Friday, November 30, 2007

Friday Catblogging

Although I could flatter myself into believing that our readers come for my profound thoughts, I know they come for the cats.

From the Schmutz collection. Based on the position of the leaf, I can only assume that Schmutz was testing this cat's patience for the game Stuff On My Cat.

(This, by the way, is our 600th post. Only half of those have involved scooters, cats, sunrises or the Super Bowl.)

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Thursday, November 29, 2007

English As A Second Language: Dead Man's Chest


I guessed its meaning from the context of an occasional Radio 6 feature, "Wicked or Wafty?" in which they play a song and ask listeners to text in their judgment.

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Random Thoughts At 22 Months

1. The island of Jersey is a peculiar of the crown. I always thought "peculiar" was a term reserved for town weirdos or mints.

2. I never see stop signs in Britain.

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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Public Service Announcement: Emma's Back

Well, not as the Voice of the Tube, as far as I know, but at least you can go to her website:

This is an emergency!

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Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Things That Are Familiar To Me Now

The theme song from Hollyoaks, but only because it comes on after the Simpsons. I swear I've never watched an episode.

And speaking of Channel 4 programs ...

Things that I get now: Tony Slattery's jokes on the original "Whose Line Is It Anyway?"

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Monday, November 26, 2007

Public Service Announcement: You're Fired

The voice of London Underground loses its job.

I'd link to another of my favorites over on Emma's website, but sadly, since the story broke, it appears her site is overloaded.

I'll save 'em for later.

Updated: Oh wait, I can get through. Here's one for you sudoku fans.

Updated again: Well, no you can't after all. We'll see how long this takes.

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Sunday, November 25, 2007

Sunday Sunriseblogging

This was about 7:37 a.m. today. What time is your sunrise?

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Saturday, November 24, 2007

Public Service Announcement

Friday, November 23, 2007

About That Football Match

How the English singer who sang the national anthems put the Croats in a good mood:
Fans of Croatia are lauding the British opera singer who they say helped get their team into the right frame of mind to win - with an X-rated blooper in the country's national anthem.
Tony Henry belted out nearly all of Lijepa Nasa Domovino (Our Beautiful Homeland) flawlessly in the pouring rain before the vital Euro 2008 qualifier – despite the ill-mannered booing from some England fans in the 90,000 sell-out Wembley crowd.
But instead of singing 'Mila kuda si planina' ('You know my dear how we love your mountains'), he instead sang 'Mila kura si planina', which translates as 'My dear, my penis is a mountain'.

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Friday Catblogging

We now join our regularly scheduled catblog, already in progress.

Cubist Greg, pre-face-rub.

Greg's female alter ego came to visit with me again this morning after a bike ride.

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English As A Second Language, The Signage Edition

KathyF over at What Do I Know has a delightful post about English language usage on public signs. Her post says more than I can. Actually, the photo says more than I can.

I'd like to add that the following English sign (photo taken almost two years ago now) remains one of my favorites:

What does that mean? I simply don't know.

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Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving

It is, of course, not a holiday here, although it has many roots here, as we all learned in elementary school and as Mrs. W, our friends and I were reminded when we visited Plymouth in Devon back in August. It's not a holiday here, so Mrs. W doesn't get the day off, but I'm not working, for money, anyway, because I work almost exclusively for Americans. (We get the Commie holiday, May Day, however). I am working, uncompensated, because I'm thinking about our menu for a Thanksgiving feast we're putting on for a mixture of English and American guests on Sunday. Thanks to the avian influenza outbreak in Suffolk, our butcher's turkey supplier cannot deliver, but we're promised ducks. So be it. We don't know what the Pilgrims ate, anyway.

I get the sense that there's some fascination with this holiday here, the idea that you take a day to give thanks to the deity of your choice (or fate) for what you have. I don't have a sense that there's any desire to add it to the rather meager holiday schedule here (OK, OK, there's the minimum four weeks of vacation), but I think people like the quaintness of the idea.

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England Crashes Out

All England had to do was tie with Croatia last night to make the finals of the European Championships next year. You can guess what happened next.

This morning, Radio 6 has been asking readers if they've seen team manger Steve McClaren this morning. The best response: "Flood warnings in Scotland as 5 million people p--- themselves laughing."

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Cutty Sark Update

Most of the media have had coverage of the progress of the Cutty Sark restoration post-fire, which I gather means the foundation held a media tour. The BBC report is here.


Wednesday, November 21, 2007

English As A Second Language: At World's End

Minging: Ugly. It can be used, impolitely, to describe a person or, more politely, conditions.

You might refer to somebody who tried to pick you up at a pub as a "minger," such as these, or you might refer to the conditions on, let's say, Monday night as "minging."

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A Very Special Catblogging

Because we know our readers come for the cats and stay for the cats, here is a Very Special Wednesday edition of catblogging.

Greg with vanishing tail. Yes, in natural light*, Greg's tail vanishes like Pigpen's head in "A Charlie Brown Christmas."

*This post contains your recommended daily allowance of pretension.

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Sunday, November 18, 2007

The Difference Between Britain And America

Last week I was returning to our flat from doing some errands and I came across a crew from Haringey collecting leaves from the footpaths. As they did this, I was recalling the method used by our former home, Montgomery County, Maryland. It involved homeowners raking or blowing all leaves to the gutter, and sooner or later a rather large vacuum truck came along to suck up the leaves. But in our street, it wasn't any such high-tech solution. Rather, a council worker had come along to sweep all leaves into small piles, perhaps three feet by three feet. Then, a standard rubbish truck came along the street, accompanied by a leaf collection crew. Each of the leaf collectors held a flat board in each hand. Two crew members came along, used their boards to sweep underneath each pile, which they collected into their arms. They walked each pile over to the truck and tossed it in the back.

I began to think about this surprisingly elegant, though labor-intensive approach. The boards they used cost nearly nothing, and if they broke, could be replaced easily. It required no fancy equipment that sits idle 10 months a year. In short, they used the tools at hand to get the job done while keeping costs to a minimum. For me, it summed up the difference between Britain and America: a vacuum truck would have been excessive, every bit as excessive as air conditioning, automatic transmissions, or helpful customer service.

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Friday, November 16, 2007

Fast Track To The Continent

I'm a little late on this, and you may already have read of it, but the new Eurostar terminal opened in London on Wednesday, on the "good" side of the river. Not a big deal, I suppose, other than that the trains will take a slightly different route to the Chunnel, on upgraded tracks that will allow them to spend more time at top speed. The Guardian:
The journey time between central London and Paris was cut to two hours 15 minutes today as Eurostar services from St Pancras began.

The train departed the station - which has been restored at a cost of £800m - on time just after 11am. It arrived in the French capital on time despite a national strike paralysing most public transport in France.

It is the first passenger service to use the new £5.8bn Channel tunnel rail link, known as High Speed 1, which allows trains along the full stretch of the British section to travel as fast as those in France.

There is absolutely no reason to fly to Paris, or Brussels, or any other destination that has a direct Eurostar link. You'll spend more time in airports than the time it takes to get there by train.

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Just Two Of 591,000

While the lead paragraph on this story was that record numbers left the UK in 2006, it's interesting that so many, like us, entered the country in 2006.
The annual international migration figures confirm that an estimated 591,000 people arrived to live in the UK for at least a year in 2006, giving a net inward flow of 191,000, down from the record high of 244,000 estimated for 2004.

In a country of 60 million, that's quite a bit.

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Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Sexiest Prat Alive

I nominate David Cameron as the sexiest prat alive! The Conservative Party leader is smug, smarmy, fiesty and oh so posh -- and there's something attractive in that arrogance, no? Now that Tony Blair's gone, he's the reason to tune into prime minister's questions. Watch, and tell me if you agree. In any event, he'd beat Gordon Brown in a beauty contest.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The New Tube Maps Are In! The New Tube Maps Are In!

Featuring the London Overground.

Looks like we can walk down to Gospel Oak and catch a train straight to Barking (hmmm) or Kew Gardens (yay!) using our Oyster cards.

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Here's A Tip: Don't Buy Etrade

This morning, BBC Breakfast (think Good Morning America or Today) had a feature on tipping service workers. Their in-studio guest was a "manners and etiquette expert" whose first statement was, "Well if you go to a place like America, they really do go over the top on tipping ...."

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Sunday, November 11, 2007

Signs You're Becoming An Englishman

We were watching Fawlty Towers on DVD last night, when the following bit of dialogue took place:
The Major: Strange creatures, women. I knew one once... striking-looking girl... tall, you know... father was a banker.
Basil: Really?
The Major: Don't remember the name of the bank.
Basil: Nevermind.
The Major: I must have been rather keen on her because I took her to see... India!
Basil: India?
The Major: At the Oval... fine match, marvellous finish... now, Surrey had to get thirty-three in about half an hour... she went off to powder her... powder her hands or something... women... er... never came back.

I found myself laughing at the reference to the Oval. It would have been lost on me two years ago.

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Irish As A First Language

Beyond the Pale: Well, it's not Irish-specific, but it applies in reference to the Dublin Pale, the area of settlement surrounding Dublin. To live "beyond the pale" was to be a long way away. Also, if you were bad, you could be tossed out of the pale, hence your behavior was "beyond the pale."

(I learned this from an Irishman whose hometown was just inside the pale.)


Friday, November 09, 2007

Storm Surge--Not Just For Hurricanes

Well, after a summer of extreme rainfall and flooding inland, this is the next natural disaster:
Hundreds of people on the east coast of England have been evacuated from their homes in advance of potentially life-threatening floods this morning.

The Environment Agency (EA) has warned of "extreme danger to life and property" in coastal areas of Norfolk and Suffolk and parts of Kent and Essex amid signs a storm surge could lead to flash flooding. But it said today that water levels were not as high as originally feared.

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Friday Catblogging

Meet Jack ....

... who Ed tells me tends to two humans in Maryland. Ed also tells me that pet photos are the oldest trick in publishing, which is true, and which may also explain why this site is the 11th most popular blog in all of blogdom.

(Thanks to Ed for the photo.)

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Thursday, November 08, 2007

As Long As We're Talking About Disloyalty And Parliament

Gerry Adams, the Sinn Fein leader, is an elected member of the British House of Commons. He cannot take his seat, however, because he refuses to take the parliamentary oath of loyalty to the Queen.

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As Long As We're Talking About The Tube

The Tube has its own unique species of mosquito.

Take that, you intelligent design folks.

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Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Tube Icon Undergoing Change

Yesterday, I got an email from Transport for London informing me that the overland train lines known as the Silverlink Metro are now going to be known starting next week as the "London Overground." Not a big deal, but the overground routes will be included in the iconic Tube map starting next week. Annie Mole has a sneak preview of the new map. She says it looks crowded. I think it looks like a stone of potatoes in a half-stone sack.

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Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Knock Knock

Today was the State opening of Parliament, an annual event wrapped in nearly as much tradition and ceremony as the selection of a Pope or a Freemason beer bash. The headline of this post refers to the day's duty of the Black Rod, a House of Lords officer equivalent to the Sergeant-at-Arms of the House or Senate, who must summon the Commoners by knocking at the door of their chamber and, ceremonially, have it slammed in his face to ceremonially signal the Commoners' actual independence of the hoi-polloi in Lords. That's only a bit of the ceremony. Wikipedia:
First, the cellars of the Palace of Westminster are searched in order to prevent a modern-day Gunpowder Plot. The Plot of 1605 involved a failed attempt by English Catholics to blow up the Houses of Parliament and kill the Protestant King James I and aristocracy. Since that year, the cellars have been searched, but for the sake of form only.

Before the monarch departs her residence, the Crown takes a member of the House of Commons to Buckingham Palace as a ceremonial hostage. This is to guarantee the safety of the Sovereign as she enters a possibly hostile Parliament. Today, with the convention that the majority of the government is drawn from the Commons, the symbolism becomes rather confused - the chosen hostage is usually the Vice-Chamberlain of the Household who, being a member of Her Majesty's Government, it can be assumed would not be hostile. The hostage is released upon the safe return of the Queen.


The Sergeant-at-Arms picks up the ceremonial mace and, with the Speaker, leads the Members of the House of Commons as they walk, in pairs, towards the House of Lords. By custom, the members saunter, with much discussion and joking, rather than formally process. The Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition usually walk side by side, leading the two lines of MPs. The Commons then arrive at the Bar of the House of Lords (no person who is not a member of the Upper House may pass the Bar unbidden when it is in session; a similar rule applies to the Commons), where they bow to The Queen. They remain at the Bar for the speech.

At that point, the holder of the world's second-oldest monarchy, in a monotone, reads a pre-written speech outlining the goals of the elected government. But without the ceremony, it wouldn't be Britain.

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Still More Things That Are Better Back Home

Body weight measurement.

To start off, however, let me say that the United States did something right: When it rejected the metric system, it rejected everything about it. The British, however, are stuck in this weird in-between zone: Temperature's in degrees celsius, distance is in miles, yards, and feet, but body weight is measured in the rather bizarre, antiquated unit called the stone.

Celsius I can handle. Double it and add 30, in the Bob and Doug McKenzie fashion and you approximate degrees fahrenheit. Pounds to kilogram is divide by 2.2. Miles to kilometers, multiply by 1.6.

But pounds to stone? That requires advanced math. And there's no real reason for it, because I still have to say, "I weigh 11 stone 11 pounds." Why wouldn't I just say, "I weigh 165 pounds"? I'd be just as well off to say how many cubits tall I am, or that I live 40 rods up the hill from the Tube station.

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Monday, November 05, 2007

Cutty Sark Update

Since one of our more avid readers is also an avid student of nautical history:

You may have read many places elsewhere of the fire that damaged the famous clipper ship, the Cutty Sark, which sits in Greenwich harbor in London. The ship was undergoing some conservation work at the time, so many parts of the ship that had been removed for that work were spared. The trust which restores and maintains the ship is raising money to repair the damage from the fire. It's easy to do, if you so wish, by clicking here.


Monday Ghostdogblogging

In natural light, Daisy the ghost dog disappears up the stairs.*

*This post contains 100% of your recommended daily allowance of pretension.

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Sunday, November 04, 2007

Happy Leif Erikson, er, Guy Fawkes Day

Guy Fawkes Day, aka Bonfire Night, is the holiday named after the villain, unless you're Roman Catholic, in which case, well, never mind, it gets really complicated and, oooo, look over there, things are popping and exploding in mid-air!

We went up to the Alexandra Palace, (the "Ally Pally"), and watched one of London's organized fireworks displays last night. I won't go into the details of getting there and back, other than to say it proves an earlier point I made about London's inability to manage mass events, so those who are planning to come to the 2012 Olympics are forewarned. We shared space with a lot of folks, including some who liked their personal displays along with the organized fireworks ....

See what you can do when you insist on shooting only in natural light?

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Saturday, November 03, 2007

A Little Video Music Interlude

The delightful Watertiger has this on her blog right now (and she in turn thanks Eli for awakening her to it). Too entertaining to not share with the world.

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Friday, November 02, 2007

Friday Catblogging

I'm feeling a bit bored with my own collection, so I think I might nick something from The Daily Kitten.

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I'm told that Halloween is a less-important holiday here than in the States. Since I don't venture that often into London's commercial core, I can't really tell you how, for example, retailers pitched the holiday. I can tell you that I went for a run on Wednesday evening, just as trick-or-treating was getting underway, and saw my share of costumed children. Many appeared to be heading into parties, rather than taking part in door-to-door treat-gathering. It wasn't the armies of children one would see in a typical family-oriented neighborhood like the one we live in. I can't recall seeing a single house decorated in our neighborhood. I'm not sure if that's because of a particularly British sense of decorum or a particularly Highgate sense of propriety.

What I did notice, however, is that Halloween was the night I first heard fireworks this year as London ramps up for Guy Fawkes Day, aka Bonfire Night. The pops of fireworks continued into last night and I'm sure we'll be hearing them until Monday or so. I believe our plan for the weekend is to view the big display at the Alexandra Palace Saturday night.

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Here In My Car, I Feel Safest Of All

On the two thoroughfares at the termini of our street here in Highgate, traffic grinds to a very slow crawl inbound at rush hour in the morning. Should motorists continue about four miles farther down the road into Central London, they will be assessed £8 (roughly $16) simply for crossing into London's congestion-charging zone. That's in addition to any parking fee you might pay. Yet, buses run down these same roads, and trains rumble underneath--and if you live in the far distant sticks--let's say, Manea, in Cambridgeshire, you can still catch a train to one of 14 terminus stations in London. Except when there is a major fault, the buses and trains run frequently, more frequently than any other mass transit system I've ever used.

So why do people drive? And I ask this because of this article in Wednesday's Guardian in which I learned that the share of Britons who travel by car rose from 27% in 1959 to 87% in 1996, while the share using buses and coaches shrank from 42% to 6%, the share using rail shrank from 18% to 5%, and the share using the world's greatest personal transportation system, the bicycle, shank from 11% to just 1%. The article was accompanied by two photos of Britain's first freeway, the M1: One from 1959, when it first opened, nearly empty, and a second one today, with bumper-to-bumper traffic.

During our visit to New Jersey, we learned that Mrs. Werbenmanjensen's sister lives just three miles from her work (kudos to her for choosing to live close to where she works, although her husband works a much longer distance from their home). She drives because, well, it's New Jersey and it's not like they can be bothered with serving any commuter other than the single person in a single car. It turns out that a colleague of Sister Werbenmanjensen lives in the next development over, and when it was brought up that they could carpool, Sister Werbenmanjensen said, "No, because I want to go when I want to go."

In a free society, of course, we're all free to do as we wish, but if all people "go when they want to go," you have a lot of people simply stopped in traffic. If you have an alternative, though, why would you settle for that?

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