Thursday, January 31, 2008

A Day Out In London: A Narrative By Jason Mical

Liz Ready
Time: 12:40 PM
Location: Holloway Road

"Woke up, got out of bed
Dragged a comb across my head
Found my way downstairs and drank a cup
And looking up, i noticed i was late
Found my coat and grabbed my hat
Made the bus in seconds flat"

Holloway Road
Holloway Road
Note: we did not take a bus. But it is time for a day on the town, a perfect way to spend a Sunday afternoon walking around our new home town. Holloway Road stretches south towards London. Did you know that Holloway Road goes all the way to Scotland as the A1? It's true, there are signs for "The North" everywhere. It's a very vague term to see on a sign.

It's a 10 minute walk from our flat to the Holloway Road tube station and we're taking it slow, joking and laughing. The Nag's Head shopping center is across the street, home of the Morrisons where we buy most of our groceries.

Clock on the Nag's Head
Time to get a move on, we've only got a few hours! The usual hubbub on Holloway Road, a half-dozen languages - English, Arabic, French, Italian, etc. - all around us and people of every size, color and shape. The newspaper calls some of them chavs and others dangerous but I realize more and more it's just the latest iteration of classism.

Islington Scout Centre
The Scout Center is a bit of a conundrum since you can't do a lot of camping here and there's always trash piled outside (aren't Scouts clean here?) but as an Eagle scout I have to salute them for at least trying. The good old three-finger Scout salute in fact.

Speaking of, "we like to hike along, hike along, light-heart and free... we like a rowdy song, rowdy song, jolly good bunch of Scouts are we.." [repeat 10x]

Holloway Road Tube Station
Then it's down into the mirror city, the upside-down city of the Tube. The dirt on the sign is nothing compared to what lurks in the tunnels but believe it or not it all seems cleaner than it was the last time I was here. At least I'm not blowing as much black snot out of my nose as I used to.

That's a good thing right?

The Tube is like, well, many things. That's part of its beauty: it's a metaphor for some many things, and so many things are a metaphor for it. Aside from London itself, there are very few things that can inspire such networks of thought.

Nonexistent Emergency Button
It's hard to charge a fine for something when the thing you'll be fined for using is broken / gone / nonexistent, but that won't stop them from trying I guess. I wonder how much someone got paid to create the placard, because the 'button' certainly looks to be permanently gone.

The idea of a key emergency button seems like it defeats the purpose of said button, eh? If the only one who can use it needs a key... oh fuck it, never mind.

Not So Helpful Help Point
Speaking of useless as tits on a bull, I don't think I've ever seen this so-called 'help station' in service. I guess I'm glad I've never needed help in the Holloway Road tube station because I'd have to run around and find someone first.

But we're not here for help, not today. We're here to keep going, deeper into the rabbit-hole of the Underground.

I Do
Those crazy Europeans, free from Puritanical views on sex. Actually this ad is kind of uncommon and it was only up for about a week; it's been replaced now by an ad for the new Mary J. Blige album, but I'd actually rather have this suggestive and admittedly effective piece of advertising up there anyway. You can kind of see how the walls of the tube station curve here, giving the Tube its nickname.

It's actually called the Underground, which is equally appropriate. No one officially calls it the Tube but they might as well, kind of like the way people in New York refer to New Jersey as "shit."

Picadilly Sign
Sign for Line
Urban Dictionary seyz:

whippin picadilly
d: having nothing to do, wasting time

Guy: "Hey man, what's up?"
Other guy: "Nothing, just whippin' picadilly."

I can only imagine they're referring to the wait time on the Picadilly line from about 8:15 - 8:45 am. On Sundays, there's no wait so we waltz right on the train and continue.

Motion / No Motion
Speed is a relative thing when you're on the Tube. When the black walls are six inches from the window, it looks like you're flying by even though when they suddenly drop away for a switch or something it looks like you're only going about 10 MPH.

Escalators are no different; it's all relative, I suppose. Still the Tube is typically faster than any other form of transport in London because it travels in a (generally) straight line from point to point and somehow the hodgepodge of competing railroads from the 1800s actually managed to make a layout that decently serves most of London.

Even after a quick change of lines it's still only 1:05, so about 20 minutes from when we left our flat and walked by the Nag's Head till when we're in central London. Bloomsbury to be exact.

Most literary types know Bloomsbury by the people who hung out here: Virginia Woolf, T.S. Eliot, and some other poor chumps who never became quite as famous. It's one of those quiet sections of London where you go to stroll around because there aren't a lot of tourists or other people to get in your way; at the very north end is the British Museum. At the south end is Chancery Lane.

Oyster Card
Oyster Card
This is an Oyster card. This is a newfangled invention so you don't have to buy paper tickets every time you want to ride the Tube. It carries a balance on it for single trips, or you can do what we did and buy monthlong or yearlong passes (at a discount.) It works by and RFID chip.

Conspiracy theorists and right-wing loonies are constantly shitting themselves about how the government can track where you are at any time because of these things. I find that exceptionally hard to believe because most times I have to lay mine on the reader for two or three seconds for it to pick up the signal. We're a little ways off from real-time people-tracking. That's what all those CCTV cameras are for, sillies!

I want to say a quick word about these griffins, not because of any familial relation but because the griffins are a symbol of London. A similar pair guard the south side of London Bridge, and this used to be one of the gates to the city which these fellows used to guard.

Oddly enough, Griffins used to be the symbol of the Iceni tribe, whose queen, Boudica, burned Londinium to the ground after the Romans abandoned it to her army. Griffins and London go way back.

Church of All Souls, Regent Street
A brief meander later and we're looking up Regent Street. Our destination: the Dover Castle, a pub near my office where I've eaten lunch a few times. We're out for their Sunday Roast, a traditional English dish eaten on Sunday consisting of Roast. But where Regent turns into Great Portland is this church, rebuilt several times, most recently after the Blitz. Even what's new looks old here.

Liz and Me in Front of the BBC
The Beeb
Speaking of, here's a pair of jokers outside the BBC office. The BBC is the UK's answer to... well, I'd say PBS but that would be insulting the BBC. It's entirely funded by taxpayers so there's no commercials, and it's channel 1 on every TV in the country instead of channel 50-something. And it actually has interesting content and cool shows, although their special effects are laughably bad most of the time.

Construction Site
Typically you don't get a good look inside construction sites because there are big fences to keep you out - mostly because there are a lot of dumbasses around who, when drunk, might think it's a good idea to go playing around in construction sites. Hell I've done that in my adult life and I wasn't even drunk. And the results were not pretty.

I learned after our walk that this is the location of the New Beeb - the BBC's new office building. Apparently the bottom floors of the building will be located somewhere in China because goddamn that's a big pit. I can't wait to see what it will look like when it's done.

Glove on a Spike
One Glove
There's kind of a lost-and-found thing going on here, but this glove looks really nice. So I made up this limmerick about it:

There once was a glove lost in London
Which smelled a bit like an onion
It sat on a spike
And said "this I like,"
"For I don't have to cover a bunion."

Needs some work huh?

Seth only recently introduced me to the Flashman novels by George MacDonald Fraser, who sadly died just a little while ago. Flashman is an anti-hero I can admire if not identify with: a coward who constantly shirks responsibility, sleeps with many women and betrays people.

Maybe admire isn't the right word.

I can however admire this statue, which looks like I kind of imagined Flashman to look. If he were made of Bronze.

The Dover Castle
And we arrived at the Dover Castle, which turned out to be closed. It's down the tiny Weymouth Mews, surrounded by houses that cost more than a million pounds. The irony is that they used to be servant's quarters (a "Mews" is the street where the carriage-houses were for the rich folk) and the pub's prices are really low compared with most of the rest of London. My local boozer in Holloway is more expensive.

BT Tower
So we set out in search of something else, which took us right by my office and the lovely views of this big phallic symbol. Its tall and yes, it looks like a big wiener. It's also covered with BT's mobile phone sending/receiving devices so I imagine working in it would be akin to frolicking around Chernobyl as far as the radiation exposure goes. Which is probably why none of the offices in there are occupied anymore.

It is definitely a noticeable part of London though, and it's a long way from the Isle of Dogs and the rest of London's really big buildings.

Sunday Roast
We eventually found another pub with an even cheaper roast so we went up, ordered some pints and noshed some, um, nosh. The roast was boiled beef and the gravy came from a can and the sprouts were overdone but otherwise it was OK. The good news is there was a really good cider on tap, which I'm starting to like as a good beer choice even if it is a little sweet.

Yorkshire Grey
The name of the place was the Yorkshire Grey, and I'd definitely go back again. It's one of those quintessential pubs: horrible wallpaper, strange photos or memorabilia on the wall, great beer on tap, food, a few people talking quietly. I like a pub where I don't have to ask my tablemates to repeat themselves.

I just wrote "tablemates" which is a pretty British sounding term. Crikey, I have to watch my language around here eh guvnur?

Who's Who at St. Marylebone
So a brief walk later - if you want to see the pictures go to my Flickr stream - and we're in Marylebone, near Regent's College, our old haunt. The churchyard for St. Marylebone (a bastardization of St. Mary le Bone, in case you're wondering) holds some awesome old graves which you don't realize you're standing on until it's too late because they're the sidewalk leading through the churchyard (actually a peace park, because that part of the church was destroyed during the Blitz.) It's awful small to read on the sign, but one of the great forebears of my craft is buried there which I didn't realize until I read the placard: Hoyle, of the Book of Games fame. He was buried here in 1769.

Sherlock Holmes
A little further along and we find this familiar fellow:

"His very person and appearance were such as to strike the most casual observer. In height he was rather over six feet,and so excessively lean that he seemed to be considerably taller. His eyes were sharp and piercing, save during those intervals of torpor to which I have alluded; and his thin, hawk-like nose gave his whole expression an air of alertness and decision. His chin, too, had the prominence and squareness which mark the man of determination. His hands were invariable blotted with ink and stained with chemicals, yet he was possessed of extraordinary delicacy of touch, as I frequently had occasion to observe when I watched him manipulating the fragile philosophical instruments."

And by now it's time to head home, a little tired but happy and satisfied at a great day out in London.

Like I said before, so many people compare London to so many things that it practically serves as a metaphor for everything at the same time. I will say this: it is very much a giant, collective organism more than the sum of its millions upon billions of parts. Say what you will about many cities, but there is no place like London anywhere else on Earth and I love living here.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

For Fuck's Sake (AKA VIP Relocation Sucks)

Liz gets a call today that there might be a problem with the stuff we shipped over, including my Xbox 360. The original quoted timeframe of "one month" has long since come and gone, but supposedly our stuff was supposed to be in Essex this week for delivery on Friday.

Except it isn't. They popped open the container with our stuff in it, and... our stuff wasn't there. Some stuff that was supposed to be in Germany was there, but not our stuff. It's not "lost," they just "don't know where it is."

I told Liz to tell them that when they find the box with my hiking boots in it that they can save themselves some time and put the boots up their own asses so I don't have to.

In case you're wondering, the name of the company is VIP Relocation. Or V.I.P. Relocation. VIP Relocation is based out of Los Angeles. VIP Relocation are now almost a month late and VIP Relocation have "misplaced" our stuff (not "lost" it.) And I wager when you Google search for VIP Relocation (that's VIP Relocation kids), this post will come up.

VIP Relocation. VIP Relocation. VIP Relocation. VIP Relocation. VIP Relocation.

Update: Carlo from VIP Relocation contacted me about this post (see the comments below.) He informed me VIP is under new management and that problems like this should be fixed. Since this happened a year ago, I'm willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The Mid-January Blues

Or is that middle to late January? I haven't updated a whole lot this month because I haven't really been out doing much - although we're planning a little trip this weekend so I should have a great batch of photos then. Last weekend I visited a coworker and his wife in Peterborough and we drove to Stamford, which was picturesque but we didn't really get into town until dusk so the photos turned out pretty bad or not at all. Before that, I was in San Francisco for Macworld manning Microsoft's Blogger Lounge for a couple of days, and now I'm back and deep in the grind here.

Elizabeth is slammed at her job because their giant conference is going down on February 12, so while she's in the home stretch on that she's working 12-14 hour days so our time to get out and see stuff has been relatively limited the last few weeks.

We've settled into a routine, which is odd considering I feel like I'm "traveling" instead of "living" here. I think the "living" part isn't going to come until the cats do. And our shit / my Xbox 360, which is still on a damn boat. It was supposed to be here on the 12th, now it won't be here until the 27th. Blargh. And a package my mother sent is stuck... somewhere. So it'll be fun trying to find that.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Last Night's Commute

Well my next post was going to be about the great time Elizabeth and I had last weekend at the British Museum but I haven't had time to write it up yet and last night's commute warrents a story all on its own. It was like The Odyssey packed into about an hour and a half. OK, that's a little hyperbolic, but it was my first encounter with riot police. What? Read on.

I had every intention of leaving my office at 5 yesterday afternoon, but a late meeting and the need to wrap up some very important work had me staying until around 6:20 or so. I take off and head to Great Portland Street Tube, which aside from being fuller than normal for 6:25 at night was just a typical commute. As I'm riding the H&S line to King's Cross, an announcement comes on at Euston Square that King's Cross is closed. Like, completley closed and the train won't stop. It rolls through King's Cross and I press my nose to the window and the platforms are completely deserted, there's a siren and a yellow strobe light going and an announcement on the loudspeaker that 'due to an emergency, the station is closed. Please proceed to the nearest exit.'

For those who aren't familiar, King's Cross is one of the busiest Underground stations, so for it to be closed during rush hour is really really strange. It's like Grand Central or Times Square stations in New York being closed. And it's creepy as fuck to look out onto a platform that's usually jammed with people and it's completely deserted except for a few pieces of trash blowing around.

So I go all the way to Liverpool Street, change to the Central Line and meet the Picadilly Line at Holburn. The train is packed, like my morning commute - usually it's not quite as bad in the evenings, especially later in the evenings. We roll north (through King's Cross) and on the way to Holloway Road (my station) they announce that it's closed too because of the Arsenal-Tottenham game.

I support the home team as much as the next North Londoner (or I will, once I learn all the player's names) but being disgorged in front of Arsenal stadium with thousands of drunk fans and a 20 minute walk to the supermarket isn't my idea of fun. There are cops everywhere, some of them dressed in riot gear, some on horses. The streets around the stadium are closed and people are milling around, cheering for the home team, eating kebobs and generally having fun. So it's nothing really more than a minor annoyance that I have to walk a little further than normal, and it's kind of fun being in the crowd.

I make my way to Holloway Road, turn right and run right into a line of police vans full of riot cops. The vans are three deep, and there's a squad of mounted cops behind them - flanking a group of about 200 people dressed in Tottenham colors. Apparently the rivalry is so great the opposing fans needed a police escort to the stadium. And I soon learned why.

The Tottenham crew were yelling about how shite Arsenal was, and the Arsenal fans on the sidewalk were letting the Tottenham fans know how shite Tottenham was. And I was in the middle of it - and by that I mean physically between the two parties, trying to make my way home. When you're abroad, you learn a few rules to keep yourself out of trouble: don't discuss politics, don't be a dick about being an American, and generally keep out of the middle of two groups that look as though they could erupt into violence. So I was a little uncomfortable at this point.

Then the garbage-throwing began, and not five feet from me a mounted cop inserts himself between a trash-chucking Arsenal supporter and the crowd of Tottenham fans. By insert, I mean he physically rode his horse right in front of the guy, giving him no choice but the back the fuck off because there's a giant goddamned animal in his way. Things died down after that (I think - I admit I didn't stick around any longer than I had to) and at that point the excitement in my commute was over. I stopped by the grocery store - mercifully empty (the express checkout only took 10 minutes, a new record) and finally made it back to the flat.

And that was my first encounter with football hooligans and riot police!