Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Welsh You Were Here

Howdy. The Werbenmanjensens are in Holyhead, Wales, where we've spent the last couple of days. The Rough Guide to Wales describes it as "downbeat," which is true in its own way, but there is a bit of natural beauty out here. We've been to near the top of Holy Mountain to see a couple of dazzling views (we'd give you photos, but we're using internet cafe terminals right now so publishing photos is out of the question). The path up was a good deal easier than those Scottish mountains, and we had bright and clear conditions. We're hopping the ferry to Dublin today, although our fast ferry has been canceled because of rough weather out on the Irish Sea. We're now on the "cruise ferry" leaving at 2-ish. I'm happy to report that we have American-made Dramamine so we don't have a repeat of another rough ferry ride.

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Signs Of The Obvious

Why yes, Flood Lane might be liable to flooding if it's right next to the Thames, which it is in this case. From the non-rugby collection of Twickenham images.

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Monday, April 28, 2008

Friday Catblogging

In a startling reversal of form, Friday catblogging is making a special guest appearance on Monday.

Where's Greg?

There he goooooooeeeesss.

And there he is!

The Passionist fathers and brothers who operate the church have informed us that the Westminster Archdiocese will assume control in October. Nobody's told us what will become of Greg. Let's hope he stays!

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Sunday, April 27, 2008

Scrum Bums

It's been a sporty couple of weeks for me. Football last week, followed seven days later by rugby, live from Twickenham Stadium, home of English Rugby. And with a trip to see cricket last summer, we've now done the triple crown of quintessentially English sports.

Saturday's game was a European Cup semi-final match between London Irish (who play in Reading) and Toulouse (who play in, probably, Toulouse, as in France). Since it was a high-level match, it was played at a theoretically neutral ground, although it was clear Irish fans dominated the stands. Would that it were so on the pitch.

Here you see one of the more interesting plays, a "line out," (click for better detail), the equivalent of an in-bounds throw in basketball. There's lots of feinting and pumping of the ball on a line-out play, as both team scan lift a player up into the air to catch it (or knock it loose), so anticipation is key.

These photos are as rubbish as last week's football photos, but bear with me. They were taken with my iPhone.

The truly quintessential rugby play, the scrum. Which is what happens when one team fumbles the ball forward (a penalty called a "knock on.") The team who didn't fumble gets to toss the ball into the two tons of snorting humanity, usually to his side's favor. I had an American say he didn't understand a scrum. I described as being the same as a jump ball in basketball: It's how you decide possession after play has stopped for a specific reason. Not so much anymore in basketball, I suppose.

And after a hard-fought Toulouse victory--their side was favored, although the outcome was not clear until the final whistle as Irish, down by a try kept, pushing toward their goal--you see that the fans can get along, with the green Irish flags and the red Toulouse fans flying side-by-side. Not like football at all.

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Friday, April 25, 2008

April Is The Cruelest Month

Winter ...

Spring ...

It's finally spring in London. On Tuesday and Wednesday I rode my bike through central London in the post-work hours and the tables outside the pubs were occupied by more than just the smokers. We'll know it's summer when some of the beer-gutted men have doffed their shirts--although since we didn't have one last year, who's to say we'll have one this year? Yesterday was sun, rain, sun, rain, sun, rain, sun. In short, typical April.

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Thursday, April 24, 2008

Thursday Catblogging

Via Annie Mole, we learn that a cat is now the "official stationmaster" of a Japanese train station.

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Monday, April 21, 2008

Saturday And Football, Like Fish And Chips

... or something. On Saturday, I managed to borrow a pair of season tickets to see the legendary Arsenal Football Club, aka the Gunners, at their fairly new park in North London. From our old flat in Highgate, I could walk to the main drag, turn left and see the top of Emirates Stadium, but inside it's a little more fun. Saturday's game was against Reading, a club that might get dragged into a little bit of a relegation battle (in European sporting leagues, the bottom two or three teams in any league get bumped down to the next level and the top two or three from the league below get to move up. It spares the awful spectacle of teams trying to lose to improve their draft position that you see in such leagues as the NBA as moving down a league has financial consequences).

I invited a friend whose knowledge of football is fairly encyclopedic. He is a Crystal Palace fan and could recall the scores of the last four times Palace ventured to Arsenal's old stadium (all losses for Palace). Among other things, I could crack a joke about a pub called "The Herbert Chapman" on Holloway Road and he was able to tell me which titles Arsenal won under Chapman (the years helpfully listed inside the stadium).

This photo will join millions of other lousy photos of football matches published online (you can click on it for better detail--Arsenal are in red, Reading in blue, and Arsenal is on the attack in this photo). One thing to note: If you look at the far end of the stadium, you might just be able to make out a line of orange-clad stewards. To the right of them are Arsenal fans, to the left are Reading fans. Football fans do not tend to play well together.

My friend, the Palace fan, said after the game, "I'd forgotten how good football can be." Indeed, Arsenal were in the hunt for four titles this year, although at this late stage in the season are out of all four. They did win this one, however, 2-0.

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Friday, April 18, 2008

Friday Catblogging

Well, let's see what's in the ol' archives ...

Greg settles in for a nap.

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Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Masai warriors' take on London

The London Marathon was on Sunday. A group of Masai warriors from Tanzania ran to raise money to drill a well for their village. The villagers now face attacks by wild animals when they go to fetch water. Here's a diary kept by one of the warriors, on what it's like to be a tourist AND a tourist attraction at the same time.

And forget about training for the race -- the men were allegedly given booklets on how to interact with Londoners. Among the tips: when to spit, and how to interpret frowning office workers.

By the way, they finished the race, wearing shoes made from old tires.

Speak Clearly And Distinctly

I thought I was the only one who had trouble with British dialects. From The Sun:
A TEENAGER called directory inquiries to book a taxi but ended up having a cabinet delivered – because she asked for a “cab, innit”.

The 19-year-old Londoner wanted a taxi to take her from her home to Bristol airport, and first asked for the number using the Cockney rhyming slang “Joe Baxi”.

When the baffled operator told her she could not find anyone listed by that name, the teen snapped back: “It ain’t a person, it’s a cab, innit.”

Monday, April 14, 2008

Monday Sunriseblogging

Sunrise over the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Big round of applause to Mrs. Werbenmanjensen for her blogging prowess over our recent break.

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Tuesday, April 08, 2008

A Wet Homecoming

... and I'm not talking about the weather here. I flew into Heathrow's utilitarian but functional Terminal 3, (where the ATMs never have cash but your plane arrives and your luggage is sorted somewhere other than the Apennine peninusla) thanks to Untied Airlines Monday morning, only to come home, take a shower and realize that water was leaking and spewing all over our new flat. This is not something one wants to confront when one has slept only a few minutes in the preceding 24 hours.

Oddly, some of the water was spilling backwards out the outlet valve in the upstairs bathtub. The culprit? A broken float valve in the upstairs toilet tank. Because these London architects get clever with bathrooms and hide toilet tanks inside enclosed tiled cabinets, I couldn't identify the problem, which is one of the few DIY problems I have the capability of fixing.

There are, of course, ominous signs. A neighbor and the superintendent who came to help clean things up mentioned recent flooding in several other flats in the building.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Snow way!

I woke up this morning to snow flurries! While it's sticking to rooftops, it doesn't appear to be accumulating on the ground. This must be that Arctic blast they were talking about.

I took some photos but for some reason they don't want to upload... grr. Maybe Smitty can figure it out when he gets back... But meanwhile, you can look at this.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

British Humo(u)r

Since I don't have anything better to post, here's a little ditty starring Simon Pegg, whom you may remember from such films as Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead:

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Even more things I missed

Tonight I met a good friend for dinner on the South Bank, near Waterloo station. She noticed that I didn't include friends on my short list of things I missed. So here's a shout-out to all my peeps in the big smoke! I DID miss you.

After dinner, it being a spring-like night, I decided to take the 20-minute walk along the Thames from Waterloo to London Bridge, where I caught a train home. And then I saw other things I missed: the gentle lapping of the river against the muddy beach; the glittering lights hanging like electric smiles from the boats laden with tourists, or drunkards, or both; the skeletal spire of St. Bride's; the Buddha-belly dome of St. Paul's; the modern entrants to the skyline, Tower 42 and the infamous Gherkin, which we can see (sort of) from our flat. I am one soul among millions who have taken this walk through the ages, with all or some or none of these sights to see, and yet I felt special. I felt like it was for me -- not for the lovers snogging on benches, not for the smokers huddled outside the pubs, not for the bike commuters or the skater boys. It's my city as much as anyone's, and I love it.

British summer time

One thing that I forgot to mention was that when I left London, the UK still hadn't gone to British Summer Time (hereafter referred to as BST). The U.S. got ahead of us on that because of some act of Congress designed to save energy. I'd like to see a report on how much energy that saves. I can think of 10 things Congress could enact that would save energy -- including telling them all to stop chilling the bloody hearing rooms in summertime -- but let's not go there in this post.

And today, I saw this press release from the Met Office, the UK's national weather forecaster, telling us we're going to have a "typical British summer." So of course, I was stoked, because we DIDN'T HAVE a summer last year. As our Yankee pals who went to Devon with us last August. Brr! As one of my English colleagues was quick to point out, however, "typical" doesn't necessary equal "great summer." Still, I'm optimistic. Anything's better than last year!

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Airport chaos

For those of you who were wondering whether I got caught up in the Terminal Five chaos at Heathrow, the answer is no. Because I flew Virgin. Meanwhile Smitty hopefully won't get caught up in this mess. Ah, air travel!

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

The things I missed, Part II

While two weeks was not nearly enough to see all the people and do all the things I wanted to do, it was almost too long to be away from our adopted home. Here's a short list of things I missed about London:
1. News that doesn't involve the U.S. presidential race.
2. Double-decker buses. Whee!
3. Doctor Who. David Tennant is dreamy.
4. Castles. If only I could find a T-shirt that said "Castle Freak" in the Tower of London gift shop.
5. Football. By which I mean this.
6. My own bed!

And there's something that's missing still -- Smitty!

The things I missed

I've just returned from my longest trip to the States since we landed in Jolly Olde. Here's a short list of things I missed about the U.S.:
1. Customer service. Seriously. Any shop I walked into, the clerks were all too eager to help. Here, you're keeping them from a fag break.
2. Friendliness. Londoners aren't as cold or callous as they're made out to be, but people in New York will actually look you in the eye and smile, whether in the office or on the street. And yes, I'm talking about New Yorkers.
3. The weak dollar. Bring on the sales! How low can it go!
4. Trash cans. I know why they took them out of London, but that doesn't make it less annoying for those of us who refuse to clutter the buses and the tube with our Starbucks cups and KFC leftovers.
5. Skyscrapers. There's just something about the dramatic skyline of New York, even sans World Trade Center, that warms my heart. It makes me feel like this.
6. Bars where the waitress takes your drink order. That said, one does get impatient when they don't come around as often as you think they should. Kind of like the full service/self service debate about New Jersey gas stations.
7. Last but not least, family and friends of course!

A public service announcement

Hi, gang. As Smitty wanders along country roads that may or may not take him back where he belongs, I will be attempting to blog once a day for your amusement. I apologize in advance for being a bit rusty, and I thank you for your kind attention.

And now for something completely different.