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I've been busy tweeting a list of 51 things you'll never hear a Londoner say. I'm putting them here for posterity.

1. I love walking around Trafalgar Square—so spacious and uncrowded.
2. I just saw a small garage conversion flat going for less than £100,000.
3. I never tire of going to see the Changing of the Guard.
4. Nobody goes to the South Bank any more.
5. I give at least 50 pence to every street beggar.
6. Everyone in this Tube train uses the nicest aftershave and perfume.
7. I see that a person with a crutch just got on this bus; I’ll give him my seat.
8. It'll only take a second for me to find the Oystercard I've buried in my purse.
9. People are so good here—they walk along the pavement with their eyes on their phones but never bump into you.
10. Boris Johnson is prime-ministerial material.
11. Football hooligans have become polite these days.
12. There aren’t enough Americans around here.
13. The tourists go to all the best places—let’s find out where those are and go.
14. The Emirates Air Line is an essential part of my daily commute.
15. Heathrow Airport is so easy to get to.
16. Heathrow needs another runway there so that we can be the largest hub in Europe.
17. Portobello Road Market is so unspoiled.
18. I wish we had another Tesco in the area.
19. I love getting those phone calls from abroad telling me that I’ve recently had an accident.
20. There aren’t enough bankers checking their emails on the Jubilee Line out to Canary Wharf.
21. The busker with the trumpet in Oxford Street Tube Station is so soothing.
22. Everybody likes Millwall supporters.
23. Pubs are a fantastic bargain these days.
24. There are loads of Cockneys about.
25. Cycling at the Elephant and Castle is so carefree.
26. I can’t seem to find a Starbucks lately—where have they all gone?
27. We aren’t building enough new office buildings these days.
28. The Shard, the Cheesegrater, and the Walkie-Talkie are assets to London’s skyline.
29. Not to mention the Strata at the Elephant—such a distinctive look.
30. I attend my parish church regularly—the services are so spiritual.
31. I patronise the stalls at Covent Garden regularly for their useful household items.
32. The crowds around the Covent Garden buskers don’t bother me at all.
33. The cycle superhighways are so convenient to cycle around town.
34. The waiter hasn’t asked us how everything was.
35. American cuisine is so trendy—let’s go to McDonald’s!
36. No McDonald’s near here? You won’t find a Subway either.
37. It’s summer: everyone’s feet are really pretty in flip-flops.
38. Those pale guys walking around shirtless will get nice tans soon.
39. England’s footballers are very good—they just have had bad luck.
40. England’s cricketers are very good—they just have had bad luck.
41. Kale’s a great vegetable—I eat it regularly.
42. Tourists walking 3-abreast and stopping to see the sights don’t bother me at all.
43. I see police officers pounding the beat every day.
44. Cinemas are so inexpensive nowadays.
45. I never notice the air pollution nowadays—that nice Mr Johnson must have cleaned it up.
46. I love it when politicians ring the doorbell wanting to listen to my opinions.
47. The off-key singing from the Pentacostal church next door doesn’t bother us.
48. Not even when they have an all night vigil and sing at 3 am.
49. I’m not fussed about people who stand on the left on Tube escalators—they just don’t know any better.
50. The new Borisbuses are SO cute.
51. Living in London is so economical.
chrishansenhome: (Default)
Just after the riots, I blogged on some of the nonsense that was being tossed around about the causes and possible cures for the civil unrest. There have been new developments as those arrested by the constabulary during and after the rioting are brought to court.

In the remarks that follow, I except the assaults and murder charges, which are horrific and have not yet come to trial.

Many if not most of those accused have pleaded guilty, since the evidence is often overwhelming, involving not only testimony by the police but also CCTV recordings. When brought before magistrates, the sentences available range from a conditional discharge ("We'll let you go if you promise not to do it again; if we catch you misbehaving, you'll be looking at a spell in jail.") to 6 months in prison. A good proportion of those brought before magistrates have been bound over to the Crown Courts, which have much greater powers of sentencing.

Some of the sentences already passed in the Crown Courts include:

  • A young mother of 2 who accepted a pair of looted shorts from a friend: 4 months in prison, reduced to probation and community service on appeal;

  • Two young men who made separate Facebook postings calling for riots to begin in Cheshire (not the most volatile of English areas); the only people who showed up for their riots were the police: 4 years in jail—being appealed as we speak;

  • A student who stole £4 worth of bottled water was given a 6-month sentence.

The consequences of these tough sentences include an increase of 1000 in the jail population in England and Wales. The number of people incarcerated in England and Wales has now neared 87,000, and there are fewer than 1500 places left in the entire system. There are more than 2000 accused still to be sentenced. Prison governors (=US "wardens") are fearful that overcrowding and the prison inexperience of those who are being jailed will result in increased assaults and tension among the inmates.

The politicians have generally either publicly applauded or quietly acquiesced in the severity of the sentences being passed on those caught up in the rioting. The hang 'em and flog 'em brigade in the Conservative Party is noisily crowing that those miscreants who have been sentenced are getting exactly what they deserve and only tough sentences will do.

What is apparent is that the long sentences being passed upon those convicted of riot-related offences will mostly be appealed. The principles behind sentencing here in the United Kingdom is that the sentences should be fair, should be proportionate to the offence, should be mitigated by cooperation with the police, previous criminal history, and guilty pleas, and should be generally similar for similar crimes. The long sentences seen so far seem to fail all those four principles and, upon appeal, have a good probability of being reduced.

What to do?

If I were in the government, the first thing I would do is ensure that, for offenses that would not normally attract prison sentences, the miscreants be sentenced to community work that helped to repair the damage suffered in the unrest. Putting someone who stole 6 bottles of water in jail for 6 months will solve nothing. The offender (who had no previous criminal record) does not need rehabilitation from a life of crime. He needs to assist in building his neighbourhood back up.

Second, I'd keep quiet about the effects of government cuts on the poor. Sounds a bit harsh, no? And yet, these cuts have virtually nothing to do with the current life situations of those caught up in the unrest. The cuts have not yet taken hold or been effected. Youth this year who are going to university will pay much lower tuition fees than those who will be going next year. There is, of course, some effect on people through the publicity given to cuts in aid and rises in costs. Politicians who bemoan government cuts as the cause of the rioting are jumping on a bandwagon of lies and half-truths.

Third, I'd mobilise the goodwill that showed itself in the gangs of broom-wielding people who turned up to clean up the streets and the shops after the rioting had stopped. This kind of goodwill almost always accrues after a serious civil calamity and, yet, the government thanks people at the time and makes little or no effort to keep that goodwill around and harness it for civil good.

Fourth, I would try to think of new ways to help bring about a more equal society. This is an almost impossible task, but worth pursuing. It does not have to be from a religious or spiritual source. And it does not have to mean equality of resources and wealth across the whole society. What it does mean is that equality of opportunity must be manifest in society. Those who are more affluent need to realise that some of that affluence comes from their own opportunities afforded by society, and should be plowed back into that society, whether through taxes or through contributions to voluntary charities working toward equality.

I'm not saying that I believe that this will happen overnight, or even within my lifetime or yours. If it doesn't happen peacefully, there is a danger that it will happen forcefully, through crime and through unrest. Perhaps that's the only way that it will happen, and that is not desirable, on many levels.
chrishansenhome: (Default)
We've had riots in England since last Friday night. The facts are quite murky at the moment, but what we know is this.

First, last week police made a planned car stop to arrest a passenger. A scuffle or disturbance ensued, and the police shot their target to death. A gun (modified starter pistol) was found in the auto, but had not been fired. The police say that they thought they were about to be fired on. The dead man had been known to the police, but his family claims that he had never been convicted of a crime. This doesn't mean he'd never committed any, mind you.

Second, the family marched to the local police station (in Tottenham, North London) to demand answers. They waited outside the police station for several hours and no police spokesperson came to meet them. The crowd became restless and a riot broke out. Buildings were burned and shops looted.

Third, over the weekend and through Monday the unrest spread to other parts of London. Youths who had coordinated their activities through smartphones roamed through shopping areas smashing windows, burglarising shops (sports stores were most favoured, followed by mobile phone stores). A family furniture store in Croydon that had been in existence for 5 generations was torched. Shops along the Walworth Road (just around the corner from me) were targeted.

Fourth, an extra 10,000 police were deployed Tuesday night in London. Therefore, rioting broke out in Manchester, Salford, Birmingham, and various other northern cities.

Now there has been a shitstorm of comment about this, on Facebook, Twitter, and in various blogs. But there are several points I'd like to highlight.

First, people tend to refer to the youths as "animals". Children are not animals. They are complex human beings with needs, desires, and aspirations. They may not be very nice aspirations (I want to be a gang leader, for example, isn't a great aspiration), but aspirations they are. We cannot write these young people off as "animals".

Second, the hang 'em and flog 'em brigade is talking about shooting looters, putting them away for long stretches in prison, and generally removing them from society in one way or another. Not a good idea in general. While those who have committed crimes should be punished, if even one looter is gratuitously shot and killed the situation will be made much worse. This is especially true of people committing crimes against property. Last I heard, the death penalty for burglary had been removed in the 19th Century.

Third, those who would excuse the looting as "youth protesting against the way society treats them" are seriously misled. Yes, changes must be made. However, the best way to change society is not to smash the windows of your nearest sports store and try on trainers to steal. The best way is to become politically involved, vote the rascals out (or in), contribute to civil society, and do your best to expose the inequities of society through publicity, not through looting. The best way to ensure that your voice will be marginalised is to do a spot of looting. My guess is that the looters who were old enough to vote last year didn't bother.

There is a lot of excess energy around. If these youths had devoted as much energy to finding a job or a place in education as they have to running around town centres looting, they'd all be employed or in education today. This energy needs to be harnessed, somehow. The energy is like the wind, which simply blows debris around until you use it to turn a turbine and produce electricity.

Similarly, the government needs to do more than denounce the looters as criminals, animals, and thugs. Most of them are probably thugs (whatever a "thug" is) and those who have committed crimes are criminals. But as a society we seriously need to consider what to let these people do. If we don't find something for them to do, we'll end up having riots whenever people get bored.

Private industry too needs to step up to the plate and help by creating more entry-level jobs for people, giving them on-the-job training and a road up through the ranks. With the mad dash for continuously increasing profits, those types of entry-level jobs have disappeared to India or to computing. We need to bring them back here and find ways of recreating those manual labour jobs that used to be the poor's ticket out of poverty. If Sony had created more jobs in Enfield with their warehouse, perhaps those workers would have protected the warehouse rather than become rioters burning it. Of course, much of the inventory in there was CDs and the like owned by independent producers and musicians, many of them rappers. It's all gone now, melted into a pile of goo.

If we're not careful, the rest of us will be melted into piles of goo, figuratively. The time to act is now—tomorrow may be too late.
chrishansenhome: (Default)
Interesting post about his time in London. From the point of view of an American who's lived here for 17-1/2 years now, there are a couple of things I'd like to comment on. I tried to post the comment in your journal but it was about twice the permitted length.

1) Smoking. If you think it's bad now, you should have seen it 5 years ago and more. Every pub was full of the fug of cigarette smoke so those who wanted to have a drink and not be suffused with smoke just drank at home. No smoking areas in restaurants were a joke. The smoke just drifted over and spoiled your meal.

I am still annoyed about walking past a pub or an office building and having to endure the cloud of smoke from the intrepid smokers around the doorway. The government is planning more measures against smoking (removing tobacco from view in shops and going to plain packaging with no brand logos or colours) and the tide is turning slowly, but surely.

America is quite a bit ahead of us on this, but give us a break! We just started this around 5 years ago and it's still in its infancy.

2) Drinking. The government is tackling binge drinking (which results in some of the hijinks you saw while you were here), but until the social causes of binge drinking are tackled there will still be problems. We locals know to avoid the streets after around 10:30 pm and watch out for the puddles of puke in the morning when wending our way to the Tube to commute to work. Scotland is putting floors under the alcohol price and England is slowly working towards that. However, every time the government or some MP comes up with an idea on how to cut binge drinking, the cry goes up from the tabloids: "Nanny state! Nanny state!" and the government draws back from the brink.

I expect that the number of 24-hour pubs is going to go down, as Continental-café style drinking has not caught on here and will not catch on here, and the 24-hour pubs are mostly concentrated in city centres.

3) Public civility. I wonder if you wouldn't have gotten the same kinds of responses if you'd asked people in the centre of New York, Chicago, or Los Angeles. London is a big city and people here insulate themselves so that interaction with their fellow urbanites is kept to a minimum. I have never found the reactions you've noted, though, so I'm wondering a bit about it. As for public rage, well, I saw everything you recounted, and more, in my 21 years in New York. The only difference is that you were more likely to be harmed in New York if an altercation broke out.

4) Bars. The only people who can afford to live in Soho are rent boys and whores, really. It is as if people were living on 8th Avenue and 42nd Street in New York. There may be some, but not many.

Some gay pubs are distributed elsewhere. Did you get to Vauxhall while you were here? That has become a happening gay area now, and people do live in the neighbourhood.

I don't go to pubs anymore, as I'm not on the pull and I have about one drink a week, perhaps less than that. No need to go out to a gay pub if you don't drink much and are happily married.

That being said, I have always found that I get blank stares (if that) from people in gay pubs anywhere. I'm about 100 in gay years and everywhere there is a culture of "if you're not young, buff, and full of cum I'm not interested in you and you don't exist in this pub." There are pubs which cater to "special tastes". The City of Quebec pub near Marble Arch is the pub for older men, and the King's Arms on Poland Street is where the bears hang out. Qdos at Charing Cross is where Asians (=British "Orientals") congregate.

I have found that gay pubs/bars everywhere have a clique. There are always a group of people who know each other, go to the pub at the same time each day and hang out together. This takes no regard of what country the pub is in. Episcopal Church and Church of England coffee hours after Eucharist on Sunday are exactly the same. Newcomers, unless there are people specially deputised to talk to them and take them 'round, are left in the corner and the only person who speaks to them is the coffee server who asks "One sugar or two?"

It's interesting that Davey Wavey, the YouTube gay personal trainer and philosopher on life, was here last week and one of the first things he said to the group of us who met him in Hyde Park was, "My gaydar doesn't work here!" It probably takes a few years for one's gaydar to recalibrate itself.

5) Travelling. I only drove for about 2 months when I lived in Chicago 20 years ago. I never drove before then, nor since. I am dependent on public transport. The fact that many bus shelters have displays to tell you when your bus is going to arrive has removed the mystery from "When is my bus going to get here?" In my opinion, most Americans have been spoiled by the ubiquity of automobiles and get more impatient at long travel times than Europeans do. So an American's idea of swift travel is not a Londoner's idea of the same. The Tube and bus network always get me where I want to go; I prepare for unfamiliar journeys by checking the TfL website to ensure that there are no holdups before I start, and I leave sufficient time (more than sufficient in most cases) to get to where I'm going. My mother always said, "Better 10 minutes early than 1 minute late."

6) Anxiety. Well, everywhere there is a lot to be anxious about. We've been anxious a lot longer than Americans have been, as terrorist attacks happened here until the late 1990's and then started again in 2005. In 1994, I actually heard the two bombs go off that year, one in Canary Wharf and one in Aldwich (where the bomber was so inept that instead of setting the bomb to go off at 10:30am, he set it for 10:30pm and it went off as he was carrying it downstairs on a 176 bus). So there is a level of calmness about public safety that you don't see in the US.

As for the current world situation, and the economic situation here in the UK, there is a lot of uncertainty. The government is a coalition and has made a lot of U-turns in policy in response to the tabloid press, who are always accusing them of being soft on crime, soft on immigration, soft on asylum seekers, soft on welfare recipients, and soft on bankers and The City, but also tough on invalids and those who cannot work, tough on pensioners, tough on taxpayers, and so on and so forth.

Is it any wonder that hoi polloi, confused by what they read in the newspapers and see on TV, are anxious? There is no certainty, no government policy that can't be changed or reversed by the Tories who are nervous about whether they will at last get a majority in Parliament in 2015.

Strikes have mostly been banished from public view in the past 25 years or so, except for the transport workers, who are militant and go out at the drop of a hat. So the public view of a summer of strikes of public servants is pretty grim.

Last, the weather. Up until you got here, we had about a month and a half without any rain to speak of. You brought the deluge with you. The farmers are now happier. We always complain about the weather; it's part of the national psyche and to have a long spell of dry, sunny, and warm weather makes us even more anxious than we are about current events and the government. With the rain, we now have something to talk about while we binge drink in the pubs, vomit in the gutters, take a much-delayed night bus home, and pick a fight at the bus stop before stumbling home, falling in the gutter, and waiting for 5 hours in A&E to see a triage nurse at 4am.

All the previous sentence is tongue-in-cheek, of course. I hope you'll be back.
chrishansenhome: (Default)
Sunday night and all day Monday it was snowing in London, and most of southeast England. We had about 6 inches all told, with temperatures below freezing most of Sunday night and Monday. According to the Met Office, this was the worst snowstorm in 18 years here in England.

Now, in Marblehead, or New York, or Chicago, such a snowfall would be a piddling hiccup in the life of those who live there. The snowplows would be out, the sanders would be sanding, and everyone would (mostly) get to work. But here in London? No chance!

Here's our back garden on Monday.

Note the lavender bush on the lower left-hand corner. "What lavender bush?" you ask? It's there, just under the snow.

In the upper middle of the picture, there is a small space between a large bush and our fence. That's where we saw the urban fox on Sunday, sheltering under the bush and then climbing over the fence into the alley next to the church.

HWMBO was delighted at the storm--it's the largest snowfall he's ever seen. He did feel a bit guilty at staying home from work.

I am of two minds about all this. On the one hand, lots of people get the day off from work--HWMBO certainly did. The schools were closed, public transport pretty much packed up except for the two Underground lines that are just that: entirely underground (Victoria and Waterloo and City lines, if you must know...), the buses not running, and lots of children throwing snowballs. On the other hand, I have a bad cold, I didn't want to venture out because of the danger of falling down, we were running out of milk, bread, and dinner makings, and I had enough of snow in the United States.

In addition, the public bodies responsible for keeping the roads clear were and are not prepared for such a heavy snowfall. Plows (or ploughs)? Where would we put the snow? (Just pile it beside the road and dig out the crossings, that's where!) Gritters (=US sanders)? We may run out of grit if this keeps up. My landlord (a housing association) has not, up until Tuesday noon, bothered to grit or plow the parking lot outside the building. It will be a skating rink tonight when the water freezes.

So what should they do? As Ken Livingstone (former Mayor of London) said, the buses continued to run even during the Blitz in the Second World War. Why should a little snowfall stop them? Boris Johnson, the current Mayor of London, recommended that everyone walk or bike to work (apparently Boris, a famous biker, did just that). Have a bit of fun. To be fair, he did suspend the congestion charge yesterday, for those hardy few who made it in. The fact of the matter is that as this happens only once every 15 to 20 years, there is no mileage in having crews ready around the clock all winter every winter, just in case it happens again. So the Mayor is blaming the boroughs, the boroughs are blaming the Mayor and Westminster, the Brown administration is in hiding, and estimates are that £1 billion in commerce was lost yesterday because of the snowstorm.

Trebles all round--hot toddies, of course!
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Brian, who is on an around-the-world trip, breezed into London a while back. I got wind of his blog through the LinkedIn Ivy League group, and was intrigued because he was about to go to Angkor Wat, which I had just been to. I started reading his interesting blog, and when he arrived here, I said, "Let's do lunch!"

We met up at Piccadilly Circus to go to Eathai, which I had just been to courtesy of Dr. David, but could certainly stand another visit. I had the same thing I had last time (green chicken curry and vegetarian spring rolls) and we chatted about living in London and various side trips that are worth taking. We continued at Starbucks, where pictures were taken. I do look remarkably thinner than I am in this picture, so I am eternally grateful.

Brian's blog is interesting, check it out! There is another version of the above picture there, taken with his camera. Gratefully, I noted that I still look relatively thin with that camera too.
chrishansenhome: (Default)
...and not one of the Seven Dwarfs. We went out to lunch with our friend Mark, who is having a tough time with his visa and his relationship, and were friendly and loving ears while he told us all about it. We then were looking for a coffee shop to have a coffee in while continuing to talk. We went into a Café Nero, and they had no tables, so we left, but not before a little girl stood in our way for about 10 seconds while her mother (a rather plump personage) stood there and let us wait behind her.

We then stood in the entrance to the crosswalk while waiting for the light to turn green. Before it had a chance to do so, the woman, very annoyed, said, "Get out of the way!" and started to cross, with her daughter, against the light. I could stand it no longer and yelled


after her.

The light then turned green and we went to cross. She yelled after us "Foreign bastards!" but I felt vindicated. So sew me.
chrishansenhome: (Default)
I woke up this morning, came downstairs, ate breakfast, got the computer ready for work (working at home today). Then I looked out the back door, and there was a huddle of clothing on the ground. I opened the door and examined it.

Now, those of you who are Londoners or familiar with London will know that in the morning it's quite common to see puddles of vomit on the ground, usually from the drunken sots who pour out of the pubs at 11 pm or later. However, this pile of clothing came from someone who was (to be euphemistic) taken short without access to a toilet. It wasn't badly soiled, but it was, well, shitty (not to mince words). One pair Umbro sweat pants, sixe XXL, and one pair boxer shorts.

Now, being well able to wear and appreciate size XXL sweat pants, I decided that the thing to do was wash them. They are now good as new and drying.

Is this kinky?

Answers on a postcard, please.
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...that I forgot to upload. The winter evening sky at the Borough, just north of me.

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On January 24th, 1994, I arrived in London straight from Los Angeles and the Northridge earthquake, and began my work for Quantime the very next day with a course in software inspection. So today I begin my 15th year here in London, and tomorrow I'm off to New York for a week.
chrishansenhome: (Default)
It's 8 hours into the New Year here in London, and just turned midnight in San Francisco. So to all you West Coasters out there, don't drink too much.

We spent our usual very quiet New Year. We watched a movie called Ping Pong, which was mildly interesting. Arata, the actor who played Smile, was 28 years old when the movie was filmed, and yet he played a secondary-school student. Such youthful looks.

We had coffee and mince pies during the film, and then waited for midnight, at home. We watched the BBC coverage of the festivities at South Bank; during the fireworks, we could hear the fireworks outside as we were watching them inside. And so to bed. No alcohol was consumed.

Perhaps I'll make a Manhattan before dinner tonight. Very civilised.

My wish for all my friends and readers is for a happy, blessed, and fruitful new year.
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Earlier this week I wrote about a marquee being erected in Eaton Square. On Wednesday I discovered that one of the events for London Fashion Week was being held in that marquee. Coacher were everywhere with the "London Fashion Week" logo on the side. Presumably people are ferried from catwalk to catwalk.

Today there is no trace of the marquee at all. Sic transit gloria mundi...
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When I'm in the Victoria office, I usually walk to Victoria Place for lunch (jacket potato). Today's walk was not without interest.

First, after getting some cash, I walked down Chester Street towards Victoria. A woman, about 35 years old, stick-thin, was locking her front door while her (driver/butler?) was loading a suitcase into her car. A woman of a certain age was walking by, and I heard this exchange:

Woman of a Certain Age (WCA): Good morning, dear. Are you going any place nice?
Stick-thin woman: St. Tropez.
WCA: Oh, that's lovely.

I was out of earshot by this time, but this is the neighbourhood in which I work.

At Eaton Gardens, there was a drunk sitting on the ground leaning on the fence, bottle at the ready and a puddle of pee a few feet away. Again, this is my work neighbourhood.

At Chester Square, the police guard at Margaret Thatcher's pad was pacing with his rifle. What a job, guarding Margaret Thatcher, Milk-Snatcher. This week's If... comic in thegrauniad G2 resurrects the old battleaxe and it's quite funny.

Yet again, I had to dodge multiple unfortunates with pet suitcases, none of whom had the foggiest idea of their location or destination.

Victoria Place has plasma screens all over. A few weeks ago, they had annoying little blurbs every 30 seconds or so extolling the virtues of eating there if you're hungry, drinking there if you're thirsty, and the like. All these have disappeared. In their place has appeared innumerable music videos. Blurgh. The jacket potato with cottage cheese and chives was exceptionally good this noon--why, I can't tell you. The potato skin wasn't dry and burnt, but moist and lovely.

On the way back I passed a nursery school on Eccleston Street. The teachers/minders/keepers/guards were herding the little dears into the school before turning the darlings over to their childminders for the afternoon. Each child had an electric blue uniform with a white straw boater hat on top. It looked like some surreal midget Swiss Guard troop were going into the school.

London adventures.


Sep. 10th, 2007 01:41 pm
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After my usual jacket potato, I ambled into Boots and bought various things, then dropped into Body Shop for deodorant and shave balm. The minion showed me some sort of vanity case, and said, "If you spend £25, you can take this case home for your wife." I laughed and said, "I'm sure my husband would have no use for it." She was Middle European and her English skills did not extend to a man having a husband, so I had to repeat it.

When my bill came to £24, she asked me again if I wanted to spend just one pound more. I declined and got out of there without a vanity case.

I have often complained before that people ask me for directions willy-nilly. However, today I understood why the lady stopped me and asked directions to Boots: I was carrying a Boots bag. Luckily it was easy to direct her.

The office is nearly deserted today as most of my confreres and consoeurs are off at a "bonding" week up in Peterborough. I have evening meetings on Tuesday and Thursday, so I cried off and am glad I did. Those events are dreadful, involving as they do falling backwards with your eyes closed and hoping that your workmates will catch you. Five days of this!! They will all return to work manic on Monday. At least, they'll be more manic than usual.
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The Cutty Sark being torched is a great loss. I was quite sad to wake up to the news. I was even sadder that BBC News 24 was showing sport when I turned it on rather than perhaps the biggest UK story today. Of course, since I have no interest in sport perhaps that coloured my reaction. The latest stories say that it's probably not a total loss, but of course it will take more cash to repair and restore it.

I went to Victoria Place for lunch today, thinking that I'd just go to the bagel shop and get a filled bagel. However, when I got there, I decided to try this place instead. Eating a baked potato (US)/jacket potato (UK) with stuff like coleslaw in it might sound a bit bizarre, but it was curiously filling and, more important, there was no queue at the stand. It was quite tasty, probably good roughage too (I ate the skin along with everything else), and not messy. Unfortunately, their website is a tip: they really need some help. They don't seem to have much of a clue about how to navigate, and I got to a place where I couldn't click on anything and had to use the backspace key to go backward. All the links had disappeared. I shall eat there again. I shall avoid being anti-social in the office by not having it with a baked-bean filling. I am avoiding cheese as well. So we shall see what wonders await tomorrow. I would remark that they offered me lots of side dishes and cheese on top. It is kind of like going to a candy store and being offered all sorts of forbidden goodies with the malted milk balls you bought. It is sad that I have to forego almost everything that's tasty, sweet, or in the middle of two pieces of white bread. As my mother said the week before she died, "You wouldn't want to eat here anymore." in reference to the diet the doctor warned her to go on before he would refer her to a cardiologist.

According to the message that just boomed over the tannoy, there is a security alert on two sides of the building. I do hope we won't be blown up and that it will turn out to be someone's discarded lunch in a bag.
chrishansenhome: (Default)
It's a video, but it shows you that a Londoner's heart remains in London, even if he loses his way for a while.
chrishansenhome: (Default)
We went to a Members Private View of the Gilbert and George exhibition at Tate Modern this evening. What a wonderful exhibition! I enjoyed it thoroughly. Somehow, their art says something to me that I like. I don't know what it is, but I really enjoy it. The colours are so vibrant, their ideas so incisive, especially about subjects such as life, death, religion, and AIDS. I wish I had the money to buy one of their works. I'm going back to buy a poster, though...

If you're in London before the 7th of May, just go! It's the first exhibition I remember that had taken up all of the 4th floor.

Oh, and the slides were almost empty, but I didn't actually have the nerve to go. I probably won't have the opportunity now (I think they're being taken down sometime in April). Yes, I'm a wimp. But I went to the gym and exercised legs yesterday, and they are slightly achy. And I'm not a fan of heights. Oh, well.
chrishansenhome: (Default)
The subject of this entry is not one that I would be able to use very often here in London. Last night, and continuing this morning, we are having what the weather forecaster on Radio4 described as "the heaviest snowfall in England". I can't imagine having the heaviest snowfall in England here in London, but there you go.

I opened the back door, turned on the light, and took a picture of the backyard and the snowfall. I'm glad I don't have to shovel it. I believe it'll top out at about 2 inches so I'll be working at home today as public transport will not be easy. Oh, and those of you from places where people sneer until you get a foot of snow or more, please do not comment on what wusses we are, or I'll drop a house on you.

chrishansenhome: (Default)
No one can say that Ken Livingstone doesn't care what people think. A convocation of Londoners descended on the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre in Westminster for a day-long set of talks and Q&A sessions around many of the issues that excite Londoners these days.

After coffee, it was time for Red Ken. In his younger days, Ken was a radical, let's-ban-the-bomb-and-smite-the-capitalists kind of politician. In recent years he seemed to have mellowed. Our Red Ken has now become Our Green Ken. Much of his speech to the assembled multitudes (and there must have been 1000 or more people in the hall we were in, with another lot in the overflow hall downstairs) dealt with climate issues. He was witty about it, of course, and very un-self-conscious. He referred to his comments about the Evening Standard reporter (comparing him to a Nazi concentration camp guard even though the reporter was Jewish) and also referred again to the American ambassador as a "chiseling little crook" who doesn't pay the congestion charge. Most of his speech was taken up with telling us about the coming ecological crisis and how we as Londoners can and must assist in lowering our use of water and the amount of carbon we release into the atmosphere.

"We all know that when you defecate you must flush; however, if you've only urinated, there's no need to flush. After all, it's well known that gardeners pee into a bucket, dilute the urine with water and use it to water their plants. Urine is rich in nitrogen and nitrogen is fertiliser." Green Ken has spoken! He did admonish one questioner who asked if Ken's advice extended to the yobs who pee in his (the questioner's) garden. Ken replied that dilution is essential and that undiluted urine harms plants. Who knew that Ken had a green thumb?

Ken also discussed the need to turn away from large nuclear and coal/oil/gas-fired power plants toward localisation of power generation to cut down on the amount of power lost from transmission lines. He disagrees with the government's tendency toward looking for more nuclear power plants to supply our electricity.

He blames our housing mess on Thatcher refusing to let councils build more council flats, and on Blair's continuation of that policy. He himself is overseeing the building of up to 25,000 houses in London this year and is looking for 50,000 by a few years' time.

The people in the room were a mixture of the curious and the neighbourhood activist or one-issue-Charlie. So some of the questions were political polemics disguised as questions. One or two questions were actually sensible, though. Ken referred most of the substantive questions to his staff, who were on hand to ensure that no question was left unanswered. This is a good thing.

After another cup of coffee we were off to the transport section, which had Peter Hendy, the Commissioner of Transport for London as the chief whipping boy. The questions here were very local, down to the bus number. For example, one lady said that she had been unable to board the number 11 bus to get downtown today because the driver had not stopped close enough to the kerb. One gentleman complained about people who put their feet on the seats. In fact, in the last year he had taken over 200 pictures of people with their feet on bus seats. He was disgusted by this. I think he has the makings of a kitsch website there, if he has enough bandwidth for it.

Mr Hendy answered every question and seemed to have most of the facts at his fingertips. One question, about the closure of the loos at Vauxhall Transportation Centre (that structure across from MI6 that looks like an airport runway in the sky), he knew straight off what the situation was (without consulting his minions) and answered the question robustly (something on the order of: "They're closed because they were destroyed by the users." His solution was closer police observation. I don't suppose they need a lavatory attendant in the gents who could help the gents ensure that their clothing was arranged... Hendy is a hands-on manager who takes his policy cues from Ken and the Assembly and robustly carries them into action.

He had a few unkind words for Metronet...look for some fireworks there in the next few years. I think they'll be looking for damages due to the over-run of repossessions of the tracks for repair work. Hendy has summoned not the bosses of Metronet, but the bosses of the companies (many foreign-owned) who own Metronet for a dressing-down.

There were a lot of gripes at this session, and not many specific actual sincere questions. Transport advocates can be wankers at times, I fear.

The feed at lunch was pretty good if simple (orange juice, sandwiches, and fruit).

On the other hand, the last session I went to, on the Olympics, with Lord Sebastian Coe as the front person, was very soporific. I fell asleep during his talk, and the questions again ranged from the sycophantic to the hostile ("What are the Olympics going to do to help revive Barking and Dagenham in East London?" was a typical question. There is nothing you can say to that except "Loads, we think." and that's basically what Coe said).

It'll take me a while to go through all the bumpf I got from the various tables and displays. There is at least one CD-ROM business card, as well as lots of stuff from TfL. It'll also take me a while to process everything I heard today. But I enjoyed it, and hope to be invited again next year.

Oh, and Ken as much as said he'd run for re-election in 2008, so watch out for that! Someone suggested that he go back to Parliament and run for Prime Minister. There was quite a bit of applause at that. But Ken has found his niche in London, and if this group is anything to go by, he'll be around for years to come keeping us amused.
chrishansenhome: (Default)
We don't get snow very often in London, but it's snowing heavily at the moment. Being 2 degrees (C) outside, it won't stick, but I still detest snow.

Update: It was over in a few minutes, and the snow didn't really stick. Hurray!

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