Sunday, September 28, 2008

Would that be milking it?

The senior minister is in China and all the reports are on how far-sighted it is and what a wonderful place it is to do business etc.

I suppose no one asked him if, while he's there, is he taking his coffee black or with milk?

Saturday, September 27, 2008


It was back to pushing my way onto the train during the morning rush-hour yesterday. Now that we're learning to stand on one side of the escalator so that people can walk past on the other side, we're pretty much like London commuters. The only notable difference is, Singapore commuters don't read. Well, Singaporeans don't read, sniffs L. And this is despite two freesheets on offer. The Londoners grab their freesheets, Metro in the morning and The London Paper in the evening, and leave them on the backs of the seats after they're done reading so someone else can pick it up for a read. Or they've got their noses buried into books. I don't think I've ever seen anyone reading an actual Real Book here in a long while. In Singapore, people just stare blankly into space. Or play PSP. I didn't see a single PSP in the London Tube. Though I suppose if you're flashing one when you're heading out to say, Epping, then you're really asking for trouble.

Only yesterday, I read on the Guardian online how London mayor Boris Johnson proudly showed off the new air-conditioned carriages for the London Underground. Having only recently sweated it out on the Piccadilly line, I wondered why it took the world's first underground system till 2008 to install air-conditioned trains. And it's not for all lines but the newer ones. Commuters on Piccadilly will still have to sweat it out. Sorry, R.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Revving up

You know that Formula One is bearing down on Singapore this weekend when the movies on TV all week have a distinctive theme: Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle; 2 Fast 2 Furious; and Gone in 60 Seconds.

I know it's supposed to be a Big Deal, the first F1 night race and all. But it ain't doing nuthing for me, it's just cars making a lot of noise and going round and round very fast. And using a lot of fuel. And generating a lot of pollution. Ugh.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Holiday over

Now to dive into all those books (also part of the reason why a new suitcase was needed). And that would be a mini-holiday in itself.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

More curious finds

All the time I was living in Britain, I never felt the need to see Stonehenge. Oh, I was curious about it -- and who isn't -- but it was too far away; could only be reached by a bus that ran once a week or something; and completely fenced off. I guess the most off-putting thing was that I couldn't wander about it like Tess of the D'Urbervilles.

And then this trip, R&K took me to Avesbury. It contains what is said to be Europe's biggest stone circle. There are two rings, a moat and an avenue leading up to it. More amazingly, the village -- including the local pub (very important) -- is slap in the middle of the circle.

You can wander up to the stones and the only things that will stop you from doing so are the sheep. And the mud. So again, no Tess of the D'Urbervilles for me, just pictures from a distance.

Crop circles have been spotted in surrounding fields but we only saw a crop doodle, and only a very vague one at that as the wheat had already been harvested.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Not a stoodent any more

The nice thing about going back to the town you lived in when you were a student is that you can now afford the things you never could before. Like finally having dinner at its only Italian restaurant. I used to treat myself to their gelato -- which wasn't often but unsuitable weather had more to do with it than prices -- but never ventured into the cave-like posh-looking restaurant (Etna, opposite the HMV, next to the post office -- information for YH, whom I'm sure has question marks above his head already).

This time, we could sit down to a three-course meal plus wine. And because one of our party had a birthday, the staff accommodated with candles in the tiramisu and a happy birthday song -- in which the other diners also joined. That really took me by surprise. This isn't Hard Rock Cafe where people are expected to break into song and dance. So much for the reticent British.

Not being a student also means there's no ISIC card to wave about for massive discounts.

But not being a (homeless) student also means that I can finally buy the beautiful handcrafted homeware I've always coveted (like these coasters). Which also partly accounted for the need to buy a new piece of luggage the day before we left for home.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Twenty years later...

* My Middle English prof is still looking like a Middle English prof, ie, he still has a beard down to his waist. Even if he has considerably less hair.

* There is beef rendang on the menu at what used to be the Airport Lounge (thusly named because of its airport-like carpet. Urban campus legend had it that it was picked because its 70s motif design would hide vomit spots). Heaven knows what it's called now (feel free to contribute, Yee Hung, it's the lounge on the first floor of Rootes Social Building). Outside the restaurant. Which used to be called the refractory. Now, every eating place on campus is a dang restaurant. Oh lord, how I used to pine for beef rendang. We used to have to trek to the Chinatowns in Birmingham or London for a chilli fix and now Warwick students get a bottle of sambal in a condiments tray that comes in the form of a dim sum steamer.

* There's a Costcutters supermarket on campus where you can get a sandwich for instant gratification and the ingredients for a meat and 3 veg if you're DIY, along with the pots and pans to cook it. We used to have to go to Coventry Market for tableware and cookware. Now, an Ikea has sprung up almost next to the market and I suppose ubiquitous Scandinavian designed plates have displaced willow pattern ones.

* My old room now has four power points in it. Plus high-speed Net access. WiFi. Back then, it had just the one power point -- and in an obscure round-pin at that -- and I had my first lesson in creative electrical wiring even before I went to class.

* The sapling outside my room window -- I had taken pictures of it through a year, during all the seasons -- is now a fully fledged tree. When I had mentally accounted for more buildings sprouting up on campus, I had forgotten to allow for how much trees can grow in 20 years.

I know, I'm going to sound like my own parents doing their "back in my time" act (and YH must be doubling over with laughter). If I had a beard, I'd be stroking it in a sage-like manner. Especially if it's waist long like a Middle English prof.

Interesting finds

L found silver spoons in Portobello, I found a bronze plaque to hang over the dog crate:

We also found a cafe called Makan. Very clever name, you know exactly who would head towards a sign that says Makan. It had laksa for five pounds. But we thought we could hold off till we came back to S$3 laksa. Still, that was a find we could pass onto R and other pining Singaporeans in London.

One of the best finds was an Italian cafe called Re:Hab where Max, the Italian waiter told us to forget about the menu. Instead, he would go into the kitchen to find out what "Christina feelsa like-a cooking-a". "Becausa it willa come out all gooda." We wanted breakfast so out came crusty bread drizzled with olive oil, italian sausage and eggs from Bologna with yolks so vividly orange like a sun rise that we had to take a photo.

The couple who owns the cafe was going to shut it down the next day and hightail it to their cottage in Italy for two weeks to "get some sun" because summer has been dismal. The husband is Australian and they fly to Melbourne every Christmas, with a three-day stopover at Singapore, staying in the Shangri-La, to break up the long flight.

That's pretty much like the lifestyle of the rich and famous for me. Makes you want to throw it all in and run your own caff in Notting Hill, doesn't it?

Buoyed by our experience with barges and locks, we hung around the one at Camden, waiting to watch people work them. We weren't going to laugh, honest. But no one sailed that way. I guess nobody wanted a bunch of tourists taking pictures of them being confused.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Only in Britain

* L and I are the only people speaking English in Camden.

* There's a hot water tap at one end of the sink and a cold water tap at the other. Which means that you either scald or freeze your hands when you wash them.

* You can get a pint and pay for it with loose change, without having to break into paper money. It's that cheap to drink.

* Doors would be "alarmed". Oh sorry, door, I didn't mean to startle you.

* Everywhere else, shoplifters would simply be prosecuted.

* Mr I Don't Feel the Cold, I Survived Canadian Winters So I Don't Need Woolies wears a cardigan (mine). However, he's still in the kitchen (of the barge) and still holding wine. So some things don't change. Especially the "eat and sleep" bits.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Half a century

We squeezed as many candles as we could on the cake but couldn't manage anywhere near the 50 required for the birthday boy.

As part of the slowing down process, the big five-oh was spent on a barge going at 4 mph down a Warwickshire canal.

Obligatory countryside pictures of sheep and cows follow.

Plus ducks, moorhens and swans. I also glimpsed a brown rabbit (or maybe it was a hare) by the water's edge. That was so cool, I've never ever seen a wild rabbit before. Swans can practically climb up a barge window for food.

Oh, and we managed a couple of locks without embarrassing ourselves. But that was only because we had tons of help and advice. The British are ever so polite.

Even during the very beginning of the trip when we had to make a sharp turn after sailing out of the marina. We made landfall very rapidly and must have startled two Brits sunning in deck chairs because we were going straight for them. They didn't say anything and personally, I think that they were sitting there to get a VIP view of inept boaters coming out of the marina. Another couple started video taping us. I'm sure we're going to show up on one of those Funniest Homevideos show on TV soon.
You know your holiday is off to a good start when you get upgraded to Business Class. It was very welcome after an eight-hour first leg in a seat designed for midgets (and whose big idea is it to stick the airplane equivalent of the interactive TV set-top box under seats? it means that you can't stretch your legs out in front of you) and a three-hour layover in an airport that's stuck in the 70s (ie, no Internet and no hot showers).

I would have enjoyed it more if I wasn't already fatigued by the previous 10 hours. I actually fell asleep between the courses of the meal. Yes, courses. You ordered from a menu and are served course by course, on fine china, glassware, set on crisp, thick table linen.

But the cutlery was still plastic. I suppose just in case terrorists get upgraded too.

High tea took on a different meaning at 15,000 feet altitude.

Dazed and confused

I got up on Friday morning, had breakfast (I had a yogurt that was mixed with Channel Island cream, I'd call that dessert, not breakfast) and went to the airport late in the morning. I sat on a plane -- and then on another (after running through a Middle Eastern airport with my name blazing through the public announcement system in a "last call" warning).

When I got off that plane, it was Saturday afternoon. I had lost Friday night somewhere over the Indian Ocean. Because I never went to bed between Friday and Saturday, my body now won't accept that today is Sunday. And worse, tomorrow is Monday and I'm to be back at work.

I woke up this morning with the dogs pressed against my legs and it feels like I've never left. Waking up in the Earls Court flat, on the barge, in R's house with her cats, in the Coventry B&B seemed like a series of dreams.

But my mind feels freer, looser, all the better for days of seeing green fields stretching into the horizon, for the horses, sheepses and cowses dotting the landscape.

Yes, I've had a wonderful holiday.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Guilt trip

We're baaaaack! With 40 quid worth of chewies -- from Harrods no less -- to appease the furkids.

The petsitter must have done her best -- an almost empty bottle of odour neutraliser which was full when we left and a severe indent in a new bottle of floor cleanser is proof -- but we still had to work the washing machine quite hard when we returned. That Dog had gone on the couch. And in his crate. And on the bathroom mat. Luckily, our bed was unsullied.

But then just now, in full view of us, he both peed and pooped on the pee pad, as if to show that he really knew what he was supposed to do. That Dang Dog.