If I can’t watch a Cubs game, then the terrorists have already won!

June 30th, 2007 by matt

Sorry I haven’t written anything lately. I now have a nice build-up of things to write, so let me start catching up with a current event. As I’m sure you’re aware, there was some sort of actual attempt to do some harm to people night-clubbing and tourists. First things first, Haymarket/Trafalgar Square are about 2 miles from my office and 4 miles from my flat. All good. Anyway, I’m sitting at work, the day is winding down and my coworker mentions that there’s a cubs game later. From what he’d heard two places in the city were going to be actually televising it. Alas, the better choice to watch the game near the Haymarket site. He and his wife are big Cubs fans and this was against the Brewers who are ahead on them in the standings. So, instead of just listening to the game, they wanted to watch it. With no other plans on a Friday, I decided to tag along.

Alas, our first choice (the one NOT on Haymarket) wasn’t really conducive to baseball watching. It was more of a cafeteria style place where, after an hour, we might feel awkward. So we decided to at least check out the other place. Well, we got near Piccadilly Circus and the place is teaming with people out and enjoying themselves. I don’t know for certain, but if something like this had happened in the US, I feel like people would be hiding in their houses. In London, people acknowledged it and then moved on. Easy enough.

Finally, we try cutting over to Haymarket and it’s totally cordoned off. Granted, it’s cordoned off by a single cop and the Polices catering services vehicle, but it’s closed off. We cut around hoping that the lower part of the street isn’t closed and lo and behold, there’s our bar, about 200 feet into the closed part of the street. Doh!

For those of you curious what a failed terrorist attack looks like here ya go:


A few reporters and some police tape (there were two cops to the right as well).

Anyway, after a large fiasco of trying to find food, we left the area entirely and went to Brick Lane for some Indian and beigels (i swear, I’ve seen it spelled that way!). Before some people start freaking out that I actually went smack into the center of this shit, in my defense, we made a very conscious effort not to do this, but we wanted to watch an American baseball game and drink MGD. In the end, not only did we not watch the game, but the Cubs won a thrilling come from behind victory. Doh!

If you want my theory, I’m putting my money on a right-wing hate crime kind of motive. In 1999, guy named David Copeland set off a number of nail bombs, one at a gay bar short distance away from where the first car was found. And, today (June 30) is the London Pride parade. Just a thought, though right-wing nutjobs and religious fanatics aren’t exactly that far apart in what they hate.
Coming up, more entertaining things like visitors from out of town and a comedy burlesque show. (Ooops! I was wrong! Hence I’m no pundit! 🙂 )

The Expensiveness! It Burns!

June 24th, 2007 by matt

Not really something to gloat about, but it appears as though London is the second most expensive city in the world (link courtesy of Anne). Those of you New York City lovin’ readers who bitch about the cost of living there, this article claims that London is 25% more expensive than life in NYC. Personally, I would love to know how they came to these conclusions. NYC is pretty damn expensive, particularly if you want to live in Manhattan. At the same time, while I know there are places in NYC where it’s possible to live a little less absurdly expensive lifestyle, if you want to actually live in London (or one of it’s central boroughs), there are very few cheap options unless you live 1.5 hours from the center.

Looking on the bright side, at least it’s not Moscow (how the hell is it so expensive to live there???).

Why I Like My Local

June 18th, 2007 by matt

This is a little random thing about beer. I enjoy beer and have, over the years, become something of a beer snob. England has a nice tradition of making good (and bad) ales. Unlike most other beer, it’s supposed to be stored in a cask and pumped down a line that does not inject carbonation into it or chill it (like all beer in the US). In the UK, you can tell if a pub has ales by the distinctive handles/pumping mechanism for an ale. There was a period in the 1970s when people were really concerned about these beers disappearing entirely which led to the creation of CAMRA (campaign for real ale) and led to a resurgence of ales served in this traditional method.

Also, while there’s plenty of binge drinking in the UK, part of that is due to the role of the pub (at least in my opinion) in English society. The US has, at least recently, established the pattern of hanging out in coffee shops. You’ll meet friends there to catch up or maybe you just feel like sitting around and reading while nursing a cup of coffee. Here, friends meet up in a pub over a pint instead of a coffee.
My point of all this is to get to the concept of the local. It seems like a rule of thumb that, if you live in England, the first thing you’re supposed to do is find a pub near your place that you feel comfortable in and make it your local pub. In my case, I’ve made the Nobody Inn that place for me. They serve good beers, the staff is friendly, the people in the pub come from all walks of life and, when there’s a football match, it get nice and lively. That, and they serve decent burgers 🙂

I’ll usually go there once a week for a couple of pints and, if it’s the right time of day, a burger and chips. They always have one standard ale (London Pride — you find this ale everywhere), a cider and one guest ale (aka. a beer that changes weekly). They’ve also got the usual complement of lagers and Guinness. Now to the reason why I like this place.

I walked in yesterday afternoon with a book in hand and looked over the selection and found that it was the same beer as the previous week. I ordered a pint and someone was off. It smelled wrong and, after two tastes, it was clear it tasted wrong as well. In the US, since all the beer is heavily preserved and pasteurized, it would take a looooong time before a beer on tap went bad. With an ale, that doesn’t have lots of preservatives and isn’t chilled as much as a US lager, it’s definitely possible. So, after thinking for a minute if it’s appropriate to return a beer, I walked up and replaced it with a Guinness.

Now, this should sound like a bad story for a pub I like. But what happened next is the fun part. I sat there and watched as they cleaned the line out on BOTH of their ales (flushing it through a few times with water) and replace the beer. So I went up and found the standard London Pride and some beer I’d never heard of. I ordered it and they offered me a sample so I could make sure that I’d be satisfied this time around. So they listened to my suggestion that the beer had been bad and replaced what was left with another beer and let me try it before hand. Just kind of cool to experience this. Nice place, nice people, good beer and food. That’s my local.

Camden Town and Market

June 17th, 2007 by matt

I have a few ear piercings (6 to be exact). I tend to just fill them with the same style hoop earring and then, every few years or so, buy a new set of them. As I’ve found, the places which usually have the type I like are to found in areas with head shops and other vaguely (faux) alternative themes. Since the car accident, when a number of the earrings I had at the time were knocked out of my ears, I’ve just been sort of coasting along. However, I recently decided it was time to restock. So I headed to the best place I could think of in London which is Camden Town.

Camden Town is the sort of alternative center of the city. In the area around it, there are a number of huge open air markets all of which seem to sell the same goth/punk style goods. In the last 30 years, it’s exploded and, on weekends, it can be a little chaotic. The most interesting of these markets is called Camden Locks because it’s right near the Camden Lock in the canal nearby. It’s set up almost like a catacomb, winding all around the elevated rail tracks nearby. As long as you can handle the hoards of people, it’s definitely worth checking out for the variety of people trying to look alternative. For me, it mostly made me feel old, since it was overrun by teenagers with dyed hair and piercings. But I got what I needed. Anyway, here’s a little of what I saw:


This is the Camden Lock market. It’s vaguely covered and winds for a pretty good ways and, aside from lots of shops, it has a ton of Chinese and Indian fast food with pushy people behind the counters hawking their food.


Here’s a sign at the entrance. On either side of the “L” are two painted people apparently white-washing over the sign. Cute.


Here is the eponymous Camden Lock. It is part of the big ass canal system that traverses north London. There’s a foot/bike path along it and, in this particular section, a shit load of homeless folk hanging around.

The Map! It improves!!

June 14th, 2007 by matt

So I’ve really been enjoying messing around with this whole google map hack I’ve thrown together. Kind of an intellectual exercise that people seem to enjoy. Anyhoo, this post is just to remind people that it’s a work in progress, so every day or so, something (either more points or a feature or two) is added. The most recent additions would be non-London locations: Brighton and Leeds (Stockholm is coming soon!). So hop over to the map if you wanna see how things lay out and play around with it!

Matt’s Life in Map Form

Eating (not out) in London

June 11th, 2007 by matt


So, many people reading this blog know me better than just some guy spewing crap onto a computer screen. If this is the case, you might know that, during my time in Chicago, I was not exactly a gourmet cook. It’s not that I’m a bad cook. But, with the ability to eat out cheaply in Chicago, I didn’t spend a lot of time cooking. Now that I’d moved to a place which was a tad (ok, a shitload) more expensive, I vowed to try my hand at cooking again. It’s been a mixed bag so far. I lack some basic implements to cook that I’m holding out for when I move my things over and I’ve been working very hard so I’ve not cooked as much or as well as I’d hoped. This isn’t to say I’ve made vast improvements in my eating compared to Chicago though.

Anyway, this being a foreign country, things are set up a little differently here. While it’s possible and not unheard of to be near the UK equivalent of a Wal-mart or Dominicks, I have the good fortune to be near no such thing. So I’ve decided to make the most of it. I have a Fruit and Veg shop about 2 minutes from my flat. They literally only sell fruit and vegetables. I’m surrounded by small grocery/liquor stores which is where I can get the basics (in my case, things like juice, crackers, cheese, chocolate, beer, coffee, ETC).

Which just leaves things like meat and poultry. Alas, this appears to be a little harder as there’s no butcher around (there is a fish monger, but I’m not a big fish person). Fortunately, the UK seems to have a much better tradition of healthy foods and supporting the small farmers (even the big stores like Tesco and Sainsbury have large amounts of organic — and not the crap they try to pass off as organic in the big US stores — foods. So I decided to discover my local famer’s market. A quick search online showed that not only was there one nearby, it was only 10 minutes away and occurred every Sunday. It was really nicely attended and there where multiple stalls selling fruit and veg as well as poultry, meats, eggs and breads. Of course, with any of these smaller scale operations, you’ll pay more. I’ll certainly be making a Sunday trip there, however, as it’s some really good tasting stuff. I had some bacon, eggs, chicken and tomatoes from there and I was not disappointed. Anyhoo, here’s a shot from the market:


Hopefully, with this and my other local resources (and a great cookbook courtesy of Carolyn), I’ll be eating nice and healthy for the near future 🙂

Highgate Cemetery

June 9th, 2007 by matt

I’ve been a bad boy in terms of posting. My boss was in town for the week and we’re reaching the climax of the project I’ve been working on, so it’s been busy. At least the map has a few more additions. Anyway, time to go back a couple of weeks and catch up.

The weekend Mac and Jen were in town (gastro!!!) was a bank holiday weekend, I was sick and it was pretty rainy. Well, after a few days of being in the house a lot trying to recover, I decided to spend my Monday off outdoors, rain and cold be damned. It probably wasn’t the brightest idea, but it was worth it because I saw Highgate Cemetery. A little background: in Victorian England, people liked to be buried. If they could afford a big-ass grave, even better. Basically, the demand for more cemeteries was very high. As a result, the government allowed a number of private entities to set up shop ringing what was at the point the outskirts of London with some cemeteries to deal with the fact that all the burial sites within London were full. Highgate cemetery was one of them. In it’s heyday, 25 people a day were being buried here. However, I guess less people started dying or more people started wanting cremations and business (remember, this was private company) went sour. The company that owned the cemetery closed the gates and locked it for good. Some locals got worried about vandalism and the future of the cemetery and they bought it and created a trust so it would remain protected. The cemetery closed in the 1970s and was picked up by the locals shortly thereafter. However, the last fulltime maintenance staff had been laid off in the 1950s and, as a result, the cemetery became amazingly over-grown. While they try to do some work on the grounds, the actual grave sites are owned by the people buried in them (or there families) many of whom don’t seem to take an active interest and the cemetery trust doesn’t appear to have authority to do much more than make sure the paths are cleared (they don’t own the actual grave site land). As a result, Highgate cemetery has a beautiful, lush, green and wild feel to it.

Like I said, it was a cold and rainy day, but 15 of us showed up to take a guided tour. It was guided by a local funeral director who had a friendly, morbid sense to him which made the tour all the more entertaining. Allow me to show you a bunch of pictures:

This is the entrance to the West Cemetery which is the older part.


A beautiful grave marker overgrown


Look how deep they are inside what is now a forest


Oooooo…spooky path!


This is the grave of some famous bare knuckles boxer. That’s a sculpture of his dog


This is part of the “Egyptian” section of the cemetery. It was laid out in a big circle and used to be decorated in an Egyptian theme.


A sleeping angel. Look how close each grave is and how the tree has just inserted itself into one of them.


There are many angel sculptures for grave markers here. Apparently, each one has the same face (from a time before mass production)

Some visitors from out of town

June 3rd, 2007 by matt

Living abroad can be a little lonely. While trying to adjust to living in a new country, I don’t know that many people outside of work. So a nice thing about living in a city like London is that people tend to stop by for a little visit. Last month, it was Dave and Melissa. This month, Mac and Jen made a weekend trip from their travels in Ireland to check out London. Which means I got to hang out with them. Unfortunately, I had just come down with a nasty little cold that’s still sort of hanging around, but I soldiered on :). They arrived on Friday and, because Mac went to high school with Dina, she came up for the day to say hello. Since it was my city (sort of), I somehow got the choice of where to meet up for dinner and drinks and whatnot. I went the kind of lazy route: since I know North London the best (as evidenced by my map) and I was feeling shitty, I decided to show Mac and Jen a side of London that is not the West End or Westminster and had them come up to Islington. This way, they got to see the longest elevator in England (the Angel tube stop has that one) and I would know for sure that the place we went for dinner was tasty. I took them to a gastropub called the Charles Lamb. For those of you unaware of the concept of a gastropub, it’s basically a pub that decides to sell quality, non-bar food. Usually, the food is kind of French in style. They become very expensive, but this one has always had good food, good beer, a relaxed vibe and reasonable prices. They did not disappoint this time around either. And, we had the added plus of having a visitor sitting next to us. This was Mascha the pub dog. While the signs clearly say not to feed her, by her lack of energy and slightly overweight look, this sweet dog was definitely being secretly fed 🙂

After dinner, I showed them the canals and made them wander through one of those sketchy alleys all over London until we arrived at the Wenlock Arms. I’ll devote a post to this pub another time, but this time was entertaining as always. An impressively wide selection of beer and locals and the jazz band of old musicians was playing as well.

We said our goodbyes and I went home to sleep sleep sleep and planned to meet up the next day. Alas, Saturday was a nasty rainy day. I spent most of it nursing myself back to health and we agreed to meet up for dinner (don’t worry, Mac and Jen did a good deal of sightseeing). At this point, I learned one lesson: when your mobile phone is low on minutes and Mac and Jen’s mobile service is spotty, saying “let’s just meet in Picadilly Circus” on a Saturday is a bad idea. Ok, it wasn’t that bad, but we spent a little time wandering to find each other. Once we did, we headed over to Chinatown, which I hadn’t been to since I went on a trip with my family when i was 15. We found a place which had a nice meal deal thing with many courses. It was quite tasty. Since the conversation was good and the night young, we went in search of pubs. A little lesson of warning: Brewer St has no pubs (gay and straight sex shops and hookers, but no pubs). Since the pickings around there were slim and I’d dragged them to my ‘hood the previous day, we went close their hotel in search of a pub. We were getting worried when all we found were pricey clothing stores, but we stumbled upon a nice pub called The Hour Glass. It was laid back and they had a good guest ale on tap which allowed us to just sit back and chat for a while. After a few pints of beer, we headed back towards the tube and went our own ways. Once again, it was nice to see some friends!

I’ll wrap this post up with a picture of Mac and Jen in the pub (my picture taking this weekend was non-existent with all the rain and not feeling well):