Friday, October 30, 2009

Who Knew the Entertainment Would Be on the Train

Saturday was a great day. After A got packed and ready for her early train on Sunday, we went to Camden to have some dinner at the market and to see a photography display at Proud Gallery. Camden is full of various ethnic food stalls and I think Saturday A and I did not choose wisely! We’ve had great food there but it is possible to have some dreadful food as well.  The line at this creperie was really long.  I shouldn't have let impatience.get the best of me.

On to the O2 Arena for the Green Day concert and A absolutely loved it. Every time the band talked in between songs, all I could think was wow, they sound so American! On the journey home we boarded the last train of the evening and it was packed. I couldn’t help but notice this young guy, looked to be about 18 sitting about three rows away but facing us. I noticed him because he was so thin that he was nothing but teeth and cheekbones and his skin was a strange color. He was very drunk and very soon I noticed that he was beginning to slowly heave. Yes, in a packed train with no bathroom he began to throw up all over the place. I was so afraid that the smell would hit us and set off a chain reaction. His friend got some napkins from somewhere and then promptly left him alone on the train. Some poor girl who didn’t even know the guy took care of him. By the time he got off of the train, his skin was green and there was a void of people in the middle of the car where he had been sitting.

The funniest part of the evening was everyone’s reaction around the guy. While I felt like I needed to make it a lesson telling A don’t ever do such a thing, the rest laughed at the poor guy right to his face and made comments to him like, “did you eat chicken because I smell chicken”.  A woman near us was musing about all the places she had puked in the city, but she had the decency never to do it on a commuter train!  By the end of it A and I couldn’t stop laughing. There was a young Frenchman on the train and one of the older guys standing near said to him, “I bet in your country you know your limits. See what happens here when the young ones drink here. They can’t handle their liquor.”

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

What’s a Jodphur?

School is out this week and A got invited to go to Cornwall with her friend to attend a riding camp. Although I don’t like horseback riding, I’m pretty jealous that she will be spending the week riding a horse along the beach. The riding style is English obviously so I asked her friend’s mother what she needed for the camp. She suggested jodphurs, riding boots, and some gloves. There’s a store on the high street that I’ve been in a few times because they sell luggage. Little did I know that upstairs there’s a whole new world, and that world smells strongly of leather. She came out of the dressing room in her jodphurs, feeling pretty self conscious about their form-fitting style. There was a saddle on a stool there so one can try out the fit of the pants. The woman encouraged her to have a seat. I asked her if I could take her picture but she wasn’t amused.

She had to come back to my office because I had one last call before I headed home for the weekend. The call was with a dear friend of ours so after business was over, A said hello. When she handed the phone back to me my friend said, “She sounds so British and so mature!” I don’t hear the British part but it must be more obvious to our American friends.

Sunday she and J took the six hour train journey southwest. After the first evening of riding we got a text message from her that said, “My bum hurts”. Well, even though I don’t hear her sounding British, she is texting British.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

It's the Time of Year for a Dramatic Sky

I Almost Start an International Incident

About a month ago A asked me if I could recommend an autobiography for her to read for school. I should have emailed one of my many librarian friends, but I felt like I needed to give her direction quickly because she was throwing out titles by popular celebrities. On a side note, I know this is also a common occurrence in the U.S. but it seems to be a requirement here. If you are on stage or screen you have a book deal. Every celebrity, no matter how minor, has published an autobiography. Even people who have been on reality television have books out! I haven’t looked into it but I suppose that none of them are written by the celebrity, so how they get classified as autobiographies I will never know. Anyway, to avoid her thinking that she could read one of those, I suggested Homer Hickam’s Rocket Boys. I haven’t read it myself but since he lives in Huntsville, I knew a lot about it. She was a bit annoyed with me because the book was longer than her friends’ selections.

So fast forward to my walking tour of East London where the tour guide spoke with contempt about Wernher von Braun and his V2 that destroyed a lot of East London. I was thinking to myself, having lived in Huntsville, Alabama where the von Braun Center is the biggest venue in town, obviously we have a different image of von Braun, who was instrumental in the U.S. rocket program.

A asked me to look over her notes. She had to deliver a speech on Rocket Boys. As I read her notes which described how Homer Hickam idolized von Braun I started getting nervous. If her teacher is clear on the facts of WWII, she may get angry at A’s speech. I told A that she needed to do some additional research and as I started to explain to her that von Braun had a controversial past, she started getting very nervous afraid she was going to get in trouble at school. We found some additional information, which actually was from a book my history professors at UAH had written, that explained von Braun’s past. At least now she was prepared. She hasn’t said anymore about it, so it must have gone well.

P.S. A had in her possession recently one of the books that a friend of hers selected as her autobiography.  It was Go Ask Alice by Anonymous.  I told A that it is rumoured that the book is not an actual diary but instead written as a message book about drug abuse.  I almost laughed since I remember reading that when I was about 13 and it scaring me.  It's still around scaring teenagers!

Brick Lane on a Sunday

With the market on Sunday, Brick Lane was packed and it was excellent people watching.  If only I could have disguised my camera, I could have taken tons of pics of the fashion and the faces.

One of the Posh Streets in East London

This is one of the only streets intact after World War II and it was a refuge for the French Huguenots escaping persecution.

Such Polite Graffiti

We walked through this park in East London and the writing on the gatepost made me laugh.

The Birth of the Liberty Bell

Whitechapel Bell Foundry is the oldest business in Britain and the maker of the Liberty Bell and Big Ben.

East London Tour

I wasn’t really thinking about the fact that I have already done a London Walk in East London, when I picked the East London walk as my day out a few Sundays ago. I really need to do a London Walk in a different part of the city. Since the Olympic development is happening there though, I was kind of hoping to get a feel for what’s going on there, but the development was not near where the tour was. The walk was still worth it. What did I learn? Well, I learned that a lot of East London was bombed during WWII because the major industry sat outside central London. I learned about the different ethnic groups that have moved through the area. East London is once again in transition. Ten years ago it wasn’t cool to live in East London but with the Olympics coming and gentrification, people like Keira Knightly now call it home.

The tour guide mentioned that we needed when we stopped to group closely together so the residents passing could get weren’t bothered. He said that some residents can be pretty annoyed by the tour. There are lots of Jack the Ripper tours in East London and he said that his tour gets mistaken for one of them. The residents don’t like the Jack the Ripper tours. See back to my post on the Ripper tour if you want to know more about those tours.

Here's a picture of a schoolhouse built in East London that is no longer in use.  To give the students a playground in the crowded city, they put it on the top.

One of our stops was in front of a glass building called The Idea Store. What is The Idea Store? It is the re-branding of the Whitechapel Library. The Whitechapel Library used to be called the university of the ghetto. Our tour guide mentioned that while the library used to have a large collection of Yiddish materials, Bengali materials have now surpassed that. As I was standing next to the building listening, there was a little girl that looked about four years old, with henna flowers painted on her hands was smiling and waving at me through the glass. As always, it comes back to the library!

Before the NHS and free healthcare for all there was the Royal London Hospital, which never charged for care. This is where John Merrick (aka The Elephant Man) lived out his days. There are beautiful new shiny blue buildings in the works right now which will be the new Royal London Hospital. Our tour guide mentioned that when the development was finished, it would be the largest hospital in Europe.

The tour ended on Brick Lane, so I picked up some bagels, the cheapest meal in London, for A’s breakfast, and headed home.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

The Angel of the South

Angel of the North is a famous sculpture located close to Newcastle.  I guess this guy standing in Trafalgar Square was spoofing this?

Red Velvet Cape

The flimsy red velvet cape first caught my eye, and then the blood dripping from the hand was next. I was standing on the platform in central London waiting for a train out to East London when I noticed this person standing by me. Okay it was early October, is it too early for a Halloween costume, that was my first thought but no this was no Halloween costume. I believe the person that I was looking at was a man. Even though the feet wore beaded flip flops, the face, hands, and feet had a very masculine quality. The hair was making a feminine attempt as it was long and looked like it had been dyed the colour of honey at some point, but was now in a neglected state. She wore a black dress under the cape, and looked very tired and worn out, in fact the only thing that looked youthful was her enviable cleavage that couldn’t be ignored due to the low cut dress. The bloody hand that she kept dabbing at looked suspicious. As we sat down next to each other on the train, she alternated between cleaning her bleeding hand and trying to open a CD she’d recently bought at a record store. What was the CD? It was The Velvet Underground & Nico which has the Andy Warhol picture on the cover. At first I was thinking she might be homeless, but seeing her open the jewel box of the CD made me think she’s headed somewhere to listen to this CD, home I suppose. Everyone sitting around on public transportation has a story, but I found myself very curious about hers.

First Stop - National Portrait Gallery

Whenever I’m in the area I take a spin around the National Portrait Gallery. Currently they have a small display of photographs from Bob Dylan’s 1966 European Tour, and one of the photographs was used for the cover of Martin Scorsese’s documentary, No Direction Home. Love Bob Dylan or not, the photographs are pretty cool. My favourite can be viewed from the link and it’s called “Children on Steps”. It was taken in Liverpool and the kids had no idea who this guy was but wanted to mug for the camera.

Sunday Walk in London

A few Sundays ago I went into London alone for the afternoon. It reminded me of my early days after the move when just me, my thoughts, and my iPod would go into London to walk with not much of a plan. The weather was beautiful, sunny but feeling like autumn. In the end I walked around the National Portrait Gallery, Proud Gallery, did a walking tour of East London, walked through Brick Lane and the Whitechapel Art Gallery and brought home bagels for A’s breakfasts, so it was a good ramble.

At some point in the middle of the day, my thoughts got the best of me, worrying about the economy, work, etc. I had to remind myself, it’s time to focus on the moment, let the rest just pass. I wish I could turn my brain off.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Birmingham Photographic Grid

The shopping centre outside of our hotel had this photographic exhibit displayed and I thought it was a neat concept.  In an attempt to accurately portray Birmingham life in a systematic way, places on a well-travelled bus route were used as subjects. As the website says, "The grid imposes a system that may sometimes locate the picturesque but is just as likely to find the industrial, the rugged, the new, old, boring, threatening or just ugly". 

After all, a city is made up of all of these things.

Birmingham New Street Station

This is Birmingham New Street Station. It was voted one of the Seven Horrors of Britain. This article explains how a revitalization campaign gained momentum. I didn’t think it was that horrible.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Birmingham on a Saturday Morning

While the girls were packing up, I went in search of coffee and thought I would take a few snapshots of Birmingham. It was oh so quiet, not a brummie accent to be heard.

Birthday Present in Birmingham

I gave A a choice a few months ago. She could have a birthday party, or she could invite one friend and I would take both of them to Birmingham for an overnight visit where one of her favourite bands was going to be playing. She picked the latter and I have to say I was pretty relieved as I was not up for the party. So last Friday, right after A got out of school, she and her besty J and I travelled up to Birmingham by train. Friday night on public transportation can be entertainment as passengers start the party early, and this Friday was no exception. I had booked us in a hotel close by the train station and picked the train station closest to the venue so everything looked to be in walking distance. But because we arrived so close to the time of the show and we still had to drop our stuff off at the hotel, I told the girls we would get a taxi outside of the train station to get to the hotel. When we walked up to a taxi and I explained where we were going, the taxi driver wouldn’t take us. He said you can walk there. I started looking at the map but I couldn’t find the building so I called the hotel. The woman at the front desk explained that the hotel was part of a shopping and entertainment complex. She kept saying that I should look for a sign for the mailbox because that’s where the hotel is. I repeated I’m sure to the annoyance of the hotel clerk, The Mailbox??? That is such an American term, one I have never heard before here so I couldn’t figure out what she meant. In the mean time, as A tends to do when she senses at all that we are lost, she started freaking out saying things like we’re never gonna find it. I finally had to turn to her and say “Don’t talk to me right now”. Sure enough, after about a five minute walk we are standing in front of a building called, you guessed it, The Mailbox. It was a comedy of errors finding the hotel buried within the building though.

By the time we got to the concert, we weren’t speaking so I pointed out a meeting spot to the girls and I went to find a place to wait until this was over. Knowing I’m not going to be crazy about the music, I look at these evenings photo opportunities. The venues in the UK are a lot less uptight about letting people bring in cameras. I did after walking around the venue, find what seemed to be the “parent’s section” and stood there. When the show was over, A and J emerged from the crowd completely soaked with sweat. They had pushed their way through the front. The only thought I had was oh God, how am I going to explain J’s internal injuries to her mother?

We stood outside the Academy so the girls could get autographs. The air was starting to feel crisp but it was still pleasant to be standing out there with a few other parents and a massive crowd of girls. I heard one of the girls say after meeting the lead singer, “I got his autograph and kissed his elbow!” Hahaha

Mission accomplished.

P.S. This must be the Guitar Hero effect. In between bands, as the venue blasted Bon Jovi’s Livin on a Prayer, and those teenagers, aged 14 to 19 sang every word.

Monday, October 5, 2009

First Day

Today is H's first day as a chef. I am anxious to hear how it goes! He roasted some chicken for us yesterday so we wouldn't starve this week. :)

A Bird in the House

At the old house we had a cat get in through an open window with embarrassing results. With this fresh in my mind, I only open the high windows on the first floor. We’ve had other “visitors” in this house. In the middle of the night a month ago H jumped out of bed after being stung by a bee that flew in our window. Last Saturday morning as I was looking forward to a good sleep in because of the jet lag, I was awoken abruptly with a shake and the words “there’s a bird in the house”. I never got out of bed to see it, H guided it back outside through the bathroom window, I just did my best to go back to sleep.

I haven’t done any research but I imagine having a bird in the house is either really good luck or a sign of pending doom.

American Universities for British Students

One of A’s friend’s parents was asking me about applying to American universities for her son, which surprised me but reading this article it shouldn’t. When everything is usually more expensive here, the cost of a university education is the one place where there is savings. It figures that will probably be the time we are heading back to the U.S. That seems to be our financial luck!

Recently I was discussing American universities with a colleague and she said something like, well we don’t have those sororities like you do. I told her that not everyone that goes to university participates in Greek life, in fact I think of all my friends I only know two or three people that did. She was amazed by this and said that it just goes to show that you can’t believe everything that you see on tv!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Calming Baby - UK Style

My buddy K is about to embark on the greatest adventure of her life, parenthood! Wanting to send her something unique, I spotted Gripe Water at the pharmacy a few weeks ago, and hoped it would make her laugh as much as I did. The word gripe makes me think of an adult having a bitch session, not a baby with gastrointestinal distress. After I found it at the pharmacy, I went back to the office and asked one of my co-workers what connotations the word "gripe" conjured and they had the same feeling I did. They were just as baffled by gripe water as I was.

Want to know more about gripe water? Check out this link.