Life in London

Life in London for a not-quite-middle-aged gay Australian guy. Oh, the glamour of it all!

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

And in other news

So, last week we went to see the new controversial Bond. Very good. No annoying John Cleese. Daniel Craig is a very physical ripped Bond. Very. Not so many gadgets, characters a bit more fleshed out, Bond less suave, more manly, and Dame Judi. What's not to like? 8/10. Dum-dah-da-dum-dum, Dum-dum, Dum-de-de-dum-dum.

And today Michael Grade resigned from the Beeb to become CEO of ITV. Who? Yawn. This morning's Today Show devoted at least 10 long minutes to the story. Of interest to media-types only I would have thought, but the BBC led with it most of today.

My semi-new, part-time office is a block from here. I can feel the weight increase already.

Friday night saw Paul and I join Mark, Angel, and Laura at the Prince Charles cinema to see this. Lots of nuns, people dressed in curtains and brown paper packages. It was a fun night out, but Angel was happiest when it had finished - it's a very long movie and probably doubly so when English is your second language.

Saturday was an exciting day, filled with paint, sandpaper, polyfilla and primer. Then we met Mark, Angel, Mike, Kris and Alfonso for drinks at Barcode in Vauxhall. Stuie was supposed to join us, but bailed for a champagned-fulled 40th at the Edge instead. We drank, we danced a bit. Paul and I got the nightbus home, and I almost caused a bus-rage incident by taking some bloke's lit cigarette and throwing it out the window. Bit harsh, but smoking is banned on buses.

Sunday was filled with more plaster-dust etc. etc. I do so little manual work now that painting the bathroom door gave me blisters. Now I can't hold a pen to write.

Oh, and last night our plumbers told us about the woman in the building near us who cleans naked. You can see her every night apparently - we've been there three years and never noticed. They've been there three days.

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Monday, November 27, 2006

Concrete is so underrated

There is a new pissoir as part of the Vauxhall bus-station redevelopment - I like it. And it's functional, too.

And I really like this carpark. Very sad.

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Thursday, November 23, 2006

Love, Abbey Road Style

Normally the fence at Abbey Road Studios is covered in grafitti from effusive fans (mostly Beatles fans, with a sprinkling of Clash and Pink Floyd fans). There are people there pretty much all day recreating the 'Abbey Road', album cover - stopping my bus from getting to where it should be going (not in the least bit annoying, nope - not at all annoying). The graffitti is normally high-quality stuff, too, like 'John forever - Loretta, Italy' or "Hans from Cologne says 'I am the walrus' ". The fence is repainted every couple of months, but this week to celebrate (promote?) the new Beatles 'Love' album, the record company has painted it.

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Wednesday, November 22, 2006

They discovered sea-routes to India and West Africa, you know

So after the whirlwind that was Mark and Robert’s visit to London (more on that to follow) Paul and I set off for Lisbon last Tuesday lunchtime. And what a good time to travel – no hassle on the train to Heathrow, quiet enough in the BA lounge, and Heathrow wasn’t too manic either. The flight was a little late, but Marta (our landlady for 5 days) was patient at the apartment and she greeted us in whirl of flawless olive skin, white teeth and hesitant english. And what a great apartment it was – high 15ft ceilings, shuttered windows onto the street, all-white, cute little euro-kitchen and bathroom, polished floorboards, chic gentrified working-class location - ticking almost every clichéd European stereotype you can muster.

The apartment was at the bottom of Bairro Alto, just above Bica, which led straight down to the river. Apparently, a lot of Bica was washed away in a landslide. There was a funicular to get the old and infirm (and by the smell of them, the drunk, but maybe that was just my breath) up and down the hill and trams ran outside too (almost a w-class, but smaller!).

It’s pretty amazing how a short flight you can transport you from safe, (relatively) clean London, to fearing for your life in a speeding taxi and dodging dog turds as you walk the streets of some 400-y-o neighbourhood full of decaying houses. So last Tuesday night, Paul and I found ourselves dodging dog-turds and dealers, as we hit Bairro Alto for some great tasting seafood, then a quick tour of the bars of Principe Real. Bairro Alto was busyish (for a school-night), but Principe Real was very quiet. So quiet, we went back to Barrio Alto and drank at some coolly distressed bar – it was so very Fitzroy, it almost made me homesick.

Our next few days consisted of pretty much the same pattern, sleeping in, late breakfast, sightseeing and then dinner (either in the apartment or out). Lisbon had some great inexpensive restaurants and I ate possibly the finest piece of tuna I’ve ever eaten on Saturday night. And that’s before I start on the Pasteis de Nata. I tried (successfully, for the most part) to limit myself to one a day, which was difficult for someone with a sweet-tooth like mine (See? It’s easy – all you need to say is ‘I like dessert’. You know who you are.)

Lisbon was hosting an Herbalife conference while we were there, I have never seen ‘Lose weight now, ask me how’ badges in French, Spanish, German and Dutch before. I can now die happy. We struck up a conversation with a Spanish woman on the tram from Barcelona, who gave us her card ‘in case we had any questions’. I am now on a diet.

Saturday we went out to Belem, which was formerly a different town to Lisbon, but now is a suburb. We caught the tram, not the rattley ding-ding w-class impersonator, but the smooth honk-honk Citadis and Combino type. More Melbourne flashbacks. Belem was beautiful, the Torre de Belem enchantingly so, and the San Jeronimos Cathedral too. I was busting so we called in the Centro Cultural de Belem (CCB), and it was pretty cool too. All pink-sandstone and lovely open spaces. Sort of like Federation Square, but not trying as hard. Which is not to say I don't like Fed Sq., or prefer the CCB, the CCB was not as architecturally challenging.

Unfortunately the CCB were in the middle of changing the signs for the toilets, so it took about 20 mins to find one. I think urine-stained jeans were a small price to pay for hanging around architectural magnificence. I finally found relief in one of the cafés there, where some impeccably dressed dark-haired, olive-skinned Mediterranean type was there gazing out over the perfectly landscaped terrace with it’s vista over the river, smoking himself to an early death, while poring over his architectural drawings. It was all so achingly hip and European, that I couldn’t help but put my sunglasses on my head and my jumper over my shoulders.

The tower at Belem was pretty amazing too, they don’t build fortresses like they used to. It’s UNESCO world heritage registered and Paul and I were undecided about going in (what does the UN know about culture, anyway?), but once we were in we were hooked and spent over an hour looking round. It must have been the dungeons that got us. I’m not sure if it was the sunglasses on my head or the jumper over the shoulders, but a couple of times I was asked in Portuguese to take photos. (note to self: must buy deodorant). From there we dashed to San Jeronimos, where I was outraged by the level of noise in a cathedral, and the inanity of the conversation (‘Oh, and do you get someone in?’ ‘Yeah, I have a cleaner come once a week’ – Go to a café to chat you idiots!!). We missed the cloisters, because it’s always good to have a reason to return. I didn’t miss calling into the Pasteis de Belem manufacturer where there was literally a rugby scrum to grab half a dozen tarts.

Saturday night we skipped the bars of Principe Real, and went for dinner in Bairro Alto, then to Setimo Ceu for a drink – I kept Paul out until 2am and the street was still full of crazy Lisboetas drinking – they are almost as clinically insane as the Spanish. Summer must be great.

While the weather wasn’t fantastic it was pretty good – 17C at least and Saturday and Sunday were around 21C. The cleaner in our building was tsking over the weather this morning when I chatted to her (she’s Portuguese), she thought it was cold for this time of year. I suppose it’s all relative. We were out most nights in a tshirt and jacket.

And cheap? We couldn’t believe it – 1.30 euro for two coffees and two pastries. That’s less than 90p. Meals were inexpensive as well, and wine was dirt cheap too. At a We went to this wine bar we had two glasses of excellent vedelho (keeping my promise to drink more vedelho this year), and an antipasto plate for under a tenner – and we thought that was pricy. If only it was Spain, we’d be there like shot. But I must admit Lisbon has rocketed from nowhere into my top 10 cities list (ooh- that sounds like a good idea for a blog post!).

And the people were so nice – the wine bloke in the supermarket was happy to spend 15 minutes with us tasting wines and telling us the differences between them, and Marta (our olive-skinned landlady/goddess) even offered to look for big houses to rent next year for us……. How nice is that? How can you not like a city that produces people like that? More photos here.

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Men at work II

To be honest, last night I thought the bathroom would never be finished.

But I love it when a plan comes together, especially if the plan involves chrome. (Apologies for the quality of the pics, camera phone not so good at night)

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Men At Work

2 pics - top is bathroom Monday night, the lower is Sunday night - should all be finished today hopefully!! (And we will have hot water and a toilet again.)

Monday, November 20, 2006

You can bank on the Holy Spirit

well you certainly can in Portugal.....

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Sunday, November 19, 2006

Who's been a bad blogger then.....

Hello! Sorry - was busy at work, then on holiday in Lisbon, I apologise for the break in transmission.
More to follow soonish...

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Monday, November 06, 2006

Be alert, but not alarmed.

Saturday night was Guy Fawkes Eve, so a group of us (including internationally renowned potato judge Michael Croke) braved thousands of the great unwashed (and the worst teenagers in Europe) and travelled up to Alexandra Palace to watch "London's biggest Guy Fawkes firework display" (tm reg). It was well-organised, although the general feeling was it was slightly overpoliced ("Sparklers are not allowed" and "You can't stand there, that area's for the 'disableds'").

After discovering that the ice-skating wasn't open, our evening started off in the bar. It turned out that we were standing in the unofficial meeting spot for disabled patrons, and every two minutes someone new in a wheelchair rolled up behind us. There was also a group of 30 dwarves running around, which added to the slightly surreal feel of the evening. At one point our group was video-ed by the dwarves, which we thought was rather exploitative of them.

In order to beat the crowds, we arrived at Ally Pally early, but we were distracted by the bar and food, so by the time we got back outside we had to force our way through the scrum to get a decent viewpoint for the fireworks, but I was slightly nervous as Mark had smuggled in mulled wine (highly illegal), and Mel had sparklers (also illegal). Imagine if we had been caught and transported to Australia. The shame of it all. Luckily, Mark had spilt most of the mulled wine, so that went quickly (probably also because it had a decent whack of brandy in it). The sparklers were more problematic for me, but I decided to stand down the hill away from my friends so I wouldn't be arrested when they lit them. Imagine my disappointment when there was no charging line of riot police when the sparklers were lit.

The display lasted for 20 (30?) minutes or so and was impressive stuff. The hill that Ally Pally is built upon also has a great view across London to Canary Wharf, the City and the West End, so we could see fireworks going off all over London. Guy Fawkes night really is one of my favourite nights in the UK - I love fireworks, (but not in the way my ex did). I was so over-excited everyone decided to take me for a drink in Soho to calm me down. That was almost as much fun as the fireworks. My not-too-much alcohol vow went out the window too. Oh well, I suppose there's always next weekend.

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