Showing posts with label london. Show all posts
Showing posts with label london. Show all posts

Thoughts on Six Weeks in Arizona

Tomorrow morning, we fly out of the fifth largest city in the US (Phoenix ) and head off to San Blas , Mexico via a circuitous route that takes us through Dallas, Texas . We've enjoyed being here, but we're both ready to move on from this lovely gated community on the edge of the desert.

I don't want to be too much of a hypocrite as we've enjoyed having a pool and spa in our backyard, a lovely big house and excessive air conditioning but this state has some whack policies. It doesn't want illegal immigrants, but it wants to be able to employ people for low wages - I can't help but wonder how many of the city's elite think their homes and pools were built so cheaply, or why they are able to pay the maid so little to clean the big house... I digress.

There are plenty of things I've loved about this place, and other things that have made me miss England just a little bit. Here's my list:

Better in Arizona
  • Sunshine - it's sunny pretty much every day here. My serotonin levels are through the roof!
  • In city hiking - you don't need to go outside of the city to enjoy beautiful hikes and see interesting wild life. 
  • Wild life - The only critters we saw in Islington were the occasional dog or cat. Arizona is filled with really unique wild life including snakes, Javelinas, lizards and more bunnies than I've ever seen in one place. The plants are also really beautiful and interesting and most of the desert has been in bloom since we arrived - beautiful. 
  • Sunsets - Because it is rarely cloudy, you can see them better here and there aren't a lot of tall buildings where we're staying to block the view. 
  • Dairy Queen - I've always been disappointed by the selection of ice cream in London. There are a few stands in central London but I've found these to be overpriced and generally poor quality; apart from those, it's ice cream sandwiches from news agents or nothing. The US has Dairy Queen, which is just as good as I remember it being. 
  • Service - Generally, service in restaurants and shops is better here. People are just friendlier and more helpful - they understand that being pleasant is part of their job. 
Better in London
  • Public transportation - I'm told that there is some kind of tram in central Phoenix and a few buses one can take. Out in Scottsdale, where we're staying, there is absolutely no public transportation to speak of - I have yet to even see a taxi out here. Just to go to the store for a treat is about a 20 minute drive. I really do miss the convenience of not needing a vehicle and London gets public transport so very, very right. 
  • Chocolate - The USA is the land of Hershey and, I'm sorry, but Hershey is not very good chocolate. Cadbury and other brands are also occasionally available, but you have to go looking for them. I miss Twirls and the range of other good news agent brand chocolate bars in London. 
  • City Centre - Phoenix is a city of sprawling suburbs and even in outlying communities, there isn't much evidence of a core. The result is a city that feels disconnected from itself and, apart from the political brouhaha, without much identity to tie its people together. Although London's center is very tourism-focused, there are so many lovely little neighbourhoods - great spots to meet, talk, play ... Phoenix doesn't have anything like this from what I can see (though I am going to Ignite Phoenix tonight, so maybe I'll be proven wrong).
  • Sustainable, cruelty-free food - Apart from the very expensive specialty markets, it is very hard to find free range anything in Phoenix. Even at Safeway, which is by no means cheap, we had to look very hard to finally find a brand of eggs from non-caged chickens. It's sad that you have to spend a fortune to be able to eat with some morality - eating cruelty free should not be a privilege for the wealthy. In the UK, free range options are more expensive than non-free range, but there are lots of options and the price isn't so high that it's prohibitive.
  • Diversity and cultural policy - Arizona's politics reminds me of what it might be like if the BNP actually held any power in the United Kingdom. It's scary. 
It's been a great experience and I'm so happy we've had the opportunity to spend these six weeks here. Thanks to those who made it possible (no idea if you read this, but you know who you are!).

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Portraits of Tina

During my last week in London I had an afternoon long girl date with the lovely Tina Basi. I am working quite a bit on my photography and she needed some images to use for various projects. We spent time at the Victoria and Albert, Natural History Museum (probably the best location for photos ever!) and Harrods. All of these spots are within walking distance of one another and offer free entry (well, Harrods could end up costing you the shirt off your back, but only if you let it). It was a cool day, but beautiful and bright, which is pretty spectacular by London standards.

I'm in Phoenix, Arizona until June 13th. If anyone out there is from this area and you have any photo project ideas/needs, please get in touch

PS: Tina's company is called Mehfil Enterprise. She does amazing work as a social ethnographer and believes in "serendipitous discovery". I think we could all use some of that.

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Old Street - Otherwise Known as my Birthday Weekend

Last weekend some of the boys from the Cardiff office came to London and, joined by Jackie, Dave and his lovely lady Jen, we went out on the town in celebration of my 32nd birthday. It was genuinely epic.

We started at our place with burgers and beer, followed by foosball at Bar Kick, bowling at Bloomsbury Bowl, karaoke at the most bizarre place in the world - Nico Nico in Marleybone. Then to Camden and The Word's End and Underworld.


No idea who these guys were, but they were pretty impressive.


 Somehow, despite being a bit worse for wear, on Sunday we still managed to head to Islington Farm to feed the pigs, cows and sheep, Sunday lunch at The Charles Lamb pub, cupcakes at Selfridges and finally Chinese New Year celebrations in central London.


You can see all the pictures from our adventure here.

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The Etymology of Nerd and Geek ... And A Bit of Love

There are a lovely group of people in London who occasionally organise fun networking events around town. Networking can be scary. It can be difficult to feel OK approaching and making conversation with strangers, so instead of just arranging more boring meet-ups, they take it a step further and arrange activity-based get togethers. Recently, Dan and I went to the Geek Foosball meet-up at Bar Kick in Shoreditch.

Some people don't like the terms 'geek' and 'nerd' and I suppose many of those feelings of discomfort probably hearken back to when they were used like barbs by meanies in school. Until about a year and a half ago, I worked in the Canadian arts sector and have always been arty and into things like writing, photography, going to museums ... I was even in choir in high school. Think Rachel from Glee without the fantastic voice. Even so, I don't remember people using those words - geek or nerd - to cause me pain in school. Maybe they did, but if it was preceded by the word 'art' or 'choir' (as in "art nerd" or "choir geek") I don't think it would have bothered me, or at least not enough to remember.

The etymology of the words nerd and geek are indisputably negative. According to the book Word Origins: The Hidden Histories of English Words from A to Z by John Ayto, nerd "is a term for a dull, socially inept or otherwise obnoxious person." It was actually invented by the popular children's author Dr. Seuss in his book If I Ran to the Zoo (1950):
And then, just to show them
I'll sail to Ka-Troo
And bring back an It-Kutch,
A Preep and a Proo,
A Nerkle, a Nerd, and a Seersucker too!
Geek, which is not covered in Word Origins, is much older. According to Answer Bag, "it is a variant of geck, a term of German/Dutch origin that dates in English to 1511. It means fool, simpleton, or dupe." Later on, the word was assigned to mean "a carnival performer who does disgusting acts" and eventually just was used generically to describe and "eccentric, oddball or someone with an unusual or odd personality."

I find it interesting that when these words were most socially damaging was in the 1950s in America, a time after the war when the country was clamoring to rebuild the 'big dream'. Homogeneity was important - everyone was expected to fall in line and fulfill their roles in the same way. People who were different were a threat and words were used as a nasty way to identify non-conformists. The strange oppression of 1950s America ushered in the 1960s, where everything changed and being odd and different was ok, even encouraged. Angry words that had been used to punish difference became somewhat less potent.

All this is a very long introduction to where we are now - 2010 in London, at a very hip bar in Shoreditch, surrounded by a genuinely diverse and friendly group of people, none of whom were carnival freaks or simpletons. Everyone I met was a young(ish) professional - some of them worked in technology companies (developers, techies and such tend to be most closely associated with the terms geek and nerd these days), some worked in film studios, some were photographers and one is even a popular food blogger. Nobody fit into a stereotype.

I like the reclamation of words like 'geek' and 'nerd' by people who are proud to be a little bit obsessive, a little bit manic and completely, unabashedly passionate about what they do. I guess that's how I would separate the nerds and geeks from everyone else - for the most part, they are enthusiastic and head-over-heels in love with something - technology, food, film, photography, even choir ... and they are not afraid to wear their excitement on their sleeve.

Everyone should be so lucky.

To see more pictures from Geek Foosball, click here.

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London's Highgate Cemetery

Last week, Dan and I spent a cloudy Sunday afternoon exploring the the east side of Highgate Cemetery. It was an amazing, forgotten world of stunning and occasionally disturbing tomb stones. I was most touched by Paul Foot's simple grave, which is an excerpt from Percy Bysshe Shelley's The Mask of Anarchy:

Rise like lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number
Shake your chains to earth like dew
Which is sleep had fallen on you
Ye are many - they are few

Other notables are the graves of Karl Marx and Douglas Adams.

One of the stranger sites was the above series of pictures featuring a woman that had been torn up and then carefully set back together near the entrance to the cemetery. Very strange. There had also obviously been some mischief around the cemetery, which could be seen through acts like the positioning of a damaged angel statue (it had no head) on top of a grave on it's back, as though it were a corpse. There are, of course, plenty of stories about the ghosts and vampires of Highgate Cemetery - including a crazy story about a group of students who got caught up in it in the 70s.

We didn't see any ghosts, but it was a spooky experience. I am quite keen to go back and explore the west side of the cemetery, which apparently has Egyptian tombs and catacombs. It costs £3 to get in either side of Highgate Cemetery and admission goes towards an organisation charged with sustaining and protecting it. Well worth a visit.

You can see more photos of the cemetery on my Flickr page, here.

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Snow in London

For the past few days it's been snowing in fits and starts in London. Nothing quite as magical as the 'big' dump last January, but still. And there is something a bit magical about it happening right before Christmas.

On the negative side, two millimeters of snow in London is enough to grind the entire city to a halt. Seriously, the UNDERGROUND has been know to stop running for less. They call it "a weather event" over here. I wonder what they would call a Saskatchewan blizzard? A life altering catastrophe, I would imagine.

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Dear Waitrose

We need to talk.

Let me preface this by saying that I am likely not your target customer. I am not independently wealthy and although I prefer not to, occasionally I do need to at least consider whether it is more clever to buy the £4 pasta sauce, or the jar for £1.

Despite this, my desire to visit your glowy fluorescent halls has, for the past few months, won out over considerations of money and I have been overcome with an addiction to your crispy and fresh leafy greens (not easy to come by in the UK), your organised aisles of neatly stocked specialty items, your genuinely impressive array of fresh herbs and your cheery employees. Your store is sunny and bright and is something like what I imagine a grocery store in heaven might look like. You know the angel in the Philadelphia Cream Cheese commercials? I bet she shops at a Waitrose.

It never smells like sour milk and you don't have any of those horrible self-checkout counters that has taken over most other grocery stores. I really resent that M&S, which is arguably just as expensive as you and, which runs a campaign based on their difference in quality to justify high prices (it's worth every penny!), have replaced nearly all humans with an extremely unfriendly self check-out system. Unless you shop during peak time, you have no choice but to bumble through one of those unpleasant machines yourself (usually only to find out that after all your effort, the machine doesn't take card, or coin, or just generally hates you).

Waitrose, maybe it's because you are a genuine diamond in the roughage of unfriendly and painful shopping experiences or maybe it's because even though I know I can't afford you, I still persist in giving you all my money (and I do it with love), that you broke my heart a little bit last week.

For the last month and a half you have not had any whole wheat pasta on your shelves - nothing. The only pasta of the whole wheat variety is that sticky gluey stuff in the refrigerated food aisle. And just between you and me, it's really pretty awful. The first few times I visited, I gave you the benefit of the doubt but last week, I decided to enquire at Customer Service. Here's where it gets ugly...

Although you have a big, bright and welcoming Customer Service desk, the girl who works there told me that to actually ask a question related to Customer Service, I need to dial a toll free number. She was nice about telling me and gave me the number but ... really? I also didn't get the impression it was just bad timing but that as a matter of course, to speak to Customer Service you expect me to use the telephone. The big desk is apparently a ruse - I guess if we see it, we assume we can get it and that makes us feel better? The poor kids who actually work at the Customer Service Desk must just be hoping that no one actually thinks to, er, ask a question.

Anyhow, I went home and called the toll free number. Thankfully, it didn't lead me to a phone tree or automatic recording, but rather a real human who was quite friendly. She explained (in a very perky manner) that other than the gluey fresh pasta, you have discontinued your line of whole wheat pasta and do not plan to carry another line any time soon.


In this age where people are trying to be healthier, you, my beloved Waitrose, have decided to discontinue your entire whole wheat line of pasta? When your USP is that you offer good service and specialty items to justify huge price mark ups, you've decided to discontinue your entire whole wheat line of pasta? (I could go on...)

I suppose I should be thanking you. Despite my best efforts at convincing myself otherwise, I now feel compelled to go half a block down the street to Morrisons (the horror!), which makes me sad and angry because it is the grocery store equivalent of a MacDonalds Playroom on a Saturday afternoon.

Still, though I am missing you now, in more ways than one, this transition will eventually be good for my health. Which is what I'll be trying to tell myself next time I'm at Morrisons stumbling over toddlers and fighting for the last browning head of lettuce, while trying to avoid slipping in the pool of sour milk on the floor.



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Ignite London

I haven't posted much about it here, but Dan and I have been planning the first Ignite London and it's happening tonight at Ginglik in Shepherd's Bush. Doors open at 7 pm and the talks will start between 7:45 and 8 pm. Admission is free.

Ignite was started in Seattle in 2006 by Brady Forrest of O’Reilly Radar and Bre Pettis of Make. Since then hundreds of five minute talks have been given across the world. Besides Seattle, there are thriving Ignite communities in Portland, Sydney, NYC and a lot more. The idea is simple: presenters are required to stick to a rigid format of 20 slides, each of which changes automatically after 15 seconds, ensuring that each presentation is exactly 5 minutes long. The format forces presenters to think long and hard about every slide.
We have some really great presenters lined up and I am genuinely looking forward to hearing their talks. If you are in the neighbourhood, be sure to check it out and say hello.

A last word of thanks to our sponsors: presenting sponsor Box UK, venue sponsor Ginglik (especially Colin for all his help) and non-monetary promotional sponsors the BBC and O’Reilly. Most important, thanks to all of tonight’s speakers who have donated their time, energy and creativity to creating an interesting and eclectic range of talks.

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Fall 2009 Pictures from London

Islington Farm Pig, originally uploaded by oladybug0.

Lots here including a visit to a very empty St. Pancras, the Islington Urban Farm (where the above lovely is from) and a bunch of other bits and bobs.

Visit the entire Flickr set here.

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Hurricane London

This video was taken with the camera on my iPod Nano. The image quality is OK, but the sound is a little dodgy.

Anyhow, there is some kind of crazy ass tropical storm in the UK today, the likes I've yet to see in over a year living here. The wind is from the south and is cutting a swath from the channel straight into my garden.

I am from Saskatchewan (land of -50 C and winds that almost literally cut you in half) and I don't pretend our little gale compared to January in the Canadian prairies, but it is different. It feels tropical. London is far enough away from the ocean that I sometimes forget that I am living on an island. Today, with the wind moaning outside and the trees buckled over, coupled with the warmish +15 degree temperature, I feel a bit out of sorts. Like Dorothy, right before the lights go out. I think I'll stay in.

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Fleetwood Mac at Wembley

Last night Dan and I saw Fleetwood Mac play at Wembley Arena in London. They are doing two shows here are part of their big reunion tour and with their Rumours line-up (apart from Christine McVie) it seemed worth the exorbitant price.

There was no opening act, but that was ok because Fleetwood Mac played for over two and a half hours - a feat considering they are all in their late 50s or older and Lindsay Buckingham and Mick Fleetwood played like maniacs the entire time. Stevie Nicks has always been the star of Fleetwood Mac for me, second only to the torrid emotional history of the band, which, even now, seems to inform so much of their chemistry on stage. Even though it probably isn't so, it feels like every lyric about lost love is about the sad end to the relationship between Stevie Nicks and Lindsay Buckingham. The way they move around and connect with each other on stage is either a very clever act to engage the audience or they made a terrible mistake all those decades ago when they broke up.

Lots of people would say that the personal history of people in a band shouldn't matter, but Fleetwood Mac's music is saturated in a kind of emotional regret and angst, somehow made all the more poignant because they are old and they can't go back.

Apart from a few embarrassing moments when Lindsay Buckingham got a little too 'rock star' on his guitar solos, Stevie Nicks twirling around in her strange goth bird-wing dresses or Mick Fleetwood trying to turn a long drum solo into a kind of weird rave song with synthesizer and all, it was a great show. My favourites were and will probably always be Landslide, Dreams, Rhiannon and Sara. And watching the poignant exchanges between Buckingham and Nicks as she sang "I'd go anywhere, anywhere, anywhere ... when you build your house, well then call me home."

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Tiffany Blue Ice


Despite that it isn't cold enough for water to actually freeze in most parts of the UK, people here are ga ga for outdoor ice skating in the winter. They set up winter carnivals (usually set in front of a beautiful, elaborate old building) with rides and skating rinks all lit with elaborate fairy lights.

This year Tiffany & Co is presenting the Skate at the lovely Somerset House in London. Tiffany blue is my favourite colour and the fact that, at least in their promo picture, the ice looks like an illuminated version of that colour makes me swoon just a little bit. It's enough to make me want to pay to look like a fool by falling on my ass as I pull myself around that pretty blue rink. I'll even advance book for the pleasure.

Thanks to Dave Joyner, without whom I may never have found this.

(Image from the Somerset House website)

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Obsessive Compulsive Thinking Turns Me On

(image from We Make Money Not Art)

On September 20th the wonderful exhibition Fabiola closed at the National Portrait Gallery. I was lucky enough to see it in passing one day while en route to meet a friend for an afternoon drink. It is a wonderful example of passion fueled by what I think of as a creative form of OCD. Julia Child had it for cooking and clearly this guy, Francis Alÿs , had it for the Christian Saint Fabiola.

From the National Portrait Gallery website:

Created by the internationally acclaimed artist Francis Alÿs, Fabiola is an installation of hundreds of portraits of a fourth-century Christian saint. These portraits, including paintings,embroidery and miniatures, are all versions of the same nineteenth-century original, and were gathered by the artist from flea markets, antique shops, and private collections. This is a fascinating exploration of a portrait that has become an icon.
Incidentally, Saint Fabiola was a happy lass who

renounced all that the world had to offer her, and devoted her immense wealth to the needs of the poor and the sick. She erected a fine hospital at Rome, and waited on the inmates herself, not even shunning those afflicted with repulsive wounds and sores. Besides this she gave large sums to the churches and religious communities at Rome and other places in Italy. All her interests were centered on the needs of the Church and the care of the poor and suffering.
(Source: Wikipedia )

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Escalator Etiquette and Other Notes

(Image from here.)

I've had a bit of a rough day and feel a bit like whinging. There's no real reason for this, just an overall sense of aggravation and frustration, which is mostly unjustifiable.

I love London but sometimes living in a city that pulls at you the way it does, a city that allows for so little personal space, grates. Most days I am so much in love with all that I get to see and do here that I barely notice the inconveniences of jamming my body into the hot tube every morning, but today everything felt like a challenge. If I had to pick one thing that annoys me the most it is the men and women who line the busiest streets and intersections pawning off London's free dailies - London Lite, Metro, etc., etc. They block doorways, entrances and sidewalks, their insistent arms jutting out in front of you, all but forcing you to take one. I'm not sure how their employers instill such passion in these people who surely must be poorly compensated for their time but almost without exception approach each passer-by with an almost religious-like zeal. Take what I have! Take one! When I am really at odds it takes everything in my power not to tell them to kindly take their paper out of my face.

The first time I visited London, I remember getting on an escalator going down into a tube station and like so many newbies to the city, I planted myself firmly on the 'wrong' side of the moving stair. In London everyone is in a rush all the time and to enable those people, the proper thing to do is to stand on the right hand side of escalators to leave room on the left for those people who are in such a great rush that they choose to walk. Instead of being told gently to move to the right, I am pretty sure that someone yelled at me and maybe even shoved me a little bit. I felt embarrassed and a little annoyed at the rudeness. It's amazing how many other non-Londoners share this exact same experience.

When my mother was here visiting a few months ago, I warned her in advance about escalator etiquette and as a result I am pretty sure that the only one reminding her to move over was me. She remarked quite a few times on how rushed people were in London and now, instead of commiserating about the rudeness of Londoners, I found myself defending them. In a city filled with thousands of people, most of whom are commuting good distances on a daily basis, it is easy to find yourself pushing, trying to get in front of slower people and even desperately impatient when others don't follow the rules. Tourists are fair game because, especially during the summer, they are everywhere. This isn't to say that I don't try to be polite when I tell someone to please stand to the right so I can get past, but now instead of empathising with them, internally I am shaking my head just a little.

Here are the top few rules I wish someone had told me before that first trip to London:
  1. On an escalator, always stand to the right so that people can walk to the left.* If you use crutches or can't walk at a reasonable pace, please stand to the side.
  2. Never travel on the Tube at rush hour unless you absolutely have to. There are thousands of people who are forced to cram onto those tiny bullets and if you aren't one of them, you should really try to not compound the situation.
  3. If you are going to consult a map or book, it's best not to do so at the top or bottom of busy stairways, in doorways or smack in the middle of a sidewalk. The same rule applies for taking a photo or having a mobile phone conversation that brings you to a standstill/near crawl.
  4. Get out your Oyster Card or travel pass before getting to the gates. It's not cool to stand in front of a gate rifling through your bag while other, more prepared people, wait on you.
These are really pretty basic things but when you aren't dealing with the day to day push of the London grind, it's easy to overlook them. It will make for friendlier Londonders and a nicer trip.

Now if only we could think of a way to address all the free paper pushers.

*Rule doesn't seem to apply to escalators at Westfield Mall if my trip tonight was any indication.

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Yoko Ono and the Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger

Photo of Yoko Ono and John Lennon used with permission from Ken Ross.   © Ken Ross

Dear Internets,

Last night I went to a gig in the middle of nowhere North East London at a tiny little club called Cafe Oto to watch Sean Lennon's new band, Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger (GOASTT) perform. The evening began rather miserably. Dan's back was and is bothering him and I had a twisted ankle. It was windy and rainy and to end all things my stupid bank put a security flag on my debit card so I found myself in long gone nowhere without access to any money. After a painful half an hour on the phone with the bank, finally something was sorted. I am thinking of changing banks, but that is for another post.

We were wet, we had gravel in our eyes and we were somewhere that seemed to only have tiny dirty looking restaurants with stained laminated pictures of their food (never a good sign). At one point I said to Dan, "If I get stabbed tonight, I'm blaming you!"

Happily things got progressively better from there and no one was shanked. We met up with two friends in a Turkish themed restaurant for some beer and mediocre hummus and then over to Cafe Oto where Sean Lennon was debuting his new act to a sold out, intimate London audience. How Dave Joyner consistently manages to get his fingers on these kinds of tickets is beyond me, but if you want to see anything cool on almost any given night of the week, he's your man.

Though I was curious and a bit excited to see Sean Lennon, I was completely star struck when I saw that his mother Yoko Ono was also there, sitting a few feet away from me. There is this history of music and whether you like her or not, Yoko played a pretty significant role in it. Not to mention that I am an art geek and she was doing ridiculous performance art before almost anyone else. She is tiny - maybe just over five feet tall and small boned like a little bird. She was wearing a black suit and a little black top hat with gigantic black bug sunglasses (though it was darkly lit in the venue). She always had an entourage and despite the fact that the woman is an icon, she wasn't bothered much for autographs or pictures, though this was a hipster London crowd who were probably cultivating their "I don't give a fuck" vibe.

Though I would have died to have a picture with Yoko, I just couldn't bring myself to ask her (or her bodyguard) if it was OK and it was just too dark in the venue to get a good on the sly picture.

GOASTT was a sweet little folky act consisting of Sean Lennon and his girlfriend Charlotte harmonising with one another in these little poppy ditties. The push behind the Lennon name is what has clearly made this act viable, as I imagine in almost any large city in the world there are dozens of beautiful kids doing exactly the same thing. Still, it was nice.

It was pretty obvious that Sean Lennon came alive when playing the guitar but unfortunately the dynamics of their group doesn't allow him much room for this. On the two occasions when he did a solo, Charlotte (who doesn't seem to play anything except for the tambourine) seemed a bit awkward and lost.

Here is a very dark and grainy video of one of their songs last night:

At the end of the night, the unthinkable happened. The crowd seemed to want more and there wasn't any more to give from the scheduled acts so Yoko Ono decided to get up on stage and do an improvised song, her son accompanying her on guitar. In true Yoko style it features guttural yelling and screaming the words "I feel bad" on repeat. Absolutely brilliant. Here is a snippet (again very dark and hard to see):

Seriously, an amazing and unforgettable night in London.

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London Naked Bike Ride

The weather in London has been uncharacteristically hot, sunny and dry. Like most everyone who lives here, when the weather cooperates Dan and I scuttled outside to enjoy the sun (actually, Dan doesn't much like the sun. I scuttle and he is a good enough sport to pretend to scuttle along with me). On any given day the question isn't so much what should we do, but what shouldn't we do. The rumours are true. London is just as exciting and filled with possibilities as you imagine and it is usually a matter of deciding what you can fit in rather than being at a loss to think of something to occupy the time.

Yesterday we could have rented a paddle boat and floated around Hyde Park, we could have taken a train to Brighton or some other nearby sea side community, we could have gone to see a theatre production or to any number of wonderful exhibitions. Instead we opted to take in the London leg of the World Naked Bike Ride, which traveled 6 miles through London's centre. To be clear, we didn't participate but rather stood on the side of the road taking in the spectacle and snapping pictures of the colourful naked folk as they rode by.

In past years over a thousand people participated in the London rally and this year was no different. There were people from pretty much every age group - one cyclist even had her small baby strapped to her naked back- ethnic background, men women, big and small... According the website, the rationale is that it is
a peaceful, imaginative and fun protest against oil dependency and car culture. A celebration of the bicycle and also a celebration of the power and individuality of the human body. A symbol of the vulnerability of the cyclist in traffic. The world's biggest naked protest: 50+ cities and thousands of riders participate worldwide, including around 2,000 in the UK in 2008
It was pretty hot in London yesterday and I couldn't help but feel sorry for all those bare asses glued to their hard little black leather seats. It was great entertainment, but there really has got to be an easier way to get the point across...

Ah, London.

Photo by me. To see the rest, visit my Flickr Summer '09 London set.

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Paul Sucks

Dan and I just had lunch in a patisserie called Paul (Soho branch). Apparently it's a chain, though it does genuinely look like a cute little Paris shop with its red banquettes and pretty looking sandwiches and pastries.

We each ordered a sandwich and a Sprite to share. At over £4 each, the sandwiches were quite a bit more pricey then the ones at Pret a Manger, another very popular local chain. The Sprite was warm and the baguettes were hard little bricks. It was actually difficult to eat the sandwich without scraping off the insides of your mouth and my jaw ached from the effort it took to chew. The fillings were mediocre and sparse at best.

When we were walking out Dan said thanks to the woman behind the counter. She barely mumbled a response and was something on the opposite end of the spectrum from pleasant. Basically, there was nothing good.

I won't be eating there again and I don't recommend you do either.

(Image: Talk of Tomatoes)

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Stop. Hammer Time... No, SERIOUSLY.

London is considered one of the fashion capitals of the world along with New York, Paris and Tokyo. As a result of this, walking down the street on an average day it isn't uncommon to see people exploring avant garde trends. Although sometimes I can't resist pointing a particularly odd ensemble out, I genuinely find this to be a really interesting and inspiring part of living here. The diversity and creativity in a city like London is made into a physical thing through the interesting things people wear.

But there is a line and these people have crossed it:





Almost daily, I see people walking around London wearing what can only be described as a hideous combination of Hammer pants and bloomers. Apart from conjuring up the memory of terrible music and dancing from a year when I undoubtedly had a perm and spotty skin, on its own they look very much to me like the wearer is wearing a baggy diaper, soggy with some kind of body fluid that I would really rather not think about. Even in the pictures above, the people have an unsure look on their faces (maybe with the exception of the last image). I feel like they are looking at the camera thinking, "Someone told me this is cool, but I'm really not sure. I kind of feel like my ass is dragging on the ground."

I remember a long time ago a horrible expression was going around my high school. I am almost embarrassed to post it here but there is really no other word... Deep breath and read no further if you are easily offended:

The word is gunt. I am not going to define it, but will leave it at saying that these trousers make even these stick people look like they have one. Use your imagination.

Seriously people. Don't touch this.

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A Good Lido is Hard to Find

(Image from Art of the State)

Today I woke up on the wrong side of the bed. There was no particular reason. I'd had a good sleep, the sun was shinning, everything was in order, except that I felt like my body and mind had been inhabited by a petulant child just waiting for things to go wrong so that it (I) could sulk.

First of all, I burned my omelet due to the fact that this London flat has limited kitchen utensils and not a proper plastic egg turner/flipper thing. Golly, did I ever get angry about that, despite the fact that I've known of our limited flipper utensil situation for months and have yet to care enough to do anything about it.

Then, as I was eating my burned omelet, a fly came in the living room through the window and started buzzing around, slamming itself against the glass trying to escape. This was the perfect opportunity for the bad three year old inside of me to become furious that people in the UK haven't embraced the simple concept of the window screen. In North America, it is pretty unheard of not to have a neat fitting window screen to keep out all manner of pesky bugs. Granted, we do have mosquitoes the size of bats, but still. Between gulping down my bad eggs and fighting back tears, I tried to convince Dan that it is inhumane of the British to not have screens because unfortunate bugs are lured inside for a premature demise. When he tried to suggest that they don't have long lives anyway, I got all soppy about how the fly in question probably had at least one more lovely day to look forward to before flying in through the damn screen-less window, trapping himself to death. Never mind that I would as soon smash a fly to death with a rolled up newspaper, old shoe, book ... anything ... as look at it.

Despite my bleary mood, the weather was lovely and hot for the second day running in London. We did what all people do in a place that is rainy over 80% of the time, we tried to find a patch of outdoors to soak it all up. Initially I had this cockamamie idea about going to the seashore, but despite the fact that the UK is an island, it was more challenging (and time consuming) then I'd imagined to get to the sea from here. Brighton was an option, but the beach there is rocky and not terribly nice to sit on. This was, obviously, another source of my agony. (Damn Brighton! Damn rocks!)

After a long think, I decided we should go and find an outdoor pool, which is not so easy in London. There is one in Kentish Town that seemed the least painful to get to and so we set out. I need to qualify the concept of least painful. Most things in London take a long time to get to by the standards of anyone living in a modestly sized city. To get to Kentish Town we needed to take the tube, transfer once - the whole thing taking nearly an hour. Once we arrived at our designated station, it was about a 20 minute walk to the pool, which is located in Hampstead Heath, a big park.

By the time we got there it was well into the afternoon. Apparently a lot of people were looking for some outdoor water today because there was a fairly intimidating line at the entrance of the brick building that enclosed the pool. Possibly the worst bit was that the line was composed of pre-teen children, mostly without adult supervision, all clearly high on the ice cream treat they probably had on the way to the pool and the prospect of an afternoon without their parents. Instead of waiting in the line and facing the shrieking crowd within, we decided to sit on a hill in the park. Although this was undoubtedly the best decision (I would have probably drowned the first shrieking little person I saw) I was still ridiculously angry. The park was mediocre at best and probably not as nice as Holland Park, which is only a ten minute walk from where we live. To make everything worse, there was some track and field none sense going on and a very stupid man kept shooting off a starter gun to my great annoyance. Oh, I was a misery!!

At one point I witnessed a little boy of maybe four or five start sobbing and kicking his feet, little fists in angry balls. He looked as ridiculous as I'd been acting. Then again, if it were socially acceptable for adults to have tantrums, I wonder if we wouldn't be better off. Or maybe that's just an excuse for wanting to misbehave.

(Image by Jill Greenberg)

I am feeling much better now, thanks for asking.

A tip for non UK readers: A lido is what they call an outdoor swimming place. Yes, just another thing to be annoyed about...


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Mother on the Tube (London)

She's the one in the middle of those other two happy looking people.

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