Very Cool — Aussie Politics and Music

November 29th, 2007 by matt

So I’ve been a fan of Midnight Oil for years. They made some very good rock music mixed with activism as well. I know the lead singer, Peter Garrett, had been pretty active in Australian politics, but here is some good news. Apparently, with the conservative government swept out of office after 11 years running things, Garrett will have a cabinet post. While the center-left politicians had been in the opposition, he was their shadow-government rep for climate change. Considering his and Midnight Oils environmentalism and anti-nuclear focus in politics, that makes sense. Even cooler, since the new PM has made one of his big differences with the previous Prime Minister that he would actually ratify the Kyoto Protocols on reducing pollution world-wide. That leaves one major industrialized country who hasn’t. Who is that? The US (sigh).

Walking Along the New River

November 25th, 2007 by matt

The New River isn’t a river at all but a man-made aqueduct built in the early 1600s to provide water to London as the city grew. Originally, it stretched almost 40 miles north of the city using gravity to bring the water down to London. Today, it officially terminates about a mile north of my flat, but it used to carry the water just west of my office. Now, the unused above-ground sections have been converted into a park and create a beautiful way to see some green in the city. As luck would have it, it’s the best way for me to get from my flat to the nearby farmer’s market. Since I like to walk along it often, I thought I get some photos of it while I went to pick up some meat and veg this fine Sunday morn.
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A beautiful fall day along the New River. Since the river no long supplies water to anyone, many parts have got algae on it. But this section is still clear.

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A nice bridge across part of it.

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I am amazed at some of the cool wildlife you can still find here. One day, I’ll have my camera around when I see a fox. The bird pictured above likes to hang out along the river, as I’ve seen him a few times. I know absolutely nothing about birds, so I don’t know the type of bird this is. He’s pretty well conditioned to having people around as you can see how close I can get to snap a photo.

A Very English Thanksgiving

November 24th, 2007 by matt

For those of you unaware, Thanksgiving isn’t celebrated here. Yeah, yeah, it’s a complete shocker. However, this being only the second Thanksgiving I’ve celebrated without my family, I wanted to do something other than work. Since part of this holiday has always been a little about excessive eating, I wanted a place that would mimic that well. I managed to wrangle up a few other coworkers and set about trying to get a booking at some place that would fit the needs of a Thanksgiving meal. I’d previously been to a pub somewhat near my flat which seemed to fit the bill called the Marquess Tavern. It has plenty of interesting beers, but the more important part was the choice of beef. To order it, you select a weights of beef from a chalkboard:

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You pick the weight you want and it comes out freshly cut from the bone along with some green vegetables, potatoes, gravy and yorkshire pudding. We picked #1 and #6 which meant we ordered 5.5lbs of beef. Half of that (it came out on two plates) would look like this:

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Tasty food! We managed to finish it all and felt good and full afterwards :). For those of you interested, here would be my companions for this years Thanksgiving:

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On the left are Bhavin and Christiaan and on the right are Ben and Hang. It was a very international little group. We ate, imbibed and generally had a jolly old time.

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The interior is very nice as well.

Anyhoo, there was no turkey or family, but it was a fun time. I’m hoping to try to get as many people as possible together sometime next year (yikes! that’s pretty close) and see how many of the choices of meat we can knock off the chalkboard.

A Happy Thanksgiving To You All

November 22nd, 2007 by matt

Most of the fine people who read this are in the US, so I just wanted to take a moment to wishing you all a wonderful Thanksgiving. It’s always been the holiday I enjoy the most — good food, family, the feeling that winter’s in the air. I have someΒ  British-like plans for the evening, but for now, it’s off to work for me πŸ™‚

Hope you all have a lovely Thanksgiving!

English International Match

November 21st, 2007 by matt

Consider this a half-assed running commentary:

So I’m using my recently acquired TV to watch England play Croatia in football. England needs to tie or win to advance in the Euro 2008 tournament and, it’s been really entertaining so far. It’s at the newly rebuilt Wembley Stadium (which apparently has a shitty playing surface according to the announcers) which is gigantic. Even though there’s no alcohol allowed at international matches, the crowd is insane. They booed(!) during the Croatian national anthem and they have been loud and crazy the first 15 minutes.

Alas, while England is pushing, Croatia scored a goal on a keeper error (a routine save he screwed up) and on some weird goal where the English defence thought the forward was offsides, froze (he wasn’t offsides) and waltzed in for a second goal. Ouch!!

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That second goal for Croatia really took the air out of the fans. There’s still plenty of cheering, but the first part of the match showed the amazing sound of 70,000 people. I hope England pulls this off and doesn’t keep choking. πŸ™‚

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It’s halftime and the commentators are writing Englands eulogy. They’re ripping them apart.

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Man, that penalty shot came from a half-assed penalty. But it’s now 2-1 Croatia.

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Holy Shit! England just scored a very nice good. It’s tied and that’s enough for them to advance if they can hold on.

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Bummer, nice goal by Croatia putting them ahead. If England pulls off a tie on this, I’ll be impressed.

Well, that was a painful roller coaster ride. The crowd is NOT happy with that one. England is out of the European championships.

Another Link to Chicago Leaving

November 17th, 2007 by matt

Well, today is officially Carolyn’s last day in Chicago. She had a little gathering a bar called the Globe (and English style bar, I might add). Tomorrow morning, she and her friend Mehreen, will be loading up her car for the trip to NJ, leaving Chicago after three years. It’s very bittersweet. I’m sad she’s leaving Chicago (for herself and because it’s one less person I know there), but it means she’s closer to joining me in London, which is nice.

Everyone wish Carolyn a safe drive and good luck on her next round of adventures!! πŸ™‚

A Trip Along the River Adur

November 13th, 2007 by matt

It was a dark and stormy night. The fellowship of Froddo, Bilbo, myself, Dina and Adrian were in a tight spot. Do we take a hike in the woods, unprotected with no hope of a beer at the, or do we journey to the town of Adrian’s birth, where his kinsman still live and the pubs are a plentiful?

In this case, we chose to check out Shoreham-by-Sea, which happens to be where Adrian grew up and much of his family still lives. After my very very quick trip to Stockholm, I landed at Gatwick Airport which is about halfway to Brighton. So I decided to take a little overnight trip down to say hello. After a festive evening, we figured it was a lovely Saturday to take a little walk and get some exercise. Our choices were many, but the walk from Bramber to Shoreham sounded pretty and gave me a chance to see some English towns I’d not yet seen. The walk began in Bramber and meandered along the River Adur which, as Anne pointed out, sounds like it’s right out of Tolkien. The walk itself was about 5 miles and allowed us to see a number of cute villages, a gently flowing river, an old cement factory/chalk quarry and a few churches. Come hither and I shall show thee:

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Bramber used to be home to a large Norman castle. During the English Civil War, Cromwell had a number of these castles torn down. Only the one wall you see in the distance remains (as well as some of the foundation). It must have been very impressive when it was in one piece.

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After soaking in a little history, we decided to hit the local pub. It’s a cute old pub/inn.

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Here is the River that traverses Middle Earth. At its widest, it was about double this length. Near Shoreham, we even got to cross the remnants of a very rickety bridge that apparently still had car traffic over it into the 1970s. After a nice walk along the river with a detour to Botolphs, we reached our destination.

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No not the Red Lion Inn. Shoreham! This pub used to be where coaches would stop for the night. The wooden beams make the ceiling so low, I couldn’t stand up straight near the bar. Good selection ales, happy vibe.

Once we reached Shoreham, we met up with Adrian’s mum and made merry until it was time for me to return to the land of London and my cute kitties. As always, it was a pleasure to spend a little time out of the city and see the beauty that is the English countryside.

A Big Black Cloud of Smoke

November 12th, 2007 by matt

So I’m walking back from lunch (mmmm, gnocchi and boar’s meat) and there’s a cloud that doesn’t look right. First of all, there’re no other clouds in the sky and this cloud is thick and black. Alas, I didn’t have a camera with me. We thought something was amiss and it’s true. The BBC is saying the it happened right near the future site for the 2012 Olympics. Crazy!

update: So it was apparently an abandoned warehouse on the Olympic site. The future home of the Olympics is pretty empty right now and isn’t very ready. But they’ve got a few more years, right? πŸ™‚

Parish Church of St Botolphs

November 11th, 2007 by matt

While taking a walk along the River Adur (not Ardur!) with Dina and Adrian, we came upon the Parish Church of St Botolph. Apparently, this parish now only numbers 50-60, but the church is significant because the main part of it is from about 950, making it one of the oldest churches still standing in England. It was always designed to service the nearby farming communities. St Botolph is pretty obscure but he’s apparently the patron saint of travelers. The church is situated in an isolated feeling section of southern England. It’s only about 3.5 miles from Shoreham, which has about 20,000 people living there, but you wouldn’t know to come walking upon it.

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The tower part is somewhat newer (if you consider the 13th century to be new).

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Apparently Anglo-Saxon churches tend to be of simple decorations and design, but it’s got a nice quiet contemplative feel to it. And the acoustics in all these old structures is always impressive.

I’ve Been Assimilated!

November 8th, 2007 by matt

So here I am in Stockholm, where people drive on the same side of the road asΒ  in my homeland and what did I find? I was completely confused! I had no idea where the cars were supposed to come from. I was in a cab and the driver made a left turn and I freaked out for a second thinking he was on the wrong side of the road. In my head, I’ve become so accustomed to looking for cars on the England side of the road that when I’m not there, I have no idea where to look. I hit a couple of intersections and just kept looking in both directions still not sure which way to expect the cars to come. Damn you English drivers!! πŸ™‚

Back to Stockholm

November 7th, 2007 by matt

Greetings once again from Stockholm. I had one of the weirdest flights here. I ended up flying a low cost Danish carrier called Sterling. Until I got on the plane, I didn’t actually see a single person directly employed by them. The ticket counter had some company called Servisair. The gate just had some Gatwick employee. And, until I was on the plane, I could have managed to have no idea who I was flying with. Zero branding. Very odd in this day and age. Even better, they left the gate early. They had everyone on the plane, so they left 10 mintues early. And Stockholm is so efficient, I was off the plane and on the train to the city centre in 15 minutes. That’s getting off the plane, passport control, baggage claim, buying a ticket and an elevator down to the train. And the train goes like 100mph. Sweet.

Anyway, here’s yet another shot of another hotel room. This is another 2 day trip in and out. But it’s freezing and there’s only like 5 hours of daylight this time of year anyways πŸ™‚

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The First of Many Trips to the British Museum

November 6th, 2007 by matt

Living in a capitol city has some major perks. One of them is the abundance of free museums. In my younger days (my first trip to London 15 years ago — wow!) I was amazed and awed by the British Museum. So, you would think, living a train or bus ride away, I’d be there every weekend. Stupid me, I hadn’t gone even once in 7 months. This past weekend, I vowed to change that and see how the place sized up when I was older and wiser.

Well, it’s still pretty impressive. It doesn’t feel as large and some of the pieces I remembered are smaller, but still very big (more on that in a minute). But it’s still an amazing museum. I need to book some tickets for Carolyn and myself to see the terracotta warriors this spring. But for my first of many trips back, I chose to focus on the Egyptian (non-mummy) part of the museum. I figure, with free admission, I can just pop in for an hour and really check out each part. So that’s what I did.

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The classic front to the museum. I love how it’s on this seemingly tiny little charming street filled with old book and antique shops as well as a decent tourist pub and other touristy kind of food.

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After you enter the main entrance, you find yourself in the Great Court which is definitely not the same as it was 15 years ago. It’s a decent combination of old and new and the glass roof gives a sensation of being outside without actually being there so you can still have works of art out in the open.

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This head was part of a large statue. When I talked about how huge things felt merely big now, this would be it. Next to the head is the arm of the statue. In my younger days, I remember it being 100 feet long. Now, it’s a mere 20 feet long which would still make the full statue gigantic πŸ™‚

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This is the crown of the museum and a perfect example of colonialism taking other country’s heritage. The Rosetta Stone has the same text in Hieroglyphics, Demotic and Greek. It allowed people to finally understand the language of Ancient Egypt. What I find even more fascinating is that, by the time the stone was carved, no one really used Hieroglyphics for writing. It was the original written language of the Egyptians. However, as the written language evolved from pictures and symbol into more abstract characters, it was used more for ceremonial and religious purposes. Demotic (the language below it and more recognizable as a language to our modern eyes) was the day to day written language of the literate Egyptian. Greek, at this point, was the language of official Egypt, the language of the government.

What’s sometimes even harder to realize is that most people of this time couldn’t read any of these languages. Until the printing press and the Industrial Revolution democratized the written language by allowing for mass production of words, literacy was something that was unobtainable to most people. It wasn’t until the 19th and 20th century that literacy began to spread far and wide (particularly through the industrialized world — there’s still many people who cannot read or write).

Anyway, that was my first trip to the British Museum. It’s made me think and made me marvel at some amazing things. I don’t know which part will be next, but I hope to share it with you here.

Art and Humour

November 5th, 2007 by matt

Dina sent me a bunch of pictures from the Apple Festival and included some pictures from Carolyn’s visit. Among them was this cute one:

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You might be asking what the hell I’m doing behind the very happy looking Carolyn. Well, the Tate Modern is a museum built in the remains of an old power station. Aside from a very nice selection of Francis Bacon paintings as well as a huge array of Modern British Art, they sponsor large installation pieces in the main part of the building. The previous piece was a series of multi-story slides to go down. The latest installation is this very large crack along the floor representing something about racism or colonialism in British history or something. I’m just making it a little wider.

Outside the museum is a large spider by Louis Bourgeois. Cool!

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Apple Festival

November 4th, 2007 by matt

A time honoured tradition in my part of the US is apple picking. This is where you go straight to the source and pick the apples yourselves. Or, you can at least go to the orchard and get some apples that are far superior to the store-bought crap and pick up some tasty donuts and cider as well (with that in mind, I’ll just plug Salinger’s Orchard as having some damn good apples).

Here in England, at least in the world I run in, they have the “Apple Festival” at Middle Farm just outside Lewes. There was no apple picking at this Farm on the day I went. Instead, there were rides, tasty food, some apples, but mostly cider and ales. Yummy! Dina and Adrian’s friend, Lou, plays in a country-type band and were part of the entertainment. I had the misfortune of coming down with a cold (which is still plaguing me two weeks later), but I refused to let it stop me from taking a trip to the country-side and enjoying myself. Probably a mistake since I’m only barely recovering now (and those of you who have been feeling sympathetic towards me for being sick might not be as inclined now).

One of the things I really appreciated about the day was being out of the city. I hadn’t left London in almost two months (since Paris), and it was really nice to be in a bus looking at the country go by and seeing some smaller locales around Lewes and Haywards Heath. Then, it was nice to just be outside in the not-too-chilly fall air and doing something that was just a little bit different. Some of the highlights:

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This is Lou’s band. I’m blanking on their name now, but Dina can jump in and remind me. They were having fun, played a good set and it wasn’t totally surreal watching Brits play American bluegrass music πŸ™‚

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Yep, this is exactly what it looks like. It’s sheep racing. And yes, those are little jockey’s on their backs. Even better, Adrian and I picked the winning sheep and got some candy.

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After a few drinks, we all figured it’d be a good idea to take one of the carnival rides that spin around a lot. This is our third time on the ride from my vantage-point.

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This doesn’t help keep you sober. There’s a permanent store on the farm that has a very very large selection of ciders and ales. You get a small cup and are free to sample. And, inevitably, you buy some too. Very interesting to try so many ciders. I know so little about it and there really is a vast difference in all of these.

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I’m certain this might be one of those pictures that’ll disqualify us from public office in the US, but we all look so happy here.