Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Why you should run in London (or any other city)

On Saturday, possibly the hottest day of the year so far, The Irishman and I did a 10 mile training run and nearly died. I whined pretty much every step of the way and only finished because he dragged me along with him. But while we were dashing for the shady bits of the sidewalks on the outer loop of Regents Park, we discovered a row of villas built in the style of various architectural movements from the past. They were designed by architect John Nash and are private residences overlooking the western edge of the park. They're really beautiful and imposing, and it was so exciting to discover them there on a side of the park I'd never seen before.

If you run, or bike, or do anything that gets you from one place to another quickly without a car, bus, or subway, I urge you to get out and do it. Today is going to be 21 deg C in London, a perfectly sunny spring day, and being out and about significantly increases your chances of discovering more reasons why you love where you live.

Monday, April 19, 2010


Poor Iceland is really getting it on the nose here. The FT is calling it their revenge for the banking crisis and the UK busting them on defaulting, and everyone has a story about someone they know being stuck somewhere (usually fabulous, like my colleague who has been in Barcelona since Thursday and won't be able to get back until THIS FRIDAY!). Everyone's in a tizzy about the economy and the money that is being lost, and businesses suffering, etc etc. But you know what, I think it's pretty great. My passport is with the Home Office at the moment so I can't travel, so I feel a bit of sweet satisfaction that everyone is grounded with me. And I think once in a while it's good to have a reality check. Someone said something to me today about there being a run on fresh fruit because we won't have bananas flown in for a while. You know what? People in the UK didn't have bananas for hundreds of years, and I think they did okay. It sometimes takes volcanoes whose names you can't pronounce erupting for days on end with bad wind directions (read: THINGS YOU CAN'T CONTROL) for people to slow down and chill out.

Friday, April 16, 2010

London's best coffee

View London's best coffee in a larger map

One of my blog mates has been blogging about coffee lately and I share her opinion that coffee in this town is pretty shit. But there are a few gems and I've been compiling them on a Google map for a while now (pretty much since I got here!). So I figured, there's no time like the present to share it with you guys. It's pretty East-centric, as I am, but hopefully it helps all the coffee lovers out there get a quality fix!

The first UK election debate

So last night was a historic moment for UK politics - the first election debate. I watched 2/3rds of it, and while I wanted to be interested in what they were saying it was all a big yawnfest. Debates are debates are debates, and they didn't say much more than they've been yapping about on the news up to now. But what WAS interesting was the commentary afterwards. Confession here: I'm a nerd and I like listening to the talking heads dissect speeches and campaign events. In the US, those talking heads tend to be really brash, arrogrant and out to make a name for themselves more than anything else. Here, they just get other politicians who support the candidates to do the post-mortem. So I stayed up to watch Question Time with my new fave, David Dimbleby (who I like to call David Dingleberry tee hee), and a raft of politicians from various parties discuss the campaign issues and the debate in depth. Outcome? Well it's agreed that Nick Clegg and the Lib Dems won the debate simply because he a) was the most likeable and normal politician up there, and b) because no one thought they were a legitimate party until he appeared likeable and normal compared to the Tories and Labour. Other than that, nothing much came from it besides my realization that we have 3 more weeks of this nonsense to live through. It may be shorter than a US presidential campaign, but it's a good deal more concentrated.

Here's a video of the candidates discussing education reform if you're at all interested.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The UK Election

I'm still trying to recover from the Obama election in 2008 when lo and behold, it's election time in the UK. A week ago today, Gordon Brown announced that he was going to drive to Buckingham Palace (I suspect a helicopter might have filmed the motorcade) and asked for the Queen's permission to dissolve Parliament so they can go on campaign. The election is scheduled for May 6th and therefore it's the only topic of conversation on the news every morning, noon, and night. There are so many differences between the US and the UK in terms of elections that it's difficult to know where to start explaining, but it's also safe to say that from my untrained eye the whole thing is shifting to a much more American style of doing things.

First of all, hilarious that British politicians can't multi-task and do the job they are elected to do (govern) and simultaneously seek re-election. So they literally shut down the government for four weeks and hit the campaign trail. Going to the people on their doorsteps is a really strong sentiment here; every single candidate talks about hearing from people and speaking to them at their homes, so perhaps they need the time to drive around the country and find the most far-flung country cottages. Or not. When I mentioned this oddity at work, someone did point out that okay fair enough they shut down government for a month, but at least the election doesn't drag out for 2 years and cost $500 million in advertising like it does in America. Fair enough.

While in the US the elections are about the personalities - the people who are running - the election here seems to be much more about the parties. Yes Gordon Brown is the face of Labour while David Cameron is the face of the Tories, but it doesn't feel nearly as much as of a popularity contest here, where people are voting for the man and less of the party as does in the US. Here, each party releases a printed manifesto explaining what they will do for (to) the country if elected. Reporters are actually digging out the Labour manifesto from 2005 or whenever the last election is and judging whether the party has achieved them! No one really holds parties to tasks in the US, as the goal posts always seem to be shifting.

Yet, as I mentioned before, there are changes afoot. For the first time ever, there will be live televised debates between the Prime Minister candidates in the UK. References are being made to the first US presidential debate between Nixon and JFK, as the similarities in style and appearance between Brown and Cameron are shockingly close. Some are deriding the fact that American-style Hollywood-type politics are encroaching on the UK, while others welcome the fact that all three candidates will be in one place discussing their opinions together. Personally, I want to see just how different they all are - because they all seem pretty much the same.

And, of course, there are many of "them." They being parties. The UK, while a democracy, runs in the Parliamentary multi-party system, and there are no less than 5 political parties with seats in Parliament. The major parties are the Conservatives and Labour, but there are also regional parties like the Scottish National Party, the Welsh National Party, the UKIP, the BNP (neo-conservatives that are not nice) and then there is an alternative-sort-of-major-party called the Liberal-Democrats. I don't know who they are. Or what they stand for. Or why I should (if I could) vote for them. The most interesting part of this multi-party system is that if, after May 6th, there isn't one party with a majority of votes (or seats in Parliament), then there is a hung Parliament! And there might be a coalition government! I learned about all of this during my freshman year of college... and promptly forgot. I'll deal with it if it happens... stay tuned.

And the worst difference? Annoyingly, to be different, just like driving on the opposite side of the road from the rest of the world, in the UK blue = conservative, red = liberal. WTF. For a visual person like me, it really makes things difficult when looking at the poll maps. Oh Britain... always have to be different.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Spotted: Hackney Council House Installation

Food Poisoning

I am the kind of person who believes in the longevity of food in the fridge and the power of tupperware to keep something fresh for a bit longer than it should. I use the sniff test for leftovers of questionable provenance, and nothing's ever really gone wrong. So previously when I heard about people with food poisoning, I scoffed a bit. Oh ye of weak stomachs... so evolutionarily inferior.

Until this past weekend.

It was the first really gorgeous spring day in London, and the Irishman's friend Mike came up from Portsmouth to hang out and celebrate his birthday with us. We walked along the canal to Broadway Market and sat in London Fields watching the hipsters congregate, and sampled many find foodie wares, all in preparation for an evening of gorging ourselves at my newest favorite - a BYOB Vietnamese restaurant in Dalston. Editors note: I still really love this place, so I am hesitant to publicly shame. But if anyone wants to know, I'll tell you offline.

We went prepared: we brought champagne and 2 bottles of white in a cooler bag, and prepared to order pretty much everything on the menu. It was all delicious, and we raved about every course. As we finished our wine at the end of the meal, I started to feel not so great. So I went to get some air while the gents settled the bill, and before we could decide on taxi vs bus, the meal was on its way out of me. Ew.

I spent the majority of that night in the bathroom, every hour on the hour, and my stomach felt like 100 knives were being stuck into it. By morning, I'd pretty much exhausted my body of everything that was in it, and then I spent what looked like a gorgeous sunny Sunday in bed aching and sleeping. Today I'm on the sofa, slowly building my energy back - I've eaten 2.5 English muffins today - the last one I upgraded with peanut butter. I am going to try a banana next.

So now I am shamed. All of you who have ever experienced what I'm talking about... I'm sorry I ever doubted you. I am now going to be a convert to food hygiene and will think twice about eating anything questionable. But I am worried... can I still eat street food? It will be fine, right? And shrimp (prawns)... I really don't want to see or smell them anytime soon.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

PS3 Widow

Another acquisition was made last weekend besides Seamus - a PS3. I did not make this purchase, obviously, and I am not the one who is overjoyed by it. The Irishman accepted a new job offer, and to reward himself decided it was time to finally buy the video game machine of his dreams. Now. My video game expertise pretty much ended with Dr Mario and Tetris, and even on my iPhone I only really ever play Bejeweled. I have no idea what the heck he's doing with half the games he got to go along with the set. I don't really see why he is so thrilled to play Tiger Woods golf against his friend in Salisbury, while wearing a Bluetooth headset and talking to him the entire time. I've tried to make a few suggestions about him playing while I'm not around etc etc but I was firmly told that I'm not allowed to boss him around until I move in and start paying rent.

I guess it is somewhat fair, though. In the last 6 weeks about 6 friends of mine have announced they are expecting, and my baby knitting list gets longer by the day. Every time I'm at the Irishman's, I have some sort of knitting project with me, and he started referring to himself as a Knitting Widower. I don't blame him - I get in the zone when I start, and a few of the pieces I'm working on are a bit tedious. But in a way, at least we each have hobbies that keep us from yelling at each other all of the time. It could be so much worse.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Trading Istanbul for IKEA

So yesterday the Irishman and I were supposed to fly to Istanbul. Feh. I went to work instead and it lashed down torrential buckets of rain. Today is the first day of the 4 day Easter Bank Holiday weekend, and where did I go? IKEA. I thought everyone in the UK would have deserted the island for sunnier, holiday climes, but the Irishman informed me that actually all Bank Holidays in the UK equate to DIY so naturally IKEA was packed. I should have known better - when is it NOT packed?

Anyway, we managed to escape its flat-packed Swedish goodness with only minor damage - we each spent £40 on picture frames and homeware - and exited to find another monsoon. The UK is experiencing a return to winter; Northern Ireland had a flash blizzard on Wednesday, Scotland is under another foot of snow, and the temperature here in London hasn't broken 9ºC all week. The Irishman and I arrived home soggy and frozen, only to fire up the kettle, make a pot of tea, frame some pictures, and then look out the window to find it is now sunny again. MAKE UP YOUR MIND, ENGLAND. Humph. My only consolation is that we checked the weather for Istanbul this morning, and there is a 25% chance of rain for the entire weekend and the high temperature for the forseeable future is only 14ºC. So I'm not missing much. I guess.

We do have alternative plans, though. Tomorrow morning we will get up early and hop on train to Portsmouth to annoy the Irishman's friend Mike, and while there we'll pop over to the Isle of Wight to visit my friend Alice and have a nice pub lunch. So it could be worse. I could have to do to major DIY and go BACK to IKEA. Shudder.