Archive for August, 2004

London – It’s a Love / Hate thing

I just got back from spending the weekend in Holland, where I visited my older brother and his wife. Inevitably on trips like these you meet people where you start talking about where you’re from (South Africa) and where you live (London) and how you’re finding it.

My initial reaction is always that I really like living in London. If one happens to be talking to someone from the Continent, they find that hard to believe. “Really?” is a typical reaction.

Yes, despite the bad weather.
Yes, despite the high prices (London is now very high on the list of most expensive cities to live in.)
Yes, despite the many traffic cameras.
Yes, despite the tiny apartments costing double your villa in Spain.

I like it because it feels very much like home. People speak English. They drive on the right side of the road (the left side) and drink tea (ok maybe just a tad too much), take milk in their coffee (i.e. they serve you milk with your coffee at restaurants without you having to ask for it) and they don’t, in general, talk to you whilst you’re in a Q (though I kinda like that sometimes.)

Fair enough, the above applies to England and is not London specific, but it makes for a good base of things under “why I like living here”. With London, you get all that and a host of other nationalities (which make it interesting), the Tube, the Congestion Charge, very high council tax, parking at the rate of the GDP of a small country (per hour) and a LOT of traffic speed cameras.

Now who would NOT want to live here? :)

It’s nice to be back in London, even though I was only gone for the weekend.

– Riaan

It’s a TV theme Bank Holiday Weekend – amended

FRIDAY: Casualty: In the midst of eldest sprog’s birthday, She Whom Must Be Obeyed slices large and deep cut into finger. Our Friend Who’s A Nurse drives SWMBO to The Royal London Hospital, home of HEMS, London’s Helicopter Emergency Medical Service and former residence and safe haven of John Merrick, otherwise known as The Elephant Man.

SATURDAY: The Bill: Following a family meal at Noodle Time, the six of us got off the Docklands Light Railway and crossed the road, just in time to be narrowly missed by a car screeching round the corner. The driver jumped out and ran towards us and then veered away to hide behind the van we were next to. A police Discovery sped past and the driver ran round the corner. The Discovery appeared again and, after a brief conversation with yours truly, sped off in pursuit.

SUNDAY: All Creatures Great And Small: Not content with sharing the flat and garden with five humans, four cats, two rabbits and two guinea pigs, SWMBO offered to dog-sit Daisie, who is a rescue from the Battersea Dogs Home, for friends who have gone back to Australia to visit family.

MONDAY – AMENDED: The Poseidon Adventure: I forgot that not only does it pee down with rain on every Bank Holiday Mondays but that there is invariably an old ’70s disaster movie on the TV in the afternoon during which the household will experience the type of emergency that requires one to summon out an emergency repair person at extortionate public holiday rates. Today was no exception, with a severely blocked waste pipe threatening to flood the kitchen. An hour or so of draining the sink and washing machine by hand, plunging and jetting the sink were to no avail. After trying our friendly neighbourhood guy (who was sensibly not answering). we called Pimlico Plumbers, the company which was featured in a recent UK fly-on-the-wall documentary series. Having previously been ripped off on a number of occasions by cowboys of the trade, we were impressed by the service we received. Although we were quoted up to 90 minutes to respond, a neatly unifromed chap named Bill arrived almost within the hour. Bill thankfully spared us the sucking of air through teeth and shaking of head that usually proceeds a financial fleecing and set to work, methodically working through the possibilities step by step until he finally found the blockage, explaining what he was up to each step of the way. All of this was done in a calm and efficient manner, requiring little input from me save for the making of tea and the discussing of the Olympics and English rugby. When finished, he showed us what he had done – and the muck he’d cleared – then clearly explained the small print on the work sheet and the breakdown of the charges which although not cheap were, in the event, not unreasonable considering the quality of service we had received.

The famous London black cab is coming to a city near you

I read that Manganeze Bronze (MB), the company that manufacturs the famous London “black cabs”, is hoping to develop a thriving export trade in the vehicles, which can already be seen on the streets of San Francisco and Ottawa.


Persian in Kensington

Earlier this week I went for dinner to Mohsen, a great little Persian eatery in Kensington.

As I said before, London offers a great variety of cuisines to choose from and Moshen is superb. It’s small, informal and exceptionally relaxed. The best thing about Moshen is the hostess, Roekni, who’s an absolute scream. If you’re not careful, she’ll quickly decide for you what you’re going to eat and she just keeps on bringing the food!

We were a party of 5 and she decided the best thing for us would be a meat platter and since one of the girls wanted some lentil soup she got us that as well, and tons of rice. The starters she got us were filling enough already and was made up of a great selection of dips and other interesting things you could have with the freshly made Naan bread they bake right there in an authentic bread oven – the type where they slap the dough onto the inside of the oven wall.

Items on the menu ranged from

The London Weekend

Especially crafted for the weekend, here is an artwork, the ICA Bar’s pint of Guinness™

Pounding the pavement

Sunday mornings are a great time to run around here because you pretty much have the streets and pavements to yourself. This morning was no exception, with the early morning sunshine warming my back as I worked my way across the Isle of Dogs and through the near-deserted roads and plazas of Canary Wharf before turning south and heading back home.
Running in a city provides one with a different perspective of a city to those which most folks experience. As I prefer to run on the softer asphalt of the road rather than the knee-jarring concrete pavements, I am acutely aware of not only every manhole cover and pothole but also the rise and fall of the gradient and the variation in the camber. Drivers and passengers who use London’s roads will not have the same intimate acquaintance with and knowledge of the variety in the road’s texture that runners do. The grippiness of granular tarmac, the unforgiving nature of herringboned brick, the potential for injury that lies in cobbles and the blessed relief of smooth black asphalt. In a similar fashion, perhaps only cyclists with their increased rate of respiration, will know of the smells and tastes that impress themselves on the urban runner. Whether it is the smell of stale beer and urine around the local late-license pub, the muggy fug that issues from the merchant bank’s air conditioning ducts or throat-catching tang of the processed fats factory at Leamouth, each is as much a milestone on a run as any white line or lamppost. The difference in the level of traffic fumes between, say, late Friday afternoon and early Sunday morning is scarily palpable by taste and smell, reinforcing the image of shimmering waves of translucent blue wisps taken in by the eyes. Permanent landmarks and other fixed features take on different aspects when one has more time to absorb their presence. To me, the off-kilter bollard peeking out from a line of peers speaks of a wider streetscape that is moulded by the way in which it is used or abused. A runner, unencumbered by the roof of a car or the brow of a helmet is free to look beyond and above the more usual sightlines of the urban traveller. Gaps between part-closed gates, hedges and walls offer the runner a brief sweeping glimpse of what lies beyond, not dissimilar to the type of rapid panning shots beloved of pop video and edgy action movie directors. Through these momentary keyholes a runner can spy all manner of things from the mundanely workaday to the furtively illegal. In a car, one might never see the child’s training shoe that dangles by it’s lace from a telephone wire, never ponder as to whether it ended up there as a result of the owner’s high jinks or the darker, more cruel taunting of a bully. On a bus, one will surely miss the street signs plundered from unsuspecting towns across the country, then furtively reattached to a solitary signpost outside the pub used by the local rugby club.
It is strange then, with all these things and more flooding my senses, that I feel both present and removed when I run. Whether this is what athletes would describe as being ‘in the zone’ or more closely aligned with the inner calm of those who meditate, I cannot say. What I can say is that whilst running allows me closer and more intimate interaction with my immediate environment, it also provides me with a valuable opportunity to step away from daily concerns, granting me small instances of calm obserevance and reflection I find nowhere else, regardless of where I run.

Welcome back to the cottage, Fulham FC

When I popped out to my local cornership to get the paper today, there were clearly more people about than usual. In fact, it was kinda difficult to cross the street and the hundreds of colourfull shirts, flags, banners and other football-like gear being carried by the crowd all heading in the same direction gave it away: Fulham Football Club is back home again.
For the record, I know very little about English football (soccer) and even less about the actual clubs, their league ranking and so on. But when I moved to Hammersmith & Fulham about 2 1/2 years ago, I did notice the large football club grounds close to my flat.
It was standing unused and empty till recently, when I saw some building work going on there. Which made me enquire about it a bit more.
Fans affectionately call the grounds “The Cottage” – perhaps, I guess, because it is a rather tiny stadium. (Tiny that is in comparison to grounds like Chelsea.) More likely they call it that because officially it is known as Craven Cottage. It’s also smack-bang in a residential area, on the river, and I believe that it’s residential location is one of the reasons why plans for a major re-development have failed, as local residents objected to a bigger stadium.
I don’t know the full story as to how it came about that Fulham FC could no longer play at The Cottage, but it turns out that they’ve been sharing grounds with Chelsea though that arrangement also turned sour. I also picked up on the Fulham Supporters Club which began as the “Back to the Cottage” campaign, formed after Fulham Football Club announced it had ditched plans to redevelop Craven Cottage on the lines of the planning permission received in February 2001.
According to the Fulham FC website, Fulham FC is the oldest of London’s first class clubs and its long history began back in 1879 with some Sunday-school boys knocking a ball around on a long-forgotten park pitch.
Fulham FC had it’s worst day in January of 1996 when it dropped to the bottom of the league, stared financial ruin in the face and had a host of other worries. They needed a miracle to survive and they got one: On May 29th 1997 Mohamed Al Fayed announced to the public that he had purchased the freehold of Craven Cottage, along with a major shareholding in the Club. (The same guy who owns Harrods.) He laid out a plan to take Fulham back into the premiership within 5 years, which was met with a lot of scepticism.
They got there in the 2001/02 seaon and today will see the first Premiership game back at the Cottage, with Fulham playing against Bolton Wanderers.
Which explains the crowds mentioned at first.
I think I just heard the opening whistle through my open balcony door. Welcome back, Fulham FC, and the best of luck against Bolton today.
– Riaan

Here is a section of black road . . .

What’s it doing in this fairest of cities?
I have a comparably gloomy link. It’s about death on the roads (although not perhaps what you think). Read.
London thoughts please to Nepal where Vienna metblogger Marie Ringler is ‘stuck in the beleaguered city of Kathmandu’.

‘The most beautiful thing . . .’

This is a quote found by my best mate Enrico who is visiting London this week.

‘The most beautiful thing we can experience is the
mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all
science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who
can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe,
is as good as dead: his eyes are closed. ‘
– Albert Einstein

But we’re pretty sure that Spinoza was around
somewhere with a big smile on his face.

How one person’s suffering can become another person’s spectacle

Careful: not a nice pic.

Outside the Clink Prison, Tooley Street.

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