Bellack in London
Week Five: December 4-10, 2000

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dec 4 Still in Liverpool. We'll be counting boondoggles today.

(1) I shorted out the electricity in my hotel room when I tried to turn on the lights, so I had to shave by the light of the open door while I waited for the electrician.

I had a traditional English "big breakfast" -- in its fullest form (I didn't have this much) including fried or scrambled eggs, sausage *and* bacon, mushrooms, stewed tomato, potatoes or beans, and toast. The job I was in Liverpool went well. The company is in "Sir John Moore's building on Old Hall Street," which is not such an unusual British address (my office in Windsor is "Berkshire Place, Thames Side"). Vim left on time, but I had to stay until the end of the day. I got a cab back to Manchester -- left Liverpool around 4:45pm, got to Manchester around 6:10pm.

(2) The 6:30pm shuttle back to London was sold out, so I had to take the 7:30pm flight.

(3) It was raining, so all the flights were delayed, and I didn't get out of Manchester until 9pm.

(4) The hamburgers in the Manchester airport food court are really lousy. [OK, that one was probably to be expected.]

(5) Due to congestion at Heathrow, we had to circle for an extra half hour. [The flight from Manchester to London itself is only 35 minutes, just for perspective.] On the bright side, the flightpath into Heathrow gives you a great view of London -- a small clump of skyscrapers around the City and Docklands, St. Pauls all lit up, the Houses of Parlaiment (the building with Big Ben), the Thames and its bridges, and London itself sprawling out in all directions. [London is something like 30 miles across both ways -- it's huge.]

(6) Got back to my hotel in Holborn around 11pm, I discovered that the dry cleaning hadn't been picked up on Monday. I needed a clean business shirt for Tuesday morning (big client meeting thus wearing my suit), so I had to stay up until 12:30am to run my shirts through the laundry and iron them myself.

dec 5 Important client meeting for crisis management on Tuesday morning. It was in Hemel Hempstead, which is to the north of London, so I took a train from Euston station, another of the 4 or 5 big "Main Line" junctions from which trains leave London. You can get almost anywhere in Britain by train, FWIW. Pastoral scenery on the way to Hemel Hempstead -- actual cows & horses & stuff. The meeting went relatively OK, but lasted four hours (ugh). Back in Windsor, got a drink at the pub next door ("The Donkey House") with co-workers and some people from Allaire (the company that makes ColdFusion, the software whose user group I was at last week). The beer-in-pub-after-work thing is more prevalent here than I've experienced in the US, though this might depend on the industry -- my friend Justin apparently hit happy hour regularly when he was doing currency exchange with a bunch of Irishmen, though it could've just been the Irish thing.
dec 6 Finally got a cell phone. I tried to use a company purchase order (to avoid the no-bank-account no-fixed-address problems that I hit the last time I tried), but something went screwy in the computer systems, so finally Jeremy bailed me out by using his address. The phone itself is nice -- Motorola T250. It's triband (UK/Europe/US), does WAP (Internet over the phone), has an IR modem built in (so I can access the Internet using my Handspring Visor), a phone book & event calender (sync with my Pilot), built-in vibrate (instead of having to buy a separate battery), and it's smaller than my old Nokia. Calls to the states are only 15p/minute, which is the same price as calls inside the UK! Plus it's silver. Cellphones over here are amazing.
dec 7 Went to the Docklands office with Vim in the morning for a meeting with a potential partner. Went adequately, but nothing special. Walked through a big underground shopping arcade at Canary Wharf on the way back -- basically a huge two-level underground mall full of business people. Ate lunch at a Slug & Lettuce nearby. Windsor has its moments, but I do kind of wish that I was working somewhere that had more business types filling up the streets & lunch spots. [This is what I liked about working in midtown Manhattan.] Back in Windsor, Vim got the builder that renovated his house to come in and work out an estimate for renovating the miserable bathrooms, getting some ventilation into the office, knocking down some walls -- all sorts of things to make the place vaguely respectable. I was then up incredibly late packing up my things in preparation for the move to Putney on Friday morning.
dec 8 Didn't get much sleep staying up late and getting up early to pack & check out of the hotel in Holborn and get to Putney by 9:30am to meet the person inventorying the flat. They didn't charge me for phone calls when I checked out, oddly enough -- weird considering I made a lot of calls (Internet access alone should eat a lot of money). Took forever to find a cab -- @$!&!@&#* relocation company had failed to get me a car. Despite the fact that they had placed me in the hotel in Holborn, *and* they knew where I was going because they worked with the realtor to find my flat, *and* they knew what time I had to be in Putney. Argh! Anyway, I ran about 45 minutes late to Putney, but I did get there. The inventory person was a hyperkinetic little woman named Charlie who took her job very seriously (in a good way). Then I started getting settled in.

This flat is even better than I thought it was going to be. Because it was someone's home and they're just in Australia for a few years, the place is *stocked* -- fully furnished, all the cutlery and glassware, pictures on the walls, plants all over, microwave, toaster, TV set, even their *stereo* is still here! And the fittings are all great -- really modern kitchen appliances (gas stovetop and a fan for all the steam, big dishwasher), cedar armoire for clothes, etc. The fireplace has a gas-burning "fire effect" gizmo (which is actually pretty cool), the skylights on the top floor open up for air, etc etc etc. I'm not just renting a flat, I'm renting a life. And it's big -- the top floor has a guest bedroom and a study. If you're reading this and have a plausible claim to being a friend of mine, you're seriously invited to come and crash for as long as necessary.

The neighborhood is good, too. It's very quiet, but if you walk a block north or five blocks west you're on a main street with plenty of traffic, shopping, pubs, etc. [FWIW, nobody in the UK calls them "blocks" because nothing's square, but I don't know what else to call them yet.] There's a decent supermarket nearby, where I went to buy stuff for lunch. Got some wensleydale cheese which was incredible -- I think that they don't pasteurize everything over here, or something, so there's much more flavor.

dec 9 Slept in to catch up after the work frenzy of the past two weeks and moving in. Got the tube in to central London, which only takes around 30 minutes on the District line, which is great -- it's no worse than my old trips from Brooklyn into Manhattan. I went to the Notting Hill area in search of some Christmas presents but didn't see what I was looking for. Notting Hill is very nice, BTW -- leafy urban streets that are quiet considering how central they are, plenty of art gallery / trendy store type places. My mother called my cellphone while I was walking around, which was almost disorienting. Ended up exploring some shops on Portobello Road, which is a big bazaar of antiques & flea market type stores. Most of what I saw was extremely lousy. Went to Tottenham Court Road for some more present-hunting, got the week's comics and picked up some film I had developed. Then headed back to Putney to get ready for Will Bunker's housewarming party. Stopped in Putney on the way to pick up some wine for a housewarming present.

Didn't get out of the flat until almost 9pm, and then had to hunt for 10 minutes to get a cab. It's impossible to take the tube from Putney to Clapham (where Will lives) -- you'd have to go all the way into the city on the District line, and then come back down south on the Northern line, which would probably take almost an hour. The party was still going strong, though. It was fun -- met a bunch of people. A very international feel -- some Frenchman, an Australian, plus some Spaniards that stopped in halfway through. It turns out that no matter what continent you're on, everyone at a party ends up crowded into the kitchen. I'm probably going to tell Will to invite all his friends when I have my housewarming, because they seemed nice enough and I don't know enough people yet to fill my own party. 8)

I did discover that Americans don't have the greatest reputation over here. Strikes against us are apparently arrogance, failure to acknowledge the rest of the world really exists, inability to take a joke, and a completely demented puritan inability to deal with anything that's supposed to be pleasurable. I can kind of see their point, at least for the average joe-bob-midwest American. Things do get a bit silly, though. The Australian woman at the party mentioned that Aussies resent Americans because while Australians were fighting in Europe during WWII, American GI's in Australia slept with all the women. I suppressed my jingoistic urge to tell her that without all those GIs there's a good chance that Australia would now be a province of the Greater Nipponese Empire. Having written that sentence I now feel like I should be chanting "USA! USA!" and wearing a baseball cap that says "America -- love it or leave it."

All in all, it was a reasonably fun party, considering that I didn't know anybody besides the host when I walked in, and that I've only been in the country for a month. I left around 2am, and in the rain in Clapham it was hard to find a cab. I walked for 10 minutes and ended up jumping in a gypsy cab helmed by two Africans, only one of which spoke any English. At one point they actually asked *me* which way went to Putney, which was a grim moment I can tell you. But they did find their way and I did get home safely.

dec 10 Intended to wake up early but after last night's party it took a while to get rolling and I got out of the flat around 1:45pm. Turns out there's a gym right where my street (Fulham Road) intersects Putney High Street, so I joined it. Then I went into the city to continue my National Gallery ramblings. The nearest tube stop to my apartment is Putney Bridge, which is on the north side of the Thames (neighborhood is called Fulham). There's a really old pub called the Eight Bells by the station -- it claims to have been founded in 1630 or so. I can believe it, because the glass has seeped so much that you can barely see through the windows. [Physics trivia in case you don't know -- glass is actually a liquid, not a solid, so over time glass will flow down in the frame, which creates ripples and waves in the pane.]

At the National Gallery, I got through the rest of the 1600-1700 section. This included Rembrandt, Rubens, and Velazquez, not to mention an inordinate number of big landscapes with tiny mythological figures in the foreground. One surprise was that many of the Dutch & Flemish painters, including Rubens, worked in England. Rubens actually painted for the ceiling of the Banqueting Hall (one of the palaces in Whitehall, I think). The museum has an oil sketch for some of the pieces, including an impressive ascension-type piece called "the apotheosis of James I" which is fairly grandiose for a living king. The portraits of historical figures were interesting, including two French images of Cardinal Richielieu (sp?) who apparently looked exactly like he does in all the historical movies; Philip IV of Spain, who looks like the guy who played Herman Munster; and of course two Rembrandt self-portraits. One of the Velazquez paintings has the Virgin Mary standing on the moon, with a halo of stars, and dwarfing the small landscape in front of her. It's allegorical, but the effect is almost surreal, prefiguring Dali. [Judges, please grant my requested bonus points for using the word "prefiguring" in a work of art criticism.] The museum also had an interesting exhibit on Telling Time in art, which talked about the ways that artists depict time in their work. For example, for centuries wheels were always painted with every spoke visible, even if they were supposed to be spinning rapidly. Painting a spinning wheel was a major innovation. The exhibit also noted the relation of comic strips to time-telling. Definitely an exhibit that would warm Scott McCloud's heart.

Back in Putney I discovered that all the grocery stores were closed at 6:30pm on a Sunday. Fortunately a big convenience store was open so I was able to get some stuff to drink & food for the week. Ordered some very good Nepalese food (tasted like Indian pretty much), and now I'm writing this journal.

next week Working out the Putney commute; UK CFUG Christmas party; desperate last-minute Christmas shopping; finishing the National Gallery?