Tuesday, February 20, 2007

You can take the girl out of Ramsey Street...

...or so said the Yeoman Warder (aka Beefeater) to me after taking this photo. One cheesy photo and I'm labelled an Occa. Even though I think mtk is correct in thinking that they probably just have stock standard jokes that they pull out for every nationality, I was still a bit offended! (Not that I'm knocking Neighbours, 'cause I actually love it and perhaps should be flattered that I was put in the same league as Susan, Toady and Janelle.)

As the photo indicates, on Sunday mtk and I were complete tourists and visited the Tower of London. We got the full highlights of the castle - Beefeaters, crown jewels, cannons, bloody murder, executions. But the coolest part of the castle was discovering that the Beefeaters and their families all live there. When walking around you could actually see their houses, many of which had roof balconies and looked extremely cool. We were tres jealous.

Below is a view of the castle from the inside and featuring the ravens that live there. By royal decree of Charles II (back in the day), there must always be at least six kept at the castle. So the story goes, the day the ravens leave the Tower of London, the monarchy will collapse. I know what some of you are thinking but I'm not going to go there!

Continuing in my mission to see every single gallery and museum in London, I went to the National Portrait Gallery the other day and saw the Face of Fashion exhibition. It was no Gerster and the entire thing was basically a shrine to Kate Moss. But still reasonably cool.

I also visited London's biggest market, on Portobello Road, which was just mad. It was incredibly busy with tourists - 20 languages being spoken around you and not one of them English. You also really had to sort through the crappy stalls to get to the decent ones. It was something I had to see, but I actually preferred the little market closer to my flat. Or perhaps there's just better food at the market closer to my flat!

I would love to have more photos to post, but I've spent a lot of the last couple of weeks in various pubs and luckily there isn't any photographic evidence of that!

I am also starting to organise some trips over to the continent. I am off to Berlin over Easter and Brown Dog and I have also booked a trip to Paris at the end of June to go and see *Genesis* live in concert! I think AJ put it pretty succinctly when he said: "That sounds exactly like something our parents would do." Sad but true.

Lush green pastures

Although this article about a London lawyer who died at the Tate Modern came out about a week ago, it has been on my mind ever since. I can only imagine how desperate and trapped he must have felt to have done what he did. Everybody knows that professionals in a city like London work crazily long hours. It has been that way for a long time and getting worse. I'm told that these kinds of incidents occur relatively frequently here.

What really upset me was that this guy's father, who you would think would be the person most firmly pointing the finger at his son's law firm, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, seemed to be making excuses for them and was almost sounding apologetic that his son had inconvenienced his employer by killing himself. I felt deeply depressed when I read that his quote that he felt his son had so much more to offer his employer, his friends and everybody whose lives he touched - very telling that he listed them in that order.

Most heartbreaking of all: "I think he might have gone on to things other than the law. He always wanted to write." How sad.

The only thing that makes me feel better is to think that the partners at Freshfields will now be desperately cutting back back on their juniors workloads so as to cover their own arses should such an incident happen again. Hopefully they're losing a lot of money in the process. Perhaps no £1 million salary this year!! (Or maybe they'll just cut everyone else's bonus.)

Me? Well, I've recently crossed over from the private sector to what an old colleague used to call 'the lush green pastures of government'. I don't know about green (obviously not even a distant possibility of £1 million) but it certainly seems pretty lush. I start at 9.30 am and I'm one of the first ones there! And I'm finally rid of budgets and units, which I can't say I'm remotely sorry to see the back of. On the other hand, such systems do have the advantage of actually making people work. There are a few employees at my new work who apparently have very little to do and seem to be proud of it.

For example the conversation I overheard the other night:

Public servant #1: "What have you been doing all day? Wasting taxpayers money?"

Public Servant #2: "Well I have been for the last seven years, why stop now!!"

Both: [chuckle]

Public servant #1: "Well, you really just have to think of it as, you're a taxpayer, so you're just wasting you're own taxes."

Both: [chuckle more]

It's a different world...

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Bits and pieces of stuff


Thanks to the new job, plus the fact I've blown a ludicrous amount of money since I arrived, I have been forced to lay off the extracurricular activities a bit this last week. But I've managed to do a few things:

  • I went to the British Museum and checked out the last day of an amazing exhibition of Georg Gerster called 'The Past From Above'. Gerster specialises in taking ariel photographs of archaeological sites around the world. What an amazing job. The exhibition was wonderfully organised, a path through the continents beginning with Africa and the sites where the earliest traces of humanity were discovered. I was so entranced with it that I'm inserting a photo right now:

  • I have also been discovering a wonderful thing called High Street fashion. 'High Street', if anyone doesn't know, is a generic term for the primary business street in a town. So basically, 'High Street fashion' are the clothing stores that would normally be located on such a street - big generic chain stores. Luckily these stores are all pretty trendy and relatively affordable. This is good for me as I determined pretty much on arrival that an entirely new wardrobe would need to be purchased. I'm happy to report that I am already part way to accomplishing this goal! (See reference to ludicrous expenditure above.)
  • I also visited the local V&A Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green. The museum itself was reasonably interesting and at the risk of sounding like a gigantic nerd, it had a really cool collection of dollhouses throughout the centuries (so lame). However, accompanying me to the museum were about 1000 screaming little kids. Anyone who knows me would be able to guess how I felt about my quiet museum time being interrupted by little snots who run around the place and bump into you and put their greasy fingers on the exhibits and make so MUCH noise. Unfortunately, I can't say Lonely Planet didn't warn me.
  • I discovered during the visit above that my area, the Borough of Hackney, has one of the most ethnically diverse populations in the UK. Just thought that somebody else might find it interesting, because I did, that the top ten countries of birth for people in Hackney are:
    • England,
    • Bangladesh,
    • India,
    • Nigeria,
    • Pakistan,
    • Republic of Ireland,
    • Turkey,
    • Scotland,
    • Jamaica and
    • Somalia.
  • I also visited my friend Bonita in her hood Brixton, which was loads of fun. As if the area was determined to live up to its name, I got offered skunk weed on the three minute walk from the station to the bar and pills on the walk back to the station again! (Don't worry mum and dad - I turned them down.) I also went with AJ to a lovely and cheap little French Restaurant, Le Vie en Rose, which just happens to be across the road from our flat. Despite knowing far too much about abattoirs these days, I braved the pork and duck pate.
  • I have also been working a lot which I won't discuss too much but will insert a picture of my office as it is a really pretty building and right in the middle of London, in Holborn, a hop-skip-and-jump from Covent Garden, which is a hop-skip-and-jump from Leicester Square, and so on:
  • And on my way to work, I entertain myself by reading London's favourite free celebrity trash rag, London Lite. It's like getting NW, everyday, for free! I know people understand what I'm saying!!
And finally, on a personal note, I just wanted to give a shout out to my little bro Jeremy, who got accepted to study medicine at Adelaide Uni the other day. Congratulations Jez and just to let you know, the onus of caring for mum and dad in their old age is now firmly on your shoulders as the doctor of the family!

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Snow horrible snow

As a newbie in England, you can imagine my excitement when snow was forecast for last Thursday. To us Aussies, snow is this glorious exotic stuff which we associate with Christmas, building snowmen and hot chocolate. But have we ever stopped to think about the practical implications?

Late Wednesday night, the heaviest snow in seven years started to fall in London. Approximately five minutes later, the entire transport infrastructure of the city collapsed. There seemed to be, amazingly, no contingency plan (well, except for everyone just staying at home for the day and frolicking in the snow, which quite a few people seemed to do).

I expected more from a city where it has surely snowed many times before over the last approximately 1000 years! Plan for these things, people.

The weather made everyone cranky, least of all me, who arrived 20 minutes late on the second day of my new job. Super. This was mainly due to the congestion on all the trains coming through my station because of snow related track problems further out. I also didn't have any of the warming gear that Londoners seem to be given at birth to wear in this kind of weather. Instead I had leaky shoes and an extremely unfashionable beanie.

All the snow caused frustrations (I assume) gave rise to a rather interesting, if worrying, incident on the tube:

Seemingly normal girl: 'Stop bumping into me!'

Other girl: 'I can't help it.'

Seemingly normal girl: 'Hold onto something!!'

Other girl: 'There's nothing to hold onto, sorry.'

Seemingly normal girl BODY SLAMS other girl in the middle of the train.

Me (internally): 'Jesus. Definitely getting off at the next stop.'

I now dread snow.

Monday, February 5, 2007

Do you know how to get to......?

Hello and sorry for the lack of updates since I arrived! I have had a lot to get my head around in the last week. However, things are slowly falling into place. Here's an update of what I've been doing:

  • My cruel new housemate AJ insisted on keeping me awake the entire day when I arrived and took me on a walking tour of central London, including Piccadilly Circus and Covent Garden, and then dragged me to a sweet little pub called the Old Coffee House and forced me to drink for about four straight hours. It was horrible but somehow I made it through.
  • I have spent many, many hours trying to comprehend and make my way through the London transport system. I'm happy to report that the tube is really easy so long as you've grasped whether you're heading East or West. It's once you've left the tube where it get tricky - i.e., a myriad of streets that are not properly marked. The layout of London is very confusing - there is absolutely no symmetry and the streets are placed willy nilly all over the place. It almost makes me long for the simplicity of the streets of Adelaide. Actually, not really.
  • I spent Friday night catching up with my friend Emmalene where I had great fun filling her in on approximately a year of missed office gossip. She took me to a wonderful little Greek place in Covent Garden and then out to a pub - can't remember the name - which I think is a testament to how many beers I had. She is a great girl and seems to have the London thing nailed.
  • On Saturday I awoke late and stumbled down to the 'local organic market' that AJ had casually mentioned took place on our street every Saturday. He hadn't trumped it up nearly enough as when I actually got there, around 2 pm, I discovered it was awesome. My fave stalls included to anti-bacterial insense stall, the crepes stall, the samosas with many-a-different-sauce stall, the pottery stall and the many cheese stalls (God bless). It was great and I am definitely going back there next Saturday (which makes sense given that its downstairs from my flat and I have to go past it to go anywhere).
  • Speaking of my street, Broadway Market, here's a photo:

  • As you can see it is very villagey and has a great selection of cool little shops including clothes shops, galleries, cafes and my new favourite place, the La Bouche French Patisserie (which of course I gravitated to on my first day). It also has two very cute pubs and a big green park at the end which I have been intending to explore but haven't yet. I'm told that the park contains London's first, and only, Olympic size swimming pool, but I have yet to verify this (coming up in the next post).
  • On Saturday night mtk came in from Chelmsford and we met our friend Bonita down at Southbank. We had a warming bottle of red in the freezing cold outside of the National Film Theatre and then went to this fabulous restaurant called Buono Sera in Chelsea, which had tables built into the ceiling that could only be reached by ladder. We were at the top of the ladder and the waiters had to climb up to give us our food. It is a bit hard to describe but loads of fun and we felt like we were eating in a tree house. Here is a photo of me in upstairs of the restaurant but unfortunately it doesn't do the place justice:
  • On Sunday mtk and I went to the Victoria and Albert Museum to check out an exhibition on 60's fashion, which was fascinating, and the fashion and photography collections, which were amazing. Because of its close proximity, we also stopped by Harrods. The structure of the Harrods food halls (the only bits we really looked at) is that there are lots of mini cafes specialising in different kinds of cuisine. The highlight for me was a pizzeria where, I kid you not, one of the chefs would randomly start singing opera while tossing the pizza dough. I'm talking fully blown aria with background music. In the pizzeria. To all the customers. Though we could scarcely afford a thing in the whole store, we treated ourselves to one item. Fudge!
  • Finally, I'm happy to report that my job hunt over here has been mercifully short and I have gained employment as an in house solicitor at the Food Standards Agency. This was after a terrifying five days dealing with recruiters, which I'm sure anyone who's been through could testify is slightly harrowing. While it makes it easy to apply for jobs, they are scary people seem in a constant state of hysteria. Everything is a race, but I guess that's just the nature of the job. I have no idea how they do it without having nervous breakdowns.
Well, that's all for now, hope everyone is well....