Thursday 18 December 2008

Olympic Silliness

Went to a meeting today with the 'Five Host Boroughs' organization, out in Stratford (the land that style forgot). They have this huge mapping request for all sorts of Olympic related hoohah, and, apparently, Hackney has a good name, so they want us to do their mapping. Sounds interesting--but what was most interesting was watching their great-but-vague-ideas and partnerships-are-fabulous schpiel run up against Ewa's need for firm plans, deadlines, lists, etc. I just sat back and watched them squirm while she peppered them with questions about project plans (eh?), budget options, la la la. I guess that's why she's manager--she gets to think about all the yucky bits and I get to sit back and watch the ensuing terror and pandemonium.

So, the Olympics are going to be held out in Stratford (,-0.000981432&bd=useful_information&loc=GB:51.5402:-0.00098:14stratford,%20e15Stratford,%20London,%20England,%20E15%204), which truly is a horrendous place full of tower block council estates, one-way highways, and all the general 1950s and 1960s horribleness this country was able to create (and that's a lot). The Olympics folks are planning to 'regenerate' the place, and to leave a 'lasting legacy'. Yeah, right. First step: knock it all down and start again! True, they did manage regeneration in Barcelona, but the Spaniards are better at thinking of big-picture type things than are the English, who have apparently never seen a problem they couldn't dissect until it becomes unsolvable. I took mean and sadistic pleasure in asking them about links between physical and social regeneration (they are really only interested in the physical, which is a big part of the problem--one doesn't necessarily lead to the other). Anyway, it is all very nice, in theory, but I still really wonder how this country is going to manage to turn the biggest shithole in London into something that people will want to visit, and a place people will want to live. Miracles do happen though...

Not much else today really--I woke up at 655 because Robin was bounding up and down the hallway like some sort of crazed rodent (he had to catch a train), so I've been a zombie all day, and the Christmas exodus seems to have begun in earnest in the office. The general level of productivity has been plummeting (and there wasn't much of it to begin with, this being government and all!). Hey ho...

Wednesday 17 December 2008

Light bright, light bright...

Well, I got my gro-lite today and have it set up behind my computer screens so that I can look into the (very bright!) bulb for 2 or so hours per day. The thing is huge--the width of an entire large computer screen, and has been, not surprisingly, the source of some merriment in the office. We shall see, I suppose, if it sparkles up my mood in dark months. If nothing else, it makes it so I get to see cool designs (it's supposed to be positioned so that I get direct light in my eyes). The light consists of this wacky flourescent bulb - 4 in 1, that gives off what seems like a very sun-like spectrum. I'm thinking perhaps I should grow pot at my desk now or something. I'm sure no one would suspect anything ('It's a Japanese maple - really!') and I could use it to supplement my meager public sector income. They encourage this sort of thing in government, I think (or maybe I've just looked into the light for too long?). Hmm.

Seen on may in this morning... A break in the water main, with a jet of water shooting up twenty or so feet, and a couple of guys on a scaffold next door, not paying any attention. In fact, it didn't really seem like anyone was paying any special attention. Reminds me of a time when I was at a restaurant in New York. At one point, part of the (false) ceiling collapsed, as water from the apartment above had pooled. There was a minor amount of kerfuffle and general worry, but then, when people figured out that the building wasn't going to fall down, they continued with their meals, with that particular portion of the restaurant cordoned off. Ya gotta love New Yorkers...

Oh, I printed out a map of the National Cycle Network, and have been drooling over it for much of the afternoon--thinking of all the 3 or 4 day long rides I could do next summer. It still looks like it's going to be just me doing these rides. I'd really like to do a Germany/Switzerland ride as well, but I'm a little weenie about cycling for several days on my own in a non-English speaking country. I could, however, quit being a weenie and just do it. It's not like I'm talking about Cambodia or something... Hmm.

Tuesday 16 December 2008

Tinseltits takes tannenbaum...

For the first time since we've come to London, we actually have a Christmas tree. And, I have to say, it is, most definitely, the gayest Christmas tree in Fairyland. Robin, being the native born Brit that he is, had a supply of ornaments and lights. So, we thought, how nice would it be to have a tree? Apparently though, Robin felt it necessary to rebel against the disorganized trees of his youth by ensuring that all ornaments and lights are color coordinated (shades of gold and clear). It is, indeed, a lovely fir tree with lovely, very organized ornaments and such, but I feel a little bit like Niles escaped the TV to decorate our tree, and I want to run out to the supermarket to purchase some Christmas schlock to liven it up a bit. The things one gets used to living in a household of queens.

Speaking of... Robin (again), decided to download some of the Olympic games from one of his sundry (legal, of course! :-) sites. He downloaded about fifteen files, most of them men's gymnastics (wonder why...?) and discovered, to his utter horror and our utter amusement, that all but two of them are made up of really cheesy straight porn. Robin had to turn it off as soon as he saw the flesh colored tones, lest his eyeballs fall from their sockets with the filth of it all, but David and managed to get him to watch a few minutes, alternively giggling, saying 'eeeiuww', or 'I didn't know you could do that with a(n)... (?)'. So, it was a fun night for all, followed by several episodes of Voyager, and Frasier to cap it off.

Seen this morning on the road: A 10 or 15 year old minibus, rusting a bit around the edges, reading 'Dan's Luxury Tours'. Yeah.

And I decided to splurge and buy a SAD desk lamp (£129!!!) with the dim home that perhaps its sunny brightness will help lift my winter blahs and cause me to eat less chocolate. My boss thinks this is quite amusing, and said that from now on, if I'm grumpy, he will just tell me to go stand by my light. ('Stay away from the light, Carol Anne!'). David also wants to get one, but as he works in an open plan office with pretty desks (as opposed to my cluttered, generally disasterous council office), he has to get a doctor's note, as it could possibly constitute a 'health and safety' hazard. (I suppose the various pinheads he works with might be tempted to look into it... Perhaps they will require people sitting within 50m to wear protective eyewear. Of course, that kind of defeats the purpose).

And I should get back to 'working'...

Friday 12 December 2008

Signs of the times...

So, I walked past the usually sedate and empty Woolworth's yesterday at lunch, and the place is mobbed--people lining up down the block to get in, with the store operating a one-in, one-out policy. The cause of the excitement? Woolie's bankruptcy and their closing-down sale. So, the same crap that no one would touch with a barge-pole just a day ago (hence the bankruptcy), is suddenly a must-have once the price drops--and this was repeated all over the country. I think we see what Woolworth's selling strategy should have been... People never cease to amaze me with their silliness.

Today, the office was supposed to have a sort of international lunch type thingie, where people brought in food from their own countries, but, as with most such things, it kind of fell flat. I, however, brought in a box of Triscuits (the world's most expensive Triscuits, I might add, at £5.35), as well as some spreadable cheese and salami. They were a big hit. I think Nabisco is doing itself a disfavor by not selling them here, based on the reaction in this office (though I'm not so sure that Nabisco actually exists in the UK).

I took the train in this morning. We're having after-work drinks, and, being so close to Christmas, the streets are going to be full of drunk dumbasses tonight (they are even operating drunk field hospitals in the train stations...). I thought perhaps it might be a better idea to plonk my butt on the train. My 45 minute commute suddenly became 75 minutes -- train, walk, tube, walk, train, walk. Waited for the third tube train to come, as the first two were too full, then physically shoved my way in (the British are not very good at this, but I'm not British). Every time I have to take public transportation to work (which, fortunately, is not that often - touch wood), I think, 'Why do people do this?'. There is nothing quite so off-putting in the morning, when, barely awake, I get to have my nose shoved into some complete stranger's armpit while trying to avoid eye contact with the creepy weirdo on the other side of the train and trying to listen to the garbled announcement of why the train is going to be delayed and we are sorry for any inconvenience this may cause. I'd much rather be out on my bicycle, being hosed off with grime from passing trucks any day. At least that way I have total control over where I go, how fast I go, etc. Oddly, I feel like a bike, in town, at least, actually gives a lot more freedom than a car--I don't have to worry about parking, insurance, fuel (well, except food), closed roads - nothing. I just go. It never ceases to surprise me the number of people who insist on driving into central London. The few times I did that, I needed several packages of antacids to help me through the experience.


I've also been thinking a lot lately about the process of becoming familiar with a place - of it becoming home. It's funny - I barely remember my first time visiting London, or the places I went. This isn't true of places I just visit, where I tend to remember them in great detail. I suppose it is because my initial, very localalized impressions, over time give way to more a picture of the city as a whole, of the tiny little daily routines within. London has become less a place, standing on its own, then an element, or, rather elements weaved into my day to day life. It has become the streets, the smells, the supermarket, the people I know, the daily gripes of inefficiency, or the occasional slight smugness that I get to live somewhere 'cool'. I never thought I would think of a big, messy city in a foreign country as home, but I suppose it has become that - so much so that I'm trying to get permission to stay here on a permanent basis. I guess it's a good thing...

Wednesday 10 December 2008

The Road to Perdition

Several amusing moments in the last few days on my bike... Two days ago, I saw a guy carrying a TV on the back of his bike (granted, he was walking and pushing the bike, but still quite impressive, I thought). Last night, I discovered that London road grit does, in fact, contain a good deal of salt amongst all the various other sharp and pointy rock-like things when I had the privilege of being sprayed by the gritting truck on my way home. And this morning I was nearly run over by an idiot cop who decided that, seeing as how he was the cop and didn't have the right of way, he'd just pull his big fat cop van right out in front of me (after seeing me), thus making me brake as hard as I could. I shouted at him and gave him the birdie (really wanted him to get out of the van b/c I wanted to give him a full piece of my mind, though that probably wasn't wise). Anyway, he drove off. How dull.

Half the office is out sick, and the other half turned up today with a hangover. Last night was the office Christmas dinner at some awful-sounding Brazilian themed restaurant. I managed to avoid. Apparently, the most exciting moment of the evening was realizing that one of the 'female' salsa dancers was, in fact, a drag queen. Um, duh? Maybe I've been hanging out in gay circles for too long...

Not much to write today--I actually did work. Scary...

Monday 8 December 2008

Disease and pestilence

Well, it must be winter, because I feel like I've come to work in some sort of plague-house. Coughing and hacking, nose blowing, red eyes, excessive soup consumption. I'm trying to think healthy thoughts and eat lots of vitamin C.

Spent the day working on a colorable kids-map of the London Olympics venues. Have to say, I never thought I'd be making colorable maps, but there ya go. I actually worked most of the day today, rather than checking the news and weather in 56 different countries--repeatedly, just in case they got more interesting. Had my usual lunchtime foray to Tesco to marvel at the general level of weirdness that is Hackney at lunchtime. (At least Hackney is full of both horrible and weird people, whereas Enfield was just generally full of horrible people--I'm moving up in life, I suppose).

Had a lovely and non-eventful weekend. Saturday, the most exciting things I did involved going to the supermarket, going for a coffee, and going for a run. Oh--we also watched Dark Knight, which I really enjoyed. Have to admit that I particularly enjoyed the joker blowing up the hospital--for one because it was just so ridiculously over the top, but also because the Joker seems to run like Robin--hands out to the side, vaguely penguin-like. Oh, and a freaky thing happened... David and I always seem to share thoughts, so I'm pretty used to that, but this weekend, while cooking dinner, I started to hum 'Feed the Birds'--from Mary Poppins (freaky on it's own...)--totally out of the blue. Apparently, Robin had been humming that song earlier in the day, on the other side of the city. Neither one of us actually heard the song, nor hummed it while the other was around. Strange things are afoot at the Circle K when multiple members of a household start humming that song. Another friend suggested that perhaps the USAF should strafe the neighborhood before it gets ouf of hand and takes over South London. Probably a prudent idea.

I went for a bike ride yesterday around London. I just headed off towards the southwest and made as many turns as I possibly could, to see what little dinky streets I might end up on. I think those are my fave types of rides--getting completely lost and then having to work at unlosting myself (that is a word, I'm sure).

Oh, and I subjected Robin to The News from Lake Wobegon. He actually laughed several times, though protesting that he couldn't understand the point of such non-directed story-telling. Silly boy he is...

And I'm off (like a prom dress...). :-)

Thursday 4 December 2008

A New Hatching

So, I've finally figured out the lifecycle, I think, of terminally stupid people. Every time it rains here (which is quite often--go figure), there seem to appear quite a number of slugs and snails crawling around on the sidewalks. Quite a number of them get mushed or eaten by birds, but a number of them, I am convinced, survive. I've never quite understood where they go, however, as they seem to disappear usually within a few hours. This morning though, while avoiding some nice woman in a hatchback in a roundabout (who was the happy recipient of some of my better-driving advice), I finally made the connection. Our slimy mollusk friends are sliming, at breakneck speed (they don't have spines, so it doesn't take much to be breakneck) towards the nearest car, so that they may take their rightful place behind the steering wheel to cause havoc on London's rain-slicked roads. See, it never made sense that in this city, where it rains about 395 days per year, the slightest hint of moisture on the road could cause total and utter gridlock and generally ridiculous behaviour, but it does follow, logically speaking, if the offending drivers are, in fact, the adult phases of slugs and snails. Maybe tomorrow I will figure out why the city falls over completely if there is even the slightest suggestion of snow.

Speaking of snow... while the rest of the country had a 'severe blizzard' with at least several inches of snow, London had a snowflake. Literally. And even this was enough to screw up traffic. Apparently, a traffic-lane sized Christmas decoration snowflake fell into the street in Kensington and wrecked the morning commute--thus proving, once again, that London can't cope with snow.

Wednesday 3 December 2008

Sleep is a good thing

Which is why I seem to avoid it at all costs. It's much more fun, I find, dragging my sorry, zombified ass around work pretending like I'm actually here and giving a crap about what anyone is saying. Every night it's the same story--I'll get home at a sensible time, not fart around on the Internet, get to bed, get to sleep, sleep 8 hours, and feel refreshed and alert in the morning--ready to face the world. Yeah, right. I remember sometime not that many years ago. Dad was talking about getting up at the crap of dawn so he could take the ferry over to Seattle and how glorious it was to see the sun rise. I made some snotnosed comment about how, if I got up and saw the sun in the sky, I was content that there was going to be another day, and I really didn't need to get up extra early to make sure. I'm a romantic at heart, I am. One of the good things about England in the winter (I use the term 'good' in its loosest possible sense) is that dawn happens usually sometime on a Thursday afternoon, unless it gets delayed in traffic, so I can usually be assured of not missing it.

And Steve is once again hacking up a lung behind me. I wonder if anyone would notice if he disappeared? Hmm... Must bring in Ipod with music to drown him out (since drowing itself is generally frowned upon). I'm going to join the Atari generation! :-)

Oh--funny story about the sorts of things one can end up doing when not paying attention ('one', in this case, being 'me'). I usually change from my cyclewear to work clothing in the shared floor toilet. I used to change in the cubicles, but decided that was a bit nasty and have taken to just changing out in the middle of the open floor. Usually, I do this in bits, thus preserving some minor sense of modesty (ha). Today, however, I was daydreaming (or, rather, very tired), and suddenly realized that I was standing in the middle of the council toilet with no clothing on whatsoever. Luckily, no one walked in--but that would have been slightly embarrassing... And they say that growing up next to a bunch of nudies isn't a corrupting influence!


Well, I just got an appointment for David and me to do our Indefinite Leave application at the Home Office on 14th Jan. I was just about to pee myself on the phone just talking to the Home Office--really not looking forward to that appointment--it's very scary presenting one's entire life to someone and being asked to be allowed to stay. Sigh.

Tuesday 2 December 2008

Hack hack

I'm feeling grumbly and whiney this afternoon. The LLPG manager has been spending the past few days hacking up a lung. Really sounds like he's going to start spewing blood across the room, or fall on the floor or something. Apparently, he's been doing this for ages, being a smoker. I have to say, I find smokers really selfish. I really don't give a crap what people get up to on their own, but it irritates the hell out of me when they start imposing it on others. Why should I have to listen to him slowly dying behind me because of some stupid habit? Argh! Maybe I'm just heartless and cruel. Still though, I don't think I particularly inflict any of my bad habits on others. Maybe I do, and I'm just a horrid old hypocrite. Anyway, rant over.

In cycling news, I had a bit of an epiphany... There is a pretty serious lack of Jesus-fish bumper sticker drivers in England, given the general dearth of car ornamentation (save for the occasional anti-Bush sticker). You would think this might make the roads safer, what with the lack of Gods as copilots and such silliness. But no, I finally got it this morning, while dodging yet another minicab driven by some non-English speaking pinhead that, in fact, the hackney-cab licence in the window is the British equivalent of the fish. God, or perhaps Allah, help this poor moron through the intersection without causing a major pileup!

Actually, one of the nice things about cycling every day (assuming one manages to avoid the Jesus-fish drivers, or local equivalent) is the time to ponder the small details of the road--those things one might miss while barrelling along in the car, or, more likely, sitting in endless traffic. Important thoughts like, 'My God there are a lot of brick buildings. How do they make all those buildings and not turn the entire countryside into a quarry?', or 'Why do all British roads have the white lines in the middle?' It makes it terribly difficult sometimes to tell the difference between 1 and 2 way streets. Yeah, I seem to have lots of these terribly important thoughts while cycling--very similar to thoughts I have at the gym or while shower. My only assumption is that perhaps the bumps on the road knock them loose, or perhaps I'm inhaling too much car exhaust. I shall never know--though I might spend a lot of time thinking about it.

David's dad is in the hospital. He had a fall and doesn't seem to be able to walk properly. The guy is morbidly obese and has been a smoker and a drinker for years and years. I never know quite what to feel in such situations, to be honest. I feel terrible for David, though he's not really talked to his dad for years. This must be a huge stress on him, and I want to be there for him in any way possible, and hope for the best. But there is the part of me that thinks--I guess, in a similar vein to how I think about smoker guy behind me, that his dad has taken terrible care of himself for many years, and what did he expect would happen? It makes me feel like an uncharitable shit to think this, but honestly, I can't see any other likely outcome for how he has been living his life (keeping in mind that I've done plenty of completely retarded things of my own). Sigh.

Ooh, complete thought change (surprise!). I just had a phone call from this complete ditz in planning to ask me about doing a map for her. She's very nice, but a bit like talking to, well, I suppose talking to the landlady from Spaced (or Dorey the fish, in Finding Nemo). One idea leads to another, to another, to another, oh, I like blue! I hung up the phone and then thought, 'Hmm, what was it that I'm actually supposed to do for her? I'm not so sure'. Usually, in such instances, I encourage them to email a request, out of the usually vain hope that they organise their thoughts slightly.

Ah, local government. What a splendid, and generally clueless hydra you are!

Monday 1 December 2008

Commuting Squirrels

So, I had a highly scientific and verifiable thought this morning while cycling through the City on the way to work. Women pedestrians and squirrels exhibit some similar behaviour when crossing the street. Both have a tendency to dart into the middle of the road, realise suddenly that there are fast moving objects hurtling toward their general direction, then engage in this little dance... "Backwards, forwards, backwards, forwards, freeze! " Squirrels, however, don't tend to carry coffee cups, which seems to add an extra distractional element to the dance. I would be surprised if there weren't scientific papers written on this very subject...

In other news, I did my level best to vanquish the Thanksgiving monster on Saturday night at Adrian's (by eating it, of course). My non-Mrs Smith's pumpkin pie turned out to be a huge hit, which it damn well should have been, at £18. (Though, to be fair, in the grand scheme of things (if one imagines that US currency somehow counts for the grand scheme of things), it did get cheaper. Last year, said pumpkin pie was retailing at $36, whereas this year, with the collapse of the pound, it cost me 'only' $27). I still think the Triscuits at £5.25 will go down as the most outrageously overpriced food item I've ever bought, however!

Surreal moment from the party: I had a lovely conversation about the merits of different types of pie crusts (flaky vs not, shortbread vs graham cracker), as well as the types of spices used in pumpkin pie with a couple of queer punks, decked out in (admittedly fairly subtle) punkwear, including matching chains and padlocks (they were a couple).

Anyway, not much else exciting at the moment, and it seems I might have to shuffle some paper here...

Oh, I would like to add, however, that with the addition of the third thermostat, a small part of the air conditioning war has been settled. Now it's just me vs. my particular part of the office, as I try to crank the temperature down, and the wonderweenies with whom I work try to crank it up. Have to say though that the cooling power of the air conditioning is nearly balanced by the radiators--council efficiency at its finest. And I probably shoot myself in the foot anyway by encouraging Steve, the useless manager of the LLPG team, to hack away, given that he has a draft running down his terribly delicate back. Ah the wonder of local government office politics!