Saturday, December 30, 2006

Repurposing The Tower Of London

The water moat outside the Tower of London's outer walls was an engineering feat. A Flemish engineer named John Le Fosser designed it so that tidal flows of the Thames River would feed the moat daily. With such a flow in the moat, the Tower's residents felt they could use the moat to, well, passively remove the waste produced inside the walls. It was unfortunate that over time sedimentation disrupted Le Fosser's design. It was even more unfortunate that the Tower's dwellers continued to dispose of their waste in the moat. By the time of Queen Victoria, the moat was nothing but an open sewer, and Victoria wisely ordered the moat to be drained.

Today, you can skate there.

The Tower's rink is one of several temporary rinks set up throughout the city over the holidays, including one near our flat, in Hampstead Heath.

Labels: , , , ,

Friday, December 29, 2006

Friday Sunriseblogging

This is about the only evidence we have of the sun's existence.

Labels: ,

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Thursday Cathedralblogging

St. Paul's Cathedral, in a light drizzle Boxing Day evening.

Labels: ,

An Audience With The Queen

If you care, you can get Queen Elizabeth II's Christmas speech via podcast from the the royal family's web page. It was the first time the speech was podcast. I believe this is one of two scheduled speeches the monarch gives her people each year. The other one, of course, is at the opening of Parliament, which the prime minister writes for her and she reads with all the enthusiasm of a person who's just bitten into a mud sandwich. The queen, or her speechwriters, actually author the Christmas speech, on the other hand. I have no idea if there was news in the Christmas speech, since I didn't read the paper on Monday. Probably not.

Labels: , , ,

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

New Blogger: Maybe We Should Consider Classic Blogger?

Downstairs, I noted that that New Blogger was a hit. Then, one of the top 20 blogs in the blogosphere was swallowed during the migration process, causing those of us who gather there to do silly things like this and this. Then Mrs. Werbenmanjensen had her odyssey. It may be time for the marketing folks at Blogger/Google to try the Classic Coke escape hatch.


Memos From Scrooge, Cont'd

Mrs. Werbenmanjensen has already noted the cost of sending Christmas cards to the States. The converse of it is that many of our friends and family managed to get their Christmas cards sent to us for the standard U.S. Postal Service 39-cent domestic stamp. That's a mere 20 pence. It's a Christmas miracle!

Labels: ,

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Smoking Bishop

After a brief odyssey with the new Blogger, here's a Boxing Day post from me:

Now, Smitty has already mentioned our Boxing Day walk, and my post is a bit of a post-script to that. The walk ended in the shadow of St. Paul's Cathedral (stay tuned for cool photos by Smitty, I'm sure). At that point, our guide and her husband (who reminded me of my grandfather in his elven Santa cap with a sprig of mistletoe on the end of it) handed out copies of a recipe for bishop, a kind of mulled wine popular in Victorian times at Christmas, which I think got its name from being the bishop's nightcap.

It wasn't that they were trying to encourage drinking, even though it was getting nippy, and some mulled wine would have gone down nicely. It was because at the end of A Christmas Carol, Dickens writes:
"A Merry Christmas, Bob!" said Scrooged with an earnestness that could not be mistaken, as he clapped him on the back. "A merrier Christmas, Bob, my good fellow, than I have given you for many a year! I'll raise your salary, and endeavor to assist your struggling family, and we will discuss your affairs this very afternoon, over a Christmas bowl of smoking bishop, Bob!"
If it's good enough for Scrooge and Crachit, it's good enough for you, dear readers. Recipe below. Please try it and tell us what you think!

Bishop -- a fine old nightcap
2 small oranges
8 cloves
8 allspice berries OR 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 pint water
1 bottle of port
1-inch piece of cinnamon
2 small pieces of black mace
2 small pieces of ginger root
6 lumps of sugar rubbed over the rind of a lemon
a pinch of grated nutmeg
Directions: Stick the cloves into the oranges and either roast slowly in front of a slow fire or bake in a pan in a slow oven for about 45 minutes. Put the cinnamon, mace, allspice and ginger root with the water into a saucepan and bring to a boil, then let it boil until it has reduced by a third. Put the spices and water into a large warmed bowl with the roasted oranges and the sugar lumps. Heat the port, but do NOT let it boil, then pour over the fruit and spices. Stir well, then grate the nutmeg over the top and serve hot. Keep warm over a slow flame but never let it boil. Serves 6-8.

Some Just Know It As 30 St. Mary Axe

London's most distinctive latter-day building is known as the Gherkin, or sometimes, Erotic Gherkin, and has been featured here a few times before, mostly from our vantage point up in Highgate. This afternoon, we took an "A Christmas Carol" themed London Walk (one of the best tourist values in London) to celebrate Boxing Day. Our guide was full of stories, many of which had nothing to do with the novel or Dickens. The best had to do with an alternate name for the Gherkin. But first, a little London history.

In 1851, London hosted the first World's Fair, known as the Great Exhibition. Now I'll let Wikipedia do a little talking.
The Crystal Palace was an iron and glass building originally erected in London's Hyde Park to house the Great Exhibition of 1851. More than 14,000 exhibitors from around the world were gathered inside to display examples of the latest technology developed in the Industrial Revolution. Designed by Joseph Paxton, the Great Exhibition building was 1,850 feet in length (560 m) and 110 feet (33 m) tall.

After the exhibition the building was moved to Upper Norwood where it was enlarged, and stood from 1854 until 1936. It attracted many thousands of visitors from all levels of society. The name Crystal Palace was coined by the satirical magazine Punch. The name was later used to denote this area of south London and the park that surrounds the site, home of the Crystal Palace National Sports Centre.

The Crystal Palace burned down in 1936.

Now, returning to the present, the architect who built the Gherkin, Norman Foster, also built the new London city hall, which, because of its shape, earned the name "The Glass Testicle" after its completion in 2002. Upon seeing the completion of the Foster's work on the Gherkin two years later, the same wags who gave the London city hall its off-color name decided that "The Crystal Phallus" was fitting.

Labels: , , ,

Monday, December 25, 2006

Happy Christmas

Mrs. W and I are slow to arise this morning. Yesterday we made a turkey dinner. Thanks to two very expensive organic, free-range turkeys purchased from our butcher shop in the last month, along with a lot of homemade sausage in the 10 months we've lived in Highgate, I'm now on a first-name basis with the butcher. After dinner, we took a long nap, then went to midnight mass, meeting the folks from the Polish-language mass as they came out the door. I believe there were at least a half-dozen priests, many of whom I've never heard say mass, on the altar. The monastery attached to the church has a small community of Passionists living in it. Thus we were rather late to bed, especially since Mrs. W wanted to call her family while extended members were all gathered in one place for Christmas Eve. Today we'll live like ex-pats without family: Go on a Dickens walk with London Walks and have dinner at some place run by a non-Christian.

Now to an issue I've been wanting to bring up for some time: Is Christmas more commercial here? As Rev. Lovejoy might say, "Short answer yes with an if, long answer no with a but." The advertisements seemed to start later and sustained less intensity. The Guardian noted in an editorial "in praise of Thanksgiving," written by somebody who hadn't spent much time in America during November or December, that
Thanksgiving also fulfils an even more valuable function. It acts as a dam that keeps Christmas in its place.
British retail's compulsion to start Christmas in September barely exists in America - because the cultural importance of Thanksgiving confines Christmas mania to a single month.

Now, I will say to American readers, after you stop giggling, newspaper editorialists are allowed to be wrong. So are bloggers, I guess. It may be that since I don't spend any time in a central business district, unlike Mrs. Werbenmanjensen, I seldom set foot in major retailers and therefore was rather sheltered from the decorations and music that can tire the mind by the time Dec. 25 rolls around.

One thing we have noted, and it was Mrs. Werbenmanjensen who brought it up first, is a lot more advertisements urging people to get their hair/shoes/clothes/nails "just right" for their holiday parties. We were invited to only one. Mrs. W's firm is American, and therefore doesn't have a Christmas party (although it throws one hell of a summer party--pagans!), so our company Christmas party was last night's turkey. It looks this morning like nobody tried to photocopy any body parts, so I won't have to discipline any of the workers.

Labels: , , ,

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Season Cycle

Darling don't you ever stop to wonder
About the clouds about the hail and thunder
'Bout the baby and its umbilical
Who's pushing the pedals on the season cycle

The fog broke overnight, which I hope will have provide some relief for those travelers stuck in the "freezing hell" of Heathrow (thanks again, Daily Mixed Metaphor, I mean, Evening Standard). If you want to find out what it's doing as you read this, look downstairs on the right sidebar for the Weather Pixie.

And speaking of cycles, I took the opportunity to have a spin on mine up to Hertford (pronounced like the capital of Connecticut) for coffee on a day that was drippy, wet and cold, but nothing that would keep a determined cyclist indoors. The damp, draining chill that I had come to associate with the fog was still with us.
Just past the fringes of London, it appeared that just a little snow had accumululated overnight. In the countryside, I found myself amazed at how very typically green the English countryside was still, only a day after the winter solstice. Sure, most of the deciduous trees had dropped their leaves, and the very English hedges were thrusting bony bare branches skyward, but the grass in the pasture, the ivy in the ditchbanks, and even plants in the field--I don't know what they were, but they had broad leaves and therefore were not winter wheat--were still that deep, persistent green I've seen nowhere but here. For me it evoked the above-quoted song quoted above by that quirky English band XTC, a song that explained the English pastoralists' understanding of death and regeneration. I'll let NYMary at the delightful blog Powerpop explain more about it here (and, ironically, one of her recent posts as of today quotes from yet another XTC song). It seems strange at this rather holy time for Christians, I suppose, to think of a decidedly anti-theistic song from an album that had as its hit another decidedly anti-theistic song. But on the other hand, the solstice gives us a chance to pause and consider the natural forces that regulate the rhythms of our lives.

Labels: , ,

Friday, December 22, 2006

The Bureacratic Moebius Strip

"Hi, I'd like to register for a National Insurance number."
"We will need to see proof that you're working or actively looking for work. Are you working right now?"
"I'm self-employed."
"Are you registered as self-employed?"
"No. I need a National Insurance number to register as self-employed."
"We can't give you a National Insurance number unless you're working."
"I am working."
"You just said you weren't."
"I'm self employed."
"That doesn't mean anything. Are registered as self-employed?"
"I can't register as self-employed unless I have a National Insurance number."
"We can't give you a National Insurance number unless you're working ..."

(Happily, the people at HM Revenue and Customs were much more helpful. You know, I'm only doing this because I want to be a good citizen. I could have just simply tried to work and not pay taxes ...)

Labels: , ,

Friday Fogblogging

Perhaps you've read about Britain's killer fog (thanks, tabloids). It hung around all day yesterday and appears to be back this morning. I'm glad I'm not traveling anywhere.

On a clear day, from this vista in Waterlow Park, one can see the breadth of central London. Today you can't see 100 yards.

Same view, more or less, flash off, long exposure.

Highgate Hill Road, flash off, long exposure. This shot is kind of how the fog makes everything feel--blurry and indistinct.

ADDED at 6:35 p.m.: The Evening Standard, which for reasons that will be clear when you finish the sentence doesn't publish its news online, published as its cover headline today the words "Freezing Hell" to describe the scene at Heathrow. Um, freezing hell? That's what happens when the Cubs win the World Series.

Labels: , ,

Thursday, December 21, 2006

New Blogger: It's A Hit!

I've just moved Americans Amuck over to the "new" blogger, which looks to the reader, and, frankly, the user, a lot like the "old" blogger. Google has been beta-testing this new platform for awhile, but I've resisted until this point. Now it appears that they're trying to push us all onto this new platform, which is fine, so I'll go along with it. There are more capabilities to the "new" blogger that will allow you to make your blog look like the more sophisticated ones on TypePad or WordPress (please do not mention MySpace in MyPresence--too many unicorns and ducklings and kittens and puppies and script fonts over in that hellhole). This is a keep it simple blog, so the main difference you will notice is that I've begun applying labels beneath each post. If you click on a label, it will allow you to read all the posts in a given category, assuming I have the patience to go back through and put labels on all 330-some posts we've written in the last year. I would like to do it, given that I hope this blog can be useful for anybody who is traveling or moving here. Whether I have the time or the patience is another matter entirely.


Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Io, Saturnalia!

The winter solstice isn't for another 40 hours or so, but as the singer said of California, the days are short and the nights are long. This is just another in a series of recent colorful sunrises over London.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

The Continuing Saga Of English As A Second Language

Hose clamp (American English)=Jubilee clip (English English). I asked the helpful Polish clerk (pronounced "clark") at our local DIY for a hose clamp, who kicked it over to one of the English staffers, who assured me that I wanted a jubilee clip.

The handy English2American dictionary does not note this term. If you Google jubilee clip, the first page is hits from UK sites, so you get an idea of the common users of this term. Going to takes you to the web site of L. Robinson Co., which tells you that Jubilee is a registered trademark of that company (so the term is used much like Kleenex or Xerox), with the happy note
Remember: not all hose clips are JubileeĀ® Clips, but all JubileeĀ® Clips are manufactured to exacting standards and delivered with exceptional service - because we believe looking after our customers today, looks after our business for tomorrow

(Memo to the L. Robinson Co.: It's just a few pence worth of metal.)

Not to make so much of a mundane event, but I began to wonder at the name. Quite often, if something here bears the name of "jubilee," it usually is done in a year that commemorates a certain important anniversary in a king's or queen's reign. So what possessed the head of the L. Robinson Co., in 2002 (probably not), or in 1977 (probably not either), or in 1897 (more likely) to decide that to honor the queen he would name after her this little bit of metal that's frequently used to make sure sewage goes in the right direction?

Inquiring minds want to know.


Sunday, December 17, 2006

Dancing On The Ashes, Cont'd Yet Again

Mrs. Werbenmanjensen and I were having a Sunday lunch at our local pub when our downstairs neighbor, a Glaswegian by birth, popped in for a drink with a mate. We began discussing our plans for Christmas, and he mentioned that he would be flying to Australia for "the cricket," as he put it, with a wry aside, "not that it will matter." Yes, folks, they play all five matches, even though 10 days' worth of play are for naught, simply because people have purchased tickets ....

(ADDED) It's over. In reaction to an interview with an England player who said the team would like to win a test match in Australia, a BBC Five Live announcer just said, "They'll probably go to Melbourne and get another thrashing."

Labels: ,

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Fun at Covent Garden

Covent Garden is a popular shopping plaza with lots of cafes and ... street performers. It's a stone's throw from various West End theaters, the National Gallery, Trafalgar Square and the Royal Opera House.

Labels: ,

Friday, December 15, 2006

Dancing On The Ashes, Cont'd Again

I haven't gotten enthusiastic about following the third test of the Ashes, if only because the result appeared to be a foregone conclusion. Let's face it: After England's catastrophe in the second test, it looked like a 3-0 World Series. It appears my instinct may have been correct.

Labels: ,

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Eye See You

The London Eye, from the Thames.

Labels: ,

Sunday, December 10, 2006

The Spy Next Door

You may have seen reports on the mysterious death of Alexander Litvinenko, an ex-Russian security agent who defected to the U.K. from London and lived not far from us in Muswell Hill. Turns out he's even closer to us in death -- he was buried last week in Highgate Cemetery, where rest such famous expats as Karl Marx and the former head of the Iraqi Communist Party. A Yeoman Warder at the Tower of London, upon hearing we lived in Highgate, joked that there was a communist plot in Highgate Cemetery. Turns out he may be on to something...

Labels: , ,

Cricket Madness

Last night we went to the Christmas party for Smitty's running club last night. (They still call them Christmas parties here, because they actually have a state religion, and it's Christianity.) It was at a place called Tupelo Honey, which had nothing whatsoever to do with Southern cuisine. But anyway...

We were chatting with a nice Australian couple about the Ashes, and they informed us that while Australia had won the tournament, winning the first three of five tests, they were still going to play the next two tests. This would be like having the Cubs win the World Series in game 5*, but playing games 6 and 7 anyway, to kind of rub it in. "But wouldn't you rather be on the beach with your trophy?" I asked. Clearly we were not going to come to an understanding, especially not after that bottle of Rioja.

Then an Englishman piped up: "But it's not the World Series. Cricket is nothing like baseball!" I said, "Yeah, cuz baseball MAKES SENSE." I may not get invited back to the party next year. Oh well!

* This would never happen, but it's fun to tease the Cubs fans, isn't it?

Labels: , , ,

Friday, December 08, 2006

It's Not Football, It's Gridiron

The American game may be following us to London, the Guardian tells us (scroll down to the second headline):
London is on a shortlist of five cities being considered to host an NFL game next year. Nail-biting, isn't it? Shall we send them Watford v Charlton in return? It would, I'm sure, be a great accolade to be chosen it but if it does come here, as the late Peter Cook said to David Frost in response to a dinner invitation from the Duke and Duchess of York: "Oh dear. I find I'm watching television that night."

The prices of NFL tickets being what they are, I'm guessing this will be a relative bargain compared to seeing a game in the States--and easier than getting tickets for Arsenal.

Twistin' The Day Away

Thirty-seven years of life in the United States taught me to expect extreme weather events. Growing up on a farm also taught me, for example, that one should never speak on a telephone during a thunderstorm. But I was getting accustomed to, perhaps even enjoying, the gentler, if more frequent, variations in the weather here on this green island.

So it came as some surprise to me yesterday afternoon when Mrs. Werbenmanjensen emailed me a news report about a tornado that had hit the neighborhood of Kensal Rise, a little too close for comfort. In 37 years of living in the United States, I probably have never been this close to a tornado touchdown.

It's unusual: more unusual than an ex-Soviet spy poisoned by polonium, if you are familiar with other such events. Let's just hope that English weather returns to its normal, gentle nature soon.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

I Have A Dream

An early-morning rainstorm is battering our windows, which is keeping me from setting foot out into a dark gray (some might call it a pale black) London morning. So I'll share a thought with you:

The helpful Blogger dashboard tells me that this is our 327th post since we started this blog Jan. 16. I think it a not unreasonable goal to shoot for 365 posts by Jan. 16, 2007, to average one a day. This, of course, has required us to make up for full weeks when were unable to post any because we didn't take a computer with us on a couple of vacations. I'd say 38 posts in the next five weeks is doable. What do you all think?

Random Photo Friday

Tower of London sentry, mid-stomp.

If the whole military thing doesn't work out, they can probably audition for, you know, Stomp.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Memos from Scrooge

To: Those who didn't make the already-exclusive Werbenmanjensen holiday card list

It cost the equivalent of $2.20 to send each card to the U.S., and if I send too many, I can't deny Bob Crachit that raise he needs to feed Tiny Tim et. al. If the pound stays this high, I'm moving my operation to Florida.

To: Those who did make the already-exclusive Werbenmanjensen holiday card list

You're getting e-cards next year. Bah humbug!

To: Those about to rock

We salute you.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

The Prince Of Insufficient Lighting

One consequence of the nearly 17 hours of daylight we get in midsummer is the long nights in December. Right now, it's nearly 8 a.m. before the sun rises, and it sets before 4 p.m. Mrs. Werbenmanjensen only sees the flat in the dark (which, some would say, helps to disguise its aesthetically, um, challenging aspects).

The upside is that you don't have to be an early riser, or even ambitious, to see the sunrise. With the low sun, the sunrises have been rather colorful--even, sometimes, asserting themselves over cloud cover:

The natives, meanwhile, have chosen to light a single candle--or multiple candles--rather than curse the darkness.

This is, of course, the High Street in Highgate. When I first saw these lights 10 months ago, I hoped they would be lit year-round, but I've only seen them on in the past couple of weeks--probably just a holiday thing.

Dancing On The Ashes, Cont'd

England have evidently snatched defeat from the jaws of a draw in the second Ashes test.

Somebody who understands more about cricket--and suffers from insomnia--needs to explain what happened. Something about losing nine wickets ....

Monday, December 04, 2006

Inspiration point

John Wesley, full of grace,
The Lord was with thee;
On this blessed spot did you feel Him,
That now is the roundabout at Aldersgate:

O Wesley, Father of Methodism,
Pray for us Londoners now,
And at the hour of rush. Amen.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Ashen Faced

The first day of the second Ashes test finishes with England up 266 for 3.

Ironic comment of the day, from a BBC announcer: "In modern day test cricket, spectators are expecting ... all kinds of action."

Friday Fractured English Graffitiblog

In the foreground, stones left from a Spartan fortress, in Taranto, Italy.