Thursday, May 31, 2007

The Battle Of Jersey

No, it wasn't portrayed in "The Sopranos." Instead, the Battle of Jersey took place in 1781 while the British were bogged down fighting rebellious Americans and French in the New World. Since Jersey was so close by, the French thought they'd relieve Britain of another burden and invade the channel island. It ended badly for the French, along with a certain British major named Francis Peirson.

At Mont Orgueil Castle, re-enactors from that era demonstrated typical battle order from that time with replica Brown Bess muskets.

(Sorry about the headgear in the foreground.)

If you followed the link to the entry on the Brown Bess, you will see that particular firearm was in service for quite awhile, even into the middle of the 1800s in America. I asked the gent barking out orders in the video above why it was in service so long, and if it was so because the musket was particularly reliable. "No," he said, "it's because the British government is cheap!"

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Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The Continuing Saga Of English As A Second Language

Bun fight: A scramble for anything of little consequence.

Its usage: A fellow racer looking at a congested course with a short starting straightaway: "It's going to be a real bun fight for the first corner."

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Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Monday Cowblogging

Actual Jersey cows, both the breed and the location.

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Monday, May 28, 2007

Tudor humor

Hampton Court Palace was crawling with folks dressed in period costume. An expensive hobby, no doubt. But they made the tours of the state apartments lively, and even set the mood for us by saying King Henry VIII was waiting for an answer to his marriage proposal to Catherine Parr. Apparently she had given her heart to a rogue, Thomas Seymour if I recall correctly. This prompted our guide, wife of the lord chamberlain, to ask several ladies in the crowd, "Would you choose a king or a rogue?" Everyone went with the rogue. (SPOILER ALERT: In the end, she gets both.) One man (who wasn't asked his opinion) piped up, "The king was a randy old goat." Funny, that guy sort of disappeared halfway through the tour. Hmmm. There was a dungeon somewhere...

Saturday, May 26, 2007

How to entertain a houseguest in 1 week

First, thanks to the many of you who offered suggestions on how to entertain my brother during his visit. He had a fabulous time, as he said in his post, and I thought I'd touch on a few of the things he didn't mention that I really enjoyed!

We took the advice to take a boat ride on the Regent's Canal from Camden Town. Lovely! It spritzed rain but there were actually patches of sun. Our tour guide was from Czech Republic and her parents were visiting. (It was very cute, watching them snap her as she unlocked the lock. Like this:)

We also wondered around the very funky Camden Lock Market, which reminded my bro of New York's East Village:

Hampton Court Palace was another destination. Henry VIII seized it from a cardinal when he broke away from the Church of Rome (when Henry broke away, that is). Like the canal ride, it was something I hadn't done before, and like the Tower of London, which Sir K saw on his own, it's something I would do again and again. Maybe you can see why:

It did rain on us a bit there. And most everywhere I guess. (I wonder if it's as moist as Flagstaff??) As Smitty noted, we did Stonehenge and Bath again. Bath felt even more rushed than last time, so I am definitely planning another excursion there. Meanwhile, I enjoyed the Roman baths:

One last thing I want to mention: We did the Jack the Ripper tour again. (Well, my brother and I did. Despite Smitty's insistence that he would go, he turned down the opportunity to be with his bikes.) Anywho, I had not only a functioning camera this time, but a much better guide, and it wasn't the exact same walk to the exact same places as last time. (Some stops were the same, but not all.) Our guide stressed the hard life faced by women in the East End, in streets like this:

And here is where the Ripper scrawled (or they think it was him, anyway) a message that some think pointed to Masonic involvement, a theory which our guide dismissed:

For those of you whose ideas we didn't use this time around, fear not! We expect more visitors -- not to mention that we still want to play tourists ourselves. Hee hee.

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Tuesday, May 22, 2007

What Is Keyser Soze Doing On My Money?

Howdy. Mrs. Werbenmanjensen did a fine job manning the shop alone while I spent time in Hungary, where the local currency is the forint, trading as I write this at about 363 to a single British pound. I'll have more to say later about my trip to Gyor, a city that inspired no photography from me. But I would like to note the similarity between the bloke pictured above on the 1,000-forint note and the mythical character Keyzer Soze from the brilliant 1995 film The Usual Suspects. Perhaps it's just a gambit to scare petty thieves.

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Saturday, May 19, 2007

My New Avatar

In case you haven't noticed, I have a new avatar. Check out comments on the post below to see it.

Or, if you want a hint:

You can still watch this show on UK cable, by the bye. Not to mention this gem of a show. Kitsch classics!

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Shout out to Guernsey

Between Jersey and Sir Kevin's visit, we have a lot of catching up to do. And then we'll have even more, as Smitty is in Hungary and I'll be in Barcelona next week. That's right, we live up to the AA title.

Just a short post to extend a belated congrats to the Guernsey rugby team, with whom we shared the rough journey via ferry from Jersey. (Their flight had also been canceled.) They won the Siam Cup and were proudly walking around the ferry terminal with it gleaming in their burly arms.

They were in the queue behind us to get tickets for the ferry, and asked if we were going to Guernsey. I said, no, we were trying to get to London. "I don't think the ferry goes there," one lad said. They were kind enough to wish us well as they disembarked in Guernsey, passing Smitty with the barf bag on his knee.

A work colleague told me Guernsey is more rural than Jersey, implying that it was better for walks and windswept coasts. So we may have to sample it next time.

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Wednesday, May 16, 2007

LET'S go GI-ants! (Clap clap clapclapclap)

Before I go on to telling the story of this post, I want to tell a little backstory.

Back when I was a bratty college student--you know, the kind who knows everything and isn't afraid to tell you--at the University of Illinois, some major concert tours would come through and play at the Assembly Hall. Because it was university property, students got first crack at the tickets. Rather than forcing us to stand in line all night for the best ones--because that wouldn't exactly be conducive to our studies--we entered a lottery if we wanted tickets, which would then give us a designated time in which we could buy our tickets--at most, four per purchase. Therefore, earlier purchase times=better tickets. So it took just a little luck to get the best seats. I got aced out of good tickets by getting a bad draw a couple of times my first semester, but that was OK since I got to see the concerts, even if it was from nosebleed seats. It was a novelty for a farm kid like me.

In my second semester, Huey Lewis scheduled Champaign on his tour (with Robert Cray opening). Huey Lewis was not a performer I would put on a list of 100 I would have liked to see at the time. In fact, I'm not sure he would make a list of 1,000. To remind you of the decline in the quality of his music at about that time, I suggest you click on the following video:

(Go ahead. Click on it. It should be embarrassing to Huey Lewis, but it's not like reading about Tube snot or seasickness.)

But I had a girlfriend at the time, someone who would be called a "hometown honey" or "HTH" in student lingo and who ironically shares a first name with Mrs. Werbenmanjensen (necessitating that I refer to the former as "Evil (insert Mrs. Werbenmanjensen's name here)" whenever telling a story about her). Not the most free-thinking bulb in the world, Evil What's-Her-Name was somebody who liked whatever music was on the radio. And Huey Lewis was on the radio with the song from above, so therefore she like it. So, dutifully I entered the lottery ... and found myself in the first group of 50 to buy tickets. While the student newspaper where I worked suggested going to see Robert Cray's opening act and hitting the bars early, I found myself in the fourth row for a concert I didn't really want to see that badly.

Never again did I get a good seat through the lottery draw at Assembly Hall, and I began to believe that only once in your life do you get sought-after tickets through a lottery.

Until today.

Football fans may know that the first regular season NFL game will be played outside of North America this November, and it will be at Wembley Stadium in London. Moreover, it will feature the Giants, the favorite of Mrs. W's family (prompting one of Mrs. W's colleagues still living in America to remark, "So Eli Manning will throw the first interception on foreign soil"). We were jazzed about going to see this game, but then we learned a half-million other people were too, and that ticket distribution would be via a lottery. I feared the Huey Lewis Effect would again afflict me.

Until a few days ago, when we wer notified by the NFL that we had won the golden ticket and would be among the first to be able to purchase tickets. And today, I now have confirmation that Mrs. W and I will be among the lucky 90,000 or so to see the game.

By the way, I suspect that the game has probably sold out in the first hour of ticket sales. But don't take that as any indication that American-style football will ever be popular here, given the capacity of British sports columnists to be as dismissive of it as U.S. columnists are of soccer.

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Wednesday Jerseyblogging

The Germans seized Jersey during World War II, probably because it was closer to occupied France than to Great Britain.

Hitler was convinced the British and their allies would attempt to take it back and so built dozens of concrete bunkers and artillery positions at key points on the island, along with a fairly elaborate system of underground bunkers inland.

The Allies ignored Jersey when they invaded Normandy on D-Day, probably just to mess with Hitler, so Jersey stayed under German control until V-E Day.

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Tuesday, May 15, 2007

A Scarlet Knight Says Ni!

I decided to let our guest, my esteemed brother, guest blog and share a few thoughts with you on his visit, which is drawing to a close:

'Ello, mates! Sir Kevin the Blunt here to share with you the many sights, sounds, and smells a tourist encounters & produces whilst travelling in Swinging London. Let me start by saying that one week is simply not enough time to be here to see everything, and I wish I could scrounge off my sister & brother-in-law for just a little bit longer! This trip marks my first time going abroad. Unless you count the time I spent a weekend on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls, a summer vacation in Bermuda, or several rides down the Turnpike into South Jersey. It was certainly the furthest distance I've ever travelled, and the first time I used my passport...the real one, of course!

One of my first adventures in the Angel Isle was the Beatles/Abbey Road walking tour.
We got to see Paul McCartney's publishing company, the studio where "Hey Jude" was recorded, and finally, Abbey Road itself and the studio which bears its name. On the exterior wall, people were allowed to scribble a message for everyone passing by to read. I wrote, "All you need is love -John, Paul, George, Ringo, and Sir Kevin the Blunt of Hamilton"
I only wrote it in pen, so please look for it as soon as possible before it gets easily washed off.

Other excursions included visits to the Tower of London (home of the Crown Jewels and King Henry VIII's large codpiece), Westminster Abbey (home of lots of dead famous people), Stonehenge (possibly the home not-so-famous dead people), and Buckingham Palace (even more dead people). The weather cooperated for the most part, if by the "most part", you mean one hour late in the day, which is probably considered a dry spell in this country.

Since both my sister & brother-in-law were working some days, I would have to go and view these sites alone. Luckily, they gave me this essential book of maps that reduced my aimless wandering by at least 40%. However, the times they were able to accompany me were without a doubt the best times. Especially when we saw "Spamalot"
this past Friday.

For those of you unfamiliar with the show, it is based on one of the funniest films ever made: "Monty Python & the Holy Grail". But rather than simply do a repeat of the film onstage, it was a hilarious re-telling of the classic story mixed with skits from the TV show & some beloved new additions (especially the "lady of the lake"...YOWZA!)

But hilarity and great showmanship aside, the message was as clear as it was poignant: "Find Your Grail". This simple yet inspiring adage, as well as the wisdom & company of my family, has set me on my quest to find the divine within myself. So upon my arrival home, I shall begin to pursue the thing which will find me not only personal fulfillment, but hope & joy to millions the world over...Murder Mystery Dinner Theater! (Warning: Shameless Plug Approaching)

So if you plan on being in the Princeton-Mercer County area of New Jersey, USA, and you're in the mood for some faboulous entertainment, check out "Murder at Liarton Manor" playing at the Palmer Inn on Route 1 next to Charlie Brown's! I will be more than happy to sign any autographs.

So as I finally finish typing, and the last night of my trip draws to a close, I would like to take this time to give a big shout out to my lovely & talented sister and her equally qualified soul mate. Their love, hospitality, and friendship is one of the things that gives me a new hope in this troubled world. I can never fathom what I have done to deserve such people in my life...but I'm pretty sure there's a reason somewhere!

Anyways, to all you bloggers out there, CHEERS! TALLY HO! and...RUN AWAY!!!


Sir Kevin the Blunt of Hamilton

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Monday, May 14, 2007

The Air Is Safe Down There--No, Really!

Annie Mole, as usual, has awakened me to yet another phenomenon of riding the Tube.

But before I do, I'm going to just mention that it could potentially offend the sensitive, so if you were turned off by our recent post on seasickness on the Jersey-Weymouth ferry, stop reading now.


Two words: Tube snot.

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Stonehenge redux

Mrs. Werbenmanjensen's brother wanted to go to Stonehenge, so we took another trip to walk among the stones, after stops in Bath and Lacock. We had slightly different (read: damp and rainy) weather this time, although it broke for our arrival in Lacock and stayed dry for about half of our visit at Stonehenge.


Clouds coming:


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Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Planes, Trains and the Vomit Comet

Hi. The Werbenmanjensens have just set foot back in mainland Britain, such as it is, after a rather harrowing return journey from Jersey (the channel island, not this place) (more on that later). It seems that the winds that made our visit to the Noirmont point on Jersey so dramatic yesterday afternoon actually made for difficult flying--so much so that planes were neither flying in nor out of Jersey. After being promised a 5 p.m. flight home today, and hearing that other airlines were getting people out of Jersey only mid-afternoon today, Mrs. Werbenmanjensen and I decided to try our luck with the cross-channel ferries, figuring that if we could get to Britain, we could get a train back sooner than the airlines could get us home.

The run from Jersey to Guernsey was rather rough--all the way the paper bag was on my knee. I kept it all down, unlike one guy near us, and the crew was rushing around with mops, garbage bags, and sick bags throughout this leg. Before I could lose the cheeseburger and beer I foolishly wolfed down as we went through the gentle waters near St. Helier, we pulled into the harbor in Guernsey. The next leg I sat with my head on the table and listened to a hypnosis file on my iPod, hoping it would help me at least sleep on the two-hour leg from Guernsey to Weymouth. (While in harbor at Guernsey, I asked for a Dramamine at the cafe, and the cashier looked at me as if I was speaking a foreign language. "Motion sickness medication," I clarified. She shook her head. "We've got those motion-sickness bands," she offered in a helpful tone of voice. "Do they work?" I asked. She shrugged. I ordered another Pepsi to supplement the one Mrs. W bought for me when I had the sickness bag at the ready, over my mouth.)

Either it was the hypnosis file or the easing of the winds, but I made it without throwing up through the leg to Weymouth and mainland Britain. We alighted, gathered our luggage from the belt, and went to the information desk. The last train for London had left a couple of hours earlier, but we were told we could find a hotel on the beachfront. We walked into the misty air, hoping for the best. The first actual house-like building we saw, however, said "hotel" with a vacancies sign in the window, still-burning lights and a "welcome ferries" sign in the foyer. We pushed the doorbell. Success! An innkeeper with freshly bathed child answered the door.

It was a quick night, and then back up again to catch as early a train as we could (we didn't try for the very first train, since it left at 5:10 a.m., but it was the next one). At the station, the man running the newsagent/snack bar kiosk asked us if we were on holiday, and we briefly told him our story. "Ah, the ferry," he said. "I used to be a merchant seaman, and you know what we used to call the ferry? The vomit comet. It can get rough out on the channel."

A two-hour train journey put us into London's Waterloo station a little before 11 a.m. I was never so happy to see our flat, even if it did mean I had to go back to work.

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Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Our Lines Are Still Open

I upstaged Mrs. Werbenmanjensen's post downstairs about suggested places to take visitors. Our lines are still open. Please make your suggestions in comments downstairs.


Small Town Boy Makes Good

Mrs. Werbenmanjensen and I are both fans of the writer and fellow U.S. expat Bill Bryson (she for "Notes From a Small Island," me for "A Walk In The Woods," and both of us for "The Mother Tongue"), so it's with some amusement that I read this article:
British-based American writer and humorist Bill Bryson, who has made an art form out of poking gentle fun at his hosts, is to be head of the quintessentially English Campaign to Protect Rural England.

Bryson, born in Iowa but resident of Britain off and on for some 25 years, takes over the five-year post in July from voice of Middle England and former newspaper editor Max Hastings.

Author of books such as "Notes from a Small Island" and "A Short History of Nearly Everything", Bryson is taking over the helm of the organisation at a challenging time as the government plans to rip up planning red tape that limits rural development.

"The CPRE is a long-standing champion of the English countryside," he said in an interview on Wednesday. "It may be small but it can be ferocious."

(Looks like there's hope for me yet in this country, if a writer can eventually be named to head an advocacy group.)

Bryson has a similar reaction to mine when he views the grand English countryside.
"I grew up in an industrial farming state. If you suggested to people they should go out for a walk they would think you were mad," he said. "Here, the countryside is so beautiful but you are in danger of taking it for granted."

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Tuesday, May 01, 2007

How to entertain a houseguest

My baby brother is arriving in Merry Olde England next week for a one-week visit, the jammy bastard. And while he's got a list of things he wants to do (Stonehenge being one, and the Tower of London being another), I thought I'd seek ideas from our loyal audience. What would you recommend, if you have been to London? What do you wish you could see, and do you have any regrets (i.e. overpriced venues, bad food, waking up next to Tony Blair)?

The lines are now open!

The UK's Scorcher Weekend

From the weather diary on this website:

The 28th was another generally dry day due to an anticyclonic ridge extending from the N over much of the British Isles. This ridge meant a mostly cloud-free start to the day - although there were some showers over SW England before dawn - and an air frost in parts of N Scotland; however, in parts of S Ireland minimum temperatures remained close to 10C. Early cloud in NE England soon cleared - although it returned in the evening - and away from S Ireland most places had a sunny day with little cloud. The afternoon and evening also brought cloud to N and E Scotland (Lee-on-Solent 24.4C, Altnaharra -3.5C, Isles of Scilly 1.8mm, Kinloss 14.4h.)

Generally dry and anticyclonic conditions continued into the 29th. Parts of Cent and N Scotland had an air frost under clear skies, although much of E Scotland and E and Cent England had a cloudy start to the day. Thunderstorms affected the Channel Islands overnight and into the morning. Showers also affected Kent and parts of W Ireland. In most places the early cloud in the E soon cleared although W Ireland and NE Scotland remained rather cloudy during the day. (Lee-on-Solent 23.7C, Aviemore -0.9C, Pembrey Sands 0.8mm, Kinloss 14.4h.)

So, the scorcher weekend saw an absolute high of 24.4C in all of Great Britain ... and it still dropped below freezing in Scotland!

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The Continuing Saga Of English As A Second Language

Jammy bastard: One who is undeservedly lucky. For example: "Hey, you just won the $100 million Powerball? You jammy bastard!"

I read it in the Guardian sports section in a heart-warming story (I can't find it online) about two footballers, former teammates and now opponents, one of whom sparked his own team's defeat by scoring an "own goal," the euphemism for when the ball bounces off yourself and into your (wait for it) own goal.
After his unwitting contribution to United's comeback Neville was so downcast that his former teammate Paul Scholes had to coax him from the dressing room to check he was OK. "I said to Scholesy he was a jammy bastard and he thanked me for the goal," said Neville. "We're the best of friends ..."

Moorhen. Frequently mistaken for coots. I was watching some of the male coots in Waterlow Park fight the other morning, and I heard one woman say to another, "Oh, look, the moorhens are fighting." I wondered if moorhen was just another name for coot. Or curmudgeon. It's not.

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