Sunday, October 23, 2005

Shaky (January 2005-October 2005)

After a flurry of emails and a particularily derrisive comment I must confess my amazment at your (my loyal readers') concern over my caffeine well being. Though, it should be considered that the most ardent well-wishers are also heavily invested in the coffee industry, but I'm sure their motivation is purely personal. Just to reasure everyone, I'm back up to my quad shot in the morning with a bit of afternoon double for a bit of a pick-me-up.

I must report some bad news, I fear; I go into the gym on friday for a light workout and find my favorite treadmill, Shaky, broken. It was acting (mainly smelling) sort of funny Thursday after kilometer 16, but I just assumed it was finnally warmed up and broken-in. Turns out, I was wrong. The moral of the story: when you all have a drink today, poor a bit out for the fallen holmes. On the plus side, I pulled, possibly tore, my quadricept on Friday's run. Now, most of you who know me, know my aversion to cold mornings and racing bikes in them. And, many of you can think back to a particular cold bike race were Uncle Steve and myself "accidently" attacked and exploded the field on the first lap of a ridiculous circut race, and those with exquisite memories will recall that my compadres on the team went on to glorious placings while I was left with debilitating injury--yeah same leg, what are you gonna do. Now I'm sitting on my bed typing this blog and finishing a block of cheese.

Either or. Upon visting the Tower of London last week, I am convinced now of at least two things. London is really old, and American tourists are roughly similar in size, apearance and behaviour to cattle. Anyone who has even heard of London knows that the weather 98% of the time is crap (actually that's an exageration, the weather in Kansas is 98% crap. The Lawrence Journal World online reports 37 degrees right window's open 'cause here its balmy...lovely). With its reputation for crap weather, one would think that when spending any apreciable time in it one would have the proper gear--stout shoes, a leather jacket, newspaper, book, photo-id know the proper gear. And, if you were caught out lacking a key element from the kit, then it was your own fault. Here's a snippet of conversation between two middle america tourists I heard during a "freak" rain shower--keep in mind this is london, it rains a lot, there are no freak rain showers. Note, my responses are in brackets.

"I can't believe it's raining" [uh, it's London]
"It was sunny when we left" [uh, it's London]
"Does this happen a lot" [uh, it's London]
"Do you know where we can get an umbrella" [uh it's London].

With my umbrella, I was pretty much unaffected by the rain, but it seemed to pose quite a problem for others.

The tower of London is actually quite cool (despite the 11 pound fee). Composed of many towers, it is, among other things, a really old group of buildings, home to the crown jewels, a former prison, medieval palace, armoury (more on that later), store room and haunted. It's main building was built by William I (aka the Conquerer) around the last time England was successfully invaded (more on that too) around 1066, and from there it has under gone various improvements and up-grades into the fortress it is today. It is also immensely haunted and frankly quite spooky to tour. While walking around some of the rooms alone I got a very real sense of morbidity and dread, not to mention chills, etc. It is said that many, many, of the people executed there have remained: included are the un-favorite wives of Henry VIII, Walter Raleigh, Thomas a Becket (though I can't figure out why he haunts the tower because I seem to recall him being murdered somewhere else...) two princes killed by Richard III (the "my kingdom for a horse" guy) and many more. My favorite is that of Lady Salisbury. She was being executed for harboring ill thoughts towards Henry VIII and during her beheading, she very ungraciously decided to flee the axman who chased her around the lawn and eventually hacked her to bits. LIke I said, it's London.

The Tower also houses the famous ravens. Prophecy states that if the ravens ever leave the Tower, the British Empire (what's left of it) will fall. If you look closely in a lot of pictures, you can actually see birds circling the White Tower (from William I's time). This is because ravens have developed an attachment to the place, and the raven "master" clips one of their wings so they can only fly in circles around the White Tower. The Brits are nothing else if not practicle.

Whilst touring the armoury, I received some very real chills near Henry VIII's armour--don't know but that dude gives off some bad vibes. It was also inthe armoury where I was touched with a bit of old-fashioned god-bless America patriotism. The Brits are big on capturing and displaying artilery guns from their imperialist conflicts. There are many prizes from the Napleonic wars, Crimeia, etc. Not to mention famous Brittish guns--one of which has "God's Hammer" stamped into it (yes they are all named and dated). Most of these are period pieces and remarkable in their craftmenship while exuding cool history stuff. Indeed, they are displayed in chronological order with dates and reigning monarch. Conspicuously missing are weapons from the George III's era dating from about 1775-1800ish. While standing there, I couldn't for the life of me figure out why there was such an obvious gap in military history, especially for a nation so obsessed with its military history; I was so perplexed I even started walking towards the docent to ask what's up. Then, it hit me. I shouldn't go to the Tower of London to see weapons of Britan's late 18th century exploits; I should go to the Smithsonian 'cause we have 'em all...a tear or two crept into my eyes--I felt like Homer at the US embassy in Austrailia--"oh beautiful" (ironically America the Beautiful is sung to God Save the Queen).

Which brings me to Friday. Since I also have a cold, I've sort of been laying low and not tearing up the clubs. So on Friday, I celebrated the 200th Aniversery of Trafalger. I'm not going to recount the history on that one (google it), but I can think of few men (or women) whose cojones can measure up to Horatio Nelson's. Read about him and you will understand why he is more celebrated than the monarchs. His ghost also appears from time to time at a pub a few blocks from my

Anyway. Sort of mellow right now, but halloween's comming up, and since it's my favorite holiday and this place is really old, I'm convinced something rad will happen.

thanks for reading,

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Somewhere around Barstow...

You knew it had to come to this. With all of the discussion of celebraties getting caught with caught in the snow storm (, I've decided to have my own confession: I am addicted to caffeine. Now most of you will respond to this revelation with something along the lines of "no shit". But, to be honest, this is kind of news to me. Yeah, I'm grumpy if I don't get coffee right away, but before I left the states, I made a vow to myself that I would quit taking the drug except for recreationally. Granted, in my hurry to experience 'all things British' I have attempted to take up tea, but I've burned through dozens of tea spoons and still can't get that shit to melt?

Today, however was a revelation. I stupidly thought I was truly master of my domain and left the house without coffee (my mug was downstairs when I made breakfast, and I didn't want to go all the way back down there to get it; of course using one of the million other cups in the house is out of the question) thinking I'm in control, this is great. Well, 2 minutes into my day, I find myself impatient for my train downtown to arrive, so I decide to take the "alternate". Long story short, I got lost. Ever try to read a map of the london underground ( Try doing it tommorrow with out coffee. I kept looking at that thing, looking around, looking back, and I couldn't make heads or tails of it. It was just a big jumble of lines and words. I tried asking for help, but my mouth wouldn't find the words, and I couldn't understand the transit assistance anyway. I was forced to dig through the trash, sucking the remains of lattes from card board starbucks cups and was finnally reduced to a raving, long haired, wild-eyed lunatic camping out on the steps of the subway next to they guy with no shoes with my own sign: Need coffee please help, god bless. Finnally a social services worker brought me in from the cold, and took me back to her office so I could fill out the appropriate forms for assistance, and get a photo-id card. It was then, when her back was turned, I was able sneak a few sips of her coffee and slip out the window to get my own quad-shot. Once I was chalked-up to normal levels, everything was copacetic. I was back on top, in the groove, able to read the map and make it to my lecture with 20 minutes to spare. Life was once again good.

I had the shear pleasure to attend a talk given by an important academic on the relavance of the resurrgance of French Surrealists in post-modern urban spaces. I don't know what happened really; maybe it was the the second round of espressos (I actually forgot the first coffee of the day), or the beer I had in the elevator, but 15 minutes into the talk my jangled neurons were as effective as tofu while I tried to decipher what this person was saying. Perhaps its my own adherance to the Gonzo school of intelectual pontification, but I have real difficulties when people give public lectures under the assumption that theire audience is as well versed in the minutia of their subject matter as they are. The rub of enduring this intelectual circle jerk is not only did I have to sit through it, but I had to listen to comments such as "I find your work so enlightening and so relevent to my daily experience in modernity" and "truly fascinating, but have you considered how the post-modernists reacted to the egalitarian almost socialist constructs that arose in post-De Gual Paris?" Once the Vaseline got passed around, I made a speedy exit back to normalcy; the dazed expressions and the John Wayne limps of my collegues the next told me I was the lucky one.

Call it my youth or American Bravado, but I have a difficult time with people who define their world views based one of three 60's era french academics. I was once asked whether my work was informed by Foucault, Derrida or Baudrillard---hmmm lets see, the paranoid sado-masochist, the author of a 300,00 word polemic on why text is meaningless, or someone who believed reality doesn't exist. The only time Baudrillard ever made sense was after I put a half ounce of psilocybin fungus into my cherios. When I responded Gonzo, he just turned into a big freaking lizard and scuttled off. Serves him right; when he comes crawling back to the surface in 2 years the big world of post-modern urban---blahblah is comming back at him swinging a 1000 pound shithammer. I'd almost want to watch, but since I've yet to be paid, I really cannot afford new shoes.

I'm actually on half-strike right now since the University hasn't seen fit to release half of my pay cheque yet; while they're waiting for the EU to come up with a proper form I'm waiting to see how long my jar of Nutella will hold out. I'm down to my last 5 Power Bars that (thanks to certain Power Bar sponsered athletes and coaches) have kept me alive enough to spew this mindless drivel on to the page. Talk about mental masturbation. I really should be working, but being a professional, I do have my principles.

There is a sizeable young-street drug culture in London. Yesterday i saw a young girl going through the pains of heroin withdrawl on the side walk: tearing at her eyes, scratching at the concrete, a werewolf sounding a bit like Linda Blair; I mean really, she was in bad shape. Probably the worst part about it, is most walkers by probably didn't notice, much less give her a second thought, but being new, I paused wondering if I should call an ambulance or something. I was quickly admonished by this poor soul and now anxiously await the next full moon while soaking my leg in a bucket of H202.

This got me to wondering though. How far are we really from the bum on the street? A few bad years and couldn't we all find ourselves singing on the stairs to the subway? I passed another kid last sunday, a male this time, with a look of terror on his face knowing what he was about to experience as he came down. At first glance, the differences between us are night and day. On one hand there was an adict sitting on the street living the day to day between scores and on the other, a successful reasearch professional. Now factor how incapable of action I was before drinking four espressos, or the fact that I was drunk at the time, and I'm not too far from sitting down next to him and asking what he thought about Foucault.

What really disturbs me is perhaps we have missed the wave and that the high water mark is still just barely visible as we get sucked back into the depths--or maybe I should switch to Sanka---the horrors the horrors,

thanks for reading,

Sunday, October 16, 2005

What aint no country i ever heard of. Do they speak English in what?

I'm not trying to emulate here, but I did drink two bottles of wine before this. I promised the truth of my day to day existance, and yes faithful readers, I am going to give you the blood and gutz truth.

I sat in the shadow of the Tower Bridge today, reflecting on my day and the way I'ved lived my life thus far that has led me into situations where I can drink all afternoon along the banks of the Thames. Amidst my thoughts was a question that has been asked to me over and over again and manages to plaugue my waking days: "with all of the good universities in America, why give up your life and come here?" I usually respond with something along the lines that the there are key personel within the University of London system that will allow me to pursue my research aspirations within geography...but anyone who really knows me knows that I'm in it for the story. Yes, with no arrogance, I can say that I earned the opportunity to come here, and no, I will not say that I completely slacked and lucked out with my chances (I will say there are a lot of people who have worked way harder the I have...etc), but the fact of the matter is, I moved to London becausue it sounded so fucking cool. Therein lies the root of my entire world view: as a critical realist (google it, I'm tired of doing your research), I do not have an inate sense of complacency, nor do I have the faith that leads me to believe that there is more than one shot to life. If there is, kick ass, but I'll hedge my bets that you only go around once. Therefore, if you're a given a chance to do something, take it, and if no chance presents itself to you, make one.

My collegues have asked me about the personal sacrifice I made, and I will not lie. It was/is tremendous. I question this decision every day a new hassel presents itself, and I miss each and everyone of you a great deal. At about 4pm, I longed for nothing else than for someone I know to have shown up and gotten drunk with me. At the same time, I would not have traded my chair for anywhere else. WIth the cold wind comming up the river turning the collar of my coat up into my neck, and in the depths of my culture-shock onset depression (they make all international post-grads speak to a counsler sort of person), I actually felt very happy to be precisely where I was at that moment. And that is what it's all about. You only go around once.

I have been working a lot, tons of writing really: some for this website where I do put a lot of thought into the words I choose to expose for the public; more for work, about 2000 words a day--most of which gets discarded on Fridays as rubbish, and also quite a bit for my own journal/notes...thoughts and words that no-one will ever read unless I become famous, and they publish "my letters" post-humously--at which point I could care less. Last night, though, someone asked me about that, why do I write so much? To which I responded by stating it's my way of coping. If I didnt write each day, either work related or blog related or in my secret file, I would crack...loose it on the subway and be carted off to Bermondsey Prison. We all have a breaking point and one or two holes in the armour.

But, I ramble. My life's not all drinking alone and quiete contemplation. Last night was quite a different experience, one that rattles me to the very core.

Who would have thought that when a little more than ten years ago when I first pushed a pedal in anger I'd be initated into a cult that makes scientology look like the Salvation Army. As a young lad of 14 who only wanted to become a stronger downhill skier, I unwittingly made the decision to ride bikes and become marked and cursed to always be a convict of the roads (also in that process, I've spent many years of my life with too little oxygen to my brain and too much time on my hands). That is why, last night, I found myself at the John Peel (a famous BBC deejay who among others first launched the Beatles) benifit show, hosted by, none-other than bicycle couriers, a sub-breed of mutant humanoid who among other things has a pension for pills and a crazed sense of community. They also like hip-hop. I really don't know how I got there really, but next thing I new I was listening to some house/trance and hearing some out rageous chemical induced lies about riding bikes. It was like the Blue Moose, but with cheaper beer--and when beer is cheaper than the 'Moose, especially in London, it's danger.

To top it all off, I was in a pleasant part of London called Hackney. I taked to my roommate on the phone about midnight because he spins records and was interested in showing up, but when I told him I where I was, he got real quiet. To put it in perspective, Whitechapel, where I live, is very similar to KCK, same vibe, not quite safe, but not quite dangerous. Hackney on the other hand makes KCK look like Boulder, and Albuquerque look like 90210. In fact, those who invited me to this party were amazed that I actually managed to find the bar, burried in a post-industrial wasteland, let alone use public transport to get there. Ignorance is sometimes bliss. Needless to say, I was forbidden to walk, or bus home, and even a Taxi was discouraged, and I ended up, once again on the West End and in one of the famous London nightclubs, getting jiggy with it.

Goes to show you never know where the day takes you. I guess that's about it for now. I'm in culture shock, like I should be. I question my own existence, like most of us do from time to time, and I'm boldly trashed, something we should all achieve from time to time (this style of writing is called paralellism; Tolstoy uses it alot in War and Peace, of which I'm about 45 pages into and something like 1750 away from finishing...did I mention the quews?).

until next time, and always thanks for reading,


Monday, October 10, 2005

Smile, you might confuse someone.

I write often about London and its assholes. I'm an asshole, and if you're thinking about moving here, you should probably be an asshole too. We're pushy, rude, impatient and self-absorbed into our I-Pods and cell phones while slogging our way to the city center to go to work in the morning or sloggin our way home at night. In shit weather, with polluted air and wet dirty shoes, the climate is reflected by the people--life sucks get a helmet. Go to other towns and villages and the locals immediately peg you as an American, French or a Londoner--. We are vampires in this city. Going to work in the morning fog, living most of our lives in the Underground and then comming home later in the evening fog, Londoners only surface at lunchtime, to feed, before scurrying back into our holes. Unless, the sun's out, then all bets are off.

On a day like today, probably the last good day of the year when it's about 20 degrees (75ish) with a bright blue sky and warm sun, the undead go on holiday to the park and invade every scrap of grass in the city, laughing at the merriment and having the audacity to smile, randomly at strangers. On a day like today even the most bitter, indifferent cyninc has to actually work to maintain his sneer. Businessmen frolic barefoot in the grass; lovers stroll shoeless along the sandy banks of the Thames--not caring about which combination of hepatitis they get from walking through London's 1000 year's worth of sewage; even bankers, yes bankers, dance naked in the fountains, possibly still on their cell phones forclosing on their mum's ancesteral home, but naked none-the-less. With so many beautiful people trapsing about, I reconsidered growing a goatee and wished I had indeed purchased some sheep skins at Ikea last weekend...

The media is often refering to the notion of the globalised city. And, even though I don't see how any city isn't "globalised" I understand their point. I was working at a cafe this afternoon, and realised that I was the only person who wan't speaking italian or with an italian accent. As I had my espressos and crescente, I pondered the fact that I could be almost anywhere in the world. I recall fondly the French expat in Puerto Viejo who hated Americans ruining the scenery, then even more fondly when I ordered breakfast and asked directions in en Francais: Je Voudrais...Ou est-que...Voulez vous couchez a moi? Bitch! The world's a beatiful place; hopping a jet to anywhere in the world is as easy as, well, hopping a jet to anywhere in the world. In a city of 12 million people, however, it's very easy to loose yourself in very small parts of it or worst, get beaten down by the shear enormity of it all. But at the very worst of it, when the vampires suck down your soul and have you one Wesley Snipes techno-pop thriller away from giving in and feeding too, do as the lovely girl in the pink shirt suggests "Smile, you might confuse someone."

Don't you love when the last line of prose is the same as the title? kind of brings a Gothic sense of closure to it all. Part, Bronte, part Austin, mainly cheap parlour trick of crappy constipated essaying.

anyway, I need to go charge my I-Pod so, as always thanks for reading,


Sunday, October 09, 2005

East End Revisited

Well I woke up Sunday morning,
With no way to hold my head that didn't hurt.
And the beer I had for breakfast wasn't bad,
So I had one more for dessert.
Then I fumbled through my closet for my clothes,
And found my cleanest dirty shirt.
An' I shaved my face and combed my hair,
An' stumbled down the stairs to meet the day. (Kris Kristofferson--Sunday Morning Comming Down)

Maybe it's the homesickness, possibly its the hangover, maybe it's the gind of commuting, and likely it's the pressure of producing 2000 words a day, but I've been here three weeks and hit a funk. So after hitting the sunday markets for some fresh berries and a new, certainly not stolen 3 pound copy of War and Peace (did you read about the quews?), I found myself pounding on the pub door at 1055 hoping that just this once, they'd open the door 5 minutes early so a bloke could get a drink.

The crazy thing about east end pubs (maybe others but I'm not there in the mornings) is that you can be the first guy to walk in and still manage to stand in line for a beer. I don't know what to say ("Forget about it Jake, it's Chinatown"). Once I get my beer (a slightly off brown ale but still good) I managed to choke out a few words of academic merit on my paper when I'm greeted with a Loretta Lynn classic from the jukebox. Call it some sort of hyper-post modernity induced mania (or remeberence of Jake and Elwood singing the very same song at Bob's Country Bunker), but I start lauging histerically. Why, in the world does depression always occur with country music? Next up was some Johnny Cash, and I'm pretty sure Hank WIlliams III followed. I'm in a filty east london bar worried about the tear in my beer (also the dead fly on the glass), when in fact, I'm listening to a Tear in My Beer. Poetic Justice.

Besides work, the last three days are fuzzy. I've put my stamp on a new tread mill at the gym and hope to have it broken by Guy Fox Day (I really have no idea when that is, maybe around Halloween), and on Saturday night, I found myself at the lamest houseparty (7 dudes 1 chick) drinking some sort of mystrey liqour (it was the equivilant of grain alcohol but distilled from grape seeds--grappa?) that after the first sip gave a local aneasthetic quality to the roof of my mouth. It was quite good, and kinda fun--the drink; my mouht's never been numb like that except with novacain. It's never a good party when the sausage ratio goes up by 75% with your arival and the total party attendance 60%. Needless to say I left pretty quickly and went to East London's equivalant of the Hawk, and proceeded to discover exactly how much beer it would take to make the night better (6 pints).

I think I've lived here long enough for both the bewilderment and novelty to wear off and am able to see the truly seamy side of London. The open drug deals, they guy selling a complete car stereo system four blocks away from another guy filing a police report about someone breaking into his car and swiping his system, the fact that I can score some rock, a hooker and make an off liscence better easier than it takes for me to run down to the newstand for some beer (and I can see the news stand from my window). Don't take this as a rant; I set out to learn the bloody bare knuckle truth about London, and this is about as real as it gets, all the grit of the Big Easy, without the swamp (oddly enough the city is more or less located on the flood plane of the Thames, and much of the surrounding lands are quite boggy--they call 'em "heaths" here).

Funny bit of local news, squirrels in Brixton (you know You can crush us, you can bruise us, but you'll have to answer to, oh oh, the guns of Brixton), are found to be addicted to crack. Aprarantly, they are getting into drug deallers' stashes hidden in parks. Ahh, London.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Survival Guide

A collegue of mine asked me today, "Ben, besides testicular fortitude, what does it take to survive on the gritty streets of London, especially as an American?".

This set the rusty cogs inside my head in motion; "well," I thought, "what does it take?" So, I decided to make a list. Call it a Survial Kit for Living in London, things not to be left at home.

1. Stout shoes--if anyone was paying attention to an earlier post, God knows what's on the streets and for how many centuries it's been accumulating. I'd be lost without my Docs. They're black and shiny for formal occaisions, and they're chemical proof for negotiating alleys and pub bathrooms.

2. Black Leather Jacket--I choose black because it matches my shoes, but nothing says get the fuck out of my way I'm in hurry better than a piece of dead cow on your back.

3. A book--quews are pretty boring without one

4. A pen--for the application that you have to fill out at the end of the quew.

5. A stack of passport photos--to be submitted with the application. An entire industry has sprouted because of the UK's obsession with identity cards. Seriously, there are photo-machines on every corner and in every shop, curiously, not in the pubs, but given my own pensions for self-penile photography while drunk, this actuallly sort of makes sense.

6. A good quality newspaper, I prefere the Guardian. The key here is that it has to have several sections and a lot of pages. The printed bits are handy for when you forgot your book and am in the quew or on the train. It's also useful when rolled tightely for swatting off chavs who think they're gangsa-lean. The flimsy tabloids simply don't have enough ooomph!!, but the Guardian or Financial Times when wielded properly smash a nose quiete handley

7. Pocket Change. for the odd late night bus ride home/pint/newspaper

8. An umbrella--uh it's London.

9. Sunscreen --hope springs eternal.

10. Infinite Omnipresent Patience.---see above.

I had a half way funny exprience today organising my bank account. Beyond the ninety forms of id, address verification for the last decade, application, passport sized photo, etc, not to mention adequate funds to open the account, I received a call informing me that my name was not correct. "That's funny," I said, "I'm pretty sure I know how to spell my name." Fortunatley, I was going to Egham today anyway so I stopped by my branch (in the UK as a student, you must open an account at the nearest bank to your college, regardless that my good friends at Barclays are one of the biggest banks in the world with countless branches everywhere (they even sponser a bike race in San Francisco, where they don't actually have a branch). Eitherway, all business has to be handled at 'your home branch'.

So, I arrive, spend some time in the quew and finnally talk to a personal banker. He said the problem with my application is my name. See, for those who know me well, know that I do not have a middle name. I have a middle initial, F (with not period!!). As much as I've wanted it to stand for things, it doesn't. It is simply "F" . Well, this is not acceptable to UK bankers. If I have an initial, it must stand for something. I know what you are all thinking, "make something up, Ben. It's not like you've never fraudulentlly filled out documents before..." Good point, my imaginary dialog friend, but it's MY NAME!!

I don't know what happened to me next, maybe I finnally hit my breaking point; perhaps the train ride was a little noisier than I like, or it's possible that I am finally fed up with smug, prissy Brits in marginal entry-level posistions, but I refused to budge. It might just be me, but it would seem like if one has a customer who is about to deposit 10,000 pounds into a bank, and promises to do this several times for the next few years, perhaps a little more consideration would be given (maybe even some head, but I'm getting ahead of myself).

I snapped. I am ashamed to admit it, but I lost my temper and brok into the nastiest, crudest, French cockney tirade I could summon. Phrases like "vous ete un wankersh toss pot, allez sod yer mum, ya cock!!" and the like. Finnally, I calmed down and politely said that if you would like verification on my name, please call my father. Keep in mind, my dad is an angry person when he's woken (worse than me before 10am), and he's 8hrs behind London Time, and he will reach through the phone and start cracking skulls.

A few twists and turns aside, I should receive my shiny new Barclays Visa with unfathomable line of credit on Monday.

All I had to do was ask.

post-script to this story is I may have to appear before the Egham magistrate for the use of inapropriate language in public. Don' know where they learned French...pricks.

I gotta run; Thursday's my drinken day. Stay tuned for a play by play of my adventure to SOHO tonigh, and until later, as always, thanks for reading


Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Adventures of the Mundane

This is the first true post about my life abroad. So please, give me comments about content you'd like to see; London Information, tour guide stuff, etc. I'm prone to ranting and trailing off, so tell me about that too. The aim of this whole thing is to share my insider tourist perspectives. You probably won't get a review of the The Queen's bed chamber, unless I completely violate the 10 year rule...yeah you can thank me later (, and I probably won't offer my opinion of Lord Neslson's statue in Trafalger (it's actually kinda cool or even Big Ben (he's doing fine). This will be about the gritty everyday booze inflected world in which I live and make my career. So, I'll probably talk about pissin in the Thames and buying groceries with an expired ID more than I will Tony Blaire and his botching of world affairs. So please, read on dear friends. (actually there are many great articles and books about Tony Blaire's government and the dissatisfaction and disintegration of the Labour Party. To read more...nevermind).

So, Its been a while since I've actually written about this place, and it's been a whirlwind of meetings, train rides, shoving and fighting to get a pint during the football match, etc.

What can say? I'm starting to catch the beat here, where the novelty is beginning to wear off into routine; up at six to catch the subway to the train station to Egam and back. Slogging through the inevitable quew while trying not to spill my espresso on my tie and wondering if I have time to grab a paper before the train carriage fills forcing me to stand the 35 minutes to the office. Then I remember fuck that; I'm not one of the inumerable shlubs on their way to Lloyds to carve out a bleak sub-middle management existance making money for a bunch of guys who don't even bother with work, so it's off to the park if its sunny (we do have those) or the library/pub/cafe (depending on the hour) where I can get few hours pursuing activities that I choose and enjoy while figuring out if I'm going north this weekend or checking the Tate (it's the modern art museum...) But I see these miserable bastards each day, lives dictated by lines painted on the floor in the tube station guiding people from route to route, just to do it all again in reverse 8hrs later. I wonder if the commuters I see actually live their lives in a two dimensional sort of underground way based entirely on the maps for the London Underground (title of a great new book by Douglas Rose, about all the things that happens under London). Oddly enough, it takes some serious mental gymnastics to figure out exactly where the hell you would be if you were walking, some sort of metaphysical uni-dimensional conflation of rhetorical space (I don't know either, don't ask). What allways boggles my mind that whole thing about birds, crazy. But enough ranting.

I joined the student gym today with mixed reviews. On the plus side, the treadmills are all in kilometers, so I'm running more than double what I was in the US. The down side is I can only bench 50kg, way less than the 110+lbs I usually do (hey, I have a weak shoulder). I have mixed opinions about all of this. I also went duvee cover shopping today in the bedding district. London has all sorts of retail districts, so to find a suite I go to the garmet district, shoes--the shoe district, leather jacket, well you get the idea. The funny bit of it all is that these districts all have kichy designer shops, with themes. So to buy a bed spread, I'm forced with the proposistion of establishing my room theme: retro, modern, retro modern, post modern, asian post-script-rustic, etc, and there are advisors to help with these descisions, and also to point out the matching curtains, coffee mugs and the way to the toilette--all for something that covers my bed with most of my interactions with it being in the dark. Just as I was weighing the options between chic Persian (or just throwing down a few sheepskins and gettin to bidness), I found my stones and bought a whitish one--to the chegrin of the bloke who was steering me towards an art-deco-Austin Powers theme.

I also met with one of the other new adventures of British Life: pocket change. GIve someone a 20 for a 5pound item, they're apt to give your money back in coinage. By the end of the day, one's out of bills and has like 50quid worth of 1 and 2 pound coins. Not a bad thing necessarily, but as someone who is prone to forget about pocket change or use it to buy a pint on the way home, this is a dangerous thing;.

The weekend was good. My flatmate and I went to a few University bars downtown for cheap beer (a world wide universal standard I might add is poximity to college = cheap beer) and drank our fill of Stella--the meister chow of Britain (aka "wifebeater" due to its high alcohol content and popularity amongst the chavs)--before stumbling to the west end to see what was going on there. This is the routine of london life. Fill up on cheap beer early, get a good buzz, and then go to the high clubs for red bull and vodka, and club dancing. Now, most of you know of my dancing prowess, but you should see it at 3am with a speedball in my veins. Then its on to the afterparties, and all of the sudden it's time to go to work on monday. C'est la vie I guess.

On the funnier, yet more tragic side of things. I awoke to the sounds of helicopters on Sunday, circling the East End and North London. I assumed it was another protest: we have a lot of those, but it was more of a riot, Sunday's the big premiership day, and my day to go to a few pubs, eat some pub food and watch football (so far fish and chips are overrated but steak and ale pie is awesome). Arsenal beat B'ham, while West Ham tied. Being sworn now to West Ham, because of my neighborhood, I have mixed feelings about all of this. I found myself drinking in an Arsenal bar, and normally, I'd say North Londoners are a bit soft (Arsenal 'fairies' and all), but I do only weigh about 150 pounds (don't know what that is in kilos, but not a lot), so I didn't like my chances. Rather, I kept quiet and sulked on my way home. There is a great pub culture here, though. It's perfectly acceptable to have a pint at 11am and drink all day, but then again, its social, and a great way to learn cockney, have some fun and be the less posh side of British. A culture, regardless of what anyone says, that is still horribly tied to its class based discrimination (not like the good ole' Merika where its race and gender). I poke fun at this at times (chavs are funny), but these issues speak to a rather dismal undercurrent facing UK society. whoa, must of had a bad commute, I feel sort of preachy.

This weekend's set to be huge. I'm doing the full on super-tourist thing on Saturday: The Tower, The Palace, The Eye, The Tate, Hunter Thompson style, call it research.
A funny story about the sameness between cultures. I found myself peeing in an alley Saturday Night with about 50 of my closest bar mates (pay toilets are like 50p), and I couldn't help but laugh and be reminded of all of the places on Mass Street where I've peed: the alleys, through the doors of most of the trendy clothes stores, Bill's garage door etc. The only real difference I guess is here I was outside on of the oldest pubs in London (est 1695), so they've been peeing in this alley for at least 3 centuries where as Lawrence only 1. Sort of makes you think twice about that funny smell next to St Bartolphs; that is probably 7 hundred years accumulated, filtered

thanks for reading.

Finally Up

No comments about the title; it...ahem...has been a long (really long) week.

So this is the much publicised finally realised blog of my life in london: like the description says, and it finally allows me not to do mass emails and all that. So, stay tuned for my exciting, allways relevent commentary about london life.