Apr 10 2014

On Sandwiches…

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In London, sandwiches are inevitable. They are everywhere. Sandwiches are a defining factor of London life. So much so, that they have become, like Big Ben, a fixture of the landscape. You cannot avoid sandwiches. This is not a phenomenon that is limited to London, indeed it can be seen across England. Steadfastly, the prepackaged sandwich marches across the land. Sandwiches are part of the national consciousness.

This is not necessarily a bad. It might be boring to have sandwiches as your preferred lunch option, but it is nonetheless not a bad thing.

Before we resume our thrilling sandwich themed discussion, let us have a look at its history. I cannot help myself, after all I am studying history.

Many of you will be familiar with the story of Lord Sandwich. He was a slightly eccentric aristocrat. The versions diverge, but the story is essentially the same. Lord Sandwich, undoubtedly secure with a vast fortune and a lot of time on his hands, liked to pursue his hobby enthusiastically. Some say he played cards all day. Others, that he played chess.

The crux of the matter is, His Grace disliked to be disturbed. Unfortunately, this included eating. His devoted manservant, or butler, had to come up with a solution to ensure his employer did not die of starvation, and his employment was not abruptly terminated.

Now to make a long story short, this helpful and devoted servant, this ingenious individual created the sandwich. And in a spirit of selfless grandeur, he named his new invention after his master. Luckily for posterity, Lord Sandwich experienced hunger before any other human necessity.

Now this is a pretty long, and some might say facetious, way of talking about sandwiches. Nevertheless, they are a hallmark of the London scenery. Especially for someone, like me, who is accustomed to the north american fast food landscape.

The point of this blog post, and yes there is a point, is to encourage you to go and try the many places where you can eat delightful and delectable sandwiches in London. The varieties are simply endless. From Coronation Chicken to Posh Cheddar. From the plastic-wrapped number at your nearest grocery store, to the handcrafted marvel at your local sandwich shop. London has really got it all.

You may one day tire of sandwiches, but when you do, you will find a new variety, you will find a new shop, and you will gladly devour your new find.

Have a break, eat a London sandwich!

And by the way, in case you were wondering, there is such a thing as the British Sandwich Association.  And yes, they have a website.

Posted by: Posted on by Matthieu Santerre Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,

Mar 28 2014

Football in London…

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London, is known for its football culture. When you enter a restaurant while wearing your favorite team jersey, someone will come to you and talk about the game. Lots of people on my Facebook and Twitter have asked lots of questions about football in general [How to get football match tickets? How to meet the players? etc]. When I first came to the UK two years ago, I looked online about this and I could not find lots of information. So, I hope this post will be helpful. I’m sorry, I only have information on how to get football tickets in London. I’m not really aware how to get Manchester United or City tickets…

Question 1. How to get a football match ticket?

For those of you who like football, watching one football match before you go home to your own country is a must. Why? it will be really expensive for you to come back to the UK if you have gone home :) and the atmosphere is amazing!!! You are going to hear people singing, cheering for their favorite team! :) So the question is how to get a football ticket?

You can get the tickets from the official websites (ChelseaFC.com, Arsenal.com) but don’t use a third party website unless it is recognized or listed on the club website. Most of the websites are just a scam. Getting tickets from the websites is not easy either. Why? because you have to be a member of the club. So, basically you have to pay yearly membership fees and then you have priority to buy a ticket. But still, becoming a member and buying a match ticket is much cheaper than buying from a third party.

Question 2. How to get the ‘big match’ ticket? [only for Chelsea FC tickets]

Watching a big match such as Chelsea FC vs Arsenal FC or City vs Chelsea is a dream come true for lots of football fanatics, but how to get a big match ticket? Well, I’m not really sure about Arsenal FC tickets, but for Chelsea FC, there are two ways to do this. Even though you are a member, it won’t guarantee you get a match ticket. As the ticket for big matches will be sold based on  a loyalty point basis. Ok, so what does it mean? You have to watch some matches… and the more points you have, the easier it is to get a ticket or even get a better seat. There is also another alternative, get the membership and buy the football match ticket from Viagogo (websites that sell extra tickets from season ticket holders), however it’s £20 more expensive than a normal ticket.

Question 3. If you want to watch a match at Stamford Bridge where should I sit?

Well, it depends. I prefer Matthew Harding lower/ The Shed (nearby the goal post]. The view is not that great, but I love the atmosphere… People sing all the time.. :) But you have to be aware that everyone is going to stand for 90 minutes of the match, so if you want to sit don’t choose Matthew Harding/The Shed.

If you want a great view choose the east upper/west stand lower… Even though nobody sings there. If you love to be close with the players and take lots of good pictures, go to the west stand lower.

Question 4. How to take pictures with the players?

Lots of my Facebook friends asked me how to meet footballers. To be honest, most of the time, I met them accidentally. I once met Petr Cech when he waited for taxi nearby Fulham Broadway and met Juan Mata when I was eating in a restaurant. You can also follow Rotary Watch and Chelsea FC on Facebook… and join their competitions.

But if you want to try your luck, go to their training ground in Surrey [40 mins from London].. You won’t be allowed to go in to the training ground… Sometimes, the players will stop their car on the way out and you can take pictures and ask for autographs :)

Keep the blue flag flying high!




I'm Stephanie, from the beautiful island of Bali, Indonesia. I'm currently taking MSc Management and Human Resource. I could describe myself as 'a very happy and lucky person'. I spend most of my spare time food hunting, traveling, playing my guitar and being a regular at Stamford Bridge (Chelsea FC's stadium). My moto is 'be so happy that when others see you they become happy too' :)

Posted by: Posted on by Stephanie Hertanto Tagged with: , , , , , , ,

Mar 27 2014

A homage to British weather…

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I always seem to start my posts with an account of the weather, which may be the most typically ‘British’ thing one could do. Luckily for me, fond as I am of pathetic fallacy, the weather in this country offers no shortage of inspiration.

I sit here typing with my feet on the grass, everything brightened by the sunlight, including the yellows, bright reds, and pinks of the freshly formed flowers in the garden at home. The daffodils, in various shades of cream and yellow are fully bloomed, bunched together; long pouting tubes with crimped edges like the edges of a pastry shell burst through splayed star petals, on top of long, thin grass stems. The itinerant deep buzz of lawnmowers, and that of birds chirping their mottled chorus are the few sounds to be heard, that and then there’s the feeling of the sun, pressing its warmth like a deep sigh. Every so often a cool breeze causes the leaves to whisper. It’s spring; with the sun it’s warm, without it, it’s almost as if the spectre of winter comes back, and the breeze is left to prick the skin without the sun’s balm to soothe.

Finally. After such a long, wet winter, the streets in London are pounded by slower steps, of people taking it in-this new chapter in the seasons. The preceding days of rain mean that the sun brings out deeper, keener colours as if the city is freshly painted. The ‘in between’ days as the seasons change are clear enough from the various fashions on the streets: some have already reached to find the summer wear, sandals and shorts, cropped trousers, dresses without tights. Others carry coats and scarves still, ready for when the sun disappears behind a cloud or dips down for the night.

Recording, whether in writing or otherwise, is like an attempt to crystalise moments. As if memories were made of water, writing is like freezing, so memories form into frost-like splinters, more perceptible later on when most of life’s passing moments become difficult to extract from the streams of everyday experience. Do you think you’ll remember this day I asked some of the people on my course as we sat at the Delauney, an old-school, elegant Austrian café and restaurant near campus where we could at last take advantage of the small round tables and chairs on the wide pavements outside.  What were we doing this time last year we pondered, as people walked by and cars and red buses swerved around the road’s bend? Most of us had found out we were coming to the LSE and were starting to plan for the move to London. It seemed like so long ago. We talked of things to look forward to (and to punctuate the studying) now that spring was here: Longer days, beer gardens, ice-cream, languid, lazy afternoons on the grass at Lincoln’s Inn Fields.

Somehow this week is week 10 of the second term, our last ‘proper’ week of taught classes. There’s very little time left to put off the painfully long list of reading to do and revision for the essays and exams which await in May. Maybe that’s why this weekend felt like it was suspended, in between one phase and the next. A weekend where dinner at a ‘street food’ festival in a smoky old warehouse, turned unexpectedly into a night at ‘Passing Clouds’, a live music venue in Hackney, dancing to South Indian Kathak beats mixed up with electronica. Then Sunday was too beautifully sunny to be as productive as planned.

There will be showers and cloudy, cool, rainy days to come. There always are. That may be why I like to write about this city’s weather. It mirrors life with its ups and downs, with its bright, clear, warm days and it’s darker, dimmer, colder days and those where all the seasons seem to converge. It delights, disappoints, frustrates, and beguiles. It comes and goes and there’s only so much planning you can do based on the forecasts, even with satellite imagery. Often, just like that, it surprises you and you just have to go along with it.

Posted by: Posted on by Sheetal Kumar Tagged with: , , , , , ,

Mar 25 2014

How I (Almost) Met the Queen…

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Dinner at Grosvenor Square

It all began when I was invited to lunch at the Official Residence of the Canadian High Commissioner. The High Commission was looking for candidates in their late teens and early twenties. One person would be chosen to be flag bearer for Canada on Commonwealth Day. There were at least a dozen candidates. All of them, without exception, were bright and charming youths. All of them represented a noble country. On that day I met true and honest Canadians living in the United Kingdom, some of which are now my friends.

I never thought I was going to be chosen. Indeed the odds were against me. Probability wise, I had a greater chance of dropping food on my tie, or embarrassingly knocking over my drink onto some priceless carpet. But in the end, I was chosen. The process was very Canadian. Having assembled a group of equally qualified persons, luck was chosen to demarcate individuals. The choice would be announced at the luncheon.

The lunch itself was a grand affair, especially for someone, like me, who is now accustomed to dining at a student residence cafeteria. Here, I did not have to point at a surprisingly similar display of fish, meat, or vegetarian option, and wonder whether to sit next to the beverages dispenser, for easy access to hydration, or near the back, for peace and tranquility. Here, there was a seating chart and I was served three wonderfully presented and delicious courses. An army might march on its stomach, but diplomacy truly marches on fine dining. After such a marvelous display, had I been a foreign ambassador, I might easily have carelessly signed away a piece of territory or concession to some resource rich parcel of land. Luckily, I am not an ambassador.

My name was selected out of a Mountie’s hat. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police, or Mounties (pictured above) is Canada’s national police force.

The decision process was very fair. You might expect me to say that as I was chosen in the end. You may say that those who profit from nepotism probably think the process fair as well. Yet, it was fair. Indeed all the candidates agreed, beforehand, that it was better to leave the decision to Lady Luck. And so, as we were being served coffee, and I was observing how I had successfully manage not to drop food on my clothes or ruin a priceless artifact through my usual clumsiness, the process began. Our names were written onto separate pieces of paper and put into a Mountie’s hat.For a few dubious seconds I thought we were going to play charades. The High Commissioner swirled the pieces of paper around, pick one, and carefully read it. My name came out.

I was going to be Canada’s flag bearer at Westminster Abbey on Commonwealth Day.

I nearly spat out my coffee when my name was announced. A hearty round of congratulations followed.

We Canadians enjoy congratulating each other. You may only have finished your meal without leaving a signal trace of food, or done your laundry without your whites coming out in three different shades of pink, but a Canadian will congratulate you as if you have discovered a cure for cancer. We are a happy people who feel genuinely happy for each other. Yet, there is an unspoken rule about such displays of fraternal good wishes:  a Canadian must always remain modest.

Lester B. Pearson with a pencil.jpg

Lester Pearson won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1957.

It’s not that we have a lot to be modest about, as a nation we have accomplished many great things. We just are. An anecdote captures this sentiment well. When it was announced, at a cocktail party in 1957, that Canadian statesman Lester B. Pearson had won the Nobel Peace Prize, a woman is said to have exclaimed, “The Nobel Peace Prize! Lester Pearson! Who does he think he is?” Even in success we Canadians must remain modest. You can win a Nobel Prize, so long as you barely mention it, if at all.


The Commonwealth and Canada

The Commonwealth is an organisation that has its roots in the British Empire. The commonality the members of this club share is that Britain unfurled her flag upon their shores.

We have now come to see empire as a mixed blessing. We see it as a phenomenon which carried horrific trauma and suffering for indigenous populations; as an act of selfish and violent extraction to benefit a faraway metropole. We also see it as a benevolent force, which brought education, medicine, administration and infrastructure, albeit European, to new lands. In a way, it all goes back to the Monty Python sketch in The Life of Brian were insurgents debate the benefits and drawbacks of the Roman Empire.

Whatever we may think of empire, the Commonwealth has emerged as a force for good. 53 countries, brought together by historical accident, now tirelessly endeavour to promote common values of justice, peace, prosperity, social progress and democratic advancement. In this, I believe they have largely succeeded. Of course more effort is needed, as rights are still denied to some, and strife is still endemic to certain societies, in this the Commonwealth must continue its noble work.

The Commonwealth is often referred to as a family. I think this is a good metaphor. Families have their disagreements and their moments of pride and joy. Families may have an aunt who as a distinctive fashion sense, an uncle who has an eccentric manner, or a cousin who is always eager to drink the Christmas punch, but they are families nonetheless. They have their disagreements, but they still strive together. As a family, they have common interests which they seek to promote.

The Commonwealth ideals are paralleled by Canada’s own. My country may not share the quaint eccentricity of Britain’s unwritten constitution, or the bold universalism of America’s, but its values are sincere. The Canadian constitution promises a decidedly unambitious “Peace, Order, and good Government”.  Yet these three pillars represent our nation.  They represent our strengths and our successes.

We have achieved peace from war and internal conflict. We are perhaps the only country which mythicizes its police force, The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (or Mounties), and the idea of the lone law enforcer bringing benign order to the land. Whereas the United States had its Wild West, with the Mounties we had our Mild West; we had and have our order.

We have achieved good government. We have not seen perfect government, and like all countries we have our governmental failures, we have our disenfranchised. But over our short existence as a nation, we have become prosperous. We have a public healthcare system which guarantees that none will be left behind.  We have a Charter of Rights and Freedoms which assures our equality and our freedom. And when our armed forces are deployed, it is not as warmongers, but as peace keepers. We are the true North strong and free. Our only aggression comes on the ice hockey rink. Here we play our sport and rejoice in what brings us together from sea to sea to sea.

These are the values I was to keep in mind at the Commonwealth Day ceremony.


Commonwealth Day at Westminster Abbey

At this point you may be wondering when I will get to the part where I saw the Queen. Indeed, it seems to be that quite often, when you announce you are going to England, acquaintances often ask, jokingly, “When are you going to see the Queen? Tell her I said hello.” To which you must answer something amusing, such as, “I’ll try. But you see ever since the tea biscuit incident at Windsor we are not on the best of terms. And she knows why!”

I must ask you to be patient. I will mention Her Majesty in due course.

Commonwealth Day this year was on 10 March. The High Commissions of the 53 states were each asked to produce a flag bearer. And so, on the said morning, dozens of well-dressed youths descended upon Westminster Abbey.

This was the first time I had worn a three-piece suit. I had had it dry cleaned for a small fortune, which will undoubtedly allow my dry-cleaner to spend her holiday on the Côte d’Azur. The suit is actually more comfortable than it looks, even if the waistcoat proves to be rather like a corset. It does provide for a multitude of pockets which can store anything from keys to small snacks (pork pie anyone?).

This proved a tad amusing as I passed security. Half a dozen uniformed police officers gave me quizzical looks as I attempted to find and empty all my pockets. By the end, I must have looked a frightful mess as one officer remarked that my lapel was in disarray.

The morning of the ceremony was dedicated to practice. It may not look it, but it is surprisingly difficult to handle a flag in a way that is made to appear effortless, and to be somewhat synchronized with 50 or so other people. To achieve this result, we were first arranged into two symmetrical columns. The order of the flags was determined by the date of membership of the country. This put Canada and the United Kingdom at the front, which meant I had to set the pace with my British colleague. This was a responsibility I was hoping not to bare. If anything went wrong, or I tripped and caused a domino effect, it would knock down everyone from New Zealand to Cameroon.

We spent a good hour and a half literally going in circles around the Abbey courtyard. This is the one thing a master’s degree does not prepare you for. It was quite hard, as we formed two columns, to give the appearance of a line, when the inside column goes around the corner it must slow down, while the outside column speeds up. To make this clearer to you, I had asked a four year old to devise a diagram, but he has yet to get back to me.

Once we mastered corners, we took a biscuit break, where we were giving a lonely biscuit.

The latter half of the morning was spent practicing in the Abbey itself. We were to enter, proceed down the Abbey half-way and stop. Here we would form a guard of honour for the High Commissioners. Once the High Commissioners had passed we would go up to the altar, and split into two to take our seats. In the final hymn we would regain our flags and open the procession out of the Abbey, lining the plaza outside as the Queen and members of the Royal Family regained their motorcade.

The practice went well. We did it a few times with and without the orchestra. The music helped to set the pace, which we were told to keep nice and slow.

The Ceremony

We had a spot of lunch before the ceremony at the Methodist Hall. We were then rushed back to the Abbey and given time to make sure we looked our best, and pieces of our outfits were not slanted or out of place.

Each flag bearer had a picture taken of themselves with their flag. Then came the hour or so were we patiently waited.

I remember one of the organisers saying, “There is nothing to worry about. People do this all the time at their weddings”. To which I replied, “Yes, put how many people do this at Westminster Abbey in front of 2,000 individuals.”

Finally, we were given the signal and ushered in. It was much more crowded than during rehearsal. Everyone was in there best clothes and regalia. It was pomp and circumstance at its finest. All went well. All I can say is that I was concentrating very hard and setting the pace to “don’t trip-1-2, don’t trip-1-2…”

During the ceremony the flag bearers were seated largely out of sight. We were somewhere between a memorial to Charles Darwin and Isaac Newton. Indeed on the procession out I was to step over Newton’s memorial plaque and that of Winston Churchill. It’s not every day you step over two famous historical figures.

We got our flags during the last hymn and proceeded out. The doors opened before us and immediately we were greeted by a wall of photographers. Never have I seen people so eager become so disappointed in such quick succession. There were flashes for about two seconds before they all put their cameras down and started chatting to each other. They obviously initially thought we were some officials worth taking photographs of.

Then came the moment we had all been promised. We would see and meet the Queen! Forevermore, I would tell the story at get-togethers and be referred to as the man-who-met-the-Queen-once-and-keeps-talking-about-it.

We stood in the freezing wind for a good five minutes, the royal Bentley and motorcade nearby, and crowds cheering across the road waiting to get a glimpse at royalty. Then the choirboys came out of the Abbey and positioned themselves in front of us. When the Queen emerged out of the Abbey, into an ocean of cheers, she amicably talked to them. We flag bearers were in the background, only to get a glimpse.

And so she left, comfortably waving from her Bentley.

Now, instead of saying “I came, I saw, I talked to her”, I can only say, “I came and I saw”; but what a sight. I may have been just a peg in an exercise of pomp and pageantry, but it was an exercise I believe in. I have promoted an organisation which is a force for good, and a country I am extraordinarily proud to call home. And lest we forget, in the end I got to see the Queen.

I also go to witness an intriguing game of “Find Your High Commissioner” were chauffeurs emerged from their cars like moles trying to spot their employers; but that is another story…

Posted by: Posted on by Matthieu Santerre Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,

Mar 24 2014

A Short Note on Residential Life…


As an international student, I think accommodation can be one of the biggest factors in the whole process of moving abroad. Finding accommodation in London has been compared to the quest for the lost treasure of Atlantis, and can certainly seem like it. There is so much to consider – location, flat-share/roommate, own bathroom (this was not negotiable for me), meal arrangements. And of course, there is the price – when your potential monthly rent outstrips your annual income, your options become a lot more limited.

I am currently living at Lillian Penson Hall, an intercollegiate hall, and I’d definitely say that I’ve had a great experience living here. Intercollegiate halls are run by the University of London, which means students from other colleges also stay in the halls. A lot of the time, people do not consider intercollegiate halls when applying for accommodation (many of my LSE friends do not even know that they exist), but I would definitely recommend them as an alternative option, especially if you are looking at a student hall of residence.

For me, a major point in favour of intercollegiate halls is that they are catered – I get breakfast and dinner (brunch on weekends) and it is included in my rent. I find this to be time-efficient, possibly cheaper, and quite convenient, especially after a long day at the library. Also, I knew that left to my own devices, I would have to survive on take-outs and my own cooking! I have found the food to be wholesome, reasonably healthy and friendly to vegetarians – much preferable to “food-from-a-box” or stress-induced starvation.

Access to LSE is usually not much of a problem either. My hall, for instance, is only five tube stops from LSE or a very pleasant 50-minute walk right through the heart of London. It has a fabulous location too – about two minutes from Paddington station and two minutes from Hyde Park.

Living in an intercollegiate hall has also given me the chance to meet students from other universities and make some wonderful new friends. I do love LSE, but it is nice to meet new people from other universities – makes for more refreshing conversations. Plus, I find it therapeutic not to talk “shop” (i.e. essays, careers etc.) for a change, which is easier when you are all from different universities. My hall is primarily a postgraduate hall so it is relatively quiet, though we do have parties in the bar (yes we have one!) from time to time, and the bar and games room is open every night.

When applying for accommodation, I decided to be old-school and draw up a chart, listing what was most important for me and what was negotiable, and that helped me eliminate the options. I think eventually, the accommodation search depends on a lot of individual factors (budget, location, budget, room type, budget, length of contract…and oh yeah, budget) but I’d certainly say intercollegiate halls are an option well worth considering.

Good luck house hunting! :)

Posted by: Posted on by Vaishnavi Ram Mohan Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,

Mar 19 2014

Why I Study Gender…

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As I leave the house to walk down the main road towards my closest tube station, I never forget to bring my headphones. I stroll along with my music on a high enough volume to cancel out the surrounding noise and, with an indifferent look on my face, I stare straight ahead, my eyes fixated at a point in the distance. This is part of my daily routine – not a particularly interesting part at first glance, but it has its own instrumental meaning.

The more I think of this routine, the more frustrated I feel. Why? Because I do this to detach myself from the everyday sexism that I am faced with on account of my gender. Walking down this street, parallel to one of the most main roads in London, I, like many others, have been subjected to cat-calls, wolf-whistles and beeping horns on a regular basis. And yet, whilst this angers and upsets me to the very core of my being, I walk on, pretending not to hear anything, too afraid to act. These occurrences are not exclusive to this road and are certainly not exclusive to myself. Disturbing comments, explicit words and abusive chants are, unfortunately, a daily occurrence for many women. This is only a trivial amount when considering sexist behaviour.

As a Gender, Development and Globalisation student at the LSE, I am often faced with the same questions that one might expect any master’s student to be asked. Why are you studying the course? What do you wish to achieve from this? What does it entail? However, after talking through this with some of my fellow course mates at the Gender Institute, we found that our courses frequently triggered another question too: What does that mean?  The majority of this was good-natured interest but sometimes this was a derogatory dig at the idea that we might study women and that, for reasons that are beyond me, this is not something that is particularly reputable.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the simple mention of the course I study often sparks a greater discussion: a debate on feminism. I say this is unsurprising because gender is one of the most loaded words in the English language. It is not easy to define, it is not a simple concept to understand and there is no single consensus on what it may entail. I also wish to emphasise that the MSc in Gender, Development and Globalisation does not just discuss feminist issues and, indeed, you do not have to be a feminist to take the course. However, feminism is a movement that is close to many of the students’ hearts, myself included.

I’d like to clarify a few things. Feminism is inherently misunderstood. Growing up, feminism sometimes felt like a dirty word. It is often stigmatised to the extent of warranting aggression and uttered with such snide tones that it is difficult to even have a clear discussion around it. Moreover, feminism does not refer to one clear-cut idea: there are multiple feminisms with different perspectives and focuses that can encompass an array of thoughts.

In all honestly, I have become increasingly frustrated by the question ‘Why are you a feminist?’ I am asked this time and time again but truthfully, there are far more important questions that should be asked. So for anyone who has ever asked me why I’m a feminist, this is my answer.

You ask me why I’m a feminist but do you ask if men and women are really equal in the world today? Do you ask why the vast majority of people living below the poverty line in the world are women? Do you ask why there remains to be a place where women are economically on the same footing as men? Do you ask why maternal mortality is, till today, such a prevalent issue despite the fact that many of these deaths are avoidable? Do you ask whether women are as socially protected as men around the world? Do you ask why universally, sexual harassment and human security are fears that are disproportionately worse for women than men?

You ask me why I’m a feminist but do you ask why we are made to conform to certain stereotypes on the basis of our gender in order to avoid being ridiculed or abused? Do you ask why so often dolls are labelled as ‘girl toys’ and cars as ‘boy toys’ and not corresponding to the toy of your gender is thought to be a cause for concern? Do you ask what are the implications this may have on a child who does not pick the supposed ‘right’ toy? Do you ask why a female performing outstandingly in the field of science or a male in the nursing industry is revered despite nothing to state that this is unnatural in any way? Do you ask why a man who likes pink or a woman who likes football are frequently made to feel that their preferences are not correct?

You ask me why I’m a feminist but do you ask why the ability to have a child is used as collateral against a woman’s opportunity to get a job? Do you ask why, despite the Equal Pay Act of 1963, women are still more likely to be discriminated against based on structural sexism? Do you ask why pay for women is still 10.5% less for women in full-time work and 20.2% less for women overall? Do you ask why approximately 70% of people in national minimum wage jobs are women? Do you ask why Ordinary Maternity Leave is 26 weeks but Ordinary Paternity Leave is only 1-2 weeks? Do you ask why the glass ceiling is still a very real reality in the UK where in 2012 only 16% of board members were women, which was above the EU average? Do you ask why women make up over 50% of the population worldwide but only made up 19.5% of parliaments?

You ask me why I’m a feminist but do you ask why there is an unequivocally high rate universally of sexual violence against women? Do you ask why every year on average around 85,000 women are raped in England and Wales alone? Do you ask why out of the nearly 100,000 sexual assault cases that occurred in the UK, only 1000 rapists were sentenced? Do you ask why ‘no’ is sometimes assumed to mean ‘yes’ or intoxication is often used as a justification? Do you ask if it is fair that it is mostly assumed that the perpetrator is a man and the person who is sexually assaulted is assumed to be a woman? Do you ask why we live in a culture that teaches our women how not to be raped more than telling people not to rape?

You ask me why I’m a feminist but do you ask why it is fair that a heterosexual couple are allowed to be married but it is still not universally legal for a same-sex couple to be? Do you ask why in some countries, homosexuality is still punishable by law? Do you ask why those who identify as homosexual are more susceptible to being bullied purely on the basis of their sexual orientation? Do you ask why homophobic slander is still pervasive in our society, in our media and in our lives? Do you ask why the word ‘gay’ is often deemed an insult even by those who claim to be in favour of equality?

You ask me why I’m a feminist but do you ask why women are still majorly unrepresented by the media in newspapers, television and films? Do you ask why women in film portrayed only 11% of lead protagonists in 2011? Do you ask why newspapers increasingly feature men in text and women in pictures? Do you ask why this falls under the age-old idea that women are just objects to be looked at?

Do you ever ask if any of this is fair?

Granted, this is just a drop in the ocean in terms of how we can talk about gender inequality. I have not done the subject justice and I probably never could but I hope I’ve at least provided an insight into the extent of our current situation.

If you are not already asking these questions, I urge you to. At the end of the day, asking me about my views is infinitely less important than asking about other peoples realities.

This is why I study gender.

Posted by: Posted on by Kaammini Chanrai Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,

Mar 18 2014

A Little bit of Everything…

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The past ten days have been the busiest since I arrived at LSE. No, I’m not talking about the usual workload (essays, dissertation, required readings, job-hunting, existing job, writing!) Actually, the last fortnight has been packed with so many exciting things outside of class, courtesy the LSE’s buffet of public lectures, trainings and talks.

There was a special two-part workshop organised for students in the Organisational Social Psychology program, which trained us on decision-making and group dynamics. Running all day for two successive Saturdays, they were intense and highly demanding, but very insightful. We were about a dozen students and we were thrown together in some very challenging situations. It was amazing how we found ourselves falling prey to the very biases and tendencies that we were studying – you would think that as “psychologists”, we would offer greater resistance. It was a timely reminder to me that none of us are ever truly infallible, no matter how much we study something, and that there is just no substitute for reality.

The two workshops were engaging, no doubt, but they were not the only thing to keep me busy. The last week was also a time to (almost) forget about academics and think purely for the joy of thought. I speak of course, of the LSE Literature Festival, which ran from 24th Feb to 1st March, with this year’s chosen theme of “Space for Thought”. Being a young writer (http://www.amazon.com/Vaishnavi-Ram-Mohan/e/B00F70DVAE/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_3?qid=1391636249&sr=1-3), this was something I had anticipated for months. The idea of getting to meet the likes of Tracy Chevalier, Sebastian Faulks and Michael Rosen was enough to send me into “fan-girl” mode.  My favourite event was “More Tales from the Two James’” which was a reading of some of the letters of the famous James brothers, William and Henry. This was an event that explored the blurring boundaries between fiction literature and psychology (two of my favourite things) and it was easily one of the most illuminating discussions I’ve ever attended. One of the speakers was Dr. Alex Gillespie, a lecturer from the department of Social Psychology, and his readings of William James left us spellbound, transported to a time when words held the key to the mysteries of the world. Identity, belief, time, space, we found ourselves delving into all these concepts, and loving the ambiguity and complexity. I also went for a talk about “Understanding the Self” which left us all scratching our heads at the end, wondering what exactly the self was.

One of my favourite parts of life at LSE is attending such ‘out-of-class’ talks and workshops, because I feel they help me to think differently and to get a fresh take on things. Even better, many of these talks are followed by drinks receptions which allow us to have lengthy, often philosophical discussions about the world over a glass or two of wine juice. However, be warned – some of these events can be very specific and require the audience to be very knowledgeable about the subject matter. At one point, in one of the talks, I found myself wondering whether we should have been emailed a reading list prior to attending! So, I would say that before attending a lecture, it is a good idea to read up about the speakers and the subject, lest you find it very highbrow and heavy!

The hardest part of all is deciding which events to attend, and which to give a miss. Some events conflict with classes and some with other events. Not to mention the careers talks and events that are also happening almost every day – where employment beckons, and this, I think this is simultaneously the biggest thrill and the biggest challenge of being at a place like LSE; there is so much going on. You don’t want to miss on anything, but you can’t do everything. Deciding which to go for is like choosing between a double chocolate fudge cake and an ice-cream sundae with chocolate sauce and sprinkles. (Sorry!) In the process, most of us end up doing a little bit of everything. So, maybe a small slice of cake, with one scoop of ice-cream? Or cake today, and ice-cream tomorrow? Mmmmm……

Posted by: Posted on by Vaishnavi Ram Mohan Tagged with: , , , , , , ,

Mar 17 2014

Taking a break…

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Rule number one when writing: never apologise. Because I am such a rebel, and I truly felt bad for not having written as much as I am supposed to, I will do it anyway: sorry. For those of you studying at LSE, you will probably understand that your coursework at times can drown you – that’s what almost happened to me, if some friends from my home country, the Netherlands, hadn’t come to visit me last week.

Ironically, I was also apologising a lot the past week, both to my studious self as well as my friends. With the end of the term rapidly approaching, essay, exam, and dissertation stress creeps up on me. Having friends over who are coming to London for you in particular severely increases this stress level for me. I had to learn how to create a balance between the necessary schoolwork but also the necessary fun with friends.

Then I realised for the n-th time in my life as a university student that taking a few days off every once in a while is not a sin, but can also help to relax and regain energy for the next busy week. It also helped me to prioritize my academic commitments and work in advance. Wow, such a learning experience right? I didn’t even have to attend class!

In these busy, stressful periods, I sometimes forget that I live in an amazingly vibrant city, where weeks can be filled with just walking around and finding interesting galleries, cosy cafés, and exciting clubs. Walking through London with one of my closest friends allowed me to see this again.

So here are three tips for things you can do if you want to take a break:

- Go shopping. OK, so I understand that London is not the cheapest city in the world. But next to the fact that there are some cheaper high street stores to buy clothes and accessories, my friend’s obsession with make-up led us to good old Boots, where we spent almost an hour trying the weirdest make-up and other products. But even if you’re too much into drugstores or make-up, or spending money in general, window shopping in the fancier and higher end department stores like Harrod’s or Liberty can be a lot of fun as well.

- Visit a museum: Tate Britain has recently re-opened, so we visited that beautiful museum to see the pre-impressionist paintings of William Turner, whose vague and romantic coloring schemes allow for complete absorption. It completely sets your mind off things and it won’t cost you a thing.

- Explore a new street or neighborhood: I explored Shoreditch more closely with my friend, and we visited Columbia road, a cute little street with a lot of fun little stores. Visiting these kinds of streets made me feel accomplished in a different way, as though I had unravelled some more London mysteries.

Of course, there are more options than these: going to the movies, visiting a farmer’s market, or treating yourself to lunch – the latter of which  I will probably write next time you’ll see me on this blog.

Posted by: Posted on by Tess Czerski Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,

Mar 13 2014

Capturing London: Video and Photos…

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This weekend brought some much needed spring sunshine to London and the city was looking its absolute best.

Daffodils have sprouted in St. James’ park, creating a lovely and quintessentially springtime presence nearby Buckingham Palace. The sky was ablaze all weekend, and few clouds were in sight (a rarity for London). This meant that sunsets were particularly beautiful, especially along the Thames or behind Big Ben.

I find beauty in London everyday, from its stunning architecture to the subtle historic details running throughout. However, It is weekends such as this that I wish I could pack this city up and bring it home so that all the people in my life can appreciate it.  I therefore decided to create a video which aims to encapsulate the essence of London and in particular its unique charm.

I invite you all as well to view my video, especially if you are considering spending some time at the LSE and London.

It can be found here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=31hXRhK9W6I

Additionally, photography has long been one of my favorite endeavors and I created a gallery featuring my work from this weekend. That can be found by following this link: http://www.flickr.com/photos/aurley/sets/72157642179997644/.

Posted by: Posted on by Aurley Tagged with: , , , , , ,

Mar 12 2014

Getting Inspired…


I’ve often been somewhat skeptical about the idea of ‘getting inspired’, because I’ve nurtured doubts as to whether inspiration is some sort of commodity that someone can just transfer to me through a speech or a video. I’ve always held that the best sources of inspiration are in the little things of everyday life. That perception certainly changed when I attended the TEDxLSE event on 8th March. This was an independently organised TED event featuring some very powerful speakers and aimed at sharing great ideas. This year’s theme was World’s Architects – looking at the ways in which we can shape our world.

I arrived at 9.30 on a Saturday morning to find the old building packed with students and non-students alike. The Old Theatre was soon full to capacity; excited whispers running through the crowd, with the buzz quickly turning to an anticipative silence as the lights dimmed and the doors shut. The event kicked off with a brief video about TED and a spoken word piece but we soon got down to it – with twelve speakers lined up for the day, it had all the makings of a packed day!

Of course, each speaker delivered some highly memorable lines and shared some great insights, but there were certainly some standout moments, in my view. Getting us off to a kicking start was speaker Jeremy Balkin, who delivered the creatively-titled, “How many Bankers does it take to change a light bulb?”, a critical assessment of the banking industry and how our generation could play a role in rebuilding trust in banks. What stood out for me about his talk was the blunt, realistic approach and the comparatively grim perspective he offered. Definitely a way to break the mould.

But for me, the highlight of the morning was an engaging address by environmentalist Solitaire Townsend. Her talk linked sex, status consumption and social media in ways I would never have believed possible. Her key argument was that unsustainable consumption, driven by a desire for higher status, could find its antidote in social media. By the end of her talk, those much-maligned “photos-of-what-I-am-eating-for-breakfast” and the once-appalling “selfies” seemed like a positive force! The consumer psychology aficionado in me was intrigued by her contention that social media can actually reduce consumerism – as people are no longer as interested in knowing who owns what, but more interested in meaning, and in real emotions. For instance, it is not your brand new car, or your leather handbag that is likely to make you trend on Twitter – more likely it is some kind of emotional or intellectual contribution that resonates with other people. This trend (pun unintended) could be the herald of a new era, one where people no longer feel the need to display their designer possessions to gain status.

A quick lunch break at Covent Garden followed, for some much-needed calories to refuel my mind, which was buzzing with ideas about consumer psychology. The lunch break was just as well, because the sessions post-lunch were certainly power-packed.

Sabrina Mehfouz delivered a powerful spoken-word recital. In keeping with the fact that it was International Woman’s day, her address focused on how we perceive women and the role we assign them in culture. Her use of words to understand the portrayal of women was quite thought-provoking. She concluded with an appeal to all of us to be more aware of what we consume in terms of literature. How are women portrayed in the books we read, and the movies we watch? This too, resonated quite strongly with me: when we read books and watch plays, we are in effect, consuming the perceptions and beliefs of their creators, and should we fail to assess this critically, we could end up with their views of women being imposed on us. As if Sabrina’s talk wasn’t stirring enough, it was immediately followed by a performance by visual artist Zena el Khalil. I call it a performance because it was a poem; yet the flawless, eloquent delivery turned into something much more than a poem – it was a deeply evocative call for peace in the Middle East. The lilt in her voice as she delivered the line, “lay down your guns” was haunting and left the auditorium in a silence as profound as it was spellbound.

It was also great to listen to LSE’s Tanvir Deol, who won the student speaking conversation and delivered an address about embracing the moment, or present-moment awareness. His talk was a timely reminder to all of us not to get too caught up in planning for our career or worrying about the future, at the expense of the present. I personally strongly agree with his stance – this perpetually forward-looking orientation that characterises our fast-paced lives can cost us the only true asset we have: our present.

The final block of speakers delivered talks that were far more action-oriented, and even offered us some tips on how to drive change. These included one-liners like, ‘be the first person on the dance floor’ ‘don’t just ask the right questions, ask the right people’ and my favourite – ‘don’t trust your friends!” The concluding address was delivered by Gavin Essler, who drew upon the examples of various successful leaders to illustrate how the stories we tell can influence whether we can draw followers. His final sentence was a quote from Winston Churchill: history will be kind to me, for I intend to write it.  Highly inspiring words indeed – and just what you need as you file out of the auditorium at the end.

In sum, it was certainly a most engaging and exciting Saturday. To hear so many different perspectives, from achievers and entrepreneurs, from students past and present was highly illuminating. I also learned something about inspiration – we certainly need a pinch of it in our everyday lives, but from time to time, a huge dollop of it can work wonders. And, this Saturday, I certainly got mine.

Posted by: Posted on by Vaishnavi Ram Mohan Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,