Friday, July 25, 2008

How Much London Costs

The human resources consultants Mercer have released an annual list (at least I think it's annual) of the most expensive cities to live in worldwide. London fell one place to number three, after Moscow and Tokyo. Washington, D.C., tumbled a long way, to 107 from 85. One city whose ranking I don't quite understand is Houston, still up at 98 (but down from 83). I'm familiar with the relative real estate prices in those two metro areas (Washington vs. Houston) and I find it hard to believe, unless somehow the cost of gasoline has made it much more costly to live in Houston these days. I'm left here scratching my head.

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London By The Numbers

The divine Diamond Geezer spent the month of June doing London by the numbers: a number for each day of the month. It's like getting lost in the stacks of a library.

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Thursday, July 24, 2008

Whitecross Street Mural

London, Jul 24, 2008
Originally uploaded by kemptonslim1
The work continues.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Cash Keeps Transactions Private

London, Jul 23, 2008
Originally uploaded by kemptonslim1
The context: This is a riff on one of Transport for London's "Oyster" cards, the smart card that lets you fly through the turnstiles instead of chunking your money in the machine for a single ticket. Because it tracks your every move, however, it's been used in criminal investigations and divorce proceedings, for example. It brought to mind one of conceptual artist Jenny Holzer's infamous sayings, in the headline above. For all you lawbreakers, take a couple minutes to buy a ticket with cash if you want to cover your tracks.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Queen's Garden Party: Textures

The silk dress against my skin (bought on sale at Harrods!):

The tickle of the feathers in my Marks & Spencer hat (part of the afternoon dress for garden parties):

The stickiness left on my fingers by mayonnaise and melting chocolate. (Sorry, no photos of that!) I noticed the Queen wore cream-colored gloves.

And thus ends the garden party series of posts. A tough act to follow, Smitty!

Monday, July 21, 2008

Monday Beachblogging

We have beaches in Britain. It's just not that warm at them.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Queen's Garden Party: Tastes

People seem to be most curious about the menu. Not to disappoint anyone, but I actually didn't consume any of the tea -- it seemed too hot for Twinings, even with lots of milk in it. So I opted for iced coffee -- which was just the right side of sweet -- and lemon barley water. (Someone asked me how the champagne was, but no alcohol was served.)

I sampled one of each sandwich; don't worry, they were almost literally the size of a finger, with no crusts. I hadn't had a crustless lunch since that phase I went through at age 7. Cucumber and mint was nice but not enough mint for my taste. Gammon ham with mustard was the best, and then there was egg mayonnaise and cress. I think it's a law that all teas must serve egg mayonnaise and cress sandwiches. They are certainly in every sandwich shop in town, and while I enjoyed eating that one, it certainly wasn't a unique selection. But you're not really going for unique I suppose -- you're going for tradition!

And last but not least, the cakes: a rich chocolate and toffee with the crown on top (in chocolate, natch); a strawberry custard concoction; a similar one with raspberries; a type of cheescake; and an almond pastry filled with cream. I didn't sample all of these, just the first two and the last one. Finally, smiling servants walked through the throng with silver trays of Loseley ice cream. The choices were strawberries and cream or Madagascar vanilla. The vanilla was great -- the perfect way to end the day.

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Saturday, July 19, 2008

Queen's Garden Party: Smells

I stopped and smelled the Queen's roses:

She of course had a whole section of the grounds with various colors and types. My favorites were Polar Star and Pride of England. And when I was away from prying eyes, I snapped this one lazily nodding in the summer wind. It had the sweetest scent!

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Friday, July 18, 2008

Queen's Garden Party: Sounds

Of course, the party doesn't really start until HM gets there. Her arrival is heralded by the playing of the national anthem, which sounds like this. (Although, I feel like I've been told there is no official national anthem -- anyone care to comment on that?)

Other tunes wafting gently through the breeze at Buckingham included swing classic Sing Sing Sing and an Elton John medley (Candle in the Wind was carefully excluded, as well as The Bitch is Back, but we did get to hear Can You Feel the Love Tonight and Crocodile Rock). Who says bands wearing big plumed hats aren't cool?

And then there are the comments I overheard. One of the Queen's good subjects was telling anyone who would listen that last year, HM had asked her whether she'd had tea yet, and was the tea "stewed." "I don't like stewed tea," HM allegedly told this lady. So should you ever have the Queen to tea, for the love of Earl Grey, don't stew it! Another lady commented on how lovely the Queen's outfit was (this was true IMHO) and how "sensible" her shoes were. Surely, my choice of low heels was ill-advised. "Her lawn will be nice and aerated," said another woman.

The best overheard bit, however, had to be the instructions people receive before they are presented to the Queen. (One does not meet HM; they are presented to her.) People are pre-selected for this honor, and while the rabble like me line her path hoping to get a glimpse, these folks get to speak directly with HM. An usher in a top hat interviews them beforehand to find out something interesting to tell the Queen, and gives them this advice: She is Your Majesty on first reference, and ma'am thereafter. Gents should nod upon being presented, while ladies should curtsy ("just a jiggle" the lady nearest me was told). When we asked a woman with a fabulous hat who these usher-like people were, she said, "Oh, they'll all be back to polishing the silver after this."

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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Queen's Garden Party: Sights

I had a once-in-a-lifetime experience yesterday: Through a lottery, I got a ticket to one of the Queen's three garden parties at Buckingham Palace.

Since there's so much to share, I'll do several posts, each focusing on a different sense. We'll begin with sights. We weren't allowed to take pictures, but that didn't stop some of the 8,000 guests (including yours truly). It was a gorgeous day, sunny, blue skies, about 75 degrees.

We were allowed to explore the gardens, which surrounded a pond complete with ducks.

Sadly, I don't have any photos of the Queen herself (as I was too afraid of having my iPhone confiscated). And while I didn't get to meet her, I was about 6 feet from her while she was talking to someone else. Got a nice view of her lovely pale blue flowered suit, matching hat with feathers, and her grandmotherly smile. Here's a list of other VIPs who was there.

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