Archive for the ‘society’ Tag
So, four years now (or, rather, next week it will be…here’s the annual reports for years Three, Two, and One for historical perspective).
We just received our new visas valid until 2016 but plan to take the next step toward citizenship in a year, Indefinite Leave to Remain…sort of the British Green Card. There is an exam, first, but in general it is all downhill from here.
The view from Western Street near the new house…also all downhill
Additionally, we are in the process of moving house (which is why I rushed the annual report a week forward) from just north of the Oasis over to Old Town to a house situated close walks to either the Beehive or the Castle or the Globe (recently reopened!)—three locals instead of one and all three of high quality—and dozens of others a short walk. The new house has three bedrooms each larger than its counterpart in the old house, the two receptions are larger and made into more of an open-plan configuration, the bath is larger and has a tub (not just a shower), and there is a finished basement; on the down side, the kitchen is a little narrower and more primitive as is the small garden but everything we do and everywhere we normally go in Swindon (save for the butcher) is so close.
The only races I did this past year were the London Marathon (5 pubs plus a can of Carling on the last mile) and the Beerathon (5 miles with a pint and a hefty food item between each) and the mileage run for the year suffered from this lack of focus—1950 give or take about 25 (most estimates pretty good using gmap-pedometer), while the last several years (except for the year of the wreck) were in the 2200-2500 range.
On the runs, I visited 255 new pubs with a stunning 67 new ones (steep part of the graph) in September when I took two weeks off work and ran at least 10 miles per day in new territory each day. The 1000th wasn’t as big a thrill as I thought it would be, but I saw some really nice places and met some really fine folk. The September holiday found me visiting Gloucester, South Wales, Slough (exotic, I know) and Exeter along with some nearer-to-Swindon trips. The 100 Yellow Beer Challenge was responsible for a lot of second visits to pubs I might not otherwise have gone to after an initial stop and many of these seemed better the second time around. Oh, and my Workingman’s Club appears to have failed or at least hasn’t been open the last several times I’ve popped by (I have a grand one scoped out for the new neighbourhood, though).
Best pubs in Year Four (reverse order by First Visit write-up):
The Southgate Inn, Devizes
The Hop Inn, Swindon
Dicey Reilly’s, Teignmouth
The Brass Monkey, Teignmouth
One Eyed Jack’s, Gloucester
Ye Olde Red Lion, Tredegar
The Rose of Denmark, Woolwich
The Volunteer Rifleman’s Arms
The Green Dragon, Marlborough
The British Lion, Devizes
The Blue Boar, Alsbourne (for the Dr. Who connections)
British Citizenship Exam Prep
Assize Court, Bristol
Paul Simon in Hyde Park
The Bremen Musicians (German children’s story)
Sex Tourism in Wiltshire
Modern Algebra for Omid
Burns’ Day Lunch
There are others search for ‘made me laugh.’ The blog may or may not have made some of the over 100,000 visitors laugh, but the damn fools keep checking in (that’s you, that is).
An arduous journey culminated in landing at the tiny Bremen Airport (larger than the one in Athens, Georgia but smaller than Lovell Field in Chattanooga). My hotel was attached to the lobby by a covered walk across the tramway and after exchanging notes with my colleague who arrived earlier I retired to my room where I cracked open a Becks and found a rubbery packet placed on my pillow (but I’ve stayed in crappier places that I SHOULD have been able to say that about).
I awoke at 5 by habit but was still sleepy and lounged around till 6 before stretching and going for a bit of a run around the bleak neighbourhood (mostly industrial park). There are as many bike lanes in Bremen as in a Dutch city, so finding a place to run is pretty straightforward. Work was a chore because we left so many bits we actually needed back in Oxford (on the advice of my boss and the folks at the development labs). Non-disclosure agreements limit that discussion to essential that.
Okay, it means radio-controlled clock; but, I like the idea of getting my daily newspaper at a place called, “Funk Hour.”
Work went on, regardless, and we eventually released our tired hosts and my Russian mate went home to the hotel. I opted to change back into my running gear and went out to explore the beer/running dichotomy, Bremen style.
Bremen is never going to be a huge tourist spot, but it is quite a charming city. It has a contrarian history (one of the furthest west Soviet Republics, until this was quickly quashed) and the folks here are quite nice if you try at all to meet them halfway. For instance, I sometimes can surprise myself at my comprehension of spoken German because, although I have good grades on my high school transcripts for German language coursework I have absolutely no recollection of ever enrolling, attending, or being examined in these lessons; nonetheless, I managed to follow the simplified-for-my-consumption conversations at the three bars I hit on the route. Very nice of them to let me try.
Down an alley I spotted the Spitzen Gebel and dashed in for a pilsner. I had a Haake Beck, which I think I could get used to, then smelled something strange…hey! Folks were smoking in here! I only have an occasional stogie, but this is what a bar should be like. The small venue was packed and friendly and reasonably priced. Moreover, I was the only non-local in the place despite its proximity to what should have been the highest density of visitors in the town.
Needing nourishment and loving a kebab, I found a döner place. No, check that, I found a very good döner place and had quite a delicious pita with lamb, salad, and chilli sauce; not at all greasy and the meat tasted like (and had the texture of) meat. Result.
Tasty and high quality though it was, I wanted something to was it down and to cleanse the palate. About a third of the way back to hotel I spotted the weird little side street bar, Baldu, with its Tiki Bar interior and 70′s soundtrack. I ordered a Franziskaner Weißbier and received an enormous glass of this faintly orange and wheat loveliness that I can still make out, faintly, even after the ‘run’ continued on for one more stop.
Everyone else in the bar was drinking equally large or strong drinks backed with shots of something or other (I recognised vodka and got one for myself after even the bartender rendered horrific face-pulls on some spicy black shot one of the punters bought her…the vodka enhanced the FW, whereas the mystery tipple might have ruined it).
The run started to approach my shoddy airport neighbourhood so I scanned side streets until I spotted a bier sign down one. I pulled up to the building to find it was a pool hall complete with some stinky bikers out front. It was still pretty tame inside, the soundtrack included Meat Loaf and the house wine was, I shit you not, Motörhead Shiraz…I had already ordered another Haake Beck but I really wanted to toast Lemmy (maybe I can get someone from work to come shoot a few racks before I have to leave).
The kids got married, Americans were quite embarrassing on tele, and Prince Phillip stayed alert (my bet failed) and as far as we know he didn’t hit on any of the bridesmaids. We went to the Glue Pot for a celebratory drink and found that the topic was off limits…fair enough, we are all sick to death of it [and as of this writing that is still the best aspect of Bin Laden's assassination: it knocked wedding post-mortems off the news]:
We didn’t get out in time to go to a street party, which is fine. We also missed Rock against the Royals at the Victoria, also just fine.
Update on 13th August 2011 — Okay, fair enough…some of you have taken offense at the smarmy tone of this post. I’m sure you will all feel vindicated by this ‘proper’ press article: http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2011/08/13/edl-to-gather-in-telford_n_926111.html
Telford is a shit hole. There’s no two ways about it, and that’s a shame because for a new city it has avoided a lot of the architectural and city-planning gaffes that make Milton Keynes such a shit hole. Telford has its share of run down council housing but nothing too dangerous looking; moreover, it has large neighborhoods filled with trees and what appears to be decent housing.
They put up a mall and couldn't incorporate this historic chapel, choosing instead to dismantle it and put it in a playground...tsk
So, what makes it so shitty? Ah, the people do and they seem proud of the fact. If there was any demand for a restaurant that served anything other than a carvery with a buffet of slimy, overcooked vegetables (even by English standards) then we wouldn’t have spent two hours driving around looking for a place to eat. Even the chippies and kebab places were shuttered as if awaiting a riot.
Finally, we spotted a Greene King pub and while the food isn’t great at these, they serve it hot, cheap, and with beer; unless you are in Dawley, Telford and the signs showing the food that draw you in didn’t mention that the kitchen closed sometime before 8pm when you arrived. Granted, the blokes were helpful, directing us back to a mall Wetherspoons on a Friday night (I knew it was a bad idea to start, but I really wanted to see just how bad…and maybe I’d be wrong and could get a plate of pasta and a beer). Before we set off to the Wetherspoons fiasco, we did note one progressive sign on the wall of the pub:
The Wetherspoons was adjacent to an ASDA grocery store but it should probably be renamed ASBO, from the swarms of drunken teenagers hanging about. It has been a long time since I’ve seen that many white trash kids in one place…back home it would usually only happen when a Molly Hatchett tribute band was in town, or the carnival (everyone wants to go see their daddy if his tou comes near enough, don’t they?). And, the girls…obviously they spent all the money from their pole dancing tips on eye makeup because there wasn’t enough left to buy a skirt to cover their cooters (bless ‘em)…or maybe they just needed to air out their genitals, it’s really hard to be certain.
NOT a Telford shop window
The Wetherspoons had bouncers that let us through but the place was 8 deep at the bar (where we would have ordered food or at least a round as it was going to be worth it to watch one or two of the inevitable fights that was imminent). Instead, we just went to the ASDA and got some sandwich makings and headed back to the hotel room.
Mmmm...the healthy choice for supper
The next morning, I went for a nice run through the area to see, up close, what sort of environment was responsible for producing this many miscreants which thrives merely on copious quantities of alcopops and anonymous sex (hey, not that there’s anything wrong with it…I was young once too; but 1) you’d have to substitute “powerful psychedelics” for alcopops, 2) to this day I only tolerate, very well thank you, but not thrive on, large volumes of alcohol, and 3) I’ve always needed an occasional pizza or other nourishment).
Trotting over the streets glistening with vomit and broken glass, I was surprised at the lack of graffiti. I can only suspect that the Telford Town Council has somehow found a way of channeling this undesirable behaviour:
There were some pleasantly wooded trails, and I only was a little shocked when I saw the first female condom I have seen in years, this one in Telford slag-size:
So if you’ve never been to Telford I hope you found this informative but I do encourage you to investigate it for yourselves. A good source are the Telford pages on another blog I frequent, with one example here, and another, less well written one here. Cheers.
This sign has a science fiction-esque, bleak futuristic hellscape sound to it: Play Area 50. Coming soon to a cinema near you. I like two things about this photo, though…some kids have vandalised the age limit to 100 years old and there’s the neighbourhood watch sign that seems to evoke ‘Big Brother,’ from 1984.
In Britain, they bet on everything. You can slap a fiver on the bar at a pub and bet on the colour of the scarf of the next person through the door and someone in there will walk away with a fist full of cash soon thereafter. The betting parlours were running a line on the next Dr. Who, recently. This week it is all White Christmas…the weather has had the bookies in a lather over the odds the last few days, but here is a screen shot of the latest line:
Went to Northern Wales to run, as it were, in a marathon. This didn’t go especially well and I’ll probably make some notes and post some fotos tonite. There were also a number of pub visits (three during the marathon itself), to post and some touristy things. In the meantime, here’s some photos lifted from the press last week about girls out for the evening in Cardiff (not where I was, but Wales nonetheless). There’s more than the beautiful landscape to make a southern boy feel right at home:
Gravitationally challenged panties...
Haircut that pre-empts the need for a friend to hold it
There aren’t a lot of things I miss about the US…I think it boils down to food, for the most part. There’s not much that compares to sloppy barbecue pork shoulder sandwiches slathered in hot sauce and eaten in 90 degree heat and 95% humidity while waving a cold beer around your head to fend off the deer flies. Or, proper pork sausage with spices and flavour and not a speck of breading.
I’ll come back to those in the near future (I bought a meat grinder and make our own sausages now due to the abysmal state of the offerings here). But the thing that has been haunting me for the last few weeks is a desire to sit on Buford Highway in some fly infested Guat restaurant with Telemundo or a Mexican soccer match playing in the background and to wolf down some hot salsa on corn chips with a pitcher of cold lager (or two…maybe three if Jackie joins me).
You can’t get spicy food on this island, though. I don’t know how they manage it, but even the imported pickled jalapeño pepper slices have been castrated and are as mild as my grannies sugar dills. I’ve even bought brands I recognise from the States and somehow the Health and Safety (and Fun?) bureaucrats have come up with a form of irradiation that neutralises the capsaicin with the sealed lid in place. Bastards…you can use these peppers to cover your eyes for a beauty treatment, so mild are they.
I finally found some real peppers squirreled away on a small shelf in the supermarket a couple of weeks ago and bought up copious quantities of habañero and jalapeño peppers. I was now ready to prepare my fix, and my hands were shaking with the anticipation of a junkie.
After mixing, stash half of it away or you'll eat the whole batch
I just replanted my cilantro (known here as coriander, which at home only refers to the seeds) which I have been using by the handful to doctor up Thai and Mexican dishes all summer, but they have only now sprouted and won’t be ready for use for another month. The tomatoes from this summer’s plants were delicious but most were disappointingly small; I gathered as many of those as I could, as well. The onions and garlic are locally sourced from our farmers market. A bit of cumin and some lemon juice were all that remained.
It always comes out as too big of a batch so I have enough leftover to hit it again next weekend (or tomorrow if the urge hits). I’ll have to go back to the grocer to grab another bag of tortilla chips, but they are especially easy to spot with the offensive caricature of the bandito on the package:
Here’s an article wherein a couple receive suspended sentences for growing 83 marijuana plants because they are heavy users and the judge found it plausible that this was meant for personal use.
First consider that the plants were valued at £26000, total…that’s a little less than $500 US. The newspapers in the US typically value a cannibas stem as $5000 to $6000.
Then, consider that even crappy growers are going to bet an ounce of buds off each plant (dunno how I know that). If half are males and discarded, the 41 ounces (forget that they could easily harvest up to as much as 300 ounces) they have sitting around the would easily keep two stoners going for 6 months to a year if they lost half of it (and what are the chances of that).
In addition to the Palm Paper hilarity, there were these other bits of signage that were spotted and that amused or otherwise informed me as the month progressed. The one above, posted on a bus shelter by an anarchist group appears to be in response to a rise in overtly racist politics (as proffered by the BNP) or somewhat softer racism put forth by anti immigrant groups.
On a lighter note but remaining in the bus shelter realm, the good folk of Toft dedicated their bus shelter to Elizabeth Windsor’s big day back in 1953 (above). Not to be outdone, a drinking buddy of mine from Arizona and myself appear to have had some of our respective nicknames appropriated for a snack shop in Bury St. Edmunds:
This final one was spotted early last Saturday when I started on my run from Wisbech to Chatteris. The hotel-for-hashers aspect will have to be explored at some later date when the bar is open, but I should also point out that it is just down the street from the Elgood Brewery, my favourite (beer garden open from 11:30 to 4:30 Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday each week and on certain other dates scattered throughout the year):
I succeeded with a project at work I had been toiling over all week and opted to take the afternoon off (I’ll never use all the holiday time I’m alloted anyway). Friday seems a perfect time to hit some pubs and make some mileage on paths not yet taken, and I am not one to mess with such a perfect plan. Plus, I wanted to try out the thermodynamics of my new haircut.
I had a cut in the winter at a stylist, but was keeping the hair longer at that time in hopes of surviving hypothermia in the cold rains and wind. Now that summer is here and the temperatures regularly exceed 68 degrees F (20 C), I just wanted it buzzed. This gave me the courage to try the barber in the Cambridge Market. In a market pitch, there’s this guy from Brooklyn that does buzz cuts at £5 and he will probably be my haircutter when I need another buzz in around August. I’ve seen him work before, and he can do more than this, but I won’t bother with anything special until the Autumn.
Barber stall, Cambridge Market
From Lensfield Road the trail followed bike lanes through Newnham (the Hat and Feathers) and to Barton (the White Horse). The High Street has a small pavement and deposits you next to the Hoops, and from there it is back on a bike lane then on a Public Footpath to Grantchester (the Blue Ball) and another Public Footpath directly across from the Blue Ball takes you back to Cambridge through Grantchester Meadows.
Triumphant return to Grantchester from Barton
It was drizzly at times during the run and cool and windy, but I was still surprised that I had the fewest clothes on at anyplace I went. These folk seem averse to staying comfortably warm in the winter so a small dip in the temperature causing sleeves and jumpers to appear was a bit surprising.
Dressed warmly for bus ride home, trying to not fall asleep
Elections are likely to go very badly for Labour and the Conservative Party this next cycle in the wake of the housing reimbursements scandals. Third and lower than third parties are making moves to position themselves for their best gains ever when the new elections are called.
The BNP (British National Party) has a new youth (pronounced “youf”) outreach program that includes Billy Brit, a puppet that spouts poetry about great Britons and their racial heritage:
So, I am not here to judge, just to make smarmy remarks. When I was growing up in Atlanta (first major city in the deep south with a black mayor) I was always tarred (or tar babied, as it were) by friends outside of Dixie because of the proud accident of birth that made me Southern and the weird situation that that imposes when your home region actually bothered to codify the Jim Crow laws that everyone else, worlwide is so smug about when they meet a southern US citizen.
It is the same here, and I’m met with people that want to treat me as though I turned dogs loose on students in Montgomery (remember that I was born in 1962) almost as often as those sorts of assumptions were made by the good, educated and liberal folk visiting from up in the Northeast in the US in the 70′s. Still, it is as amusing to have Billy Brit to spring on people now as it was to have the spectre of the bussing riots in Massachusetts and Rhode Island then.
The recession can’t be all THAT bad if this is a viable business:
Yep, that’s http://www.newmarkethathire.co.uk/ for all your hat rental needs in the Suffolk-Cambridgeshire corridor.
Although this sounds like another self gratification euphemism (at least that’s how I’m going to use the phrase from now on), “chasing the one eyed cat” actually refers to this story:
about a West Yorkshire cat owner and possible kook whose story was filmed up in Leeds and has made the rotation at Cannes. He and his kitty, Midge, are shown preparing for their man versus beast running showdon in the movie The Great Race.
This advert keeps showing up on television over here and I hope it stays on YouTube so I don’t have to upload it meself. Imagine if this turned up on the tube in, say, Macon Georgia or Phoenix Arizona…
I’m entirely in favour of community volunteer service but this article would be easier to take seriously if it had less in common with Tom Sawyer tricking the other kids into whitewashing a fence (“Like it? Well, I don’t see why I oughtn’t to like it. Does a boy get a chance to whitewash a fence every day?”).
It is a short article, but essentially it is basing family fun around the entire clan helping to muck out a clogged waterway, then spending the afternoon picking up litter. In Arizona, this is the sort of fun reserved for guys wearing orange jumpsuits, and in Georgia you’ve usually got a “camp director” with a shotgun and some dogs to play with if you are clever enough to slip your chains. But, this is a more egalitarian community, and like they say in the article: “Everyone is invited to take part.”
In America, there is a snack food of devil’s food cake with a cream filling and chocolate icing known as Ding Dongs throughout most of the US, but the makers thought better of it (considering the imaturity of the customer base and the likelihood of snickering and potential for de facto homophobia-related boycotting) and renamed the same product King Dons.
The American South (which shares with the English the inability to discuss body parts or bodily functions with a straight face) is not alone, it seems, since here in Britain Birdseye renamed their Battered Cod Pieces (now that is funny) as Fish Fingers.
This was brought to my attention from the above pub menu excerpt sent as an email attachment, and since then I have heard it brought up on BBC Radio 4 a few times. The pub in question is in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, unfortunately, but I hope to find an example here just so I can ask, too loudly, for some delicious, hot cod pieces in a strange pub.
The earlier post on the NHS crisis (linked here) prompted an alert reader to point out this video clip, extracted from a BBC Channel 4 documentary which was very good and very disheartening. In the full length video the doctor in this clip says that she has “no sympathy at all” for these people that cause the sort of A&E (that’s ER in US English) backlog and I couldn’t agree with her more…whether they are drunken hooligans, sloppy slags, other physicians, or myself.
(Update 12 April 2009: related video on subsequent post: http://1pumplane.wordpress.com/2009/04/12/nhs-crisis-update/ )
First,be aware that this entry, like all the others in this blog, represents poorly thought out opininons and are meant to be either entertaining or informative to non-residents of Great Britain, nay, even only to the sub-set of those that I happen to know personally.
I have been chastised, and rightfully so for insensitivity about a Cambridge visitor’s accidental death due to an incident following a binge drinking session. Consequently, the post about the Mill pub has been edited and the offending passage redacted, against my normal policy of simply striking through text that has been edited due to inaccuracy or coming up with something more clever (or, for that matter, clever at all). The link and excerpt that caused distress to that reader are still available on the web site of the newspaper from which they were gleaned, but I have no interest in controlling the press or someone else’s freedom of speech.
That edited/replacement text includes a link to this OTHER article, though, which is one of many I have seen in the last 5 years on the subject of irresponsible British youths pushing up the costs of the National Health Service by, amongst other things, binge drinking related injuries.
The articles have recently become more pointed about blaming the bad behaviour on one or another of a suite of fundamental failures in British society with regards to instilling a sense of community and personal responsibility. The underlying and carefully skirted suggestion is that there is now a third or fourth generation (birth control is also lacking among this group) of white trash laying waste to the society since the ascent of the Tories (and accelerated under the Light Tory administration that followed).
Another recent death and funeral in the news involved a “celebrity” that made millions–literally millions–of pounds by exploiting herself as just this sort of white trash, although the truth is that she seemed at worst a benign form of it and most likely was just exploiting the chavvy zeitgeist. She did seem truly proud of her lack of talent (about which both she and the press agreed) and was happily ignorant of rudimentary topics one should learn in primary school. Admittedly, she was very funny in interviews but that points to the likely truth that she was not nearly as stupid as she liked to present but was in fact a shrewd manipulator of the culture. After her death from cancer (note, not a self inflicted injury), her funeral rivalled that of Princess Diana in scale of coverage and outpouring of grief across the land.
Her crass behaviour and lack of class (not working class but LOW class) is as much a thermometer of the diminishment of the culture as it has been a kiln to fix the glaze upon it. On the other hand, in the five or six years she has been plastered across what has become known as The Press I can’t think of one time that she has turned up plastered in an A&E for the sake of an injury sustained just after closing time in a crappy little market town or college ‘burb like so many of the poorly behaved goons you see around every day.
Still, it remains that these are the sort of people who turn up in the hospital demanding service for self-inflicted injuries (or at least those for which the primary responsibility for sustaining the same can be traced back to their choices earlier in the evening). Doctors, nurses and the police tend not to turn up on these roles and that probably has nothing to do with the fact that they maintain the records.
Decrying the low state of the culture that is (and is developing) is like shutting the doors after the yobs have already filled the pub. It is not going to change anything…that dredge has already left the sluice.
The short term answer may lie in moving toward, as a nation, a more mature attitude toward drinking habits. Binge drinking need not be completely abandoned if we can remove its ability to so acutely shock the body. This will require daily, heavy maintenance drinking, throughout the day.
I would, of course, lead the way except that my employer has a policy limiting me to 2 units at lunch and their generosity and trust shall not be abused. Besides, I like Britain just fine the way it is.