Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Still life

Exmoor National Park in Somerset. Not to be confused with the lovely town in New Jersey.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

It's Not Really Cricket, Is It?

Actually, it is, direct from the Oval, home of the Surrey cricket club. This was the equivalent of a major-league baseball game, Surrey County (the blokes in the gray kit) vs. Middlesex County (in the pink kit) in a match of twenty20.

Cricket purists will tell you that twenty20 is an Americanized form of cricket, and it kind of is. Each side bats for 20 overs, an over being six bowls. Given that in baseball, a pitcher often is replaced after 100 pitches, which is usually around the sixth or seventh inning, a match of twenty20 lasts roughly as long as an American baseball game, as opposed to an all-day match or (God help us all) the five-day tests that tend to define the sport to outsiders.

Technically, Mrs. Werbenmanjensen and I should have been cheering for Middlesex, since that is the county where we live, but our host was a Surrey fan, and we were in the Surrey home stadium, so we decided to pull for Surrey. We had the good fortune of sitting near the aisle leading from the field to the clubhouse, so we got to see the players from both side as they came to and from the field.

Here's a little video of the action from early innings:

Was it exciting? Sure thing. The English, while not regarded as the absolute best cricketers anymore (that would be the Australians), still have enthusiastic fans (the national team's fans are known as the Barmy Army) and Surrey's fan's no less enthusiastic. I was waiting in the bar when a fairly sustained wave was running through the stands. And as for suspense, Surrey pulled out the win in the final over, with just four balls to spare--on a six, the cricket equivalent of a home run.

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Friday, June 22, 2007

Get Wellies Soon

This island country, which has suffered through a variety of shortages in its history, is now facing, as festival season kicks off, a shortage of wellies, the only footwear capable of withstanding British muck.
We have, it seems, very short memories when it comes to the British weather. In 2005 the Glastonbury festival was an unprecedented mudbath, with hundreds of tents washed away when a month's rain fell in two hours. But as the festival opens today in Pilton, Somerset, there are signs that the possibility of another deluge has come as a surprise to thousands of festival-goers.

Retailers of camping gear - including Argos, Woolworth's, the camping specialists Blacks and Millets, and the specialist welly manufacturer Hunter - are reporting a last-minute surge in demand for wellington boots, tents and waterproof jackets as the 180,000 festival-goers panic.

The past two weeks have been, well, unsettled. It has yet to rain all day, and yet there always seem to be showers wandering about, ready to blow over your home. It seems to happen a few times a day--the classic prob'ly weather.

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Friday Catblogging

Ethel, out of the hospital and looking very well.

I was once told that the little patch of white under her chin and on her belly made her not a true tortoiseshell, but actually a calico. So we had two calicos in one house. Why we didn't invite John Ashcroft to dinner I'll never know.

(Thanks to Amy, Mary, and Ed for passing the photos along.)

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Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Tuesday Waterfallblogging

At the end of the road in Plémont on Jersey is a cafe perched on a cliff. If you take the steps below the cafe to the beach, you can look back into a crack in the rock and see an amazing waterfall. The truly brave walk through the waterfall and take pictures back toward the sea.

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Monday, June 18, 2007

Jersey Tides

Low tide in St. Brelade's Bay.

High tide.

I want to get back to Jersey a little bit more, even though it's been six-odd weeks since we were there, because it is such a spectacular setting. I'd never seen tides quite like Jersey's. From the photos, taken (top) from the seawall in front of our hotel and (bottom) from the balcony of our hotel, both more or less from the same angle, you can see how far the water retreats during low tide. The rock formation to the left of the photo is surrounded by water at high tide and a solid 100 yards inland at low tide. At high tide, the water came up to the seawall at our hotel, but at low tide, we had a wide 200-yard swathe of beach in front of our hotel. A better picture of the moving tides near St. Helier is over at this blog post, where you can see the water approach and then flood the causeway leading to the castle in St. Aubin's Bay.

On the west end of the island, after visiting a prehistoric tomb, we walked down to some tidal flats as the tide approached during the late afternoon (we were attentive to the warnings about the tide, so we didn't stay too long).

I tried to take some video of the approaching tide as it oozed over sand and rock, but it quite literally is as exciting as watching a video of paint dry. Something about the wind, and the sea smell, and the funky Star Trek plants ....

.... clinging to the rock made it all a little more exciting live, however.

While we were there, we noticed thousands of clam/oyster type shells that looked like this:

Does anybody know what these are?

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Friday, June 15, 2007

Down The Tube

Um, it'll be too late get off the train by the time it leaves the station, so if your Underground train ever starts going the wrong direction, you might want to consider a brace position.

(Hat tip to the delightful Annie Mole.)

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Friday Catblogging

Greg naps in reception.

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Thursday, June 14, 2007

Bridge Over Bath Water

OK, back now to scenes of Bath. This is a view of the River Avon, which actually means River River. (Avon is an olde English word for river.) What's more, it's not the same River Avon that flows through the famous Stratford-upon-Avon. There are a bunch of Rivers Avon in the UK. How unoriginal.

Another bridge. This one is special because it's one of the few in all of England to ever have had buildings on it. It's one of maybe two left. Something like that. I forget what Richard said. Richard rocks, by the way.

This is the Royal Crescent, a neighborhood built for rich people in Georgian times by John Wood the Younger. The young man sunning himself is in Victoria Park, named for Queen Victoria.

Funny story about that: Bath had fallen out of fashion by the early 1800s as the Prince Regent (later George IV) preferred the seaside at Brighton. Where the monarch goes, so go all the rich wannabes. So the town fathers decided to flatter the young Princess Victoria, who would become Queen in 1837. They designed a park and botanical gardens, named it for her, and invited her to open it. At the ceremony, the queen-to-be bent over to cut the ribbon, and a gust of wind lifted her skirts. Someone in the crowd yelled out: "Oi! Look at her bandy legs!" She never set those bow legs in Bath again.

Monday, June 11, 2007

My lunch with royalty

Today I had the opportunity to have lunch with 50 people including Prince Andrew, the Duke of York and fourth in line to the throne (after Prince Charles, Prince William and Prince Harry). It was "off the record" so I have no photos and I can't tell you what he said. But I can brag about seeing him! And I can tell you that he was very personable and down-to-earth. The kind of fellow you'd have a pint with, if he weren't a teetotaler.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Bath revisited

Today I finally made a proper all-day visit to Bath, one of England's finest cities (and a World Heritage Site!). It was one of the London Walks Explorer Days. We did a walk in the morning, had lunch, then did an afternoon walk before returning on the train.

And speaking of the train: We were held up outside Slough because there was a man brandishing a gun at the junction where the Heathrow Express crosses. I don't know what happened there, but we were stopped for about 30 min., and then we booked it to Paddington. Our conductor apologized profusely and said in a dry English way, "Apparently no one told him we don't rob trains anymore..."

Photos and stories to come.

American as a second language

So there is a lovely English fellow at work who has lived in Buenos Aires (the Paris of South America!) and other exotic places, but he apparently isn't too familiar with Americanisms.

In a message, I referred to something "coming down the pike."

And he replied, "Don't you mean pipe, as in pipeline? I think of pike, and I think of fish."

"No, I meant coming down the pike, as in turnpike, which is a road."

"Oh, must be an American thing."

Hmm, actually no. This says the word has its origins in the 15th century. Americans probably shortened it much much later, which may be why the English don't want to claim it anymore. Some of them still think this is a pike.

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Friday, June 08, 2007

All This Can Be Yours, For A Low, Low $3 Million

A leaflet slipped into our entryway this week:
On Saturday 9th June 2007 we're holding an open day in ___ Avenue, Highgate, N6.
The property will be open for viewing from 12:00 p.m. to 2:00 p.m. and we will be delighted to see you there. Please call the Highgate office to arrange an appointment to view.
A stunning four double bedroom Victorian family home with a large double reception room, set on a popular road in Highgate. £1,695,000.

As I write this, that's $3.3 million.

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Friday Catblogging

Greg sees a camera as just one more thing to rub his face on.

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Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Tea Prejudice

We had a handyman in over the weekend, a bloke who spoke cockney but lives in Kent. I offered him some tea, and he asked what I had. "Earl Gray," I replied.

"Nah, that's what the Queen drinks," he said.

He had coffee. White.

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Monday, June 04, 2007

Random Monday Notes

A couple of years ago a little-known folk musician named Sufjan Stevens, in a quest to produce an album about each of the 50 states, released an album known variously as "Illinois" or "Come On Feel The Illinoise." I knew nothing of Sufjan (no relation to Cat) but purchased the album on the strength of a Washington Post review and an affinitiy for my home state. It really is a fine album, in my opinion, and you'll see in the Wikipedia entry that a number of critics agreed. I am constantly surprised, however, by the number of times I see "Come On Feel The Illinoise" T-shirts here (including one in classy John Deere green and yellow worn by a bloke last week in the cafe at the Victoria and Albert Museum). It's even more interesting to hear the music line from probably my favorite song on the album, Jacksonville (reading the lyrics doesn't do the song justice) used as the musical accompaniment on promos on the UK cable channel Five U.S. (yes, the music that plays over there, the strings, the piano, and the banjo, is in fact the opening to Jacksonville--although the joshua trees in the video are definitely from nowhere near the Illinois town Jacksonville).

How to end 10 days of rain

Buy massive new indestructible umbrellas at what may be the only specialty umbrella shop in the world.

Blaven revisited

The weekend Guardian included a guide to walks (with a notation: "supplement of the year") that included a walk of Blaven. No mention of trouser selection.

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Sunday, June 03, 2007

Gherkin rising

Random photo of one of London's most controversial signature buildings.

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Impressions of Barcelona

Last week I was in Barcelona for work purposes. I didn't get to see too much of the city, but that won't stop me from sharing my impressions with you all.

It is a good-looking city. I'm no architecture buff, but even I can appreciate the hodge podge of styles that somehow all work together in this ancient town: Roman walls, medieval churches, Gaudi houses (one does wonder if this is the origin of the English adjective gaudy). All of this on the Mediterranean, no less!

It is a city where people appreciate the finer things. There is a Picasso museum (didn't have time to go), and a chocolate museum (I MADE time to go). In all honesty, the museum part (admission was about $6) wasn't terribly interesting. It was mainly chocolate sculptures and old tools the Incas used to pound the pulp out of cacao beans, with a little history of how it got to Europe (summary: The Spainards stole it from the New World). But the chocolate shop and bar at the end -- magnificent! Best hot chocolate EVER. And I bought a 90 percent pure bar, which is so dark and delicious! Mmmm.

Now that we're on the topic of food, I did eat very well while I was there. Tapas, seafood, lamb, and olives. I detested olives as Smitty will tell you, until I had fresh Spanish ones (black ones). I have been converted. My Italian ancestors will no doubt stop spinning in their graves now.

It wasn't all great. Getting a taxi in Barcelona is only slightly easier than passing through the eye of a needle, I think. And Catalan, not Spanish, is the primary language. It's not hard to follow the signs if you know Spanish and/or French, but my ears were confused and my American-accented Spanish did not seem to help. I had to resort to pointing at maps, or asking the hotel staff to instruct the driver.

You may wonder why there are no photos with this post. I took the camera, but not the battery. I blame Smitty for charging it. Just kidding, Smitty! Meanwhile, Smitty had the other camera with him in Hungary.

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Friday, June 01, 2007

Friday Catblogging

Sleepy Greg in blue chair.

He kept me company for almost my entire shift Tuesday afternoon.

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