Thursday, March 29, 2007

Photos uploaded at last

So, there is a few weeks of photos that I have finally uploaded...
- Dover
- Jewel Tower
- Chinese New Year
- The big anti war protest (and extras)
- Ravenscourt Park

Work has been pretty full on lately. I started shifts last week - it's been about 4 years since I did shiftwork, and it is even worse than I remembered! It probably wouldn't be too bad if I actually got the extended weekends thing, but I was doing extra shifts to cover people away on training. 48hr week last week, 72 hour week this week... The good news is they want me back on Mon-Fri next week - apparently no-one wants to take up the work I am doing, can't understand why!

There are whispers of a new role for me soon, but it is all cloak-and-dagger stuff at the moment, and I am not about to bank on any of this coming to fruition. It would be very cool if it does - kind of a make or break position, as it were... More on that if/when it happens.

I'm changing Umbrella companies for this contract (an umbrella company is used when contracting to manage the invoicing etc - and I am not allowed to set up my own company). For reference, if anyone is thinking of coming to the UK to do some contracting, do not ever go with Giant Group. They are a bunch of ... hmmm, guess I should save that until AFTER I get my last pay from them! On the plus side, I wont have to deal with them again after next week. Who would have thought dealing with Inland Revenue would be preferential to dealing with, well, anyone?

Anyway, off to bed.


Wednesday, March 21, 2007

White cliffs of Dover, OR, giant chalk horsey!

Look! A castle!

But first, a weather report. Week before last it was t-shirt weather, just about. Bright sunny skies, and I was getting terribly sweaty while cycling. Then apparently something odd happened with the arctic or whatnot, and all weekend before last was bloody freezing. Sleet on Sunday, and last Monday we had snow. At the end of March. This in a city in which people assured me it would not snow at all ever. So I am pretty chuffed, even if the last batch was just a few light flurries.

So, weekend before last our adventure was to Dover, White Cliffs Of. On the way, we saw this controversial horsey. Unfortunately not one of the mysterious old ones.

Dover proper was a little shocking. It isn't flat, for starters. We had to walk up the hill to the castle (in fact, the hill we walked up was the side of one of the white cliffs), and my calves were in agony for three days afterwards. I am a Londoner now, and I don't hold with all this crazy hill business. I don't care if it's been a strategically significant site since at least the first century (there are the ruins of a Roman lighthouse). It should be flattened for the sake of the tourists.

Dover is of course the closest point of England to France and therefore the most likely invasion point, although I believe the last actual attempted enemy landing was in the thirteenth century. Still, better safe than sorry, and it is therefore the home of Dover Castle, a giant fortified structure whose ramparts contain an eclectic combination of Roman, Saxon, Norman, Tudor and WWII-era structures, as well as a warren of tunnels built during the Napoleonic wars and WWII. The evacuation of Dunkirk aka Dunquerque was coordinated from the super secret tunnel warrens, as was the naval stage of D-Day. If war is your bag there is quite a lot of interest around. Alas, the place is sadly lacking in the stolen treasures that other castles so amply offer.

On the other side of town is another giant hill. It's also full of tunnels, as one does. Otherwise, Dover is an excellent mixup of faded glory and postwar fugly, a lot of it having been bombed out of existence before it had a chance to fade.

Sunday before last we strolled around Kensington and unfortunately broke the seal on our formerly frugal selves. I picked up some boring black shoes for a lawyer functiony thing, Grant purchased his long-desired hoodie, and we spent an embarrassing amount on media (Kaiser Chiefs aka RUBY RUBY RUBY RUBY! Chili Peppers because we are oooooooooold school, and "Peep Show" DVDs which if you can stand embarrassment-based English humour is worth a look). We got sleeted on halfway through proceedings which was a good excuse for a break for tea and scones.

Grant actually had last Monday off and got to spend part of it queuing in a job centre for a National Insurance number (sort of like a TFN) in Camden Town, but he was happy as it snowed more there than here. I took the opportunity to add about another 1000 words to my thesis and freak out some more about it - 18,600 words now (word limit for those playing at home is 15,000). Good times!

Grant did a bunch of 12 hour shifts last week while I pretended to be studying French copyright law. Last Tuesday I had the aforementioned lawyerly thing which was a reception at a firm with whom I used to do some associate work. It was actually a wonderfully fun and incredibly long evening with about 6 hours of excessive corporate hospitality and some really aggressive wine waiters with an excellent grasp of stealth glass filling techniques. Anyway, I have a fistful of business cards to do the networking thing and it was nice to remember that I am actually OK at that particular game. And better still to hang with some of my peeps, aka lawyerly types. There are not really many lawyerly types at uni, and oh I had missed the snark and the brainiacs and the crazy client stories and those who sympathise with me when I say EUROPEAN IP LAW IS STUPID (ie. those who also harken back to the glory days of English sovereign IP law without nasty European bits in). I am considering doing a short stint over here at the end of my degree given the horrifyingly big numbers that get bandied about salary-wise for IP lawyers, but I guess I'll see what comes up.

However, excessive corporate hospitality did mean that the next day I was a touch under the weather and not really up to proper study other than uni class. For some reason this made me feel compelled to clean the oven. It doesn't smoke as much now, but buggered if I can work out why it was smoking before - it has weird black plastic flaky stuff in it that smells like burning plastic but who knows from whence it came - but enough of these glamorous tales from the front lines of housewifery.

I topped this off with a Uni book launch function on Thursday, which was yet more scads of free alcohol (no wine waiters though but you can't quibble self-service when it's free) and hanging around with a select group of tipsy academics and fellow students. Again, lots of fun. However, people seem to think I am crazy for wanting to go back to Australia and be a scary evil corporate lawyer when I could do ??? instead. I am not entirely sure what ??? is and no-one has yet clarified. Certainly there seems to be a relatively poor understanding of the differing academic markets in Australia and the United Kingdom. Here you could probably specialise in IP right off the bat. In Australia, even if I did manage some kind of academic appointment it would be low-end and general, probably in Woop Woop, and most Australian unis either don't teach IP or don't teach much of it, so it's highly unlikely I'd have the chance in the short term to actually exploit my specialty. PLUS it would be roughly a 50%+ paycut. But hey, other than that and the publish or perish mentality that would have me working longer hours than in corporate law for less cash, an academic career back home is a great idea!

I am getting rather cross with uni at the moment, because the reading is going in one ear and out the other. Fortunately I have tons of casenotes to review when it comes time for exam preparation, so I won't have to go back to the raw materials, but still. ANNOYING, because I am at last actually putting in the hard yards and am basically just making myself more confused. I'm hoping it will all settle in soon enough, esp since I am as of now on yet another 4 week holiday, then a 7 week term, then a 2 month study break, so - well, I have time on my hands and God knows I need to avoid spending it on the thesis at any cost. Humorously enough, I have been designated the go-to gal on my subjects by those fellow students with questions. I don't know that I would be relying on me, frankly.

Grant has been doing 12 hour shifts of the day and night variety for a couple of weeks to cover some training, and this has unfortunately overlapped with the start of daylight savings, so this morning we both got up at 5.45am to walk to the station and it was still dark. ICK. And then I was a zombie for the rest of the day while pretending to study the interaction of IP and human rights laws, but I think Grant managed a little better.

First grade of year (doesn't count to final assessment): A-. MINUS! MINUS! FIE! DON'T THEY REALISE I HAVE A REPUTATION TO KEEP UP, HERE?
Steps this week: 8700. But the week is young!
How deep Grant is in to the guts of his new computer: elbow - it's a little computer (Shuttle).
Tip for travel vegemite-in-a-tube users: apply vegemite to knife, not toast. It's like vegemite toothpaste!

Monday, March 12, 2007

Watch me pull a dramatically prolix thesis out of this hat!

We had a lovely weekend, first walking out to Ealing for friend's birthday Saturday via Grand Union Canal (probably about 10km - 25,000 steps). Quite a nice walk, although the canalway is about as patchy as the Bay to Bay cycleway in Sydney in parts, presumably due to a Battle of the Boroughs. It may have been my last long walk in the brown quilty jacket though, as it was bloody hot. We walked down through Acton (where Grant works) to Ealing and it was readily apparent why Acton housing is comparatively cheap. AWFUL. But Ealing is pretty swank.

On Sunday we went into town to meet another friend for breakfast near Waterloo. We had a nice walk along South Bank (ie of Thames, not in Brisvegas) afterwards. It was an unusually pretty sunny day, and the usual street performers were out. We stopped to watch a very funny magician, whose act including counting his three magic cups in many different languages, including Australian (Magician: "Aussie Aussie Aussie!" [pause]; Grant, Loz, and about three other people: "OI! OI! OI!"). The act was made even better by a magician using Grant and I as misdirection during one of his tricks - always nice to have a crowd clap while you kiss, isn't it? I must say, Grant said he could spot some of the sleight of hand, but the guy was way too fast for me. We also went for a bit of a wander around the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey and the Jewel Tower, which is a 600 year old relic of the old palace that the Houses of Parliament ultimately replaced. One of the Edwards kept his treasures there, but in a truly pragmatic exercise of Victorianism, its last official use was as a store for the standard units of weights and measures - because it is thick stone, the tower resists vibration and changes in temperature, so keeping the units stable. It's an educational if somewhat dry place - lots of Parliamentary history stuff (+ cabal, precursor to the cabinet, is an acronym of the names of the nobles involved in the first cabal of Charles II - Clifford, Arlington, Buckingham, Ashley and Lauderdale) which rather highlighted my ignorance of English history. Side benefit is I finally learned what the crazy imperial weights system is based on (weights of wheat grains - crazy English).

Grant has been having fun at work. The official position of whether or not he goes on shift changes every other day. He doesn't care either way - I'm not working, after all, so it won't be anything like the fun 3 years where we passed each other at the door 2-3 days a week - but it would be nice to know either way so we can plan some damned holidays.

I have been working on my thesis today (being a dangerous combination of ambitious and lazy, I am trying to make myself devote my Mondays to the cause as I am off Uni Mondays and Tuesdays). It's going OK; my supervisor seems happy with it so far. BUT, the advanced draft part is already 17000 words and the whole thing is only supposed to be 15000. PLUS I have at least another 5000 to go by my calculations. It's turning into LLB Honours all over again - for that one I was supposed to turn in 12000 words and it was 25000! The secret is to hide the total from responsible authorities until the very last minute.

However, since I am now terrified of adding words, thesis editing has become an interesting exercise in me pretending the thesis is some sort of incredibly boring jigsaw. It has now been restructured about 5 times, to the point where my supervisor instructed me to Quit Fiddling With It. Of course, I'm hoping he won't notice that I've squeezed in new sections 2(a) and (b). Right?

Otherwise Uni is going pretty well. I am doing a bit better with getting the reading done, and feeling a little less panicky about the whole thing, which is a plus. However, the fact remains that I haven't sat a formal exam in 5 years and I'm about to do three of them. SIT DOWN, CLOSED BOOK exams no less, all covering not only UK law but US, French and German/EU law as well. OK I'm going to stop talking as I am scaring myself.

I have just put in applications for (a) a 2 week residential study program in Washington DC run in conjunction with my Uni and a few others, and (b) a very casual research assistant job. I'm really not sure of my chances for either, actually. Frankly, for the former I walk a dangerous line between being underqualified for not knowing enough about US law and overqualified for knowing too much based on what I used to do at work, and on the latter my only research work has been on my own behalf, which doesn't really count as relevant experience to do it professionally, especially since I'm out of my home jurisdiction and deprived of the useful paralegals who used to do my research for me. However, I did get to go over my CV etc to fill in the applications, and the whole exercise did remind me that on paper I look quite good, and used to be a Super Lawyer Type Person, even if I feel rather like a lazy waste of potential earning power at the moment.

In final news, spring is finally really here, and I am loving it. I am much less tired and more productive than I was when we were getting 7-8 hours of daylight. The sun is up after 6pm now. I get woken up before 7am with the sun coming into the bedroom, and it's less of a chore to get up to walk to the station with Grant. There are flowers everywhere, and I no longer need a beanie on morning walks, and can cycle in just a t-shirt and my light jacket. VERY EXCITING!

Ro's visiting this weekend. Hurray!

Steps: 80+K last week; Grant busted 100K. Go team Donnelly/Eade!
Cycle: 40km per usual. Boring, I know. I should get extra points though as it was really windy last week.
Thesis words: don't even want to think about it, but about 800 words. Sob!

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Go West

The thing about London geography is that unless you travel the joint on foot or by bike, the combined forces of circuitous bus routes, endless little back streets and the hopelessly bendy and mostly underground tube network will stop you from getting any sense of where things are vis a vis other things. So, since we get to Hammersmith by tube (4 stops from our place), I had always considered it to be unequivocally west of our position. By contrast, we walk generally eastwards to get to Kensington. But here's the thing, as made amply clear by our weekend circuit of Da Grove, She Bu, Ravenscourt Park, Hammersmith and Kensington: HAMMERSMITH AND KENSINGTON ARE NEXT TO EACH OTHER. In fact, the main street of the one turns into one of the main streets of the other. Trippy, but at least now the endless Kensington road signs pointing to Hammersmith make sense as something other than directions for those taking a long view.

Anyway, the point of the exercise was to see if we could find a way under the A40 overpass to get Grant to White City, a closer train station to his work (answer: no, but again, we got to see the ponies which are kept in the industrial wasteland under the motorway, of all places) and to see if we could cope with living in She Bu, where the housing prices are roughly a hundred quid a week lower than our current locale, as we are looking to move up to at least a separate bedroom place, or a larger joint if friends come over to flatshare. Answer: not entirely sure. She Bu has a thriving Arabic community and therefore awesome cafes, restaurants, grocers and textile shops, as well as a decentish street market. It isn't infested with the nasty Tescos that have taken over basically every largish corner shop in our neck of the woods. But it's further out of the city, the roads are busier, the transport is marginally less convenient, it's a giant Australian stereotype, and it's slightly lacking in an Indefinable Something. Current plan is to keep seeing what we can find around here, and if not, bite the She Bu bullet - or maybe do something REALLY CRAZY, like go north or south (NB: NOT east).

For the record: Ravenscourt Park is very pretty.

On Sunday we indulged in what is fast becoming a favourite lazy day activity at least of mine: a brief trip to the Vic and Albert Museum, lunch at a cheap and nice Chinese diner, and a leisurely stroll through Kensington Palace Gardens and home. Lovely, esp. since on Sunday we got to witness the sight of two whippets chasing each other at full speed. They do not just look like itty greyhounds, apparently; they can back it up.

So anyway, all in all it was a low-key but nicely western experience of a weekend.

From the Accidental Housewife files for the benefit of my own personal recollection of Really Damned Good Tacos:
Tasty Kidney Beans
Fry onion until brown, add 1 teaspoon cumin, toast.
Add 2 ladles of cooked kidney beans (cook with one onion and dash cumin), juice half lime, half teaspoon marigold stock powder, quite a lot of fresh coriander.

Cooked salsa
Fry one capsicum, 2 spring onions; add 4 slices jalapeno, half teaspoon oregano, 1/3 tin tomatoes, cook down.

How is everyone out there, anyway?