Sunday, October 26, 2008

One step forward, 3 steps back

Yesterday (Saturday) I went and had a look at "the Backs". I assume the name comes from the fact that it is the area behind the old colleges. It's the part of the river with lots of punts and pretty bridges. The tourists are concentrated there. I think the Bridge of Sighs is somewhere there, but I haven't found it yet. I also haven't worked out which is the Mathematical Bridge. I''ve got some research to do.

It's a very pretty area. I had said that I haven't seen anyone in college robes, but yesterday they were everywhere. It must've been graduation day.

I went to the Archaeology Museum. Not bad. It's pretty small, but they do have some really old items.

While roaming the streets after that, I saw three New Zealanders. Let's see:
  • Blue jeans and All Blacks jerseys? Check
  • Each one clutching a can of beer? Check
Come on guys. Some of us are trying to undo the stereotypes. You are walking anachronisms.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Open letters

{I'm aware that this bitchy post has nothing to do with OEs, Cambridge, or travel. I don't get paid for another few days, and I'm almost out of money. I guess that's why I get angry and emotional at the same time each month. I'll be sweet-tempered again in a few days.}

Dear Tescos.

I am writing to apologise. A few weeks ago I purchased one of your bike pumps. It has now broken in two places. At first I assumed that you were selling cheap, useless, plasticy shit, but I did not read the packaging clearly, so perhaps the fault was mine. Perhaps this pump was only designed to push lighter gases than air. After all, air is made up not only of nitrogen, the 7th lightest gas, but to a lesser extent, also oxygen, the eighth lightest. Perhaps if I had used it to inflate my tires with helium, the pump would be intact and my bike would be lighter to ride. If the puncture I got while out riding in the countryside inconvenienced you at all, I apologise.

Yours, etc.
Dear generic cambridge bike shop.

I am writing to thank you. When I purchased a bike from you a few weeks ago, you made me wait while you "serviced" it. I assumed that you were using the term "service" to mean that you would make the bike function adequately. However, it appears you were using the term in the way that a stallion services a mare, because the bike is clearly fucked. Not only has it suffered a pinch flat, meaning that you do not know how to install an inner tube (lesson #1 of any basic cycle maintenance course), but the gears have never shifted cleanly. I am normally a person who enjoys tinkering with bikes, so you have clearly given me several opportunities here. I am sure numerous other opportunities will surface soon.

Thank you, etc.
Dear tailor in Christchurch.

I am writing to compliment you on your subtle sense of humour. Some weeks ago, I brought my new trousers to you to reduce the length of the legs. When you pinned them up, I asked you to make them shorter because I do a lot of walking and they looked like they would reach the ground. You told me to let you do your job because you knew what you were doing. They do indeed drag along the ground when I walk. I see now that you were being wryly sarcastic about your ability to do a professional job, but at the time I missed the joke because I assumed that you were marginally competant. The error was mine.

Yours, etc

Fell in love with A Mann

Went to London last night. The Aimee Mann concert was freakin' awesome.

I got to the O2 with time to spare, so I went looking for some food. I was jonesing for a pizza but there was a queue so I went to one of those sushi conveyor belt restaurants. The way it works is that you take what you want off the belt, and at the end you get charged for the plates you've taken. The colour of the plate dictates how much it costs, so basic items on a green plate are 1.80, while fancy stuff on a gold plate is 4 quid or something.

I've got to be honest: If I'm going to be fed by a conveyor belt, I want it to be because that's the most effficient way to shovel huge quantities of food into my face. I can't think of a food stuff less suited to a conveyor belt system than small portions of overpriced sushi. If the food is minute, and you want a gimicky delivery system, why not have monkeys on rollerskates take it to customers? I just see different coloured pound signs circling past me.

The opening act were the Submarines. Cute. They reminded me a bit of the Spiderbait songs sung by Janet English. A light, folky verse followed by a sudden heavier, guitar-driven chorus.

Aimee Mann started with a couple of songs and was quite static. I thought that maybe she wouldn't have much of a stage presence, but after that she began interacting with the audience and she was brilliant. She said that she was drunk, but I don't believe that for a second - her control was too good. In the middle of the show, someone called out for an old song of hers about a mixed-age relationship called "Mr Harris", and she had a go even though she hasn't performed it for 10 years. She would stop after each line to explain the psychology of what she had been thinking when she wrote it, and to discuss how she didn't agree with any of it any more. It was really amusing, and she seemed to enjoy it too because she kept breaking down laughing. She played a lot of her classics, but not Ghost World, so my squealling was minimal. I've been to concerts before where the performer does not sound the same live as they do on produced records. Aimee Mann sounds exactly the same. Great stuff.

Overall, the trip reinforced my feeling that I'm glad I'm not living in London. The Tube is a piece of crap. I can't believe how rough it is, given the vast volume of people being overcharged to use it. The metro in Bangkok absolutely humbles the London one.

The guy standing next to me at the concert also works with microchips. It's a small world.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Literary Walk

Another quick quiz: Which 2 masters of their respective literary mediums have splashed about in this pool?

Answer: Me and Lord Byron.

It's called Byron's Pool, and I walked there today. It's near a town called Grantchester to the south of Cambridge.

(Actually, I was thinking that Byron drowned, but maybe that was Shelley. Did Byron die of syphilis? I swished my hand around in the water and then I ate my peanut butter sandwich... I think I'll go brush my teeth.)

What other literary colussuses did I encounter on the walk? How about the war memorial at the Grantchester Church. Check out the sixth name down:
I think that the school I went to only had one set of poems, because every year in English we would study the poetry of war, and they would trot out the same works by Tennyson, Wilfred Owen and Rupert Brooke. From memory, Brooke was pro-war but died in the WWI trenches. He refused to acknowledge that he had an infection, so died of "skepticaemia".

By the way, check out the third name down: Joe Blogg. Nice.

Brooke lived at the Old Vicarage in Grantchester, which is now owned by Geoffrey Archer. The wall beside the conservatory on Archer's property is a "folly":
I would consider it one of Archer's lesser follies, since it didn't cause him to get put away for a couple of years.

I walked quite a long way - it was great weather and the Autumn colours were stunningly beautiful. Here are some more pics:

Garden Allotment

Row of trees

Bridge at Grantchester Mill

Autumn leaves among the house boats

Fen lands backing onto the colleges

Pigeons on a roof

House with thatched roof in Trumpington

A sunny lane

Okay, this last one is probably difficult to see. It's a field called Skater's Green. It's now a nature reserve, but about a century ago, that pole in the middle of the field would flood the field in winter to create an ice rink. The brickwork on the left was the ticket booth. Shame they don't still do it:

Skater's Field

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Serenity now!

I'm going to coin a new term: "townaphile". I've got kind-of a crush on Cambridge. Frankly, it's cute as a button.

Firstly, it's a bike town. Apparently, about 1 in 4 people in Cambridge travel by bike, which is the highest ratio in the UK. Because this is England, cars are banked up everywhere not moving. But there are cycle paths everywhere, and the bikes go whizzing along without impediment. It is the way the world should work.

Secondly, Cambridge is pretty tame. I admit to being a country hick. In London, my natural state when out in public is to walk around with my eyes wide and darting, flinching from perceived threats, like a blind cat on a busy motorway. In Cambridge, it feels fine to roam the streets at night. After the TV taping in London last week, we didn't get back to Cambridge until well after midnight and I had to bike across town. Even the type of person who lurks on the streets of Cambridge after midnight on a weeknight seemed pretty benign. My flat is in the area of Cambridge that I was warned to stay away from. I asked my Irish flatmates if it is dangerous here, and they rolled on the floor laughing. Apparently, "Cambridge dangerous" is not on the same thing as "Ireland dangerous".

On Sunday I sat on the couch until 2pm, and then, disgusted at my inactivity, I put on my jacket and wandered through town to the Fitzwilliam Museum. For a small town museum, it was surprisingly well stocked. There is a temporary exhibition of gold jewellery taken from 2-millenia-old Georgian burial mounds that is really impressive.

Just down my street, there's a bookmaker shop and around the corner there's a woman in white, thigh-high boots on the curb (I wonder if she offers foot massages?). It sounds pretty rough, but now amend you mental picture of the street to show the next shop, which is called "Yuppy Puppy" and sells cardigans for dogs. Yes.

Cambridge is just flat-out cool. When I came here, I half expected to see groups of blonde Sebastian Flytes poling around punts, with Aloysiuses lolling dangerously at the prow of the boat. The people are actually pretty much the same drippy-nosed scruffs you see everywhere in England, but the punts and rowing sculls really are always out on the river. Last night I went for a walk after dark, and there were people rowing silently along the inky river, past a couple of white swans and some houseboats. It was serene.

If none of that sways you that this is a cool place, yesterday I realised that I didn't know what my flatmate does for a living. It turns out he's a student studying astro stuff. A couple of his friends are supervised by one Professor Hawking. I don't why Hawking's famous, but he's been on "the Simpsons" twice, so I'm impressed.

On a different note, I do miss antipodean company. Tomorrow I'm off to the pub to meet the members of the local Australian/NZ society. I hope no one mentions the cricket.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Boots it Like Beckham

When I packed to travel here, I assembled the bare minimum of clothes and gear. It was still too much, so I cropped it down further. I tipped everything out of my toilet kit and, in the cull, I took out my aftershave. I wish I hadn't.

Now that I'm getting settled a bit, I went to the chemist to get a new bottle of aftershave. The biggest UK chemist's chain is called "Boots", which I really like because "Boots the Chemist" sounds so small-town-England to me. Maybe it's because I spent the majority of my youth reading Tintin books, which featured repeated mistaken phone calls to "Cutts the Butcher".

Anyway, I went to Boots to get some aftershave. Going in, I had thought that I would get the best bottle that was 3 pounds or less. Fat chance. The majority were around 40 pounds. The cheapest bottle (at 10 pounds) was David Beckham's signature smell. Not only am I not willing to pay 10 pounds to smell like Becks - I suspect I would pay 10 pounds to wash his scent off me.

I'm getting better at not converting every cost into NZ dollars, but that is just ridiculous. So for now my new scent will have to be "Soap" by Knights Castile. Ooo, exotic.