Monday, September 24, 2007

Today's events (or lack thereof)

So we are deep in packing mode which is not so fun, but tomorrow we are heading to Augill Castle in Cumbria to stay for two nights so that will probably make up for it! We have been busy boxing up the sea-freight send-ahead luggage and working out what we can do without for 10 weeks and how much we need to insure it for. And sleeping in. Happy times.

Today was my last UK prenatal appointment, and somewhat shockingly there was actually Laying Of Hands On the Belly and actual Listening to Heartbeat (for those playing the home game, this is the first time in 25 weeks). Plan B is measuring on target and doing fine, which I haven't been worried about since she started kicking, really - I mean, she kicks hard enough to make my belly move, which seems to imply a certain amount of health and vigour to me so it's somewhat ironic that this reassurance is being benificently provided WHEN I DON'T NEED IT ANYMORE. I weighed in at 75kg which seems slightly odd since I was all of 70kg at 21 weeks and while I am growing, I don't think it's quite at the rate of 1kg+ per week, although stranger things than 5kg weight gain in a month have happened, I suppose.

Tonight we went for a stroll around our 'hood, as we both seem to be cataloguing the things we will miss. It was a beautiful full-moon night, and just as we were passing an old local church (the kind with grand grounds), a fox walked out and looked at us. It didn't seem very frightened - in fact, it was holding itself quite like a domesticated animal, so I didn't recognise it at first - but then it headed back into the churchyard. Quite a sight. England has given us many such, really.

Still, despite the fact that we are both going to miss London terribly, we are really really looking forward to coming home!

Jan and Paul are on a whirlwind tour of Europe this week, and by the time they are done they will have cranked up more European destinations in a week than we have in a year, I think. Busy!

In other news, it is freezing (not like last year's balmy autumn at all), and this sucks as (a) we have packed or sent ahead all our winter gear and (b) none of my former winter gear fits anyway, and damned if I am buying something just for a week's use before heading back to nice warm Oz.

Cornwall

Jan and Paul arrived a couple of weeks ago, and we barely let them put their feet on the welcoming soil of Mother England before whisking them off to Cornwall.

We stayed in a very nice B&B in Plymouth. Plymouth is usefully central to Cornwall things generally, but having had the crap bombed out of it in WWII is not so very picturesque for the most part, or rather it features beautiful old buildings with hideous concrete monstrosities next to them. We had a couple of great seafood meals by the harbour there though.

Otherwise we were mostly daytripping. Day 1 was Tintagel, a ruined 12th century castle that actually is very unlikely to have had anything to do with any king called Arthur (who in turn is very unlikely to have existed outside a patchwork of other stories consolidated for propaganda purposes). Originally this straddled the mainland and an island, but is now just bits and pieces. I managed to get to the island section via the suspension bridge and scary steps up the side of the cliff face despite being terrified of heights and it was pretty cool, mostly because of the views of rugged coastline than because of what little was left of the castle complex though. I did get to lean my giant self against an 800 year old wall for a rest - I don't think this was what the builders had in mind. Most importantly, Tintagel is an English Heritage-maintained site which means that as members, Grant and I get to go in free. HA! Excellent.

Day 2 was a masterfully organised circuit of Polperro (old smuggling/fishing village), Castle Pendennis (another 12th century ruined castle, but in rather more sensible a location) and Cotehele (Tudor mansion complex in incredible gardens), then back to Plymouth.

Polperro was something of a tourist trap - you literally ran the gauntlet of Cornish pasty and ice cream shops down very narrow, winding streets - but very pretty, just the same. I suppose some places are tourist traps for a reason. It was quite small so we mostly just had a wander around, a look at the museum and a cup of coffee and then were out of there. We did meet a nice cat, who apparently runs a circuit of all B&Bs and museums and gets fed roughly 50 times a day - and looks it!

Castle Pendennis (also English Heritage = free - HA!) was really quite wonderful, particularly as we were visiting under BRILLIANT blue skies and it has a grand view of the country around Fowey. It is a fairly standard round keep, but well enough preserved that you can climb up around the battlements and see the outline of the inner rooms. Compared to Tintagel, the stairs are very sensible! Pendennis also had quite an impressive moat that is now, like its old walls, chiefly occupied in the sprouting of ferns.

Cotehele is, for a change, neither a ruin nor English Heritage managed (damn - we actually had to pay to get in). It's a grand country house, built between 1485 and 1560 as the main seat of the fabulously wealthy Edcumbes before they moved elsewhere to even fancier accommodations. The house is extraordinary, filled with various Tudor thingamabobs and weaponry, with all the walls bedecked with various priceless antique tapestries that were relocated from elsewhere and CUT TO FIT Cotehele's walls, of all things. But the best part was the garden - formal, informal, and quite jungle-like sections - very wonderful indeed. Case in point: CYCLAMENS WERE GROWING WILD IN THE LAWN. Enough said.

Day 3 we went to the intriguingly named Lost Gardens of Heligan. Part of another grand estate (Tremaynes), they were famous in the 19th century but apparently forgotten in the 20th, with the manor house and property being regularly resumed for military use in the world wars. I don't know that it was ever really "lost" though, as I'm pretty sure people always knew that the several hundred hectares of it were actually there. In any case, the once-elaborate garden had been neglected and left to wrack and ruin when rediscovered in the 1990s (a very capital-R Romantic tale of broken down glasshouses with lone grape vines struggling to survive amidst the brambles), and restoration work has been going on ever since. They specialise in rare breed everything, so in addition to rare plants they have an orchard full of rare chickens and ducks (pecking very happily at the fallen fruit and begging picnickers for scraps), and rare breed goats and cows in the farm paddocks. Quite impressive, and unbelievably huge in scope. In the afternoon we managed a quick trip to St Mawes castle, a military stronghold since Tudor times protecting the south coast and the deepwater harbour of Falmouth, which is, and I speak as a Novocastrian here, a bloody huge harbour, albeit now only hosting cruiseliners from what I could see. This one was a bit of a boy's trip but the castle itself is nice enough. Also I ate some blackberries. Yum. After that we headed to Penzance where we stayed the night in another very nice B&B.

Our final day included ambitious plans to see Bodmin Moor or the Lizard, but instead we only really managed St Michael's Mount before we had to head back to London. St Michael's Mount is an island castle joined at low tide to the mainland near Penzance by a causeway; VERY fast large tides in this part of the world. The castle was rather grand if very uphill; much of it is relatively recent (1850s) so quite liveable. Surrounding the castle is a garden, which I had expected to be miraculous (as it is no doubt, to English eyes - not a rose to be seen) but which was full of the plants typically found in dry coastal Australian gardens - succulents, etc. The overall effect was lovely but really, it is hardly a miracle to manage what every other country with little water and a salt wind has managed for centuries!

Then a LONG drive back to London - 5+ hours, but when you consider that this was to get from the extreme southwest to effectively the other side of the country, not really so bad!

Saturday, September 08, 2007

We done went to Paris and Geneva AND I NEVER WANT TO EAT WHITE BREAD AGAIN

So, after allowing a whole day post-exams for me to relax and attend the obligatory student party bash, we flew to Paris. Great flight and might I add, France's RER rail network ROCKS. Grant had booked us a hotel room in the Latin Quarter. He thought it was a bit small (little bed, sit down bath only) but actually I really liked the place, chiefly because it had fabric instead of wallpaper, and different patterns thereof in all the rooms, and I tend to fixate on irrelevant details. Also the bed was verrrrrrrry comfortable, and most importantly the hotel was barely two blocks in from the Seine and Notre Dame Cathedral, so basically LOCATION LOCATION LOCATION.

On day one we just wandered around the 'hood, had a nice traditional French dinner (I like the snails), and were treated to very organised street dancing displays.

On day two, we killed ourselves with the cathedral (beautiful), a walk along the river to the Louvre, about 5 hours wandering around the Louvre with me getting increasingly hungry and bitching about it (but oh, wonderful museum, beautiful building, incredible exhibits esp if you skip the Mona Lisa), a walk through the Jardins des Tulieres, a walk along the Champs Elysees, and a squiz at the Arc de Triomphe. Then we took about a million hours to wander around the Latin Quarter looking for a Vietnamese restaurant that was open and had a decent menu as Grant had become fixated on the idea of Vietnamese food - do not believe it when pregnant women are accused of having food cravings; or rather believe it in my case in so far as at that point I was craving FOOD ANY FOOD DAMMIT I DON'T CARE WHAT KIND. We eventually found a place that had no English on the menu - an excellent sign - but somewhat complicating the ordering process was the fact that the menu was in French and Vietnamese AND that the French descriptions were basically "Saigon soup" without any ingredients listed, so I had no idea what anything was. We had some great food though. Downside: guy smoking CIGAR in RESTAURANT. Oh well.

The next day was our anniversary - either first (from wedding) if you ascribe to the setting-the-clock-back theory OR twelfth, if you want to be freaked out. We hiked out to the catacombs, but they didn't want me to go in because of Plan B's ever more obvious bump. So Grant went down to look at the freak bone architecture while I had the world's greatest snooze in a local park. I am still looking back fondly on that snooze. Then we basically gave up on the day, having wiped ourselves out with all the touristing before, and resorted to an afternoon nap before going out for dinner because PARISIAN MOULES FRITES IS MADE OF 100% AWESOME. Having eaten our bodyweights in shellfish, we had a nice stroll around the Eiffel Tour with all its night time illumination glad rags on then gave up on the day.

The next morning, we caught the very spiffy fast train to Geneva. SO much easier than air travel, and we got to see some of the countryside between naps. Pretty cool. Our Geneva-based friends met us at the station and there followed a terrifically enjoyable couple of days of wandering about the city, hanging around their great flat with its wonderful view, playing cards (at which I suck), and generally relaxing. A perfect way to follow up the hectic Parisian trip.

While we were away, Plan B started wriggling and kicking away like a mofo, or should I say I started being aware that Plan B was doing so. Proof of how damned hard she had to kick for me to be sure of it was that as soon as I was sure and asked Grant to feel it, he could. So, have gone from feeling nothing to being shoved internally with no fluttering stage whatsoever. Pretty freaky! In hindsight I could probably feel her for a couple of weeks before that but not many. She's nicely predictable eg if I lie on my back she starts doing this weird volcanic roll thing, I assume to get off my spine, and 10pm onwards is BOOGIE TIME. Clearly she bids fair to follow her father's night owl schedule.

By the way, European chivalry is not dead - in England and France both, gentlemen stand up on the train for the pregnant.

Grant's parents have now arrived in London. It's great to see them, but boy is the pixieflat cosy for 4! They have headed into town today for some sightseeing and a ferry trip to Greenwich; I'm meeting up with some other friends in SoHo later on. We're all heading off on a road trip to Cornwall on Sunday for four days; really looking forward to it!

Thursday, August 30, 2007

DONE!

Exams done. Farewell party attended and done. Farewell to the books and the bright young things, and HELLO GAY PAREE! Catch you on the flipside.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Exams, visits, and a bellyful of arms and legs

Hello from England in late summer, where it is pissing down raining with a princely top of 21 degrees. Fortunately, Mum got a week of really lovely summer weather before we returned to the whinge-worthy stuff going on outside the window now.

Mum arrived the day after exam No.1 and had a bit of a nightmare flight, but recovered pretty well. She only had a few days where she couldn't remember what she'd done. We warmed up with some trips around the lovely surrounds - Kensington Palace Gardens, etc - before graduating to a hike into the city through every beautiful park you could think of, and so on. Actually she must have walked a million miles while here; the problem with our flat is that it is in LONG walking distance of everything you can think of, and it seems a pity not to walk given that it is scenic and extremely flat, so then every adventure has 2 hours of walking added. Oh well.

Mum had been given a list of five hundred places to see by friends and acquaintances, and in fact she did rather well at ticking them off, covering all major galleries and museums in metro London. We also fitted in field trips to Hampton Court, Bath (via Avebury stones - because what better to do with a 6,000 year old stone circle than graze sheep upon same?) and she also went on a solo adventure south to Sissinghurst Castle Garden, former home of Vita Sackville-West. Her pictures looked amazing so I will have to try and get there before we leave. Anyway, she was a very considerate houseguest and made sure to leave me time to study every day, as well as do an exam, which is a pity because I really like excuses not to study! In fact, I was getting much more study done while she was here than I have since because, as is probably obvious to anyone who knows me, I am inherently lazy and need someone standing over me with a big stick to get anything done.

On the subject of exams, exam No. 2 was waaaaaaaaaaay better than No. 1. I didn't spend the next two days freaking out about what I'd failed to put in my answers or anything. If anything, the problem with that one was I was spoiled for choice on question topics, having prepared far too many. Good questions though. You know you are a freak when you are feeling stimulated and challenged and entertained IN AN EXAM. Plan B's increasing bulk meant I had to have a toilet break halfway through, but otherwise a very good exam. Now I just have to get through copyright on Tuesday next week and I am DONE DONE DONE. Slight problem: Notting Hill Carnival with several million attendees expected is happening one block from our house, all long weekend. Conditions for study may not be entirely ideal.

Plan B also had an exam this week; the 21 week anatomical ultrasound. And despite the fact that I was freaked out for roughly two months beforehand (despite having absolutely no reason to be so - I am a walking, talking waste of a low-risk, easy pregnancy) it couldn't have gone better,
really. All baby's bits are exactly where they are supposed to be and doing what they are supposed to do, and we even found out the sex, although people have to beg me if they want me to tell them. The ultrasound tech was much better after the first part, where I was alone waiting with the ultrasound goo stuff all over my belly for Mum and Grant to come in and the tech happily started taking skull measurements from the top (ie no other baby bit visible) until I said..."um, is it alive?" when she promptly started doing a lot more "oo, everything is perfect" stuff. Grant wins awards for his uncanny ability to determine what bit is what (including, according to him, determining sex before it was announced) based on an ultrasound screen, whereas I am forever asking "what's that bit?"

Baby was punching and kicking up a storm which was cool to see, and apparently one of the reasons why I can't feel it is a helpfully anterior placenta, ie baby is punching and kicking the crap out of a nice big cushion on the front side of the uterus, not me directly. Good to know so as not to freak out quite so much as previously. Apparently Plan B will outgrow this soon enough, but I predict that by that point I will go from feeling nothing to being beaten up, if the size of its Donnelly calves were anything to go by.

In conclusion: Plan B is not just a giant bump requiring a total change of wardrobe, it is a baby. I will not however take the step of proving this with the ultrasound pictures because they are somewhat scary looking and might put you off your tucker. And to think that Plan B was so photogenic at 12 weeks!

Grant finishes work today, so I have washed my last business shirt. RAWK! Then we are both unemployed albeit not homeless YET. Post-Tuesday exam we are off to Paris for our anniversary (pregnant and in Paris for our first anniversary is quite a cliche, hey? Unless of course the eleven years beforehand are taken into account), then to Geneva to visit friends, then home for the arrival of Grant's parents. Still busy busy busy!

Monday, August 06, 2007

Oh dear.

Well. I had my first exam today and at the time it seemed OK (other than the horror when I realised they weren't asking what I expected them to, cutting me out of a question I wanted to answer and making me do one that was a bit fudgy instead) but in hindsight it was a bit brutal and I'm not sure how well I did, although I did at least write A LOT (3500+ words in 3 hours excluding working, by my calculations).

I am a bit worried because I seemed to be referring to the same things over and over again in different contexts which is not a good sign - makes it look like one doesn't know enough to mount an argument! Anyway, that's partially the fault of the questions, since for part of each of three questions I was answering "how does IP account for...human rights/Locke and Hegel's theories of property/competition" and surprisingly enough (NOT) the parts of IP that protect human rights are those that preserve the common are those that preserve competition in the marketplace, so it was bound to be a bit repetitive. That was only one LONG paragraph of each of my answers though so here's hoping I'm freaking out for no reason.

In conclusion: I know I didn't fail, and I know that if I didn't do well it was my brain's fault, not the absence of study (well, not the absence of study except where I studied the WRONG THING), but I think this one's a merit not a distinction. Which tragically means to have any hope of a coveted LLM with Distinction I have to knock trade marks and copyright out of the park. And frankly, I don't think I'm going to. I hope you will all still love me anyway.

Conclusion 2: Plan B's brain wasn't very helpful at all. I thought for sure it would have some tips about territorial limits on trade marks, but not so.

Mum's here at dawn's crack tomorrow. WOOHOO!

On the subject of rudeness

In our neighbourhood, which admittedly has its colourful aspects, it is not rude to: spit on the footpath, have street parties at 2am, open your window so everyone can share your crap R&B (at 2am or otherwise), walk on whatever side of the footpath, walk across the whole footpath three and four abreast so you can keep up your conversation and ram everyone else out of your way, or to disregard traffic signals, including zebra crossings.

It is, however, according to a taxi driver, rude not to thank someone for stopping for you at a zebra crossing (note that as far as I can see my only error was not to thank him; I didn't give him the finger or attack his vehicle). He screamed at me: "Where are your manners?" I answered: "It's a pedestrian crossing." He shouted back: "What's that got to do with anything!"

Oh-kay.

We have actually had similar fun times with cars stopping mid-road for no apparent reason with no signalling whatsoever and then getting cross because we didn't thank them for stopping for us. Because that was obviously what was going on.

Note that I did however give a nod to the guy who not only stopped at the pedestrian crossing when I was walking home but also did so having read that I was approaching same, ie. before I had to throw my body across the road in an effort to get people to pay attention TO THE CLEARLY MARKED, SIGNPOSTED AND FLASHLIGHTED FREAKING ZEBRA CROSSING, because that is rare conduct that should be validated. But clearly from here on in I need to mend my ways and shall be thanking every car who ever stops for me at a zebra or lights crossing for say, three or four cars back, just to be safe, because GOD FORBID SOMEONE SHOULD THINK I WAS RUDE IN A COUNTRY WHERE IT IS NOT RUDE TO SPIT ON THE FOOTPATH. In fact perhaps I should thank everyone I see abiding by the law.

Needless to say, diversion of traffic from the main road (with traffic lights every block) to our nearest cross-street (with pedestrian crossings every 3 blocks or so) today is not going so well.

And now I'm cranky because the stupid taxi driver has now thrown me off my exam game. Does "unwarranted verbal abuse from insane taxi driver" count for special consideration? Really looking forward to going home where people GENERALLY stop at pedestrian crossings and GENERALLY don't expect you to kowtow to them for doing so.

In other news, the good folks at Quorn(tm) have upped the creepy quotient with these: http://quorn.co.uk/CMSPage.aspx?ssbid=67&pid=61. They taste pretty good albeit disconcertingly like the real thing. I am pretty sure they are, in fact, turkey (or people meat).

Thanks for reading, and for not murdering anyone today. I'm expecting you've all engaged in a little white-collar crime but who hasn't?

Friday, August 03, 2007

Chuffed, and also diligently avoiding study

I went into town today to meet up with Sarah and Bin for lunch in SoHo. It was very pleasant indeed, although close as we are to the city, a trip into town and back plus lunch will cost one 3 hours plus of study. Which of course made it all the better!

On the way back, a guy stood up on the train to let me sit. CHIVALRY IS NOT DEAD! Only now I'm sort of freaking out, because he did it as soon as I got on the train, I wasn't looking particularly hot and bothered (I didn't think) and I wasn't sticking my gut out. Clearly Plan B at 18 weeks down the road is loud and proud. Also I think I have to acknowledge that the majority of my bump is probably not actually intestine any more. Do bumps grow exponentially or to an asymptotic curve? Enquiring minds want to know.

Were you in the pixieflat at this point, you would discover me reciting the basic principles of EU competition law as it pertains to refusal to licence IP (Renault, Volvo, Magill, Ladbroke, Bronner and IMS - REPRESENT!); the economic justifications of IP law via Coase's Theorem, Pareto and Kaldor-Hicks optimality, Posner, Bentham, Mill and Machlup; and the use of natural rights property justifications of Locke and Hegel to justify IP. Basically what I'm saying is I sound like a crazy person. RUN AND HIDE.

OK, so by way of practice I just put myself through my first fake exam (well, 1/3 exam - a 1 hour paper) in approximately 7 years. And apparently all that GIVE ME THE ANSWER RIGHT NOW when I was a proper lawyer kept me in practice, because I can still do 6-and-change scrawled barely legible pages of essay, or roughly 1000 words, in the magical 55 mins, despite the fact that the question was beyond bizarre and I'm still not quite sure what it was getting at, which as we know is always a really good sign.

And now for a little more pretending to study. 70 hours and counting until Exam No. 1. Eeeeek.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Innit.

You may not be aware of this, but instead of a rising inflection at the end of a sentence to indicate a question mark, you can in this fair country just use the word "innit" to denote a question. Example: "Nice day today innit." NO INFLECTION NEEDED. Or, as one estate child said to another yesterday in my hearing (not, it should be noted, the 10 year old sharpening something and chasing an older child with it): "Let's get the bikes, it will be more better innit." OK, so the kid was maybe six, but he used a double comparative, failed to use the subjunctive, and then tacked innit on the end as if he was trying to SPIT IN THE FACE OF EVERYTHING I HOLD DEAR.

I finished my job this week and was given a very nice send-off of doughnuts and flowers. Sweet. The work was far from challenging, but the people were great and I shall miss them. Really looking forward to going back to my proper job in Oz at the moment, but that could be the exam factor. Funnily enough, having a job to go to, not to mention Plan B, does sort of make these the first exams I've ever sat that are totally and completely irrelevant to my future. But the degree was a little on the pricey side so here I sit with my books to justify it. Or really, here I sit writing this to avoid the books, but you get the general idea.

We didn't get up to much at the weekend other than bike maintenance (Grant) and study (me), except that we did stroll to the Church Street markets for the chicken tikka wrap of the Gods. That walk used to seem endless, but really it's incredibly short and completely flat. You really have to love this city. And then we strolled to Goldborne Road for the Portuguese tarts of the Gods, and that was basically it - no dim sum or anything. I'm saving my tourist energy for Mum's visit, which starts Tuesday next. Very exciting! Grant on the other hand is off on his Swiss torture escapade, I mean week-long mountain bike tour, starting sparrow's fart Saturday (I will be sleeping in).

Busy times ahead innit. Now back to the books.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Franny etcetera!

So, Franny came to visit us last week, which was lovely. She arrived earlier than planned, on Monday, due to dirty thieving Lisbon scum (I am sure everyone else there is lovely though), and we went to meet her in town. Eurostar is waaaaaaaaaaaaaaay more convenient than flights in terms of pickup and dropoff but also waaaaaaaaaaaaaay more expensive for that particular trip (Belgium-UK; the real killer is anything crossing the Channel).

Subsequently we got to take her to our local cheapy Thai where I think she got her first vegetable intake in some weeks. On Tuesday I took a day off work and we spent all day hiking around the more charming bits and pieces of the local area - Kensington Palace Gardens, Holland Park, etc. It's always great to do this with someone new, as otherwise I tend to forget that it is all INCREDIBLY SPECTACULAR. The chavs were misbehaving in the quad outside that night, but Franny was too tired and Grant too knocked out on Night Nurse for his awful cold to notice, so that was a plus.

On Wednesday we headed out west on an adventure. First stop was Kew Gardens, aka The Most Expensive Botanical Gardens Ever. Lovely though. Because, our return home being quite imminent at this point, I am getting increasingly homesick, I liked the eucalypt grove best. There are actually gum trees all over the place here, but usually singly and therefore not in sufficient numbers to make that lovely homey smell. They also had a very fancy chilli display in the lily house, which in turn had some very fancy lilies on display, including an amazonica. We spent about 4 hours there all up.

Afterwards we headed further west out to Richmond to have a wander around, climb Richmond Hill (not as hilly as the name would suggest, but nice view over the Thames Valley and a particularly nice part of the Thames, too - too bad there was a Heinz commercial being filmed in front of the best part of the view), and have a stroll in Richmond Park. Richmond Park is where the deer hang out, but it was quite a hot day, and unlike us I think the deer had the good sense to go somewhere quiet and shady! I was glad we went, though, as I've only ever been driven through it before and it isn't really the same - you don't get quite the same sense of how BIG the joint is.

Then we had a very lovely dinner with Jen in Richmond. And then I got a really awful headache/buggered neck thing which put me flat on my back for two days thereafter, thus making me a pretty shit host all things considered. Franny being a trooper managed to get around quite a bit of the city on her own though, so the only thing that really suffered was study. AND WHO CARES ABOUT THAT?

Oh, and on Friday it stormed and rained so hard that the drains started backing up inside. Including the toilet. Awesome. However, gravity prevailed over crap British drainage design and it was all sorted within an hour or so, here. Up north the floods were much much worse, as you may have seen on the news. Supposedly the Thames was supposed to flood this week, but I have my doubts as the rain has slowed up - in any case, might be one of the few advantages of Ladbroke Grove being a good long way away from the water!

Franny left on Saturday morning, and after that Grant and I made the bold decision NOT to go to dim sum for the first time ever. Instead we went to my lecturer's party in one of the private gardens of Notting Hill. It was amazing to see what lies behind the hedges and the locked gates but unfortunately we didn't get to see it for very long, as it bucketed down! Instead we got to see lecturer's lovely flat with view over said lovely garden. It was a very pleasant afternoon, rain notwithstanding; also we were outed as expectant parents by a fellow student who knew to those who didn't (she thought they did, and kindly proposed a toast). The fact that otherwise bright and shiny students didn't apparently notice that I now have a giant bump in front of me is either flattering or raises some concern as to their powers of observation. Anyway, it was nice to get so many good wishes in one hit, upping Plan B's karmic points dramatically no doubt, and also very nice to be spared the effort of telling everyone individually, as my "does not like to make a fuss" phobia is still in full swing.

Saturday night's dinner was the spoils of the Saturday market - fetta, olives, hummus, salad, weird but tasty multigrain bread from Paul's - yum. I kind of love how one can still do the dodgy lawyer-home-at-8.30pm style dinner as a mostly full-time student and get away with it. More time to avoid writing blog entries and bugger around on the Internet! Yay!

On Sunday we went out for breakfast to our local overpriced but relatively tasty joint. It was overpriced but relatively tasty, and also they are of the view that I can eat a kilo of spinach in one hit. We used to go out for breakkie all the time especially in Sydney, but Grant has been doing the honours most weekends for most of our time here. I am a bit cross about the going out for breakfast experience these days given that my favourite breakfast dish of all time - eggs royale, ie. smoked salmon, soft poached eggs and partially-cooked egg sauce (hollandaise) - is off the menu for the time being courtesy of the FOOD NAZIS. If I can't have that, it's kind of hard to muster up enthusiasm for something I could make just as easily myself. Dammit, now I've made myself hanker for eggs royale. Argh.

Then, because we are lazy, we headed the pitifully few train stops out to Hammersmith for a spot of shopping. I am now the proud owner of underpants that fit. Lifechanging. We had a very pleasant stroll beside the river on the Thames River Path (passes just behind Hammersmith, then kinks back down to protect Ladbroke Grove from flooding), then went home for luverly chicken and chips for lunch, English-style. Well, technically if it had been proper English it would of course have been cod but never mind. Regan came over in the evening for pizza and a bracing game of Starbase Jeff, at which I suck and have always sucked and will never ever be anything other than sucky. Regan was victorious in his starbase construction and insists that the trick is to play against two people locked in matrimonial battle. I will see if I can arrange that. Regan has now left us for Switzerland of all places, but we will be over there to visit in about a month, aka THE OTHER SIDE OF EXAMS.

And now back to the study, and the growing of the huge, weirdly itchy/tickly belly. Mum is here in under two weeks - YAY! My first exam is the day before she arrives - boo! And Grant is off for an alpine mountain biking adventure a few days before that - yay or boo, depending on perspective!

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Update


Roman amphitheatre, St Albans (aka Verulamium)

The public (well OK Robert) demands an update and we shall provide.

First I must note that we are actually having a decent thunderstorm here. Just like home!

Last weekend we spent Saturday (a) at Bayswater dim sum (per usual ritual) and then (b) at Hyde Park at the start of the Tour de France.

It was pretty cool in the sense of being sweltering hot. I managed to see the top of some helmets as they whizzed past and quite a lot of police escorts and assorted support vehicles. The organisers had chosen to couple a particularly disorganised cabling arrangement with this attractive liability-limiting sign:

Which was itself a trip hazard as people were staring at it in puzzlement while staggering over the cables.

On Sunday we decided to get our moderately lazy tourist asses into gear and went to St Albans. In its current incarnation, it's a moderately pretty satellite/commuter town for London. Two thousand years ago, it had a rather grander life as Verulamium, the third largest city in Roman Britain and the one place in the UK you can still see a ruined Roman amphitheatre (above, in all its glory). There are also some ruins of the original city walls, which were built after Boudicca smashed and burned the joint (and Londinium) in the first century AD or thereabouts. After the Romans pulled out, the locals deconstructed the joint for use in their own buildings, hence the fact that most of the older St Albans places are made of flint. It's quite a look actually.


It's polite to refer to this as recycling rather than sacking, and it's nice to know that our ancestors were as environmentally conscious and/or lazy at getting their own damned building materials as this outfit.

The Roman overlords of the town in its heyday clearly had a bit of cash to spend. See rather spiffy mosaic with underfloor heating:


St Albans also has a very classy street market and a belfry constructed around the fifteenth century. Clearly people were both shorter and skinnier then; the stairway up is so narrow that even I had to twist to pass and Grant was basically going up backwards. Possibly a preview of what Plan B is going to be experiencing come January.


St Albans' belfry; observe (a) short doorway and (b) yokel buck-tooth grin and (c) t-shirt, which has now completely given up all hope of covering bump.

Anyway, the belfry managed to combine my fear of heights with my mild claustrophobia very satisfactorily indeed. Good view from the top, too. It used to be a part of a sort of proto-telegraph with signals transferred from the roof to other towers miles away.

St Albans' other jewel is the cathedral, largely made of flint as you might expect. I don't think I've ever seen a bigger church.

The inside was clearly decorated over several different historical periods with a whole lot of available cash and was just beautiful. Very worth a look, especially given that it's a mere hour by train from our flat. Once again, the esteemed guide 25 Best Day Trips from London proves itself to be made of solid gold!

Last week was the usual work/pretend to study deal. Grant made a couple of really nice dinners on the nights I was working, with organic chicken and sustainable organic cod no less.

This weekend we have been hanging around at home mostly. On Friday, Grant's old mountain biking buddy Tyler was in town, and we went out for dinner and to the pub - Prince of Wales, aka Prince of Pubs, natch. This was wonderful actually, as we hadn't been to either the Mexican restaurant or the PoW since the smoking ban came in. The Mexican now not only provides tasty food but also 99% less worries that every breath one takes is damaging one's on-board embryo, and somewhat ironically the beer garden of the PoW has become a smoke-ridden crowded hellhole while the formerly smoky indoors is now a mostly-empty smoke free paradise.

Saturday being yesterday we went into town for TROLLEY DIM SUM!!! (a concept poorly understood in this country but obviously the standard means of offering yum cha in Oz) in Chinatown. It was OK, and nice to see the trolleys like home, but nowhere near as good as Marigold or the other Sydney joints and nowhere near as good as the ordered dim sum at Bayswater, so I guess we should stick with what we know. Then we went a hunting digital TV tuner cards in Tottenham Court Road, then shopping in Oxford Street, unfortunately in the middle of Summer sales. WHOOPS. Grant picked up some jogging shorts (he has started walking/jogging the days he doesn't ride to work) and I gave into necessity and dropped 47 quid on lycra everything. I'm now much more comfortable and have two whole pairs of pants I can wear, and possibly as many as four shirts that don't show overhanging gut! The humorous thing is that when I wear "normal" clothes it isn't obvious that I'm pregnant (just look chunky); when I wear skin tight maternity lycra people offer me fruit juice instead of alcohol and ask solicitous questions about my health. Answer: fine, can I have a beer?

While I am on the subject, boo to Mothercare for selling me jeans previously that appear to lack a basic appreciation for the shape of a pregnant body, specifically it being wider in the middle than at the top and bottom, and of gravity, specifically that clothing will aim for the smallest point and stick there. ONE CANNOT DESIGN JEANS THAT GO AROUND THE BIGGEST POINT OF THE BELLY AND EXPECT A SKINNY ELASTIC TO HOLD THEM UP, MOTHERCARE! Result: elastic cutting person in half through uterus AND pants falling down; quite a double act for a company that specialises in maternity wear. Advice to purveyors of clothing for bumps: one must either go under or over the bump if all one is relying on is a piece of hat elastic. Advice to everyone else: H&M sells decent cheapass lycra for your bump, provided you don't mind a little exploitation of Eastern European/South-East Asian labour.

Last night Bin and Claire were in our neck of the woods visiting a friend, so we all met up in the evening and headed to the Moroccan restaurant in Goldborne Rd, highly recommended as always and damn cheap really. You can stuff yourself with two courses of really decent food for 10 quid; not always true of the W11 postcode.

Aunt Franny is visiting next week, and then Mum is coming in early August. After that we have Grant's parents in early Sept for almost a whole month. Busy. Times. Ahead. It will be so great to see everyone, and show them around our temporary home, though.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Week that was

This week we have...ahm, I think there was some £-earning in there, and in my case a half-hearted effort at faking an interest in study. It's easy to get blase, as when I go back through my notes it seems apparent that I have actually done some work this year. of course, the fact that I have forgotten not only having done the work but also any of the content of same is probably not a fantastic sign.

Yesterday I had a mini-study group with a Uni friend who scared the living daylights out of me with pregnancy-related stories. Fortunately, today we had a midwife appointment. Midwife did nothing more than ask a billion questions, could not be persuaded to poke at or listen to anything, but did manage to make me at least feel like extraordinary testing is unnecessary. By extraordinary, we mean the triple or quad screen maternal alphaprotein test done as relatively standard in Australia.

Midwife: There would be no point given your nuchal measurements are so low.
Grant: nods, Loz: has quiet freakout.

Actually I am not so ticked off about it, because in my experience that test frightens more people without cause than it reliably diagnoses, but it is very hard to distinguish between the NHS being wise and sage and sensibly avoiding unnecessary testing and the NHS being a giant cheapskate. That said, while being against unnecessary testing, of course they still want to test for thallassaemia and sickle cell anaemia which is funny because WE ARE THE WRONG COLOUR HUMANS for that.

Midwife's calm attitude did rather help me believe that in all probability, there is still a baby in there which is doing fine. Well, I hope so, as otherwise I am going to have serious problems explaining the bump. Today bought dodgy second-hand copy of a Kitzinger book, where she explains that at 15 weeks one's clothes are likely to be too tight. Clearly, either clothes were looser and more accommodating of bumps in 1997 (I seem to remember pants were higher, which might have helped?) than my tight-jeans wardrobe, or the bump is a high achiever since the jeans were not buttoning by 12 weeks.

The hospital was also funny because the ante-natal clinic and ante-natal ultrasound departments are immediately next to each other but apparently are locked in a battle to the death. Ultrasound insists Plan B is due on 1 January 2008; clinic insists 4 January 2008; I insist they are both wrong, but why would I know, it's not like it was MY OVARY that started the clock ticking on this or anything.

Kudos however to the midwife whose phlebotomy rocks. Cf my last Australian GP who went through the vein and out the other side; I then let said GP do a pap smear, because apparently I cannot be taught. Public service Announcement: do not be letting doctors take blood EVAH; only nurses, pathologists and phlebotomists can be trusted. NHS announcement: swabbing before taking blood makes the needle hurt more and doesn't reduce the risk of infection, ditto swabbing after (NHS: £0.0000002 saved in antiseptic! woohoo! Loz: ummmmmmmmmmmm).

Grant has worked 2x 12 hour day shifts and is currently doing a night shift, proving that he is Well Ard. Tour de France in town tomorrow with time trials through Hyde Park, so we will head there as soon as he wakes up. You may deduce from this that tomorrow I do not intend to be arsed studying, either.

Last night I fed Grant and Regan roast chook dinner and apple crumble in my true housewifely fashion and it was quite tasty if I do say so myself, except that I cannot time a chicken dinner for love or money and only got it on the table at 9pm (which makes no sense - bird, free range and organic, natch, weighed 1.5 kg and went in the oven at 6.30pm; should have been ready at 8; really wasn't). We were up until almost 1am, which is starting to look a bit too much like our regular bedtime.

Therefore today, post-midwife £5 veg thali extravaganza at Hammersmith Sagar, aka We Will Kill You With The Too Much Food (HIGHLY RECOMMENDED OH MY GOD SO GOOD, although a little overwhelming when the courses just keep coming), Grant and I had a nice long nap and now I am sort of swaying snoozily around the flat while trying to do laundry and get my dinner organised. Then I think I might head back to bed with a book. It feels much like the weekends of my former life, where the 6.5 hour sleeps of weekdays would be topped up with binge sleeping at the weekend, only this time I have a much better excuse for being tired. Kitzinger firmly believes that as it is after week 14 I should be feeling more energetic but that may be her second strike WRONG. Of course, I was this tired before Plan B when I didn't get enough damned sleep, so maybe I shouldn't be so hard on poor Kitzinger.

Things liked about England today: the healthcare continues to be free; the Indian food is amazing and cheap; the sun is still amply up until 9pm; the street urchins appear to have been called in for dinner as are temporarily not shrieking; the tube from Hammersmith to Latimer Road (other local station near us) continues to be on time and under-budget and truly the fastest distance between two points; Primark is so cheap I can't work out how they are managing it (presumably third world exploitation), TOUR DE FRANCE IS IN LONDON THIS WEEKEND. Oh, and best of all: Kensington and Chelsea Borough Council have, after two months of deliberations, finally admitted they were wrong to charge us council tax and are giving us £300 quid back. Never mind the fact that when we paid it, it was crippling, and now we're in the money so it's all earmarked for spending on hats, the point is: I FOUGHT THE BUREAUCRACY AND THE BUREAUCRACY LOST LIKE A BIG LOSER. VICTORY IS MINE. Good on Kensington and Chelsea Borough Council for being truly gracious in defeat.

Things I am happy about generally: I have a lovely husband + the vengeful gas of the first trimester appears to have "passed" + can now sleep through the night + pants with elastic are an excellent invention.

Things I ain't so happy about today:
  1. I'm on my third throat infection in a month. I know there is a point to a lowered immune system in pregnancy - and hell, I get the benefit in reduced allergies, all the more appreciated in plane tree season esp. when I can't take antihistamines - but it appears to be the same throat infection! I already beat this! Twice! Where are the antibodies? Why is my throat so determined to have me puffing ventolin prophylactically to avoid bronchial complications forever?
  2. I cannot seem to force my brain to study. It simply isn't scared enough. It keeps getting positive reinforcement when people ask it things it already knows, and seems to be keen on metaphorically inclining on a couch eating grapes waiting for people to tell it how clever it is. Someone ask me a stumper so I can get motivated, here.
  3. We're not at home, and it would be good to be. Soon, though.
All well on the Southern front?

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Things wot I have accomplished this week

It has been quite a week.

Firstly, THESIS IS IN! I handed it in on Monday, amply assisted by my college, which gave the wrong address for the University of London central hand-in office (or rather, said it was on one street when it was on another street on the other side of the block). Kudos to Grant for judicious application of the format paint function in Word when he printed it out for me on the weekend. The footnotes ended up so perty, all 250 of them. All of this means: total thesis words for the week ZERO. Total thesis words ever likely to be written again unless I get a raging case of PhD fever: ZERO. I am well chuffed. I celebrated by working for ten hours on boring precedent documents.

This week I have also grown SOME MORE FOETUS! Viz:


13 weeks + a day or two. Note to self: next time get arm out of way.

I swear, my back is straight. This is a freaky business. One can comfort oneself with the fact that most of the bump is displaced intestine and related digestive apparatus, but one cannot deny the fact that all of this used to fit in without a bump. On the plus side, I now have an excuse for elasticated pants, or should I say trousers so as not to offend the English. This actually worked out pretty well, because of the 4 pairs of pants (/trousers) I brought over here in the first place, 3 have now died terrible deaths and were going to have to be replaced anyway. Note I still have the comfort of the ref flannel PJ pants (/trousers) Susan bought me ages ago - elasticated AND baggy AND drawstring - GENIUS. First midwife appointment is Friday. At 14 weeks. Who said prenatal care was necessary?

What else have I done this week? Worked some hours, learned some admin procedures for said work. I had to process bills. BILLS! Far be it from me to snob about any scraps thrown my way, but why on earth would you make paralegals process bills? And actually send post? Oh well, beggar/chooser, etc. The other paralegals have however been asking me questions about the finer points of law, and that is pretty cool, as occasionally I even know the answer.

Work-wise it's looking like old work will take me back in November/December, when the real money will roll, accompanied by the real backbreaking hours. Awesome. It's also looking like Grant will have something rather exciting lined up to go back to, in a field he has been interested in for a long while - also very cool.

Grant has been doing extra shifts this week for the slush fund, and is REALLY looking forward to a holiday. So am I, but there's the small matter of three exams between me and any such thing so I am not too eager for the passage of time.

So, check box: thesis.
Not checked boxes: three exams, holiday planning, flat pack-up and transport to Oz, relocation, more work and of course finish growing foetus. I will just be over in the corner here having a bit of a freakout.

How's everybody else?

Thursday, June 21, 2007

This is not a drill. Repeat, this is not a drill!

To check who is still paying attention, and reward same:

Introducing Plan B, due 1 January 2008 and currently resident in Loz. All limbs present and accounted for. Woohoo! And eek!

Friday, June 15, 2007

Thesis, jobs, etc

So, we got back from Iceland on Tuesday night. On Wednesday Rohan and Narelle left around midday, and after that I was deep in thesis wrassling. By Wednesday night I had finished the main body of my thesis (but for editing) at a princely 29,700 words. On Thursday morning, my supervisor, who had previously told me that both he (one examiner) and the external examiner had agreed to the overrun, the Uni's central body was now threatening to rely on the overrun if my mark was borderline to bump it down, which he said he couldn't guarantee that it was not. TWO WEEKS FROM SUBMISSION. Helpful.

Then, when he was reviewing the final draft, he seemed upset about the idea of cutting any of it out and said I shouldn't stress too much about culling words, and that he was sure it was a distinction, not borderline. ARGH.

Anyway, through cosmetic footnote amendments I have carved out 1500; I may be able to lose another 1-1500 through text edits and carving out "my darlings" as they say in literary circles. Either way I am going to be submitting a piece that is more than 10,000 words over a 15,000 word limit and there is nothing I can do at this late juncture to change that, since I need all the bits of the bloody argument to make the point. Such is the price of ambition. Fortunately I have almost reached the "don't care" threshold.

In other very peculiar news, when I first came here my old work tried to line up some part-time jobs for me. None came through, but I had an email out of the blue from one of the firms offering me part-time casual work. They are happy for me to do under 20 hours per week, so I think it will fit nicely around study and force me to be a little more efficient, rather than, you know, writing blog entries instead :) It's trade mark paralegal work, which I can do standing on my head, and it's only 10 quid an hour, but that's 10 quid an hour more than I am getting now (and incidentally, about equivalent to my first lawyer wage with currency conversion - funny eh?). So, my first job interview in 7 years consisted of a very nice law firm partner saying "please say yes" and me responding "what the hey." It will be funny to be a drudge again but probably all I can handle at this stage. We shall see. I start Monday.

Happy birthday to nephew J. We're looking forward to getting home and borrowing you from your mum and dad!

Thesis words added this week: about 1000.
Thesis words subtracted: about 1500.
Thesis words still to subtract according to vague threats from Uni central body which shall be disregarded: 12,000.

Island/Iceland

Hallgrimska, Reykjavik, 12:30am

Over the weekend we had a lovely trip to Iceland. A proper trip, even, namely on of the three or four in my entire life for which I've had to pay for accomodation (what the hell are family and friends for anyway?).

We landed just before midnight on Friday at Keflavik, and from there it was a 40 minute bus ride to Reykjavik ("smoky bay"). As a result, we got to see the sun set. After midnight. And it didn't go all the way down; it just sort of sulked over the horizon. This photo of the main cathedral, Hallgrimska, was taken just as we were walking to our guesthouse, pushing 1am. FREAKY. The sun came back up again a little after 3am which wouldn't have been a problem, except that we had no blinds in our room. Funny how quickly you get used to it though.

I must say I did a kickass job of picking the guesthouse. It was opposite a strip joint and two pubs, two blocks back from the harbour and one from the main shopping strip, and our apartment had a jacuzzi, dishwasher, and washing and drying machines, making the place as a whole roughly 98% more attractive, convenient and awesome than the pixieflat. I miss you guesthouse apartment! Oh, but since Reykjavik's water is geothermally heated, things got a little sulfurous when showering/washing up/having any contact whatsoever with hot water. This I do not miss.

On Saturday we had a wander around Reykjavik, which at 300,000 barely counts as a city by back-home standards. It is really quite pretty; all the old houses are made out of corrugated iron, but with elaborate wooden trims. Note to self: bring true gospel of tarting up tin shacks home. The main shopping strip is nice but quite tourist-directed (albeit blessedly without any of the major European/American chains) and really pushing Icelandic lopi jumpers. These are a little too simple for me to spend 80 euro on, given I could make one with my eyes closed for about a quarter of that, but they were interesting to eyeball anyway. I did actually pick up two balls of thin icelandic wool for about 1/5 of what I've seen anything sold in UK, land of "we pretend we don't have sheep so as to force up the prices." Icelandic wool is tough as an old boot, and I imagine would outwear merino by several hundred years. Might be a little rough on the hands, but we'll see!

During our wander, Grant made a new friend at the sculpture garden near Hallgrimska. Then we headed up the tower of the church itself, which is one of the high points of the city. It was great except that (a) I'm terrified of heights and (b) we went up there just before 3pm without realising what happens in a bell tower on the hour. BELL MAKE BIG NOISE.

Later, we went out on a boat for a whale/puffin-watching adventure, which did indeed include sightings of puffins on Puffin Island (shooting fish in a barrel, as that's where the puffins live at this time of year) but only dolphins, no whales around. Unfortunately dolphins appeared to satisfy there "get a cetacean sighting or get another trip free," or so I gathered from the tour guide's repeated discussion of the dolphins several hours after we had last seen them. The dolphins were, in fact, pretty cool - not like bottlenoses at all.

Later, in commemoration of the puffin sighting, my companions ate a puffin. I demurred.

On Sunday we rented a car to better experience the joys of Iceland. It came with a CD to replace those pesky human tour guides. Once we worked out the suggested route out of town it was quite good. The route was the golden circle, which covers Geysir (the Big One after which all geysers are named), Gulfoss (honking waterfall) and a park called Thingvellir (actually it isn't "Th" it's an icelandic character, the same as for the start of Thor's name, but let's not overtax blogger) where the Icelanders formed the first European parliament.

First stop was a nice lava field:

The dirt is quite black; the green stuff is really thing moss, not grass. Quite an alien landscape. At the instructions of our tour guide CD, we then visited this volcanic crater:

Oo er. We of course had to walk down into it; Grant and Rohan then raced each other back up, because they are both youngest children. And people make fun of my only child status. AT LEAST I WASN'T SCARRED FOR LIFE, people.

OK, next stop. Does my public want geysers? I am going to assume the answer is yes.

This isn't Geysir, which is unpredictable and in fact stopped erupting for a few decades before the 2000 earthquake jogged it back into life. It didn't go up while we were there. This is Geysir's little brother, which kindly shows off every 5 minutes or so. And is pretty blinkiy impressive. Of course, this entire area was rank with sulfur. Probably one of the few places on earth one can fart with impunity.

And this beauty is Gulfoss, a really, really big waterfall.

The first drop is about 11m and the second around 20-30 I think. Water flow is 100 cubic metres per second, so of course they wanted to dam it in the early 1900s. Fortunately, reason prevailed. This things puts out an amazing amount of water vapour. Grant and Rohan then spent some time standing on the edge, etc (Iceland has the same hatred of public safety as the UK, and even better, it's got a lot more dangerous things to refuse to protect people from) - see above re: youngest children.

And on to Thingvellir.

Thingvellir is at the rift between the American and Eurasian continental plates, which are moving apart at a rate of 2cm per year and being nicely infilled with LIQUID HOT MAGMA, which we are sort of standing on in this shot. Behind us is one of the continental walls; I think the edge of the American plate. We are also near the supposed site of the Law Rock, where in the early days of the Icelandic parliament, which was pre-script (backward Vikings), the Law Speaker would recite all the laws then in force. Sounds like a fun job, doesn't it?

On Monday we actually got proper sunshine, but were so wiped out from the adventures of the day before that we mostly mosied about the apartment. We went up in the Perlan for another 360 degree of Reykjavik and a visit to a most peculiar saga museum of Icelandic history (sort of history museum crossed with Madame Tussaud's) and had a wander about the harbour, but that was about it.

Tuesday was our last day, and was spent at Iceland's premier tourist trap, the Blue Lagoon hot bathing springs:

I'm cheating - this is outside the Blue Lagoon, but it's also the only part that is blue so we'll go with it. The hot springs are 37-39 degrees, like a toasty warm bath, and very salty, therefore conducive to a nice float. They also have a nice fake waterfall that will hammer your back and shoulders into submission for you, but which is not, I should add, of quite the same magnitude as Gulfoss. It was tremendously relaxing and exactly the best way to end a lovely holiday. PITY WE THEN HAD TO CATCH A PLANE.

And then we came home sweet home.

In short, visit Iceland!

Friday, June 08, 2007

Anticlimax

My final class of the ACADEMIC YEAR has been cancelled due to administrative stuffup. Not only does this kind of take the wind out of my sales, but it also represents approximately 92 quid worth of lecture that I paid for and didn't get (even AFTER being generous and allowing them to count my dissertation - which has involved so far maybe 6 meetings total with my supervisor - as a full course load for calculation purposes). This is the second time this has happened in this course, so perhaps I should consider submitting an invoice to Uni for 184 pounds and see what happens. I imagine hilarity would ensue.

In other news, yesterday was the final copyright lecture of the year. We moved the retiring 80 year old copyright giant lecturer to tears with a presentation and then had a celebration with traditional foods students had made/bought and brought along. I went with Anzacs biscuits and they were OK and well received; plus a great excuse to talk history to the three Turkish students who of course know all about the Anzacs. It is quite awesome that the Turkish people are so respectful of what was, after all, a successful repulsion of an invasion force from their perspective. Hasan commented that Gallipoli was the birth of Australia as a nation, and really when you consider that Ataturk went on to lead his people to independence it was sort of Turkey's birth too. The Thai students had baby elephant toys for everyone as a memento. It was quite a lovely event, and a fitting end to a couple of frantic weeks of Uni-related socialising which I am sort of too old for.

Later I had a very pleasant wander around Holland Park in full summer glory yesterday with Bin and Sarah, followed by a very tolerable Thai dinner with said individuals + Grant, Rohan and Narelle. While London is a bit like Sydney 15 years ago in that everything is suddenly and comprehensively Thai, it was a competently executed version and it was nice to have a taste of home. And then there was beer, at the Prince of Wales, which is our unique and wonderful "local" despite being (a) further away from our flat than three other pubs and (b) going under the same name as every second pub in Her Majesty's United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Nanna seems to be still doing pretty well after the scary step back in the middle of the week. I am still sort of wishing I was home though, particularly as they seem to be getting some rather spectacular weather!

The fact that my lecture has been cancelled presumably means I have no excuse to stuff about this morning, so I suppose I had better get on with the reading. But do I pick thesis or Global Policy and Economics of IP Law? Decisions, decisions...

Thesis this week: dunno, about 1500 - hard to tell as I was deleting as well as adding. Total is just shy of 30,000. This is where we stick fingers in ears singing LALALA. My supervisor was surprisingly equable about the fact I sent him three revisions of the draft for review in a 36 hour period; but then he clearly wasn't going to read any of it until the end of the week so I guess it didn't matter.
Steps: 29K. Pathetic, but coincidentally about the same length as thesis.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Ow, my pancreas

Today I made these for my final copyright class, which required the production of traditional foodstuffs of one's country. I reduced the sugar from one cup to 3/4 and they are still so sweet I am kind of reeling from my taste-test. I study with a bunch of under-25s so here's hoping this doesn't turn them all crazed. Next time I'll pull it back to 1/2 cup and we'll see.

Last night we ate Quorn(tm) sausage rolls and they actually tasted like the real thing, and a quite decent version of the real thing too. In fact the Verisimilitude of the Quorn (tm) is starting to really freak me out. I am convinced that in a few years we are going to see the truth revealed: Quorn is actually not mycoprotein but meat. Possibly people meat.

In other news, Mission: Impossible thesis went rather better than I had hoped. I have only to edit the introduction, whack on a conclusion, and try to edit the thing and I am done.

My last class of the year is tomorrow, as is our trip to Iceland. Exciting!

Monday, June 04, 2007

First weekend of summer #2, Eltham Palace

My public demands palaces, and so I shall provide: Eltham Palace, the new bit.

Sunday involved a pleasant if somewhat trackwork-afflicted visit to Eltham Palace with Chantal. Eltham Palace is a rather unusual blend of a 15th century great hall with a 1930s art deco mansion. The result is pure fabulousness, which suggests that sometimes architects and interior designers are totally worth every cent.

The great hall was once part of a place complex where Henry VIII virtually grew up. It was reputed to top Hampton Court in extravagance which is really, really saying something. However, it fell into ruin. Most of the complex was destroyed, and the great hall fell to use as a barn, which obviously makes sense when you consider that it has this ceiling:

The Courtaulds, textile magnates, took the crown lease in the 1930s and had a mansion built abutting the great hall in grand art deco style. Unfortunately we have no pix of the rest of the house - its splendid wood panelling, the inlaid whatsis, the bathroom WITH GOLD PLATE - but trust me, it was tasteful and awesome and led to many thoughts of redecorating.

And all of this is set in some fairly elaborate gardens:

I didn't get my desired snooze in the sun, but otherwise it was fairly perfect, especially as it involved a cream tea.

By the end of the weekend, Grant and I had absorbed roughly 200 times the required vitamin D. It was really the best thing for what otherwise would have been a very stressful and sad weekend, far too far away from family and with Nanna sick. He's a good husband, that one.

On Sunday evening Rohan and Narelle had arrived from the Netherlands, and we had a nice dinner at Fancy Italian with them and Chantal. And then Grant and I went home and dozed our way through the rest of the evening; and today Mum rang to say Nanna was awake and doing well.

All up, great weekend.

And now I have to quite procrastinating and write some damned thesis, I'm afraid.

Photos can be found here.

First weekend of summer #1, Hampstead Heath revisited

Stately home of the week: Kenwood House, Hampstead Heath, once home of Lord Justice Mansfield of patent and slavery case fame.

So, this weekend there had been predictions of rain. In fact it turned out to be scorching mid-20s, proper summer weather requiring hats and so on, and really if mid-20s now seem scorching I should probably not go home. Observe proper blue sky. I even had to squint, Australian-style.

On Saturday we had the news about Nanna, and I was a bit of a wreck, so Grant accompanied me to the annual LLM copyright picnic at Hampstead Heath. It was unreasonably beautiful weather, and we hadn't seen the Heath in summer before. The pools were far more inviting than when we visited in late Autumn; but of course even then there were people swimming in them! I might give it a whirl later in summer. However, it is very possible that my well-established Muddy Pool Bottom Phobia would prevent same.

About 20 people from my copyright class/their partners showed up for a picnic lunch and a wander led by our eminently capable tour guides, Professor Sterling and his wife. I was glad I went, particularly as Grant and I always get lost when we try to wander around the Heath, although it seemed kind of unfair to the rest of my family back home who were having a rather less pleasant day. All up we were out and about in the sunshine from noon until about 8pm. Very tiring, but good fun. Also, I think we won the Best Picnic Lunch of the Day award with olive ciabatta, marinated olives, hummus, cold chicken, and eggplant bake, and I am nothing if not competitive.

Photos can be found here.

Oh yeah, and it's not-winter again

It's summer, kids. The veg, they do not lie. The street market is full of these goodies.

Eggplant/aubergine consumed single-handedly over the last fortnight: 4. YUMMMMMMMMM. 2 pretties still in the fridge.

Way of cooking eggplant without half a litre of oil:

Chop up 2 eggplant and boil until almost tender. Dump in baking dish. Mix 400gm tin tomatoes, herbs of choice, and a little salt and sugar; pour over eggplant. Bake 30 mins or so at Gas Mark 5 (what has this country done to me?), I guess about 180 C. Then cover with grated cheddar and a bit of parmesan and bake until melted. YUM.

Catching up

OK. we are a little behind here, not least because I am technically writing a thesis. Which I have promised myself will be finished this week. It won't, by the way - where would be the fun in achievable goals?

The most important news is that my Nanna had a mild stroke late last week, but is now awake and talking perfectly. AWAKE! Remains to be seen whether her mobility will be affected, but it is such a relief, and she is doing well. I have never wanted to be home more, but have been forbidden from buying a plane ticket just yet.

So, without further ado:

Your weekly castle is...the Tower of London, tourist trap for centuries!

Last weekend we went to the Borough Markets (two quid fifty for asparagus? I don't think so) and hence to the Tower of London with Regan and Jace. Regan masterfully avoided the gigantor queues at the ticket office by buying tickets at the empty group booking stands. Several hundred other people failed to work this trick out. I was incredibly impressed.

We tagged along with a yeoman's tour. Very funny guy. For example, he suggested that when people looked at Cullinan I, the biggest chunk of high quality supercompressed prehistoric leaves, which currently graces the British royal crown [edit: it is actually on the sceptre, its little bro Cullinan II is on the crown] and probably making it weigh half a ton, they should think about whether engagement rings they had been given or had bought were large enough.

Cullinan I, actual size (OK, not actual size).

For the public record, I am quite happy with my Robocop UPHOLD THE LAW ring, except that almost immediately after seeing the pretty diamonds in the Tower, we watched Blood Diamond (decent movie, + Leonardo DiCaprio is not only all grown up but can sort of fake a South African accent, but really damned depressing, particularly if you have ever owned anything made out of diamonds - THE BLOOD IS ON OUR HANDS, PEOPLE!).

The Tower also has nice ravens and such like, along with assorted torture chambers which are now very tastefully displayed.

[edit: there is also a most bizarre "museum" - one of the early styles of displaying weapons and whatnot]

And then we ate pizza. It was a good day.

And on the Sunday, we sat around like giant lumps. Can't remember what we did, in fact.

I had a couple of functions during the week which were fun, and made sure I was just tired enough for the weekend, which was actually fairly brutal in its exercise regime. See next!

[edit: photos can be found here]

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Brave New World

So, the weather in London is like this:

Cloudy 11°C
SE (11 mph)
Relative Humidity (%)
: 82,
Pressure (mB): 1004, Falling
(wtih thanks to the BBC).

Which is to say it is FREEZING, making it about the 8th return of winter for the year by my count. But, because it is about to be June, and June is summer, the heating has been switched off by the estate management. I love a culture that applies the inexorable logic of "it is not cold in May" regardless of weather conditions.

So, we have a pretty cold flat, and a whole bunch of useless bank heaters. Fortunately the hot water tank is so poorly insulated that it spills out a decent amount of toasty goodness anyway; UNFORTUNATELY the central boiler (serving at least 6 blocks of flats) is on the blink and the hot water is not, in fact, hot.

We had this problem over the weekend, too, and when I tried to report it as an emergency repair I was told by the estate management that "hot water is not an emergency." This is intriguing to me, because in civilised places such as New South Wales, it's one of the things you can get fixed and force the landlord to pay for regardless of their consent to repair. Given that estate management doesn't supply electricity or gas, and that the water supply itself is presumably handled by the five thousand deregulated water companies, I am a tad confused over what else might in fact be an emergency repair for which the estate is responsible. Godzilla attack? "Oh, no, we're only responsible for Mothra attacks, sorry."

On the plus side, since the hot water problem has now occurred conveniently within office hours, they are apparently trying to fix it as we speak. And in the meantime I have an excuse not to do the washing up. HURRAY.

And now to put on a padded jacket and do the grocery shopping.

Monday, May 28, 2007

The Orange People, Day 5: work

I'll actually start from the evening of Day 4...

Met up with work colleagues at Schipol airport - conveniently they caught the plane in that Loz was catching out, so it worked well. From there we headed to the hotel close to the customer meeting, just outside Hicksville, Netherlands (town actually called Zoeterwoude - wow, they have 8000 people living there...) The hotel was a glamourous Holiday Inn (I'm never quite sure what to do with that second bed), which in fact was not too bad. Especially the indoor-tropical theme they had going on:



We headed to the bar, meeting up with the other out-of-towners from the customer and Colt. From there we went on a GPS navigation adventure (including going the wrong way down one-way streets, and being directed through dead-end roads) to sample some of the fine Indonesian cusine. Aparently before the Dutch abandoned their colonies in Indonesia, they did manage to bring back some locals. The food was good if a little strange - I'm guessing the dutch can be blamed for the hard boiled eggs in the satay?

Day 5 proper saw my work colleagues surface a little shady (my hardy Australian composition meant I was fine though) and we headed to the meeting after a generic hotel breakfast.

Note I have not mentioned who the customer is... after the rigmoral of getting through building security (how many companies do you know that have their own luggage x-ray machines and perform a quick background check on visitors?) I presume they are now monitoring my every move, and probably already know the first three boy/girl-friends of everyone that has posted a comment on this site... however, I digress.

We had a tour of their facillities which were all very impressive - it's amazing what a not-for-profit company is capable of... it helps to skim a percentage off every interbank transaction the world over though. Seemingly, the only thing that would stop the place running would be a nuclear blast directly overhead - and even that would only be after the month of diesel runs out and no one wants to deliver more into the fallout zone.

For lunch we were given some of the wonderful dutch "food" - which was just about all my colleagues could bear, so we made a beeline for the airport. A hair-of-the-dog or three later at the airport bar took us to departure time, and as Priority Boarders, we got to wait with other half of the plane that were also Priority Boarders... I tell you, it's just not as exclusive as it used to be!

And that is Holland, only without the redlight district or "cafes"... but we'll leave that to the youngsters!

Grant.

Orange People, Day 4: Amsterdam and airports

Multi-storey bike park, Amsterdam. The Dutch like to complain about bike theft, apparently, but they also like to leave their bikes around with no or minimal chaining compared to the big U-clamps common in Sydney and London. Statistical correlation or coincidence? You decide.

This will be a shorty, as Tuesday was my last day in the Netherlands and Grant's last day with Rohan and Narelle, as his work required him to get drunk with some Dutch customers on Tuesday night, and he had a meeting with them on Wednesday.

So, Rohan went to work like a good soldier, and Narelle and Grant and I headed to Amsterdam for a look at the outside of things, since we only had 3 hours or so to work with before we had to head for Schipol airport for my flight home/Grant's meeting with his workmates ahead of the pissup. Pictures here and following, bearing in mind that (a) the bridge opening is in Den Bosch and (b) there are no pictures of the pleasant half hour nap we had in the park next to the guys discussing the thriving market in 'shrooms.

We really didn't have enough time to experience the joys or otherwise of Amsterdam but it was good to see what we saw. Maybe next time we'll get a better crack at it. Until then, fave Netherlands places in order of faveness: the Hague, Utrecht, Den Bosch, Amsterdam.

After that, I had a relatively uneventful flight home to Gatwick and a train trip home that took longer than the flight from the Netherlands. Go Thameslink and the tube!

Steps on holiday: a million, so I promptly ceased walking altogether on our return home.
Thesis words: none in two weeks, and now I'm scared to touch the thing, a slight problem as it's officially due in a month. However, I think I'm only about 2-3000 words from the finish line so a little more procrastination will just help make things more exciting. Right?

Orange People, Day 3: Utrecht

For Vron, who is apparently unsatisfied with castle images: me, with world's largest and oddest vegetarian salad. Nothing quite like ordering from a Dutch menu when your only Dutch consists of "thank you, vegetarian, chicken."

On Monday we went on an adventure with Ro and Narelle from Den Bosch to Utrecht, which is only about a 40 minute train trip. As you will see from the educational and informative link, Utrecht is the Netherlands' fourth largest city, with a population of a whopping almost three hundred thousand. Are these Europeans kidding, or what? That's not even a "city" in Australian parlance. TRY COUNTRY TOWN.

Utrecht was actually quite a suprise for me. In addition to the usual canals, of exceptional prettiness in this case, it is quite an old town, viz:

The pointy thing is the tallest clock tower in the Netherlands, or so we were told by the enterprising ladies at the tourist info shop. It has 400+ steps, which unless I am being evacuated from a skyscraper (unfortunately not that rare an occurence) I tend to avoid. I have a good excuse: I'm LAZY. Also, we got to Utrecht a little late and because Hungry Loz had by then taken over, we missed the tower's opening hours in favour of feeding me. A sensible choice on everyone's part might I add, and also one leading to the salad above. Theoretically, if we had gone up said tower we would have enjoyed panoramic views of the flatness as far as the eye can see. Next time? Perhaps after they install a lift?

We took advantage of the terribly pretty canals with a canal ride. We were disappointed at first that the boat had a roof (albeit clear), but then it started pissing down, so good forethought on the part of the canal tourism enterprise. Grant got some pictures of his favourite birds of all time. And a billion other photos of canal-related things, which start around here. Really, I have seen lots of canals at this point, and these were up there.

Then, on the way home, I had a strawberry flavoured milk drink IN A CAN, and later Rohan and Narelle fed us our first meal in several days that wasn't solely comprised of fish and/or accompanied by chips. Very tasty. It was, in short, a good day.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

The Orange People, Day 2

After a good night's sleep at Sarah's amazingly appointed apartment (we're so jealous!), we surfaced late and went for a quick walk down to the local forest. The light through the foliage was truly amazing - I would love to go back there for a more extensive walk.

After that, Sarah joined us on the trip to Den Bosch to meet up with Rohan and Narelle. Catching the train was a good way to see the countries exceptional flatness. Also note they use mini-canals instead of fences...

After a quick and comfortable jounry, we arrived in Den Bosch and were greeted by all its majesty:


Between the gothic churches, picturesque canals (complete with brand new ducklings!), cute alleyways, and weird-ass sculptures, Den Bosch really is a very pretty little town.
We finished off the evening with dinner in one of the many restaurants... mmmm, chips with mayo!
Grant.



The Orange People, The photos

So, I finally got the camera back (see day 5) and have uploaded the photos.

Pics are available here.

Loz also forgot to mention a couple of things, like the exceptionally cool sand sculptures, such as this one:


and some weird stretchy guys:



Grant.