Friday, April 27, 2007


Yes, only in London could mid-20s Celsius be considered a scorcher.

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Just, Um, Hanging Around

This is one of those stories where it's better just to show, rather than tell:
A shoemaker has been described by Tube bosses as "stupid" after he made a pair of boots that allow travellers to hang upside down on carriage handrails.

Dutch-born Eelko Moorer designed the boots in his studio in Hackney Wick, east London.

The boots took him about a week to make and they have been on display at a British Council exhibition in Italy.

But London Underground criticised the designer, saying his design could result in serious injury.

A London Underground spokesman said: "This is a dangerous and stupid act that could result in serious injury to not only the individual concerned but also other passengers."

Mixed reaction

The boots have been designed with a slot carved into the heel which allow them to hang from handrails.

Mr Moorer got girlfriend Alice Wolff to try the boots out on the Tube.

"We had a somewhat mixed reaction from other Tube travellers," said the designer, who is also a shoemaker.

He went on: "Some people were surprised, others liked it and others were appalled. I had been on a Tube train a while ago and thought how boring and similar journeys are."

Hat tip, as usual, to the delightful Annie Mole.

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Sticker Shock

When we moved here 15 months ago, the pound was worth about US$1.70 or so. Now the pound sits at about US$2. And the guy who gets paid in dollars watches this site an awful lot.

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Friday Catblogging

Greg the parish cat snoozes in the reception office.

The brothers in the monastery debate an important theological question: Since Greg has lined up so often with children about to take first communion or be confirmed, does that make him a Roman Catholic?

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Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Fostering Greater Trans-Atlantic Understanding

I've contributed 2 quid 18 bob to buy a pint for the guy who runs the English2American Dictionary. Please consider him a worthy non-tax-deductible charity. It's very easy to do. If you have PayPal, Bob's your uncle!

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The London Marathon

When 40,000 people set a goal of running 26.2 miles through your city, you gotta go gawk for awhile. I'm a fan, and Mrs. Werbenmanjensen and I each had friends running, in any case, so we thought it might be fun to support them if we were able to pick them out of the hordes.

We set up a little short of mile 25, by which point the decisive break should be made in any good marathon, and in the women's race ...

... that certainly was the case, although in the men's race ...

... it was shaping up to be a finish for the ages. In the end, Martin Lel, the leader in the red vest (the guy whose bib says "Lel," natch) pulled away for a very thin margin of victory. Over his shoulder, you can see Paul Tergat (yellow vest, bib reads "Terg" in this photo), who has been at the top of elite running for more than a decade.

But of course, a big city marathon isn't a marathon without the ordinary blokes who commit four to six months of their lives to give the marathon a try. Lots of Elvises ....

.... Native Americans ....

... cavemen ....

... and even a Braveheart or two.

There were a few Supermen, and despite their not exactly moving faster than a speeding bullet, we still never managed to get a photo.

Tragically, the race was marred by a death. On a day in which the temperature reached into the mid-70s, it wasn't dehydration or heatstroke that claimed the life, but rather a condition that results from drinking too much water. (Actually, it comes from not having adequate sodium in the blood, but it's usually because people drink too much without getting enough sodium.)

(All photos by Mrs. Werbenmanjensen. Isn't she good?)

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Saturday, April 21, 2007

The Ripper and I

Some of you know I'd been dying to do a Jack the Ripper tour since we moved here. I am one of those people who love a good murder mystery -- especially one that's never been solved. Mr. W, for the record, was willing to go with me, but instead I decided to go with two female friends. Why? Well, Mr. W. had labeled the idea of said tour "morbid" and I didn't want his snarkiness to sour my experience.

Turns out there were plenty of other things to sour the experience, starting with the fact that the camera I took had no batteries in it. Why? Smitty decided to charge them. Poor communication on my part. So, sorry, no photos, folks! Except this one of his last victim, which our guide passed around the crowd. I do not recommend it for the faint of heart, though it's blurry enough to not be too gross. Those are some of her organs on the table to the right. Yeah. Eww. And here's a photo of the area where she was found; no worries, it's a car park and warehouse now. Her apartment was on the right.

Other annoyances: It's such a popular tour, that we had to split into two groups of about 40 each. I'm not sure how the other guide was, but ours was a tad scatter-brained, confusing the names and the numerical order of the victims. Having read a bit about the subject here, I was able to keep things straight mostly, but my friends were a bit narked. Then there was the gaggle of American teenagers giggling and chatting to each other while we were trying to hear the addled guide. And finally, the hecklers, which ranged from aggressively friendly drunks to peeved locals calling our curiosity "disgusting."

That said, I'm glad I went. It was the most disappointing London Walk I have yet taken, but that said the other ones were so good it's hard to compare. I might try to do it again when this guy is leading it.

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Friday, April 20, 2007

Real Estate Blues

Mrs. Werbenmanjensen sold a house at a time, we're now told, that was the peak of the real estate market in the general Washington, D.C., market. While I don't care for being a tenant, there are certain advantages--like when something breaks, someone else pays to fix it. Meanwhile, the money we made off the sale sits earning interest somewhere else.

Anyway, we often roll past the estate agents on our high street and have a laugh at the prices for any property in our neighborhood, knowing that we could buy but not sure we want to commit to anything that expensive.

And it turns out that might be where the smart money is.
· Matt Barrett, the former chairman of Barclays, is reported to have sold his Chelsea home and moved into a rented house, having decided an offer of 25% above the asking price was too good to miss. Sir John Ritblat has sold most of his shares in property firm British Land.

OK, when the bankers become tenants, you know something's up.

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Freudian Slip

Apologies for my relative absence in posting. Smitty posts so often that I don't really like to trump him. Plus, you sit in front of a computer for 10 hours a day and see how much you feel like spending another half hour posting!

But today I am trumping him. Hahaha!

I belong to a book group run by a very cool lady from Canada. We meet off Carnaby Street once a month in this cafe. (All are welcome.) This month, we met to discuss The Interpretation of Murder, which won the Richard & Judy award for Best Read of the Year. Richard & Judy are to Brits what Oprah is to the U.S. Kind of. With books, at least.

Sigmund Freud is a character in the book, as is Carl Jung and several other disciples of Freud. The narrator meditates on lots of deep subjects: psychoanalysis, murder, Hamlet. One of the book group attendees expressed disinterest in Freud's theories, if not criticism. Then, at the end of the discussion, one of our group revealed himself to be none other than the great-great-grandson of Freud! Does that count as a Freudian slip? He was very cool about his heritage, not lording it over any of us. He did mention his grandfather interviewed the author for an article published here.

Oh, and the book *was* pretty good. (Warning: it's 500+ pages.)

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Friday Catblogging

Greg the parish cat studies filmwriting with Syd Field. Greg's so smart he'll finish a screenplay before I do.

And this is a shout-out to our former cat Ethel, left in a new home in the States, who had a recent scare and spent some time in the hospital. Get well soon, Ethel. And when the feeding tube goes in, be nice to your new master. She's just trying to nurse you back to health.
(photo credit of Ethel to Mrs. Werbenmajensen's sister, the delightful Keri.)

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Thursday, April 19, 2007

Are You On The (Street) Level?

Time Out times London's shortest Tube journey and finds it's better just to walk.

(Hat tip to the delightful Annie Mole, who gets some props from Time Out herself. Lucky her.)

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Blogroll, Please ...

Two new additions to the blogroll: Looking Around A Bit, by some friends who have quit their jobs (OK, in one case, the job quit the friend) to travel the world, and Unlikely Triathlete, by a family friend who shares an interest that I have.


Britain Turning Yellow

And no, I don't mean to suggest that Britain's impending withdrawal from Iraq makes them "yellow." It's this story for the agriculturally minded:
On the second leg of my south-north train journey, another 400 miles or thereabouts from London to Edinburgh, once again there was no missing the proliferation of Day-Glo yellow plantations. Lincolnshire, Yorkshire, Northumbria and the Scottish borders whizzed by, revealing vast swathes of land, all carpeted by bobbing yellow flowerheads of rape.

In the 1970s, oilseed rape was barely known in Britain. Many people were suspicious of this alien seed which announces itself with its all-pervasive perfume, reminiscent of honey to some, cloyingly sweet and as sickly as regurgitated baby milk to others. Now it is our third largest arable crop. The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) says that in the past year alone production has gone up by an impressive 17%. Next year, it is tipped to top 2m tonnes. In terms of acreage, oilseed rape now accounts for 11% of the crops cultivated in the UK.

The economics of rapeseed cultivation have never looked more attractive to farmers because there is no problem finding a buyer. These days it is not just the old markets - cheap cooking oil, margarine, cattle feed, candles, soaps, plastics, polymers and lubricants. Oilseed rape has hit the big time as a biofuel. Currently, most of the UK's production is snapped up by Germany for bio-diesel.

And the latest silky-smooth ambassador for the crop is "extra virgin rapeseed oil", currently being touted as Britain's answer to extra virgin olive oil. For a relatively modest expenditure (compared with the serious investment needed to go into biofuels), growers from Suffolk up to Yorkshire and the Scottish Borders are installing screw presses on their farms and cold-pressing the seed. Northumbrian cereal grower Colin McGregor, who produces golden extra virgin rapeseed oil under the Olifeira brand, sells it at £6 for a 500ml bottle - the same sort of price tag you might expect on a classy bottle of Tuscan extra virgin olive oil. "That retail price is adding around 2,000% to the commodity value of my crop," he says. By any measure, an eye-popping profit hike.
I'd been wondering what those yellow flowers were.

Sounds good for the farmer, right? But wait:
It took the highest level of plant breeding after the second world war to make what was a toxic substance fit for human consumption. Greedy for nutrients and notoriously dependent on nitrogen-rich fertilisers, oilseed rape is among the worst arable crops for leaching nitrates into waterways and polluting aquifers. It is one of the crops that led to the setting up of nitrate sensitive areas and nitrate vulnerable zones across the EU.

Oilseed rape is also plagued by a long list of pests and diseases - everything from cabbage stem flea beetle and peach potato aphid to black leg fungus and white stem rot - all of which require chemicals to keep them under control. A 2004 report from the Office of National Statistics states that oilseed rape crops receive on average three herbicides, two fungicides and two insecticides during the course of a growing season.

As a consequence of the intensive way in which they are grown on vast swathes of land, oilseed rape varieties are developing resistance to many of the pesticides routinely used. "For all these reasons, it is almost never grown or recommended as a crop on organic farms. It is a classic example of a crop designed for intensive agriculture," says Richard Sanders, policy and communications director at Elm Farm Research Centre, which develops and supports sustainable land use.
Let's see: Once toxic, now I'm supposed to use it in my cooking; very bad for the environment ....

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Wednesday, April 18, 2007

A Saturday In Cambridge

Mrs. Werbenmanjensen had to work all weekend, but I thought it might be worth it to head up to Cambridge to see what the fuss is about.

Looks like any university campus quadrangle on a sunny spring Saturday. Note: The shirtless blokes playing frisbee in the foreground had American accents. You can also see a very well-done six-lane 200-meter track in the foreground. Takes me back to junior high ... minus the well done and the six lanes.

I wandered through the business district a bit, but my newly purchased Cambridge A-to-Z told me I was parallelling the river. So I cut through the grounds of Downing College ...

... which turned into a bit of a dead-end, although I eventually found my way out into a long row of mews, parking lots, courtyards and alleys until I got to a street that would take me down to the river ...

... called the Cam River (Cam + Bridge = Cambridge. Simple, eh?) The blokes poling the punts up and down the river were alleged to be students.

Upriver, above the lock, are the self-hire punts ...

... which, as you can see, turns into a bit of an amateur hour.

Hey, who let that kayak in here? And where is it going?

Oh, maybe to the "whitewater," a 10-foot bit of roughness resulting from the water sluicing around the side of the lock.

Next time I'll punt up the river to visit such famous sites as Trinity College, St. John's College and Jesus Ditch.

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Uh, hi!

We again have broken the law of blogdom: Do not go weeks without posting.

Bad bloggers! Bad naughty bloggers.

We'll do better in the future.

We'll probably miss our target of 365 posts for this year, too.

In any case, we have plenty built up, so we ought to have no shortage of content.

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Thursday, April 05, 2007

Maundy Thursday In London

The afternoon was bright and warm, so I went over to Waterlow Park, had some tea at the Lauderdale House, then took a stroll around the park to see what I could see.

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The Continuing Saga Of The Best Bureaucracy ...

Uh, hi! "Where have Smitty and the delightful Mrs. Werbenmanjensen been?" you may be asking yourself. Well, jetlag hit me hard, and I seemed to have picked up a virus along the way. I spent 36 of the 72 hours of Friday-Saturday-Sunday asleep, not leaving a whole lot of time for anything but the minimum necessary to live.

And now the real bloggage begins.

I meant to post on this last year, but plain forgot. One of my favorite little absurdities of British life is the TV License. I don't actually mind paying the fee, as it's a tax to finance the BBC, and having a major broadcaster accountable to the public is, in my opinion, more desirable than a broadcaster accountable to corporations and their shareholders, who are in it for the money alone. Given that there's a strong mix of both public and private broadcasters in Britain, I'd say the marketplace of ideas is well-rounded.

So paying the license is not the absurd part. The absurd part is the following fine print on the back: "If you are registered blind, you can claim a 50 percent concession on your license fee."

Please: If you're blind, it's just a radio, and you don't license radios.

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