Thursday, 28 August 2008


Q: Why are there two types of tea cups in the cupboard?
A: If you like, can sip your tea from an American-style mug. Don't have a big American mouth? Then try one our thin, English-style tea cups for cheery sipping.

Q: Can I demonstrate, through tea, my rugged American spirit and general bad-assery?
A: Try drinking your tea straight with no sugar.

Q: When I make tea, should I ask the other people in the office if they'd fancy a cup?
A: Yes! If it's good, you'll have achieved some non-obnoxious ass-kissage. If it's bad, we'll never ask you to make our tea again. Win-win.

Q: You don't mind if I just leave this tea bag in here, do you?

Monday, 18 August 2008

4,328 miles to Wall Drug

Although debate still rages about what Stonehenge is in the abstract sense (ancient observatory? alien landing strip? acupuncture point for Mother Earth?), less than four seconds after arriving there last weekend it was painfully obvious what Stonehenge is in the literal sense: a pile of rocks in the middle of nowhere:

My obligatory tourist shot at the world's oldest tourist trap finished, I spent the next hour freezing my butt off while wearing a sweater in the middle of August and trying to think of an adjective other than "wind-swept" to describe the Wiltshire countryside.

My free trip wasn't a total bust, though. After Stonehenge, our surly bus driver took us to nearby Salisbury. London is not a very stroll-friendly sort of place, but Salisbury certainly is. Nice cathedral, nice shops, nice footpath along the River Avon. It was, in a word, nice. I could certainly spend another cold and windy afternoon there, sipping an espresso while watching the crowds pass by the cafe windows and aimlessly flipping through Salisbury Life.

What I found decidedly not nice about Salisbury was the charity street canvassers who were markedly more aggressive than any I've encountered on Borough High Street or Tottenham Court Road in London. Charity street canvassers generally stand two or three abreast in the sidewalk to ask for "a minute of your time" to give their sales pitch, creating a perverse shark-and-minnows game for unwitting pedestrians.

Being an awkward, gullible, and absent-minded pedestrian, I'm a particularly attractive target for street canvassers. There are many justifications for and against giving money to street canvassers, but I generally frown upon such direct, obtrusive soliciting. Luckily, the same awkward absent-mindedness that attracts canvassers to me like flies on shite also allows me to feign ignorance and/or deaf-muteness.

Ah, once again, it's nice to be back in London, where the street canvassers are easily ignored and urban sprawl heats the air several degrees warmer than the surrounding countryside.

Saturday, 9 August 2008

A note on commuting

Ah, good old 48. I feel like such a Londoner riding the bus from Mare Street down through Shoreditch and Bishopsgate and over London Bridge to work each morning. I sit on the top of the double-decker bus, people watch, and marvel as the drivers of the 48 are able to dodge and weave all the oblivious pedestrians and random construction barriers in their path.

The drivers of the 26, it seems, are not so adept.

On my way to catch the 48, I can shave a few minutes off my walk if I hop on the 26. (It's not worth it to wait for the 26, but if I'm at a bus stop when one rolls up I hop on.) So there I was, blissfully distracted by This American Life on my iPod as we barreled down Well Street. Properly distracted, I didn't noticed that we had veered perilously close to a dumpster at a construction site until the woman next to me grabbed onto my arm with one of those Panic Squeezes. I looked over, and everyone on the port side of the bus had leaped back, shattered glass everywhere. The bus had hit the dumpster taking a turn too sharp and knocked out two huge panes of glass in the bus. Thankfully, no one was injured. And, like a true Londoner, my first thought was, "Shit, now I'm going to have to wait for the next bus!"

Sunday, 3 August 2008

Six lessons learned whilst daytripping to Canterbury and Whitstable

1. Don't be (too) lazy. Yes, putting off sending in your railcard application meant that you paid more than you needed to. But at least you managed to drag yourself out of bed in time to catch the tranquil, uncrowded 8 a.m. train. The Kentish countryside's scenery in the early morning is hard to beat.

2. Communication is key. If someone is being a pain in your backside, take a little advice from King Henry II: Don't make an off-hand remark over the water cooler that you wish someone would "rid you" of the person. Next thing you know, they'll hack him apart and thousands of pilgrims will pay him tribute. Talk about annoying.

3. Embrace what you love. Yes, the guidebook says to hit all the museums and to take a bus to Whitstable. But if all you really want to do is write postcards while sipping espresso in a dive cafe, and hike the hilariously named Crab & Winkle Way, and people watch, then DO IT. When traveling alone, you've got to do it for yourself. And after you pet some horses, eat a sandwich from the top of the hill overlooking Canterbury and the surrounding valley, stumble upon a wild blackberry patch, and spend a good twenty minutes whistling your high school's alma mater deep in the woods of Kent, you'll be glad you listened to yourself.

4. Take proper precautions. When urinating in the out of doors, make sure to find a discreet, out-of-the way location. Off the path in the Blean Woods is a good choice. Between a boarding school and a rugby pitch is not.

5. Do your homework. If the whole point of going to Whitstable is to eat some fresh oysters, you should make sure you know what to do with them when you get them. Otherwise, you'll be handed a bewildering array of oysters, utensils, and sauces, with nary an idea of what you're supposed to do with them:
6. Appreciate home. After a hectic day in the hustle and bustle of the country, it sure feels nice to return home to humdrum London. And what a great feeling to have yet another place that feels like "home."