Sunday, November 23, 2008

And on...

This week's scheduled post will not be appearing.

On Friday at work, I asked about good places to go for cheap, and someone suggested Norwich. It seemed a decent idea, but on Sunday morning I got up to find snow lying on the ground in Cambridge. Rain quickly melted it away, but the BBC webcam showing the Norwich market was enough to put me off travelling there. They got covered in snow.

Instead, I reverted to my standard Sunday activity - skulking in my room until mid-afternoon, when I get so bored I grab my camera and roam the streets. Damn it was cold. Might do Norwich next weekend.

This week I'll be missing a wedding back home and a birthday party in Thailand. I feel like a bit of a heel, and a long way from home. I'm thinking of you three.

Okay, boring photo time:

Bridges on the Cam

One of the schools (why yes, I am too lazy to look it up)

Entrance to Corpus Christi

(At this point, I missed the greatest photo ever as a woman on an old bicycle rode past with a huge bunch of multi-coloured, helium filled balloons trailing behind her. I had just packed my camera away, and couldn't react quickly enough. The only way it could've been a better image was if the balloons had hoisted her into the air.)

King's Chapel Through a Gate

Skating on Parker's Piece (below too)

I thought this was interesting. You may know that Samuel Pepys was a 17th century administrator in England. He kept detailed diaries which have survived, and today these diaries provide a lot of info about daily life then. The diaries are now housed at the Pepys Library in Cambridge. But did you know he was also a hairdresser? His shop is still there:
(Shit that was a reach. I can't wait until Summer, when I can do more posts featuring Mediterranean beaches, and fewer featuring lame puns about Restoration civil servants).

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Retail in England

My friend D reports that since the credit crunch has hit, you can now get good service in London. People in shops and restaurants are actually asking if they can help you. Remarkable.

One of the big issues in the media here is teen knife crime. It's hard to tell if it's actually any worse than normal, or if it's just the media's flavour of the month. Anyway, a lot of kids, especially in London, are getting stabbed. A clothing chain, T K Maxx, took advantage of the situation by selling a jacket that came with a built-in knife.

When I was in Clapham, I went to KFC. If you order a meal at KFC, they give you a pottle of baked beans. Baked beans? I hate them, so I asked if I could have the potato and gravy instead. I guess they don't do potato and gravy in England, because all I got was a pottle of gravy. How do you screw up KFC? Its genericness is its saving grace. In Thailand, they did it too. There you can get a corn icecream sundae.

On a whim, I bought some biscuits at Asda this weekend. They're called Jaffa Cakes. They're like a chocolate digestive with jam in the middle, and because they're Asda's home brand, they're only 27p per packet. That means I can eat nearly 4 packets per day, and still remain within my Savevember food budget (if I eat nothing else). Seriously, I don't know why no one has told me about these before: They're brilliant. I don't know why I spent yesterday evening writing about art and literature, when I could've been writing about Jaffa Cakes. They're considerably more interesting.

Okay, so this daft post is actually a cry for help. For some weeks I've wanted to get a couple of basic school exercise books. Nothing fancy, just those red stapled 1B5 or 1B8 books that cost 40 cents back home. I can't find them anywhere. I've been to WH Smith, Rymans, a stationery warehouse, Tescos, Asda: They all just have hard cover books with spiral bindings that cost several pounds. So what's the deal? Can you get cheap exercise books here, or do the kids all use those expensive versions? I can't work this one out.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Booked Out

Okay, I haven't posted for a while. Here's a catchup:

No word on my job, and I'm down to my last choclate eclair sweet. It's still stressful.

Absolutely freezing tonight. I'm wearing 2 pairs of socks, and 2 jerseys, and I'm still so cold I think I'll just go to bed.

I've spent the last 2 Saturdays in London. One of the books that I brought with me from NZ was "Barnaby Rudge" by Charles Dickens. I wouldn't have believed it's possible to write a novel this boring about religious riots that burned swaths of London in the 18th century, but Dickens managed it. And to boot, it's just lazy. Every Catholic character is pure and industrious, while every Protestant is either evil or a moron. Awful book. But it did get me interested in the Tyburn Tree. The TT is the site where the gallows were located in London. 50,000 people were hanged there. That's FIFTY THOUSAND. I went to the site by the corner of Hyde Park - there's nothing there. Not even a plaque. It seems like it should be important to me.

While I was there, I walked through Marble Arch. Nothing happened, so I walked back through. Still nothing. It's against the law for the general public to pass under the Arch - only members of the royal family are allowed to. Anarchy in the UK, oi!

I generally read classic literature. (Pretentious, watashi?) But since I've been here I've read Barnaby Rudge (awful), Alice in Wonderland (worse), and the short stories of Edgar Allan Poe (unimaginably bad - unfinishable). The classics weren't cutting it, so I decided to catch up on some more modern novels. I'm a pretty slow reader, but I read "Girl with a Pearl Earring" in a weekend. Fantastic. It got me interested in Vermeer (the artist it's about). He only painted a few works in his life (I don't want to boast, but I once painted a fence in a single afternoon), but one of them is at the National Gallery in London. So, after seeing the traffic island that is entirely un-gallowsy, I wandered through driving rain in Mayfair and Soho to the gallery. To be honest, in the end the Vermeer didn't blow me away, nor did the Carravagios, despite the fact that he inspired many of the Dutch masters. But the Canalettos were great and I found a Camille Pissarro of Montmatre Boulevard at night that is my new favourite Impressionist painting. Overall, it's just so great. It's a gallery that has so many paintings that you end up begging "Please, no more" long before you've seen everything. My only complaint is that last time I was there, I was most taken by the collection of Hieronymus Bosch paintings, but this time they were gone. I guess they're on tour.

Having not learned my lesson, I slipped next door to the National Portrait Gallery. Meh. It's just a novelty compared to the Nat Gal. The Chandos Shakespeare is interesting only for its historical significance, not its artistic merits.

This Saturday, I went back to London. This time I headed to the church St George's Bloomsbury. I think it's the only Nicholas Hawksmoor church that survived the Blitz. They've just cleaned it for the first time since 1730, and it's shining white. I think it's possible, even for an atheist, to appreciate the beauty created in God's name from a post-Darwinian humanist perspective. Beautiful place.

I then caught up with D, who I stayed with when I arrived in London. We had lunch in Chinatown, and then met some friends to see Spamalot in the West End. We then had a curry in Soho for tea and caught the end of the rugby at a pub. It was a really good day out. It was probably also a good idea to be away from the flat for the game. It seems that the Irish didn't find the Umaga spear tackle on O'Driscole as funny as we did.

I'm currently reading "White Teeth". I guess that means I'll be visiting Cricklewood next. I hear it's beautiful.

Due to the trips to London, "Savevember" has become "Spendvember". Oh well, at least the month still has a theme.

Okay, here's some pretty crappy photos from my street. I took a bunch at dusk on Sunday, but I can't do the extended time shots properly without a tripout - the camera shakes in my hand. My tripod is 20,000km away, and I can't remember if it's in the wardrobe or in the garage. Probably not worth me going and getting it. Anyway, I call these "Study in Bloody Cold (I)":

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Skanger and Bless

That's a Gershwin musical, isn't it?

I'm starting to feel that England is pretty much like NZ. At the risk of getting myself in trouble, the people are a bit dorkier, with everyone seeming to have a bizzare, obscure hobby. But basically, it's just like a cardigan-wearing, over-crowded NZ.

Lexicographically, I haven't noticed a lot of difference. The only 2 words that I've encountered that I don't quite get are "Skanger" and "Bless".

"Skanger" came up a few nights ago. We watched an advert on TV for a reality show following some English girl-band drop-out's plastic surgery, and while explaining who she was to me, my flatmate declared: "She's awful. An absolute skanger." I assume that it's a composite word. I think it's fantastic, and I plan to use it at some point.

The other one that I've heard is "Bless". It's just a single word expression. I think you use it in the context of "Bless them", when you hear about someone doing something selfless or cute. But I could be wrong on that. Suggestions are welcome.

Footnote: D from the blog's NZ office is more au fait with coarse language than I am. She points out that my definition of skanger is wrong: It is actually the Irish term for a "chav". The flatmate who used the term is indeed Irish. I'm disappointed, because I feel my definition was actually more fun.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Do the pious get punctures?

3 punctures in a single week. I'm considering ditching the atheism: It's causing me a lot of inconvenience. I just need to work out which takes more time, going to church or fixing my damn bike.

To date, the credit crunch has been fairly irrelevant. My shares have dropped in value, but it's only a paper loss as long as I don't sell. And it's provided some good comedy. On the Colbert Report, Stephen Colbert questioned whether it's really so bad. After all, although the 1930's saw a depression, historians agree that it was "great". So yeah, no real problems.

But now my work has announed quite a lot of layoffs. We have to wait to get the list of names. Aw, crap.

I was going to do a post stating that this month will be "Save-vember". I've set myself quite a high target for the amount that I want to save in the next year, and since money has been trickling away quite freely so far, I thought I would try to live for November as cheaply as possible. But you know what, it's less cute now that I could be out of work again. Saving money becomes more of a requirement than a game.

The weather has gone freezing cold. This week, London had its first October snow since 1934. I put a couple of sweatshirts on the washing line and brought them inside wetter than when I hung them out.

For any Kiwis reading this, I went to a lot of trouble to vote from the far side of the world. It also cost me about $15. So, make sure you can be bothered walking around the corner to the polling station, okay? Unless you vote for a crud party.

This weekend I went to the Cambridge Photo Society exhibition (it was good, and free). It made me painfully aware of how crappy my picture are. Nevertheless, here are my latest from this weekend's roaming. One thing I did learn is that you can improve a very boring picture by converting it to black and white. Oooh, black and white. He's arty.

Row of Chimneys

Church spires

Church behind fence

Stone bier behind fence

Building front

Gate (to the Pepys Library?)

The punts, from Magdalene Street (looks very European to me)

I do like this next one. After posting last week about not knowing where the Mathematical Bridge or the Bridge of Sighs are, I went and found the B of S:

Punt by the Bridge of Sighs

It was Halloween a few nights ago. The amount that people spend on costumes has doubled in the last year, and in a related story, my contempt for humanity also doubled in the last year. When I was a student and I couldn't afford to buy sweets for trick-or-treaters, I sat in my flat with the lights off so they would think that no one was home. This time, I went to the shop and specially bought a bag on chocolate eclair sweets. None of the little buggers came to the door! Luckily, with the job stress, I'm plowing through the bag on my own.