Saturday, September 30, 2006

Light Blogging

Mrs. W and I won't be blogging for about a week (like that's a big change lately), so I thought I'd leave you with the suggestion to click on the many fine links to the right of the screen, including Aussie Sarah's fine blog. Also, I'm going to play my (in the words of the divine TBogg) "blogger's get-out-of-jail-free card" by doing one of these embedded video thingies below, for your musical entertainment. So take it away, Asylum Street Spankers:

(Please note: For the sensitive reader, this song has a bad word or two, and also has a couple of double entendres. But it's entertaining.)

Friday, September 29, 2006

The Queen and I, Part Deux

So getting back to Smitty's post, we visited Buckingham Palace for the first time. Yes, we actually got into the palace! There is a group of ex-pats that got a tour of the Queen's dresses (80 of which are on display for her 80th birthday year) and her private art collection. At least, a small segment of it.

But first, the dresses. The first thing that you notice is that the Queen is short. This is not much of a surprise, I guess, but you can't help but notice it. Also, the 70s were NOT a good decade for fashion. See here for details. The jewels on display were very impressive. I told Smitty he needs a few more freelance gigs!

Then there was the art collection. Well. HM The Queen has a Vermeer. And apparently more Cannolettos than room to put them in. Of particular note were a family portrait of the Queen's great grandmum, Queen Victoria, and a funky clock made for one of the King Georges. We met a very nice chap who was the finance director for the private collection, and he told us a funny story about how he got his job, and how even still he wanders the halls sometimes hoping for a glimpse of Liz. Oh, did I mention the free wine? The palace knows hospitality -- but only when the Windsors are out of town.

And as we were leaving, we were invited to pursue the royal gift shoppe. It was a bit cheesy, although I understand the Christmas ornaments (not yet available) are very desirable at the holidays. I believe Smitty saw the discount sign on a stack of books. The mini-crowns were still full price.

Lunchtime Tips For American Ex-Pats

Visit the Magna Carta room at the British Library, just to remember what habeas corpus was.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Three Words You Don't Expect To See On The Grounds Of Buckingham Palace

"Reduced to clear."

More later.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

The Queen and I

Yesterday my new friend and I went to go see a movie that has tongues wagging all over Britain: The Queen. I am not sure it's showing in the U.S. yet so do check your local movie listings, but let me tell you: If you see one movie this year, see Casablanca.

No, seriously, this is worth seeing because it provides some insight into how aristocracy works (or doesn't). The closest we have to aristocracy in the U.S. are this idiot and people related to this ex-president. No sacred traditions there. It also reminds you that the U.K. doesn't have a written constitution, which is, at least to this American, really really scary. Of course, even when you do have one, nonsense like this can happen.

But back to the film: Dame Helen Mirren does indeed give an Oscar-worthy performance as E2R (tell me that's not an uncanny resemblance), and James Cromwell spot on as the Duke of Edinburgh. The film records the week of Princess Diana's death, and how Downing Street (in the person of Tony Blair) and the royal family each dealt with the aftermath of the tragedy. The director spliced in actual news footage of the funeral, of people weeping in the mall outside Buckingham Palace, so Smitty wouldn't have liked it. (Too much "Diana worship.") But I did. (Yes, OK, I have Princess Diana's funeral on videotape, so what?) It's an interesting portrait of the institutions that rule Britain. I am reluctant to say too much, lest I be labeled a "spoiler."

Friday, September 15, 2006

Friday Viewblogging

This week, Friday Viewblogging will be held at its regularly scheduled time.

The River Ness, Inverness.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Wednesday Gravestoneblogging

This week, Wednesday gravestoneblogging will take place on Thursday.

"Nothing to be done ..."

(Photos from last Paris trip.)

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Father (of) Time

I glossed over a bit of the history of the development of Greenwich Mean Time and maritime timekeeping instruments in my account of visiting the Royal Observatory. I certainly don't want to ruin the end of the story for anybody planning to visit Greenwich (and for museum freaks, it is cool to see the early models of the maritime clocks, particularly how they were squeezed down to the size of a pocketwatch in the space of a generaton--take that, Sony!). To whet your appetite for such a visit, however, please allow me to introduce you to John Harrison.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

In Other News ...

A reader has inquired privately about my new haircut, and I can assure you that, most days anyway, it's not as radical as portrayed. When you spend most days with your two computers and interacting almost exclusively with a newsagent, a barista, and your wife, you don't get too excited about hair product.

However, I will note that there is other appearance news. On my birthday trip to Greenwich, I did something that a TV character once described as "rebellious, in a conformist sort of way." Fire up those search engines if you want to know.

Monday Scooterblogging

This week's Monday Scooterblogging will be held on Tuesday.

Seen at the Portobello Road Market, back in June.

Friday, September 08, 2006

East is East, and West is West

But sometimes the 'twain do meet ....

Mrs. Werbenmanjensen straddles the Prime Meridian.

Tuesday was my birthday, which I share with Jesse James and King Louis XIV of France. Mrs. Werbenmanjensen took the day off and gave me the best gift of all, which was to spend the day with me, so we decided to take a boat cruise down the Thames to Greenwich, home of the Prime Meridian, the Royal Observatory, and the birthplace of time.

(A brief digression, my father is an Amateur Radio enthusiast, and one of my more distinct memories growing up was of him periodically tuning into a broadcast of the U.S. atomic clock in Boulder to reset his watch on the exact time as coordinated worldwide. It was the sort of thing that fed my family's near-religious devotion to punctuality--we never arrived anywhere later than 10 minutes early. When catching flights, it tended to be close to two hours early, back in the days when airport security consisted of an eyeball check. I've mostly broken myself of this, except when it comes to catching flights. If I had a better camera, the above photo would demonstrate that my watch, which also is set to Greenwich Mean Time, accessed online, has lost only two seconds since I last set it. But this, as I said, is a digression.)

Set up on top of a hill in Greenwich, the Royal Observatory gives you some fine views of London ...

... but it's just as fascinating inside. Without a standard time or zero east-west point, navigation was challenging for mariners. North-south was easier: You had a natural zero line in the equator and could measure your distance north or south based on the angle of the sun. Stars were helpful, but still many ships, seamen, and cargoes were lost to an inability to determine east-west coordinates.

Enter the Royal Observatory. The English simply decided that the zero line, the Prime Meridian, would be an imaginary line cutting through the Royal Observatory. Meanwhile, work went on to find timepieces that mariners could use to keep time at the Prime Meridian to help them figure out how far east or west they were.

This ball was reset at the bottom of the spire at 1 p.m. each day. From the Thames, mariners could look for the ball and reset their watches by the ball on their way down the river to the open ocean.

And speaking of the river cruise:

The Tower Bridge from downriver

The White Tower at the Tower of London

Not a happy way to enter the Tower. Those who did often lost their heads.

And finally, a few film clips taken with my mobile phone. Some of them contain narration from our happy crew. (Others contain chatter from umpteen school groups.)

Friday Moonblogging

(With apologies to Drew Carey.)

Moon over London, bring my love to me tonight.
Guide her to Highgate, underneath your silvery light.
We’re watching football
So don’t lose her in Vauxhall.
Moon over London, tonight!

Sunday, September 03, 2006

The Tour of Britain

As I have mentioned elsewhere, I am a big fan of bicycle racing. And it's not often that a world champion in a sport you follow just happens to be riding a short walk from your house, but so it was today when the Tour of Britain wound up its sixth and final stage in London. The locals are viewing this as a preview of next year's Tour de France Grand Depart and the 2012 Olympic Games, and they delivered a show up in the humble highlands above the city. I went out in my U.S. club colors and with my camera to take in the show.

Highgate was the "king of the mountain" point of the race, the chance for the guys who can ride fast uphill but not necessarily on flat terrain to compete with one another. I've taken the road they used on bicycle a few times myself. It's a 10+ percent grade for roughly a kilometer, and really kind of hurts at the top as the grade really steepens. I knew well enough where the decisive move would be on the hill, and the race (and terrain) did deliver.

The cumulative King of the Mountains competition for the whole race is wrapped up by Andy Schleck, a Luxembourger whose brother Frank distinguished himself at the Tour de France's most epic stage earlier this year. But two were fighting for second--one from a European ProTour squad and one from a team that competes mostly in Great Britain's smaller races. For the latter to beat the former would be like, well, the Iowa Cubs beating the Chicago Cubs.

Now, I don't know for certain that this is what happened today on Highgate West Hill, but based on the way the competition was going, I suspect this is what happened.

Here, Ben Greenwood of England's smallish team jumps ahead of the pack to try to take the maximum points at the top.

And here, ProTour Davitamon Lotto's Bert Roesems slices just inches from me in his chase of Greenwood.

(Note: I don't know what happened at the top, and probably won't for a little while.)

... and the rest.

And it was all over in two minutes.

When people learned we were moving to London, one of the frequent questions people asked me was whether I was going to follow the Tour de France. I'm really not that interested in it--except for maybe the last day in Paris, when the race passes you several times on the Champs Elysees. When I watch on TV, I see the whole of the race, not just the snapshot that passes me after an hour's wait. I'm sure it's fun camping out on a mountainside and partying with Dutch (or German, or French, or Italian, or Spanish) fans at the Tour. I'd just rather watch it on TV. As with football, you get a better picture of the action.