Tuesday, February 27, 2007

And the theme of the weekend is...Wellington

For our Obligatory London Weekend Adventures last weekend, we accidentally selected a Wellington theme.

(1) Apsley House

We are proud members of National Heritage and therefore feel compelled to visit strange landmarks of historical significance, because it is free. Very few of these are actually in London, thus complicating the process; fortunately, Apsley House, at the corner of Hyde Park and opposite the Victory Arch commemorating the Battle of Waterloo, is one. Therefore, we did the usual hike in via Kensington Palace Gardens and Hyde Park to go have a look.

On the way we ran into a giant peace demonstration, which lapped Hyde Park once or twice and freaked out the horses doing their daily constitutional on Rotten Row (aka Mud Central, since it has been raining all week). Police estimated 10,000 protesters (uh - NOPE) and organisers 60,000, so who knows - I would have thought closer to 100,000, myself. Interesting timing actually, as Blair announced the Iraq pull-out this week - I wonder if he was pre-empting the demonstration? Anyway, there were lots of people marching for various and sundry worthy causes, and we joined in for a bit, making it Grant's first demo - but not, it must be said, mine!

Then to Apsley House, which has been the home of seven Dukes of Wellington since the very first, a certain younger son by the name of Arthur Wellesley who was not expected to amount to much by his family, proved everyone wrong by rocketing up the ranks of the army and eventually defeating Napoleon in the land war in Europe. The house itself is gorgeous and chock full of fairly fabulous artworks, most of which Wellington No. 1 actually purchased (unusually, for an English nobleman, most of whom appear to have been of the "but I found it just lying there!" or "possession is ten-tenths of the law" schools of thought) but some of which were recovered from various Napoleonic lieutenants who had looted much of Europe, including the Vatican City. Wellington returned most of it, and memorably offered to give a particularly nice collection of works taken from Spain back to the reinstated King of Spain, who two years later replied that it was awfully nice of Wellington to offer but in the circumstances he had earned it and could keep it. A contemporary art critic commented that two of the paintings in said collection were so valuable that it was worth fighting the Spanish campaign just for them. Nice one!

Wellington also had a bit of a fascination with representations of Napoleon. He never met the guy, but the house is full of Napoleon busts, portraits, and best of all, through the staircase, a giant twice-life-size naked Napoleon sculpture. AWESOME.

Otherwise, lots of paintings of various heads of Europe and of Wellington's beloved horse Copenhagen, who got shipped around all over the place, did constant duty in the Battle of Waterloo itself, didn't get flighty about pesky things like battles raging around him but would kick you as soon as look at you, which may explain why Wellington made it through unscathed. Copenhagen lived until nearly 30 and had a state funeral, which is more than you can say for most horses I suppose. Portrait artists get extra points if they remember that the horse was not in fact white.

As an interesting matter of etiquette, it appears that if you free Europe, people give you quite a lot of stuff, especially china and silver. Given my silverware collection is meagre, am considering a drive to free Europe; will let you know how it goes.

Also: Duke number 1 had special riding boots made to keep his legs warm and dry. Can you guess what they became known as?

(2) Epping Forest

On Sunday we ventured EAST OF THE CITY (gasp!) to Epping Forest for a bit of a walk in a proper forest. It's actually technically in Essex, a large chunk of which has been eaten by London, so you can get there on the tube. Very convenient.

Things we did not quite take into account:
  • forests in winter are collections of sticks of various heights (although quite neatly, there is very little undergrowth around so you can basically walk whichever way you like) rather than forests in the ordinary Australian understanding of the term, ie. something with leaves (actually, the holly still had leaves and I have plenty of scratches on my hands to prove it); and
  • it rained all last week. We did not quite clue in to the likely results of this until the two people walking in front of us to the forest were wearing waterproof boots and gaiters. In short: MUDFEST.
The theme then for Sunday was Do Not Attempt Without Wellingtons, but unfortunately we had nothing but joggers and therefore got very wet even before it started raining again. I jumped a creek but Grant refused to do so citing inflexibility of jeans; there followed a very exciting half hour of us wading through ankle deep mud on opposite sides on an increasingly swollen body of water until I jumped back across - albeit with Grant's help this time. People were actually mountain-biking in the forest despite the conditions, and thereby giving all cyclists a bad name, because the paths were too muddy and the tyres were wrecking them. Naughty.

Anyway, I'm quite looking forward to going back once they've had another drought or I've acquired some decent waterproof boots, whichever comes first!

Otherwise the weekend was quite lazy, although we did manage to catch up with an old work colleague of mine who lives in the area for Saturday dinner which was nice.

Steps last week: 77K or so
This week: shut up
Bike: the obligatory 40km of uni commute
Thesis: stalled at 6700 words (10000 if you count footnotes, which unfortunately they do) waiting for my supervisor's comments. Two weeks without thesis Monday! My poor precious routine! BUT I have read 3 competition law cases so far this week, which is why you can hear my brain making steam-whistling noises. And now for three more. Sigh.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Kung Hei Fat Choi, OR, We're All Going to Die

Happy year of the pig, everyone!

After our wonderful Saturday adventure to Brighton, we decided to head into Chinatown for the Chinese New Year celebrations.

This was a very bad idea, which several billion other people had also had (see above). The minute we got off the train at Embankment, we hit the biggest crowd I have ever ever seen, and I used to commute through Town Hall station :) London has a fairly small Chinese community and I guess it was pretty cool to see the numbers of non-Chinese out in support of the occasion. I was feeling less cheerful about it at the time, when the sheer volume of human beings effectively deprived me of food, freedom of movement, and at one point, the ability to breathe.

The red lanterns were lovely as always, as were the various cultural displays, including Shao Lin brick smashing and whatnot, and four dragons, which is excellent as I am a sucker for a dragon dance (note: the dragon dancers had a human wall of crowd-shifters around them, which meant they could actually move, unlike us). What was not lovely was that despite rigorous street closures and an attempt to assert a one way human traffic direction along Chinatown, the police had basically created a Mob of Doom in Chinatown itself. It took us about 45 mins to get from one side of the three-block strip to the other, including a five minute argument about whether we should wait in line for 30 minutes for a restaurant table (Grant - affirmative, me - negative). Most of this time was spent being rammed from behind into a solid mass of bodies in front, which typically would be actually trying to do the same thing but in the opposite direction. But now and then a dragon's head would pop up over the crowd, so that was cool, at least.

We had intended to go and visit one of the National Heritage sites afterwards, but were so buggered from crowdwrassling that we just got some food from a street vendor (who was selling Thai/Japanese/Chinese food, by way of really helping the pig-ignorant European tendency to be unable to tell the difference between the cuisines, cultures and indeed faces of those nationalities) and fled home to the relatively deserted streets of Sunday Holland Park/Ladbroke Grove for a pastry and a cuppa tea.

Thesis this week: zip, am trying to catch up on copyright (and failing, I might add, although I did get 20-something case notes written yesterday).
Bicycle km: zip
Steps: might as well be zip. Last week 98K.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Brighton - on Sea, not Sands...

I think I must have been slightly stir crazy this week - with being sick last week and not really getting out much on the weekend. Fortunately, Loz noticed the subtle signs, and suggested we head down to Brighton for the day. We hadn't gotten out of London for a while so it was certainly about time. This would also cross off another one from "Best Day Trips from London" - a wonderful gift from Lee (score so far: 8/25, come on team!)

We did manage to get out of the house before 9am by some miracle, but a minor stuff up at Victoria station (we're not admitting it was our fault, and blaming the rail network is easy) meant we didn't get down there until close to 11am. Still, plenty of time to enjoy the restorative powers of a seaside town.

The big attraction of Brighton is the Royal Pavilion, and it was our first stop of the day. Well, second after the really cool bike shop. They actually stocked Kona, and lots of it! Anyway, where were we? Oh yes, the Pavilion. It was quite spectacular, and as commented by a member of parliament back in the day, largely resembled a turnip. More precisely, one large turnip upside down on a box, with many smaller turnips, also upside down on boxes. It apparently started out as a modest farmhouse, but was renovated by George IV after he got himself out of debt. I don't know how a Regent/King gets into debt or out of it, but I suspect it has something to do with the ladies and gambling, and then doing favours for Parliament. Next to the Pavilion was the Dome, but we didn't go inside to check out the museum/art gallery.

Next we walked through the Brighton streets towards the sea shore, evaluating potential dinner venues, and appreciating some of the remarkable buildings. One very cool thing was that the public buses have names. We made it down to the impressive beach with the Brighton Pier. Do the pictures provoke the memory of feeling of sand between your toes? Or, for example, pebbles beneath your shoes?

Down from the current pier is the old pier. Much like the Royal Pavilion, it appears to have an iron structure. And much like the Royal Pavilion, it is rusted and decaying. Good thing they've been doing restoration work on the the Pavilion since a year or two after it was built (so only for a couple of hundred years now).

We went and wandered out along the pier where there are many sideshow-style attractions like shooting galleries, a dolphin race(!), a very unfortunate witch, and some carnival rides. Lauren was boring and not interested in riding them - she didn't want to go on G.Laxia, the Haunted House, Turbo Coaster, Crazy Mouse, Booster, Waltzer, Wild River, or Scream. She didn't even want to go on this one.

By the time we finished the circuit of the pier, the sun was on the way down, and it was getting dark. This brought out a huge number of birds - flocking about around and under the pier. The photos don't really capture it, but is was quite amazing. I was able to get a number of good photos - probably too many, but I still find the sun disappearing into the ocean to be quite fascinating. The whole area reminded me of Santa Monica - it's obvious where the Americans got their influence - but I think the colonists use of timber instead of iron/steel was a good idea.

Brighton pier at night was very pretty, as was the Royal Pavilion - in particular the big turnip, pity about the scaffolding though.

We finished off with dinner at English's of Brighton - awesome, definitely taking Dad there so we can get the seafood platter!

It was a great day out, easy to do from London, and we will be doing more of this sort of thing in future!

All of the photos can be seen here.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

It Done Snowed II

OK, so further to our previous tantalising post: BEHOLD THE SNOW. This would be from last Thursday. Shut up, I never said we'd update frequently! Take a careful look at the picture of Grant. He lost that beanie (lovingly knitted BY HIS WIFE) half an hour later.

It was especially wonderful snow actually - still coming down at 10am, all clothes soaked, sizeable snowperson-facilitating snow (my snowperson was lame because my hands got cold).
Much better than the previous January snow which, while nice, had stopped by the time we got up. When I went to copyright class in the afternoon, my lecturer, who is an Australian expat decades removed from the motherland, said to me in excitement: "Isn't it wonderful?"

After I dropped Grant off at the station at about 7.30am I went for a hike through Holland Park, which is the foresty snowy pictures, esp the maze, the terribly cold fishies in the Kyoto Garden and My Lord Holland You Are Sitting Very Still.

Freakishly, the tube was only running about 20 mins late when I caught it in to class in the morning despite the snow. Considering that it routinely does way worse in bright sunny weather, I was pleasantly surprised! It still would have been faster to ride in, but I get scared of unusual weather conditions, viz. when I rode home after hail in Sydney and tried to access my inner European for racial memories on what to do when hitting an ice drift at speed. I did ride in the next day, and got absolutely drenched in a sleety downpour (fellow student, English: "You don't have to ride in EVERY day, you know"), and then afterwards had to spend half an hour cleaning the grit out of the bike that had been scattered in the snow the day before. Apparently gritty abrasive salt+dirt+water = bad for bikes. Or so I am told. I have my suspicions that it is a beat-up though to make me clean my poor old bike.

Grant actually had to come home early on the snow day with a cold and was off sick the next day too (damn contracting damn no sick leave). However, he's much better now, with the exception of in the wee small hours when he tends to start hacking up a lung just to piss me off. We have new cough syrup - honey and lemon flavour. On inspection, ingredients = honey and lemon. Not entirely sure why this product exists.

Anyway, Grant's bug did mean we didn't get up to too much hiking at the weekend, which coupled with the fact I rode into school 2 days last week meant that my walking total was CRAP - a measly 58000 steps. Did however do 40km on the bike. Not very flash, but given it is the dead of winter I am pretty chuffed. I have to wear a jumper while I ride and everything. AND windproof gloves, cf Wednesday when I didn't wear them and couldn't feel my fingers for quite some time thereafter.

We did meet a friend of Grant's from when he was working in Syd, who is over for the week, for drinks and dinner on Saturday night around SoHo (no champagne, but if there had been I doubt it would have tasted like cherry cola). Met some nice friends of hers, too, which is always a good thing in this big wide city. Otherwise the only other weekend adventure was a moderate stroll to Kensington Palace Gardens for tea and scones. I used the word "grand." Now all I need to do is start saying "all right" instead of "Hello, how are you?" and I'll be set.

Thesis has been doing quite well yesterday and today, in part because I cheated by doing thesis work instead of trade marks/copyright today as well as yesterday. Aren't I clever in using my self-distracting powers for good instead of evil? Yesterday I cleaned the flat from top to bottom by way of distraction. Excellent stuff. Anyway, today's slog got me 1800 words added and about 800-1000 subtracted, so I am still ahead of the game. My argument now goes from intro to parts a through c of part 2 before running aground, compare earlier where it sort of went intro, part 2(c), make of that what you will. OF COURSE, disclaimer here is that my supervisor has read none of it yet so could decide it is all total rubbish. I think I keep deterring him from reading what he has already by sending him a new draft every week. I personally would regard that as a tip not to read anything until I had a version someone was prepared to call final! It isn't due until July but I have 6700 done pretty well and another 6000 done in early draft form. Cue freakout re: 15,000 word target overshoot (familiar from 2000 where I produced a 25000 word thesis that was supposed to be 12000), which is why I am glad to have cut some words out. Have to do some more work on the USA part of it though.

I must say Jamie hit the nail on the head when she told me the problem with grad school was the utter lack of external stimulus to activity. I have *no* assessment tasks due until July, and final exams are August. Until then I could do jack and there would be no consequences. Don't tell my brain this or I won't get anything done. It's just between you and me, OK? All of this is way worse coming from a life where the task that got done first was (a) the most overdue (b) the one with the screaming client or partner attached to it, and there sure as hell were stimuli to prompt action (positive - $$$, negative - aforementioned screaming). Feel rather like a marionette with strings cut at times. Still, it is nice to relaxxxxxxxxx just the same, also to use brain as sharp instrument instead of blunt one for a change.

UK things people never warned me about: the limescale. OH MY GOD, THE LIMESCALE, THE KETTLE KILLING, DRAIN-CLOGGING, TAPE-CAKING LIMESCALE (apparently it's very healthy for you though). Also, still a bit annoyed by lack of tags on teabags.

OK, off to veg shop and then copyright study. YAY.

Bike k last week: 40km
This: 0
Thesis: 1800 words, but lost 800-1000, so what do we call that?

Wednesday, February 07, 2007


So this is the forecast for tomorrow:

We'll see what happens... The max of 2 deg could be a little rough though.

Edit: this just in, news report states the forecast is for the heaviest snow fall in 10 years!

"Surreal, but nice."

Thus speaks the hero to the heroine in Grant's favourite girly flick, "Notting Hill," which was on the telly on the weekend. Hereabouts the movie is considered horrifically twee and it can also be regarded as a rather racially suspect whitening of a quite multicultural area. All that notwithstanding, it's nice brainmush and on top of that we now get to squeal "OH MY GOD, THAT'S...[insert name of local landmark/shop here]" every five seconds, which was indeed surreal, but nice. You know you've arrived when the geographical names in English film and telly start to make sense.

It was hotting up last week - even to the point of not having to wear a beanie! - but apparently this was a bluff, as it is now freezing again. Heavy frost this morning, for the first time really. No more snow, sadly.

I have given up on my lofty ambitions to do this degree properly and read each case report in full, and am now reading the headnotes only, which is like the Cribb's Notes. I feel like an intellectual traitor but on the plus side, I got through three weeks of trade mark reading in one day yesterday. You can't argue with that kind of brute force productivity, people. At this rate I might even catch up on copyright sometime before the exams.

Cycling kms last week: 40km
This week: none yet, trying to be brave enough to ride to uni today despite cold (riding is the only way to guarantee getting there in under an hour - it is supposed to be a 20 minute tube trip, but that only works under lab conditions)
Thesis this week: about 1000ish, again
Steps this week: truly pathetic 17,000.

And how have you all been?

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Hippy Waitangi Day eviryone!

Hi all

Our usual weekend stroll was to the Vic and Albert Museum, or rather to the Chinese diner near there.

We did manage to see the Islamic ceramic/textile/metalwork exhibit prior to lunch which was AWESOME. And educational: Chinese artisans redesigned their blue and white china for the Middle Eastern market and flooded it with cheap ceramics in the new patterns in the 15th century. Result: market went crazy for the new blue and white china, and Middle Eastern artisans started copying the Chinese designs, including their maker's marks, which is actually the first example of someone pirating Chinese designs and trade marks I have heard of. Go Ottoman Empire! There were some beautiful rugs which were only lit for 20 minutes in the hour to avoid fading. And also some lovely embroidered robes, which are believed to have been worn by three of the 19 princes executed as children when their half-brother succeeded their father to the throne to avoid succession infighting, an exercise that was apparently never repeated.

Prior to V&A and lunch, we came across this scene. That would be the expat New Zealand Waitangi Day party, aka the Circle Line Pub Crawl 2007. Look, the New Zealand speed skating team! Here's hoping they don't steal our Australian tactics of hanging back and hoping everyone else falls over at the next Winter Olympics. They were all drinking Fosters though. Tch. Anyway, it is nice that trans-Tasman rivalry back home becomes antipodean brotherhood the minute you get to the other side of the world - we celebrated Australia Day in a much more low-key way with a New Zealander.

In other news, yesterday I rode the 10km to Uni only to find that my lecture had been cancelled, which in fact my lecturer had mentioned in passing some months ago. Didn't feel too stupid as there were 5 other people there, but still - further evidence that I am something of a brain in a bottle at times. That pretty much torpedoed my otherwise reasonably productive week as at that point I was too ticked off to do anything for the rest of the day.

Well, it's 5pm and still twilight so here's hoping we may be past the worst of the winter!

Thesis total: same (hey, I write thesis on Mondays, leave me be!)
Steps total: 70K and rising
Most excellent hummus recipe: one can chickpeas, 1/3 cup chickpea liquid, 1.5 Tbs tahini, juice of half a juicy lemon, 2 cloves garlic. WHIZZ.

There are some photos here from the various walks of the last 2 weeks - descriptions on the photos.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

These boots are made for walking. As are these sneakers, these sandals and these attractive crocs.

Oh-kay. So we have spent another week tromping the wilds of North-Western and Western London, and it has been good. Targets this week included:
  • Hampstead Heath, a terribly awesome scrubby-type park a la Richmond Park and Bushy Park only without the deer. Hampstead Heath is about 6 miles walk from our place (help, I am infected with imperial measurements!) and it took us about 2 hours to get there, as we went via our favourite Indian food stall in the Church St markets off Edgware Road, which sells truly awesome chicken tikka wraps made with roti. Yummmmmmm. Then we walked beside the Regent's Canal, home of some really unreasonably swank stately homes, to Primrose Hill, ditto, through Belsize, ditto to a lesser extent and then Hampstead (still quite swank) to the heath proper. It has swimming ponds. And a man was swimming in one of them. Even though it was roughly 2 degrees. Really, the icebergs are cool and all, but this guy was swimming in water that had just about made its own ice. Highlights included meeting a guy with two tallish red-coloured staffies and having him identify them as Long-legged Staffordshires, most useful because I totally want one, and the beautiful Kenwood House. We were rather ticked off because we are English Heritage members and should get into such places free, but it was actually free for everyone. Logically enough, Kenwood House and its fine grounds were at one point slated for redevelopment. It's nice to know that the CRAZY PERSON developmental mindset is not specific to our homeland. They had an exhibition of paintings including Dutch masters, and specifically including this very nice one. Grant and I are currently arguing about the terminology for Rembrandt's use of light (next best argument after the best means of demonstrating the doppler effect) so drop a line if you know. There and back is a 32000 step trip if you have stubby legs like me.
  • A 23,000 step trip with Jen from Twickers to Teddington to Kingston and back via Bushy Park and a cop-out bus trip back from Teddington because my footsies were tired. Most of it was along the Thames, rather terrifically pretty river that it is. Teddington has a gigantic lock which was the scene of the fish-slapping dance of Monty Python Fame. I HAVE TOUCHED GREATNESS. Highlights of the trip were the pretty, pretty Thames, and the absolutely lovely lunch Jen made us - thanks as always Jen!
This week has been a busyish one too. Grant has been working until almost 6pm some evenings (everyone in Sydney: HAHAHHAHA - 6 months ago, neither of us could be relied upon to get home before 8pm). He was supposed to be moving from the temporary team leader position to shiftwork over the next few weeks, but it looks like that has been pushed back again. I wasn't desperately keen on the return of our old buddy evil nightshift Grant, plus I like having the house to myself during the day, so no broken hearts at the delay on this end!

I had another thesis-y Monday which seems to have involved adding about 3000 words to the text, although I am not entirely sure where they landed as I was messing with the whole thing. I am now at about 10000 words and am nowhere near having made my point - and this with a 15000 word limit. My supervisor is under strict instructions to edit all waffle. We will see. I am thinking of tweaking the structure a bit AGAIN but he has slapped me across the knuckles for even thinking about it, so I will have to try to manage that in secret.

Tuesday I got to play doublespeak in a meeting the degree coordinator and marketing for my uni organised with some students so that they can better prostitute, I mean PROMOTE, themselves to the market. It was actually quite useful. One thing I have found really strange is the different cultural expectations of an LLM. In countries like Australia, the UK and Japan, a Masters degree is something you get when you already have work experience - an investment in swifter promotion or at least a higher charge-out rate, and therefore $$$$$$$, which is what we all want deep down in our lawyerly black hearts. But there are lots of European students who are doing the LLM straight from their undergraduate programs because they want to get into specialist fields. It may well work in Europe, but a specialist LLM wouldn't get you into a job in IP in Australia.

Speaking of which there is a joke in English IP/academic circles that the only IP lawyers are in fact Australians. When I introduced myself to the meeting as an Australian IP lawyer, the arbitration senior lecturer interrupted "Is there any other kind?" Oz seems to produce and export more IP practitioners than you would expect - perhaps that whole "clever country" thing is paying off? Or perhaps the combination of an increasingly US-style litigious culture with a UK legal system makes Oz IP lawyers a more saleable commodity? Dunno.

Yesterday I rode to uni in very pretty winter sun, had my usual vicious argument with trade mark lecturer number 2, who is constitutionally incapable of agreeing with anything I say even though he may later make a statement of his views which may be uncannily similar to those I have just stated. I actually *agree* with the principle we were fighting about, but not about the procedural way in which the UK Patents Office deals with the issue - allowing an Examiner to "guess" that a trade mark is not intended to be used in a country which allows intention to use filing? ARGH. Never mind, I am making myself cranky again just thinking about it. Also had an interesting tutorial afterwards in which I remembered and disgorged everything I ever knew about the US doctrine of functionality. However I have no idea why I know it as we haven't covered it yet in class (so as you can imagine, the tutorial question on that direct subject was therefore pretty fun for everyone to answer). I think it was something at work? Anyway, a sure fire way to impress fellow students is to say "aesthetic functionality" sagely. Try it at home.

Today I had my so very tiring 4 hours of classes. I do like Thursdays though as it's the day when the IP peeps have lunch together. I *may* have been asked about the Crocodile Hunter. Later shocked a Nigerian student (independence from UK: 1960) by informing him that Australia technically only became independent in 1987 (GO AUSTRALIA ACT 1987!).

Tonight we are off to bar trivia with Bin at Ealing. Since we know NOTHING of local personalities it is always fun. Trade marks and public figures are the lingua franca in this world and without knowledge of either, trivia and comedy including "Never Mind the Buzzcocks" (second most awesome UK telly programme after "Top Gear" which is now back on the air) are quite bizarre experiences.

And then I have a whole 2 hours of uni left for the week. Gosh, it's a hard life.

Thesis words this week: roughly 3000, 1800 good ones
Steps last week: 120000 or so
Steps this week: Meh.

If you see my mother, tell her to call me!