Thursday, 28 July 2011

Making a New Life

Today I really feel like I'm settling in to life in London. I applied for a drivers license, found out my fee status for university in the fall and am finally getting my food processor. It's real, it's official. We live in London. We are Londoners, now. Well, maybe let's not go that far, so soon.

I'm terrified about the driving license. My beloved 1996 Toyota Corolla is a manual car (I miss you, little car!), I've been driving for over 10 years and I drive on both sides of the road - though not generally in the same trip - but I'm still shaking in my boots. Not so much that I'd have an accident or do something terrible during the exam, but more that I'll be watching all these little teenagers triumphantly waving their "pass" papers and I'll be slumped in the corner with a "fail" for some silly mistake.

In fact, what's really getting my blood pressure up is the "show me/tell me" section of the exam. Apparently the examiner will ask two of these questions, such as, "show me how you'd check the oil level" and "tell me how you'd check that the steering is working." Oil level - check. Provided it's in the same spot as my Corolla! I feel pretty confident that I could find it, just generally, but under pressure, who knows what I could do. Also, tell you how I know the steering is working? Well either the car turns when I turn the wheel or I sit there helplessly flailing while the car continues to sail on. I guess that's when the emergency stop comes in?

Anyhow, I know I shouldn't be stressing about this, because my dad did a great job teaching me the basics of cars, because I have taken car of a 15-year-old car for many years and mainly because I don't even have the provisional license yet and I'm going to take lessons, so it's really not an issue yet. As my mother would say in an exasperated voice, "Really, Sinead, cross that bridge when you come to it." Hopefully, I manage to cross it on the right side of the road, with appropriate mirror checking and within the speed limit.

As I walked back from picking up my new and sure to be delightful food processor a woman asked me for directions to Harrods. Balancing my enormous box on one knee and hanging on to another bag with one hand, I was fairly clear that I had absolutely no idea how to get her there, but she produced a map of London nonetheless. After pointing out where we were on the map (I was confident on that much), I told her to "walk straight, then turn right and it should be on your left. The poor woman is probably still wandering around Kensington, hours later. I'm not quite a Londoner, yet.

Now, my first official act as an almost Londoner: Go searching for all my best food processor/hand blender recipes. Yum.

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Countdowns and Down for the Count

It has been a shockingly long time since my last post, so apologies for that. Since then, we have seen a great many changes, including Rebekah Brooks and the Murdochs being called to account for this outrageous phone hacking scandal. I'm thrilled that they're being made to answer for their actions and lack of actions, but it all seems a little trite and perhaps the news it's generating is a little too "good." They are key players in an ongoing criminal investigation, so, naturally, the members of parliament questioning them didn't want to compromise any facet of that. Instead, we got hard hitting inqueries such as, "What happened?" and "Do you bear any responsibility?"

Now don't get me wrong, I laughed as hard as the next viewer when Rupert Murdoch passed the buck down the chain. I'm not responsible, the people I trusted and the people they trusted are responsible. As though trusting someone relieves you of responsibility in your job. The Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Paul Stephenson said when he resigned, "As commissioner, I carry ultimately responsibility for the position we find ourselves in."

He didn't blame it on the people he trusted.

Rupert, Rebekah and James are somehow not responsible for any of the major problems that occurred on their watch and put huge sums of money in their pockets. They say that the business is too big for them to know anything. Indeed. Sounds a lot like "too big to fail" to me. If it's too big to manage, that's just what we call "too big."

No other business owner would get away with rampant illegal activity in their business by saying that they just can't keep up with everything that goes on in the business. As owner, as CEO that's your job. Oh, also Rupert, this didn't come out of left field, you were in court in 2006 for hacking the phones of members of the royal household. Not exactly a hidden activity.

Seeing the public's reaction to Rupert was fascinating, though. I think people expected the big bad wolf to walk in, but instead they got something closer to Little Red Riding Hood's granny. He was frail, he seemed a bit dothery and it's just a difficult to really conjure up scathing hatred for a little old man you would normally help cross a busy street.

People really seemed to think that he would look and act like a nasty movie villain. Why? He's eighty years old and a businessman. I don't think he's really up for hand-to-hand contact with Superman anymore, if he ever was. Rupert isn't the guy who challenges you to fisticuffs to prove how tough he is, he knows his power and he knows how to use it. His power is money and media. More effective than fists any day. Although, his wife was pretty scrappy when someone attempted to smash him in the face with a plate of shaving cream. Who doesn't love the old pie-in-the-face routine? Oh, Wendi doesn't and she'll show you just how distasteful it is. Watch out for a slap from those well manicured hands. All this to say that I don't think the Murdoch empire is quite as down for the count as my title might suggest.

In other news, only 365 days until the London Olympics 2010! The excitement is killing me. The party is due to kick off tonight in Trafalgar Square when IOC president, Jacques Rogge, invites the athletes of the world to gather in London one year from today.

Do you think he'll advise them to be extra careful about what their voice mails say? Seems prudent.

I'll be back online soon to give you the thrilling run down of how things go tonight. People are apparently already gathering in the square. Only hours to go until there are only hundreds of days to go. You may commence waiting with bated breath.

Friday, 8 July 2011

Big Day!

The excitement is just killing me today. Not only are we moving, but the last Harry Potter film premiered last night in London and Kate and Wills will open the Calgary Stampede. If the rumors are to be believed, they may even wear cowboy hats while doing this! I for one, believe this wild rumor; I heard that Kate left a voicemail for Wills about it.

The News of the World is shutting down due to this phone hacking scandal. Allegedly, a private investigator for the paper hacked the mobile phone accounts of possibly thousands of people, including a murdered teenager, victims of the 7/7 bombings here in London and soldiers killed in action. A bit of a morbid fascination.

As bad as this massive invasion of privacy is, and I do believe it's terrible, what worse is that the people who stand to suffer today mostly had nothing to do with the hacking. The BBC reported this morning that The News of the World employed over 200 people, all of whom are waking up to the news that they seem to be out of a job. Meanwhile, the editor under whose leadership this scandal occurred, Rebekah Brooks, appears poised to keep her high paying executive position within the parent company of News International. In fact, she seems to have played a major role in the decision to close the paper. If that's not an indictment of our times, I'm not sure what is.

So, while I'm thrilled that moving day is finally here, there is a bit of a bad taste in my mouth.

Although, when I think of the fashion statement that Kate, sorry, the Duchess of Cambridge will no doubt make today, my faith in the world is a little restored. At least there's still some fluffy, mindless news in the world.

I wonder how much air time that will get on Fox News today. I expect we'll be seeing a great deal of evidence of Rupert Murdoch's passion for fashion.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

A True English Experience

Tomorrow we are moving house and I'm ready. It's been a long time coming and it finally looks like it's going to come through. It was a learning experience renting a flat in London, though. Most specifically, we learned a word that in any other circumstances I would have loved: gazumping. It just rolls off the tongue. Unfortunately, it also rolled us right out of a lovely little flat after the landlord had accepted our offer. He decided he'd just prefer to get more money. Instead of saying that to us and letting us decide if we wanted to raise our offer, he held our deposit and kept changing the move-in date and delaying signing the paperwork. When we finally said "enough" he had said that we could move in until 6 weeks after the original date, but he'd let us know for certain a couple of days before the date. Insanity. However, we've found a bigger, cheaper unit in a better location, so karma or whatever it is is smiling on us. Take that, landlord.

Moral of the story? Gazumping is a delightful linguistic construct, but a rather miserable experience.

Tomorrow is the big day, though, so today was a busy day getting ready. Unfortunately, it was due to rain all day. When I saw that it wasn't raining this morning I set out immediately, hoping to be back indoors before it started. Maybe it would hold off until late afternoon?

No such luck.

No sooner was I on a bridge crossing the Thames than the skies opened and it absolutely deluged. Sideways. Oh, English rain, how I've missed you. It's been almost ten years since I last experienced the uncanny ability of English rain from all directions. It falls downwards, sideways, upwards and any other direction of which you can conceive, plus a few more. My little umbrella and water resistant (a laughable designation in this part of the world) jacket struggled valiantly, but by the time I had made it home hours later, I was soaked to the bone.

For a time I was impressed because my new waterproof shoes seemed to be keeping my feet dry, but alas, it did not last. To be fair, I'm not sure that they leaked, it's equally likely that my feet were wet due to the water pouring down my legs. The shoes certainly didn't seem to be letting any water out.

Naturally, the sun is splitting the stones right now. A gorgeous evening.

Perfect for drying shoes.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Of Maple Leafs and Long Queues

Perhaps I should say "long lines?" Now that's a culture conundrum. Is a queue still a "queue" if it's made of Canadians waiting for that most Canadian of institutions, Tim Hortons? Somehow, it just felt a lot more like a "line."

Oh, yes, my loyal readers (all two of you), Timmy's was in London. Amidst the hustle and bustle of a gorgeous summer day in the Big Smoke there were flashes of red everywhere on Friday. Canadians were out in force with their flags, maple leafs (again, this just feels more right than "maple leaves"), hockey jerseys and all manner of Roots gear. Nowhere were they more apparent than in Trafalgar Square. London has the largest Canada celebration outside of Canada and, on this 144th birthday, Canadians and London were in it to party!

I took a walk to Trafalgar and arrived at about 2:45 in the afternoon to find the party in full swing. The two enormous bars were serving Sleeman's Honey Brown and Canadian, people were snacking on bison burgers, buffalo wings (actually American) and psuedo-poutine. I say "psuedo" because it was made with grated cheese not cheese curds, which, as any good Canadian will attest, is just cheating. And if you talk to anyone from Quebec they'll insist that the cheese curd squeaks. If it doesn't squeak, it's not worthy of the name "poutine." However, the crowning glory, as evidenced by the enormous line, was the (cue the choir of Canadian angels) Tim Horton's tent. Oh yes, real Timmy's coffee and donuts.

The glorious Tim Hortons tent
How far away I actually was at the end of the line
I joined the hoards and began the wait. About five minutes in, some event workers walked by wheeling a basketball hoop. The English guy in line in front of me asked the Canadian girl he was with, "Why do they have basketball? That's not Canadian!" She triumphantly and a little smugly, if I'm honest, said, "Actually, it is! The guy who invented it was Canadian. I can't remember his name. Neville...something like that. He was Canadian anyway!"

Now, as you all know I have a compulsion to share obscure pieces of trivia so I couldn't help blurting out, "Naismith. The inventor of basketball was named James Naismith." They were a little surprised that I just burst into their conversation, I think, but she was thrilled to have some back up. I didn't like to burst her Canadian bubble, so I left out the part about James having invented it in Springfield, Massachusetts. Not sure what that means about the sport of basketball. Is it Canadian or American? To look at the Raptors, you'd have to say American, but surely they can't have that much of an influence on the entire sport. Basketball seems to me like a child of an immigrant; born in America, but Canadian too. Naismith was a native of Almonte, Ontario (a suburb of Ottawa, today) and received his Bachelors of Education from my dear McGill University.

"But" as Dr. Carroll used to say, "I digress." I got talking to the couple after that fail safe icebreaker. **Note to the non-Canadian readers: Should you ever travel to Canada or just wish to make friends with any Canadian, you would do well to learn some of the many talented people the country has produced. They just love a good game of "Oh, s/he/they're Canadian!" And they particularly love it if people generally think that person is American.** Again, I digress. They were two very nice people and had a very, very important piece of information for me. Canadians, listen up. This is, in fact, so important and exciting that it deserves its own paragraph.

There is a REAL Tim Horton's in London.

I kid you not. It's apparently, on Regency next to a Sainsbury's or in that general location. Joy abounds.

Joy also abounded when about an hour later I was at the head of the line. Gladly paid 6.50 for five donuts and one small coffee - not quite the same pricing structure as in Canada, but still, with that line, they really could have fleeced us!

After a hurried goodbye to my line buddies I scurried off through the streets of London with my cup of Timmy's coffee and backpack filled with donuts. I could tell the Canadians that I passed by the way they gave themselves whiplash doing a double take at my little brown cup as I speed walked past them. As other people paused to take pictures on the Mall, at St. James' Palace and Buckingham Palace, I was taking the largest, quickest steps I could without scalding myself or, more importantly, wasting a drop of that dark brown nectar so loved by Canadians, especially my own Canadian.

One text later and my Canadian met me in the lobby of his building where he collected his coffee and chose some donuts (only enough for one person, otherwise he'd have to share!). A delightful afternoon snack and just as much fun, if a bit stale, on Saturday morning!

All in all, a great Canada Day! You just can't beat a little Timmy's and that oh so evident Canadian national pride. The type of pride and inspires them to wrap themselves in flags, wear t-shirts that say nothing but "eh?," eat fake poutine and, of course, queue for an hour for overpriced coffee and donuts, just because it's Timmy's.

Happy Canada Day - hope you all celebrated in true Canadian form. I'm sure Donald Sutherland did.
**Bet you didn't know he's Canadian!**