A Travellerspoint blog

Entries about living abroad

SPLINK! is the sound of a Canadian being hit by a car

Thank god for Public Service Announcements

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Everyone knows that it is dangerous to cross the street. Doubly so when the cars are coming from the other direction than you would expect. Such it is in the United Kingdom, where they drive on the “other” side of the road from North America. Luckily here in London at many places the London government has painted “LOOK RIGHT” or “LOOK LEFT” on the road, so you know which way to look to see the cars coming.

Even knowing which way to look, though, doesn’t ensure safety. The danger is tripled here in London, where cars coming off side streets don’t actually stop like they do in North America, instead they just yield. Crossing the street is a much more co-operative venture here. Instead of a pedestrian in North America who can walk out at a corner knowing that the “rules of the road” prompt drivers coming to the intersection to stop, here you and the driver need to make eye contact to determine who should slow or stop, and who should go (and maybe even hurry up).

It was thus with great interest I watched a public service announcement from 1976 to help people cross the road. I saw it on a TV program that showed funny or very effective commercials. Unfortunately for me, someone looking for help in crossing the road, this commercial turned out to be funny.

(If for any reason YOUTUBE decides to delete the film, you can see it at the UK National Archives at this link)

SPLINK?

There is nothing about that advert that makes any sense to me. The acronym SPLINK doesn’t even really conform to the advice given. I mean, they use “I” for “If traffic is coming, let it pass.” Shouldn’t they use something that would remind children more about the “passing traffic” then the conjunction used to start the sentence?

Anyway, geekier readers may recognize that the voice over and actor at the end is Jon Pertwee, who played the third incarnation of Doctor Who. I know at least half of the people reading this blog probably know that already.

I must say that the completely ineffectiveness of this PSA reminds me of the current campaign being waged in the UK called “Know Your Limits.” The campaign is trying to get people to not drink too much a day, and not binge drink. They use a very complex concept though, that of not having more than 4 units per day, and that 8 units per day is a binge drinking session.

Now, I have never walked up to a bar and said, “Barkeep, give me 2.3 units of whiskey in a dirty glass.” If you have, let me know, both what the barkeep said about ordering in units as well as asking for the dirty glass.

A unit of alcohol is defined as a 10 ml of pure alcohol in a drink, which means that the number of “units” depends both on the alcohol by volume (ABV) and the size of drink. There's a unit for every percentage point of ABV in a litre of drink, so a 1 litre bottle of vodka at 37.5 % has 37.5 units of alcohol.

What does this mean to you when you are out drinking, thinking to yourself “are you drinking too many units of alcohol?”, all you need to do is add them up. A pint of beer is between 2.3 and 3.4 units of booze, assuming of course you aren’t drinking any low alcohol or super strong booze.

So, depending on the type of beer you’ve had, you can have anywhere from one to two pints of beer.

All very clear. That’s why people keep writing into the papers about the campaign. Makes sense to everyone.

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"Okay then, a pint of cider at 5% ABV is 2.8 units, but the bartender didn't fill it all full, and some spilled out as I was walking out to the patio, so let's call it 2.65 units. Yeah, that makes sense."

Posted by GregW 13:23 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged living_abroad Comments (2)

Pleasant Thoughts on a Morning Commute

Read them now, because it is very likely I won't be liking the commute so much when I am doing it every morning

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I woke on this morning at 6:15 AM feeling the sun on my face, just like most of the past eleven mornings. The sun coming up in the sky every morning is not that unusual an event, as it has been doing something similar for some billions of years, and probably will for a few billion more. What is unusual is that I have been able to feel the sun rays hitting my face, rather than the early morning rays getting blocked by grey, thick clouds. This is unusual because the BBC has told me every night when going to bed that I should expect to wake up tomorrow to a grey, raining day.

Every day it is the same thing from the cute little blonde girl giving the weather report. “Well, today is shaping up to be a sunny but cool day in London, but tomorrow the rain will move in and we’ll have a day of clouds and showers,” she will say. The next morning, I will wake up, turn on the BBC and hear the same report. Somehow those showers that are going to move in keep deciding to move somewhere else. Judging by the weather map, it looks like the rain is having a fine time up in Scotland, and has decided to spend the summer there.

Perhaps the rain likes hiking, I here it is good up there, and judging by the Scottish people I know, they’d welcome the rain on their hikes. Anything to make their hikes more miserable seems to make Scottish people happier. “Ay, the weather was bad. The temperature was just above freezing, and the rain was coming at me vertically. The path was not more than a craggy ditch which was soon flowing like a broad river, but I made my way to the top of Gilchesterbladderfrangtoppertoopcrop, the tallest of all the crags in county Carooooooooon. Five hundred and three feet.”

For whatever reason the rain is deciding to stay in Scotland, I’m not complaining. It makes for nice days, at least for the part of them that I am awake.

This morning, like all the previous mornings the sun’s early rays have woken me, I smiled, rolled over to face the dark side of my flat, pulled the covers over my head and went back to sleep.

The past eleven mornings have gone a little something like this. I wake up with the first rays of sunshine, roll over so the sun isn’t shining on my face and promptly go back to sleep. Every hour or hour and a half, I roll over and am soon awakened by the light and heat on my face. I then roll over and go back to sleep. This cycle repeats until it is about 11 o’clock, when I drag myself out of bed and decide to finally face the day.

I’m not surprised by the sleeping in, after all there is a five hour difference between Toronto and London. Last time I was here in London, I found myself sleeping late as well, not getting up until noon, which is 8 AM in Toronto.

What is strange about this move, though, is that unlike my last visit, I am not staying up until four in the morning. I am going to bed at eleven at night, and not getting up until the big hand has made a full circle on the clock.

At first I told myself I was just catching up on all the sleep that didn’t seem to come my last month in Toronto, when the impending move out of my apartment and my impending move to London kept me awake at night mentally running through checklists of things that I really needed to do, though of course not things I could do anything about at the time so it was a little unfair of all those tasks to keep me up. Tasks not yet done, however, seem to have little in the way of respect for time.

However, now that my twelve hour sleeps have lasted for almost two weeks, I am starting to think that perhaps I am just being lazy.

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Now, these two seemingly unrelated things, my recent tendency to sleep away the day and the BBC’s inability to actual forecast the weather with any sort of accuracy combined this weekend to prod me to change.

On Saturday, I spelt like most mornings until eleven. I woke up, showered, and as I was getting dressed clicked on the BBC as I got ready to go out and hit the town. On BBC 1 they were showing a large parade with a bunch of soldiers outside of Buckingham Palace. Turns on that second Saturday in June is when the Queen’s birthday is celebrated, and there is a large parade of the armed forces dressed in all their finery for the Queen to inspect, as well as a fly over by some of the RAF’s best and loudest.

I had no idea, because I had been not exactly avoiding but not really paying much attention to the media, and as I had slept in and it was already noon, the festivities were coming to their conclusion. By the time I would have made my way down to Buckingham Palace, I would have missed everything. Instead I wound up in the Docklands, lunching on a piece of fat and bone disguised cleverly on the menu as a £10.50 pork chop and seeing an exhibit on the Jack and Ripper which managed to make one of the world’s first serial killers seem boring and made me feel guilty for having any interest in the story.

I did manage to spend the rest of Saturday walking a large, rambling path from Canary Wharf to the Tower of London, checking out a number of potential neighbourhoods to live in along the way, including the funnily named but potentially reasonably priced Wapping.

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Sunday I slept in and spent the day reading, and so had no idea until I went out to find a store to make an international call to my Dad for Father’s Day that George W. Bush was in town, and that the entire centre of town was crippled with traffic due to both the police presence and the roving protests that follow President Bush around like a dog follows around a child holding a hamburger that is about to fall out from between its loosely held buns.

All this sleeping in and missing things was making me feel a bit guilty that perhaps I was taking for granted my opportunity to move over here to London and LIVE in another city, so I decided to do something about it.

Firstly, I decided to figure out what events were coming up in London and the area so I wouldn’t miss them, at least I wouldn’t miss them because I didn’t know about them. I have now marked up my calendar with the Royal Ascot (happening this week from Tuesday until Saturday), Wimbledon (happening in a few weeks), a Polo match late in June that a Canadian expats club is attending, and the British Grand Prix in early July.

Now, I may not make any of these events. The Royal Ascot, which is the first up, has tickets available, but I don’t quite have a morning suit available to wear and with a couple of interviews tentatively scheduled but changing on the whims of potential employers this week, I think the ride up to Ascot will have to wait for next year. The rest of the events I have vowed to research this week, which means I will most likely do nothing until the day of the event, and then curse myself for my inability to follow through on any of my planning and get tickets for things.

But at least I was able to manage to change one of my behaviours this morning. When the sun woke me up again at 8 in the morning, I didn’t roll back over and go to sleep, even though I wanted to. Instead, I got up, showered and dressed in a nice shirt, a clean pair of jeans and a pair of nice, black dress shoes. I headed out and got on the tube station, heading towards the city so I could finally open my bank account.

I had decided to open my bank account at a branch down in the city rather than up in Willesden because I don’t see myself living Willesden for long, and would prefer not to have to drag myself out to the north-west end of the city every time I need to visit my branch. I figure I will most likely end up working somewhere “in the city” (the area that I would have called “downtown” in any North American city), so at least my branch would be relatively close to my workplace.

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Getting onto the tube, I grabbed the free Metro paper and read through the news, sports, entertainment and business headlines, skipping over the weather as the Jubilee line lurched towards Westminster station, where I transferred to the Circle line to Mansion House station.

The tube was filled with a bunch of other people dressed smartly and heading off to work. I felt like I fit in, though, as I was wearing jeans, most were dressed smarter than I, but at least I wasn’t wearing my shorts-t-shirt-hiking boot-camera get up that identifies me immediately as a tourist.

I was dressed up, I was up at a decent hour, I was off to conduct some business. I had my laptop bag slung over my shoulder and I was flipping through the pages of the Metro. I was one of the crowd, one of the many heading off to work. I felt like I was part of the great structure that runs this city (even though all I was doing was opening a bank account).

I will admit that most my life I haven’t much liked being a faceless cog in a great machine, but something about being an anonymous face on the train today, heading into the heart of the great post-industrial beast that is the City of London, I felt great. For a length of that tube ride, I was part of London.

I may be complaining in this very blog in 3 months about how I feel so lost and small in the masses of those that run the industries that run the world, but for today, it felt like I belonged here.

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Today I wasn't just a tourist. I wasn't just floating on the surface of London, or even just dipping in my toe. Today, at least for a few hours, I finally felt like I belong in London.

Posted by GregW 07:31 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged living_abroad migration_experiences Comments (1)

Being a Sport in London

Watching the F1, and impressed that others are watching it too.

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I went down today to a sports bar near Piccadilly Circus called the Sports Cafe, which is an eerily similar name to my favourite bar in Toronto, the Sports Centre Cafe, which I wrote about before leaving Canada. I was heading down to watch the Formula One Canadian Grand Prix from Montreal. I know what you are thinking, why would I travel all the way to London just to watch Canada on TV. But the cars go vroom-vroom and go real fast! It's cool.

The bar was mostly filled with Croatians and Austrians for the Euro 2008 match between the two countries, but there was a small group of fans who huddled around the few TVs showing the F1 race. It was impressive to see people not just watching the race, but applauding a well-timed and executed pit-stop during a full course yellow. These people knew their stuff, and made me (who was often one of the few people in Toronto who could speak at all about F1 racing) feel like a bit of an idiot for not knowing more.

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What was interesting, I found, was that when UK-born Lewis Hamilton, then points leader of the F1 season crashed, there weren't groans of disappointment. Instead, there were cheers. It seems that Lewis Hamilton is not very popular with the folks that were at the Sports Cafe this Sunday. Damon Coulthard, a fellow Brit, was applauded when he finished third, however. Not sure why the animosity towards Hamilton, it is something I will have to explore in the future.

As the race wound down the next Euro 2008 game started up. The game featured Poland versus Germany, which was interesting to note because Poland's Robert Kubica finished first, ahead of Germany's Nick Heidfeld. The Polish fans in the bar were cheering both for Kubica's win and the start of the Euro game.

Soccer (footie) I can understand - two teams kick a ball until one puts it in a big net. Racing I can understand - people drive cars really fast until one guy crosses the line ahead of the other guy. But some English sports escape me.

The following conversation took place during the interlude between the Austria-Croatia game and the Poland-Germany game.

Man, looking up at TV screen. "Oh my, van Barneveld beat Taylor!"

Woman, sounding shocked. "No, but Taylor had that 9 darter yesterday."

Man, shaking his head. "Look at that! It was 9-9! Can you believe Taylor lost?"

Woman, looking forlorn into her beer. "Unbelievable."

They were talking about darts. Seriously.

And while I don't understand the appeal of watching professional darts, at least I understand that concept of darts (throw sharp things at target). Don't get me started on cricket, where the TV announcer will stay stuff like, "Left-arm quick Sidebottom, who finished with figures of six for 77, routed the New Zealand lower order on his Nottinghamshire home ground, but it was fellow fast bowler and man-of-the-match James Anderson, with a Test best seven for 43 in the first innings. Meanwhile, Mike Hussey had 74 no out, with a top score of 244."

Huh?

I think I'll stick to the soccer and the racing for now.

- - -

After the sports bar, I took the tube home from Piccadilly Circus. Some of the tube stations in London are really far below ground, and you have these really long escalators down to the platforms.

I arrived at one of the escalators to find that no one else was on it. I had a completely clear moving stairwell just for myself. I started down, and soon found myself running faster and faster down the stairs. I could feel the wind coming up against me. I started laughing and put out my arms, just like when we were kids pretending to be airplanes. I could almost feel myself taking off.

Things have been pretty hectic that past week, trying to get my new life in order, and that is likely to continue for the foreseeable future. This Sunday, though, was a free day - nothing to get done accept watch some sports and act like a little kid on the tube line. To feel the wind on my face, to feel myself starting to lift off the ground thanks to the wind underneath my arms.

It was a reminder that once all this work of settling in settles down, I'll have a whole new world to explore.

The very thought lifts me up.

Posted by GregW 13:51 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged sports living_abroad Comments (1)

Paige? Pay-gee? How do you say that word?

The cash and carry lifestyle

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PAYG.

Pay As You Go.

No wonder I still feel like a visitor in London, everything in my life is temporary.

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Pay-as-you-go, often abbreviated as PAYG is the system whereby you pay for something up front, prior to use, and when you are done with the service, you can buy more or never buy again. It is a contrast with any sort of long term contract. Most of us would be familiar with the concept when it comes to mobile phones.

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My new mobile phone is PAYG. I will get a contract phone once I have settled in a bit more, but for the time being, seeing as I didn't know how much I would use my phone or what types of services I would need, in addition to the fact that my new job, once I get it, might provide me with a mobile phone, it seemed sensible to not get anything long term.

On a side note, I don't know how to say my new mobile phone number. Mobile phone numbers here are 11 digits long. In North America, our phone numbers are 10 digits, and you always split those 10 digits up the same way - 3 digits for the area code, 3 digits for the exchange, 4 digits for the "station code." Therefore, you said your number as such. "My number is 416 (pause) 555 (pause) 1234."

Here in the UK, though, everyone seems to approach it differently. Some do 3-4-4 (011-1111-1111), some do 4-3-4 (0111-111-1111), some do 3-4-2-2 (011-1111-11-11), some even do 5-2-2-2 (01111-11-11-11). Strange. With no constancy, when someone asked my number, I don't know what to say. Usually, I just mumble and show them the number written down. Seems to work.

Beyond my phone, though, even more of my life is PAYG.

My flat is a rent-by-the-day place - you rent it for as long as you need, starting and ending on whatever day you want. In fact, if you really wanted to, you could rent the place just for one day. You come in, stay and then leave the place as you found it, with nary a sign that anyone every was there.

The tube is PAYG as well, with the stored value Oyster Card.

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The Oyster Card allows you to put a certain amount down (say, £30) and then use that amount until it is done. There are "travel cards" which allow unlimited travel for a set period (a week, a month), but I choose for now to go with the PAYG service as I am not sure I will be using London transit every day. So far, I have been using London transit everyday, so perhaps it was a bad gamble, but it seemed like a smart choice at the time.

Even the power in my apartment in pay-as-you-go. I have a pre-paid power meter for my place. Once the money runs out, the lights go off. To "recharge" the meter, I take a small electronic key down to the local variety store where I can put money on the key. Returning to my apartment, I can put the key in the meter, and the amount I put on the key will be transferred to the meter, keeping the lights on for a few more days.

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All this pre-paid, use it and then leave stuff lends are real impermanence to my life over here. Pounds in for as long as you have them, then off you go somewhere else.

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It'll be nice to start to develop some "long-term" connections to the city. Then perhaps I'll get more than a toe in the water. I might even get a whole foot into this living abroad.

Posted by GregW 13:27 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged living_abroad Comments (2)

London is not Going to Explode

Giant WWII Bomb Safely Detonated on Olympic Site - Phew!

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Sneaky Nazis, still trying to bring us down.

Oh, they had their crazy plans. I can just see them in their little bunkers planning this thing out. "Let's drop a massive bomb on London, but instead of having it explode right away, let's have it buried in the earth until 2008! It will cause them no end of grief!"

Another Nazi officer looks at the map and says, "but where will we drop it?"

The crafty SS Commander points to the map. "East London, right here, future site of the 2012 Summer Olympic Games. Yes, that will pay them back for winning the Gold Medal in the 6 metre sailing class at our superior Berlin Olympics!"

And so it was that workers digging on the future site of the 2012 Olympics uncovered a 2,200 pound bomb on Monday. Tube service in the east end has been interrupted all week as The Royal Engineers bomb disposal squad, which one news report describes as being "the modern-day equivalents of teams set up during the conflict to deal with unexploded Nazi ordnance," went about the process of trying to disarm the beast.

Things were tight. At one point, the bomb "started to tick and ooze liquid when experts tried to disarm it. One Royal Engineer was sent back repeatedly to the ticking device to 'freeze it' by pouring a salt solution on to it. He used a powerful magnet to stop its timer." (source: This is London)

Last night the Royal Engineers used a controlled explosion to disarm the device. London is safe again from the scourge of the Nazis, the trains can again run (though they tend to run slowly and late - one thing Fascists can do that apparently democracies can't) and the march to 2012 continues just slightly abated.

Those Nazis though, they are tricky. Don't think we've seen the last of them. After all, they are still up to causing mischief in the circles of Auto Racing. Ain't that right, Mr. Mosley?

Posted by GregW 02:45 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged living_abroad Comments (0)

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