Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Dogs at work

'Toy poodle service dog!' spluttered TLOML. (At least as far as you can splutter in a text.) 'Put that in your blog and smoke it'.

Allow me to explain.

In Britain, there are five main service sectors in which dogs find gainful employment:
  1. Guide Dogs for the Blind - self explanatory, this one
  2. Hearing Dogs for the Deaf - pretty much does what it says on the tin
  3. Sheepdogs - used to round up sheep and perform in sheepdog trials
  4. Police Dogs - used to scare May Day protestors, sniff out drugs, and bite the arm of their handler in a display session
  5. Guard Dogs - loud barking dogs that look like they might bite. The reason the postman puts all your post in next door's letter box. Prominently featured on gate signs.

Guide dog

Sheep dog

Police dog

In America, Service Dogs  also exist and find employment in those sectors. Good, hard working American dogs.

There's another working dog sector which gets TLOML all foamy at the mouth: service dogs for the depressed, sad, lonely, or just a bit gloomy-feeling.

If you can get a doctor who will sign off the fact that the treatment for your depression is a chiuaua you carry in your handbag, said chiuaua can live with you in an animal free building, and travel with you unleashed on a flight (while all the non-working dogs stay in cages in the hold).

Now I don't mean to sound unsympathetic. Depression is a serious, debilitating condition. A good companion antidepressant dog must be a real blessing for sufferers.

But a yappy little toy dog, with barely room in its skull for a single brain cell? Really?!
Unlikely service dog
You couldn't get away with it on the NHS. Just sayin'...

Monday, May 30, 2011

How to create the hottest restaurant in the Western Hemisphere

In London, the history of food trends over the past three centuries looks like this:
Asian fusion and square plates are bordering on the faddy, as far as London eating goes. Other cuisines come and go, and the unassailable march of Wagamanas and Busaba Eathai means the Asian trend is here to stay.

At the heart of its mainstream, however, British cuisine remains resolutely old school. The food is way better, and some artsy touches might now accompany your fish & chips (for example the smear of pea puree St John's Wood's Salt House adorn their plates with). But you're still basically eating fish & chips.

New York, like LA, is a little faddier, I think. Culinary trends flare up here in a nanosecond and consume all in their path.

I haven't yet really scratched the surface of the NY restaurant scene. But I'm starting to observe some trends:

1. Single minded street food offerings. Like Porchetta, which literally only sells roast pork. Incredible roast pork, at that. It helps, by the way, if you charge a slightly elevated price for your street food. How is the man on the street to know the difference between your burger and the $5 street version, unless you charge, well, more than $5?

2. Hard to get into. Either because you have to book weeks in advance (see Momofuku for example). Or because the restaurant is taking a faux-egalitarian stance, and not taking reservations. I say faux because I think their real motivation is that nice long line of waiting customers on the street. Brilliant advertising. The excellent Mary's Fish Camp does this, and it's well worth the 60 minute wait.

So I'm thinking that if moving post-its around for a living does not work out, I'll launch an incredibly hip restaurant. Here's my concept:

Isadora's 11am Tuesday Fish Finger Sandwich Shop

  • Opens at 11am every Tuesday.
  • No reservations. Customers must wait in line. (I may arbitrarily select a good looking man to come to the front of the queue).
  • Sells fish finger sandwiches, and only fish finger sandwiches - till I run out.
  • The only choice is 'white bread or brown'. Occasionally I will do a milk roll special.
  • No charge for ketchup, mayo or tartare sauce.
  • I reckon if I charge $10 a sarnie, I could be sold out by noon with enough money to pay for my dinner at that place that only serves mac'n'cheese.
Are you in?

Saturday, May 28, 2011

A lady's guide to walking

Walking is, without a doubt, the best way to get about New York.

More so than any other city I know, NY lends itself to being explored on foot. It's nice and flat, the pedestrian crossings are actually pedestrian-friendly, and the grid system makes it super easy to navigate. (Yesterday I was stopped by a woman standing within clear eyeshot of the 33rd and 34th Street signs asking me which way to 35th Street, and I actually thought she was kidding.)

Walking also makes the city seem accessibly small. Which I suppose it is. The usual rule of thumb is 'a block a minute' but my long legged friend Arthuros claims to be able to cover 4 blocks in 3 minutes. I saw that as a challenge, and set out today to get from Rabbit Hutch Towers to the Met in an hour and a half. That's 59 blocks North, and 5 long avenue blocks East of me.

Reader, I did it, there and back, and I have the aching legs to prove it.

I learned some valuable lessons in the process. The big challenge on such a walk is keeping cool. I did not want to meet my favourite New Yorker for a tour of the McQueen exhibit, all clammy and dishevelled. So, here are my four golden rules for staying frosty as you roam Manhattan:

1. Seek shade at all times.
Before 11.30am, stick to the East side of the avenue; after 1.30pm, stick close to the West side. (Going out between 11.30 and 1.30? Get a cab.) Streets are tricky, as they don't get much shade. Look for blocks with construction work going on and get under that scaffolding, where the pavement hasn't seen sun for weeks. It may smell of piss but you will find it to be a cool shady sanctuary you never want to leave.

2. Avoid hot things and sweaty people.
Under no circumstances, when waiting for a light to change, should you stand near large red faced people, or hot dog trucks. Those things are throwing out heat like an Aga. Stand well clear.

3. If you can't be cool, be near coolness.
Your best bet is a shop with aggressive aircon. The stretch of 5th Avenue in the 50sh and 60s has lots of lovely posh stores pumping out cool air in delicious waves every time the door opens. St Patrick's Cathedral is like a magical ice block made of stone. Walk slowly slowly past these cooling opportunities.

4. Wear backsweat-friendly clothes.
This is a tricky one, for fashion retailers don't tend to promote their clothes as backsweat-friendly. But think about it. That hot pink silk top you think of as so cooling? That's going to tell the world you're sweating before you even know it. Reconsider polyester. It may be highly flammable but it does not change colour when it's wet, which makes it your friend in a hot city.

Momofuku update

About that Momofuku two ways fried chicken I mentioned.

While they fired it up, we tucked into some heavenly pork buns, flimsy but sensational asparagus salad, outstanding spicy noodles and generous ramen.

Then came the chicken, fried two ways. It looked like this:

Twenty minutes later the scene at our table was, frankly, carnage:

Unable to decided whether they preferred the Korean style over the buttermilk-marinated Southern style, most of us had a couple of gos at both. Arthuros claims to have eaten 6 pieces, but TLOML doubts it is possible. If it were, he would have done it himself, for sho'.

As it was I think we ate plenty. We had to walk home to work it off.

Worth ordering in advance, waiting in line* and then sitting on a slightly uncomfortable stool for? Hells yeah!

*Admittedly, we got hooked up and did not wait in line. But apparently some people do. And I don't blame them at all.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Love is...

Heidi, his other woman. She's younger than me too, grr.

...happily schlepping uptown to check out a parking space for the other woman in TLOML's life.
Heidi's new home. Yes, I really did take a photo of a carpark for TLOML.

...sorting out the paperclips so TLOML can have all the ones which match his corporate colours - even though that leaves me with the ugly green ones.

A very satisfying way to spend fifteen minutes

And in case you thought it was a one way street, proof that he's a giver too:

Love is also
..TLOML surprising me at the airport after a tough trip, with an apple and some sunchips.

...TLOML restocking the fridge before leaving town for a couple of days, with all my favourite foods - including tomatoes which he finds inedible and repulsive.

The little things can be huge, can't they?

Bigger, better: a correction

A correction, in response to some heckling from my Wondertwin. (See, TLOML, we don't always agree on everything.)

THIS is Kentish Town Post Office.
That other one I showed was the old Sorting Office on Leighton Road. Busted! But they are similar in size. The real thing is just less charming, and more full of people who've wet themselves or are having a massive crack-addled argument.

Either way, my point still stands. They are considerably smaller than the great big Post Office near me in NYC.
That's one big lady of a Post Office...

Over and out.

Fabulously faddy foods

High excitement here at Rabbit Hutch Towers, for tomorrow we dine at Momofuku.

Momofuku is massively popular, because it is very hard to get into. Or, it's hard to get into because it's massively popular. Something of a virtuous circle for hot NY restaurants, that one.

I suspect the silly name which is both cute yet swear-y is also a big part of the Momofuku success story.

And the fact that their most famous dish - two ways fried chicken - needs to be ordered in advance, is another big factor. The rarity value, combined with the 2009 fried chicken craze has made this the stuff of legend two years later. Didn't notice the summer of fried chicken? Me either. Apparently NY was gripped.
Momofuku's two way fried chicken
Last time I made fried chicken it took an hour, set the smoke alarm off, and I think I gained 4lbs overnight. Perhaps the purpose of ordering in advance is so we can work out for 2 days before eating it, and they can notify the local fire brigade to ignore the smoke alarm...


Afterthought: apparently the food at Momofuku is really outstanding. That could also be part of the reason for its success. I will report back.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Bigger, better

It's true what they say about everything being bigger in America. Hemingway Holly, you're right. Stuff in America really is generally M A S S I V E.

Just look at the size of my local Post Office.

Puts dear old Kentish Town's to shame.

Living with Martha

I returned home this week to find a shiny new copy of Martha Stewart Living, nestled in amongst the stack of Car & Driver and TIME magazines on our coffee table.

'Why are we still getting this?' I ask TLOML.
'Uh, maybe because you are still ordering it?' says he.
'I'm really so not. You are. You're obsessed with Martha Stewart.'

This has been a regular exchange ever since the Marthas started arriving to our Malibu place about six months ago. I know TLOML suspects me of subscribing. I did no such thing. I have enough on my plate pretending to read the Economist. I can't quite believe he would subscribe, but then again, he does like to eat well. So maybe he's behind it and just too embarrassed to admit it.

There's actually nothing to be ashamed of. It's a brilliant magazine. I enjoy shaking my head in wonder at the bit where Martha writes about her house and garden, for example, the challenge of finding the right sort of tree to plant on her personal 2 mile long avenue. And there are always a couple of shoots of incredibly attractive and functional families eating incredible meals in incredible settings (I mean literally, they are barely credible).

Then as a sop to the lonely lady reader who's, by now, salivating with bitter envy, they throw in a few affordable, Blue Peter-esque craft projects. Here's one of Martha's for making useful boxes out of, um, boxes.

And for the Americans who missed out, here's a classic Blue Peter craft project, just for context...

The first Martha arrived at Hallowe'en and sent me into a frenzy when I realized we had absolutely no plans to decorate the beach pad with neatly arranged pumpkins, or to bake tiny little sweets made to look like eyeballs for the local children. Shame on me! In the end we watched Paranormal Activity eating chips'n'salsa, which was not very Martha of us at all. (At least the sweets would have been wasted since we live on the road of death so no children came a'callin'.)

November came and went with a noticeable failure to bake any hams. At Christmas I developed elaborate plans to create a proper gingerbread house. I had a little technical drawing and even a paper mock-up of the house. I bought many tubes of coloured icing. The house was never built. Instead I baked gingerbread cookies in the shape of snowmen and TLOML and I drew their rude bits on in red icing. Again, not very Martha.

So if that was the best I could do living in a lovely flat with a good big kitchen... I fear Martha will not get much a look in in Rabbit Hutch Towers.

Naturally none of this history prevented me from reading the new one. A highlight was a piece in which Kevin Sharkey shared his 'no cook' party secrets. Any magazine that can make a 2 page feature out of 'put the doritos in a bowl' deserves some kudos. At last, a Martha edict I can obey! Or so I thought..

Sadly, with the phrase '...serve these goodies with napkins; mine are cocktail-size squares of linen with my monogram' Kevin lost me forever.

I must ask TLOML to cancel that subscription he denies taking out...

Tuesday, May 24, 2011


Badgered begged and beseeched by many readers, I have at last joined Twitter.

Okay, it wasn't many readers. It was mainly Beautiful Rosie (BR). But she's pretty persuasive.

That's right, I'm a twit now too. I appear to be in good company.Within hours of signing up, and before tweeting, twittering or even having a photo or bio, I had followers. 'Stingystyle', 'irideharleyz' and 'FashionSnag', what on earth do you want from me? Most peculiar.

Victoria Coren made me laugh in this weekend's Observer with this piece on marriage, and being followed on Twitter by Arnie.... she chose to ignore the fact he was apparently following 19,000 other people on Twitter too, choosing instead to imagine him thinking "I zink I'll follow zat Wictoria Coren, she is intriguing me."

Hopefully I will have the same effect and keep Arnie occupied and away from the housekeeper for a few minutes at least.

Monday, May 23, 2011

This is the news!

As I leave London I take a moment to consider the things I'll miss when I get back to New York (if I get the chance to miss anything between the amazing eating, drinking, shopping and cultural consumption NY offers...).

Always high on the list is the BBC. I love the BBC. Especially the news. It has gone a bit 'let's ask the man in the street' in recent years, but it's still pretty solid. As long as they have a Dimbleby kicking around and Jeremy Paxman doing the serious late show, I know I'm in good hands.

Here is Paxman savaging Michael Howard back in the day. Skip to minute 4 which is when Paxo gets all 'dog with a bone' on him.

...which leads me neatly to this brilliant spoof, of a Day Today anchor (the genius Chris Morris) being all terrifyingly Paxman-esque.
(For American readers, Peter Hanra-O'Hanrahan is loosely based on a well known BBC news reporter called Brian Hanrahan. Just because it's a silly name I think).

I never ever watch the news in the US. This is partly because they don't show nearly enough news about British by-elections, school dinner policies, and BA strikes. But also because the delivery of the news in in the US just a bit hyper. It rattles me.

Which is a nice excuse for me to post this final clip: another The Day Today spoof, this time of American news.

Home is where the heart is. Right now.

It's really so confusing, being all transatlantical.

As soon as I arrive in London, I say how nice it is to be home. Then this past weekend with my parents, three sisters, three brothers-in-law, three nieces and two nephews, I was telling friends 'I'm not in London today, I'm at home'.

And now, after almost four weeks living out of a suitcase, I'm at Heathrow waiting for my flight to NY, and it really does feel like I'm heading home.

I may only have lived in New York for six weeks, and have spent over half that time elsewhere, but it is definitely home right now.

Not just because TLOML is there eagerly awaiting my arrival (possibly just 'cos I'm packing Laguvulin). But because there's no bed like your own bed. And welcoming though my London hosts and my family are, I don't feel I can wander around naked, or file my nails in front of the telly. I also always relish having my full range of unguents and my proper electric toothbrush (which doesn't travel with me). I know, it's an odd take on home comforts, but so it is.

I'm signing out with two sighs. A big sad one for leaving London. And a big happy one for the return to Rabbit Hutch Towers.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

A way with words

English is the primary language of education in India. The Indians I work with all speak English perfectly - as do all the people I've interacted with in the last few days in Bangalore and Pune.

I'd go so far as to say, they speak it better than Americans.

But that would be rude. Just because Americans say 'hundred ten' instead of 'a hundred and ten' doesn't mean they are mistaken. They're just different. Likewise, the India preference for 'today morning' instead of 'this morning'. It's just a different set of guidelines. When in Rome, um, don't judge those who speak with an Italian turn of phrase, I guesss.

This preamble is as a sort of 'I'm not racist but...' introduction to what I really wanted to write about. Which is some of the comical phrases I have seen this week in India. The copywriters here favour a direct, accusatory and powerful claim.

For example, witnessed on a road sign in Pune today:
SLOW is a four letter word
So is LIFE

Hard to argue with, I suppose. And, on bustling Brigade Road (where the British soldiers used to buy their supplies) in Bangalore:

TALK and ride and you'll never TALK again.

This refers, by the way, to the practice of motorbike riders using their mobile while on the move. Not the dangers of having a lovely chat while out for an early morning hack across the fields.

I can't put my finger on it: it's perfectly sound English. And yet, somehow, distinctly Indian.

Equally not unsound English was the advert I saw for luxury bungalows with pools. It read,
Bathe in luxury...
...while the world bathes in envy
It's just, well, if the rest of the world can bathe too, maybe we won't be all that envious of your bungalow pool. But I suppose they didn't want to say 'while the world watches in envy' as that might have sounded like images from your new backyard were being beamed live on the interweb.

The key word I suspect the copywriters really wanted to retain was envy. Status is apparently big news in real estate ads here. I saw another one for 'Prestige Golfshire' (no, I'm not kidding) that had as its strapline
Rank has its privileges
 Can't imagine that one taking off in supposedly class-ridden Britain, somehow.


That's the end of my musings on the funny things foreigners say. I'm flying back to dear old Blighty tomorrow. I can't wait to hear the pilot say good morning, in that nice BA accent. You know, the one that makes all the pilots all sound like they went to a pretty good grammar school. And the air stewards, with their hint of the estuary, sound like their equally middle-class, but slightly less well educated cousins. Striking trouble makers though they may be, there's no airline like it for feeling, well, British.

Saturday, May 14, 2011


Chivalry is not dead in my world. I am a lucky girl: TLOML sent beautiful flowers and fruit to my hotel. I suspect it was an attempt to stop me eating dirty street fruit. Being American he is fastidiously clean. Being a grubby Old European, I am not. He is constantly on the lookout for me picking up some terrible dirt-borne infection.

The fruit basket worked, it kept me away from those delicious looking fruit stands and juice carts for days. It was also a purely romantic gesture, made from love and the desire to keep me safe and comfortable.

Among the people of Bangalore, however, I’m afraid to say chivalry appears to be out of favour. Almost every time I see a dude on a bike giving his girl (wife, girlfriend, sister, whatever) a ride, he has a helmet and she does not.
The flood of workers heading to Big Corp. 2 wheelers are the smart way to travel.

 Come on Bangalore boys, man up and give your girls some protection.

Cricket with cheerios

Today I went to the Bangalore cricket ground for a little Indian Premier League action: the Royal Challengers of Bangalore took on Kolkata’s Knight Riders. The roads near the ground were chockablock with tuktuks, the muddy path that lead to the ground a river of excited, face-painted cricket fans making a lot of noise. So far, so Indian.

I was startled, then, when a dozen white 19 year old cheerleaders entered the ground. Six for Bangalore, six for Kolkata, they twirled their batons in the tiniest of outfits. It seemed incongruous, inappropriate even, in a country which pixelates nipples on the TV.

(Hang on. Nipples get the pixelation treatment in the US, and yet their cheerleaders dance like overenthusiastic strippers in butt-cheek baring hotpants.)

But still, this is cricket...

The IPL is, I know, all about bringing some glitz to the game. I had thought this was glitz of the Indian, Bollywood style type. Witness the batsmen’s incredible golden pads, for example.

But skinny white cheerleaders shaking their booty? It just seems wrong. I googled to learn that they are on loan from the Washington Redskins (TLOML’s team), and claim to be delivering a blend of traditional all-American cheerleading moves and Bollywood hip-hop steps. It looked like made-up-on-the-spot booty twirling to me, but I’m no expert.

The Indian cricket goers seemed to like it well enough. The cheerleaders had a little gang of fans who gathered around their podium when they did their stuff.

I wondered, though, what these skinny teenagers from DC made of it all. Has anyone explained to them the vagaries of the Duckworth / Lewis system*, by which reckoning RCB needed to make 102 to beat KKR’s 89 runs? Do they understand the intricacies of various LBW* scenarios, or do they think some dismissals are completely random?

And most importantly, when they signed a contract saying they’d do a sexy jig every time RCB scored a boundary, did they have any idea it could be as often as every 30 seconds? Chris Gayle made a quick 38 almost entirely from boundaries: every time the poor kids sat down from celebrating one, they had to get up to celebrate the next.

I shouldn’t worry too much I suppose. The season only lasts a couple of months, and these girls, once the pom pom twirling is done for the day, get to hobnob with the biggest stars in India and – if my time as a foreigner in a posh Bengalore hotel is anything to go by – get pampered right up.

Judging by the controversy their presence has apparently created, and the threats to their security (they have been banned from post-match parties for their own protection), they may not be around much longer. Enjoy them while you can...


*Translations for Americans:
Duckworth/ Lewis is the calculation of a revised target when rain stops play.
LBW is the dismissal of a batsman for placing his leg before the wicket, with no attempt to play the ball.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Transeurasian Tales

Is that a proper geographic term? I'm pretty sure I flew over something called Eurasia last night, but that could be the sleep deprivation talking.

Now I've landed and spent a day in Bengaluru I am happy to be able to reinforce more brilliantly true cliches about Johnny Foreigner for your edification. It's so nice to have one's prejudices confirmed.

Here in the city of boiled beans, as I expected, the people are superhelpful and there are cows grazing under the underpass. There are cool temples in bright colours. No sighting of street cricket yet mind you.

My taxi driver showed me photos of the Royal Wedding on the telly, taken on his phone. He confirmed that yes, indeed, all of India was bursting with joy at our marvellous Britfest. (So nice the way the former colonies don't bear a grudge, isn't it? Or is it just the guys in the service industry...?).

In the office of good old Big Corp, there are 2 men on every floor who's sole employ is to dispense tiny cups of really good strong, sweet, tea. For about 8p a cup.

And most of the women at work wear fabulous saris and big swooshy scarves, in pinks and peacock blues, and with bangles and sandals. I look like some sort of puritan pilgrim figure in my black trousers, white shirt and brogues.
Yup, definitely a hotel in India.

I know I know, but he really didn't seem to mind and I will tip him before I leave, I promise.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Nuns on tour

Off to Bangalore. Actually, it's called Bengaluru now as part of that thing India did where they renamed their cities proper Indian names to throw us damned colonials off the scent. Nice try, but it didn't fool me.

As an aside, apparently Bengaluru means 'City of Boiled Beans'. Not terribly promising, is it?

So I'm at lovely Terminal 5 and seeing nuns everywhere. Always in pairs, thank goodness. And I have no intention of splitting them (I think it's just cruel boys who like nun-splitting. Personally I think nuns should always travel in pairs).

This begs 2 questions in my simple mind.
1. Where are they all going? A big nun conference?
2. Is there a nicer type of passenger than the polite, bewildered nun?

I hope I get one next to me on my flight. I bet they've got imperial mints in their pockets and sit as quiet as mice for the duration.

Swiped from someone else's blog. Nuns on public transport. So nice and so confused!

Sunday, May 8, 2011


In a week of catching up I've been asked about wedmin, inevitably, a couple of times every day.

The good news for me and TLOML is that wedmin is being kept to an absolute minimum. The venue was so obvious it chose itself and took a couple of emails to book. We've decided to put off tackling the oversized guestllist for as long as possible (and since we're not getting married till July 2012 that's some way off).

The only other biggie, the kind of thing people can really get exercised about because apparently it takes months, is the wedding dress.

On that, I really got lucky. On a sunny Easter Sunday wander down the High Line into SoHo, TLOML and I saw an interesting looking vintage shop I mused that might be worth a second look one day when he wasn't around. 'Come on', he said, 'We're here, why not look now. And hey, that dress in the window's kind of cool, isn't it?'

So in we went. And that dress in the window was more than cool: it is glamourous, fits like a glove and was 20% off for one day only. Reader, I bought it.
My dress is the one that's missing. If you look closely you can see it in the blue plastic bag I'm holding in the reflection

One more thing to tick off in my bridal planner. Will have to get one first, but once I have, I will tick off 'buy dress'. Hurrah!

It's not like this...

...or this...

...or this.

The slightly lame thing about all of this is that pretty much my favourite thing about the dress is the story of the dress. How jolly fabulous to be able to say 'Oh, I just picked it up in a vintage shop in SoHo, you know...'. This smug feeling's going to last a long long time.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Cross-pollination: sometimes things don't get worse, they get better

Take this exciting new shake shop in West Hampstead.

I almost fancied myself in Ruby's or John's Garden Malibu as I browsed the menu. There were all sorts of tasty refined sugary American treats there - Fluff, Reese's Pieces, and the rest.

And, when I got to the bottom of my Peanut Butter Nutter, I realised the straw had a cool shovel bit at the end of it. Presumably for scooping up the delicious chunky bits. Positively Japanese in its cleverness.

Ideas do travel and consumer culture, well, consumes the good stuff. And this can lead people to commiserate the erosion of a native culture. (Though following the frenzy of Union Jack bunting that accompanied the Royal Wedding, I think Britishness is alive and well.)

Anyway, when it comes to the import of delicious big peanut butter and banana milkshakes, served with a smile, I say 'let Johnny Foreigner in!'

Friday, May 6, 2011

Oh to be in England now that Spring is here

Ah, London in the spring. Pollen in the air and stuck at the back of your throat, wind whipping your hair faster than that precocious Willow's, and long Bank Holiday weekends just tailormade for drinking shandies and yomping across Hampstead Heath.

I love it. Look how pretty it is:
The sky above Courthope Road at 8pm

Ceanthus. Very North London.

Some lucky git's town house.

Bluebells on the Heath.

Regent's Park

 (For more of London's lovely parks, check out this nice lady's blog)

The other thing I love is for once, having the luxury of time. I'm here for a whole indulgent week.

Far too often I land in London about 2 days before I leave. You do the math... It usually results in what TLOML and I call 'the Salt House free-for-all'. This is where I email all but 3 of my London-based mates and instruct them all to come to the Salt House for a catch up and drinks and their excellent fish and chips. I leave out the 3 because I'm disorganised with distribution lists and keeping email addresses up-to-date. The uninvited 3 hear on the grapevine that we are in town, and doing the Salt House free-for-all, and they are miffed that they weren't on the distribution list... but luckily for us, come along anyway. I tend to keep it fresh by making it a different 3 every time.

The Salt House free-for-all is brilliant. Lots of dear friends show up, and we shout reunion news and trivia at each other, and what it lacks in quality it more than makes up for in quantity. An unexpected bonus of the Salt House free-for-all is that many of TLOML's friends have got to know mine pretty well simply through showing up at these drinking sessions on a fairly regular basis over the past couple of years. I suspect some of my mates show up for the chance to see his mates (one of whom has an exceptionally handsome dog who is always the star of the show) rather than little ol' me.
The Salt House. Nice place for a free-for-all

Outside of the Free-for-all, I am lucky if I get a quiet drink or bite in with a couple of very close friends, before heading back out again. I spend my whole time in a cab texting whoever I'm on my way to see to tell them I am running late. It's an exercise in frustration and I hate to admit but has made me start to limit the number of friends I try to see. A NY-based British friend of mine admitted that he started to find trips to visit his folks in Wimbledon so stressful that he started keeping them a secret from his London mates.

What's been amazing about this trip is that I have had quality face time with some of my most brilliant mates. I've roamed from NW8 to N1  - including daily drop ins to NW5, to see my Wondertwin and talk colour blocking while she wrestles her incredibly cute incredibly wriggly wonderchild. I've caught buses and taken long walks and read the Metro on the tube. I've had morning coffees, al fresco lunches, afternoon drinks and chilled out dinners. And most of all, lots of good solid chat, for days on end. Bliss!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Just a little transatlantic cross-pollination

This happened in the US:

This man vowed a razor would not approach his face till Bin Laden was brought to justice. (It's kinda funny that, because this took so much longer than he might have expected, he ended up with a beard rather reminiscent of Bin Laden's own.) Anyway, after he shed some tears of joy, he shaved it off.

And here in the UK, the freegan movement apparently continues to gather pace.  Freegans are people who climb into industrial bins and rootle about for thrown over food. According to one freegan, 'the moment it is thrown out is usually when it tastes the best.'

Like the man with the Osama Bin Laden beard, I sympathise with their sentiments, but find the actions a little unpalatable.

And yes, this is a slightly random post. I wanted to share with my US readers something I saw in the UK media, and vice versa. Since the media is global now, thanks to the interweb, I hope you'll appreciate the gesture for what it is: pure tittle tattle.

Blame another busy day in the Big Corp office.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Some sweeping generalisations about Johnny Foreigner

I'm working in the London office today, and musing on the differences in the way we work. Gosh it's quiet over here! And no-one is hugging. At best there's some polite handshakes or a peck on the cheek. I remember being really alarmed when my first workshop in the US ended with actual hugging. Call me a frosty Brit if you like but I felt my personal space was not so much invaded but fully bounced into.

I'm used to the hugs now but that doesn't mean I accept them. Instead I flash a message with my eyes that says 'I'm British! Don't touch me!'. It works.

One practice that also surprised me in the US, which has yet to catch on in the UK, is applause at the end of a meeting. I first witnessed this in a client workshop I was leading. I thought I must have really nailed it, and moved my post-its around superbrilliantly, because the attendees burst into applause after my 'wrap up' on the last day. I was tempted to bow. It turns out they weren't applauding me, but just giving the whole team a nice warm feeling for a jolly good meeting. Sweet! (Then came the hugs).
Totally appropriate for meetings. If you are a cuddly teddy bear.

There are also more silly turns of phrase in the US. Words like monetize and solutionize pepper the discussion. And the guys I work with, especially the Sales guys, love to talk about getting a client to 'open the kimono', or how they want to 'peel the onion'. I could go on... If I could find a kindred spirit I'd play bullsh*t bingo with them in these meetings. As it is I occasionally put the teleconference on speaker so TLOML can enjoy the nonsense.

The idea that globalization has homogenized national cultures has some currency. At Big Corp and Big Corp's clients, one might imagine every office was the same: grey suits the world over. As my career takes me increasingly further afield, I’m kind of relieved to see that it just isn’t the case and that national idiosyncracies rule.

And it's not just the Transatlantic divide. In Madrid the staff were just a brilliant hyperbolic example of their national stereotype. They'd rock up at about 10am, have coffee till 11am, lunch from 2pm till 4pm (table service, wine, the lot), and then work really hard from 4pm till 8pm. In meetings they would babble really argumentatively, high volume and fast pace, for 10 minutes - and when I asked for a summary translation I'd get about 2 words. 'Really?' I'd say, 'You seemed to have a lot of discussion, are you sure the answer is that simple?' 'Yes,', they'd reply, 'We were just clarifying'. Their 'clarifying' sounded like World War II. God love the Latin temperament.

When I was last in Japan I saw the most incredibly hierarchical culture I could imagine. Years of working across Europe and the US have softened me up, I often don't know if the person I'm talking to is senior to me or not. In Japan you can tell: if someone is more junior by one simple clue: the person crouching and making themselves as small as possible, the person scuttling close to the wall as they move about the building - they're at the bottom of the food chain. The guy standing straightbacked, he's the boss. Simple.

I'm off to India next week when I will be adding to my store of sweeping generalisations about Johnny Foreigner.

Monday, May 2, 2011

British, in search of readable headlines, scour online

One of my favourite things about coming home is that I can buy a newspaper and enjoy reading it.

I suspect this reflects badly on me, but I just can't get on with the way US broadsheets construct their sentences. They seem designed to obfuscate and addle my mind.

Take the headlines, for a start. 'In pursuit of killer, police mine online clues' is a typical one, found in today's NY Times. Who says mine? And why so many words?

In a British broadsheet it would be 'Police use web to hunt killer'. 40% shorter and 100% simpler. In the Sun it would be 'Webbed!', but that's another topic altogether.

Then the stories. They often start with a brooding character portrait. Something like:  'Bob strokes his jaw, strengthened by years of witnessing sights like these, and gazes up river to the source of the devastation.' Two paragraphs later you find out what the devastation is. I don't have time for two paragraphs!

As I said, I suspect this reflects badly on me. I was always pretty good at reading words and understanding them. Yet a lifetime of reading the British newsprint leaves me unprepared to cope with the US press. Am I being slow? It's just such a treat to open a British paper and find everything spelled out under a nice tidy headline, with a summary paragraph at the beginning.

It's a lovely spring day here, blue skies and fluffy little clouds. I'm off to buy the paper...

Biscuits, booze, brunch, breakfast


TLOML: 'I wish we had digestives'
Me: 'I don't really like digestives. I prefer treacle crunch creams, or bourbons*'
TLOML: 'You mean bourbon**? Bit early for a drink isn't it?'
Me: 'No, silly, a bourbon*'
TLOML: 'What the heck's a boar-bun?'
Me: 'You know, those nice brown biscuits with brown cream in the middle.'
TMOML: 'Why do they call them boar-buns? It's stoopid.'
Me: Large sigh. Silence. I have no answers for questions about the naming of British biscuits.

So I looked it up and it turns out that they were named after French royalty. Posh, eh?

*Pronounced in the English biscuit way
**Pronounced in the American whisky way


Me: 'I fancy brunch at Marmalade'
TLOML: 'They aren't serving brunch today.'
Me: 'They do brunch everyday surely?
TLOML: 'No, only at weekends.'
Me: 'But I walked past yesterday at 10 and it was open.'
TLOML: 'For breakfast, yes, but not for brunch.'
Me: 'So what's on the breakfast menu? Can I still get eggs benedict?'
TLOML 'Well they only do brunch at weeekends but they'll probably still have eggs benedict.'

So we went and I checked the menus and there are no big differences between breakfast and brunch. The menu for both still includes crazy things that should never be eaten before noon, like turkey chilli and corned beef hash. The only material difference between the two meals is that one is served Monday to Friday, and the other is served at the weekends. Weird, huh?

They invented it so I guess its America's prerogative. Like us with our bourbon biscuit.