First post of 2009 (finally)

Here it is the end of march and I am finally getting around to updating this thing.  Where does the time go? Well, in fairness, my mom was here for 10 days and then some friends from minneapolis were her for a bit and then the following week Verena had a friend over so this is really like the only “free” weekend I’ve had since the end of January. Also, I have gainful employment for the time being – which is good as that allows to stay here for a bit longer, hooray.

Enough of that, on to the funny stories.  So I don’t have any great revelations regarding British-y things other than cocaine is apparently making a big comeback here.  Let me tell you a little story… At the beginning of March I attend on of the Photowal London get togethers and we basically wander around the east side by Spitalfields (pictures here) and since I was on the east end, when it wrapped up (about 6:00) I figured I’d just wander over to the city and take some more pictures, so I did. By the way Guildhall is deserted at 8:00 on a saturday) and when I got bored doing that I headed home.  As I’m getting into my neighborhood this hipdter guy stops me the following takes place:

“Oi, mate,  can I use your phone? I’m trying to meet up with my friend, but the phone box to ring the flat isn’t working and I need to give him a ring”

I’m a kindly soul, so I give him my phone and he says “Aw, thanks, mate.  Nice dog” (becasue my dog is of course the background on my phone) And then while it is ringing all nonchalant he asks “do you need anything for tonight?”

me: “huh?”

him: “you need anything, coke, weed…”

me:”um, no, I’m good thanks”

Then his friend picked up and he they talked for liike a minute and he hands my phone back, says thanks and we both go our seperate ways.  Then when I get home (bear in mind this is about 12:00) my phone rings and I’m struck that I just made a horrible, horrible mistake so I of course do not answer it.  I look and check the number against the number the guy called and indeed it is the same.  Neat. But nothing ever came of that so that’s the end of the story.

Then next week on thursday right after work, I’m walking out of the corner shop after buying some cigarettes (or fags as the call them here hahahahaha) and this kid comes up to me and asks if I need a light, I say no, he asks if he can “bum a fag” (hahahahahahaha) and I say sure, then he asks “you need any weed?” No, thanks, I’m good.  This takes place directly outside of the building I work in.

And to wrap up the drug offering stories here’s another.  Verena and I go to a club to watch Hot Chip play a DJ set and literally the first person we see upon entering walks up and asks – yep you guessed it – “you need any coke” awesome.  I regret to report that I have had no offers for heroin. ALso at the club I saw Hermoine Granger, wait, I mean Emma Watson.  She could do a lot better than the guy she was with.

I non drug related news, spring has sprung in the capitol and there are now hordes of pasty britons flocking to the lovely parks here.  “The Boat Race” also took place today. A sure sign of spring (Oxford Won by a lot) .

Speaking of winning how about that Brawn GP team?  Amazing.

That’s all for now, I will make a concerted effort to update this every sunday.  or maybe everyother sunday.

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End of the year round up

In the spirit of pre-New Year’s reflection, here’s what I’ve learned about the British so far:

From television I have learned that head lice is still an issue here

Also from TV, it is totally fine to have a drunken one night fling at the company holiday party – just make sure a condom is used

You can buy alcohol pretty much anywhere

Speaking of that, “supermarkets” here devote 1/3 to 1/2 their floor space to alcohol

All alcohol sold has a little symbol on it that says how many “units” it is… men should max out at  3-4 per day, women 2-3

The A-Team and especially Mr. T still have a decent amount of advertising pull

It is pretty common for drunk english men to piss wherever they want…  like shockingly common

Every alley, passageway, mews, court, footpath, or trail no matter how narrow or short gets a name and street sign
most of the jobs here are filled by using recruiters

West London is prettier and has more parks than East London

The windows here do not have screen on them

It does not rain as often as people think it does

There are 7 large Victorian era public cemeteries here – so of course they are called the Magnificent 7

British television is not that good.. and there is a surprising number of american TV shows available

Trying to find a job is time consuming

Most anything you need you can get at a corner shop

There are pelicans in St. James’s Park and they never leave, even though theoretically they could.  They must understand that they have a good thing going.

If adding an “s” to a word that ends in “s” you can’t just put an apostrophe after the “s”… you have to add an apostrophe “s”, even though it is terribly redundant. As in St. James’s Park instead of just St. James’ Park.  Also, you pronounce the extra “s”, so it is Saint Jameses Park, so it sounds funny as well as looking funny

There are a slew of pronunciation rules here that unless you grew up here you will never learn.  Most of them relate to silent letters, the best example being “Worchestershire” pronounced “Wooster” yes, you people on the east coast know what I’m talking about.

I’m sure you all know that a car’s trunk is a boot here, but did you know that the hood is a bonnet? and the roof is the hood?

The US is good at making cars that go fast in a straight line, but can not make a car that turns

If you want to stand out from the automotive crowd you need a bentley, an aston martin, a ferrari, or maybe something like a TVR.  Porsches? yawn. Alternately you could drive something that is just goofy – like the V6 clio, the “fast” smart car, or an old fiat or triumph.

Ferraris in the city sound like motorcycles due to the reverb from the buildings

It is faster to change from the district line to the piccadilly line at earl’s court than at south kensington.

If you are going to covent garden it is far better to get off at Leicester (pronounced Lester – see above comment) and walk for 5 minutes instead of getting off at covent garden and having to be crammed into a elevator (or lift as they like to say here)

On the old tube lines, the stops all have a different color and pattern to the wall tiles so illiterate people know which stop they are at

London is in a CONSTANT state of repair – there is scaffolding everywhere.  I defy anyone to find 100 consecutive meters where there is not scaffolding set up or some other construction going in

The water here is exceptionally hard and has a lot of calcium in it. This may have something to do with the city’s water mains being installed in Victorian times and thus being over 100 years old.

If you are overwhelmed by people and crowds in the center of the city, you can make about 4 random turns and be all by yourself – this is especially true in the square mile.

There is not a lot to see if you walk from chelsea to Westminster

London dogs, for the most part, are amazingly well behaved

In the city center and / or square mile, you’re never really more than about 5 minutes from a tube station

Heathrow terminal 5 is not nearly the giant pile of crap it has been made out to be in the press

Europe loves Obama

So there you go. I’m sure there’s more but those will have to do for now.

1000 paintings 10,000 Foxes

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On Friday street artist Adam Neate placed 1000 works around, turning the entire city of london into his gallery. The team was to begin placing the works at dusk on Friday on the outskirts of the city and finish at dawn in the center of the city. (http://www.elmslesters.co.uk/index.php?pid=5&subid=28)

Also, there are 10,000 urban foxes prowling london. (http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2006/05/foxes-london.html)

This is my story of trying to find an Adam Neate painting in the small hours (as they say here) of friday night/saturday morning.

Verena and I head out at about 2:30 on Saturday morning – with the idea being if they stared in the outskirts and were planning on finishing in the city at dawn, this would be a good time to start the hunt. We leave the flat and walk towards Sheperd’s Bush thinking to check there, then grab a bus to Camden and then walk down to the city. This plan holds the added bonus of the chance to see a coked up Amy Winehouse stumbling around the streets of Camden.

We see nothing on the way to Sheperd’s bush until we are cutting across a park and … hey, what is that? Holy shit! It’s a fox just ambling through the park. Ironically there is a sign on the fence on the fence as we are leaving the park that says “No Dogs” Good for you Mr. Fox, good for you. Stick it to the man. Also in Sheperd’s Bush we see a bunch of people smoking outside the entrance for Ginglik. Why do I mention this here? Mostly because Ginglik is a members only bar that is inside an old public toilet under Shepherd’s Bush Green (http://www.viewlondon.co.uk/clubs/ginglik-review-9832.html) Brits are weird.

We decide to walk from Shepherd’s Bush to Notting Hill to catch a bus, we found nothing along the way and get on the bus, getting off to change at Notting Hill station only to find that the Notting Hill station bus stop is closed due to road work. SO we wander around thinking we would come across another bus to take us to Camden, but that doesn’ pan out so we head back towards Notting Hill and wait at a bus stop – which I will add had an arrival board announcing the times of approaching busses – only to find out from some locals who may or may not have been homeless that this particular stop is not in operation due to the roadwork. Then why the hell does the announcement board not say “This stop is Closed”!?!?!

So we backtrack to a functioning bus stop and hey, guess what? We get on the same bus that we were on before – like an hour previously. Well, not the the *same* bus, but the same bus number/line … you know what I mean. We decide that now it is too late to go to Camden and decide to go to Oxford Circus and head down to Trafalgar square.

We got to Oxford Circus and wandered down through Carnaby street to Soho and then to Piccadilly circus and then over to the square and we were 100% unsuccessful in finding any paintings. Then from Trafalgar Sq. to Embankment and got on a train home. We found no paintings, but we did see 3 foxes and some interesting things that unless you are willing to wandering around the city at 4 in the morning you will never see.

Things like Piccadilly Circus with 12 yes 12! people in it, a completely empty Carnaby Street, bands of drunken revelers still wandering home from a club, the way that the back alleys of Soho are filled with beer and liquor bottles waiting to be recycled. The astounding number of people that are still out… I mean yes, streets that are teeming with people during the day were empty, but everywhere we went, there were people… not many mind you, but still enough to let you know you were in a city.

Anyway, even though we did not find any paintings, I considered the night a smashing success.

A quick check of eBay Saturday afternoon reveals that indeed people found them and many – at least many of the eBay ones – were way out in the suburbs like Croydon. Really Croydon? I mean really? Oh and on a side note, shame on the people who found one and are putting it up on eBay. But since part of this exercise was to explore the line between art as an aesthetic and art as product, I guess you are all just part of the plan.

The Joys of Trying to Open a UK Bank Account

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On Tuesday I set out to perform what I considered a fairly simple task – opening a UK checking account. Well, as I continue to learn, nothing in this country is ever really simple.

At Verena’s suggestion I try to open an account online with the Cooperative Bank. Because they are ethical and have good rates. I fill out the form and it wants my previous address, since I have been at my current address less than 3 months. Problem is, I can’t enter a US address. So I call and talk to one of their representatives, here’s what happens:

Them: Hello, this is [name] at the Cooperative Bank, how can I help?

Me: Hi, My name is [name] and I’m trying to open an account online. I just moved here from america and your online form doesn’t seem to want to accept an american address.

Them: Oh, let me look into that, please hold for a bit

Me: fine

Them: Ok, I just checked with somone here, and you have to be a UK resident for 3 months before we can open an account for you. You’ll have to try again around Christmas.

Me: Right, I’ll put that in my calendar.

OK, so that didn’t work, on to plan B. I head to the high street thinking that Ill just pop into a bank and talk to someone about my options. I choose Abbey because in my mind pretty much all banks are the same and Abbey Bank/Santander is a title sponsor of the McLaren F1 team. I go in and stand in the que for like 10 minutes and get to the lady behind the glass and ask who I need to talk to to open an account – she says everyone is busy and that she can make an appointment for me on Friday. Good enough for me.

Friday comes around and I get up early (9:00) and head over to the bank. I go in and talk to the bank lady and after half an hour of putting things into the computer (during which time I learn that she has a cousin who moved from atlanta to minneapolis) she informs me that because I have not lived here for 3 months, the best they can offer me is a cash machine card.

me: what is that?

her: it is a card that lets you take money out of a cash machine (with a look that says “are you retarded?”

me: so I can’t use it at a restaurant or anything like her?

her: no, only at a cash machine.

me: what about to buy things off the internet?

her: no, only at a cash machine.

me: why would anyone want that?

her: I’m sirry, but based on your residency, that is the best I can offer.

me: Ummm, yeah, that;s not really a great solution for me. I’m going to try somewhere else.

her: Ok, good luck.

So… I head further down the high street – and I gotta say, this is the nice thing about the high street, everything is there, in one place. Every major bank has branch there, ever coffee chain has a store there… which is both good and bad. Good because everything is more or less centrally located, bad because every high street looks more or less the same. Anyway, I head to the next bank and talk to a nice guy and tell him the situation I’m in and explain that I have a bunch of american money and I’ve been here couple weeks and I want a regular checking account. He says that should not be a problem and so an appointmnet is made for next week.

At the appointed time I head back to the bank, provide my information and chat about things… I learn that he went to a “charming sports bar” in Beloit, WI while in america on business. I’m guessing it was a Champps. After all the information inputting I am finally approved for a checking account that not only works at any cashpoint and on the internet and all that, but it pays interest as well. Success!

A Night Out at Fabric

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For Verena’s birthday she put a crew together to go out to Fabric – the “Best ever club in the world” according to DJmag.com. So here’s how the night went.

First we travel on the tube for a while (pretty much any story about London begins there) and we had to a pub a few blocks from Fabric. I use the word “blocks” very loosely here since the concept of the block does not really exist in london since none of the streets are straight or evenly spaced.

At the pub we are all sitting around the table and this woman comes up and the following ensues:

Them: Where are you lot off to tonight?
Us: Fabric
Them: Oh, right, you need anything? Pills, smoke?
Us: No, we’re good
Them: You’re sorted then? Right, have a good time.

The same things takes place pretty much every time I stepped out for a smoke becasue you know, if you are smoking then clearly you love drugs.

So after a bit we walk over to Fabric and there is this massive queue – I mean like more than 100 people standing in a line that spans more than 4 blocks (see note about blocks above) but Verena’s friend Jamie had the foresight to purchase tickets that allows us to “jump the queue” as the saying goes over here.

Fabric itself was a pretty typical club – 3 rooms, different types of music in each room with the young and hip filling its space. Really, not that different from, say, the Lounge in Minneapolis with the main difference being that there are a bunch of different nationalities at Fabric, instead of like… 3 in Minneapolis.

We stay there until 3 or 3:30 or something like that and then call a cab and head out. On the way out you have to climb some stairs and the stairs are filled with people who are either tired and trying to sleep until the tube starts running again or they simply had too much alcohol/drugs in their system. Either way, it looks like a scene out of a B rate movie where a virus comes and makes everyone catatonic. When we finally get outside we see that there is still a massive queue to gt in – and it 3:30 in the morning. Crazy.

Friday 17 October


(photo taken from http://www.flickr.com/photos/images_of_gb_4_u/ until I take one of my own)

The next day I went the other way – meaning south west – and wandered around in Fullham, which is not nearly as nice as Kensington. Super cool thing about Fullham are there are a bunch of open air stalls selling fresh produce along North End Road and you can get a giant bowl of bananas for one pound.

Also, that walk has seriously shaken my belief in the concept as America as the world’s melting pot. And by that I mean walking down the street I see a handful of middle eastern kebab shops, a couple polish delis, an iranian market and restaurant, a bunch of curry places, a bunch of thai places, an ethiopian place, english pubs (of course) a few butcher shops of unknown country of origin… you get the idea.

Two things about that make me happy. The first is that there is an amazing variety of stuff to eat. The second is that in London there are still what I shall refer to as “single use shops”. And by that I mean there are butcher shops which sell, yep, you guessed it, only meat. Bakeries that sell only bread products, kitchen stores that sell only kitchen things… you get the idea. And call me crazy, but I like that. I like that a lot more than one giant-ass supermarket where you get everything.

Thinking about it, it makes sense. London is a commuter/walking city. So it makes perfect sense that as you are walking home from the train you can stop at multiple shops in your neighbourhood and buy that night’s and/or the next day’s meal. Whereas if you were in a car, you just want to get home so if you have to stop, you only want to stop once – hence the rise of supermarkets and things like *shudder* superTarget and whatever the hell walmart calls its stores with groceries.

Things I learned today:

– London has more integrated ethnicity than I’ve seen in the US. Granted, I lived in the midwest though.

– There is a nice church and cheap produce in Fulham

– Smoky Bacon crisps are delicious and ironically, vegetarian friendly

Thursday 16 October


(not really kensington high street, well it is, but not where it’s busy)

Thursday I wandered up to Kensington High Street and realized why whenever someone asks me “Where do you live?” and I say “West Kensington” they usually respond one of two ways:

1) “Oh, you do alright then”

2) “Right, that’s a posh place”

I feel the need to point out that I do not consider my neighborhood neighbourhood to be all that posh. It seems pretty normal to me, all sorts of people, thugs yobs in Raiders hoodies, a couple bums, the usual thing. So normal. not bad, not super fancy, just neighborhood.

But, if you want to the east for about 5 minutes, it becomes very nice very fast. As in Rolls Royce, Bentley, Ferrari Range Rover nice.

I ate lunch at Holland Park which was nice, but slightly depressing because there were loads of people playing with their dogs and having fun and that made me miss my pup. The dogs here are wonderfully well behaved – as far as I can tell, there are no leash laws, so it is not uncommon to see a dog just sitting outside of a store waiting patiently for its person to come back. That would be the stores that don’t allow dogs, which is maybe 40% of them.

Then I wandered up to Kensington palace, which when compared to other palaces is not that great. But, alongside Kensington Palace are various embassies and I discovered that you can learn a lot about a country based on their embassy and what is inside the gate.

For example, the Russian embassy has parked inside the gate a couple Rolls Royces and other various large black European sedans. The Embassy of Nepal, on the other hand, had a 20 year old Jaguar and a VW Passat. And the most interesting embassy on that street was the Israeli embassy – the only one that had blast barriers outside of it, no photography signs and a guard tower. And that made me think I need to find the American Embassy here just to see what it looks like.

One last note on the street called Palace Gardens Terrace – there was one place that was not marked as an embassy, but it had in the car park a Ferrari, an Aston Martin, and a Range Rover. Now if this is an embassy, I can only assume the country is doing quite well. If it is not an embassy, I can only assume that it is either an oil baron, a hedge fund manager, or a footballer.

Things I learned today:

– The condition of an embassy and it’s environs tells you a lot about that country

– Dogs in london are very well behaved

– There’s a lot of money in Kensington

– The red pepper and humus sandwich from Waitrose is delicious

– I miss my dog a lot