I See Elsie About this blog

I See Elsie

The Ithaca College London Centre

Posted by Bill Sheasgreen at 10:12AM   |  Add a comment


Why the ICLC is located in a royal borough or 9/15

London has 33 boroughs, three of which, Kensington and Chelsea, Kingston and Greenwich, have the status of ‘royal’ boroughs. The first such royal borough is ours, Kensington. Edward VII, long the Prince of Wales [not unlike the current PoW], conferred the honour on the borough in memory of his recently deceased mother, Victoria, who grew up here and cherished it until her death.

Illegitimacy, barrenness and widowhood best explain the circumstances.  In a previous blog I mentioned two monarchs, Charles II and Anne, both Stuarts, the Scottish dynasty that came south  to rule England in 1603 when Elizabeth, the virgin queen ,died.  It goes without saying, ‘without issue’. The 6 Stuarts who reigned between 1603 and 1714 had mixed luck when it came to legitimate children. For example, Charles II littered the aristocracy with his bastards, but never divorced his wife, Catherine, who had no children. Anne had 17 pregnancies but only 1 child reached the age of 10. The death of each, in 1685 and 1714 respectively, created mini crises of succession. Anne’s older sister, Mary, ruling jointly with her Dutch husband William between 1688 and 1694, was also childless, as was her widower who died in 1701.

But the Dutch William, an asthmatic, contributes greatly to the story. He and Mary purchased a house in the outlying village of Kensington and turned it into a major royal palace. The next dynasty, the German Hanoverians, continued to use Kensington. The George’s initially had much better luck in the marriage bed.  George III and his German wife Charlotte were prolific in producing 15 children, 9 of whom were sons. The growing family might have been a reason to desert Kensington for the larger and more central Buckingham house. Since then, Kensington palace has been the home of minor royals, those past their prime [Diana?], and those whose time has yet to come [William and Kate].

9/15 is a pretty good ratio of sons, one which Henry VIII would have been accepted. The next generation fared badly in the progeny stakes, no one more so than the Prince of Wales, the bane of his father, after running up enormous debts and secretly marrying a widowed Catholic – come in Edward VIII, you are forgiven!  George despised his wife so much that they produced only one child, a daughter, who died in childbirth in 1818.  When it became apparent that his 3 older brothers would not produce a legitimate heir, Edward, Duke of Kent, fifth child and fourth son, hastily married, impregnated a German princess and lived just long enough to greet his daughter Victoria. [NB. the crown skipped over George’s 4th child, a girl, to the daughter of the fifth child, a son. The law has only recently changed giving daughters the same rights as their brothers]. The rest of the Royal family ostracised the newly widowed Duchess of Kent and sequestered her and her baby daughter, Victoria, in the ‘home for troublesome royals’, i.e., Kensington Palace. So the little princess grew up in Kensington and loved it so much that she introduced her beloved Albert to love it in turn.

ISSUE: would we have had a reformation in the 16th century had Henry VIII produced 9 sons out of 15 legitimate children?

Posted by Claire Mokrauer-Madden at 12:48PM   |  2 comments

Having recently read one of the most well articulated valedictions I've ever come across, I hesitate to say goodbye in Jack's shadow. But needs must, and I am shortly to leave the London Center for a new job!  As semesters go by and students return to Ithaca (or go on to so many other parts of the world), I've taken to saying "Travel safely!" and "Come back soon!".  "Goodbye" is difficult to say and I admit that I avoid it.  Now it's my turn to go.  Though I'm not literally packing my bags and catching a plane, I'll be making a new tube journey each morning where I won't be greeting Bill upon arrival with "Guten Morgen!".  He won't ask me what kind of yogurt I'm eating, and I won't offer to make him tea that he will turn down because it's too early for tea (three years at the ICLC and I'm still not sure I understand what constitutes "too early for tea"). 


I think the laughter had something to do with fostering newborn kittens?

My initial feeling when I knew I would be leaving the ICLC (after the excitement of accepting a new job) was one of reflection.  I'll miss explaining colloquialisms which turn out not to be transatlantic.  While trying to explain what it means "to have kittens" I laughed that hardcore belly laugh which leaves you still aching a day later.  The same goes for the pants v. trousers issue.  Most of us remember the first time it was pointed out that Brits and Americans use the word pants differently.  I'll also miss the day Paul McCartney rocks up to 35 Harrington Gardens.  I've probably been too subtle in trying to engineer this, but I have no doubt I will be the first person Bill phones when Sir Paul does arrive.  And when he does, I can't wait to shake his hand!  


And then there's the overly sentimental issue- I'll miss Steve TenEyck's sabbatical in London in spring 2013.  I was one of Steve's first lighting design students in Ithaca.  We go so far back that I remember the master class he taught when he was invited from the job search to teach lighting design at IC.  Steve helped mentor me through my undergraduate education.  I would so love to audit his class next spring!  What do you think, Steve?  He won't be the first of my own IC professors doing a stint at the ICLC during my front office tenure.  I say in all seriousness that my social life had a hole in it until Greg Robbins took me mudlarking on the banks of the Thames.  Jack Hrkach got to spend a year here living in the roof garret of the ICLC, and I really miss the warmth of hearing his jazz music in the evening come subtly down the stairs of the flat and into the third floor hallway.


Kenneth is no less disapproving in a handmade blanket.



The fact that I keep coming up with more items for this list makes me realize how much I will miss about working at the London Center.  I have deep roots here, even though I'm the shortest serving of the current staff.  I look around the front office at all the knitting needles I need to take home, the post that Murray Woodfield has to collect, the stacks of photos from the 40th anniversary that I still haven't put away and the cardboard cutout of Kenneth Brannagh looking disapprovingly at me from the side of the fireplace.  I was welcomed 3 years ago into Elsie's family and I have made myself at home here.  The last staff member who left the ICLC was Fred, and he stayed for 38 years.  Months in advance of his last day he handed in to Bill his keys to the building, which Bill kindly gave back.  But on Fred's last day Bill reminded him that this was the actual day when he would need to turn in the keys.  Fred refused, and there was little conversation to be had about it.  I understand that Fred was expressing how he felt rather than interested in keeping the keys, and I wonder how I will feel in the same position as my day quickly approaches. 


While here I have loved meeting the visiting faculty who have come over.  I've loved climbing steep and wind-swept hills, doing my best not to speak my broken German in Paris and sneaking up on students to take awkward photos for the end of term slide show.  After all, documenting life around the London Center was part of my job.  And speaking of which, I'll miss this blog massively.  When Skint was turned into I See Elsie, I imagine Bill felt a small pang of loss.  Perhaps he was a little relieved, but he had been a driving force behind Skint for most of his time as Director.  Now I'm handing over the username and password of Elsie.  Aside from a creepy presence in the creaking basement floorboards and in the phone lines, this blog is Elsie's main incarnation.  She also discovered Facebook and Twitter, but this is where she was born.  Sarah and I created a test post one afternoon and we never looked back.  Now Elsie's a few years old and I'm already feeling the pangs of missing her.  Bill has been an unfalteringly good sport about being the subject of one facetious blog post after another.  This blog would be half the size it is without his patience.

The Fantastic Four?  I think so!


And finally, I'd like to thank Evie Blackburn for helping me get a foot in here in the first place.  Without her I might still be selling cake south of the river.  On to new adventures!


Posted by Bill Sheasgreen at 6:06AM   |  Add a comment

I will occasionally use this blog to give a brief historical background to a part of London that we visit. First up is Spitalfields and I’ve named the blog after its favourite watering hole. And there's something else here too!



"Spitalfields, once the fields of St Mary’s hospital just outside the city’s north-eastern gate, is today an
artistic, culinary and fashion trendsetter in London’s east end. Dissolved like most monasteries
Roman in their allegiance in the 1530s, the area was granted a market by Charles II in the 1670s.
Alienated from the church by the paganism of their working class culture, and finding themselves
harassed by the ecclesiastical courts, the impecunious workers remained stubbornly resistant to the
inspirational preachers sent to convert them.  When in 1685 Louis 14 revoked the law that had given
silk weavers  a degree of religious freedom, these protestant ‘Huguenots’ as they were labelled,
migrated to the houses along Fournier and Wilkes street east of the market.  The last Stuart Queen,
Anne, passed an act to create 50 new churches in the ‘indies of the interior‘ that abutted London’s
richer areas. In 1746 a second new church, this a dissenting chapel, was erected east on Fournier,
right next to the brick works and Truman’s brewery.  Opposite Christ Church, favoured by trendy
youth today, stands the famous TEN BELLS public house, where two of Jack’s unfortunate victims,
imbibed their last drink, sang their last song, before succumbing to the unknown butcher in the
narrow alleyways of Spitalfields. When in the early 19th century,  new docks were built in Wapping
going east to the Isle of Dogs, new roads were built through the area. Goods from the Canaries,
Kalamazoo, the Congo, Cuba, Canada poured into the docks.  Jobs multiplied attracting men from
Ireland initially. By the 1880s, with the Victorian boom still underway, vicious pogroms in Eastern
Europe led to the arrival of thousands of impoverished Jews who squashed into the dilapidated
residences east of Commercial Street. Next, in the early 20th century,  socialists, revolutionaries,
anarchists preached sedition throughout Whitechapel and Mile End. Then, after centuries of neglect,
Nazi Heinkels, Stukas and Dornier bombers laid waste to the area in the blitz."

Posted by Bill Sheasgreen at 5:38AM   |  Add a comment

The ICLC played cricket the other day.  Students responded positively and want an encore. If it were a serious match, the umpire would have declared the pitch unplayable. The venue was Hyde Park, a royal park more familiar with troops of the household cavalry [barracked nearby]  parading their horses before major national ceremonies like the ‘trooping of the colours’ than with cricket. So the pitch was lumpy and the bounce decidedly uneven which made batting a difficult prospect. Shane Warne would have been jealous of the leg spin our novice bowlers managed.

In our case, batting was somewhat easier because there were only 9 players in total, 2 short of a normal team, 3 short if you count the 12th man, the purveyor of drinks on hot afternoons.

All of which leads to the question, why 11? It seems an unusual choice, one less than a dozen, one more than a decade. And it’s not just cricket that shares this link with the number 11. Proper football has 11 players and even improper football or, at the very least, mis-named football [i.e. gridiron football of the US variety] also has 11. No doubt, mid-Victorians felt that 11 was the right number to fill a pitch. And those who introduced the forward pass agreed with their Victorian predecessors.

So here’s the question - answers on a postcard – why 11 players?

Posted by Sarah Davies at 11:22AM   |  Add a comment
Bill with Claire wearing bejewelled glove

Well, we dodged the bullet last month [one of those implausible metaphors: I trust I will never be in a situation where I have a micro instant to decide whether to jump to the left or to the right, up or down, to avoid such a missile. I’d be dead as I’m the type who doesn’t usually act precipitously; I like to weigh the advantages of all the options.*]   What I mean by this metaphor is that we decided to stick to our guns [oops, again – summon  DR FREUD and his ‘psychopathology of the everyday blogger’) and ran our autumn 2012 term at the usual time, partly because we have led off with the Edinburgh festival for a dozen years now and partly because we want the students home by Christmas. Why was it a risk?

The problem we faced was the ‘once in a lifetime’ uniquess of the period 27 July to September 9, the period  when London hosted the games of the XXX Olympiad and the Paralympics, plus the associated greed of house owners and landlords to make serious money out of the tourist trade. Apologies: cancel ‘greed’, and substitute ‘take advantage of favourable market conditions’. Luckily, our gamble paid off. Students were able to get housed without too much stress [says me, who helps from the side-lines]. We’re already in our second week of classes and all systems are ‘go’. Of course, in the process we lost ‘our’ Claire to the University of the ‘Arts’ [Sarah’s alma mater], and we all agree that she will be a hard act to follow. But we’ve found a strong replacement who will be introducing herself to our regular readers in mid-month. Meanwhile we wish our departed ‘blogmeister’ Claire the best of luck in her new surroundings near the river where HM Prison Milbank used to be. And we hope that her new glove fits and doesn’t interfere too much with her typing and her cooking! We also recommend, while thinking about safety in the big city, that she not wear her bejewelled glove on public transport, while shopping at Tesco’s or at Primark, or anywhere south of the river, at least until she gets the glove insured or buys a Rottweiler for company. We spare no expense in our leaving gifts.

What else has been happening? We always top load the semester with extracurricular activities to give students a better grounding in their new surroundings. On Friday morning half the group toured the ‘mother of parliaments’ in Westminster where they learned something of the arcane mysteries of the place which won British [and American] liberties. From ‘Black Rod’ banging on the door of the Commons after having it slammed shut in his face, to ‘sticky wickets’ [see blog 2] in the afternoon, to the truncated  St Bart’s the Great in West Smithfield where ‘mel gibson’ lost his head, arms, legs, innards and outer appendage(s), to the flags of the BIG 12 livery companies in the Guildhall hanging limply down into this massive hall [the 3rd largest in the UK after Westminster and Canterbury], to the site of gladiatorial gore in the Roman amphitheatre under the Guildhall yard, to the ringing of ‘bow bells’ which, by legend, summoned the despondent Dick Whittington and his cat back from Highgate Hill to try one more time to make his name and fortune in London [which he did, becoming Lord Mayor 4 times], then to rugby in Richmond [Richmond Football Club founded 1861 just as the US Civil war was starting] and finally to 6 east London Sunday markets with the mandatory purchase of fresh beigels in the Brick Lane beigel shops. Then to top it all off, Arsenal beat Liverpool 2-0 at Anfield! What a sweet weekend!

This Friday and Saturday we finish orientation by getting the group outside this most un-english of English cities to Avebury [medieval village lurking in Neolithic circle], Glastonbury [a bit on the new age side, not unlike Ithaca], beautiful and tranquil Wells, the UNESCO world heritage site, Bath [pr. Baaath], and finally Stonehenge.  The west country or ‘Wessex’, en route to ‘Sarah’s land’ [Wales], home of dragons and source of the Arthurian legends, is the heartland of England. ‘Wessex’ reminds us that this is a beautiful country, especially if you have occasion to sit on a village green, watching cricket while reading a good book [the two are not incompatible], sipping a local brew and hearing on the radio that your side just scored its fourth goal against Chelsea/Man U/ other suspects. Oui, c’est la vie!

*Probably the decision to marry was the only one I took precipitously, not unlike other people I know.


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