Ambassadors on Ice

On 28th November 2012 a handful of the LUIP Student Ambassadors took to the ice at Somerset House. It was a beautiful sight to behold – the lights, the pageantry, the smiling faces, and even a surprise proposal to a lucky lady on the ice. Here are a few memories we’d like to share.

15 movies you may have not heard of but should watch

Alright so a friend of mine asked me to suggest a few movies to him, out of my proverbial “top 10”. I’m sure most of you would recognize a fair portion of the movies I initially suggested. They are the standards that don any of our “Best” lists – Shawshank, Goodfellas, Snatch, Lock Stock, etc. etc.

But I would definitely be remiss if I didn’t also suggest some of many movies that I have come across over the years which, for one reason or the other have really stood out in memory. Whether it is because of endearing characters, shaking performances, imaginative plots or just some “je ne said quoi” quality, these movies have stayed with me and so now I present a list (in no particular order) of 15 such movies. I hope that you’ll check some of them out and find your new favorites!

DISCLAIMER: If you are a film buff you may find yourself insulted at the idea that you wouldn’t have heard of these movies – But this is more for the average consumer – who for lack of major worldwide releases or friends with a penchant for the fringe may not always stumble upon such flicks.

1. Abbott & Costello’s The Naughty Nineties: A classic from the old days of Black and White slapstick comedy – Contains the legendary “Who’s on First” routine

2. Alien Autopsy: Supposedly based on a true story this films explores what has gone down in history as one of the most elaborate hoaxes of all time.

3. Burke and Hare: A black comedy about 19th century grave robbers.

4. Clue: Based on the beloved board game, a comic mystery.

5. Detroit Rock City: A must watch for KISS fans, or just guys in general.

6. Frequently asked Questions about Time Travel: Fancy yourself an imagineer? Interested in the intricacies of Time Travel and Paradoxes? Well this might be right up your alley!

7. Mystery Team: A light hearted comedy about a group of friends, refusing to grow up and solving neighborhood “mysteries”.

8. Operation Endgame: A tale of intrigue, with a mix of action, drama and depending on your point of view, comedy.

9. Semi Pro: A hilarious story of a man whose love for the game of Basketball far surpassed his talent. A lesser known Will Ferrell movie.

10. The People vs Larry Flynt: The story of one man’s empire and his life-long battle with the forces of censorship in the US.

11. The Trotsky: An eccentric movie about an eccentric boy, following (literally) in the footsteps of his soviet hero.

12. Tucker and Dale vs Evil: A movie that flips the concept of the Hillbilly Horror on its head. Hilarious and gory.

13. The Amistad: A heavy drama featuring themes of law, slavery and interracial understanding and friendship.

14. The Infidel: A dramedy that focuses on the concept of self-identity

15. Brotherhood of the Wolf: A French film (yeah so expect to read subtitles unless you know the language) about two men investigating mysterious and violent deaths from a folk-lore beast and the battle between the church and the “dark” forces of sado-masochism.

Giving Thanks

I’ve only celebrated Thanksgiving once before in my life – In my second year of college when a few American friends from the foreign exchange program decided to throw a small dinner. There were lights and a nice home cooked meal (Chicken I believe since a full Turkey is harder to come by in India). But it paled in comparison to the feast for the senses and the palate that I was treated to yesterday.

Our beautiful and wonderful host – Leslie – prepared a lavish meal with all the trimmings. We started off with some home-made Salsa and chips as well an amazing BLT dip – an invention of our host herself. We had Turkey with stuffing and Cranberry sauce, accompanied by some delicious Mac and Cheese, Courgettes and Peas and creamy Mashed Potatoes. And it was no surprise to me that I was the first to go for seconds. And I’d be remiss if I missed dessert – a warm and mouth-watering Apple Pie with Vanilla Ice Cream – first time in my life I have event liked Apple Pie, mostly because she didn’t use Cinnamon, which I’m not a big fan of (She said it was because she specifically remembered that I don’t like Cinnamon – I’ll go ahead and give her the benefit of the doubt ; p)

Though the food was nothing to be scoffed at, it was not the highlight of the evening for me. The best part I would have to say was the wonderful atmosphere, the beautiful setting and candle light, and the genuine exuberance of all gathered. We sat and talked, went around the table saying what we were thankful for – each trying to out do the last in lavishing praise upon our host : ). And at some point, and this is genuinely my favorite part of an evening in with friends, we regressed to our teen years – blasting cheesy music from the 80s and 90s and singing along emphatically. Not to mention a saucy game of Truth or Dare (the video recordings of which I believe everyone hopes will never surface).

Amidst the romping good time we all had, I couldn’t help but pause to think about how things have changed over the last year. This time last November I was incredibly stressed out – drowning in a sea of applications, writing Statements of Purpose, running after Professors for Recommendations, while at the same time trying to figure out where to get a job and figuring out a five-year plan. It’s amazing how far things have come, and just how much my world has changed, and yet stayed the same. So I really do have a lot to be thankful for – I got into a great institution where I am pursuing study in areas of Law that I am genuinely interested in, I have made wonderful friends who I see building lasting relationships with, I live in a city full of diversity and culture, and with exams still months away I have time to enjoy all the above : )

The Urban Fox

Okay, for those that might not yet be familiar with the concept, let me clarify what “The Urban Fox” is. I’m not talking about one of the imaginative, named related names that many of London’s Pubs seem to have, e.g. The Red Lion or The Walrus & The Carpenter, but rather actual foxes. Having visited London many times in the past, I am familiar with the phenomenon of wild foxes randomly popping up all over London. Though for the uninitiated, this may seem like a bit of a joke, or an elaborate prank. Indeed, when I first read about it in a paper in 2006 I thought it was hilarious. But in 2008 I saw one my own eyes – right off Oxford Street. I’ve since found that its a far more common occurrence than I originally believed, having had two other encounters since.

The most recent of these was mere days ago. While walking back home from   my friend’s place, at approximately 1 AM, I encountered two feuding foxes in a residential park. I attempted to get a picture of course but the flurry of flying fur (yes I am a fan of alliteration) and the distance, not to mention lack of lighting, made a decent shot impossible. They moved with lighting fast speed and jumped over fences and low walls with such agility it was marvelous to watch. And indeed they put on quite  a show. I had to pause for quite a few minutes before they got far enough from the road for me to confidently pass. And I urge any of you who may encounter them to be similarly cautious. They may not look like much of a threat, and I’m sure some of you would think “Oh but they are more scared of you than you are of them”. Normally I’m sure you would be right. But thats an adage usually attached to animals in the wild. These foxes are probably just as much at home in the city as you are (more so if you just moved here). They aren’t as frightened by humans as their wild country counterparts. So despite how cool it might be to get a nice close-up pic, I recommend keeping a healthy distance. In fact in 2010, there was a media frenzy around the fact that a fox jumped into someone’s backyard near Victoria Park (which I now realize is right next to where I live) and attacked their two sleeping children as they lay in their crib on the second floor of the house. Just goes to show you how daring these animals can be.

According to the London Newspaper, The Gaurdian, they foxes moved into the cities as early as the 1930s. By the 1980s there were reportedly some 33,000 adult foxes in urban areas. Who knows how many there are now? Its so shocking and yet amusing in a city where they are no stray dogs or cats, to instead encounter a creature that almost looks a combination of the two!

So if you have rubbish bins outside your home, always be sure to use heavy duty garbage bags and seal and/or tightly tie off the bags when disposing of them. Be sure to keep the lids or tops of the bigs firmly shut. And no matter how warm it might be, don’t leave your doors open, even during the day, unless you have a screen door. Now of course, how far you heed this advice is up to you. It might not be necessary for most residents, indeed I feel fairly secure, despite living next to a large park because there’s a canal between us and a 20 foot drop outside my window down to the street. But those of you who may have easily accessible rooms or houses, be careful. Though I’m sure the latter part of this advice is just as pertinent to keeping out burglars as it is foxes.

Lastly, if you’ve had similar experiences or sightings, do share. We can make it a game by slowly crossing off streets/sections of the city.

Take care and happy hunting.

The Dude Will Abide

Come join the slowest-growing religion in the world – Dudeism. An ancient philosophy that preaches non-preachiness, practices as little as possible, and above all, uh…lost my train of thought there. Anyway, if you’d like to find peace on earth and goodwill, man, we’ll help you get started. Right after a little nap.

These are the opening words to the Home page on http://dudeism.com, a site dedicated to a religion born from the life philosophy of Jeff Bridges’ character – Jeff Lebowski, or as he preferred to be called, the Dude – from the iconic 1998 Coen Brothers movie “The Big Lebowski”. I recently brought this up with some friends and they of course thought I was joking. Well here you go guys, who’s havin’ a laugh now?

For those of you who haven’t seen it, and let me just warn you that I will make you feel very bad about this fact if we meet in person, The big Lebowski, and its unbelievably charismatic yet aggressively mellow protagonist – the Dude, are simply masterpieces. You love Gone With The Wind, you think it changed your life, well the same could be said about this Hollywood smash. So its no surprise to me that in a world that seems to be teeming with problems and where all news seems to be bad news, a bunch of people just decided to put up their feet, get comfy in their bathroom robes (Yes I do have one!) and sip on their White Russians while reciting the simple yet deeply spiritual mantras “Mellow out man” and “The Dude abides”.

In the spirit of the Dude, I’m also choosing to keep this post short, so as to not burden you with too much reading and keep you away from your Sunday festivities or purposeful lack-there-of. But I admit to wondering whether the creators of the Big Lebowski could have predicted the impact their movie and its characters would have. Surely it is more than pure coincidence that the Dude, in his sunglasses, open bathrobe and shaggy hairdo could be compared to a modern bohemian Jesus like figure?

Now while I am a major fan of the movie, and a “kick back artist” in my own right, when the mood suits, I can’t say that I have gone as far as converting. But hey, who knows, this laid back philosophy towards life may be just what you’re looking for. So check out the site – get ordained, order some fun stuff, read up about “Great Dudes in History”. And if not that, do at least watch the movie.

As an aside, just let me say, that while some people might think that “Dudeism” is a joke, I have to admit, and maybe this is a controversial comparison to make, but in my mind it doesn’t differ that much from most religions. Religion began as a human construct to try and explain and characterize the phenomenon of nature. It then developed into a source of morality and ethos based on divine guidance. It often grows and evolves to suit the needs to humanity – to give them faith and courage, to lend credence to the leadership of mortal leaders, to help guide mankind towards enlightenment. Of course there are ways in which faith is manipulated, but I choose not to dwell on that here, not now. So in that respect, Dudeism is the same as all other faiths – it is a construct, based on a perceived exceptional figure, serving to bring people together in a message of peace, love, white russians and bowling with your best friends. That sounds pretty good to me.

Plug In Your Earphones

Pressing play on my iPod while its on shuffle is often like playing russian roulette with my mood. So many times a day which, but for the grace of Pod, (pardon the lame pun) would have had me bouncing the down the street bobbing my head, instead sees me transported to a place far more sullen or blue than I had intended for me to be. On the flip side, many a dark and tiring day has been turned around by 30 minutes of driving in my car, blasting the music on full volume and singing at the top of my lungs. Now, due to my change in circumstances, i.e. moving to London and restarting my life as a student, sans automobile, the latter of these isn’t a possibility anymore. Though I still sing out loud walking down the street on my way home (provided no one else is really within ear shot).

There are literally dozens of classified genres of Music, each with its own set of “sub-genres”. But who is to say if this form of classification for music even works anymore? Sure I can understand a perceivable difference when you refer to say Rock or Pop or Classical or say Polka! But ask someone what makes Alternative-Rock different from Indie-Rock or Progressive-Rock, and the average consumer might be hard pressed to answer. Should they even have to? Why should we have to justify our musical tastes by neatly categorizes them and saying I listen to Rock or I like Jazz or I prefer House. Personally, in the same day I might find myself flitting from Country to Indie to Rock to House to Rap to World (the last of these being the category that all the bands from back home in India apparently fall into). I don’t know if I can even go as far as to say I like certain bands. Because sometimes, I’ll check out a song and think “Wow. That’s an amazing song. I absolutely love it!”. But it’ll turn out to be that the rest of the album is very, for lack of a better word, “meh”. Rarely do I find myself liking the entirety of an album, especially in the case of anything produced in say the last 30 years.

One possibility is that we are just spoilt for choice. We have so much thrown at us that its impossible to give it all a try. And we become comfortable in the idea of liking one kind of music and sticking to that. It could be that my brain sub-consciously rejects the rest of the album to keep from flooding my system with stimuli. Think about it, when you get a hold of a new favorite song, you tend to listen to it more than anything else. It almost immediately makes it to your most played playlist. But as time progresses and you find yourself some new material, the frequency with which that first track is played diminishes. If you had a new favorite song every week, you’d barely listen to anything more than a few times before it made it to the back burner. Or maybe I’m just really finicky. Either way, I like the system that I’ve developed for myself. Every few weeks I troll the internet trying to discover whats making the rounds, whats new and whats underground. Sites like http://www.wearehunted.com and http://www.8tracks.com are great for this. The former gives a religiously updated charts listing of singles by genre, and even has a great representation of indie music. The latter hosts user generated playlists, organized by tags and “moods”.

The point, which it seems I got distracted from during my rambling, is that Music is a powerful thing indeed. It serves as a source of entertainment, as an art form, as a medium for therapy. It has the power to heal and to fuel hate, to bring together and to tear apart, to remind us of our most painful or precious moments and to help us forget them just the same. So thanks ABBA (lame joke – But Bonus Points if you get it!).

I will leave you with a quote from Music and Lyrics (a movie so Hollywood cute that I cringe to admit how much I liked it), released in 2007 starring Drew Barrymore and Hugh Grant. I just think its a nice description of how we (possibly) perceive music. How a song speaks to us and the journey it takes us on.

“A melody is like seeing someone for the first time. The physical attraction. Sex… But then, as you get to know the person, that’s the lyrics. Their story. Who they are underneath. It’s the combination of the two that makes it magical.” – Sophie Fisher (Drew Barrymore), Music and Lyrics (2007)

S.A.D

Moving a bit slower
Thinking a bit lower
The sky is a bit grey
And so am I

There’s beauty around
But I can’t see it
The air is a bit hazy
And so am I

The temperature is dropping
The work load is rising
It’s getting a bit colder
And so am I

The days grow shorter
The night grows longer
The world is getting darker
And so am I

Maybe tomorrow the flowers will bloom
Maybe the cold breeze will abate
Maybe the sun will shine
And so will I

“Life”

Between that song you really love
And that other song you really love
Between that first pint
And that morning cup of coffee

Between the plans and aspirations
And jobs and CV writing
Between the summer vacations
And the middle of your exams

Between the blog entries
And the nights out
Between the lecture bells
And the last line of your dissertation

Between the epiphanies
And the hazy moments of self-doubt
Between the crushes and day dreams
And the texting

That’s when it happens…

I want Mau!

Most people tend to go home, put their feet up and maybe get some rest after taking a 8 1/2 hour flight, but not me! The second I landed in London, having just returned from a short visit back home to Delhi, I rushed over to Notting Hill Gate to my friend Leslie’s place for a home cooked meal prepared by the talented Mr. C2.

After dinner, exhausted and running on fumes, I dragged myself along with the others to this place on Portobello Road called Mau Mau Bar. Right away I have to say, I loved the vibe in this place. It had a genuine bohemian/one love/hippie atmosphere, which I have to say is rare in this city. The place was full of an eclectic mix of colorful characters – from full-on P.I.M.P.S (right down to the hats and fur coats), to friendly Rastafarians (massive dreadlocks and all) and even a few “It doesn’t matter how old I am because I’m still 18 where it counts” hippies. And then there were the 8 of us who were standing right in front of band, swaying to the beats for hours.

Mau Mau has live music most days of the week, but Sunday was really something special. It was a Jam Night and basically anyone and everyone was encouraged to come up and sing with the resident Reggae (and I dare say, by their musical style, Jazz) collective “The Hard Way”, who had some great self-composed numbers of their own. Over the course of the evening we were treated to some soulful numbers, amazing bass solos and funky reggae beats. Tired or not, I couldn’t help but get on my feet.

Last, but not least, another thing about this place that I genuinely thought was awesome was their cover charge – where other places might enforce a 5-10 Pound cover in order to ensure a profit, or maybe demand a one-drink minimum, Mau Mau Bar asks each of its patrons to bring along a can of food as a cover, which they distribute to the homeless of the city. Of course, they won’t refuse you entry if you forget to bring one along, but it is an amazing idea, and just adds to the atmosphere that the proprietors have cultivated.

I’m almost wary of sharing this experience, because the last thing I would want to happen to a special place like this would be for it to be over run by the uber-touristy crowd or by people who just like the idea of being bohemian. There used to be places with a similar vibe in my home city of Delhi as well, and over the last couple of months before I left I noticed that they became flooded with people who just seemed to want to go there because it was “the place to go”. For those who frequent such places, its hard to see them lose their character or have their flavor drowned out my noisy inconsiderate masses. But, if you genuinely enjoy a relaxed and chill out atmosphere and some nice reggae music, I recommend you check this place out. I doubt you will be disappointed.