Thursday, March 29, 2007

Knutty for Knut*

This is one of the funniest opening paragraphs of any newspaper article I've ever read:

'Clinging to his handler's trouser leg, Knut emerged from his enclosure into the chill spring day, finally silencing a group of small children who had been crying "Knut is cute, we want Knut!" for over an hour.'

I just had to post this little piece of journalistic gold for everyone to enjoy. I don't know if people at home have heard a lot about Knut, but he is quite the celebrity over here. He has legions of fans, was photographed by Annie Leibovitz for the cover of German Vanity Fair, has government ministers fawning over him for political mileage and sleeps in a hammock while his handler strums Elvis on the guitar. You get the picture - what's not to love?

Knut can now be visited at the Berlin Zoo. Guess where I'm going next weekend!

* Thanks to Bel, Tobs and Bonnie for the tres clever title.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Oxford wandering

Continuing on from my Chelmsford adventure last weekend, on Saturday Bonnie and I journeyed to Oxford to visit our dear friend Bel and her real life genius boyfriend, Toby (author of Only Connectivity) for a day of sightseeing around their lovely hood, and of course the mandatory pub lunch.

The day was bound to go well when, riding through the town on the bus, Bonnie and I discovered that the Oxford Literary Festival was on that weekend. Of course, we instantly had two thoughts: 1) Was there a bag? 2) How quickly could we obtain one? (By the way, we did, it's calico and has 'Oxford Literary Festival' in big letters and I can't wait to show it off next Writer's Week!)

Oxford is extremely beautiful and extremely cold! There is such a grand history and tradition that it is actually slightly overwhelming. It is like going back in time to a golden era of intellectuals and art and culture. And it's the home of Hogwarts! This is the entrance to the dining hall at Christ Church college, which you may recognise from the Harry movies:

Unfortunately the very snooty custodian guarding the dining hall was not letting us or anyone else in during the Literary Fest, as he had been posted to that spot specifically to keep the riff raff out, thank you very much.

We also visited the Turf, the pub which was the sight of the legendary Bob Hawke world record setting skull, and The Eagle and Child, below, where J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis used to hang out doing such things (I imagine) as drinking port, smoking pipes, partaking in witty banter and reciting poetry.

One thing that no tourist can avoid when visiting Oxford are the highly visible and somewhat militant groups of anti-vivisection protesters. Oxford has a reasonably new biomedical centre where a lot of medical testing on animals is conducted. The centre took years to build due to contractors withdrawing from the project due to threats and intimidation. Apparently going to work there is akin to being a Doctor at an abortion clinic in the deep South.

I'd be interested to know what people think about this because I can appreciate the necessity of testing on animals but I'm very uncomfortable with it. I believe that it should be kept to the absolute minimum and the animals kept in as humane conditions as possible, which from the protesters' materials, did not seem to be happening. Also, it would be preferable to be able to develop methods of medical testing that do not involve animals at all, though I have no idea if that's possible.

Anyway, to wrap up my otherwise light hearted travelogue, we ended the afternoon with tea and scones to complete our Oxford experience. And to end things on a high, I'm inserting one more pretty Oxford photo, as it is a truly beautiful town.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Bogans and Chavs

I had only thought of the Walkabout - 'The Awesome Spirit of Australia' - existing in a bizarre and abstract sense before I got to London. People who have been to London joke about it, but it is only when you dare step foot inside the place that it becomes horribly real.

My first attempt to visit the Walkabout was actually Saturday two weeks ago. Emmalene, Darren and I stepped inside, approached the bar, I started hyperventilating a little and announced we had to leave, and we did. But I made a second attempt last Friday night as I was invited out and decided that it was better to give it another try than go home and be a Nigel-no-friends (or as they inexplicably say over here, a Billy-no-mates).

Highlights of the Walkabout included: £4.50 for a glass of Jacob's Creek Sauvignon Blanc. I still feel sick when I think about it. Luckily the cricket was on (two matches simultaneously!) so there was also an 'awesome' selection of good ol' fashioned Aussie bogans, New Zealand and South African bogan equivalents as well as a not insignificant number of English yobs. Fosters was considered one of the better beers available and there was also about as much bar etiquette being shown as grand final day at the Alma. Yuck.

I spent the whole time there with a horrible feeling that I was going to run into someone from Adelaide and would have to justify my presence, but at least they would too.

On Saturday I went further afield to Chelmsford, Essex, to visit a stronghold of the bogan's British cousin, the chav. A chav is also closely related to an Essex girl and I haven't fully worked out the distinction between them. The telltale marks of a chav/Essex girl appear to be bling, leggings, leopard print stilettos (or white boots in Winter), bimbo persona, heavy makeup and loud, obnoxious voice. Their beverage of choice is a Cherry Sour, which looks and tastes exactly like children's Panadol.

This was Edwards, the place to be seen for a chav on a night out in Chelmsford. Apparently sometimes they let the queue build up a little out the front to make it look really happening:

Unfortunately, there weren't as many chavs/Essex girls in Chelmsford as I was hoping for - it's a pretty civilised little town really. Apparently Kent is the place to go for some really good chav spotting, so I'll have to plan another trip. But many thanks to mtk for being a great hostess and showing me all the hot spots.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

The world (slightly) beyond Zone 2

Last weekend I decided to go a little further afield, beyond the comfortable world of Zones 1 and 2 and into the mysterious outer realm of Zone 3!

My first stop was Wimbledon to visit my friends Emmalene and Darren. Em and I spent a delightful afternoon wandering around the lovely Wimbledon Village, which included the mandatory pub visit that I seem to need every five hours or so over here!

This photo is for the benefit of my old work peeps, though Em might kill me, she doesn't have this blog address so no one fill her in!

Wimbledon is very green and residential. There were proper houses there, with backyards, something I haven't seen in a while. It was also very much South London. It is hard to pinpoint the distinction between North and South London, but there is a very, very different vibe down there. It's a bit rougher in parts but more relaxed and seems to feel more like a community.

I then trekked across the city on Sunday (okay, got on a train and sat for 45 minutes - but it was exhausting) to meet up with another friend Marcus and to visit what I have to proclaim my new favourite place in London, the beautiful and lovely Hampstead. My parents used to live there, and quite frankly, I'm quite peeved they ever left. Every aspect of the area is just idyllic - the quirky little shops, charming little cafes, quaint alleyways and old pubs. It's every English cliche you can muster... I loved it! This is my Dad's old street, Flask Walk:

And my Mum's old old street, Gayton Road:

(Oh why, WHY?!) It was also the nicest day we've had all year, so Marcus and I went for a walk around the nearby Hampstead Heath. Check this out for picturesque. This is actually a real photo:

I am in love with Hampstead right now. I am refusing to think of what it would actually cost to live there... I'm not ready to shatter the dream....

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Cultural education

Mtk and I went to see The History Boys on Saturday night. Not only was the play terrific, but I do believe we picked up an essential London skill in the process, being that of the eleventh-hour-attendance.

The basic steps are: you decide you want to go to a play 20 minutes before it's due to begin, you park yourselves in the lobby of the theatre where said play is running, pester the attendants, take a number (literally) and if people don't show up, you can actually score yourself a ticket on the spot! At a rather exorbitant cost, unfortunately. But I guess they have to penalise you for not booking ahead one way or another.

In addition to the thrill of the last-minute-attendance, we also discovered that they actually sell standing room tickets in the theatre - as in stand in the aisle and at the back of the theatre. So during the performance there are people sprawled all over the floor as well as in seats. Crazy! Being a law nerd, my first thoughts were of course the potential liability issues. "Is that not a rather obvious fire hazard! Is the theatre's insurer aware of this practice?"

And naturally: "This would never be allowed in Australia."

But I squeezed these thoughts out of my mind, and ate some delicious Haagen Dazs during the interval, which they served in handy little pots that you could eat in your seat. I also noticed a number of people drinking in the theatre. So I guess going to the theatre in London is riskier but far more amusing!

Sunday, March 4, 2007

The most wonderful time of the year!

Spring! God bless! Apparently it doesn't start here officially until 15 March (?), but on Saturday the sky shined blue and the world was right again. Well, for about an hour. Then it rained periodically the rest of the day. But I would not be deterred!

I was so excited that I went to Hyde Park to lap up some sunny goodness. I walked around for a few hours, sat by The Serpentine (above), strolled across some spacious green fields and visited various monuments (the Diana memorial is below - luckily the photo doesn't show the ugly fence surrounding it).

I may have gone a little overboard on the photo taking in the process. Nevertheless I am going to inflict my Springtime joy on everyone:

Aaaaahh. It was lovely (when it wasn't raining).