Friday, February 29, 2008

Pub Quiz!

Quiz night at the pub seems to be quite a popular event. A group of us entered the local pub’s quiz last night and had a great time, although it was a long night. There was no entry fee, but there were long stretches in between rounds, I guess to get folks to buy drinks.

Out of eighteen teams, our team won! We agreed that the questions weren’t terribly hard, but we’ll take the victory anyhow. We had a choice of eight pints of ale or a bottle of wine. We took the wine so we could head home for the night.

Funny, there was one question that had all my teammates quickly scribbling down answers as me the American, ignorant about European geography sat there. It was something like name the five countries on the continent of Europe that border only one other country. I didn’t even know that San Marino was a country!

Last Night of Mel's Visit

To give Mel a little taste of London nightlife, and selfishly fulfill my craving for live music, we went to see the band Spoon at Scala on Monday night. Spoon is band from Austin, Texas that my friend S from Denver got me into this year. It is weird that every concert I have been to in London has been an American act. Is that a subconscious choice? We had a great view from the balcony and really enjoyed the venue, but we left early because I felt rotten.

We had one of those strange rides home on the train where we witnessed an altercation between two strangers that made everyone else on the train nervous. The day before after the Carling Cup, we had a bunch of young guys get on the train and ask Mel to talk into their shoe as if it was a telephone. I was glad the weird things were happening on the train when I wasn’t alone.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Bus Tour and Walking Tour

The Saturday of Mel’s visit was the lost day. I felt terrible and she didn’t feel much better. For the record, there was not a drop of alcohol consumed during her visit so the un-sunny disposition cannot be blamed on a hangover of any sort. During the visit I was also house-sitting so we only left the house to get some stuff to cook for dinner and then stayed in watching movies and commenting on British television. Being able to cook our own dinner and having more than three television stations was about as much excitement as I could handle on Saturday.

On Sunday, Mel wanted to do one of the open-topped double decker bus tours. We set out for the Marble Arch tube station and quickly found out that there are two competing open-topped double decker bus companies, right next to each other, vying for business. We selected the first one that we saw and waited for our bus to arrive. While waiting, Mel went to find a bathroom and I had the unfortunate task of being chatted up by the ticket guy for one of the bus companies. Even though I had no voice on Sunday due to my cold, he felt the need to ask me lots of questions about myself, which I could not answer. He then got into a fight with the other bus company’s ticket guy. When the tussle broke up, I had to hear about how much he hated the other guy because he had assaulted someone else at their company just last week. Is this really the picture you want to paint to someone supposedly visiting your country? And what is taking Mel so long?

Later in the evening we headed off to Tower Hill Tube Station to meet up with the tour guide of the London Walks Jack the Ripper walking tour. Even on a cold and rainy night, about 50 people showed up for the tour! We broke up into two groups and headed on our way. The tour was very good, focusing not so much on who Jack the Ripper was since no one knows for sure, but instead giving a very vivid picture of what East London was like in the Ripper’s time, and what life was like for the prostitutes he murdered. It was kind of eerie doing this tour on Sunday when just that week in the newspaper all of England read about the sentencing of the Suffolk Strangler, who also murdered five prostitutes in 2006.

The tour runs every night of the week and an additional day tour on Saturday. People who live in the neighborhoods in East London must know it well because we got several people, especially young men coming home from the pub yelling “Don’t let the Ripper get you!” There was also a child that looked about ten on our walking tour. I wonder what kind of questions the parents had to field on their journey home, “Mom, what are entrails, and why would someone have them pulled out and thrown over their shoulder?” “Dad, what’s a prostitute?” It wasn’t exactly family friendly material.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Theatre from Lunch to Evening

Last Friday, after Mel had an intriguing breakfast with one of the B&B guests, we headed off to London. We had lunch at a cute little Italian bistro where two French teenagers were seated next to us. They ordered the cheapest thing on the menu to split, asked for everything free that they could get their hands on, and when the waiter wasn’t looking, they wrapped the complimentary olives and bread into foil that they had jammed into their pockets. I guess they thought they were sneaky. Just to have some fun, the waiters presented them with a bill for £50.00 ($100.00) just to watch their faces. We had a front row seat for the action.

We finished the night off by seeing Spamalot in the nosebleed section. I’m not a Monty Python fan but even I enjoyed it. I don’t know if the seats on the floor were any roomier but both Mel and I had our knees in our faces, which just added to the laughter.

Waking up to Turbulence?

I’ve been house-sitting since Friday and it’s always kind of weird waking up in a strange place in the middle of the night, trying to remember where you are. Last night I thought that maybe I was stretched out across some seats on an airplane and the turbulence had woken me up, but when I noticed the light fixture above me shaking, I didn’t know what the heck was going on. This morning on the news I learned that we had an earthquake in the UK last night.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Mel's Visit in a Nutshell

Mel had a very quick visit to England, leaving this morning. Because both of us were not feeling good, the trip took on a slower pace than usual sightseeing visits. But I felt like she got to see the best of the best:

A small town pub
A West End production
An open top double decker bus tour, complete with dueling salespeople
A Jack the Ripper walking tour
A ride on the train with Chelsea fans on their way to the Carling Cup
A millionaire shortbread bar from M & S
A ride on the train with Tottenham Hotspur fans on the way home from the Carling Cup
A concert at a small venue in London
An umbrella purchase

I’ll elaborate later.

Monday, February 25, 2008

And How Do All Of These People Watch?

With Mel visiting this weekend, we were going to try and stay up and watch some of the Oscar broadcast. After all, each year at the beginning of the show they mention how many millions of people around the world are watching. I've also been kind of skeptical of that number. I was very disappointed to find that the only way to watch the Oscars in the United Kingdom was through a premium satellite channel which I don't have access to.

After seeing my friend M's message that the ceremony was boring, maybe a good night's sleep was the better choice after all.

Monday, February 18, 2008

J Out of Commission

Everyone around me has been sick so i guess it was a matter of time. When I went to Blockbuster on Friday night to rent a movie, the woman behind the counter was sneezing and coughing so hard that I almost said no thank you to my selections after she had touched them. I literally didn't get out of bed at all until today. L was kind enough to check on me often and bring me cups of tea.

My good friend E had sent me an email asking me if I had seen a recent episode of Chef Anthony Bourdain's show No Reservations where he visited London and Edinburgh trying to find out how the UK had gotten such a bad reputation for food. I was fortunate to be able to download the program from iTunes. Do watch it if you get a chance. I am semi-obsessed with Anthony Bourdain right now since he was just on my favorite music podcast and I'm currently reading his book Kitchen Confidential.

Here's to a quick recovery before Mel gets here on Thursday.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Nothing Says I Love You Like...

Marmite! I’ve passed this special edition of Champagne Marmite a few times in the store and thought about sending it to my loved ones. They’ve tried Marmite though and so they wouldn’t take it as a symbol of my love and devotion.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Chinese New Year Celebrations in London

The Evolution of Teenage Pants

When I say “pants” I’m using the American term. I realized after telling little B that his pants were nice, and getting a most puzzled look from him that in his young English mind, pants mean underwear.

Every generation has some fashion trend that sacrifices practicality for cool, or at least what they think is cool. When I was in high school all the girls looked like roosters, teasing and spraying their bangs to amazing heights while the rest of their hair was sometimes completely flat. I mean, what did that look like from behind? In a way it’s symbolic of the teenage mind, damn any other view, from the front I look awesome!

At some point in the 90s (?) boys began wearing extremely baggy pants and the waist of their pants didn’t begin until we saw a butt’s length of boxer shorts first. In the last few years with emo music, skinny jeans became the rage with boys wearing pants that look painted on, sometimes even wearing girl’s jeans to get that tight fit. Lately in London I have been seeing a disturbing hybrid of the two; skinny jeans in the leg, but a severely baggy ass that hangs way past the hip bones. This kid was walking in front of me on the street holding his girlfriend’s hand with one hand and holding his pants up with the other. The silhouette of this look makes the wearer look like they have a freakishly long trunk and short legs.

I guess it’s the sign of my age because I just don’t get it.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Jimi Through The Lens

It seemed quite a coincidence that after seeing the Annie Leibovitz documentary called Life Through A Lens, there would be an exhibition of Jimi Hendrix photography in London subtitled A Life Through The Lens, chronicling his career at the same time that she was photographing people like The Rolling Stones and John Lennon.

I had to crop this photograph because just as I was taking it, a guy who worked at the gallery walked out and got in my shot. We had a bit of an uncomfortable moment. I don't think he liked me taking pictures of his pictures.

Annie Leibovitz: Life Through A Lens

I scored a pass to a screening of a documentary on Saturday in London called Annie Leibovitz: Life Through A Lens. After doing some research, it looks like this documentary ran on PBS just last year but is just being released here in 2008. I really love Annie’s work, and the documentary which was produced by her sister, did an excellent job of not just focusing on the fact that Annie has taken a lot of pictures of celebrities. It was also about her documenting her relationships and her family history. At times the audience laughed and at times we cried. Early in the documentary Annie explains that at some point in her life she realized she loved to travel and see new places and things and being a woman on her own, if she had a camera in her hand, she had a purpose.

If you are a fan of her work or photography in general, do see this. Here is also a link to one of her most famous photographs, the picture of John and Yoko taken just hours before John was murdered.

Missing My Friends

A few weeks ago I was standing on the platform waiting for a train. Hearing laughter, I had to see where it was coming from. There were two friends standing on the platform. A very animated young woman was reading an article from a tabloid about some woman who married a serial killer or something crazy like that. Her buddy was laughing at every pause and it made me realize how much I miss my friends and those moments of laughter.

My friend Mel is coming from Chicago to visit me next week and I cannot wait. I joked with her when she called to start making plans that now I wouldn’t throw myself in front of a bus since she had now given me something to live for. Her deadpan response, just as I expected was, “Yeah, don’t ruin my vacation”. When I was asking her what she wanted to do and see here, her response was she didn’t care, she was coming to see me. That’s a lot of pressure! Please say you won’t die a peaceful death until you have seen Big Ben! Give me a wish I can fulfill and not be stressed out because I doubt my company is worth the price of a transatlantic plane ticket. I am sure at some point during the visit, our laughter on the platform will grab someone’s attention.

Horses by St. James's Park

Strangely Like Spring

For February, the weather over the weekend was glorious. I found myself at St. James's Park and there was evidence of the coming spring all around me.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Camden Town

If you watched the Grammys you might have noted Amy Winehouse mentioning Camden Town in one of her acceptance speeches. The Market caught fire on Saturday, and I have read her favorite pub pictured here was a casualty of the fire. I took this picture back in November.


It was delivered in a small, white paper sack and cut up into rough squares. After the first taste, I was hooked. I am talking about tablet. As potent as a drug, one of my workmates brought me some from the local sweet shop, telling me that I had to try it. It’s a Scottish tradition. It tastes just like an American praline from New Orleans without the pecans. I found this great website that has a recipe. Tablet sounds like a drug because it is one.

Kendal Mint Cake

My old housemate and work colleague H brought me back a northern treat from a recent trip, a Romney’s Kendal Mint Cake. I didn’t quite know what to expect when she said it was a treat that people take on walks, but I guess this practice came from a very successful advertising campaign where it was marketed as an energy bar. It reminded me a lot of the inside of a York Peppermint patty, but with a better consistency and stronger peppermint flavor. I am attaching a link to explain the history of the bar.

Monday, February 11, 2008

The Distance Between Us

I didn’t put any posts up on the blog this weekend, because it was a particularly difficult weekend being away from the family. A’s performance at school is atrocious and it just leads to H and I arguing about it. She is not helping the situation at all. I found myself sitting on a park bench by the Thames on Saturday, either staring off onto the water, or looking at the babies being pushed by their parents in their strollers thinking, parents you’re in for a world of heartache once they can talk.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Hangin' with the Tourists

I was talking to a colleague yesterday when getting coffee and mentioned taking pictures of St. Paul’s and other buildings in London. He asked me if I did touristy things on the weekend. I couldn’t tell if he was going to be judging me by my answer but I didn’t care. I told him yes, I won’t live this close to London for the rest of my life so I want to see everything it has to offer. Last Saturday when I was walking across Millenium Bridge, which crosses the Thames, a tour boat was passing under the bridge and there were some kids waving to us folks on the bridge so enthusiastically that I found myself waving back just as enthusiastically. There is something to be said about being in the heart of the tourist areas. Everyone else is probably on vacation and in good spirits. Sometimes it rubs off.

Tower Bridge

Last Sunday I was without a plan. I just walked and walked and walked and took these pictures of Tower Bridge before heading home.

Soho's Seedy Past

According to the walking tour, this neighborhood of beautiful row houses used to be home to the working girls.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Soho Walking Tour

I took a walking tour through Soho on Saturday. It’s a very mixed neighborhood with vinyl record shops, bookstores (that have highbrow selections on the ground floor and porn in the basement), and pubs. If you have seen the movie Mrs. Henderson Presents, this was her risqué nightclub. There were also some very famous people like Karl Marx and Mozart who once lived in Soho as you can see from the blue plaques.

St. Paul's Again

These were taken the same day I toured St. Paul's in the morning but the afternoon sky had a very different look.

How Many Ways Can You Say "To Be Or Not To Be..."

This was a pretty cool display. You could listen to some of the most famous actors' performances of Shakespeare. I was a bit of a cynic, thinking how different could these be but there was a lot of variation. I preferred Richard Burton's Hamlet to the others.

Beautiful Costumes

But do they smell nice?

Interesting Fact about Costume Cleaning

This little nugget was posted by the costume display at the Globe Theatre.

Films Based on Shakespeare Plays

The gift shop had a nice selection of films of or based on Shakespeare's plays.

Pics of the Globe's Stage

Shakespeare's Globe

Because I had a pass to use, I went to visit Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, not thinking I would really enjoy the tour much. It ended up being one of my favorite destinations in London. The actual Globe Theatre was at a different location not far from where this replica was built in the 90’s. Because of laws in the city of London dating back to the Great Fire, there are no wood structures with thatched roofs allowed. This is the only structure that is the exception and that is because of the safety features they have built in to protect it. Now that I have toured the theatre, I am very anxious to come back and see a play when the season begins in April. The tour guide, Stephanie, was wonderful! The area in the front of the stage is for standing tickets and they are only £5 each. Keep in mind though that you are exposed to the elements because the roof only covers the seats and the stage. But because you can bring your own beer in, people don’t seem to mind.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

St. Paul's and The Blitz of 1940

The good people of London kept watch over St. Paul's. This monument is across the street from the church and commemorates their courage.

More Pictures of St. Paul's

It's hard not to keep photographing this building!

The View from St. Paul's

434 Steps

Saturday morning I did the proper tour of St. Paul’s Cathedral. I even bought the additional audio so I could take it all in. As I walked towards that beautiful dome, I was thinking about my first visit to London after I moved and how St. Paul’s was the first magnificent landmark that I came in contact with. Seeing it again almost six months later, I felt so much more settled in my environment. That first weekend I had walked into the church, lit a candle, and talked to God. I couldn’t take in the beauty around me because I was still too afraid this move was a crazy idea.

February not exactly a tourist heavy month, and having arrived not long after the doors had opened, St. Paul’s was more peaceful than ever. I highly recommend getting a chance to be standing in that building without a tour group hot on your heels.

I climbed up to the Whispering Gallery, but having no one to whisper to, I’ll take the audio tour’s word for it that you can hear someone whisper from the other side of the dome. After the Whispering Gallery, you can climb up to two other galleries that allow you to walk around the dome on the outside. To the top is 434 steps, and while I thought I might die, I did it. It was a beautifully sunny day so the pictures I got were worth it and a little exercise didn’t hurt either.

You can’t take pictures in St. Paul’s but if you go to their website, you can take a virtual tour. This is probably additional evidence of me watching too many movies, but when I was standing at the ledge of the Whispering Gallery looking down on the beautiful floor below, I was thinking, it would be a great scene if there was a fight in the Whispering Gallery with someone plummeting to their death down on the Cathedral floor. Do the virtual tour and tell me that the floor of the Cathedral would not make a good death scene!

Limitless Possibilities

I took this on the way to the tube station Saturday morning. Camera in hand, I wasn't sure where they day would take me.

Battered Sausages

Before moving here I didn’t think there was a way of adding fat to sausage. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t object to the fat content, but it’s a matter of personal taste. I like my fat in the Ben and Jerry’s variety. One night I came home to a meal of battered sausages, chips, and mushy peas (yes, they are just that, smashed up green peas) from the local chip shop and I started to begrudgingly eat it, thinking what a waste of calories it was. It actually wasn’t bad, but once is quite enough.

I am attaching a recipe for those who might want to try it themselves.

Manual vs. Automatic

My friend just bought this adorable new car, and I absolutely love it. He said it is an automatic, the first he has ever owned. We went on to discuss the European mentality towards automatic transmissions. What keeps them from embracing this technology? I am glad that we have owned a few manual transmission vehicles in the States so I am prepared to buy one here. I think the thing that scares me the most about driving here is how narrow the roads are. In the States, there’s a lot of room for error!