Thursday, August 31, 2006


So it’s taken a while, but I finally feel like I "properly" got out of London over the weekend. Last weekend was a long weekend here, so we thought we'd make the most of it and do a bit of traveling around. On the Saturday we caught the train out to a couple of friends' housewarming party in Reading, which is about a half hour train ride from London, following the Thames River west. It's also the location for the Reading Music Festival (funnily enough), which happened to be on this very long weekend. Although we didn’t go with the intention of going to the festival (it was sold out), I secretly had all these images in my head of us standing just outside the gates grooving away to the tunes of the bands playing, while enjoying some amazingly good vantage point of the bands which was afforded by a small hill just outside the confines of the festival. Of course, nothing like that happened, and the most I heard of the event was what we saw on TV while we were in a pub, and the occasional distant roar of the crowd from our friend's place. That said, the house party was fun, and really, when you think about it, what has a festival got that Dance Dance Revolution doesn’t have?

The next day Margie and I headed off for Oxford by bike (which we'd brought with us on the train to Reading.) Oxford is a distance of 43.6 miles from reading (according to Google Maps which estimates the distance by the fairly direct car route, not the all over the place, "follow the path next to the Thames - oh look the path's taken us away from the Thames then disappeared where are we?" route. That said, we were very prepared for the journey and had everything we could possibly need: Bags, clothes, food, water, bikes, first aid kits, bike tools, and even two spare inner tubes. Everything one would think to take on a journey such as this, except for that perhaps most obvious of items - a map. And while I'd like to say that this was at least because we forgot to take one, it wasn't. It was because we thought we wouldn’t need one. And for the most part this theory worked pretty well for us. We followed the Thames along, and went in roughly the right direction, stopping to ask for directions every now and then. It was only in the late afternoon when we stopped in the middle of nowhere to ask a parked car driven by a lost Italian couple who couldn’t speak any English for directions (I know what you're thinking - good choice) and looked at their map and estimated that we were only about half way there that we started to get a little concerned as we probably only had about 2 hours of sunlight left. The next person I asked for directions to oxford looked at this said something like "you need to go back the way you came, get on the main road, then it’s about 30 miles." Then he looked at the sun, looked at his watch, and looked at me with an expression that said "good luck you foolish, foolish man." Fortunately, at this very same time, Margie was asking a passing cyclist named Robert who said it was only about six miles, he was going that way too, and yes he'd be delighted to show us the way. The only way to best describe Robert would be as a middle aged cross between Tom Bombadil and Richard Branson, with the personality of the former and the face of the later, dressed in your granddad’s clothes. He was riding a bike a London bike thief wouldn't have given a second look, but was able to hammer along at a pace that made one embarrassed to have ever jumped to such hasty conclusions about it. (He later reveled to us that he had, in the past, ridden from the top to bottom of England in just over a week.) Anyway, after stopping in at Robert's place along the way to check for the location of our hotel on a map we were off again, and Robert was actually kind enough to ride us all the way to our hotel. I shudder to think how long it would have taken us to get there without him leading the way, if we actually would have ever made it there at all. Thank you, Tom Bombadil.

We went and checked out Oxford at night, and as our hotel was a couple of kilometers out of town we took the taxi in. We were heading in towards Oxford castle and the old Oxford jail which has now been redone into a really fancy hotel and Steve, our taxi driver, was telling us all about how great a job they'd done on the jail. Then he asked me if I'd ever been in jail. I think my surprise at this leap outside the normal "Busy night?" "Yep" passenger- taxi driver banter must have shown on my face because he quickly explained that he didn’t mean anything by it, but that he himself had been in jail for 3 months 15 years ago in the very jail we were going to go see. He even pointed out his room to us as he dropped us off. I think the stereotype that all English people are reserved is now one I can safely cross off my list as inaccurate.

The next day we rode and walked around town a bit, not having any particular destination but just investigating what we stumbled across. One of the first things we checked out was the old Norman Castle. Margie describes it as full of history and very interesting, however I like to think I describe it more accurately as a rip off, and just a big mound of dirt.

Oxford’s Norman Castle - No, not the one on the left, the mound of dirt of the right

Having paid (admittedly only a pound) to get into the castle I was disappointed to learn upon reaching the top of the mound that I had not actually paid to go into a castle, I had in fact, just paid to walk to the top of a ten metre high pile of dirt. And as if to rub this fact in, at the top of the mound there was actually a door going into the mound which may very well have lead to something interesting. I will however never know, as the door was locked. I guess a pile of dirt is the best tourist attraction you can hope to get for a pound over here.

What could have been

That day we also went for a punt on the river. Personally I found the whole thing very fun. I'm sorry to say though that the whole thing didn’t really seem to live up to what Margie was expecting. While I'm pretty sure Margie was hoping I would be able to expertly punt the boat around the river, ideally while wearing a straw hat and blazer, what she was lumped with was me piloting the boat around in circles; then in zig zags bouncing off the sides of the river; then in something approximating a sine wave; and finally, just as our hour in the boat was up, in something that approximated a straight line. Certainly not the romantic experience one might have visualised. We have both agreed that had that been our first date, one of us would have probably bailed out halfway through and swam for the shore. By the end of it all we thought it best to hire a peddle boat for another hour and paddle around soaking up the soothing effect peddle boats mysteriously exert on Margie in order to erase the traumatic so-called near-death punting experience from her immediate memory. Personally, given the choice between the two again I'd go for punting.

“Quiet or I’ll ram this baby into a tree” - Picturesque, but not recommended for first dates

By the end of the long weekend we were both thoroughly pooped. We caught the train back to London, and on the short ride home from the station we got a traditional London welcome back from the city: It rained on us and Margie had youths shout abuse at her for having the audacity to ride through an intersection where she had right of way. Ah London - it’s good to be back.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

A brief tale of Londoners being quintessentially London to each other

Last night I was riding my bike along and stopped at some traffic lights which were experiencing reasonably heavy traffic. On the pavement were two girls, maybe 10 years old, mucking around on a billycart. One of the girls was on the billy cart, which was starting to roll backwards so that the rear wheels of cart were going onto the road. The other girl was standing up holding on to the reigns of the cart, doing that delightful thing people do for shits and giggles some times– pretending they are going to allow friends to die in heavy traffic. The girl on the cart was obviously pretty concerned by the whole affair, but really it was just kids being kids.

Enter 20 something year old male, walking past, typing a message into his mobile phone who offers the following helpful advice to the girl in the cart:

"Wha' the fuck are you thinkin'?"

Inspired by said helpful advice girl in billycart's look of total fear disappears momentarily and is replaced with look of scorn and hatred and responds:


Following which the look of fear returns as she goes back to convincing her friend not to kill her.

Ah… London.

Monday, August 14, 2006

More photos on Flickr

It's a gradual project, but I'm slowly putting up some of our photos on Flickr. This time some London photos and a couple more wedding shots.

Happy birthday, Tor!

Now you're 27 and the clock's ticking I'm expecting lots of bambinos to play with :) Talk of rings and houses, I can see it coming... Happy birthday!

Sunday, August 13, 2006

My political beliefs embodied in a very tall man with dreadlocks

Those of you who know me well might well be surprised I haven't used this blog as a soap box to vent my political views. I've tried very hard not to. And I'm going to continue to try very hard not to, right after I say this.

Over the last decade that man has done many things I've wholeheartedly disagreed with. He has an uncanny ability to make the unthinkable sound reasonable. He has time and time again introduced and had passed legislation I find morally repugnant and the support he has found to do so surprises and disappoints me. I've been following closely the debate about the current immigration bill and was overjoyed to see some members voting with their conscience and devastated to see that the bill was passed on to the Senate. It is due to be voted on in the next couple of days. I wonder whether events like this will occur to people as they vote at the next election; whether we will return to a system that believes in debate, conscience and accountability and not in absolute power.

I have to believe we elect politicians who embody our beliefs. I have to believe as a nation we are better than this.

In the midst of this we went to see Xavier Rudd and Michael Franti and Spearhead last night. It was amazing. The beauty and 'personalness' of Xavier Rudd's music and the strength and 'empoweringness' of Michael Franti's. He stood 6 foot something on stage with very long dreadlocks and said he believed we should exhaust every possible means of dialogue and diplomacy before we even consider brute force. Power to the peaceful; love to the hateful. And the crowd went wild.

My beliefs are embodied in a man with very long dreadlocks.

Monday, August 07, 2006


Thursday was a very long work day for me, and I'd like to be able to blame everything on that, but really the two things are not related.

Thursday morning I woke up a bit early and thought I'd head into work earlier than usual. I knew it would be a long day and thought I may as well get started. And there would be the added bonus of riding through less crazy London traffic. So, feeling very organised I got ready, packed my bag and hopped on my bike. I got to work in record time to an almost empty changing room and was feeling pretty chuffed with myself when I realised I had forgotten my skirt. And I had no credit on my phone to call Vaughn to come fix the situation for me. I was heard to exclaim loudly 'Oh, no!' A very kind girl lent me her phone, but of course things weren't going to be that easy and Vaughn wasn't answering.

On Friday after work when I went to get changed before riding home someone in the changing room turned to me and said 'hey, are you the girl who forgot her skirt yesterday?' Yep, I'm famous.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Surprisingly yummy soup

I looked in the mirror today and realised that if I keep taking advantage of the subsidised restaurant at work in the way that I have been for the last few weeks I'll be the size of a house in no time. So I made myself a promise: I won't have pudding every day. And maybe I'll stick to the soup for a while. But the rest is just so yummy. Today I had seared tuna steak with avocado salsa for mains and vanilla panna cotta for pudding. Yum.

But the thing that prompted this post is this: every now and then the restaurant has a special guest or event and last week it was fruit soup by the head chef. There were two different kinds - peach and strawberry. One of my favourite things about the UK so far has been the berries (actually, the food generally, as surprising as that sounds) so I opted for the strawberry soup, but I also had a taster of the peach soup. They were both unimaginably delicious, though obviously I think you should all try. The berry one had lots of fresh berries in with the soup, and it was the most amazing colour. Well, berry coloured, really. And the peach one had champagne and spices and cream and it wasn't as pretty but it was very, very yum.

And best of all, the kind man gave me his recipe! I won't post it here, but if you're interested I can email it to you.