Sunday, August 31, 2003

Please Hello...
After being in London for less than a month, one of the striking things is how uncultured the mass of the city is. Starbucks is on every corner serving bland coffee and styrofoam food. Deep pan pizza buffets are on every other corner serving stuff that wouldn't rate at a Sizzler restaurant back home. Fosters is a popular drink here and they have a special tap to generate an "artificial head" on the beer so it lasts while you finish it off. Ben Elton has a hit show with his stringing together of Queen songs into what is purported to be a musical, and he is about to do the same to Rod Stewart songs with the show Tonight's the night. Fortunately amongst all the trash in London, there are quite a few bright spots. One being the Donmar Warehouse.

On Friday I saw their latest production, Pacific Overtures (a co-production with the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre) and it was a knockout. A small all-male cast, a theatre in the round, and Sondheim was all that was needed for a spectacular and entertaining evening. As a show I was totally unfamiliar with, I was expecting that Sondheims treatment of the factual account of US warships arriving at Japan in the 1850s demanding that they have a "friendly relationships" and trade to be quite hard going. It fuses kabuki and noh theatre styles with western musical influences. It was a flop when it first premiered in 1976. But all that was put at ease after the first few minutes. The soaring melodies and scathing commentary on Western approach to diplomacy and influence seemed more relevant today than ever. The basic argument of the show (and the book it was based on) is that the Western approach to diplomacy in the 1850s planted the seeds for the Japanese expansion in the 1940s. The final number (updated to the present) suggests that American (and the rest of the Western societies) understanding of different cultures hasn't improved that much. Hmm it probably isn't too hard to guess why American audiences hated it.

It was a night of very civilised entertainment. It was nice to see it as I knew too that such an intelligent and entertaining show would never make it to Australia either (at least staged professionally). It isn't Ben Elton... That's what the mass of punters prefer nowadays.

Get outta town
Saturday I decided to take a day trip to Oxford. It was great to get out of the city and as the start of the academic year was about to happen it was a happening place as well with lots of people moving in.

Getting off the bus after a 90 min ride from London, I decided to buy a tourist map and see the sights. Not being a very good tourist I decided to sit down and have a coffee and cheese and ham toastie and plot my route. I liked the idea of eating the toastie not only because it was delicious and the cheese here is nothing like the crap that our dairy industry in Queensland tries to pass off as cheese, but because they actually called it a toastie and I just love it as a word. Anyway I digress. Over coffee and a toastie I mapped out a route and then walked it. It included a few stops in book stores and the usual Oxford landmarks. I spent the last few hours in Oxford reading The Times by the banks of one of their canals. Very sensible and civilised I thought!

After I finish blogging I will go and move my things to North East London. My first place by myself. Woo-hoo!

Friday, August 29, 2003

As luck would have it...
I read in today's papers that I was a few minutes away from being stranded underground on my tube ride to Hampstead Heath. Darn missing out on that adventure... The best commentary was a cartoon in tonight's Evening Standard where the station billboards stating when the next trains arriving were instead displaying "Next passenger... Joe Blogs 2 minutes, Mary Rose 3 minutes" and you could see these dirty people trundling out of a tunnel.

Spin to the end...
In a city desperate for news Alastair Campbell's resignation has filled the gap for now. Tony Blairs right hand man of spin was going to go anyway so it was not really a surprise... but the media to make a story started writing about why he went today instead of tomorrow for instance. The PR was that he wanted to spend "more time with his family". Such are the times we live in when such a noble cause is trotted out as an excuse when one's job situation is untenable. You don't quit or get sacked anymore, you just "spend more time with your family". Of course when you are an asshole like Alastair I guess they are all who are left. Of course, the papers all agree that it isn't the last we have seen of Alastair... (play scary music)

Handy things to know about Her Majesty's Governemnt
* The only people who walk down Whitehall are the tourists (and even they are few and far between)
* Don't stand at the gates at Downing Street, there really is nothing to see
* Don't let on you know anything about the government, as you may find yourself dead in the woods

And now for something completely different...
* Pacific Overtures tonight...

Thursday, August 28, 2003

Dark and Damp
After staring at government files all day trying to put them in order I decided that despite the light drizzle, I would go for a walk around Hampstead Heath again. It was nice to walk in open spaces and a light rain (the first rain that has occurred since I have been here). Little did I know that the Underground was shutting down as I walked around taking in the open space. Well New York had its outage, it was time for London I guess to follow suit...

While it is possible to walk home from Hampstead Heath, by the time I wanted to the light rain became a little less light than I was hoping for. Still I had some sense of direction so I just headed in that way. I could have pulled out my London A-Z but I thought I would keep walking for a bit and not try and stuggle in the rain with silly things like where I was heading.

About 20 minutes later I realised that I had walked to South Hampstead when I really needed to go west. Fortunately I spotted a tube station on my line and walked over to a nearby bus stop. Busses passing through were intimately packed so I didn't fancy my chances getting on one in a hurry.

The weather had turned a little cooler so I decided to see if my Orange WAP phone could tell me the location of the nearest coffee shop. It could, but then a bus arrived that I managed to force my way on. I rode on the front platform for the 5 minutes it took to get home. Technology is good, but getting home was good too.

People were still struggling to get home by 10.30 with the buses still packed as I walked over to Easy Internet on Kilburn High Road.

Seeing double
You really can see the same person in London more than once. Tonight it was a girl on a bike who nearly ran over Skye the other day. The other day it was a couple with their dog casper. On Saturday they were at Hamstead Heath and on Monday they were at the Notting Hill Carnival. Both times I saw them I was with Skye. "Perhaps we should become friends with them," I suggested to Skye. But then we realised that the guy was crouching down and showing plumber's butt - and particularly hairy plumber's butt - and the woman was a bit of a lush. We both agreed that plumber's butt men and lushes weren't the sort of people we needed to know.

If tonight you weren't washing your hair...
* Sky News re-enacts the day's proceedings from the inquiry into the death of British scientist Dr David Kelly. Tonight would have been gripping as it would have been Tony Blair's testimony. Well it would have been a cure for insomnia. Some punter's have commented on the PM's cold detachment over the whole affair. Nowadays the only thing that seems to get him passionate is a good price on a flat. But hey, it's summer news...

Wednesday, August 27, 2003

Safe at work and play...

Working at Whitehall isn't all that bad... once you get used to the security procedures. It reminded me that yesterday after I strolled from Hyde Park back in the city and stumbled onto Grosvenor Square where the American Embassy was behind two layers of temporary fencing and a concrete barricade on the street. It would have made for a wonderful photo but I didn't know whether the guards with automatic weapons would have understood I was merely a tourist. Well I was struggling to work out where I was with a map but I wasn't so sure.

The other thing I have been travelling around with is my Diesel side bag. It is quite useful for storing an A-Z map of London book, a cd player and my pocket computer or camera. Of course when it is stocked full of these goodies it has caused some guards to be slightly alarmed at what I was carring to make it looked so packed. How could I explain it was just a few maps and Ute Lemper? I plan to get a more sensible work bag as soon as I have the opportunity but it has been so useful in the meantime.

Hard facts...
* The water here is hard, but I kinda like it. It tastes quite allright.
* Expats here blame the hard water for their hair falling out... They see their kettles full of crud and think "Oh my gawd that's in my hair". I don't know if there is any correlation between the calc buildup in kettles and the buildup in ones scalp. I just use more product.
* I try not to look too much at the floaty bits of calc that seem to find their way into the teacup anyway

Things that are so much better here...
* Supermarkets there is so much choice and everything is brightly packaged (although a drawback is the people who work in them but then again they don't speak English and are on minimum wage so why would they care?)
* Any food ending in "berry"
* Crisps... they seem to taste so much better... although salt and vinegar packets are green not purple which can be initially confusing

Monday, August 25, 2003

A holiday comes to an end...

Just when I was enjoying myself at the Science Museum and wandering through Hyde Park I am back at work again for the rest of the week. In the meantime I have posted the photos from my first three weeks. Select the link "Paul is in London" and you will get there.
Bank Holiday Weekend

Regarded as the last gasp of the summer holidays, people use it as an excuse to get the hell out of town. By Friday night convoys of caravans and cars were clogging up all routes out of London. I didn't think it would be the best of weekends to go touristing so I decided to take in the city with Skye. This weekend huge sections of the National Rail were going to be closed for repairs but you could still be creative

After Hamstead Heath on Saturday, on Sunday I went back to the Theatre Museum for a jazz concert with Rosemary George. Well it was jazz versions of broadway music so it was very sensible. Legendary reed player JD Parran was also there to accompany her and did a solo version of "My Favourite Things". It was a pity such a jazzy show was in such a stately room full of pensioners (and me) but you get that. The show went late after ending with the song Ain't misbehavin' (which I thought was very sensibly appropriate for me) which meant I was late to meet up with Skye and her friends at Richmond.

The Underground was an interesting way to get to
Richmond on Sunday. Riding in the cramped trains was an intimate experience. It was compounded by having a long weekend and a Rolling Stones concert on the same day, but I managed to get there eventually.

Being in Richmond with Skye and her friend and boy the friend was with for a while taking in the view and the drinking out of plastic cups on a terrace over the Thames was a very sensible way to spend a Sunday evening in London I thought. The boy was a bit of a prat (but he was from Manchester) so it was a little bit louder of an experience than I had expected. By 8pm prat boy wanted to eat in a Chinese Restaurant in Leicester Square but I happened to know two things
1) Nothing in Leicester Square is worth eating as its for the tourists or the pigeons
2) After coming all the way out to Richmond I wasn't fucking going back to Leicester Square to eat!
After diplomatically suggesting that we should eat locally we settled for an italian place where sensible pasta and pizza was consumed.

Notting Hill

The other highlight for those in London over the bank holiday weekend is the Notting Hill Carnival. After hearing that it is a hot, sweaty and intimate experience as over 1 million people take to the city's biggest street party, I did think twice about seeing it. But it is said that everyone who lives in London should go to it at least once... even if there aren't enough toilets and that you are bound to get mugged you will have a great time.

Fortunately the weather today was very mild so at least it wasn't going to be hot and sweaty. After arriving from the tube in a very coordinated fashion we found ourselves watching one of the several parades that went all afternoon. By the end of the afternoon there were a few things that became a little apparent
* Too much aluminium foil and foam went into the costuming
* Production values were a little low. Maybe they need more grant money.
* Sometimes all you need is a whistle and a horn to have a good time (although maybe alcomohol was part of the mix there too)
* You can never have enough hunks-o-meat to go on smokey grill barbeques. Despite the odd look and the dubious food hygeine standards it did look, smell, and taste great.

Skye and I sat and watched the punters go by for a while which was tremendously entertaining. Because the carnival started from Caribbean roots as black migrants moved into the area to meet London's demand for (cheap) labour there was a strong non-white-Christian flavour to the proceedings. Fortunately the Christians were there to make sure we knew that Jesus was our saviour. One woman tried to interest us in our church "I am sure you have seen us on television", to which Skye told her to piss off. The lady told her that one day she will need Jesus in her life and then asked if I was interested. Not being quite the Londoner I was a little more polite saying that "I would be just fine"

The carnival went until 9pm tonight but we didn't last that long. Instead we went back in the city and did some shopping along Oxford Street instead.

Entrepreneurs every one of 'em
* Throughout the carnival there were peddlers who need to have a "peddler's license" but throughout the carnival there were also shifty people carrying cooler bags full of "cold" beer asking if you wanted one for £2 or so...
* Walking down Kilburn High Road (just around the corner from me at West Hampstead) was a little deserted this morning. Public Holidays really mean public holidays here as many of the shops were shut... but there were plenty of street stalls and open vans where people were flogging their wares.
* Some places along the parade route apparently opened their homes so you could use their toilets for £1 or more...

Back to the grind...
* It looks like I may be moving to Manor House by the end of this week. Once I settle on the bond and four weeks rent...
* Later this week... more temping...

Saturday, August 23, 2003

My first working week...

My first working week ended with a whimper with the headache thing... But I had Friday off to do more of the job search thing. That bought about some more promising leads so I am optimistic there. But if all else fails... temping... while it doesn't pay so well... can cover the bills for the time being...

After meeting some ex colleagues at the airport I caught my first London cab.

As a bit of an aside, cabs like many things in London are such a scam here. While they are obliged to pick up people and take them where they want to go, when it is late at night the situation is different. Cabs will often not pick people up to take them home if they live on the opposite side of town to where they want to go. This has led to a proliferation of mini-cabs - both licensed and unlicensed - to fill the gap. It is an unfortunate problem that the unlicensed mini-cab drivers have been known to rape women trying to get home. But in a typical London response nobody wants to do anything about it as taking unlicensed mini-cabs off the street would mean a huge gap in providing transport for people to get home.

In this case a cab from Heathrow wasn't such a big deal, and I wasn't paying for it so I rode backwards and kept gawking out all the windows at the scenery and the other drivers. I have made a mental note that overly tanned mid-forties women tend to drive Merc convertabiles.

What to do on the Bank Holiday Long Weekend
It is the Bank Holliday weekend. The trains are late, the city is crowded, and the Notting Hill fair is happening but this is what I did today:

* Went for breakfast at Polly's at Hampstead Heath with Skye. It was a lovely tea house and it was decked out with old English wooden advertising that I knew Nurse would have been so excited about had he had been there. Apart from marvelling at the quality decor the breakfast wasn't too bad for the price. Spent another few hours in the heath reading the newspapers and enjoying the quiet (all except for a fun fair that was going on in the background).
* Rescued Skye's mobile phone. In a moment of insanity Skye dropped her phone into what you could say was once the garden of a basement appartment. Alas there were no stairs from the street to get to it. After a quick chat to a neighbour who told us he had neither a ladder nor a rope (and he wasn't warming to my suggestion about knotted bedsheets) I decided that it wasn't all that deep to jump down (or rather delicately CLIMB down) and fetch it. A few grazed knees and a broken plastic case was all that happened. So it was all good!

Friday, August 22, 2003

Not last night I had a headache...

I was going to update the blog last night after finishing my temp job for the week but Dame Fortune had other ideas. She gave me a headache so after taking two Mersyndol I was off in another calm and tranquil world... This calm and tranquil world was still in West Hampstead on a comfy couch but I was still in another world. But I digress...

Theatre review
* The Madness of George Dubbya was great. It was a mild satire at first, but by the second act it started to get really on the money. One of the highlights was the voiceover at the beginning: "This is a reminder that if you have a pager, cellphone or other device to please switch it ON during tonights performance. That way in the event of a terrorist attack on this theatre you will be able to send final messages to loved ones." It was interesting times to be watching a show that had Jasmina the cleaner as a Hammas suicide bomber cleaning a US Air Force Base in Britain. Tony Blair copped a (rightful) drubbing. Everyone here seems to be waiting for him to just go. Naturally the inquiry about some former arms inspector who topped himself in the woods because he had to sex up the IRAQ dossier is grinding all government business to a halt.

Can I have warm chicken salad and cigarette butts?
* Some things take forever in the UK and one of the things is to introduce a ban on smoking where food is being consumed. It won't happen any time soon. And if they aren't smoking they are nagging on about their latest theory on Iraq or complaining to a waiter about the quality of a banana smoothie.

When searching for a flat...
* Don't go to Whitechapel. Sure the flat you may find there (a redeveloped 1920's style council flat) is gorgeous with a spacious room but outside no pasty white boy will be fitting in to the area. The last census said that 22% of the residents were from Bangladesh. The rest must be from Pakistan.
* Don't take the bus from Whitechapel to Manor House. After getting away from the very talkative Londoner who was half Maltese who owned the flat, I took the bus to what I thought was Manor House. This was to see a room in that part of town. Busses may be getting better but it is still hard to read the bus stop signs. Asking the driver wasn't an option as the bus was crowded. I got off at a stop that was "Approaching Manor House" and found myself not quite at Manor House but in the part of town that was where all the Hasidic Jews hung out. The irony of travelling from Muslim territory to Jew territory did amuse me however and I made a mental note about where to go in future should I wish to practice their faith sometime in the future.
* Find three nice gay men to share with. The place at Manor House was great. Fabulous house, faboulous room. It is also two zones out, serviced by three busses (should I dare to go on one again) and two night busses (should I need to get home after midnight). And there was a nice feel about the neighbourhood with various pubs, eateries and a 24 hour Sainsbury's nearby.

The adventure of Wednesday evening did take me longer than I expected so Alicia was a little worried that I had not returned. She rang twice and I answered it the second time. I explained to the guys that this was because before she left for work in the morning, I left the details of where I was going on the kitchen table and informed her "so if I don't come home you know where to find the body"... I think the humour gave me some brownie points but I will find out next week if I have got the place...

Tuesday, August 19, 2003

Who gives a shit about Lara?

Tonight as I made my way through Leicester Square I found that I couldn't make my way through the square. There were barricades around a theatre. A movie theatre of course. Punters were out everywhere waiting for the premiere UK screening of the latest Lara Croft flick. The director was on the morning show this morning so the usual smoozing and PR is to take place. Alas cinema being at the forefront of our culture I guess this is what one has to put up with. You could say the square is a haven for shit flicks actually as apart from the Lara franchise at one of the theatres, there is the Terminator franchise at the theatre opposite and the Legally Blonde franchise at a theatre nearby. I sighed as I made my way to the TKTS booth to buy a ticket for the show The madness of George Dubbya... A retake on Dr Strangelove apparently...

Things I keep forgetting... is it jetlag?
* I got a haircut on Friday. I no longer have tourist hair. But the weather sure took its toll. The haircut was at a hairdresser at Covent Garden. Skye was getting hers done so I thought what the hell? The haircut was by Josh, an albino hairdresser from the Ukraine with soft fingertips. He kept trying to put more conditioner in my hair so thats why I knew about the fingertips. Neither of us could understand each other but I still believe we established a good inital hairdresser-client rapport.
* Aussie barbeques... On Sunday at Skye's place... We had sausages, golden circle beetroot (because the stuff here the aussies say is crap), and iced vovos. I had more Australian food on Sunday than I usually ate in Australia. We sat in a garden area and watched the pidgeons on the rooftops nearby.

I have a zzzzzzjaaab
While waiting for better offers, I am temping at a hospital and doing filing. This could be somebody's revenge as I never filed anything in Australia. I mainly just threw it out or stored it online. It is keeping me occupied until Thursday, and it isn't that bad. Have more real interviews for later in the week. Apparently I am so good at filing that I could get another offer to do it next week... Egad...

Lets stick to the weather
* London weather is returning to my expectations. No topless flabby pink Brits on the streets anymore as the temperature is maxing at the low 20s.
* Read a fascinating report on the state of London's health today (well I am working in a hospital). London has the worst pollution in the UK and among the worst in Europe (only Berlin, Paris and Moscow are worse). Nitrogen Dioxide levels exceed annual targets and fine particles have exceeded hourly targets here.

This got me thinking about yesterday's conversation with Alicia. While waiting for the train after a walk last night with Alicia around Hamstead Heath, she decided to ask me if I have noticed something about my nasal passages since getting here. This led to a fascinating conversation about why one's snot is black in the city. Alicia's view is that its the underground that is the main culprit. That breeze of air when the train comes rushing into the station isn't quite a fresh breeze. When it is hot in the underground any breeze is good though. London locals apparently say the black stuff goes away after a while. They believe it is because their nasal hairs are burnt off by then.

And as for Hampstead Heath, it was lovely. It was starting to get a bit drizzly yesterday when we went out for a walk but it gave it so much more ambient atmosphere. It was all a bit Wuthering Heights-ish... I was expecting Heathcliff to arrive on the scene any minute. An excellent place to go after work I thought. Have made a mental note to return again, and also to visit the cafe nearby where you can get a £5 monster breakfast.

* I finally can access the internet anywhere... either using WiFi or my Orange phone. Easy internet is still cheaaaaper so that's where I am right now though!

Sunday, August 17, 2003

Streetlife and XXXX

Things to do on a Saturday when you have time:

*Visit the Royal Park at Greenwich and see your first squirrel. I had no idea that there were deer there however. There were thousands of people at the park but you would not have known it. One also took in the views from the Royal Observatory at Greenwich. On a clear day you really can see forever. Well at least past St Paul's Cathedral.

* Spend time around and about Canary Wharf. Apart from the lovely tube stations in this part of the woods there were plenty of sensimible shops to have a wander and a browse through. Resisted the temptation to purchase anything for now but made a mental note to return.

* Have a drink at The Gloucester at Greenwich... just because it was in the film Beautiful Thing. Also managed to pick up a copy of the Pink Pages which details sensible accomodation and jobs to look for...

Other things to do on a Saturday:

* Go with (straight) friends to Club Aquarium. Apart from the standard issue club setup and faux-bamboo walls (maybe Gilligan and Ginger did the interior dec), this club in Old Street boasts an indoor swimming pool complete with spa etc. They were having a 70s Carwash night which meant that we all had to dress in 70s style. Well almost all of us. We arrived at the club early for a private function and that helped. It was only £10 cover and £3 drinks then...

When the club opened and the music started one by one things started to remind me of Brisbane. Whether it was Randy Crawford's Streetlife or the promotions for XXXX there was a distinct Australian feel to the evening. It could have also been the other expats in the group as well.

I ended up leaving before midnight and missing the pool opening. When the pool did open after midnight it apparently was clothing optional. Through the glass doors to the pool the non-swimming punters could see women baring their beavers and breasts to the delight of the local lads (especially those there for a swim). At least it answers that question commonly asked by some folk... can straight saunas happen? Well at least they can in Old Street in London...

Up for today
* An aussie barbeque...

Saturday, August 16, 2003

Shopping and... shopping...

After yesterday's adventurous visit to the London Transport Museum, I decided to cook pizza's last night. This mean a trip to the supermarket. Usually this wouldn't rate a mention but at Sainsburys things just looked a little brighter and more colourful than usual. It was an exciting adventure running up and down aisles trying to find Tomato Paste when it was called Tomato Puree, but what normally would have been a stressful endeavour was made all the more pleasant under the soft lighting and light pastels of the supermarket store.

The tranquility of my supermarket experience was just the tonic for having to take a diversionary route on the Tube after a security alert closed half of the stations in central London.

Off to a straight nightclub tonight for a 70s car wash party... Hmmm!

Friday, August 15, 2003

The rain in spain stays mainly on the pla-in...

It had to happen. Last night I saw my first West End musical to mark a week in London. It was the thouroughly Londern musical My Fair Lady. Henry Higgins was played by Anthony Andrews which gave me some amusement since ten or so years back I had seen him again and again and again in the TV movie The Scarlett Pimpernel. As my favourite sister was a bit of a fan I sort of became a fan by default.

The show last night was sensational. I had only ever seen that dreadful still-born movie of it starring the lip-syncing Audrey Hepburn and directed by the near death George Cukor. He was good in his day but his day was thirty years before and I found the movie was as slow and decrepit as he probably was. The songs I could have danced all night and On the street where you live just simply stopped the show. There was spectacle and excitement in this production and it never dragged.

It is quite a unique show. And of course it was fun to see a show in the area in which it was actually set. Such a pity however that in less than 100 years Covent Garden markets area have gone from a hobo slum to being a tourist slum. But one can't have everything I suppose!

But I digress... I thought My Fair Lady was a sensible show to see for my first week in London. I have found that diction and pronounciation is quite important. Even though we all share the same language, whether ordering a hamburger in an all-black Macdonalds or buying a railway ticket from a disinterested ticket seller, lazy Austraaaaylianisms just don't quite cut it. I have found enunciation has been enough to get me by for now.

Hot tips:
* When walking around being a tourist it comes in handy to note the day's particle count along with the temperature.
* Drinking 3litres of water a day means that having intimate knowledge of where the W.Cs are is quite advantageous. Sometimes it really is a privilege to pee!
* The words London and airconditioning don't really go together. I did let some people in on a secret that last summer Brisbane and airconditioning didn't really happen either.
* The theatre can be a hot and sweaty place too. Last night it was hotter inside the theatre than out as temperatures dropped for the first time in over a week to make for a mild summer's night.

Purchasing Power Parity
A Big Mac here may cost over A$7, but some things aren't too bad.
* Evian is 50p
* A cheeseburger and sprite is about the same
* Theatre tix cost the same or cheaper if you know where to go.
* A half pint of beer for under £2 gets me looking butch for over half an hour in a gay bar. Actually that might just be because I take forever to drink beer...

The Accidental Tourist
It has been a couple of days since postings so important things I have learned since last posting:

* The Theatre Musuem is a great free exhibit. I was expecting it to be cheesy and full of old stage props but instead found Noel Cowards bath robe, WS Gilbert's top hat, and a fantastic exhibition on the Redgrave family. The ghosts of theatre seemed to be lurking about in the dimly lit museum but in amongst Rudolf Nureyev's black cap and the rest it was a great place to learn about theatre in its historical context.
*Trafalgar Square isn't so shitty anymore... well it has lost its pidgeons and it looks a lot cleaner and brighter with a redevelopment that has closed off the road directly in front of the National Gallery. A concert is coming up to mark the grand occasion which isn't my cup of tea but apparently will attract loads of punters. I have spent a fair amount of time around the Trafalgar Square area in the past two days and am updating the blog from the easyInternet cafe nearby. Live webcam from Trafalgar Square
* Since I was in the neighbourhood, I thought I would pop in to the National Gallery. You could spend a good deal of time there, but I just drifted from crashing a tour group getting an explanation on a 16th century work of art to standing transfixed at Bathers at Asnires by Georges Seurat. I kept thinking "dot-dot-dot-dot" and "well there never was a hat!"

Limerance with London
I keep wondering when the honeymoon is over. It has been fun so far. I even enjoy the stuff like
* Saying no to hobos when they ask for money
* Riding the tube when its crowded
* Tripping over the silly woman's foot at the theatre who refused to move. Some people in London think London revolves around them so when she refused to move I just pressed on. She moaned and complained (which Skye mainly heard and not I) but it amused me as I thought how else was I to get by after exhausting the polite niceties and non verbals? If London really revolved around her the silly bitch would have been in a box seat anyway and not the dress circle.
* Community spirit. You are expected to help people when they need it and they will help you in return. Yesterday I had to help a lady with a stroller down the stairs at a tube station. The stroller was surprisingly heavy. Perhaps she was carrying a bowling ball.
* Walking everywhere is my substitute for gym for now.

Coming up on the schedule...

Re-entering the world of work for four days next week. I will be an office dogsbody but I think I can take a few days off from touristing.

Tuesday, August 12, 2003

On the buses

If you are going to familiarise yourself with a big city, a cheesy bus tour is definitely the way to go. Today I spent most of the day riding an open air double decker bus around the traps of London. It was called The Original Tour. Most sensible way to go about, although the commentary was a bit spotty I got a better sense of where I was including:

* Yesterday at Covent Garden I was a block away from the Strand
* Trafalgar square isn't that far away and Lord Nelson looked quite impressive way up there
* The British Museum had not lost any of its charm (but then again today was a smoggy day rather than a foggy day in London Town
* Margaret Thatcher has a police man outside her door still. Maybe it is to remind her nowadays where she lives since the press here love running "Maggies gone dotty stories". Like this one...

The tour included a complimentary £5 fish and chip meal at the Sherlock Holmes pub and that was edible. Alas it wasn't served with peas. Have made a mental note need to cook that meal when I find a place of my own!

Also included in the tour was a trip on the Thames. Well it almost nearly didn't happen as Skye caught up with me for that leg of my grand day out and presenting the same ticket that we bought two days earlier together to the wanker at the ferry he was going to make an issue about it not having the words "the original tour" on the ticket. And he added how much trouble that would create when this ticket gets back to central control er head office.

We could have argued all day about the finer points of this guy not knowing his own job since this ticket was part of his company's promotions, but Skye was much keener on just clobbering him with her bag. In the end having a copy of the flyer sold him on the idea that we had ponied up the dough for one of his shitty tickets and he had to give us one.

It is interesting that in a city where you can buy beer in a corner store you have to have a photo id to buy a weekly rail ticket (for no reason) and you have Original Tour ticket sellers not knowing their own tickets and then starting to complain to you about the problems of their job! Ah well its London. Mental note to fight and complain and get aggressive with unhelpful service workers... it seems to help!

Making the most of the internet terminals near Victoria Station tonight... Needing to go home and rest. Interview tomorrow at 11 which will bring my touristing to a brief halt. Since it is on the Strand though I might just take in a museum or two.

Other useful things to know:
* On hot days when drinking bottles of evian it is good to know where all the public conveniences are.
* Good looking joggers pop out of the Savoy hotel when you don't have your camera ready.
* Covent Garden may have been nice once... but it smelled too much like a tourist trap to me... I just noted where the theatres and museums were before quickly moving on.
* Stripey deck chairs in parks are very comfy

Monday, August 11, 2003

Back in London...

Found a link to Kingsgate Castle. The road is a bit better now than it was then and the beach has a lot more litter on it nowadays but you should get the general idea. That's what I spent a lot of time on the weekend looking at when I was down at the beach.

Trying to master the local dialogue... Offie, the minicabs the underground or the tube (not the subway or the train)... Its all good as they say... I felt better yesterday when I saw the cover of this week's Economist magazine. The article was titled The world comes to London. Amen to that!

Things to do today.

1. Try not to stare at people with flabby bodies and man boobs even though it is hard not to! Yesterday a man took off his shirt in the Victoria Station mall and continued eating. I was eating too and the sight of his pasty white skin and inverted nipples was a bit off putting. Really. Maybe Australians are way too modest and too high maintenance. I would have to Veet and Clip before feeling comfortable about doing that. Well maybe it is just me. Havent seen any handkerchiefs on top of heads yet though...
2. Drink plenty of water as I am delicate... Still haven't found San Pelligrino much around the traps. The punters prefer to go for some Scottish mineral water, which is almost as good.
3. See the sights around Covent Garden... including the
Donmar Warehouse
4. Try not to eat fish and chips for too many meals. Haven't yet eaten it out of a cone shaped paper thing though so I am going to have to do that soon.
5. Have fun and cheap laughs (well I can do that wherever I go)
6. Bought my own music. Listening to March of the Falsettos right now. It has nothing to do with London but works for me anyway.

Sunday, August 10, 2003

Its hot up here...

Well today I lived a little bit of London history. It was the hottest day on record. I was out of town for most of the pleasure but I did manage to sweat it out on an un-airconditioned connex train on the way back from Broadstairs. Only the hot dusty breeze coming through some of the windows could make it somewhat more of a cooler experience. It took two hours the train ride but for me it was all new and exciting I just kept watching the scenery whiz by on the train.

As for the rest of the time this weekend. I managed to travel to this castle for my first weekend. I think I can be forgiven for again forgetting where it was, but it was near Viking Beach which was voted the best beach in the EU... Well it was very pretty and very English but it still was more amusing this weekend seeing all those pink brits roasting themselves. When I could get away with it (and even sometimes when I couldn't) I just had to take a few happy snaps of the whole experience...

Phew, hold everything Skye has emailed me and told me yet again that I had gone to Kingsgate Castle in Broadstairs which is part of Kent shire...

The weekend was also the weekend of a folk festival which meant that this quaint little village was a little more quaint and intimate than usual. There were hundreds of thousands of people there to savour the artless craft and the sun and the sand and the slight waves.

It was nice to see that folk means crap the world over, but Skye her dad and I managed to go for fish and chips at the Charles Dickens Tavern. I would have to say it was the best of fish and chips and it was the worst of fish and chips... and I did until Skye started hitting me as she thought that was a real dull joke. She is probably right but I think there is nothing like a few cheap laughs.

I did enjoy the fish and chips. Serving it with peas was a nice touch and it made me realise that I wasn't in Australia anymore. I was by the sea in Britain!

At the castle which was built as servants quarters and stables before Australia was even colonised I managed to savour the view of the white chalky cliffs. The castle was a hotel until just after the war when it was divided into separate flats. One of the occupants of the flat invited us over Saturday night to watch the sunset over the hills while having a foine white whoine and some cheese and crackers. It was a very sophistimicated way to spend a Saturday night.

Friday, August 08, 2003

Well there are worse things than sweating at the airport at Narita...

After an emotionally driaining flight to Narita where only the calmative properties of Maxolon could soothe the savage headache and everything else that I had, I was looking forward to the hotel stay at Narita to at least get a shower. A pity that the transfer bus was a little late and so we all had to wait outside in the heat and the smog for the next bus. As beads of sweat dripped from me everywhere I thought I was about to pass out. Only the Sondheim song "It's hot in here" kept me amused and conscious.

By the time I got to the hotel I was too exhausted to contemplate a trip to Tokyo. Maybe next time when it wasn't so bloody hot I thought. Fortunately the Japanese excel themselves with the wide range of isotonic drinks they have available. I spent the next 20 hours savouring them in mass quantities.

The next leg to London was bloody long but amusing enough. Although everywhere I went there were little reminders of Brisbane. The inflight movie was "Breakfast at Tiffany's" so that was a little sad to watch.

By the time I arrived at Heathrow I was just glad. Getting through immigration was surprisingly quick. The bureaucrat behind the counter asked me,
"So whatcha come to Britain for?"
"For a holiday?" was my reply
He looked though my passport and saw my visa and then corrected me
"... a WORKING holiday"
"Okay off you go then"
So that was the surprisingly quick exchange that occurred.

Skye met me there at Heathrow and laughed at my baggage (my real baggage not my emotional). We stayed and had more isotonic drinks and Skye enjoyed a cheesy lasange.

After waiting an hour for the peak to subside and having her in tears about my final weeks in Brisbane we went on the tube. I was chatting to her and being very untube like in my manner which got us a few looks but apart from that things were okay.

Then when we had to change trains I had a laugh about the announcement that "due to somebody being under a train, all services for [such and such a ] line were cancelled".

For Skye she found it interesting that I laughed at it. Maybe all will be good here.

I slept at Lish's place and it was so nice to have a sleep.