A Travellerspoint blog

August 2008

Physical Age, Maturity and Land Rovers

Heading to Toronto, Canada to celebrate a milestone, and thinking about physical age vs. maturity.

sunny 26 °C
View Toronto August 2008 on GregW's travel map.

I am back in Toronto for the weekend. It's a long way to fly for just a few days, I know, but I had to come back for a big event. My father is turning 80 this week, and we had a big party for him this past weekend. (Happy birthday, Dad!).

It was an excellent event, lots of friends and family stopping by. Many people made the same comments to me. "I can't believe he's 80. He certainly doesn't look it."

"No," I would reply, "he's still going full strength."

I got to see a bunch of people I hadn't seen in a long time, and got to visit with all my family for the first time in a couple of months. Being away for a little while made me realize how tall and grown up all my nieces and nephews had gotten. One of my nephews towers over me, and another one is just an inch shorter than me at this point. By the next time I see him, he'll probably be looking down at his uncle. I remember each of their births, it doesn't really seem that long ago, but in reality 10 to 20 years have passed since those days.

Later in the evening, after a lovely supper, I was standing with my Aunt. We worriedly watched smoke waft along the ceiling and over the smoke detectors of my father's condo's party room as sparklers on a large cake crackled away.

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Once the sparklers extinguished without triggering an alarm, my Aunt and I started discussing age.

"It's hard to believe your Dad is 80," she said.

"I know," I replied, and then not sure what to say next resorted to a tried and true cliche. "Time sure does fly."

"It does," my Aunt replied. "Then again, it's hard for me to imagine that I am the age I am. I don't feel that old," she said.

I knew exactly what she meant. My birthday is only a few months off at this point, and I am closer to 40 than I am to 30. Actually, to be truthful, I am closer to 40 than I am to 35.

When I was a teenager, 30 seemed so mature, so adult. That was the age of people with good jobs and families, living in nice houses in the suburbs and driving Land Rovers. It certainly wasn't the age of unemployed, single guys who pick up and move to another country on little more than a whim. People who were 30 were stable, reliable, past their younger days of immaturity and spontineity. If you asked the 16 year old me what I would be like at 30, I can guarantee that the younger I would have answered something about a good job, a nice house and a Land Rover.

30 came and went, and pretty soon 40 will be upon me. No house, no job, no car, no family and probably little chance of any of those things in the future, save (HOPEFULLY, FINGERS CROSSED) the job. And while the 16 year old me probably never would have believed it, I'm pretty happy about it.

Frankly, after visiting with more friends over the weekend, none of my friends really seem that old to me, even the ones with families and jobs and nice cars and houses. I don't think that people nowadays are less mature than previous generations, though maybe that is the case. More likely though, I think that young people always view old people as being mature, boring, responsible and dull. When really, people are who they are, no matter what age they are.

So 40 is creeping up on me, and I'm not too upset about it. I looked at my 80 year old father, who is still enjoying life and love, spending nights out and getting in a fair bit of travel. Hopefully he will still be with us for many more years.

And hopefully, by the grace of God or Allah or good genes or a steadily improving diet and a little exercise, I'll still be going strong by 80, which means I still have more than 40 years of life ahead me (hopefully much more). And if the next 40 years can be as cool as the last 10 have been, that seems like a really good deal to me, Even if I never do get my house, my family, my excellent job and my Land Rover.

Posted by GregW 06:45 Archived in Canada Tagged armchair_travel Comments (1)

The Week In Pictures, A Few Words and One Song

Bits and bobs from London

sunny 18 °C

More Olympic Fever. Looks like the temperature is really rising!

Seems I can't escape the Olympics, especially when you are living with 3 very patriotic Brits. This past weekend and the last few days have been very good to Britain in Beijing. They won a mass of Gold medals, and now sit at 3rd in the overall standings, behind only China and the USA. Many of those medals came in Sailing and Cycling, where Team GB's strategy of co-locating all their cycling athletes in Manchester at a state of the art, well-funded facility has paid off handsomely. Of the 10 events at the velodrome this Olympics, GB has won 12 medals, including 7 golds, putting them well ahead of the next closest team, Spain, with 3 medals.

I wandered down to Trafalgar Square today to catch two of those Olympic golds in the Men and Women's Sprints. A massive video screen has been set up in Trafalgar Square, and has become an impromptu living room / party room, with moments of tension as people watch events, and moments of levity as they celebrate the winners.

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Victoria Pendleton won her gold medal match in the Women's Sprint, bringing cheers from the assembled crowd.

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Next up, Chris Hoy of Great Britain beat Jason Kenny, also of Great Britain, to give a Gold and Silver finish to the Men's Sprint, and made Chris Hoy the first British person to win 3 gold medals in a games since 1908. More cheers from the crowds, the medal ceremony and then the song... God Save the Queen. I've been hearing it a lot lately.

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Haven't heard too much of O Canada, unfortunately. It's only been played twice this Olympics. Sigh. I guess there is always 2012.

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Today, I found a barber not far from my place that I like. He's just across the river in Greenwich. £12 for a "Gents" cut. I guess I am a gent. Did a nice job with my hair, and despite the fact that he gave me a bit of a dressing down due to the fact that I sometimes shave my own neck between cuts (which causes ingrown hairs), I am for sure going back. Yay, yet another little bit of "settlement" news.

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While the 2012 Olympic site at Stratford is still mostly dirt, one site is up and running already, the ExCel Centre in the east end of the Docklands. I took a walk down that way the other day. It's a pretty impressive building, at least from the footbridge going across the Royal Victoria Docks. The roof is all spikey, white bars, almost like a giant constructor set.

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Unfortunately, from the ground it's just a big box. To make a nice picture of it, you have to dress it up with something in the foreground blocking part of the view, like this handily placed crane.

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ExCel will be hosting Boxing, Fencing, Judo, Table Tennis, Taekwondo, Weightlifting and Wrestling.

Walking out to the ExCel Centre I followed the North Bank of the Thames, and then cut up and walked along the north side of the Royal Victoria Dock. The area around Royal Victoria Dock is well developed, with a number of nice apartment buildings and a few bars and restaurants.

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On my way back, I decided to see a different part of London, so I crossed over the DLR tracks to Victoria Dock Road. It is just north of the ExCel Centre and the condo apartments at Royal Victoria Docks, but is a very different place from it's neighbour on the south side of the DLR tracks.

On the north side of the DLR tracks is a lot of run down looking housing, and mostly scuzzy looking businesses, many of which seemed closed permanently.

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Walking further along towards Canning Town, I came across a car on the side of the road that was completely destroyed by fire. 4 cars down from that, a car with it's passenger side window smashed, glove box open and papers strewn around the car. I thought about taking a photo, as it reminded me almost of the kind of shots you see from war zones, but then though better of hauling out my camera in an area where, apparently, people smash and grab and on occasion burn cars.

Past Canning Town Station, though, suddenly everything changes again, with more pricey looking condos and shiny office blocks. A lot of the businesses along the Victoria Dock road close to Canning Town were shut down, not for lack of business, but because the land was reclaimed for a massive redevelopment project. When walking along, I couldn't help but feel that it would only be a matter of time until the gentrification oozed its way north and east and all those burnt out cars and run down flats would be replaced by condo high-rises and California-Thai-Mexican fusion restaurants.

Closer to the Thames River in Silvertown, development hasn't quite taken hold. It's still an industrial area with few opportunities for a pedestrian to get close to the water. About the only reclaimed part there is the area called Trinity Buoy Wharf, which has been remade from a Buoy manufacturing and maintenance facility into a centre for arts and artists.

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(I didn't get to try Fatboy's Dinner. They were closed for August vacation).

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Ironically, as part of the scheme, they have converted a lot of large shipping containers into art studios and small craft shops. This is ironic as it was ultimately the shipping container and the Port of London's inability to deal with the massive cranes and ships required to move shipping containers that lead the docklands to close and be redeveloped.

Then again, given they are artists, perhaps that is a statement in of itself?

Further east, south of Royal Victoria Dock and heading towards London City Airport is a large section of land that is unused. The area used to be manufacturing and shipping, but with the closure of the docks, it has mostly gone to fallow.

Walking along North Woolwich Road, I found another casualty of the docks closing.

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With no thirsty dockhands looking for a pint, there is no reason to keep the pub open. Boarded up, abandoned and surrounding by two metal fences, the Graving Dock Tavern closed up in the 2002. Graving Docks, by the way, where used to clean the hulls of the ships.

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Continuing to geographically hop around without any sort of rhyme or reason, here's some photos from an underpass near Waterloo Station. Graffiti is allowed and encouraged in this area, and there are some interesting pieces of art.

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I know I've shown this picture before, but I really like it.

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There is something very cool about the juxtaposition of the farm animals and the skyscrapers. I think every city should have a farm pasture right in the middle of downtown. It would be a great way for stressed-out office workers to relax during their lunch breaks.

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Hmm, an entry without any sort of point or purpose. If this were actual literature, people would probably complain, but as this is a free blog on the internet, I know that...

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Posted by GregW 08:03 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged photography Comments (2)

Olympic Fever - 4 Years Out - Get Innocuated Now!

A tour of the Olympic Site in Stratford doesn't reveal much of London's 2012 Olympic Plans

sunny 23 °C

Did you watch the Beijing opening ceremonies? I did, one of the few pleasures of living in the most expensive city in the world with no job is the ability to watch stupid stuff on TV in the middle of the day.

I absolutely loved the footprints walking from Tiananmen Square to the Olympic site. I was absolutely gutted to learn later that what we saw on TV was just some CGI hocus-pocus. Damn computers! At least this video shows that the fireworks did appear in real life, and were probably worth seeing in real life. Too bad we at home didn't get the chance.

It's a little bitter sweet watching the 2008 Olympics, as this was the second Olympics in the past 12 years where Toronto lost to the winning city. We also lost a the 1996 Games to Atlanta (coming third behind Athens, who got 2004's games). Of course, given the poor showing so far of Canada's Olympic team, perhaps it's best that we didn't win. It would be quite embarrassing to not win at home, as Canada did during the 1976 in Montreal, when we earned the distinction of being the only host country to never win a gold medal.

Anyway, all this Olympic talk had be wondering how London is doing getting ready for their shot at the games in 4 years time. I know that they are doing something, as the DLR (which runs between Olympic sites in Greenwich and Stratford) and Jubilee lines (which runs between central London and Stratford) seem to be constantly under construction, so something is going on.

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But I was a little more curious than that, and took the tube up to Stratford to see what I could of the main Olympic site.

Here's what it looks like!

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Umm, okay. Not quite. That's a picture of what it will look like, hopefully, in 4 years time. What it really looks like today is this...

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...mounds of dirt, earth movers and construction cranes. At least, that's what it looks like at the few places you can actually see inside the site. Mostly, you just get a view of blue hoarding covered up with Olympic posters...

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They are pretty posters though, and the inspiring pictures can't help but put a bit of excitement about the event in 2012 in your step.

I walked all around the site. Mostly it's highway, hoarding and big trucks. The very west side is bounded by the River Lee (navigation channel), and so you get a bit of a different view of the area.

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It's not always grand, as it seems a lot of the area has been left to seed, so you get a fair bit of graffiti and run down buildings.

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That being said, though, there are some very nice and wild parts of the channel, and it's quite quiet, natural and peaceful for most of it. The geese seemed to like it.

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So, with 4 years to go, I guess there is still lots of time to turn the blue hoarding, dirt piles and graffiti'd buildings into something spectacular. I'm not getting too excited just yet...

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...but still, I think 2012 is probably going to be pretty cool.

Posted by GregW 05:00 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged tourist_sites Comments (1)

Sheep And The City

A visit to Mudchute Farm (which sounds dirty in a sexy way, but is just dirty in a cow patty kind of way)

sunny 22 °C

My photo of the day.

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It was taken at Mudchute Farm, which is just down the street from my flat. Mudchute is kind of an odd name, I will admit. The area is named such because much of it is land fill from the creation of the docks to the north and west of the area. Silt from the channels and basins dug for nearby Millwall Dock were dumped on the area using a conveyor system - the mud chute.

The area, with the rich soil from the river bottom and marsh quickly blossomed (literally) and became both a park and a farm. The park, just south of the farm, was the original field where Millwall FC played their games in the late 1800s. They then bounced around to a few different locations before landing on the south side of the river in an area that definitely isn't Millwall, but the Lions still kept the Millwall name.

The farm today provides allotment gardens for those that want to grow their own fruits and vegetables.

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In addition, they have pigs, chickens, llamas and donkeys on display for the kids.

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But the coolest thing is the sheep and cow pasture, where you can wander around and get right up close and personal with the animals. The sheep and cows are pretty used to humans, and you can go right up and pet them, if you so wish.

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Right after I took this picture, the black cow came up and took a good, long sniff at my camera, trying to figure out if it was edible. Luckily, she figured out it wasn't, and moved on. Saves me from having to buy a new camera!

Posted by GregW 07:00 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

The City of London - past, present and future

Britain From Above shows the future of London, though news today that the Cheese Grater is delayed

sunny 22 °C
View Exploring A New Home on GregW's travel map.

I watched a very interesting program last weekend called "Britain From Above." It's a BBC series that looks at the landscape of the island from the air. The first episode shown last Sunday was on London. The BBC website has a number of clips from the show on their website. Hopefully those outside the UK can see the videos. I have included a few links within the text to the site with videos from the show.

The program was able to provide an interesting contrast of present London to the past. In the late 1940s, at the end of World War II, the RAF flew a number of missions over London to record the damage to the city. Given the amount of damage to the city from the Blitz, plans were drawn up to rebuild the city completely anew. Lord Abercrombie came up with a vision of a London organized with wide streets, lots of parks, high rise apartments and highways to move cars quickly into and around the city.

Now, if you've ever been to London, you will know that London is none of those things. It is narrow streets at odd angles, very few high rises, a smattering of parks but not a lot of green space and bad congestion and few highways. Not surprisingly, Lord Abercrombie's grand vision of a completely planned city never got any political traction, and thus few if any of his plans were built.

Within the "Square Mile," as the old city of London which is the heart of the financial centre, large buildings are being designed and built to fit into the irregular street scape of London, including a planning restriction that requires that sight-lines to St. Paul's Cathedral not be interfered with.

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To counter this restriction and still build the tallest building in the City of London at 122 Leadenhall Street. The building has become known as the Cheese Grater given it's sloping side, sloped to ensure that the sight-lines to St. Paul's are not blocked.

122 Leadenhall had a building standing at that location, which is currently being demolished. Because of the way that building was created, the building was demolished from the bottom up.

You read that right. They removed the lower floors first, and worked upwards. Here is a picture I took of the building when I was in London last year in August of 2007.

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All the floors have been removed now, and the core is now being demolished in the more traditional way of top-down.

Bad news today for the future of London, though. Turns out that because of the economy going soft and demand for commercial space falling, British Land (the developers) are discussing delaying construction of the tower. This also comes upon news that the Pound Sterling is at it's lowest level in 2 years, and an economic forecast of stagnation and recession for the UK.

Hmmm, probably not the best time to be looking for work in London...

Posted by GregW 18:00 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged business_travel Comments (0)

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