Friday, October 13, 2006

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)

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