Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Random Photo Wednesday

The Black Friar. In Blackfriars. Near the Blackfriars Bridge.

Monday, November 27, 2006

I Went To A Picnic The Other Day ...

... and a cricket match broke out.

(Apologies to Rodney Dangerfield.)

Australia wins the first Ashes test by 277 runs.

Monday Faunablogging

From our recent stroll through St. James Park.

The pelicans of London aren't the most celebrated of birds.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Dancing On The Ashes

I've come a long way from my first times watching and listening to cricket test matches from the subcontinent. First of all, the radio I use to listen to cricket is much better now. And even more, the events are more important: The series on now is the Ashes, which is the only event any cricketer wants to win--assuming he comes from England or Australia.

In 2005, England won the Ashes for the first time in 16 years, so the expectations are high this year, which is probably why they have all but pronounced it over even though it's only the first match.

This morning, I was listening to the end of the match on BBC Five Live Sports Extra as English captain Andrew Flintoff mis-hit a ball that was caught on the fly--which, as in American baseball, means the batsman is out. At that point, you would have thought the whole contest was already over, based on the commentators' reaction. But hey--it's only day four of a five-day test, and there's four more of these to come.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

The Continuing Saga Of English As A Second Language

Note: It's not what you think it is.

Wednesday Florablogging

From a recent stroll through St. James Park.

Nobody ever writes songs about November roses.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

New Frontiers In Radio

We just bought a digital audio radio, which is kind of like satellite radio without having to pay fees to anybody. We can receive dozens of station from our flat high atop Highgate Hill, with a very clean sound and ease of tuning--just flip through an LCD menu and hit a button for the station you want to listen to. There's Chill radio, Kerrang radio, more BBC stations than you can shake a stick at, and XFM, to name a few (although no legitimate jazz stations, to my dismay). But I was flipping through the menu when I saw the following, and it made me laugh out loud.

Gaydar radio.

Yes, you read that right: Gaydar radio.

Gaydar radio is what you would imagine it to be: Club/dance music, lots of Cher, and ads for gay porn channels on cable TV (I don't mean to single that out--it's just the only ad I remember hearing).

The music isn't my cup of tea, although using it as the station the radio turns to when the alarm goes off might be a good thing. Nothing makes me want to get out of bed and turn off a radio like hearing Cher.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

It's Morning In America

Smells like ... victory.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Mrs. W learns some new words

Top toff boffins.

This is apparently what the London tabloid newspapers or redtops call Oxford University researchers in headlines. I found this very very amusing, especially after I tried to say it five times fast.

These papers also give colorful nicknames to such popular personalities as Macca, Madge and Jacko. It got me thinking; what would my redtop name be? I mean, Smitty would be Smitty. It's easy, it fits into headlines. Werby or Werbo might also work. I guess I'd be Mrs. W.

Sure, there are sites that give you your Unitarian Jihad Name or your Jedi and soap opera names but where's the redtop name generator, hmm? I propose taking the first syllable of your last name, and adding an o, a or y on the end of it. Who's with me?

Scene from a marriage

Smitty and I share many things in our marriage: laughs, tears -- and iTunes files.

But Smitty, being a music snob, doesn't always appreciate it when I am generous with my 80s pop. Yesterday he said to me: "I can forgive you for many things in our marriage, but I will never forgive you for putting Billy Ocean on my iPod."

This song, to be exact. Don't you think he should be flattered?

Watch out, boyo. This may be next!

Monday, November 06, 2006


The day after we returned from Italy, Mrs. Werbenmanjensen and I were lazing about the flat, tired from our 2 a.m. arrival home, when the door alarm buzzed. This was unusual for a Sunday, but I ran down to open the door.

"Voter registration!" said the smiling man who greeted me when I opened the front door of our building.

"Hi," I said.

At this moment, I remembered that I'd binned a mailer some weeks earlier, knowing that I didn't qualify to vote, but fearing that a response would put me in a jury selection pool regardless.

"I'd love to," I continued, "but I don't think I can."

He squinted at me. "American?"


He laughed, and then held up a clipboard with a sheet of paper showing the countries whose citizens can vote in UK elections if they live here. "Too bad," he said. "You're about the only blokes who can't."

I thanked him, and restrained myself from making a comment about a war two centuries earlier over just such issues.

But then I marvelled at a country that considers voting so important that not only do they send me registration materials, they also send registrars to my door if I fail to respond to them. It makes you think that maybe they want people to come to the polls, compared with some other countries I could name.

It's very strange living in a country where you know you have no political voice. You see politicians on the television, or read about them in the newspapers, and say to yourself, "I'd like to vote for them," and then realize you can't. Which is why I'm going to make a last-ditch appeal to my American readers to go vote tomorrow.

I'm going to make a second last-ditch appeal to any voters who haven't already made up their minds: vote Democratic.

I don't want this to become a political blog, in part because that's that's not its mission, but also because there are so many people who do a better job of it than I do (note: each word in blue links to a different political blog by people who are better at it than I am). But I do want to try to persuade undecided voters in the states to vote Democratic in part because there has been no more important issue in my sentient lifetime than the war in Iraq.

The cost of the war is as follows: 2,823 confirmed U.S. military deaths, 16 already this month as I write this; 44,779 U.S. wounded as of Sept. 30; $340 billion, as I write this; and 655,000 Iraqi deaths, more than the number of deaths caused by the man just sentenced to die.

In other words, this war is a failure. We fought and defeated a defanged enemy whose threat had been contained, doing nothing to inhibit the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and doing nothing to halt terrorism. In fact, our intervention created such anger in the Arab world that in fact more people are willing to fight and die to harm Americans than before the war.

The Democratic Party did not distinguish itself during the fight over whether to grant President Bush the authority to send troops into Iraq. Those of us who opposed the idea of the war from the beginning were portrayed as weak and as traitors, and the Democrats, unwisely in my opinion, decided they didn't want to be on the wrong side of that. I fully believe, however, that had Al Gore been president in 2002, neither the United States nor Great Britain would be in this war right now. And I firmly believe that the only way to reverse this is to change the leadership of this country.

Now, there's only one thing you can do to change it.

Steve Earle knows what to do ...

The revolution starts now, in your own backyard in your own hometown.

Go vote.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Happy Guy Fawkes Day

London has spent the weekend celebrating Guy Fawkes Night, a commemoration of the failed Gunpowder Plot of 1605. Last night Mrs. Werbenmanjensen hiked up to Parliament Hill, with the booms, cracks and pops of dozens of homegrown fireworks displays all around us, to see the officially sanctioned fireworks from the Ally Pally and from Battersea Park.

Atop Parliament Hill we could see a dozen or more of the backyard fireworks going off, in addition to the official displays, and of course one unofficial display at the top of the hill (from which the above photo was taken). I found it remarkable that ordinary blokes would be setting off fireworks in a public park unmolested, but maybe that's the custom here. Some police were keeping an eye on it, so maybe they planned on moving in for the arrests after it was over.

At one point, I turned to Mrs. W and asked, "Are we celebrating the failure of the plot, or the fact that somebody tried?" She didn't seem to know the answer either, so I put it to an English friend this morning. "I asked my wife the same thing, and she didn't know, and neither do I," was his reply. "I think people just like fireworks."

As I write this, at around 9:45 p.m., Londoners were still expressing their love of fireworks.

Overheard in the lunch queue

Sorry I haven't been posting much lately. Since we had some VIP visitors, I didn't want to spend my limited time with them in front of the computer.

In my triumphant return to posting, let me ask you a burning question that was thrust upon me in the lunch queue on Friday: When does history become history?

I was minding my own business, really, texting my friend as I waited my turn at the Thai food stand in Whitecross Street. But I couldn't help but overhear the quartet of blokes in front of me as they were talking about the History Channel.

Bloke #1: The History Channel considers it fair game to do a programme (this is how he would have spelled it, ok?) on something that happened two weeks ago. That's how they got away with doing all that on 9/11 so quickly.

Bloke #2: That's rubbish. To me, the 17th century, that's history. Yes, anything after the 17th century is really modern times.

Bloke #3: Yes, an order of pad thai please. Yes, with chicken, please.

So is it just me, or is that a really elitist attitude to take toward history? I can't bring myself to consider a time when women were essentially forced to get married or join a nunnery "modern times." On the other hand, it was nice to hear a bunch of 20-something young men passionately discussing history. You would not overhear this conversation in the U.S., unless you were in the queue at the nearest Chipotle to Harvard.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Living Memory

The memory of World War II remains more vivid here in London, I believe, than it does in the States. Of course millions of American served and thousands died, but with the exception of Pearl Harbor, the Aleutian Islands, and some incidents along coasts and rivers, the war was never fought on American soil.

London, on the other hand, was on the receiving end of millions of pounds of German ordnance during the Battle of Britain, which reshaped the face of London nearly as much as the Great Fire of 1666 did: Among other things, the Docklands wouldn't be what it is today without the destruction of East End factories during the Battle of Britain.

This is a long way of introducing the Cabinet War Rooms, which Schmutz and pal (bye!) visited during their visit here. (I'm writing mostly from memory here, as I last visited during the visit by Oldest Kid.) It was the undisclosed location of Churchill and his top civilian and military staff during the Battle of Britain and the rest of the war.

"Winston Churchill" phones Franklin Roosevelt from the special hotline cubby in the Cabinet War Rooms.

(I'm going to write this mostly from memory, as I didn't accompany Schmutz et al to the War Rooms this time. With low light and glass walls protecting the exhibits, it's not the most photogenic museum, either.)

The underground location afforded the war leaders secrecy and safety as bombs rained on London during the blitz. I can't imagine working and living in a basement like that for years, but people did extraordinary things during WWII. Such was the relief at the end of the war that it appeared that most people simply got up and left their desks immediately, without taking much with them, and the rooms were sealed and forgotten for many years before they were reopened and made into a monument. One left so quickly that he left behind his sugar ration in his desk, found intact decades later.

(Thanks to Schmutz for the photos.)

Friday, November 03, 2006

Friday Catblogging And Subsequent Caption Contest

From Avebury, the parking lot of the Red Lion. Enter your captions in comments.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Across The Pacific

Aussie Sarah, of Americans in Oz, is back home in Texas (I know where her real home is, as in where she was born, and it was nowhere near Texas, but I digress). She and Mark are now Travelling Texans. I'll update the link in the sidebar when I get around to popping the hood and playing with the template.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006


More impressive in many ways than Stonehenge is Avebury. While we know little of the people who built Stonehenge, how they built it, or why they built it, there is a persistent belief (although sometimes challenged) that it served some timekeeping purpose. Avebury, on the other hand, seems to be even more of a mystery.

It is prehistory's largest stone circle, however, and well worth a visit. So large is the circle that a small village has grown up in the middle, to the detriment of the historical site.

It is apparently less visited than Stonehenge, so one doesn't need to be part of a special tour to walk among Avebury's Sarsen stones--not even the sheep.

For some,the sheep are a bigger draw.

It being an English town, there's a thatched-roof pub in the middle.

(Thanks to Schmutz for photo of the pub and a close-up of the stone.)