Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Speaking Of Sport

I know we weren't, but I thought it worth noting that Americans performed well this weekend in sports usually dominated by Europeans: Nordic skiing and cyclocross.


Reality TV Is To Reality ...

... what professional wrestling is to wrestling.

Our long annual nightmare is finally over.

(We don't even watch the show, and yet it just seeps into your consciousness.)

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Monday, January 29, 2007

Monday Sunriseblogging

London's winter skies keep delivering.

(You could think of this being my version of Monet's haystack series, but I would never say anything so pretentious. Wait ... I just did.)

ADDED: Bonus photos for January's fifth Monday:

(Notice the narrow window between horizon and cloud deck. sigh)


Sunday, January 28, 2007


Yesterday was my xxth birthday, and Smitty showed me a good time.

We hit the matinee showing of Spamalot, the musical based on the classic British comedy film Monty Python and the Holy Grail. My favorite number was a send-up of sentimental Broadway showpieces, a la "Memory" from Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical Cats.

We had some time to kill before our dinner reservation, so we walked through Berwick Street looking at CDs in the music stores there, and wandered through Covent Garden. Then we dined at Origin, a relatively new spot near the West End theaters. The food was amazing! We were served a butternut squash soup in a teacup, a kind of palate cleanser I think, and then I had pork lasagna to start, followed by venison pot roast served with a broccoli puree and sheets of hibicus flowers. Mmmm. Smitty had a ravioli of some kind to start, and then a nice thick steak fillet. It was Spamtastic!

Friday, January 26, 2007

Snow News Is Good News

Interesting to note that it's not just certain American cities that can't handle a little snow.

From my vantage point on Highgate Hill, it looked like everything was OK, but what do I know?

ADDED: Annie Mole has a good photo of the apology posted in Tube stations Wednesday afternoon. Go over and read it aloud, in the style of John Cleese being dangled from the penthouse window in A Fish Called Wanda, because it's more fun that way.

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Wednesday, January 24, 2007

The Real Estate Blues

Reader Fatslug the Impetuous has tipped us off to an interesting article about London real estate prices:
Almost anywhere else, the tiny dilapidated studio wouldn't attract much more than mice. But this is London and the 77-square-foot former storage room — slightly bigger than a prison cell and without electricity — is going for $335,000.

The closet-sized space in the exclusive Knightsbridge neighborhood may be only "about the size of a ship's galley, said real estate agent Andrew Scott, who's handling the sale. "But it's permanently anchored to one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in the world."

It gets better.
A coffin-sized shower is en suite, and storage is provided by a shallow closet and 10-inch-deep shelves cut into the wall. Two hot plates and a small sink make up the kitchen. Two dirty windows allow light to filter into the basement room, and the fire escape could conceivably double as a shared patio.

With no electricity or heating, Scott said it would cost an additional $59,000 to make the room habitable.

Topped off by the ultimate bit of estate agent BS:
"It is an investment," he said, as he stretched his arms the width of the room, laying his palms flat on opposite sides of the wall.

Fatslug's comment:
How the #$%@ do you afford it there???

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Wednesday Sunriseblogging

This is a first ....

I see the kids all heading to school on snowy pavement, unlike some U.S. cities I could name.

It's been a week for unusual weather. First the mini-hurricane, and now a soft blanket of snow ....

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Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Health and Taxes

Yesterday I went to the local doctor's office for a routine screening. I was impressed with the system for checking in -- a touch screen that asks you for your birthday and gender, then lets your nurse or doctor know you're there. I waited for two minutes and was ushered into the exam room. A nurse was performing an exam that a doctor would do in the States, and frankly, a nurse can do it more cost-efficiently.

Thinking everything went well, I was about to leave the room when the nurse told me to fill out an envelope at the desk so they could mail me my test results. OK. My dentist in DC used to have me do as much. Then she told me I needed a stamp. Huh? Apparently all my NHS tax dollars aren't enough to supply the GPs with stamps. Fortunately, I had 30p on me and was able to buy one at the desk. Honestly, who goes to the doctor's office with stamps? The English, apparently.

After that, I trekked to the Post Office, hoping that Royal Mail had finally delivered the Christmas bounty sent by Smitty's kind parents. I was half right. It was from Smitty's folks, but it was my birthday present -- a much needed hat and scarf. Just in time for the drop in temperatures!

Then I went to work, where I found an email from my accountant. Seems I owe Her Majesty one pound ($1.98) in taxes. My accountant said I could apply this to any refund I might get next year. Thrilled, I said, let's do that. Then they said there would be a penalty for doing that. How much? A few pence, as the amount is so small. So I can't apply it to a refund then? Well I can, I just have to pay a penalty. Sigh. Bloody accountants. I have to decide by Jan. 31 how to handle it.

In other news

Ricky Martin is NOT gay. Just tossing this in to see if Smitty notices.

Strike Three

I guess I haven't been paying attention, but Annie Mole tells us the Tube may be subject to a strike sometime in February.

Mrs. Werbenmanjensen already had to withstand a one-day strike on her bus line a couple of months back.

Now would be a good time to start riding a bike to work, for those who don't already, I guess.

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Sunday, January 21, 2007

O Canada!/O Palace!

I began watching English Premiership football a few years back in the States thanks to Fox Sports World (which I believe is now called Fox Soccer Channel). Watching the games, one of the things I always admired was the crowd's enthusiasm. All game long, the spectators would sing hymns to their team, and it wasn't just a few spectators; it seemed to be the entire audience. The only thing that seems to come close to the enthusiasm of English soccer fans is maybe the fans of the New York Yankees, or maybe Philadelphia Eagles fans when they're busy booing Santa Claus or throwing snowballs with alkaline-battery cores at the opposing team's players. English football sides, on the other hand, seemed to all have fans that sing and chant all match long.

Fast forward a couple of years and I of course live in London. I'm learning of the great tradition of bleacher chants among the Britain's football faithful (including one clever, wicked, yet somewhat racist and sectarian one directed at Shunsuke Nakamura, the midfielder for Glasgow Celtic. He's Japanese, while chow mein is a Chinese dish, and his status as a resident alien in Scotland probably precludes his voting for Northern Ireland's Sinn Fein party.)

In any case, last night we were invited to a Canadian themed pub in Soho to celebrate the birthday of a friend of Mrs. Werbenmanjensen. (Side note: Not a single game of ice hockey on TV, but Indiana U was busy beating UConn in basketball.) We happened to sit next to two gents not affiliated with our little party who initially declared allegiance to the Edmonton Oilers, but later on disclosed that they were in fact fans of Crystal Palace FC, which of course takes its name from the Crystal Palace. The Palace had been in the Premier league when I first started watching English football, but have since been relegated to a lower league (although my new friends assure me the Palace is now "gagging for promotion" from 18 points down).

Crystal Palace had fought magnificently to a 1-1 draw against Hull earlier in the day, so my new friends were eager to teach me one of the Palace bleacher songs.

To the tune of "Land of Hope and Glory" (you know it as "Pomp and Circumstance"):

We all fol-low the Pa-lace,
Over land and sea (and Brighton!)
We all fol-low the Pal-ace
On to vic-tory
(all to-gether now)

And it kind of goes on from there. You can go to this web site for more of the Palace cheers, although some of them have some very naughty words.

I will never be able to go to a graduation ceremony again without thinking of Crystal Palace FC.

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Friday, January 19, 2007


Mrs. Werbenmanjensen and I survived the mini-hurricane in fine shape. It helps that we've been through worse, including nine days without power following a tropical storm.

At periods during yesterday afternoon, I could hear rubbish bins rolling down the street, and a slate shingle came crashing off the roof of our building onto the pavement below. And while this building is solid brick, I could feel it shaking at times. This morning, the normal gentle weather has returned.

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Wednesday, January 17, 2007

The Best Bureaucracy Money Can Buy, Cont'd

The Royal Mail, making the U.S. Postal Service look like geniuses:

Recorded Signed For™ items are only tracked after the item has been delivered. Depending on whether the item was sent first or second class, this may be a few days after posting. Please try again later.

Tell me, Royal Mail: Why would I want to track a package online after I've already signed for it?

Maybe this explains why bulk mail users are turning to other courier services (click the link and scroll down).

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Tuesday, January 16, 2007

We Were This Close

A year ago today, Mrs. Werbenmanjensen and I started this blog. This is post no. 361, so we didn't quite meet our goal of one post a day. We'll try to do better in the future.


Monday, January 15, 2007

A Whale Of A Time, Cont'd

Remember the Thames whale? The the one that died? We can see him again, but only for a week.

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Bringing New Meaning To The Word Franglais

France, England were in talks to form union in the 1950s.

While I'm on the topic of France and England, I'm beginning a French language class tonight at Alliance Francaise.

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MLK Day Sunriseblogging

Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day to our American readers.


Sunday, January 14, 2007

An R-rated post

Thought I should warn parents not to let their kids read this post.

There's been an interesting debate raging here in merry ol' England since five young prostitutes were murdered in Ipswich (north of London). Headlines compared the serial killer to Jack the Ripper, which is inaccurate because none of them were "ripped." They were strangled. Not to put too fine a point on it.

The debate is this: Should the government provide more protections to prostitutes, and legalize brothels so they can have safer working conditions? I can't imagine such a debate in my native U.S., and I blame the Puritans for that. For starters, prostitution is illegal in most places. (Nevada springs to mind as an exception.) Europeans call them "sex workers," not prostitutes, as if this were a legit line of employment, and my understanding of U.K. law is that technically, it is legal, under certain conditions. You can't be hooking out on the street, so you tend to find them inside clubs and bars. Brothels are in fact illegal, however.

I'm not saying these women (and men) are the scourge of the earth and therefore get what they deserve when they walk the streets. Oh, no. What I am saying is that we should get to the root of the problem: All five women killed in Ipswich were drug addicts, and they hooked to pay for their habits. Why not have greater enforcement for drug laws, and stiffer penalties for pushers? Why not assign the blame where the demand is: the johns? And finally, take complaints of violence against these women and all women more seriously?

I am afraid to see what Google ads will pop up as a result of this post...

Friday, January 12, 2007

YouTube Blues

In case anybody's wondering what the big white space is downstairs under the "Reunited ..." post, it appears that YouTube is doing some updating and the video that occupied the space is now pending. Given that the YouTube video in question contained copyrighted material from George Lucas, I have some fears that it will disappear forever.

(Shakes fist in general direction of Skywalker Ranch.)

UPDATED: Monday Jan. 15. Looks like it's back. Foiled you again, George Lucas!


The Transatlantic Trade Is Complete

Mrs. Werbenmanjensen and me for Posh and Becks.

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Winter Blues

A helpful note from the UK government:

"Tomorrow (13.01.07) is St Hilary's day, the coldest day of the year, according to folklore. This dates back to 1086 when a great frost held the country in its grip until late March. It remains true to the present day that this time of year is often the coldest, leaving those most vulnerable at risk from the drop in temperature."

Thanks, Department of Health. Now let's look at the numbers:

December high temperatures, southeast England: 1.8 degrees C above average
December low temperatures, southeast England: 2.0 degrees C above average
December mean temperature, southeast England: 1.9 degrees C above average
December sunshine, southeast England: 3 percent above average

It's been warm--so warm, in fact, that I've worn my heaviest coat only a few times--but rainy. Staying dry, not freezing to death, has been a bigger worry, although I appreciate their concern for the vulnerable.

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Thursday, January 11, 2007

Bird-Watching, Trainspotting, And The Breast Stroke

Mrs. Werbenmanjensen has a work colleague, an Englishman, of whom she said the first time she described him to me: "He does all of those useless English hobbies: You know, bird-watching, trainspotting." I've recently come upon a third: the breast stroke.

For the uninitiated in swimming, the breast stroke is the least useful of the four main strokes. You can't go fast, and you can't go far. According to this database, for example, even somebody swimming backwards over 50 meters is faster than a breast stroker over the same distance. And it's not as if, by going slow, a breast stroker can go longer distances. In the Olympics, breast strokers only compete at a longest distance of 200 meters, while the freestyle swimmers go 1,500 meters in the pool--and new for the 2008 Olympiad, 10 kilometers in open water. The 200 meters swum by breast strokers equals the longest distance swum by the more demanding butterfly stroke (the world record for which is about 15 seconds faster, by the way).

I write this only because I've been swimming lately as I prepare for a couple of triathlons I've entered this summer, and I notice that swimmers who, like me, are doing the efficient front crawl are a small minority in the pools I've visited so far, while breast strokers dominate. Many do it poorly, with flailing arms and feet. This is in contrast to the American pools I've swum in, where most of the swimmers are using the front crawl and those who turn to the breast stroke are fairly accomplished at it. While I don't really care how one gets from one end of the pool to the other, I do care that the kick and the arm movement of the breast stroke often results in contact with my head and ribs when I attempt to pass them. Trying to pass a breast stroker when another breast stroker is approaching from the other direction threatens to end in a tangle of limbs and swear words. It's not a pool-friendly technique, in my opinion.

I mentioned this to my half-English, half-Swedish cycling buddy Simon, who laughed and more or less agreed with my assessment of the English breast-stroking tradition. "It's a stroke designed to keep your hair dry," he said. He went on to recall that while he lived in Australia, he swam with a club, and was usually one of the slower swimmers in the pool during workouts. But when asked to do a breast-stroke set, Simon said he could often beat the Aussies.

And it's true! The swimming records database tells us that the last four times a Brit owned a swimming world record, it was in the breast stroke (and Brits have never owned a world record in the freestyle). Meanwhile, the Aussies (whose list goes on and on) tend to get records in anything but the breast stroke.

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Friday, January 05, 2007

Dancing On The Ashes, One Last Time

Speaking of the Ashes, bits of which I got to see live thanks to our new sports channels, it's all over, and this England team has been confirmed as the worst in 76 years. Glad I could take part in history ....

Reunited And It Feels So Good

Sunday and football (American style)--it just feels right.

A present to ourselves this Christmas was to upgrade to the Sky Sports-n-Movies package, which gives us access to four new sports channels and 12 movie channels. Sky carries most of the games from the English football Premiership, along with much of the international cricket coverage (including the Ashes), so if you want to follow traditionally English sports you gotta cough up the extra money for Sky Sports (or spend a lot of time, too much time, in pubs). But happily, in addition to all that, Sky Sports brings the NFL to British viewers. They appear to simply take the direct U.S. network feeds, but it is strange to hear the English accents of the British-based studio commentators during breaks in play. Something tells me that no English bloke will ever be able to say "FUUUUMMMMMBBBLLLUUHHH" like Keith Jackson. (Actually, one of the two commentators last Sunday was an American who, as they say, is not quite ready for prime time.) We are happy we've decided to do this just in time for the NFL playoffs. Go Bearrsss. (Mrs. Werbenmanjensen can declare her loyalty in comments. Never mind that--I'll cheer for the Giants, too.)

We also got the Sky movies bit of the package in time for the New Year's Day showing of all six of the Star Wars episodes in chronological order (that means showing Eps 1-6 in order, not going 4-5-6 and then returning to 1-2-3). But because I screwed up the PIN, we missed all of them. Happily, that meant we didn't have to suffer through the wooden acting of Christensen and Portman.

(The best parts got cut, it appears.)