictures on the interwebs of what begonias are supposed to look like, and...mine doesn't look like that. It has one sad and strange looking cluster of flowers dangling off to one side and is otherwise a green, sprawling mess. Most of the leaves look happy and it has new growth but it's not the compact, flower-laden plant you see in the pictures.

I just took a lot of pictures of it with flash so that may confuse it, I don't know. I can just see all its chloroplasts screaming "I'm blind! Oh the Humanity!" (begoniaty?)

I water it when the soil gets dry, it is well-drained and gets as much sunlight as it can (not much, it's London and it's March) and I've fertilized it once or twice. I just have no idea if it looks the way it is supposed to, if it is happy and thriving or on its last legs. Should I put it outside when it gets warmer? Should I prune it? I put it in a larger pot about four months ago and it got bigger, but maybe I shouldn't have done that. But it has flowers at all now, whereas when we first got here it had none, and continued having none until I repotted it. I worry inordinately about this plant.

I think I have a sort of ET relationship with my lone house-plant. When I'm all seasonal-affective so is it, or perhaps I just imagine it to be so. I'm not getting enough sun, so Windowplant is likewise in the dark. I tried growing cilantro on the windowsill and it sprouted, looked around for about five minutes, and died. Well screw you too, dumb herb. I'm nervous to start any seedlings for the summer 'cos I'm pretty sure they'll bail on me too. I'm not going to bother with aubergines this year, but I'm eager to try courgettes with the assistance of fungicide. That stuff makes a mountainous heap of difference (between having courgettes and...not)

London has this cute tendency to cloud over for the brightest part of the day. Like today. It was cloudy all morning until about noon, when it cleared up partway, got me all excited...then clouded over again until just now. It is currently too dim to enjoy the clear sky, and Windowplant is not getting anything out of it. I pruned some dead twigs off my Big Pink Plant in the cold cloudy gloom, but it doesn't look like it wants to bloom this year. It has buds, but they look to be leaves. FAIL.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Quotation mark "abuse"

What is with the anti-freedom camp these days that makes them feel it is appropriate to put quotation marks around every word they find objectionable? "Gay" is the new homosexual. "Rights" is the new...rights? These numbnuts are so intent on claiming that other legal Americans don't deserve equal protection under the law that they will suggest that the word right may be used ironically. That's not funny. It's weird. I've actually seen the sentence ""gays" believe they "deserve" the "right" to same-sex "marriage"" on an official statement, along with "it is not "bullying" for my child to encourage your "gay" child to seek the path of righteousness."

I think your "grammar" is "gross".

It is also amusing that they've named their movement "pro-family" which is another can of douche. How can someone who is pro-family impede others in their attempts to have...a family? I'm pretty sure the "gays" are the "pro-family" side of this debate, and you, friends, are in the "anti-equality" trench. Or how about "pro-theocracy" if you've gotta be pro-something? Too much of a mouthful? Pro-hate? Pro-bigotry? Pro-white-wealthy-fundie-closeted-men-and-subjugated-sexually-repressed-women?

This is just another "grievous abuse of language" to go along with their gun-waving pro-life, union-busting pro-democracy, and consenting to job, service, and benefit losses while paying more in taxes so the aristocracy can maintain their tax cuts pro-liberty catch phrases. Think, please, before you give yourself a misnomer.