Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Evening photoblogging

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A typical evening in central London ....

Dr. Who vs. Darth Vader

Sky News this morning had an interview with Tom Baker, better known as the fourth Dr. Who from the long-running BBC series (he was my first doctor and my favorite). He is the announcer on the British TV sketch comedy series Little Britain and now going to be voice of text messages sent over British Telecom telephones. As I watched the interview, something vaguely familiar washed over me--didn't a U.S. telephone company once use the voice of a science fiction character as its corporate voice? Oh yeah ....

BT, of course, had the decency to pick someone who wasn't evil.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Back to work, back at home

Blogging may be lighter this week: I actually have an assignment people will pay me for. The good news is after hours of walking this weekend (and some frustration--more on that later) it appears we've nailed down a flat, in Highgate Village, home to Samuel Taylor Coleridge and the cemetery where Karl Marx is buried. I didn't photoblog it, other than to capture Dick Whittington's cat on Saturday while flat-hunting. It has a good panoramic view of downtown London, and you can even pick out the Gherkin from up there.

Read more about Highgate.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

English as a second language, Part 3

And now, words English people say that make Americans wince:

Toilet. What they call the bathroom. And let's face it -- it's a bit more accurate, because how often do we do this in there, compared to how often we use this? Still, you've got to giggle you ask, "Where's Bob?" and someone says "Oh, he's in the toilet."

Mate. A way more intimate meaning in American English than English English, nudge nudge wink wink say no more.

Scheme. What's a plan to promote nutrition to them is a plot to swindle to us.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

English as a second language, Part 2

There are words that we say in America all the time without thinking about them. Say them here, and you are guaranteed to get yourself in a "spot of bother."

Pants. Here that means this. If you mean this, you say "trousers." Although I've yet to hear it for myself, I'm told people here say "That's pants!" when they think something is vile.

Fanny or fanny pack. Here, the fanny isn't what we think it is. It's, um, shall we say, the frontal area... So when Americans use the term fanny pack, they get strange looks.

Pissed. Here, pissed looks like this, not this. So you need to be careful when you tell your acquaintances, "My spouse came home late last night, and I was pissed!" And don't cringe when a friend says, "Wanna get pissed?" Actually, maybe you SHOULD cringe anyway...

These are just the words I've been warned about... Imagine what I'll find out the hard way!


Saturday London Catblogging

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Dick Whittington's cat, on Highgate Hill , looking back over his shoulder to Central London.

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First precipitation last night ...

... in the form of snow.


Tube musings

I've found most mass transit systems easy to navigate (no matter what this song or this song might have to say about it) and the Tube is no exception so far--at least when it comes to moving from station to station. Moving around inside the stations themselves, however, has been more than a little disorienting. I find myself trudging in a line of people following the "way out" signs (perhaps time for another vocabulary lesson from Mrs. Werbenmanjensen) without really questioning where I'm going. I think being disoriented underground is partly out of unfamiliarity, but also because I come from Washington, with its famously open subway floor plans. Compare that photo with this ....

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... which captures most of my Tube station experiences.

This disorientation, of course, led to my own personal Mines of Moria moments a few days ago, when I thought I'd get fancy and get off a train that stopped at the Bank station but exit at the connected Monument station, closer to our apartment. Like the Fellowship of the Ring, I wandered about, harried by goblins and trolls, and of course walked twice as far underground than I would have aboveground, before exiting at Bank and walking the pavement home.

(Note: Because of Mrs. Werbenmajensen's powers of observation, we managed to make it from the Bank station to the Monument exit last night. Score!)

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Thursday, January 26, 2006

London neighborhoods

The better part of the last couple of days has been consumed by looking around a few neighborhoods to see where we might like to live. So far, I toured Bethnal Green and Camden. These are two neighborhoods with some different feels. Bethnal Green may be, as the sign says ...

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... but feels a bit like the Chicago neighborhoods off Broadway, like Lakeview--shabby looking merchants doing a brisk business despite their apperances--with a little taste of Canal Street in New York ...

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... without the counterfeit Louis Vuitton and Burberry.

Camden has the flavor of Georgetown if you turned all the Venice Beach hucksters loose inside ...

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... but has a pub that brags about its jukebox in a unique fashion ...

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(Eighth best?)

It has some very cute neighborhoods ...

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My endurance wore out by the time I'd reached Tufnell Park, but not before I got this quaint scene ...

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Still no rain ....

A brief passing sprinkle, yes, while walking up to Bethnal Green (represented in the House of Commons, sort of, by George Galloway) to do some neighborhood exploration (more on that later). Today is clear and dry again. And here I packed for rain ....


Wednesday, January 25, 2006

A place for everything ....

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The Tube is so orderly, even the street musicians have assigned seats.

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Arrrrr! It's a pasty!

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(No, not that kind of pasty, you pervs. It's a pie with meat and potatoes inside.)

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Signs you're not in Kansas anymore

Cricket on the TV:

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All the action of baseball, but twice as long!!

This is odd:
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And what's in a "saliva recovery kit," anyway? What about the poor schmoe who has the "assault" dripping off his face while awaiting the saliva recovery kit?

Helpful reminders:
Now, given that the UK is well in the minority of countries in the world in which people drive on the left side of the road, it takes awhile for those of us from elsewhere (tourists and immigrants alike) to adjust to the fact that you need to look right, not left, before stepping into the street. But not to worry--the English are nothing if not helpful:
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Then when you get to the pedestrian island, more assistance:
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Girls on film (and boys, too)
The UK has a reputation of having more closed-circuit TVs than any other part of the world, with one estimate putting the number at 400,000 in London and 4 million in the entire country. Which means we're on film more often in the average day than Brad Pitt.
This photo doesn't quite do the whole CCTV thing justice, but this van parks on our street every day and uses CCTV to identify cars for purposes of assessing the congestion charges imposed on people who drive their cars downtown during rush hour.
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Isle of Dogs (yes, it exists) photoblog

Isle of Dogs is a neck of land downriver from the square mile of central London. Part of the Docklands redevelopment, it strikes me architecturally as the equivalent of Baltimore, Maryland: the aggressively new in a city of the comfortably aged. I chose to ride the Docklands Light Railway to Canary Wharf and walk the length of the peninsula, zizagging to get the flavor.

Stepping off the train at Canary Wharf gives you views like these:

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Docklands has a reputation for not having a lot going on ...
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...but at least there's a skating rink.

Oh, wait! Here's a pub:
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I was concerned that with all the channels cutting through the Docklands that it might be a bit pedestrian unfriendly, but not to worry:
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Now, some places had a distinct air of council housing about them:
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(Seriously: How much could a "beware of dog" sign cost? 10 pounds?)

And this can't be a good sign:
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But then ...
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OK, that's better.

In wandering, I stumbled across a Big Box superstore, a rarity in these parts ...
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Does the lettering in the "Always" look familiar? It should.

(On the other hand, the Super Wal-Marts in Tulsa don't have the scent of curry or carry Pernod.)

Next door to the Big Box: Mudchute Park:
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Those fluffy things in the background are sheep.

Owing to its wharf background, many of the developments have retained old fixtures, such as ...
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Finally, wandering down to the south end of the peninsula, one reaches Island Gardens Park, where one can descend into the earth to catch a foot tunnel across the river to Greenwich.

Creating art:
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Oops. Let me reset ...
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Much better.

Emerging on the other side, your first view is of the Cutty Sark:
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Docklands/Isle of Dogs has a reputation as an area that, because of real estate speculation that turned out to be less than profitable, one can get a pretty good value on housing compared to the rest of London. I'm interested, but cautious. It was quieter than the Central London I've seen so far, but also slower, with fewer businesses and amenities. To attend the theatre, for example, would be a bigger expedition if one lived there rather than neighborhoods to the north. I'm not ruling it out, but I definitely don't want to concentrate any housing search just there.

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Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Rainy London?

I've been here about 72 hours and haven't seen a drop of rain. I don't know if this is rare, but I have a feeling that London's reputation as a rainy place might be a bit overstated. For purposes of comparison, let's look at rain totals and days of rain in London and the homes of some of our readers:

Annual rainfall: 23 inches
Annual days with rain: 153

(So, yeah, I've beaten the odds)

Washington, DC
Annual rainfall: 39.35 inches
Annual days with rain: 112

Annual rainfall: 36.27 inches
Annual days with rain: 127

Annual rainfall: 42.34 inches
Annual days with rain: 112

Annual rainfall: 44.76
Annual days with rain: 105

Annual rainfall: 7.11 inches
Annual days with rain: 36

Charlotte, NC
Annual rainfall: 43.16 inches
Annual days with rain: 111

So, less rain, more rainy days (desert dwellers notwithstanding).


Monday, January 23, 2006

Some things I won't miss about America, Part 2

But only because they're here in spades:

1. Starbucks (I pass three of them on my 18-minute walk to work each morning.)

2. The Simpsons (Twice as many episodes on week nights on Sky TV than on Fox at home.)

3. Unreliable public transit. Red Line, you got nothin' on the Northern Line

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Minding the gap ....

Yesterday's news is tomorrow's fish (whale?) and chips paper

The Thames whale died, in case you hadn't heard.

Yeah, it's old news by now ....


How to introduce yourself to a city

One of the reasons I've always enjoyed running and cycling is that it's a quick way to familiarize yourself with a city. London, a city of labyrinthine streets that change names on a whim, can get you easily lost (I did this, briefly, on a walk early this morning), so sticking to the river's edge was my strategy for a first run, particularly since running doesn't always allow you to navigate quite as effectively as walking.

Along the Thames' southern embankment runs a fairly well-marked path (occasionally veering onto narrow cobbled alleys, but always close to the river) that passes the following:

1. Shakespeare's Globe Theater (Theatre, in English)
2. The London Eye (a gigantic ferris wheel)
3. The Tate Museum (modern art)
4. Giant Dali sculptures (part of an exhibition of the surrealist's work)

I crossed back over the Thames on the Westminster Bridge, into Westminster, the government center (centre, in English), getting as far up as St. James' Park, near Buckingham Palace. On the return leg of my out-and-back run, near the War Rooms (where one is not allowed to fight), I stopped momentarily to allow a military band and armed platoon take the street in parade formation.

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Sunday, January 22, 2006

English as a second language

I don't speak English; I speak American, apparently. Here are a few words I've learned in the last 10 days so that I can be understood by Brits (an American to English translation follows):

checking account=current account
first floor=ground floor
second floor=first floor (cuz it's the first one above the ground)
mobile=cell phone
private school=public school (I still don't understand this one)
bathroom=toilet (This is especially funny when someone says, as someone did to me, "I left my mobile in the toilet.")


Things that got packed but I cannot use in the UK, Part 2

1. Timers for the lights.

2. Numerous DVDs (they use a different format here).

3. A toaster.

Where the streets have fun names

Great Swan Alley. Kings Arms Yard. Bread Street. Just a few of the gems you'll find while getting lost in London. Because you WILL get lost, which ironically is how you end up finding such places as Gun Street. (Yes, NRA fans, there IS a Gun Street.)

And those are just the street names. Some of the neighborhoods we're eyeballing have memorable monikers as well, like Canary Wharf on the Isle of Dogs. Don't believe me? See a map.

Some sightseeing

Despite arising at noon or so (which, techinically, is 7 a.m. EST, so I've evidently made no progress), we were able to walk about today.

Our street:

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Old Spitalfield Market (10 quid to anybody who can identify Mrs. Werbenmanjensen):
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A new coffee brand (he's so frothy):
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My new tie (from Old Spitalfield Market--dig the leather saddle and the English-style saddle bag):
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Mrs. Werbanmanjensen's new purchase (it's made from palm seeds):
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It's been three years since I've lived in apartments and 13 years since I've lived anywhere remotely urban, so it's a bit of an adjustment to be to be awoken at 8:30 by the sound of drilling or some other power tool down the hallway and then reawoken at 10 or so by the sound of jackhammers outside and then again at 11 by the sound of a wet saw at what must be roughly the same spot. Mrs. Werbenmanjensen kept her earplugs from the Virgin flight, so I think it is imperative to get something to muffle the sound. I'm arising at 5:30 or so tomorrow anyway, but it may be a bit moot.

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Saturday, January 21, 2006

Having a whale of a time

Londoners, a worldly group of people if ever there was one, had a rare sighting yesterday: northern bottlenose whales swimming in the river Thames. Forget the troubles of Ruth Kelly and George Galloway; here finally, was some real news! In fact, Sky News carried the story hours after it ceased to be news. And yes, the Sky News anchor really IS the guy from Shaun of the Dead!

I for one will take it as an omen of good things to come. So far I like the city. As I'm trying to blend in -- which ain't easy when you're a Yank -- I haven't done too many touristy things yet. But one thing I did was very cool indeed: Her Majesty's Palace and Fortress the Tower of London. It's walking distance from our temporary apartment, so I had to do it. I saw the place where Anne Boleyn and Kathryn Howard lost their heads, and where Queen Elizabeth II keeps her Crown Jewels. Plus you get to see Henry VIII's armour, which is the equivalent I think of seeing my "fat pants." Ha ha!

Off to have some tea... Coming soon: Mrs. W's vocab lessons.

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Would you like brown sauce with that?

A quick introduction to UK cuisine:

Virgin Atlantic upper class asks you to place a breakfast order before you go to sleep. I wasn't particularly interested in cereal, so I selected something like a salmon fritatta. Awoken from my half-sleep in the middle of the night, I was informed by my cabin attendant that it was no longer on the menu, and would I like a bacon roll? After groggily trying to wrap my mind around the message given to me in an accent with which I am unfamiliar, I agreed to a "bacon roll," whatever that was. The next question: Would you like brown sauce with that? Or red sauce? Well, red suggests tomato, and brown suggests ... um, I don't want to think about it. I selected red sauce. It was ketchup.

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So long to America ...

I've been so rushed that I haven't had time to properly reflect on leaving the land of my birth. I don't think I'm really going to miss the United States that much. I hear funny accents around me right now, now that I'm in London, and am struggling a bit to understand clearly, so it's a bit disorienting, but all that will become easier with time. Other things will be challenging to begin with, but every move comes with some adjustments. I think I'm going to like it here.

What to say about America ... I don't hate it, but I'm ashamed for it. I love it in the way a parent loves a troubled child, but I really do want it to change its ways. We've driven dangerously off track. That a renegade with a video camera, money, and some fanatical followers can bring an entire country to a standstill just by sneaking up and shouting "boo!" should tell us that we're no longer the bold America of our own myth-making. How weird is it? Nobody could get through security at Dulles for 15 minutes after checking my bags. Yes, TSA, the skies will be really really safe when nobody wants to fly any more.

But more than that, we now have a political culture that's anti-science, anti-knowledge, and anti-progress, and what's more, no longer cares that it's looking backward instead of forward and celebrates its own unawareness as a badge of courage. Is the UK perfect? Probably not. Would I have come here had I not been offered a great opportunity? Probably not. But it's looking like a really good choice right now.

These are not particularly well-constructed thoughts. Sleep was difficult even in the Virgin Atlantic "snooze section," so I'm feeling at least a little disoriented. My body still thinks it's 4 in the morning. More later.

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Things that got packed but I cannot use in the UK

1. Cat food

2. Hair clippers

3. Light bulbs


Things I could have used but got packed ...

1. An alarm clock

2. Deodorant

3. Toothbrush/toothpaste

4. A chair

5. Garbage bags


Thursday, January 19, 2006

Some things I won't miss about America

1. Sprawl

2. Traffic engineers who create sprawl

3. George W. Bush

4. Nasty, self-important, speeding, weaving, cell-phone-talking drivers

5. 99 degree days

6. Perpetual war

7. Warrantless wiretaps

8. Redneck "culture"

9. Small-denomination folding money

10. Televangelists


Some things I will miss about America

1. My friends

2. My family

3. Carryout coffee cups

4. The Jefferson Memorial

5. Room for seven bicycles in my house

6. Room for lots of guests in my house

7. Baseball

8. Hockey

9. College basketball

10. Football

Our attachment to stuff

I'm reminded right now of the Buddhist poet who, upon finding his home had been raided by bandits, wrote that his burglars had managed to steal everything he valued except the moonlight shining on his windowsill.

I have no TV, no table, no desk, and only loveseat to sit on, and right now that sits in the kitchen because the carpet cleaners needed it out of the way. I will sleep tonight, as I did last night, on a futon mattress on a bedroom floor. I'm getting by, I suppose. I spend a lot of time in my local Starbucks (plural Starbucks) because wireless is spotty in my neighborhood and the DSL modem is in a box headed for London right now. I've learned with how little it really takes to survive. We don't need that much, in reality, and certainly where I"m going I'll have a lot less stuff and live a far simpler life in terms of belongings. At this point, I'm looking forward to it. But what really amazes me is how much stuff two people in one house for three years can accumulate. The photo above is of but one of three truckloads of discarded items that will make its way to the landfill from my house. Somehow, I get by, and it takes less than we think.


Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Other things I gave to people

1. A crockpot (to the maid/junk hauler)

2. A coffee maker (to the maid/junk hauler)

3. A love seat (to the maid/junk hauler)


Things that sat on my steps for three days waiting for a Freecycle flake to pick up

1. A juicer

2. Ten cans of unused cat food


Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Things I gave to the moving guys ...

1. A television/VCR player

2. A fan

3. A lamp

4. A phone stand

5. An accordion

6. A cowboy hat

7. A cordless drill

Things I gave the handyman:

1. A lawnmower

2. A wheelbarrow

3. Garden tools

4. A leaf blower

5. A seed spreader

Things I gave to the maid/junk hauler

1. A dremel


Monday, January 16, 2006

Three Moves Equal One Small Fire

A now-ex-colleague said this to me in the days before I left my job. But if three moves equal one small fire, an overseas move is depleted-uranium armaments crashing through the walls of one's household. I can think of nothing other than how to purge our household of all the stuff we can't take, and it's amazing that two people can accumulate this much stuff. The packers told me as we left that they'd packed 107 boxes. Simply amazing. And that doesn't include the bits of furniture we'll be taking with us. Tomorrow promises to be an immovable object meeting an irresistible force. The movers arrive, and shortly thereafter will arrive maid service and junk haulers. I've put out an appeal on my local freecycle list to prevent our belongings from ending in the landfill, but I fear much will. I have no patience, however, as tomorrow will really be my last chance to get bulky items out of the house. The house is listed on Wednesday, and the open house is Sunday, so we can't have garbage sitting in the house or on the curb.

The experience of selling and giving your belongings away certainly serves as food for thought about our relationship with our belongings, not to mention our fellow man. I'll probably post on that a little later. But not now.


What Is This?

An American couple--he an Illinois boy, she a Jersey girl--take an assignment in London, UK. She takes a transfer, he quits his job and goes freelance. Simple, eh?

(Let me just add that I will be fiddling with the template so I don't have the embarassing Blogger-newbie "edit me" links on the side. I know how to do this, I just don't have the time just yet to do it right.)

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