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.