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A Productive Member of Society's First Week

And so it begins!

overcast 5 °C

This week just finished marked my first week of work. After 8 months, which included a temporary retreat to North America, I am finally one of those damn foreigners stealing English jobs.

On Monday I headed down to Egham for the day for my "induction," quite a sinister sounding word for something actually quite pleasant. In North America we would call it something warm and fuzzy like a "welcome session," "onboarding" or "orientation." What it all works out to is the usual first day stuff, meeting some folks, signing some HR forms and getting set up to join the team.

I had arrived in Egham about 45 minutes earlier than I needed to be, so I wandered around for a bit. You probably have never heard of Egham, but it is the event of quite a famous and world-changing event. It might be somewhat more recognizable if I said it was also known as "a meadow that is called Runnymede."

In 1215, the Great Charter of English Liberties was signed by King John. The Great Charter, known more famously as the Magna Carta, lists 49 specific grievances that the King agreed to remedy, and demanded that the king proclaim certain rights, respect certain legal procedures, and accept that his will could be bound by the law.

One of the first documents of its kind, the Magna Carta forms the basis of common law and the constitutions of most English speaking countries.

The document is concluded with the phrase, "Given by our hand in the meadow that is called Runnymede, between Windsor and Staines, on the fifteenth day of June in the seventeenth year of our reign."

Today, between Windsor and Staines is the town of Egham, which commemorates the signing of the Magna Carta with a number of statues, including this fountain that sits outside of a Tesco.


After my induction, I headed up to Sheffield to start at my first client. I'll probably be up in Sheffield until at least the end of April, so expect a few more blog entries from there. I didn't see too much my first week, instead using my free time to sleep, as I have to get used to getting up in the mornings again.

It is a nice place, Sheffield. Formerly quite an industrial town focused on mining and later the steel industry, like many places it has tried to rejuvenate itself in the 1990s and 2000s. Today, the city centre is quite pretty, with a number of beautiful old buildings, many open spaces and squares, a number of innovative art, culture and theatrical installations. More on that in future entries, but for now a few photos of the city centre at night.

Leopold Square, home of a number of restaurants, bars, and a hotel in an old boys school

The back of city hall, rounded because it holds the Oval Hall

Grade I listed Town Hall. The building dates back to 1897

Posted by GregW 05:54 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Sir Hans Sloane's Collection

A walk through the British Museum

sunny 6 °C

Many people have asked if I am taking advantage of my time in London to experience what the city has to offer. I think I am, but inevitably the conversation goes something like this...

"So, what have you seen in London," they ask.

"Lots of stuff," I reply.

"Have you been to the British Museum?" they ask.

"No," I reply.

"I can't believe you haven't been! It's amazing," they say.

"I'm not really a big fan of museums," I offer as half explanation, half apology.

"You should go and see it. It is free, and I think it'll change your mind about museums," they command.

And so I went.


The British Museum was opened to the public in 1759, and was initially based on the collections of the physician and scientist Sir Hans Sloane. Today the museum is one of the largest collections in the world, with over 7 million items in their collection.

The museum today sits in a massive building, parts of which date back to the 1820s. Newer is the Great Court, the central quad covered by a massive atrium designed by Norman Foster and opened in the 1990s.



The museum is probably best known for it's Egyptian artifacts, including what seems like 1000s of sarcophagi and a large number of hieroglyphic panels.



Also well known is the collection of statues and panels from the Parthenon in Athens, known sometimes as the Elgin Marbles. These, though are known due to the controversy of where they should be.

Built nearly 2,500 years ago as a temple dedicated to the Greek goddess Athena, the Parthenon had fallen into disrepair by the late 1700s. Between 1801 and 1805 Lord Elgin, the British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire of which Athens had been a part for some 350 years, removed about half of the remaining sculptures from the fallen ruins and from the building itself. Since the early 1980s Greek governments have argued for the permanent removal to Athens of all the Parthenon Sculptures in the British Museum. The British Museum disagrees, arguing that without them the statues would probably be lost, and that by having them in the museum, the ancient Grecian culture and art is shared with the general public.


Beyond the Nile Delta and the city-state of antiquity, the museum has a lot of other collections.

There is more from ancient Greece. The Nereid Monument at Xanthos is a tomb, built around 380 BC by Greek architects and sculptors, for a king of Lycia (in south-west Anatolia). Between the columns stand statues of women, often referred to as "Nereids", from which the tomb takes its name.


There is something about the flowing robes on the statue pictured below that captured my imagination. The robes looks almost silken, even though they are made from marble. For some reason, it reminded me of the song Dancing Barefoot by Patti Smith.

here I go and I don't know why,
I spin so ceaselessly,
'til I lose my sense of gravity...


Also inspiring me, but mostly to make stupid puns, were these statues.

Where are my shorts? I can't remember

What is everyone looking at?

Half a head is better than no head at all!

Following on from the Greeks were the Romans, who also happened to control the land upon which the British Museum sits some 2100 years ago.


This wall is from the Lullingstone Villas, which I tried to visit once before, unsuccessfully, but it still ended up being an interesting day.


Further away from Europe and Northern Africa, there are lots of artifacts from around the world, including China...



...the Aztecs...



...and even the Assyrians (from Iraq).


One more thing I can check off my list of things to do in London. It is a truly impressive collection, and if you are the type of person that likes Museums, you'll probably love this one. Frankly, I don't like museums so I pretty much ran through the place, going through most every room in one hour and 15 minutes, stopping really only long enough to take the photos you see above. Otherwise, I just really wanted to get out and grab a seat some place.

At least, though, in the future, the conversation will be different.

They will ask, "Have you been to the British Museum?"

"Yes, I have," I will reply.

Then they will ask me about something else that I haven't done (probably a West-end show), but at least I can skip that one question.

Posted by GregW 12:00 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Will You Still Love Me Once the Copper Is Gone?

Walking through the ghostly remains of the abandoned town of Swansea, Arizona

sunny 12 °C
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In the late 1800s, some prospectors working in western Arizona came across a silver deposit. They worked the land until the silver was gone, and then abandoned it, leaving a "worthless" deposit of copper. As the century turned, copper became more valuable and T.J. Carrigan, noticing the nearby railway line, bought up the claims to the land and launched the Clara Consolidated Gold and Copper Mining. Soon after copper mining and milling was taking place in this little piece of desert. They named the place after the town in England where most of the copper ended up, Swansea.


The town carried on successfully for years, until The Great Depression of the 1930s. With the declining copper market, the fortunes of Swansea faded and by the late 1940s the town was completely abandoned.


Today, Swansea is mostly a crumbling collection of buildings in the desert, about 4 hours from Phoenix, or an hour north-west of Bouse, Arizona, along a gravel road that despite the warning sign, isn't too bad to drive, assuming it is dry.


Despite having a population of almost 1,000 people, there is little left but flat desert. The huge piles of slag that still exist from the mining operation are the most lasting monument to the town of Swansea.


Anything made of brick and cement is crumbling, anything made of metal is rusting.




In 1908 the railway came to town. Today, you can still see the railway beds, the ties mostly buried under the sand and rock. The station house is falling down, today supported by trusses made of 2x4s so they don't fall over on the few folks hiking around the town.




The worker's cottages were shocking small and close together, and that's coming from a guy who is now living in Europe!




As you can see from the last photo, someone is working on restoring the worker's cottages. They have applied a new layer of stucco on the buildings and are putting up a corrugated tin roof. Why, of all the buildings, these are being restored, I don't know. They are some of the few buildings on the site now that have more than just the foundation and a few feet of half-ruined walls standing.



Hundreds of people lived here for a period of 50 years. Today, nothing. A ghost town, they call it. Abandoned by living humans, but still haunted by the memories of its past inhabitants. Perhaps haunted by more than just memories.


...wait, did you hear something?


The crumbling state of Swansea is a reminder that you can try and keep it at bay through organization and maintenance, but eventually time and the desert will intrude.



Posted by GregW 17:00 Archived in USA Tagged tourist_sites Comments (1)

This Ain't The River Thames

Driving over London Bridge, Lake Havasu City, Arizona, USA

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This is London Bridge


Built in the 1970s, the bridge carries the A3 across the River Thames, connecting the City of London on the north bank with Southwark on the south. It was opened on the 17th of March 1973 by HRH and current Queen of England, Elizabeth II. Designed by the firm of Mott, Hay, Hoe and Anderson with senior engineer Alan Simpson, the bridge is comprised of three spans of prestressed-concrete box girders, built to carry modern day road traffic for years into the future. Despite what you may have heard in nursey rhymes, it is NOT falling down. It is designed specifically not to fall down.

As you might guess, this was not the first bridge at this location. The Romans were the first to built a bridge near the site of the current London Bridge nearly 2000 years ago. It is believed that a wooden bridge spanned the River Thames, most likely a pontoon bridge, from about AD 50. The current bridge is at least the 8th bridge to span the river at this spot.

The current bridge replaced a bridge dating back to the 1830s and designed by John Rennie. It was opened on August 1, 1831, and as part of the ceremonies the HMS Beagle sailed under it, the first ship to pass under the new bridge.

When it was apparent in the 1960s that the bridge needed to be replaced, London decided to see if they could sell it. Robert P. McCulloch, founder of Lake Havasu City and a man rich from making Chainsaws, bought the bridge for a little over 2 million dollars and reassembled it over a boat channel in Lake Havasu City, London.


Arizona, mostly desert, is known as a place where retirees from around North America come for the warm weather, dry air and early-bird dinner specials. I suppose it is no different for a bridge.


Today the bridge is quite the tourist attraction, pulling in bus-loads of people to Lake Havasu City. It has become the 2nd most popular tourist attraction in Arizona, behind only the Grand Canyon. Heck, it drew me there.


One thing is certain, though. With palm trees, mountains and sunshine, it doesn't look much like London.



I have an XM satellite radio in my rental car, and they have a feed from BBC Radio 1. So, in keeping with the spirit of London, I listened to DJs from across the ocean prattle on about Christmas while I drove across London Bridge, 8000 miles from London and the River Thames.

If you can't see this video, go to Youtube to view it.

I haven't driven yet in the UK, so this was my first experience driving over London Bridge. Traffic was on the wrong side of the road.

Posted by GregW 08:35 Archived in USA Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

I am not scared of Mexico anymore

Cabo cures my fear

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A week ago, I hated Mexico.

I probably wouldn't have told you I hate Mexico if you had asked, because I wouldn't have wanted my dislike of the place to infect anyone else without them having a chance to make up their own mind. After all, lots of people go to Mexico every year, and really like it, so who am I to rain on anyone's parade. So if you had asked, I would have said something about it being a place with lots of interesting things to see, and a good place to party, but it isn't really my cup of tea.

Deep down, though, I would have been loathing the place. And the reason that I hated Mexico was because I was afraid of it.

Now, that might be a surprising admission given some of the places that I have travelled without any apparent care for my own safety, but Mexico always scared me. In my mind, Mexico was up there with Haiti, Iraq and Afghanistan as scary places. There's a number of reasons for that.

First, I've been to Mexico. Twice, actually, which is pretty surprising for a place that I said I hated, but I have travelled twice to the country. Both times I got sick. Montezuma's revenge, they call it. Montezuma was the Aztec emperor of Mexico from 1502 until 1520, right at the time when the Spanish were conquering the land that would become known at Mexico. We all know that didn't go well for the locals. Now the emperor apparently gets his revenge by giving Gringo visitors to Mexico traveller's diarrhoea.

Given that we come to their country and then dress like this, no wonder they hate us...

The first trip to Mexico, in 2000, was the worst. After avoiding the illness for the whole week, my last night there I woke up with a sharp pain in my stomach. I spent hours in the bathroom, suffering immensely. My second trip to Mexico in 2005 I got hit again, not as badly as the first time, but still not great.

So a week ago, the first reason I would have cited for hating Mexico was that it makes me sick.

Secondly, living in North America, I got lots of news coverage on events in Mexico. Most of it was bad. Sinaloa drug wars, tourists killed, corrupt police and politicians and illegal immigrants flooding across the border into the USA. Mexico seemed like a dangerous place from all the coverage.

Of course, I know that media outlets tend to only cover stories that are bad, and even then they often make things seem worse than it really is. I have been places that only gets negative news coverage, and saw that there are a lot more good stories to overcome the bad. I was in Toronto during the SARS crisis, and watched CNN talk about it being a ghost town while I watched a city that seemed to be moving along for the most part as before.

Finally, my past two trips to Mexico were to all-inclusive resorts. The kind of places that make money by arranging group tours, so have an agenda to make it seem a little scary to leave the resort without proper guidance.

For all these reasons, that's why it was surprising that I found myself booking a weekend trip from Phoenix to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. I am not sure why I booked it, and I fretted over it afterwards. Looking at my airline itinerary and hotel booking, I kept asking myself what I was getting myself into. Travelling Mexico by myself. Would I be scammed? Would I be mugged? Would I be killed in my hotel room by banditos? I almost think that if I hadn't booked a non-refundable airfare, I might have chickened out. Luckily I'm cheap, so I took the flight.

Cabo San Lucas is on the southern tip of the Baja California peninsula, that bit of Mexico that runs down south from California, USA, surrounding by the Pacific Ocean on the west and the Gulf of California on the east, though locals call the Gulf of California the Sea of Cortez.


Cabo San Lucas, as well as the corridor from San Jose del Cabo to Cabo San Lucas along the water is well developed with tourist infrastructure, and the development continues today. Tourists come for the sunny weather, sand beaches, fishes and other earthly delights.



These are the other earthly delights I was talking about

The town was all decked out for two reasons. Firstly, the upcoming Christmas holiday. Secondly, December 12th, the day I arrived, was the celebration of the Virgin of Guadalupe. On December 12, 1531, Juan Diego saw the Virgin, who then became imprinted on Diego's blanket. Folks paraded through the streets in colourful costumes and carrying religious icons.



My hotel was right by the Marina. The marina has a nice walkway along the water, but there are a ton of touts along there. They all seem to have a very diverse portfolio of products.

"Hey man, you want to go fishing? Ready for jet ski? How about I give you $150 to see a timeshare presentation? No, how about these silver bracelets? What about some weed? Some blow? You want to get high?"

Now, these touts are exactly the kind of folks that scare me. People whose sole goal is to rip me off. But I quickly discovered that while they may be persistent, they do take no for an answer once you have responded to all their offers.


Other than that, I wasn't mugged once. In fact, most of the people I meet seemed very nice and interested in my rather convoluted personal situation.

"Where are you from?" A bartender asked me.

"I was born in Canada, but I live in London, England. Right now, though, I am working in Phoenix, Arizona. So I am a Canadian-born, English-resident, American-worker visiting Mexico."

"Wow. I have never travelled outside of Mexico."

Nice people chatting with me, instead of folks trying to rip me off or kill me. Surprises from Mexico, a country I was sure would leave me beat up on the side of the road.


While many of the people I talked to haven't travelled outside of Mexico, they have travelled. Like many places that are growing quickly, most of the people working there seemed to come from other places. Cabo and the jobs is a draw from across the country.

One of the places that those people end up working is Cabo Wabo. It's a bar owned by Sammy Hagar, the replacement lead singer for Van Halen and the man who sang "I Can't Drive 55!" That's Sammy's photo on the wall on the left. On the right you see Bono, lead singer of U2. I can only assume that he was in the bar trying to abolish 3rd world debt by personally spending money on beer. The beer there is expensive. $USD 4. Most places, beer was only $USD 2 or $USD 3, with lots of deals like buy 6 beers in a bucket of ice for $10.



Though it may not seem it from the first two stories I told, but I did not spend the entire time in a bar. I went to the beach on Saturday, and spend the day swimming. Beautiful beach with warm, calm water. The drop off is very steep, so you walk into the water and only have to walk out about 10 feet before the water is up to your neck. Very cool.


Unfortunately I don't have a photo of me getting out of the water, as I left my camera in my hotel room when I went swimming. I didn't want to bring too much stuff to the beach, lest someone steal it while I was in the water. I can provide this replica photo of me walking out of the water.


No one did steal my stuff on the beach while I was in the water, despite the fact it was left alone and there was ample opportunity. Yet more surprises from the country I hated.


As Cabo San Lucas is known as a fishing village and sport fishing paradise, I decided to eat seafood. I ended up eating both nights at a place called The Crazy Lobster on Manuel Hidalgo. Excellent food, and the best part, it didn't make me sick once. Perhaps Montezuma had enough revenge on me my past two trips.

I flew back this afternoon, sad to be leaving so soon. Cabo San Lucas changed my mind. I don't hate Mexico, and it doesn't scare me anymore.




Posted by GregW 20:41 Archived in Mexico Tagged tourist_sites Comments (1)

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