Wednesday, November 26, 2003


The couple in the food court at Victoria Station, who carefully weighed themselves (sans shoes, of course) with a set of bathroom scales they clearly carried along for the purpose, before getting down and dirty with a Big Mac.
The singer downstairs at the foot of the escalator at Piccadilly Circus tube, using a road cone with the end chopped out as a voice amplifier (worked well, too).
The sax player a little further along in the Bakerloo tube, playing along to a recorded drum track. He was Asian, wearing a plastic red nose.
The Kiwi music played non-stop at the Wicked Wolf pub (just around the corner from Kypera in Charterhouse Street), chosen by (I asked) the Irish barman, named (what else?) Paddy.

Dateline Yorkshire Sunday

Drive around the entrance to the Dales, to Ripon, and Fountains Abbey. Yes, ABC - another bloody church. But this one is a ruin, and magnificent with it. Built from the early 11th century on, by Cistercian monks, who specialised in water, wells and similar projects. It was a very rich abbey finally, and the stones still just ooze with that power. In typical fashion, the great tower was built by the last Abbot, just in time to be rendered redundant by Henry VIII's dissolution of all monasteries, only 30-40 years later.
Half of the buildings were recycled into a nearby Hall (manor house) and the half that remain are simply stunning. And there's a 18th c water garden further down, complete with temples, follies, a 42m tunnel, and a slew of statues. Lots of pics. Lots of walking.
We drive back to York via Knaresborough, but (darn mediaeval street layouts) cannot see the river Nidd and a large stone viaduct/bridge we know was there (because we went over it on the train Monday prior). So carry on to York, thinking to go back to the Minster and hear a Bach chorale. But we are both too tired out, and also do not want to dilute the Fountains Abbey experience. So we just hop an earlier train back to London and listen to Tom Waits (Blue Valentines) on the way.
These weren't the real dales, but they are simply gorgeous - quite reminiscent of parts of Southland. A little homesick moment or three. Or we could just live here.

Dateline Harrogate Saturday 22nd

Drive Scarborough to Harrogate in the morning (Saturday) to see the threads exhibition and trade show (for M's work).
Tuck in behind a Rover, travel quite happily (they seem to know the road) for the first half of the journey at speeds up to 90 mph (140 kph). Then gradually the volumes of traffic build up and then we are back to 40-45 mph as we approach Harrogate, to single lane non passing possible roads, which seem (as in NZ) to be held hostage to the least confident/competent or oldest drivers, or, believe it or not, to tractors towing great trailers full of animal faeces. They actually expect main road traffic to yield way to these throwbacks.
Arrive at Harrogate, have a slap-up lunch at a little underground restaurant in the mediaeval part of the town, with attentive service and great food. Find a hotel (the White Hart) with a lower tarrif than in Scarborough, and better facilties. Clearly, Harrogate (which has a niche market in conferences and exhibitions) has greatly benefitted from the related international tourism service aspect. Check in, and phone brother in Somerset. Speed limit is in fact 60 (100k) or 70 on motorways. Oops...
Wander around Harrogate a bit (slept all afternoon after that rather stressful driving) - full of antique shops and good restaurants. We have a marvellous hotel meal at night, complete with that cheeky little Aussie shiraz I've been missing up till now, 2000 vintage no less!

Dateline Grand Hotel, Scarborough Friday 21st

We chose this largely on the basis of a Grundy's Wonders piece. The dear man clearly didn't stay at this architectural wonder.
And a wonder it is: the largest brick building in Europe when opened - over 6 billion bricks. An impressive pile. Of bricks outside, slightly weathered, and of completely crapulous srvice inside.
Pity about the staff and restaurant, though. We needed a 'security key card' to get in to get fed at the latter - which we did not think we had, thinking of a real plastic security card. Silly us: it turned out to be the foot of the reservation sheet - a piece of paper! No key/paper, no meal. First hurdle.
Second hurdle, getting back to the room to get the sucker once we figured out just what that was.
Hotel is running a (!) Country and Western weekend special, which has attracted a depressingly large number of truly tragic individuals dressed (mainly) as Kenny Rogers, or Dolly Parton (generally avec mucho decolletage). No sign of a Lucinda Williams influence, I'm afraid. Donning these costumes seems to have decoupled the brain-to-room-number link, so the lift went to every floor, just in case.
There seems also to be an inordinately large number of actually mentally challenged individuals present, and one in a group manages (what else?) to jam the lift - no doors, lights, action.... Staff sort this out quite quickly, considering.
We finally get to the room, return with and prove that we have the paper key card. We're in to the restaurant! Not so fast.
We are asked to sit at a maroon table. So we do. Turns out (after 5 minutes wait) that the table is set up for breakfast and cannot, just cannot therefore be used for dinner. The dinner module will not run on an Operating Surface (OS) geared for breakfast. The natural solution would be to reset the same table. Oh no. Too hard. So we move. To another maroon table. Without marmalade. I swear, that's the only difference.... But now, happily, dinner can be served.
Sadly, the food comes and is dire. Awful. Bony fish, exquisitely hand-turned from Roman era leather peas, diced swede. Boiled spuds were good, but it's easy to imagine Cook out the back, shlomping the grub onto the tin dishes in best prison camp movie style. Certainly explained the general consistency. They used to slowly boil the odd individual during the dark days of the Counter-Reformation, and obviously the long slow boil habit is hard to break around here.
We establish that our waitress is from Spain. Bilbao, not Barcelona. No Fawlty Towers here. Oh no.
We ask for a wine list. Sorry, the bar closes at 7.30pm, but we can get you dry, sweet or red from upstairs. Oh, don't bother, thanks. Can't see that red being a cheeky little Aussie shiraz, anyway, somehow.
Unaccountably, after all this, we (a) leave before dessert (b) convinced we have wandered into to a Hi-de-hi time warp, and (c) still damn hungry. One consolation: the meal is in the room rate - now that explains a lot...
We tramp the seaside part of town, lokking for alternative food offering places. Not many open (off season), and those that are seem to be mostly the Brit Pub style: tiny, smoky, fuggy rooms, carpet smells of thousands of spilled drinks. And the patrons are clearly happy as clams. We keep looking.
Scarborough has a little mousehole (mowzel) type harbour. We wander down. Then away. Because down here, S also has teen hoons and drunk seaman. No bovver but we don't feel comfortable.
Finally find a little hole in the wall place, closed, of course. We persuade them that having a coffee and dessert means they are really open. Good coffee and desserts. They're having a Fawlty Towers night! Oh, the irony. Our night in Scarborough is complete.

Dateline York to Scarborough Friday 21st

Rental car to Scarborough - Big Mistake! Took fully one hour to clear York (going the wrong way at first, but found the outer ring road quite soon). 15 k/hr average. Grr.
Curious Brit predilection for closely spaced roundabouts in this road: inevitable result: the tailbacks all join up and everything just slows to a crawl.
No solution except take the train next time! But eventually made it (through a quite thick fog) to the Grand at Scarborough. Which needs a section all its own....

Dateline York and the Minster Friday 21st

York is a walled city (no dogs allowed on walls signs everywhere) with gates (bars in the local patios) through them.
Minster is simply, totally overwhelming. Very old - Roman drains at the very bottom level, still draining away, and a large Roman military building's foundations in the crypt. Large columns from the Norman cathedral also incorporated into the foundations, and massive reinforcing collars (20th c concrete and bolts) which were needed to stop the whole tower collapsing (again - first one fell over in early 14th century).
Far too much here to describe, but a real sense of the mediaeval mind - so many memorials, inscriptions, carvings, gargoyles. The Church and religion was everywhere and of course claimed total authority. Lots of photos, and a little movie of the striking clock striking 2.15 pm, with 400 year old carved oak figures which strike two chiming bars. And a genuine 21st century child, immortalised in sound as the movie recorded, saying 'oh shit'.

Dateline Yorkshire Friday 21st

Got to Kings Cross early (delays on Victoria tube did not happen). We were booked on an 1100 train to York, but hopped the earlier Aberdeen train instead.
These trains hike along - up to 125mph at peak. It's deceptive - until you try to photograph out the window! Fast shutter speeds are essential. Big pressure changes in tunnels - hard on the older eardrum.
Farming here is a bit sporadic: lots of waste (fallow?) land, and little intensive cropping. Few stock units visible - may be indoors this time of year, or just not there full stop.
Very tidy large fields in both Somerset and Yorkshire - recently ploughed and sowed. Very gentle contours so far that we've seen.

Friday, November 21, 2003

Thursday and Wednesday - demos and slow Tubes...

Inevitable delays everywhere - could have walked quicker. One 'protester' on the Tube, wearing a Bush mask with a forked snake tongue and devil's horns (these guys aren't big on subtlety - or originality) was also bedecked in a clearly cherished Columbia Titanium jacket. These are expensive, top of the range garments: slightly at odds with the mask.
Needless to say, the atmosphere round the hapless guy was quite chilly but (typical Brit reserve) no-one said a word to him. He got the point and departed at Temple stop, probably half-way to his destination.
I'm working just across from the vegetarian's nightmare: Smithfield meat market. Before the meat show, it was West Smithfield, scene of quite a few martyrdoms and assorted late mediaeval crowd-pleasers. Reading up on some of the martyrs history to see who the plaques refer to, it's clear that it was a result of Queen Mary's displeasure at Protestantism. Some of the reasons for the executions were: possession of the Bible in English, not affirming the Pope as the sole authority on earth, and not wanting to partake in the Church (Catholic) rituals. Of course the Church was very much hated for the state into which the priesthood and Popery had fallen: they certainly did not practise what they preached, but made it impossible to sidestep their own authority. By, amongst other things, having frequent purges of free thinkers. And trying to suppress the English translations of the Bible.
Of course, it didn't and couldn't last. Protestantism won out, and the Catholic church entered a long decline. But while it lasted, it was fatal for a good many good people, and extremely unpleasant for many others.
It's hard to escape the parallels to today: Britain (with the Istanbul bombing) has suffered something of its own 9/11. The ideology which is behind these acts is not dissimilar to the Holy Church of 1540: unable to win finally (because the power of free thinking is always too strong) but capable nevertheless of inflicting a lot of pain to innocents along the way.
Time to stand firm (and be careful: London is always a target, and as I noticed when we got here, border control is laughable.)

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

That AB result

On Saturday morning, as we headed back from doing laundry, we looked in at a little pub in Warwick Way, to check the progress of the game. Second half, not looking great, pub full of Aussies! Green and gold everywhere. Sorry to say, we watched for a few minutes only, then caught up with the inevitable news later on. And of course on the Sunday, England's victory over France - although it didn't seem to result in dancing in the streets, not that we saw. Brits seem to reserve overt emotion for soccer and small animals.

Monday, November 17, 2003

London Day #14 Sunday Nov 16

Touristing again - off to Greenwich via the Tube, then Docklands Light Rail. DLR is disconcertingly driverless! Went through East London - ghastly, very dire extruded housing, all jam-packed together. It's hard not to think that pinched, cramped living lead to similar thinking - no wonder soccer (fitba' here) and sport are such an outlet.
Cutty Sark first - huge, graceful, but I couldn't help thinking of the seamens' lot, perched out on ratlines above a heaving sea, to handle all that sail she carried. Think I'll stick to small dinghies.
Went to National Maritime Museum, but apart from some boat and engine -type static displays, it was all a bit too interactive and kid-oriented. So cut away to the Queen's House - a little Inigo Jones (architect, around 1630) gem next door. Wonderful painted ceilings, old portraits, spiral staircase. Gorgeous Canaletto painting of the view up to this house from the Thames.
So many of the 'servants' in London are foreign: Italian staff at the QH, a lot of Africans on the Tube system, a lot of East Europeans through the restaurants. And still they come.
Up to Greenwich Observatory - hill, in parklands, full of people, dogs going crazy (homesickness for dogs enters about here). Saw Harrison's clocks: H1 to 3 are all going, H4 (the watch) is not, visibly. Very moving - beautiful craftsmanship everywhere.
On down the hill into the village, to the Fan Museum - great displays and intricate work in tortoiseshell and bone.
Home via the river launch straight to Westminster. Past about one-third of Londons former dock system (now all housing and some very fine, too). The sheer extent of the docks and London itself has to be seen to be understood: the docks alone underscore what a huge economic flow went through here, and provided the means to build most of what we have seen.
Up to Paddington, where the darned free WiFi has stopped! Hope this is not a permanent feature.

London Day #13 Saturday Nov 15

Tourist day! To the laundrette first, then the Big Bus trip all around central London. Stopped off at the Tower and did the trip through the White Tower (there's a lot more at the Tower, but the WT is the centrepiece). Amazingly old, thick walls, vaulted ceilings, air of absolute history. Ravens and remnants of Roman walls outside,, lots of armour, weapons, torture instruments inside.
Did a river boat excursion (packaged in with the Bus tour), ended up at Westminster, rejoined the bus around the West End - Parks, Marble Arch (which used to be Tyburn, another grand day out for the kiddies with multiple hangings). Ended up rather pooped, no lunch, so off to Harrods for a cream tea each. Very good.
Harrods is impressive - tatty in parts, and over the top in others, but a must-see. Walked back to hotel through leafy squares, M navigating (there is so much of London that looks alike at street level that I easily get lost, and the high terraced buildings means that landmarks are hard to locate). Especially at night.

London Day #12 Friday Nov 14

Tube to work via Chancery Lane, walked down Holborn, to avoid (what else in England?)- a tube strike which knocked out the most direct route. Nice and pictureseque around the top of Holborn - Tudor frontage, all crooked and leaning every which way.
Going to be in London all weekend - early night so we are fresh, to be tourists.

Friday, November 14, 2003

London Day #11 Thursday Nov 13 - Night

M came up to Kypera and did some stitch graphing work. We walked back along my morning route: West Smithfield, Old Bailey, Ludgate Hill, Cannon St. Quick BK at Cannon St (they are supposed to be the same taste the world over but the NZ BK is far better...). Then walk down the Thames North bank to Charing Cross - quite a step, and we ended up wishing we had caught the Tube to Embankment instead. But a beautiful night view along the Thames, anyway. The directions thing continues - got asked directions by a truckie.....
Then the London Eye (the biggest, slowest ferris wheel in the world). Absolutely well worth it - only 11 quid each - and we were almost the last pax (close to closing time) and uncrowded, plus the night was clear and sharp. Great views all around. Usual London landmarks - St Pauls, Parliament, really well lit. Took a couple of photos but they were long exposures and hence fuzzy. Tried a burst of short movies instead, just panning around the blaze of lights. So-so results (we dump the card contents onto M's laptop each night and name the shots before we forget what they are). Then back over the river, tube from Embankment station home. Familiar trip now, but we are changing hotels tomorrow, so last night. Stocked up on fruit at Sainsbury's - English Breakfasts are not over-keen on healthy ingredients.

London Day #11 Thursday Nov 13

W - have decided to walk a different way to Kypera (up in Charterhouse Street) every day. So this morning's route was tube to Mansion House, then down Cannon St past St Paul's (one tower shrouded in scaffolding but very photogenic none the less), then up Old Bailey (alive with the 'Sotham' trial right now) and Giltspur to the western Smithfield area. Turns out that Sir William Wallace was executed around there (plaque on the wall of St Bart's Hospital) and they evidently barbecued a few religious dissenters in the same spot, to judge from another sign. So having a major meat market just across the square is just a little ironic, n'est ce pas?

London day#10 Wednesday Nov 12

At a Kypera client in High Wycombe - some 25 miles north-west of London. Victoria and Bakerloo deep tubes to Marylebone, then Chiltern Railways train to HW. Fast and efficient service. HW filled with the standard extruded brick housing. Fast train back - very smooth and quick, nice fish (large portions, fresh) meal at night, around the back in Wilton Rd. M has picked out a new hotel in Eccleston Square for the weekend and next week.
Took a walk around the square tonight - leaves are falling rapidly and the nights getting quite sharply colder. This is the weather we had been expecting all along. Square garden is private - residents have keys but the garden is not open to ordinary mortals. We keep getting asked directions - must seem like locals.

London day#9 Tuesday Nov 11

At a Kypera client in Bloomsbury. Nice, old part of town (what, in central London, isn't old?) Tube there, bus (the real-thing double decker, not the sanitised new Volvo's) back to Holborn. Holborn has a row of very old Tudor? half-timbered buildings, and a Prudential Association building in new brick, very sympathetically done, lots of fired sculptures inset in to the walls.
Back to Paddington for a quick blog, and try to decide next accommodation - no joy in actually booking the thing over the net. Quick BK meal on the way back via Victoria, then crash again. London is much quieter at night than we had expected, and doesn't really wake up much before 0500. Night noises include aircraft turbofan noise which is quite penetrating. But no construction - this area is so densely settled that it's probably not permitted to proceed at night.

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

Somerset and London Day #8

Back to London on the bus, in daylight. Stonehenge on the left, lots of large paddocks (fields) worked up and showing chalk. Gentle rolling hills. Then the 'Great Wen' - London suburbs, with houses that look like they were just extruded in long rows, and industrial bits that could be anywhere. New hotel - still in Belgrave Rd, so we don't have to re-learn directions, slightly larger room, closer to Victoria station.
Walked all round the Thames in the afternoon - Millbank, Southbank, London Eye. Eye is an amazing piece of engineering: powered by ski-lift type tyres pushing on the outer rim. Plan to go up there one night. Back across the river on the Millenium bridge, back through the Strand to Trafalgar Square.
Parliament Buildings are just superb - carved details, the western tower (we caught that in afternoon sun , ditto Big Ben, glittering metalwork detail). We sat on the south Thames riverbank, listened to BB strike 4 pm, and thought - this is a beautiful city. It shows what a financial powerhouse Victorian England was, both in the buildings themselves and in the use of physical space and scale.
Nice meal in a cafe off Victoria Tube station, home and absolutley crashed at around 8 pm. But we're both over the jet lag - took fully one week....

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

Somerset, Day #7

Take-it-easy day: M's Dad died last week and while this was expected, still a wrench to be so far away. Speech to do and mail, to be read at the funeral.
The afternoon was excursion time - to Montacute (house, village - typical English country house and gorgeous village). Wandered through St Catherine's church in the village (great gargoyles, Green Man plus one Norman one under the organ stall), and then up Hedgecock Hill (with a folly on top, which we climbed). Hill has a motte-and-bailey defence dating from Norman times. Still very evident. History just oozes out everywhere. I swear I got Norman cowshit in my Caterpillar shoe treads.
Back via Yeovil (home to Westland helicopters) - industrial town with an only slightly charming Main street.

Somerset, Day #6

Wincanton is a typical English country village. Went on a bus trip with Trev for most of the day, to Stonar school (where Mummy and Daddy's little girlie can take Horsey, too). Backtracked to Bradford-on-Avon and spent most of the down time there. Delightful - many pix. Complete with a rendering of 'Jerusalem' on a pipe organ in a seventeenth century stone church - shades of 'Calendar Girls' WI meetings. B on A has a Shambles (market street, a canal (Kennet and Avon, with locks and long boats), lots of golden Bath stone. Tithe Barn, too. Practically every stone here has a story.

London Day #5

Went out to a client at Elstree - home of the film (fill-um) studios which do EastEnders and the Who Wants to be a Millionaire, amongst other things. Beautiful day, again - this is supposed to be winter, ferchrissake. Got there almost an hour early (deep tube Victoria to Kings Cross, then ThamesLink to Elstree/Borehamwood) and allowed far too much time for what turned out to be a very slick journey. Breakfast in a small snack bar.
Client visit was unusual - it's the first time ever that I'm gone into a server room, had a monitor turned on, and seen it instantly burn up, complete with smoke.
Got back early (slick trains, again) so tried to get out to Hammersmith bus station and hop the earlier bus to see Trevor and Jane at Wincanton. No joy - awful traffic. So we waited around for two hours at the bus station, and did the bus journey in the dark, as we had expected.
T and J very pleased to see us, and their two dogs ditto.

London Day #4 continued

Still jet-lagged - reckon the body clocks are around 4-6 hours out. Strong desire to sleep mid-afternoon, awake at 0400.
Tried the WiFi hotspot at the White Swan, Vauxhall Bridge Road (just through the back from where we were staying - no joy getting out (thanks, BT...). So had a traditional pub cod, chips and peas. Fosters on tap, too.

Friday, November 07, 2003

London day#4 Thursday Nov 6

Quicker trip in to work (had been travelling right round the Circle Line from Victoria to Barbican). Walked up from Blackfriars station to Kypera instead - much more interesting, too. Under Holborn Viaduct. Still brilliant weather for early winter.

Wednesday, November 05, 2003

WiFi at Paddington

Blogging this from the main concourse area ('The Lawn', not a blade of grass to be seen, natch). It works - insecure tho'. Nothing that's free is 100%.

London day#3 Wednesday Nov 5

Tube delays - grrrr. A lot of the infrastructure is over a century old.
Another fine day, took the chance to walk around at lunch. Kypera is in a very old part of the City (St John's Gate just around the corner), full of twisting streets, narrow lanes and old brick (what else?) buildings.
Smithfield Market is just across the road - very ornate iron and stone work.
A beer or three afterwards, then an Italian meal (very good) and home early next morning on the deep tube between Kings Cross and Victoria.

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

London day#2 Tuesday Nov 4

In at Kypera offices (Charterhouse Street) - very warm welcome and very warm (temperature) full stop.
Thought we were clever in avoiding jet-lag, until about 2pm in the afternoon, when the body clocks just decided otherwise. Headed for home early, found an 'Italian' restaurant in Victoria Rd, ate (not great, expensive) then crashed.
The weather is a real surprise - had expected rain, coldish, and little sun. The opposite: dry, quite warm, and good sun/high cloud.
Great Italian meal just around the corner from the hotel. Getting very tired of the tiny room and heating that's on whether needed or not, so have found another hotel for next week already, much closer to Victoria station, too.

Monday, November 03, 2003

London Day #1

Border control is absolutely minimal. No written customs stuff (I asked and was told you self-declare by choosing green or red path...!). Very slight immigration form - most interested (verbal questions) in where/with who we will stay. The show is just wide open compared to US of A.
Heathrow Express to Paddington (lovely cast iron forms at the station, but oh so dirty with diesel smoke). Then the Circle Line tube to Victoria. Tube is NOT set up for large wheeled luggage - lots of stairs. Bad for aging backs.
Whoever had the contract for the bricks in London must be a squillionaire. So many, ranging very old to quite new, used everywhere. Repeated patterns in the Tubes - columns and scalloped recesses - all load bearing bricks. Gazillions of 'em.
Staying in Belgrave Road, walked down to the Thames (tide out...), and found the (old) Tate. JWM Turner/Venice exhibit - great paintings. T was really an early impressionist - his skies are amazing.
No 'street' views in the minor streets: all this area is built up 4-7 stories with Georgian-style terraces. Map and a good bump of direction is essential...
Room is tiny, hot. Can't expect much for 55 quid per night but can do better than this. Even on the same street. Lots of budget 'hotels'.

Trip impressions

Auckland to LAX - in the back ... always a lumpy ride. Slept a little, watched DVD (Buena Vista Social Club) on the HP. Great widescreen quality. Great movie.
Flew in to LAX Terminal 1, out from Tom Bradley Terminal. Full-strength immigration - green forms, even though we were just in transit.
But no Customs, just a baggage transfer. TB Terminal is well set out, showing signs of wear, good views including the iconic 'Hollywood' sign in the distant hills.
Flew BA World Traveller class out from LAX to London - first row of seats, very spacious, slept not badly.
Had copied most of our favourite CD's into Media Player library - quite impressive quality, each CD around 40-50 mB. Used a splitter jack so we could both listen at once. Very good.