Friday, December 29, 2006

*sigh* family

Sometimes you don't realise how much you miss something until you have it back. I've experienced it a little when I don't speak to Mum and Dad for a little while, but it has kind of hit home with the visit by Susan, Robert, Harry and Gus.

They did (eventually) get here. We had arrange with Jen to go out for dinner on the Thursday night for Gus' birthday (not a great photo, but *you* try and get Gus to smile) but as they were delayed due to the fog, we made it Friday (in the end they arrived at ~10:30pm, and then had a *perfect* cab ride back to Jen's place). We all had a good time on Friday night, and the Chinese restaurant was great!

(As I had been psyched up to Do Something on the Thursday, Loz and I met up at Notting Hill Gate and went to The Old Swan for dinner. While I was waiting for Loz, I took some night photos.)

On Saturday the crew came in to check out Portobello Rd (via the architectural wonder that is Trellick Tower) , and then we took them to Kensington Palace Gardens and the Orangery. Our waiter wasn't there, but we had a lovely afternoon tea nonetheless. As it is London. the sun was well and truly down by the time we left, but we walked home via the Prince Albert Memorial and Royal Albert Hall. (Mental note, must see Cirque du Soleil there, if only for bragging rights).

Loz and I headed out to Twickenham on Christmas Eve (London really does shut down on Christmas day - NO public transport whatsoever!). Christmas morning alas brought us no snow. We did go for a walk along the Thames to Richmond for a pint though. Robert cooked up a storm as usual, and the Christmas turkey was excellent!

Boxing day was quiet, and as I had to prepare psychologically for work, we headed home early-ish so I could mope. Three of the most boring work days in history ensued, and that pretty much brings us up to date.

There is talk of doing some trials of at least part of the Monopoly Pub Crawl tomorrow, but I suspect we will just faff about in the city - which is pretty much the same thing!

More to follow post-New Years (with Vron!).


Relevant photos.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Brass Monkey Weather


I am going by the following signs:
  1. There is fog everywhere (see below)- all domestic flights out of Heathrow apparently cancelled today. Merry Christmas everyone.
  2. The sun doesn't rise until about 8am (which of course means I sleep in until 8.30am) and sets at 3.30pm, not that you can SEE the sun!
  3. I can no longer leave the house without my wearable doona with the hood up AND a beanie underneath AND gloves, and even then my legs are freezing. I *could* implement a long johns policy but then I would boil the second I went indoors anywhere.
  4. I just had to turn the water tank's flow to the heater units on and then even turned an actual heater on, which we have never ever done really.
  5. Most tellingly of all, Grant has purchased an overcoat. I think this is in a holy text somewhere as a sign of the impending apocalypse.
Because Uni is on holidays, saving me a whole 12 hours or so a week including commute time, I'm not cycling much at the moment and more walking. It rather brings home the difference between cycling in Winter (lots of energy expended, nice toasty core temperature even when wearing very little protective clothing) vs walking in Winter (SWEET JESUS I CAN'T FEEL MY LEGS).

On the plus side, Uni has brought so much paper into my life that if it gets much colder we can have a nice cosy bonfire.

Today I am going to the library for the third time ever, which is again possibly a sign of the apocalypse - you have been warned!

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Fog: It's not just for Treviso anymore!

It has been a little foggy on the way to and from work the last day or so (this photo was taken at around 7:40am - SUNRISE!), and today I glanced at the sky news monitor in the NMC (network management centre for the layman) and noticed some interesting headlines about Heathrow:
"Fog causes Heathrow flight chaos"
223 flights cancelled today, and potentially ~200 tomorrow too. Makes our jaunt to Italy pale in significance.

Good luck to Susan, Robert, Harry and Gus flying in tomorrow!

As Lauren said, we went to the Orangery at Kensington Palace Gardens (AGAIN!) The waiter knows us by now, and keeps asking about our friend Nat, the only person brave enough to order Lapsang Souchong. We had intended to just get the cream tea, but they had a special Christmas lunch going on that we couldn't resist:

AND it came with pudding (in this case fresh, warm mince pies with cream):

The walk up to the gardens is always very pleasant, and I have been trying to grab photos here and there when I can. I managed to get a couple of some Prince Albert things:

We also came across a very intent dog stalking a squirrel. Now, dogs stalking squirrels in the parks around here is not an uncommon occurrence, and we have long since stopped being concerned for the squirrels - we are yet to see a dog come anywhere near them (ironically, if you point your finger at a squirrel, vis "look over there, a squirrel", they think you are trying to feed them and come running towards you. Can be quite scary). The interesting thing about this dog was that he was a good 100m from the squirrel, and as still as a statue:

It was the most painfully slow stalking I had ever seen. We were there pretty much from the start, and after about 10 minutes quite a crowd had formed, and many people were taking photos. It got interesting when he noticed another squirrel off to his left that was closer than the original target. Unfortunately it ended in tragedy. Another dog came bounding in and spoiled his hard earned yards. It was quite sad really, by the end I was really hoping he'd catch that squirrel.


p.s. Educational video of the week.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Christmas 2006 has been delayed by approximately one week. Loz and Grant apologise for any inconvenience caused.

Dear all

Royal Mail is alas not on our side for this year, with the result that some of you may get Christmas presents in January or, given my experience in the ways of international mail, not at all (see, this is very clever of me as now if you don't get a present you'll think it got lost and not that I forgot). Especially since some of the presents are in Grant's estimation likely to be regarded by customs as dummy scents to put off sniffer dogs and impounding may therefore also be a possibility.

In any case, given the cost of sending odd sized packages from the UK in the week before Christmas you can all regard yourselves as having been given postage for Christmas!

In conclusion: sorry to scrooge up Christmas, promise to do better next year.

In update news: I am now officially on holidays from Uni which is a bit odd given that I only just started, but I am not complaining. We spent the last weekend recovering from Italy and, in Grant's case, his very first full week of work. In my case I am kind of over the few months I spent desperately wanting a job to validate my existence (grief/anger) and am onto the acceptance stage in so far as that could be regarded as referring to sleeping in til 8am, actual housework including IRONING MY HUSBAND'S SHIRTS (sorry Grant, I am never letting that go), and the occasional bout of actual uni work. Leisurely research can be such a lovely way to spend an afternoon, provided Westlaw is behaving itself of course. Also I drink tea. And it is good.

I should add at the weekend there was a fair bit of pre-Christmas running about (or faffing about as I should say) and a fat lot of good that did us thanks to postage issues. Grr. Also, we had lovely lunch at the Orangery in Kensington Palace Gardens which is my favourite tea-type place so far and where I am going to drag everyone who comes to visit.

In other news, no beetroot has dared stain my hands for 30 years. I bought three last week, and the first didn't stain my hands either. I smugly concluded as a result of all the above that the cookbooks with their crazy exhortations about cutting in rubber gloves were quackdoctors or in the alternative that I have weird teflon coated hands or something conferring a natural immunity. However, I cooked the other two beetroot from the same source today, and now look like I have weird skin condition or perhaps like I should be scrubbing my hands and screaming OUT DAMNED SPOT. How is it possible that the beetroots could betray me so?

End note: we have a new webcam thingy and we just frantically cleaned the flat so feel free to call by skype and demand video provided you do it in the next 24 hours. After that we will no doubt have trashed the place, Loz and Grant-style.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Hi all

It seems we only have time to either blog or travel/study/work madly, and not both! Or at least this is my excuse and I am sticking to it.

The last two weeks have involved:
[edit: 0. a visit to Regents Park. There were some good photo ops there, and we shall shall have to go back and check out the London Zoo. Note the canal boat blockade! The walk back also took us past Lords cricket ground - what is happening in the test series?!?!?!?!)
  1. travel with Jen to visit Trish in Battle. Battle is amazing, for several reasons. Firstly, it reinforces my view that the Australian unimaginative place names phenomenon (Great Dividing Range and Great Barrier Reef, I'm looking at you) is inherited - Battle is where the Battle of Hastings took place in 1066. Secondly, it's the first place I've been where you can see a ruin (Battle Abbey) that was smashed up five hundred years ago and replaced with a brand spanking new massive house, which is itself now ancient. Thirdly, I learned more about the Battle of Hastings there than in the 20 minutes we studied it in high school. Fourthly, it is a very pretty town indeed. And finally, they have a pub there with a beer called White Christmas, but being a bitter girl in every sense of the word I was afraid of it. Oh, and of course we liked it because the lovely Trish is there! Photos of Battle.
  2. quick trip with Jen from Battle to Hastings, on the English Channel. I LOVE this town. It's got kind of a faded elegance to it, although having grown up in Newcastle I am quite aware that even a few weeks of brisk salt air will fade elegance rather faster than usual. The fishing fleet is beach-based, apparently the largest of its kind in Europe. All the boats were safely tucked up on shore though because the weather was fairly exciting that day and the Channel was verrrrrrrrrrry rough (Dover ferry closed, even). It was absolutely freezing, but between downpours the wind was strong enough to dry one's clothes in seconds. Hastings has a "new town", quite shopping mall-esque, and an "old town", complete with mossy rooves and one church for every ten people and tarred fishing tackle house things and the whole bit. It also has the steepest funicular railway in England up to the top of the cliff, which while not as steep as the tram up the peak in Hong Kong is nevertheless quite steep. My ambition is to go back to this place and gorge on seafood, which can in some cases be obtained in pint glasses. AWESOME. Photos of Hastings.
  3. panicked study for me, as my thesis has been giving me gyp and I am suddenly picturing myself as navigating the treacherous seas of past research in a very leaky theoretical boat. I decided to deal with this by reading more and more junk to the point where I could no longer remember what I had wanted to write about in the first place and had rewritten my introduction 4 times and had started to wander around the flat sobbing "I'm stupid!". My supervisor then took this timely moment to schedule a meeting and request a draft first chapter, which I tried to avoid to no avail. Fortunately, he is experienced in the management of the breakdown of Type A personalities, and not only doled out the required ego boost but also took my frantic babblings and wrote down the structure of my thesis for me in diagrammatic form based thereupon. Then he told me to stop reading, already, because there was nothing new under the sun anyway. I feel like my head has been spring cleaned. The lesson of this story is twofold. One, that one's relationship with one's thesis will have the same pattern as any other: the giddy honeymoon (I don't know a thing about you, but I love you!), the horror once information as to the other party becomes available (oh my God, what have I gotten myself into?) and finally acceptance (let's make the best of a bad job). Two, one should never attempt such a crazy endeavour without a level-headed thesis supervisor or friend-slash-relationship therapist as the case may be :)
  4. a trip to Italy viz Venice/Morsano where Robert's father's family comes from, but as Grant has already written about this, so I will put it in his words:
"I finished work at about 3.30pm on Thursday[1]. Caught the tube to Liverpool St Station then caught National Rail to Stansted airport. Queued at the Ryanair[2] check in desk for a while, managed to shuffle pretty quickly to the front thanks to a busload of school kids sticking together in one queue. Sat at airport then flew to Italy. Scheduled arrival time was 22:00 local time. After 2 attempts at landing (fog... not unusual around Treviso) we started to redirect to Trieste, but as Ryanair is not allowed to land there, we were redirected to Brescia [ed note - 190km away from original destination!]. 1st bus arrived, filled up, and left without us even knowing. ~1hr later the next bus arrived and took us back to Treviso (~3hr). Got picked up by family and driven to the old country of Morsano [ed note - arrived at about 5am. The flight to Italy part of this story probably also has a moral, along the lines of "don't fly Ryanair late at night into fog-prone areas that don't have capacities for instrument landings." But at 30 pounds total for two of us to go to Italy and back you can't really complain, even if you can feel terribly sleepy].

All up it took almost 15 hours[3]. I thought Europe was supposed to be small?

The rest of the weekend was spent visiting various local attractions, spending time with The Wife's family's family and then in to Venice on Sunday.

For some cycle-related content, there happened to be a cyclocross race on in Morsano on the Saturday. I was impressed - when we first arrived it was the kiddies racing, and there was a pretty decent turn out. Plenty of team vans and support persons.
(warning, some not-very-exciting pictures of Venice are in there too)


[1] not a bad way to start a job, only been there 3 days and I asked
to leave early and take off a friday!
[2] need I say more?
[3] the trip home (straight from Venice) took considerably less time,
but still didn't get to bed until about 3am this morning! [ed note - Monday morning, when Grant had to be at work at 8.30am and I got to sleep in until 9.30am or so]"

...end quote.

I should add that we have a really lovely time. The weather was pretty rainy for most of the Friday and Saturday but thankfully we are now used to being rained upon, and also we now have RAINPROOF HATS, take that UK weather! We saw Udine which has a beautiful gallery walk thing up what looks like the only hill for miles around, so you can see quite a distance of domes and pillars and streets and all things Italian. Also I picked up my much beloved 50 Euro long down-filled coat thing there, which is like wearing a doona and which will hopefully see me through the rest of what a European winter has to offer (Jen - coat really would have been useful in Hastings!). My story regarding purchasing same with frantic sign-language reduced an Italian fellow student to hysterical laughter. You may wish to picture me using sign language for "showerproof" at this point for full effect.

We also saw a walled city whose name I can't remember, and a restored old villa by which I mean giant palace covered with statues, also can't remember the name. Annoying! Fellow Italian student above noted that there is not much English spoken where we were (except Venice of course) and while that is true (a) Robert translated everything for us and (b) as I noted to fellow student, it is rather arrogant to stride over the earth expecting people to speak your language, and I'm thinking next trip I'll at least learn some basic phrases ahead of time (NB: student's response was "it's only arrogant if you don't realise that other people do in fact speak other languages").

On Sunday we went to Venice on the sunniest day I've seen in a good long while. It was touristy but sort of transcendently so. The San Marco piazza defies belief really. I mean, there is a lot of Victorian architecture in the UK that is opulent in the extreme/covered in gold leaf, or what have you, but this took it to the next step. And also there were about a million different kinds of marble involved so it was geologically educational, too. We went ahead of Susan and Robert with Harry and Gus and it was really great to spend some time with the cousins. We had rather a lot of fun on the ferries, too. Warning re Venice: they will make you pay to pee. Photos of Italy (no bathrooms, I promise, but lots of airport shots).

On return to London we avoided bread and cheese like the plague for a few days, but we're ready for more pizza now.

Highlights of week: thesis supervisor spring cleaning my brain; students demonstrating the enunciation of "h" at lunch.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

meat substitute products - not just for vegetarians anymore!

So - Lauren, being the wanna-be hippy that she is, has been chipping away at my carnivorous tendencies. I'm sorry to say, it hasn't hurt.

First was the sausages. Did you know that in 'ol Blighty, they have all sorts of sausages named after various places, all with distinct tastes, spices, herbs... It's like beer, but food! Well, the vegos have seen that as a challenge, and stepped up to the plate. Glamorgan was the first one - kind of cheesey and light, I think of it as a breakfast sausage. Then came Linconshire and Cumberland sausages - a bit more body, more "mature"... definitely dinner sausages.

Lauren then started seeding my conscience with comments about some new, futuristic meat substitute: Quorn. The added appeal for Lauren, I think, was the trademarking... For me, it was thoughts of food cubes and food replicator units that piqued my interest (I'm sure this is the future of food - place some non-defined substance into a machine and it will produce the meal of your dreams!). Apparently it is some super-mycoprotein somesuch that a company has developed. They can manipulate it into all sorts of shapes, sizes, textures, tastes... it's scary.

We started with Quornchiladas. They were good. Very good. The item labeled as Quorn "chicken style" pieces. Weird. Tonight, we had Quoritos, using Quorn "mince". It is a bit more beefy, and I guess mincey than the other variety. It's all a bit scary, and exciting at the same time - the future is NOW!

I should probably point out at this point that both the Quornchiladas and Quoritos were made by yours truely - only the raw ingredients were provided by Quorn.

So, while we suspect Marlow Foods[1] has created one of those creatures from Milliways[2]. were not about to look too closely in to it...


[1] creaters, or at least owners of the trademark, of Quorn
[2] refer to The Restaurant at the end of the Universe.

Thursday, November 23, 2006


We'll save an update on the new round of Grant Job Drama for later as hopefully there will be some resolution over the next week or so, and narratively speaking it works better if you're on the edges of your seats for a little bit longer. In the meantime, picture us both in the Pixieflat, hunched over textbooks and arguing over whether it is too hot in or too cold. It is funny how quickly you develop an expectation of wearing nothing but summer clothes indoors when it is freezing out, especially when you don't have to pay extra for heating.

Last weekend, Sarah very kindly hosted us in Birmingham, pearl of the north Midlands. We caught the bus down on Friday evening, which in hindsight wasn't the world's greatest idea as we were in gridlock for more than an hour. However, the bus was quite pleasant as buses go, and Sarah picked us up at the station at the other end for dinner at an Indian - in Chinatown! On Saturday we went to Stratford Upon Avon, where the primary industry is Shakespeare and everything was either built five hundred years ago or yesterday. The place on the right is the entrance to the cottage where Shakespeare was born. Query why they felt that red brick was the way to go in a town otherwise comprised of Tudor everything.

Like Birmingham, Stratford Upon Avon has a healthily developed canal system, although there are some indications that it might not have been the fastest way to travel. By way of comparison, the trip to Birmingham by train takes about half an hour. Lunch was had in a pub built in 1600, which has a continuous liquor licence predating white settlement of Australia by a century or so. Freaky. Also there were the usual hungry swans slash Canada geese. In addition to its 800 year history and its famous son Will, Stratford Upon Avon is notable for catering for pixie folk and making it easier for them to open doors.

In the evening we had the pleasure of a tour of downtown Birmingham and its fabulous German Markets, which come from Frankfurt for a month until Christmas. The markets are awesome, but Saturday night was cold - like, Grant wearing a scarf cold or Loz buying a new improved lined earflap beanie cold (well, let's face it, I'm a sucker for a beanie), like keep the Gluhwein (mulled wine) coming cold. According to some accounts it hit 1 celsius.

The German markets also feature scary Santas, and sausages and pork steaks in scary quantities. I did not partake of same, but diligently applied myself to Gluhwein. I am calling it preparation for the various English mulled wine products that are happily becoming available over Christmas. We liked the markets so much we went back the next day, and learned that chestnuts are most delicious.

Sarah also showed us canals. Lots of them. Birmingham has more canals than Venice, reflecting its heritage as a forerunner of the industrial revolution and for a good long while Britain's largest industrial hub, from which one might like to ship things. Said heritage also reflected in the solid gold statuary and trillion dollar architecture from the city's Victorian heyday, where its captains of industry walked the earth as gods or at least really really rich people. There's a Cadbury factory here too. What more could you ask for?

Boring pictures of locks and other exciting material pertaining to canals are in the Birmingham photo folder for those of you who are mechanically minded. Final shot of Birmingham for those who miss Sarah, also proving that having warm ears makes me damn happy.

It was a wonderful trip - having a local guide really made it fun. The Gluhwwein helped too.

Onto this week - I have been having better luck getting up the quantities of Uni reading. Noone else seems to be bothering but I am a swot as we know. I am also sufficiently experienced in the subject fields to be a total teacher's pet on the basic stuff, and I am duly expecting my comeuppance as we get more technical/European. Also, as the only English first language speaker in more than one of my classes I appear to have been designated a translation service provider which is really great where it's not just a technical legal term but one not reflected in the questioning party's legal system, or better still a medical term, thank you patent law.

While I have no hope of catching Ro at this stage in the cycling kms challenge, I am still commuting to uni for the sheer joy of having a reliable expected arrival time AND saving 12 quid a week for the 3 days' travel. The tube tends to be an expensive disappointment when you are actually in a hurry to get anywhere! The bonus is that the Strand's gridlock has cleared for reasons I cannot divine, and the 50 minute trip with lots of scooting between cars is now more like a 35 minute trip. Still too slow for 10.5 km but better than before, and faster than the tube. The parks I ride through are gorgeous right now with the leaves changing, and it seems rather clear that we are in a different country. I still can't quite believe that I get to ride past two palaces on my way to and from class. City congestion notwithstanding, it really is a dream commute. And of course I get street cred from my fellow students, who are nice folks one and all.

Frustration of this week: Oxford Uni's moot contest on IP is CLOSED TO CURRENT OR PAST PRACTITIONERS! How is that fair? Just because we'd beat the inexperienced kiddies to a bloody pulp? Sigh. Second frustration of the LLM program: two of my courses keep covering the same topics, to the point where every class is an exercise in deja vu of the first order.

Hope all is well at your respective ends.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Dos and Don'ts

DO be awake at the scheduled hour of a phone interview. The nyum nyum nyum of recent awakeness can be off putting

DON'T be in the throws of high-fever head cold when trying to sell yourself to a prospective employer - I can't be certain of what I said, but the hallucinations were great, and he wants me to come in for a face to face this week.

Now, back to bed for me.


Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Children of the Quorn

We have settled into a somewhat "flexitarian" lifestyle in these parts, due to (a) the pixieflat's habit of retaining cooking smells in ins 3 sq. ft. space; (b) the rather horrific price of dead animal over here; (c) the Will of Loz (amen) and (d) the availability of a really, really wide range of vegetarian fake meat food options. Disconcertingly meaty vegetarian Cumberland sausages? YOU BET!

One such scary product is Quorn (capitalisation intentional - trade mark issues involved). I assume Quorn is available everywhere, but I hadn't seen it before here. It's some freaky stuff, supposedly made out of a fungus or some such. That is their story, but I am not entirely convinced that chicken-style Quorn pieces are not, in fact, chicken. It is one thing to replicate the taste of meat, but its texture? Offputting. Rather unpredictably, Grant is fond of the stuff and we now have 700g (GBP4!) of it in the fridge. Come around to ours for some Quorn (insert name of dish) here!

You can also get mince but I am too scared of that to try it at this stage.

Ironically given the wealth of fake meat products, buying plain firm tofu in Notting Hill and surrounds appears to be impossible.

Londonish stuff this week consisted of two giant weekend walks. On Saturday we walked from here to the Church St markets off Edgware Road. Compared to Portobello Markets, this place is blissfully quiet albeit a little more down-market. Lots of cheap clothes around, and I managed to pick up an OK winter coat for 15 quid, which was timely as it was FREEZING. The coat's only fault besides its slight lack of stylin' is the fact that it reeks of dry cleaning chemicals, which is rather difficult to address when you do not have access to a covered outdoor area for airing. Come around to ours for a bathroom that smells of a dry cleaners! (Kulcha note: it's not "laundrette" over here, it's "laundErette." Fortunately for us, our laundEry is in the kitchen, so we don't have to avail ourselves of the facilities of the laundErette around the corner).

The Church St market has decent street food too, as always. I love how you can get Halal chicken tikka in this country. Beat that for fusion cuisine!

On Sunday we hiked about an hour into town past all the usual landmarks of my uni commute (now including New Zealand war memorial beside Victory arch). There were rather a lot of people and rather a lot of poppies around still from Remembrance Day the day before. It's rather interesting to see how many people wear poppies, etc over here for the occasion - I suppose the memory of war is a lot closer? A woman in a niqab was looking at the giant Royal Artillery war memorial near there and its fake-poppy wreaths with her little boy, and a picture of that might have helped in the middle of the race-hate law disaster of last week rather a lot, I think.

We had a dim sum lunch in Chinatown - rather a taste of home. Chinatown here appears smaller than in Sydney, and the usual form of dim sum is a little different from yum cha and usually involved ordering rather than picking from carts of food, which does take away a bit of the fun. On the plus side, the ordering system meant that you weren't just writing a blank checque to the establishment and did have a fair idea of how much you were spending, and the food was excellent. We will not dwell on how the pleasant waiter asked if we wanted to leave a tip AFTER applying the 10% service charge (uh, that would be a NO).

We are FINALLY deep in Autumn. The trees are changing in the many parks I cycle through to get to and from Uni. It is really something to ride through Hyde Park or Kensington Palace Gardens at twilight with all the colours around. Though it is getting colder, hovering under 10, I can still ride with jeans and a really thin jacket. However, it has effectively killed my desire to ride unless I am riding somewhere in particular. I am getting better at the necessary between-lane scooting along the Strand, and for the rest of the ride traffic flows smoothly or I am in a park and therefore off the road, with only dog and pedestrian dodging to worry about. Which reminds me, re: the rules of traffic, London-style (and I use the term "rules" loosely):
  1. there is little consensus between walking on the left and walking on the right over here, making every cycleway a deathtrap - at least the cars have worked that part out, MOSTLY. Grant is a one man enforcement machine where this is concerned, but I tend to duck out of the way even if it means walking on the right rather than risk grievous bodily harm. One could consider blaming the Americans or the Eurotrash;
  2. the traffic lights turn orange before they turn green as well as before they turn red. They frequently do this while corresponding pedestrian lights are still green. I believe the intended meaning is "get ready to go" but the signal is invariably interpreted along a spectrum between a dropping checkered flag and "faster, pussycat! Kill, kill!". It may be that the system was originally intended to give a sporting chance to slower moving innocents such as pedestrians and cyclists, but if so that has long since been left behind. In caution: before crossing Kensington High Street even if the lights are in your favour, watch out for the crazed Maserati drivers (see: above re Eurotrash);
  3. at an intersection with dedicated lights for a left or right turn, the straight-ahead signal will be a green up arrow, and the turn signals will be plain lights. I could go on about how this ascribes a normative significance to turning rather than going straight ahead, and what this means about the Empire as a whole, but I'm too busy remembering how not to get killed; and
  4. on really special occasions, if you are a cyclist, buses will try to change lanes INSIDE A ROUNDABOUT by turning right into YOUR LANE. They are bigger than you, so there's no point making a fuss. You may have to run a red light to escape death by crushing though. Why the buses didn't think of the potential difficulties BEFORE the roundabout is anyone's guess, but the Strand and Trafalgar Square roundabout are not places for the fainthearted.
Oh, humorous commuting event of last week involved me overtaking two mounted police outside Buckingham Palace. That didn't happen often back home!

Grant's jobhunt has been hotting up - he has an interview today, two tomorrow, one Thursday and one Friday. Cross all available fingers. One of the jobs is pretty much what he was doing back in Oz, so it will be interesting to see what happens. Of course, he also has a giant headcold so you might want to consider crossing toes as well just to be sure.

We are off to visit Birmingham this weekend - German markets for all! - and are very much looking forward to it. I am taking my coat, regardless of the funny smell. $$ tip: you can get to Brum and back for GBP10 by bus or roughly GBP100,000,000 if you catch the train. Witness the free market at work.

UK gripe of the week: WHY DO TEABAGS NOT HAVE STRINGS? WHY? If anyone knows a brand that DOES have a string (and at this point I really don't care what it tastes like), let me know.

Monday, November 13, 2006

It never rains...

Just a quick update on the job hunt progress...

There is one offer on the table at the moment, had a technical test today, meeting a recruiter to discuss a project tomorrow, one face to face and one telephone interview on Wednesday, interview at Basingstoke on Thursday (will probably take out the whole day getting there and back!) and we're off to Birmingham on Friday arvo to spend the weekend with Sarah!

I also found out that some of the certification exams I was planning to do will be retired at the end of this year. There is no self-study material for the replacement tests yet (unless you fork out $$$ to cisco!) so I am going to do some serious cramming to try and get at least 2 of the 4 exams done before the end of the year. I was thinking 3, but considering how busy I have been this last week (without even working!) I think that would be pushing it...

Anyway, will hopefully have some concrete job news by the end of the week!


Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Mayo (not the clinic)

We have had a moderately lazy week thus far, Grant's mountain biking adventures and rampant job applicationing (more below) notwithstanding. Perhaps I should say that *I* have had a moderately lazy week thus far! Anyway, our mandatory "English experience" consisted of riding out to Richmond and getting really damned cold on Sunday. We had intended to have lunch in one of the very nice pubs in Richmond on the banks of the Thames. Unfortunately:

(a) the Thames was having a really freaky king tide, which basically ate the entire riverside walk and severely ate into outdoor eating areas (seriously, there were ducks SWIMMING on the footpath - this was at Chiswick, and on the way back home it was obvious the entire road had been covered); and

(b) several hundred thousand rugby fans had had the same idea before heading off to the stadium at Twickenham for NZ vs England (GO ALL BLACKS!).

As a result, we had a somewhat less posh lunch in one of the pubs up the street, which had attained a sudden but short lived absolute waterfront status, hopefully not unruly impacting upon its rent. We did however meet a very nice dog there, Sophie the pink-collared staffy cross rottweiler with the punk owner, who like her owner was a giant sook. She made us miss Queeniedog!

The next part of the plan had been to do a couple of laps of Richmond Park so I could make a few kms on Rohan in the Great Odo Challenge of 2006, but we got really cold and the light was failing, it being 3 IN THE AFTERNOON, so we quit. We probably needn't have chickened out actually, given the rugby traffic had all dissipated by then so the trip home only took about 35 mins or so. At least we now know we can travel the 12km to and from Richmond rather more quickly by bike than by tube - takes about an hour on the tube! We might try to make the park again this weekend.

Over the weekend, yesterday and today Grant has been applicationing up a storm. His record is 16 applications in one day. There has been a pretty good response so far, and he has one or two interviews lined up for tomorrow. Today started with a recruiter calling at 7.30am (!) and another one called while we were having dinner at 8.30pm (!). Clearly they are working corporate lawyer hours. The job market is looking pretty promising so far.

Otherwise we have been living the low key London lifestyle of the unemployed, which involves a lot of veg shopping at markets / cooking at home rather than enjoying the culinary delights of the capital too much. The food is great but it is also reasonably expensive unless you are earning pounds sterling. We are very much looking forward to the gainful employment of a certain member of the household so we can leave the kitchen alone for a few days a la Sydney. This is particularly so as we suffer from a hyperactive smoke alarm which is wired into the mains, so we can't even yank the batteries out to shut it up. Basically, if you turn the oven on, you are up for a chorus of beeping. IT IS UPSETTING MY KITCHEN ART.

The fun thing about coming here has been returning to the kitchen equipment of student days, ie. hardly anything. Cf. Underwood Road, where our kitchen equipment aquisitiveness reached its glorious zenith (Esteele! le Crueset! Mundial! Dualit! and many more!). I have been driven to such extremes as making breadcrumbs by GRATING TOAST. It is just lovely to be cooking with both hands tied behind your back and exactly the implement you need in someone's shed in Oz!

We have not yet had to resort to mashing potatoes with a fork, much as the pilgrims must have done. However, we have addressed some of the horrors of gadget deprivation by buying a stick blender set on ebay which has a chopper attachment as well as the blender (Jan and Paul - a poorer cousin of the great one you have waiting for us back home - tragically cheaper to buy a new one here than have one sent from Oz). And yea, the new stick blender is awesome. Awesome to the extent that Grant made mayonnaise in it this evening. MAYONNAISE. I've never done this before, but seeing as it takes all of 5.3 seconds and is a very cool party trick to boot, I'm not quite sure why I've been buying the crap from the supermarket my whole life. I feel quite cheated actually. It is pretty good stuff fresh.

And I got to make breadcrumbs with the chopper, without grating toast, which for those who haven't had the pleasure is quite a hazardous exercise. And I also discovered why one would want a 400W motor as opposed to our wee old 150W back home, viz: RAW POWER. I fear the 600W monster waiting for us back home.

In other news, the Great Power Shower Incident of 2006 has come to a conclusion with the introduction of a new member of the pixieflat household. Isn't it beautiful? It doesn't have hot water geysering out of it all over the floor at unexpected times or anything. NB: landlord installed it with emergency taps. It's not like he doesn't trust us, but, well...

Back to Uni tomorrow. I don't know how I can be expected to show up for 8 whole hours a week. Oh wait, that's with my optional subject - they actually only expect me to show up for 6. Excellent!


Saturday, November 04, 2006


I finally went mountain biking today. Headed out to Swinley Forest with some guys I met through the London MTB mailing list.

It felt just like home - riding with like minded cycling idiots, crashing in to trees, going over the bars, being extremely cold (well - that was a bit different to home). Veronica will be pleased to know that yes, I did draw blood, but only a little.

I managed to score a lift with a guy who lives conveniently close - just a few blocks away. As with pretty much all decent nearby mountain biking, it is about an hour by car from the city. Public transport should be doable with a short link ride.

Unfortunately I left the camera on the charger, but will definitely go back out there and get some photos.

The trails were... interesting. I guess somewhat similar to Canberra - loamy forest type riding. Plenty of flowing singletrail, switchbacks, smooth trails mostly but with the occasional rooty section. Not any real hills (which suited me fine - not enough riding lately!), and not very technical (which also suited me fine - still getting used to the new bike, and it has no suspension). Body is a bit battered and sore, mostly due to lack of riding, but it felt great to get out there for some proper riding.

I think Loz and I are going to ride out to Richmond tomorrow and loop around Richmond park. Hopefully we will get some distance in - we really need to do some longer rides before the winter scares us off completely. Speaking of winter, I think my clothes are going to be completely inadequate - both normal clothes and cycling clothes. I'm going to have to start taking note of what other people are wearing.


Friday, November 03, 2006

Remember, remember the 5th of November

As everyone knows, the 5th of November is Guy Fawkes' Day aka Firecracker Night, on which the British, with their really twisted sense of humour, celebrate the foiling of the treasonous Gunpowder Plot to blow up the Houses of Parliament by...blowing up some fireworks.

They're also supposed to burn an effigy of Guy Fawkes, because being hung, drawn and quartered for treason isn't enough, clearly - you need to be ritually punished for centuries. LET THAT BE A LESSON TO ANYONE THINKING OF BLOWING UP THE HOUSES OF PARLIAMENT.

Anyway, the 5th of November is clearly more guideline than hard and fast rule, because for more than a week the delightful young people hereabouts have been setting off crackers non-stop in carparks, albeit never after 11pm, bless them and their oddly considerate delinquent ways. (Humorous aside - they were setting off crackers beside the estate's fenced soccer field last week. One of the large and burly soccer players threatened to come out and get them if they threw a cracker on the field, whereupon they said in very offended tones "we would never do that!")

As the Lord Mayor's fireworks show isn't on until tomorrow night, we assumed that the firecracker noises tonight were nothing more than an unusually organised delinquent carpark firecracker display. However, it kept going, and we therefore went around the corner (rugged up in our woollies, because it is FREEZING here) to have a look.

And saw this:

This would be a bonfire of stupendous proportions, for the local Firecracker Night. There were fireworks as well, obviously, given that the noise was what drew us out of the cosy pixieflat in the first place, but we didn't get there in time to get shots of the good ones. No-one seemed to be burning a Guy, but maybe he was all burned up before we got there. There was however a pumpkin on the bonfire, which is what happens when American culture eats everything else I suppose (viz. cranberries in Kew Gardens).

This was all happening in Portobello Green, the so-called "village green" which is a thin park running between Portobello Road and Latimer Road beside the suspended A40 motorway. Which is to say that this freaking huge bonfire and fireworks display were a few metres away from a major arterial road, and I imagine that anyone driving it this evening must have had the living daylights scared out of them.

A few points to note:
* firecrackers are freely available over here, and nobody seems worried about the safety of the 12 year olds playing with them in car parks;
* the above giant bonfire was unfenced and unguarded, and people were just basically hanging around getting singed by it;
* in this country, a sparkler is a perfectly acceptable toy for a toddler.

Basically, we are just now realising that Australia is something of a nanny state, with a hefty "No touching! Ouchies!" approach to anything remotely fun. However, being a citizen of a nanny state makes it very difficult to look at the cute little tradition of Firecracker Night as anything other than an absolute deathtrap. For the same reason I continue to wear my bike helmet whilst cycling, even though I am no longer lawfully obliged to. It does make me wonder though. Do they not have the horrific firecracker accidents over here that we had back home before crackers were banned, or do they just not care provided that everyone remembers the 5th of November? Or is Australia just old fogey land?

Anyway, in future I will have more faith in humanity, and run out to see when I hear firecrackers, instead of swearing quietly at the neighbourhood hoodlums ("chavs"). It felt very English to stand with all the locals and their sparkler-carrying toddlers beside the bonfire, and it was beautifully warm on such a cold night.


Tuesday, October 31, 2006


I'm a little angry. I'm a little upset. I'm a little disillusioned.

Actually, I'm a lot of all of those. Theoretically, I was supposed to "start" work tomorrow (1st Nov), but I had not yet received an employment contract.

What then transpired was a brief email exchange between myself and the prospective boss, "can I see the contract", "doesn't look like we have work for you", "does that mean I'm NOT employed as of 1st Nov", "correct".

So suffice to say, I am looking for work again. On the plus side, I got a call from a recruiter 5 minutes after applying for a job this morning, so will hopefully hear something back on that one in a day or two. Also, the recruiter that had lined up the permanent job rang me this afternoon sounding very apologetic and very keen to find me alternate work.

The search goes on...


Monday, October 30, 2006

Cranberries. Of course.

Hiya folks.

I've had a busy week ignoring Uni work. I made the mistake of actually attempting to get ahold of the materials I am supposed to read for the trade marks course. One week's reading is in the order of 700 A4 pages. This is for one course out of the three examinable courses, and for the patents course, which I am only auditing, there is always at least one reading per week which I dare not fail to do if I want to show up in class. And then, of course, there's the small matter of the reading for a 15,000 word dissertation. In other words: I am potentially in a spot of bother, and without a single research paralegal or dedicated librarian to do it all for me.


On Friday night (limited LozFest 2006 - concluding remarks) as prefigured in previous entries, we went to see a stand-up comic's show on the French Revolution and it was absolutely awesome. If Mark Steel ever makes his way to your local, see the man. His rendition of the German word for "purr" made Grant almost spill his beer, and that is high praise indeed.

On Saturday we had big, big plans but accomplished absolutely none of them, because we could not be bothered, and also because those nice people at Amazon had sent me new DVDs for my birthday. This was terribly generous of them, but perhaps not really very helpful in terms of actually getting me to do the uni reading. Totally worth it though!

Therefore, on Sunday we decided to get our skates on. We hit Kew Gardens in the morning, photos here. This is basically London's botanical gardens and the place is HUGE. It has a number of different outside habitats - redwoods, conifers, a holly walk, and a few giant ponds, one of which was for some strange reason being used to grow cranberries. Together with the proliferation of jack o' lanterns all over the place and the gardens train driver who shouted "grr" at me as he drove past, scaring the living daylights out of me, seemed to be a concession to the American tourists as well as an excellent opportunity for a cross-promotion with the good people at Ocean Spray. The Ocean Spray organisation should by the way be given due credit for not concealing the origin of cranberries from the public - "Straight from the bog," indeed. The free craisins they gave us were appreciated though.

The holly walk was something of an eye opener. I had been of the view that holly was a shrub. Even when I saw an example of the species taller than the outside rank of battlements at Windsor Castle, I assumed it was a freak example, much like my parsley tree that grew beside the compost heap in Underwood Road. As it turns out, there are hundreds of different kinds of holly, and the shrub kind appears to be in the minority when compared to the 20 foot monster trees. My education as to the genus Ilex alone was almost worth the (extortionate even before conversion to AUD) price of admission. For once thing, I now know that this kind is really, really sharp.

Rather more famously, the gardens include several internal habitats to cover temperate, desert and tropical zones. These tend to be huge Victorian glasshouses which are very fabulous but also even hotter than the Pixieflat when it has been shut up for a few hours. The Palm House houses allegedly the world's oldest potplant, a cycad brought to Kew in about 1770. It also houses humidity of about 120%, making photography and, for Grant, vision basically impossible as everything fogged up the second we walked in the door.

"Wildlife" in the gardens included nice black sheep, a whole bunch of peacocks, peahens, and peababies or whatever they are called, the usual hordes of squirrels, seagulls, Canada Geese and pigeons, and even fake badgers in a fake badger set, which I regard as false advertising. We tried to get through the whole place in 3 hours, and had to skip a few chunks of the gardens to do so. Thinking of an even more extortionate season ticket so we can go back and do it properly!

In the rather late afternoon we headed out to Jen's near Richmond for what turned out to be an extremely late lunch at a Shepparton pub - my fault entirely. Nice lunch/extremely early dinner though! The Shepparton section of the Thames has a lock and we got to see it in operation, which was pretty cool. Very, very nice boat going through, crewed by a father and son team. The father seemed a little paranoid about tar getting on the decking, but we won't judge him.

Many birthdays this week - lots of electronic happy returns and virtual cake products to Jen, Ro, Vron, and most especially to our wonderful nephew K and the lovely Miss Hol, both 5 already!

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Man's inhumanity to man

Apparently we are still in daylight savings time. Apparently it ends tonight. It's unnatural *ending* daylight savings in October.

So, as of tomorrow morning, we will be 10hrs behind AEST. (Or, more accurately, we will be returning to GMT, making you Eastern Australia folk our time +10)
(Edit: almost correct! I didn't realise Australia was starting daylight savings this weekend! So, while we are indeed 10hrs behind AEST, Sydney is currently is EST, so make it GMT+11...)

It just feels so wrong.


Friday, October 27, 2006

Swimming to the Barbican

Firstly, happy birthday to me! It has been a lovely day so far, including lots of nice calls to friends and family - I miss you all, but I doubt I could have survived a repeat of the 2005 week-long LozFest celebrations so it is probably just as well to be having a quiet one.

Despite the fact that it is my birthday, a certain person has been nagging me, so following is an account of our exciting cycling adventure last weekend. Said cycling adventure being to Charterhouse Square, which is near the Barbican and which is where all my classes take place, with a view to assessing suitability of cycleway to said Square for commuter use.

To set the scene: bucketing rain. Imagine a tropical storm, but freezing. Perfect weather for a ride!

In theory, the ride in goes something like:

Pixieflat > Ladbroke Grove (the road not the "suburb", note that Ladbroke Grove actually goes up a slight incline of all things, hence "Notting Hill," which is a hill in about the same way as Cooks Hill) > Notting Hill Gate > Kensington Palace Gardens > Hyde Park (via "Rotten Row," a cute corruption of "Route du Roi", which goes beside the horseriding track) > Green Park > Buckingham Palace > the Mall > Trafalgar Square > whole mess of incredibly complicated backstreets around Covent Garden > Charterhouse Square. Following this map.

In actuality, a strange series of events and misturns resulted in our first attempt going along the lines of: Pixieflat > Ladbroke Grove (the road not the "suburb", note that Ladbroke Grove actually goes up a slight incline of all things, hence "Notting Hill," which is a hill in about the same way as Cooks Hill) > Notting Hill Gate > Kensington Palace Gardens > Notting Hill Gate > Kensington Palace Gardens. It is doubtful that this could be repeated under lab conditions. Suffice to say, if you find yourself on Bayswater Road you are NOT heading towards the CBD.

Our second attempt with much consulting of maps and minor screaming matches over directions (all of which in bucketing rain, with the map getting increasingly worse for wear) and an endless number of wrong-way streets which we blithely disregarded to the apparent confusion of some cab drivers went rather better and we did eventually end up in Charterhouse Square. Which looks like this:

(only without the snow, and with some medical students and squirrels hanging about, and noting that the dodgy seventies blocks in which my classes take place are sadly of of frame). Picturesque, isn't it?

However, on the way, we happened to ride past a rather interesting cadet/band function of some kind complete with marching and saluting and so on in the road between the Mall and Buckingham Palace, which is closed to traffic on Sundays. Pictures here. If we hadn't gotten incredibly lost on the first attempt we wouldn't have seen it, so I'm calling it serendipity.

We managed to get back home rather more quickly, but did cheat by using The Strand instead of the warren of backstreets. Much faster and far more exciting - harks back to fond memories of Sydney CBD lane-changing. Also rather more consistent with those annoying road rules about one way streets. I am absolutely going to take The Strand option in future, not least because it is nice to feel like one is on a monopoly board.

The whole trip was about 25km including detours, so I think the commute will be about 10km each way. I am not telling anyone how long it took, because we were lost, and it was raining, and it does not reflect our usual mad speeding skillz. It is an awesome commute though - quite the sightseeing trip. And pretty much dead flat in Sydney terms.

By the end we were both absolutely sodden and muddy, and our shoes took 5 days to dry IN AN AIRING CUPBOARD, and we were both so cold that the Pixieflat's soaring temperatures thanks to the Little Water Heater That Could were actually really welcome when we got home. But I think it will be doable for a little while yet, especially if I take a proper raincoat or implement some such equally practical stratagems.

Uni has been pretty fun this week, and I have been learning all sorts of crazy things I didn't know before, like the US law of misappropriation, which is fairly incomprehensible. Things are also hotting up, as I was downloading my readings for the trade marks course last night, and if I try to read it all I am going to run out of eyeballs. I will have to dust off my speedreading as well as my speedcycling, I think.

Historical fact: we have never been in Hyde Park without being rained on.


Loz turns 30

Happy 30th birthday Loz! And look, she's still smiling:

A quiet birthday today for Loz - afterall, the big part was a couple of months ago! A very relaxed, tasty breakfast (if I do say so myself), then a walk up to the post office to pick up presents that have travelled thousands of miles! We happened upon some kind of Italian food festival type thing on Portobello road on the way, so some tasty treats were purchased. (damn it, should have bought more of their delicious looking breads and sweets!)

Loz still had to go to uni and slave away for 2 whole hours! But we are about to head out for an early dinner and then to see a stand up comedian - portraying the French revolution!


Monday, October 23, 2006

The bike

By popular demand, here is my new bike:

Fairly old, but something of a classic. It's an Orange Clockwork - British made, steel (is-real) frame. Currently 21 speed, and I am trying to decide if I go single speed or not. It would be an easy decision if I was riding *only* road or *only* dirt (the roads here are particularly suited for singlespeeding), but as it will be used for everything, I don't think it would work. Maybe if I tried running 2 chainrings, 40-ish for road and 32 for dirt, and keep a common rear cog... but I don't think the chainline would be ideal.

We took the bikes out beside one of the local canals last week for a short ride - about 30km, but remember, it's all flat! Stopped for a pint and a bite to eat at a very convenient pub, then came home. One of the strangest things I've seen is a canal that goes *over* a motorway... weird. The second strangest thing is that the banks of the canal are lined with houses (obviously) - but the rooves of the houses are lower than the bank of the canal! Considering how much trouble we had with seepage in Pillapai St, I have no idea how they are not permanently flooded...

Only a couple of photos, and they can be seen here.


More about panorama type photos

I took a *couple* of photos today...
This one consists of 17 photos, and this one has 14.

I haven't bothered cropping the jagged outline to show the raw output from the cropping programme.

Oh, there's a couple of other photos (not panorama) in the gallery here.


Sunday, October 22, 2006

Of Spanish food, majestic buildings and rainbows...

Sarah was down from Birmingham on Friday night, so we met up with her in the city for some well deserved beers and dinner. We ended up going to a Spanish restaurant for tapas which was fantastic! Is there anything better than about a thousand little dishes of food accompanied by sangria? YES: A retro bar! We stayed there until they closed. Unfortunately that was only 11pm due water failure (apparently the third time!) We agreed to meet up again in the morning for some trekking about London.

We were a little late on Saturday (we blame the trackwork...) but then proceeded to walk around London under Sarah's expert guidance. Um, I probably couldn't tell you exactly where we went (Russell Square, Bloomsbury, Trafalgar Square and Nelson's Column, the Mall, the Horse Guards thingummy, Whitehall, St Margaret's Church aka Westmister Abbey, the Houses of Parliament, No. 10 Downing Street, St James' Park and Buckingham Palace - Loz) but Sarah might add some comments to the photos if we are very nice!

So, after walking around for about 4 hours, it was time for Sarah to head back north so she went of to the train station while Lauren and I decided to walk home (what, with the track work and everything). It took something like 50 minutes to walk from the middle of the city back to our place - allowing for short diversions of high tea at the Orangery and some grocery shopping. Not bad really...

(...that reminds me, must take some photos of Kensington Palace Gardens...)

Here are the photos I took through the day. Nothing particularly special this time, but it had started raining when we were walking back and there was a huge rainbow in Hyde Park over the Serpentine. I found some new software that seems to do a really good job of merging panorama photos, and produced this. Not too bad, but now that I know what the software is capable of, I'll experiment a bit more.

Oh, we did see some weird/interesting architecture out there, like this, and this.


Thursday, October 19, 2006

Ye Gods, they're actually making me work at this

New tip for blog productivity: save bunches of drafts, then upload all at once. Try it at home!

OK, so I am now in week 3 of Uni. I was finding the first couple of weeks slightly rough going in that I was playing the role of Grandma in the egg-sucking education campaign. This was entirely the result of my own crazed expectations. For some reason I was quite sure that I would be studying with a bunch of people who had also worked in the field for 5+ years. As it happens, there are one or two in this category, and a few more at the 2+ end of the scale, and a few more who have at least studied IP at an undergrad level. However, there are also a boatload of kiddies - about half the class as a rough estimate - who don't know a copyright from a related right and haven't already memorised the numerous (and dodgy) justifications for the patent system. As a result, the lecturers are sensibly taking their time with the introductory sections of the various courses. Basically, it is my own fault for not having done this LLM in say 2002 when I first wanted to!

I should just shut up about it, of course, because I do seem to have something of an advantage which is nice and not something to whinge over. However, 5.5 years of legal practice have given me rather an addiction to superhuman challenges, and in the absence of same I have been feeling a little bit lost.

This week has been much better, though. Firstly, they cracked out the economic theory reading in not one but two of my courses. Market failure! Hurray! Secondly, I've been doing a little more thought on the dissertation subject, albeit not actually writing the outline, which is due within the week (self-imposed deadline) and might be a better use of my time than endless games of solitaire. And finally, it does appear that the courses are in the process of hotting up a bit. I've had to pay attention this week which is a nice change.

I did however have to stop answering questions in patent law this morning, as nobody else was bothering to, and I was in serious danger of appearing the teacher's pet. It may have been a loooooooooong while since I was in formal education, but I do remember trying too hard = bad idea. Or was that just for high school? I forget. The real problem here is that I am only taking the patents course as a backup in case of dissertation explosion and am unlikely to do the exam, but I seem to be the only one doing the reading for the course anyway.

Anyway, week 3 and 2 lecturers out of 4 currently know my name. Maybe I haven't lost my touch yet? Here's hoping. It must be said that 8 hours of lectures a week, none before 10am and all ending before 4pm, and never having to get out of bed before 8.30am is a very nice way to spend a few months.

Maybe Grant will show you all a picture of his bike at some point, and tell the exciting tale of the Exploding Power Shower, but in the meantime love to all relevant persons.


Saturday, October 14, 2006

Introducing the pixieflat

Hiya folks

For those waiting with baited breath, behold the PIXIEFLAT in all its majesty.

This is the outside of our block of flats as seen from the side lane. There's quite a nice jungly garden thing between the two blocks.

This is the entrance to the pixieflat, aka the Flat With The Blue Door (Notting Hill fans anywhere?). While the area appears quite safe so far at least, the pixieflat's front door has a three point locking system that could be described as a trifle excessive.

This is what I am going to grandly title the Entry Foyer, ie. the space behind the front door. You will see it has been converted into a Buddhist cultural misappropriation site with the very nice Buddha mum gave me and Jen's pretty bromeliad. I am quite pleased with myself actually as I haven't killed the bromeliad yet (2 weeks and counting). Hopefully the Buddha will help the bromeliad's karma.

This is the quite large kitchen with no mod cons but some quite nice old cons including a gas stove. SWEET. We've now clocked up about 7 years of rental of gas-only stoves, which is about the only principle by which we select rental properties, as anyone who ventured into Mackenzie Street can attest. Note also the pixiefridge. So cute!

This is the view from the kitchen window to aforementioned quite nice jungly garden thing. Also good for watching the world go by, as everyone from our block has to walk past our window to get to the street.

This is the laundry, and this is the study. I think bananas in a study are a feature. By the way, not only do we get to live in a rather cool city, but bananas here are 40p/lb, or about $2/kg. READ IT AND WEEP, AUSSIES!

This area is immediately past the Entry Foyer and opposite the kitchen door. We'll call this the Imelda Marcos shrine. Also features billions of hooks. Despite contents of hooks it hasn't been raining very much. The Imelda Marcos shrine has recently been relocated 30cm closer to the door to make way for Grant's new bike, but that is a subject for a different post.

Now we have the bathroom, which is also coincidentally larger than the one in Mackenzie Street. You can see the Power Shower, a kind of a pump, to the right of the sink - due to extreme lack of water pressure in this fair city, this is pretty much the only way you can enjoy a good, water-wasting shower experience here. It makes a Godawful racket but we love it anyway. Or did love it, until it exploded - as to which see the postscript.

Next we have airing cupboard shelf 1 aka the Birdy Nest, and shelf 2 aka Misc/Drying. Jen gets points for working out the Birdy would fit in there. Suffice to say I will never have to worry about rust, as the Birdy will be toasty warm at all times. Airing cupboards are weird - it doesn't feel appreciably warmer in there, but it will dry your clothes to a crisp in a jiffy.

This is the hot water heater. Included only because:

(a) it has a cute little jacket; and
(b) it renders the central heating units you may have seen in the other shots (white ridged panels against the walls) completely redundant. Theoretically these work by channelling hot water from the heater through the panels, which you can turn on or off at whim. What actually happens is the hot water heater puts out so much heat that you never even need to turn them on in the first place. Basically, the flat is always at Oz early summer temperatures which results in amusement every day when we leave the flat in shorts and freeze solid within a few steps of the door.

This is the view from the Imelda Marcos Shrine down the hall to the lounge/bedroom.

This is the lounge/guest bed/traditional Grant and Lauren pile of crap zone (but we'll clean it before you come visit, honest).

This is the dining room, this is the second study, and this is the lounge room. With built in robe, of course.

This is the far side of the room with bookshelves (and auxiliary Grant and Lauren pile of crap zone) and the drawers.

And this is the bedroom, which at least has a new bed for us thanks to nice landlord. Under the bed is communication central. Communication central is only half working, as British Telecom happily informed us they had connected a phone line without actually mentioning the fact that it does not, you know, WORK. But trust me, one day it will, and then we have the world's coolest phone number for your dialling pleasure. In the meantime, the Internet is surrounding and bathing us with its light. So why haven't you got Skype yet? Huh?

Out the back window, we have this. Cool eh? I'm going to tinsel that puppy up come Christmas, yessir.

That be the pixieflat in all its 3 room, excessive storage space glory. Now taking bookings for the new year.

The full gallery can be found here.


p.s. this is what the Power Shower looks like when it is broken...

Friday, October 13, 2006

Thousands of words

Almost forgot - I have started uploading pictures, so if you wish to have a browse, check them out here.


Instant Blog, just add Lauren...

That just about brings us up to date - about the only thing I haven't talked about is my job!

Last Thursday night (05/10/06) I was browsing the usual haunt for work, and I saw an ad that looked like a resume fishing exercise, with a job title of something like "Juniper Engineer"...

I submitted my resume that night, and got my first call from the recruitment agent (Damian) early the next morning. After several further phonecalls over the Friday and Monday (with comments along the lines of "4-5 months in Milan"...), I was told I would be contacted by one of their technical staff - who was currently in Dubai. I swear they tell you a time, and then call at least 30 minutes late just to make you sweat a little. Anyway, that seemed to go well - he was asking some fairly specific questions though, so I wasn't sure how I went. Got a call back from Damian shortly afterwards saying it sounded like it went well, and that the UK Director (Dave) would be calling me a little later that afternoon. Dave didn't keep me waiting quite so long, and we had a good chat about the company, what it does, and where I, assuming I was hired, would fit into the scheme of things. I did mention that 4-5 months in Milan while my wife was studying in London probably would not work so well, but he assured me that Milan was not an issue, and he was keen to get me on board.

So, to cut a short story long, I met with Dave on Tuesday and we agreed on a start date - 1st November. He did say there was not specifically anything lined up for me at the moment, and I might be spending a little time studying and getting certifications. Oh well, free training is always good!

What this basically means is that I am now officially on holidays!

(there was a side story involving a 3 month contract, but that fell through so we won't go into it... too expensive indeed!)


Where are Lauren and Grant?

(Originally posted 12/10/06)

ok, for those of you wondering where in the world Lauren and Grant
are, have a look at this map.

Now, if you look up in the top left hand corner, there is a little
green arrow. That arrow is pretty much pointing to the building we
live in. If you look down and to the right a little, you will see a
ring-shaped arangement of streets - that is Notting Hill proper. You
can see quite a bit of greenery on Notting Hill, but don't be deceived
- it's all private gardens!

If you now look at the bottom of the screen, in about the middle, that
is Kensington palace (where Princess Diana lived) and Kensington
Palace Gardens. Follow that to the right and you will see The
Serpentine (man made lake type thing) and on to Hyde Park.

if you drag the map up a bit you will see the Prince Albert memorial,
and the Albert Hall.

For reference, Kensington Palace Gardens is about 15 minutes walk from
our place.

So, that is our neighbourhood!

p.s. I got a job!

GOOD HEAVENS, CANALS! and other wonders of the Pixieflat Locale

Dearest all

It has finally become cold in London, and by cold I mean freezing, wet, miserable and worst of all ONLY OCTOBER. This is to say, our astonishing weather luck of having London nice and dry when compared to Sydney and Hong Kong appears to have run out at last. Also, it is going to get way way worse before it gets better.

Fortunately, this coincided with the pickup of our send-ahead luggage, and we now have adequate woollies to keep us going for potentially as much as another month. After that we may have to resort to huddling in space blankets or making fires at tube stops or similar.

I've also now got my bike at long last (my precious Birdy!) and am very much looking forward to ditching the really expensive (GBP4 return) if rather decent public transport commute to uni. I believe from preliminary research that I'll be able to ride in through Kensington Park Gardens, Hyde Park and Green Park with only a few blocks of traffic to deal with at the Barbican end. It will be a 5 mile trip or thereabouts, whih the UK transit authority estimates will take 35 minutes, because they apparently think that cycling is not appreciably faster than a pleasant Sunday stroll. In any cases, given that I used to manage 15km in 45 minutes on either side of a 10 hour work day, and given that my crippling courseload of 8 hours a week is only 3 days a week and never before 10am or after 4pm, I think this should be manageable even in the nastier parts of winter. I must try at least because otherwise Rohan will beat me in the 2006 odo challenge (I'm 1900, Ro, so you are certainly too close for comfort).

Forgot to mention in my last update that on Sunday I went to the British Museum - fabulous, but rather overwhelming. And of course rather a lot of the things in there are not actually THEIRS in the sense of being bought and paid for rather than say stolen. However, they haven't stolen any of my stuff so I'm happy to look. I managed to get through Egypt, Greece, Rome and Mesopotamia but haven't touched the rest of Europe, Asia, Africa or the Pacific yet - next time. Grant went to Greenwich to the Maritime Museum and Royal Observatory and while he got drenched and had to deal with many schoolchildren he seemed to have a nice time.

On Tuesday we went with Nat from work to Windsor Castle. It is absolutely incredible. Also absolutely huge. We spent a good three hours just walking through the place. There's also quite a lot in Windsor Castle that is NOT THEIRS (in fact, whole displays of seized weaponry from colonies) but you can get past that, such is the awesome bling of the place. There was a giant fire through the castle 5 years ago and only one or two of the many many works of art were lost - one of which Prince Andrew apparently proposed to dive into a burning room to save but was discouraged. Wonders of the castle include a solid silver table (practical, yet charming!), a 15th century cathedral of surpassing gorgeousness, 500 or so dedicated monuments left by Queen Victoria to her beloved husband, beloved aunt, beloved Uncle, beloved dog (pictured by her side in one of the state statues), etc, and Henry VIII's last suit of armour, which appears to indicate an ancestral relationship between the Tudors and the Donnellys, although as Grant pointed our, Henry VIII's calves are deficient.

This week I've been in classes at Uni at long last. I think they are warming us up slowly because my trade mark course had no reading, my patents course has 2 articles to read over two weeks, and OK, my copyright course has loaded us up but as the lecturer is interesting I don't mind so much. I had imagined that trade marks would be the more interesting course given that I have done little else for the last 5.5 YEARS, but as it happens copyright and patents are far more fun so far. It helps that I have done enough of all of this stuff, usually for profit, that I don't feel a complete idiot in class. Also helped that today's copyright case study (HAPPY BIRTHDAY sound recording) has been used at work many times in the past, making me able to demonstrate my smartypants credentials. Tomorrow is Global Policy and Economics of IP Law though, and frankly I don't think that any amount of legal practice could prepare one for such a beast as in legal practice one generally tries as hard as one can not to consider the economic ramifications of one's actions in serving one's clients. We'll see.

Now that I think about it, 8 hours a week seems a long time to spend not faffing about. How will I have time to spend staring into space and exploring the far corners of the Internet? You can see that my former 50-60 hour work week stamina has worn off rather quickly.

While I've been at uni, Grant has had quite a busy week jobhunting. There have been some good leads, including exciting names such as BT (with an awfully keen recruiter), but nothing offered as yet. It's been good to have the time to spend exploring the new neighbourhood though and he has finished one industry certification (Juniper) and is working on the equivalent Cisco one as we speak. I should mention that he is also devoting quite a lot of time and effort to bikehunting on ebay, but the perfect dodgy commuter has eluded him thus far. Fingers crossed for the weekend.

Speaking of the 'hood, today we explored the NON Notting Hill end of Ladbroke (pronounced -BROOK, so you don't embarrass yourselves amongst the Britishers) Grove. This was a big step, as:

(a) there are all manner of exciting things in Notting Hill Gate, eg. there are no parts of Oz where you can just happen to walk past a palace 15 mins' walk from your pixieflat/abode, and we haven't finished exploring the nooks and crannies of it yet.

(b) the other end is a little bit dodgy.

However, as it turns out, if you go through the dodgy part there is a CANAL that way, a proper one with little flat boats on it and so on, and of course a SusTrans (sustainable transport) bike path running beside to who knows where. Pretty chuffed about this, because the one thing that can up the English quotient of an area more than a palace surrounded by a giant park, or slabs and slabs of Victorians, is a canal. So we are now at plus 20,000 Britishness, here, and have yet another cool thing about the neighbourhood to be chuffed over as well as a new place to explore in the event that it ever stops raining. Which is not particularly likely.

This canal-type area does however lose some points as it is also the location of the biggest supermarket in the entire Universe, GIGANTO-Sainsbury's. It's like a KMart ran into a Coles and they were permanently fused together. After 3 weeks of getting the essentials at high street shops, fruit and veg street markets and a truly tiny Tesco, this is pretty offputting stuff. I'm not sure I like having more than one product to choose from, although it is quite nice to actually be able to buy cocoa (fairtrade, to boot!). Also, while they are the only store in the entire UK to store white vinegar (our preferred cleaning product), they store it in the freezer section albeit on top of the freezers, and the only kind you can buy has pickling spices already added. Remains to be seen whether the pixieflat will end up clove-scented.

Somewhat humorously given the fairly constant precipitation, they say there is a drought here. I am not sure they know what the word means. By "drought", I think they mean "we forgot to build dams anytime in the last few centuries." In any case, one manifestation of said drought is a truly interesting ad campaign for water conservation. In Australia, this would go something like "hey, kids, take shorter showers!". However, here they appear to be presuming that noone is actually washing anyway, and therefore have taken the very interesting approach of a public interest campaign based on the principle of "if it is just pee, consider not flushing." There are posters at train stations to this effect. To my knowledge, no such solution to the drought crisis has ever been proposed in Australia. I have no idea what this says about the British national psyche, but I am going to continue recklessly flushing anyway. If it is really that bad even though it is raining virtually non-stop, I think they ought to build another dam or at the very least get with the 21st century and consider dual flush loos, like the rest of planet earth.

Things that are cripplingly expensive in the UK: rent, public transport, fuel (but we have no car, so hahaha fuel industry!), entry to fancy establishments (but Windsor castle so very worth it)

Things that are cheap in the UK: supermarket beer, mobile phone calls, organic/fairtrade foods, raw food/pasta/rice etc generally, Lyle's golden syrup (60p a can! now you know what you are getting for Christmas, Susan!)

Tip for travellers: do not let your brain trick you into thinking that GBP prices are AUD prices or everything will look phenomenally cheap and you will get into big, big trouble.

Tomorrow I have a whole 2 hours of Uni (gasp). On Saturday, my aunt Susan's lovely friend Jen, who put us up when we arrived, is visiting for lunch and a later further investigation of Kensington Palace Gardens and best of all its Orangery where you can get proper English tea, ie from India, with scones and jam and cream and sandwiches with no crusts. This country has much to recommend it, and most particularly this part of this country is wonderful. So you should all certainly come visit at the earliest opportunity. We have a spare bed (/lounge) ready and waiting for you.


Loz (and Grant likes you too)

Interim update...

(Originally posted 03/10/06)

Howdy all,

I have been spending a lot of my time searching for work, and last week I spent 4 days at home studying for a certification exam - which I passed on Friday (YAY!) This should make me a little more attractive, not to mention demand a higher rate of pay. I have had several responses from agencies, but nothing has come to fruition yet. I got a call about a British Telecom job this afternoon (while we were at Kensington Palace Garden) which could be interesting, and the agent seemed to think I was a good candidate.

Yesterday I headed in to Greenwich to check out the Maritime Museum. I have been extremely keen to check out the Longitude section. There are clocks there built between 1720-1750 to solve the Longitude problem that ARE STILL RUNNING TODAY! Very

Now that we have internet at home, I will be able to upload the photos we have taken (plus wedding photos), so will send out another update once that is done.

The only bad news is I still don't have a bike...


THE PIXIEFLAT HAS INTERNET! and other UK adventures of Loz and Grant

(Originally posted 03/10/06)

Dear all beloved peoples

I am filled with goodwill because we NOW HAVE ADSL! Yes, after more than a month without wireless Internet, we are back to happily irradiating our tender parts and are now longer obligated to visit very seedy 1 pound an hour Internet cafes for our daily fix. This means we will be able to upload such pix as we got before the camera's battery ran out (charger packed in send-ahead luggage, clever us) shortly.

The delicious irradiating Internet access will either result in more frequent (and boring) updates for you all, or potentially complete radio silence as we throw ourselves into the Internet and more specifically endless dowloads of US TV. We don't actually have a real TV yet, so we have to waste our time somehow, right?

I am now feeling 90% more English, because:

(a) we have Marks and Spencer sheets now. oo er! but I was thrifty and bought the cotton rich (75% cotton) rather than the swanky hotel-grade all cotton type that certain amongst us could justify in their former lives as corporate lawyers (sob); and

(b) foreigners keep asking me for directions, including for directions as to where to buy tupperware (not the crappy kind, the nice kind); and of course

(c) I can actually speak the language, unlike a fair whack of the current population. This is no slight on the various migrant communities or the cockneys or the crazy Northerners, all of whom are generally understandable esp. as they have been acclimated to us as a result of years of Neighbours and Home and Away. Weirdly, entry to the EU has brought over a truly staggering number of lily-white service industry employees who actually do not speak English. You can expect a person to speak English in the colonies or Hong Kong or indeed continental Europe, but do not walk into a pharmacy with that expectation here.

I have just finished 3 days of residental program induction for Uni in Windsor Great Park with the other non-EU international students. It is difficult to encapsulate the awesomeness of this particular part of the world. So we'll stick with VERY AWESOME INDEED. It looks just how the UK looks in all the various commercials, and it features many picturesque ponds, avenues, rhododendron walks and so on, and also a giant bronze statue of King George III on a huge horse dressed as a Roman emperor for no apparent reason. Also, people feed you three times a day. It's an unbeatable combination, frankly.

It was a great opportunity to meet up with fellow students who like me speak English with a whacky accent. It's hard to peg the non-EU population, but I'm studying with some great people from India, Pakistan, Iran, Japan, Jordan, the US, China, Hong Kong and for some reason a really really large group of Thais. I also got to scmhooze the lecturers for my trade mark and copyright courses. The copyright lecturer happens to live around the corner from us (albeit in a flat with access to a communal private garden rather than a pixieflat like ours) and also originally came from Australia. With this much in common I am aiming for (i) a good grade and more importantly (ii) a look at the private garden to work out what all the fuss is about. Put anything behind an impenetrable hedge and I will feel desperately compelled to get in.

It was also a great opportunity to play hooky from lectures on legal English (ah, that would be what I was paid to speak for ALMOST SIX YEARS) and the English legal system (ah, that would be what I worked in for for ALMOST SIX YEARS) and go for strolls about the park instead. We got scolded once or twice for this which had the truly excellent effect of making me feel like a teenager instead. Said effect also being reinforced by the fact that we now have a houseful of student-grade kitchen equipment and linen. Our crockery is a Maxwell Williams knockoff though, and our cheap and nasty pots are RED, so we're happy.

Nat, who worked with a certain person in her former life as a corporate lawyer when said person could justify really nice kitchen equipment and linen (sob) is in UK right now (hi Nat!), and we have spent some time with her. This included a Saturday attack on the Portobello Road markets, which is not an experience for the faint-hearted since while the markets are a sedate fruit, veg and attractive socks affair on weekdays, the entire population of London seems to go on the weekend. However, Nat was very brave indeed even if I was freaking out. Clearly I should not have alloweed myself to become out of practice with Flemington Markets before leaving Oz.

Today we went to another VERY AWESOME INDEED place, Kensington Palace Gardens, which as it turns out are about 15 mins walk from our place. They are beyond fabulous even before you get to the statue of Peter Pan. The park is absolutely massive. It runs up to the Serpentine, and to Hyde Park on the other side. The Orangery serves proper afternoon tea, albeit not quite up to the Peninsula's standard. There are also the usual British crowds of Canada geese, really vicious swans, cute little squirrels and really really fat pigeons, all enjoying a manmade lake and a captive audience of punters to feed them - one old chap actually had squirrels jumping up on his lap to politely take nuts from his hand.

All up my fledgling knowledge of London's very cramped up geography puts us maybe 5 miles from the other side of the CBD by the Barbican where I attend lectures, so I am really looking forward to getting the bike here. I think that it wil be significantly faster to ride to uni than to public transport it (about 40 mins, but not actually a very great distance covered given how close the CBD stations are to each other).

There are lots of dogs around here and I do keep thinking of Queenie. The UK is a country run for dogs - shops apologise if they put a "no dogs" sign up and otherwise they are frequently in supermarkets, pubs, and offleash everywhere (on-leash areas are what is signposted). They were running around very happily through Kensington Gardens despite swanks, geese, squirrels etc and are very well socialised by and large. There have however been a few publicised dog attacks lately so probably they will end up a facist state for dogs like NSW sooner or later. It is the way of tabloid journalism.

Tomorrow we are heading to Windsor / Eton to see the castle with Nat. I circumnavigated it on the induction program, but I am very much looking forward to actually going in. Tomorrow night we are seeing Sarah, our friend from Sydney who now lives in Birmingham. I start uni classes on Wednesday for my crippling 6 hour a week subject load. Jen, who very kindly put us up when we arrived, is hopefully going to visit our pixieflat next weekend. So obviously we are very busy!