Thursday, September 17, 2009

A day in the life

It's time for a "day-in-the-life" of the London-dwelling transplant. Here goes.

Woke up about 7:30, to the usual clip-clopping of the Royal Artillery Cavalry on their way down the street for their morning exercise in Regent's Park. A gaze out the window confirmed it would be another day with the standard forecast: the proverbial "sunny intervals".

Pulled on the jeans and t-shirt, and ambled downstairs. The distinctive slamming of the front door and then the gate indicated that the girls were off to school. Another family bonding opportunity around the breakfast table missed (sigh).

But, with in-laws Neil and Betty in residence, I hoped that a pot of tea would be awaiting in the kitchen. I was not disappointed.

With deference to the distinctive autumn chill in the air, I pulled on my Patagonia top, hooked Pudding to her leash, and joined Pam on the sidewalk. Every morning there is yet another layer of fallen beech and sycamore(?) leaves covering the sidewalk. But, thanks to our council taxes, a fleet of russian street sweepers will soon be all over it, each with a broom and cell phone headset, more engaged in the dialog than the clean-up.

Our favorite bakery/morning spot, Gails, was too crowded so we chose an italian cafe just down the street from the (10+?) options within 300 yards. After latte's and some scrambled eggs, we parted ways as Pam had a meeting with the Kensington Women's Club at the Royal Geographic Society HQ.

So with Pudds leading the way, off to Regent's Park it was. And this park, as with all of the green spaces around, reminds us what an incredible city this is. There are hundreds of immense trees - probably all bigger than the largest in Golden Gate park. The grounds are immaculate – lawns mowed, fringed with perfect english border plantings. We walked through the more wild wooded areas no sudden surprises from (how do I say this in a P.C. way?) 'overnighters' as I often encounter in Buena Vista Park in the mornings at home.

We did an inside loop of the park, about 2.5 miles. Pudding annihilated the last vestiges of the sweet shampoo scent from her recent bath by rolling in goose and duck droppings as she tends to do. Damn dog.

Returned to the house and took care of a few administrative details, e.g. trying to get the freight station to deliver our goods shipped from the U.S. with no further customs and storage charges !##!!@@##. Note to self: never use container shipping again.

After a shower & shave, I'm off to the St John's Wood tube station, just about 5 minutes walk. Three stops later I transfer to the Piccadilly Line, emerging in Knightsbridge to meet Pam at Harrods. This place is way over-the-top. The sports floor is more about fashion than competition, as a browse through the horseback riding, shooting, and cricket sections confirms. And the Egyptian Escalator belongs in an Indiana Jones set, that's for sure.

We had salads for lunch at one of the many Brompton Road cafes catering to shoppers like us. Then Pam had a lecture on the new ceramics exhibit at the Victoria and Albert Museum (yawn) so I decided to have a look at the Natural History Museum across the street. Very, very impressive. I just scratched the surface in my 1.5 hour visit, but besides the very well done and immense exhibits there is an overwhelming sense of empire and history as you look at stuff collected by Darwin himself. Wow - will be going back (it's free, after all!)

We got home in time for our afternoon tea and a bit of footie on the telly (which led to a brief nap) but then rallied for 'back to school night' at ASL.

Whenever we go to the school, I feel a reassuring surge of the familiar with the abounding american expatriates – you fully understand what people are saying, including the nuances. 75% of the teachers seem outstanding, and the facilities are far superior to our school in SF. We agree that the girls are off to a great year.

Continuing to revel in the familiar, we shared a hamburger afterwards at our local pub, "The Duke of York". Funny enough, the waitresses all seem to be russian, and one addressed Pam as "darling" in just the way that Natasha from Rocky and Bullwinkle would have said it --- weird! So ends the day.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Our first visitors

Today Pam's mum and dad were spotted in dog-walk training along the Regent's Canal, a waterway linking the heart of London to the Thames and points beyond. The adjoining towpath is great for a stroll, run or bike, and passes about 200 yards from our house. The canal boats and drooping willows evoke Mr. Toad for me.

We are intent on having Betty and Neil fully qualified with Pudding by Sunday, when Pam and I scoot out to the island of Capri for a four day extravaganza!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Sleek Rides

For me, cars together with people's customs and quirks toward them, are always an interesting thing to observe when abroad.

It's funny, but I don't believe I've seen a single pick-up truck. Have not the English discovered the utility of this clever american invention? I say, it appears they just don't get it!

Instead, the notable trend is the high-end euro luxury muscle car. These are usually piloted by a snazzily dressed banker-type, and invariably wound out in low gear speeding toward the next set of "traffic calming humps" (aka speed bumps).

Adding the conspicuosity is a situation where no one seems to have a garage, so these beauties litter the streets.

It has been pointed out to me that this is actually an advantage for the owner: it provides more opportunity to be seen and associated with the vehicle as you enter/exit, feed the meter, or hunt down the tow operator.

The owner of this V12 turbo must have had some trouble hanging on to his wheels in the past. Note the clever adaptation of bicycle locking technology as an anti-theft measure.

Here's another site to be seen about town these days: Pam and her rolling goodie bag, here patrolling the back streets behind Harrod's.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Back in the saddle

It dawned sunny and bright today, with gusty autumnal winds chasing away the remaining clouds. I had a yearning to get a larger view and sense of place, but the utter lack of topography is a problem: no Mt Tam, La Cumbre Peak, or even Ashbury Heights to ascend so as to fix one's position.

I concluded that I needed to criss-cross the terrain more thoroughly at ground level, so I navigated the Tube to a bike store. After a chat with the conoscenti behind the cash register, I settled on a hybrid optimized for getting about town: upright riding position, super gnarly lock, reflectors, lights and ding-a-ling bell! I then sniffed my way back to our borough overland, seeing many strange and wondrous things along the way. Managed to 'stay left' well enough to not get run over too.

Pam was invited over to a new friend's house for a chat, which morphed into a riotous cocktail hour with some 20 ex-patriot women. Nevertheless, she dutifully met at the tube station at the appointed time of 6:30 to join our friend Colleen Graffy(*) to see an exhibit of J.W. Waterhouse paintings at the Royal Academy of Arts. Really beautiful paintings, and a transporting hour into a land of fantasy and water nymphs...

We then had dinner at Le Caprice, which was "buzzing with glamorous women in vertiginous heels" just as advertised on their web-site.

* You may have caught Colleen today on Al Jazeerah - she was interviewed by David Frost on the topic "is Obama's honeymoon over?" Whoa!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

It's Raining

Yep, it's raining, just like they said it would. Not so bad really - added to the charm of the cobblestone alley in Hampstead where Pam and I had our scones this morning after our Pilates class (ouch, that's hard work!).

In the small world department, Simone remarked that she was paired with this very athletic blond in soccer practice named Margy. We later saw in the school newspaper, in an article about her achievements as a US Nationally ranked rower, that her last name was Bertasi. Later we realized this was the daughter of Sarah Greer Bertasi, a childhood friend from Santa Barbara! We've now connected with Sarah who is on her 4th year here with her family. She is actually in the U.S. right now, helping her oldest settle-in at Dartmouth, but we look forward to hanging out with her and Rick on the soccer sidelines in the coming months.

We've been getting our house set-up and also touring around a bit. One highlight was the National Portrait Gallery, which has a portrait of every who's who from Henry VII forward. Pam and I mad the mistake of overdosing on Tudors and Stuarts, and will have to come back again another day to finish it off.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009


Our intrepid Pudding, just as she arrived in her capsule. She doesn't realize she's come one-third the way around the world, but probably wonders she feels compelled to play with her ball at 3AM every morning.

The girls getting their bearings at Picadilly Circus.

Out the door of #25 St Johns Wood Terrance and on their way to the first day of school!