Friday, October 21, 2005

IMGP0206While pondering just how one would code "England expects that every man will do his duty" and realising I can spell it out longhand, until I get to a repeated letter, at which point I run out of flags (well, the sailing club would), and that "Englad xpcts th vry m wil o u" doesn't really work as well, but I don't know the current naval code or that used in 1805, and, oh heck, this sentence still has a clause left to be finished, so it's going to be a long one, but anyway, while pondering all that I started trying to work out what events might be on, and where they would be on, as I went to the thing in Portsmouth many moons ago (which I haven't quite got round to writing up yet, but I have Trafalgar 200 photographs).

So events in London to celebrate Nelson's victory. Well, there's the usual: Hyde Park, Regents Park, Trafalgar Square, The Mall. There might be something at Greenwich (there bloody well ought to be). Or there might be something smaller on the South Bank near Waterloo.

But which would it be? The parks are out because it's autumn and unless they want Glastonbury in London (according to one Victoria Line driver it's somewhere after Brixton. But then he also thanked us for travelling with London Underground's Victoria Line, and hope that we would come choose to use the company and the route again soon. I know one inevitably gets a few nuts on the tube, but one doesn't normally think of them being the person driving the thing), hundreds of feet and wet ground is not a good idea.

So where then? Trafalgar Square? It's Countdown's counting down noise: de-do-de-der-do-da de-do-de-der-do-da de-do-de-der-do-da diddily-did-do did-diddily-do dwow. Oh.

Yes, that might be quite apt. Once again I'm feeling a bit "but it's ten to the eleven, and everyone else has got hundreds of Gig". Platinum moment methinks. Oh, and when was the last time anyone of you lot measured your life in GigaJoules?

Anyway, from the sounds of it someone's celebrating Trafalgar. Either that or a Nova's just gone a bit supernova.

Moving on, and in an effort to actually move on (sounds in the background suggest there's also a nuclear family getting a bit too nuclear. BTW, I can keep going with these all evening) I went to a thing. It involved meeting unknown people outside Blackfriars station during rush hour. Yeah, that's a good idea. Oh and how many exits are there to Blackfriars? Fortunately I knew what was happening next, and so stood by the exit nearest to the bridge. Other people were less fortunate.

[I'm a bit worried; I keep typing the wrong words. Not the normal typos but complete words, spelt properly, which aren't the words I meant. Need for knew, for example, or enough for involved. Dyslexia creeps, moving up slowly].

So once the main group formed, and the guy organising expressed surprise at the number of people (er, he emailed more than that number at fairly late notice, and then apparently last checked his email a day and a half before the meeting. Now that takes a certain level of class). So then the introductions began, except the organisers had no ideas for ice-breakers. The guy suggest people point and, er, I didn't quite follow. Eventually someone said we should go round the circle and do a little "I am me and I do...".

Just to recap, this is going on in a ring of twenty or so people standing at the end of Blackfriars Bridge during the rush hour. "Hi, I'm [the exhaust on that Porsche is going, isn't it? And that van's really had it]".

And then we wander, making talk too small to be remembered when it could be heard. Stop at a pub. Trust an American to organise something by wandering round a couple of days beforehand and saying "There's a pub there, we'll go to that one", and then to complain about the price once everyone's been dragged in. Any foo' know [can't keep the accent up. I was going to try for a Vanilla Ice or possibly Snow (what is it with cold names?) accent, but I thought a fat black man would be easier to do than a white rapper] bars next to the Thames tend to be a bit on the extortionate side. I managed to be struggling to talk to people when I should have been buying a drink and thereby skipped that cost.

And it's odd having the same conversation you've had with tonnes of other people, except because most of the crowd was quite a lot younger than me, they all thought it was important, even though it's the grown up version of ASL in AOL.

Once again we move on, and I met a charming girl called Lucy, and we had an interesting discussion about where the bar (members' room) is on the top of Tate Modern, how it only opens something like every third Thursday in the month, the architecture of the building, the contents of the building, our attitudes to art generally, and it was about this point I discovered that she wasn't part of the same group. Two groups heading east along the South Bank. One starts to overlap the rear of the other. Add in my innate ability to be helpful (I get it from my mother. In her it's interference; in me it's being kind), and you have the makings of a sitcom.

So we move on. I met a highly opinionated person who verges on being a complete ass (as in donkey, although the American version probably applies as well). Ah, potential lawyer; it explains so much. That moustache for starters.

He makes some rude comment when I skilfully use a puddle to get St Paul's reflected (ok, not so skilfully as I had no tripod, and the cathedral had covered scaffolding round that face, but I like the effects of the floodlights and foliage, which would be a bit manic on the baroque stonework, and I also quite like the juxtaposition of something which is very similar to modern tensile skins and the actual substance of the building). Apparently he doesn't do clichés (which of course is a cliché in itself); if it's famous it's been done. Ignorant fool.

He much prefers the dirty (he sniggers at his own pun). I ask what he means, and oddly he doesn't notice the reference to deep-seated urban decay. I wonder just when he'll realise that gritty urban reality is as much a cliché as neo-classical architecture? I pity the fool.

Oh, and groups which have large contingents of non-British-Nationals move so slowly. They always wait for the green man, even when one side is a solid traffic jam, and the other an empty road. Of course crossing the road at my own pace doesn't help, because it means I'll have to then wait opposite this big group while a bus stops blocking the crossing and the lights change. It's beeping; we should cross - But there's a bus in the way! - Oh my! - What will we do? We can't go round; we'd leave the crossing and you can't cross off a crossing. - I know! - What? - We'll wait for the bus to move - Cool! - But the lights have changed - Shall we press the button again? - I think we ought to - I'll do it.. Meanwhile, a short distance away, a lamppost is making a regular cycle of doing-doing-doing noises as Anyhoo does a Heathcliff.

So I end up standing round on the steps of St Paul's being too polite to tell yet another American not to be so friggin' self-absorbed. Frankly, my dear... And what is it with Americans and daft names: Brady, Randy, Cherry, Brandy, Cherry Brandy, Sherry, Shandy, Candy, Bambi, and now Frankly. Let me guess, the Dad was Frank-Lee, and so the daughter got the feminised version.

Of course her real name is not Frankly (but it can only be a matter of time before that name is used for in earnest [or possibly algernon]), but it does end in a -ly of some kind.

And I am being rather harsh on the Americans because they have names like alcoholic drinks: After all I know a Becks (diff spelling though), and have met a Stella and a Gin (although with a name like Virginia she didn't have much in the way of alternatives). Oddly I've yet to meet a Laphroaig.

So back over the bridge, and towards the Globe, then Tower Bridge, chatting and eavesdropping along the way. And then we notice we've lost half the group. Go back, find the them waiting for us outside the next pub. Um, I hate to break to you guys, but that looks like a Greek restaurant, not a pub.

We move on, ending up at the Anchor, which is next to where my favourite bit of graffiti used to be, except it's now a Wagamama's, for which I can never forgive them (until my brother and I next get stuck for somewhere to eat that is. Although the fact they've got a branch in Guildford rather takes the cachet off it [yes, I'm easily impressed to consider them having a cachet. But I first went to one when there was a choice of two, and I liked the communality of the canteen seating plan combined with the distinctly non-canteen food, and the utter sophistication of eating with chopsticks. Don't say it, I know, but I was young[er] and foolish. Only the age has changed]), although it could have been a Nando's [the arch next door] which would be a unspeakable crime against humanity (and fowlhood).

So I end up in a pub, buying cider because it's about the cheapest thing they sell and it isn't (and my tastebuds must be dead. Either that or they've improved the taste of Strongbow by changing it from rank to tasteless). Somehow I end up chatting to a group, but mostly listening to their conversations. The guy next to jumps up (literally, and then over the table to get out) to go to the loo, never to return, and I end up chatting merrily away to a girl whose name I can't quite remember, but I do know the names of the people she was complaining about. No idea who they are, just their names.

Then back home after the immortal impromptu tour guide line of "that's Southwark Cathedral, and this is, er, Southwark", and onto to shopping. I managed to hit Sainsbury's half an hour before closing, and so end up buying unknown things in a yellow and white ticket frenzy (apparently they don't trust staff to use proper orange things with the tabbed removable middle). So I debate buying an Indian snack selection for 30p. It's a bit much for a couple of samosas and things which look like owl pellets (suddenly I'm having hideous memories of the identifying prey by the remains of their jaws), but it is reduced which always makes every taste better.

So a few tonnes of 10-pence bread later, and end up disturbing a cashier who is intentionally taking an age to fill out the front of a money bag. For this I am addressed as a "fine young man", which in retrospect was a slightly odd to say. Somehow the world seems less confusing when one is still slightly louche for earlier drinks. It isn't any the less confusing, it's just the ability to care and worry is diminished.

It's also odd how priorities shift. I suddenly find myself repeating saying "Oh, it's fine, it's fine, don't worry, it's fine", in situations where I'd normally be seething about the incompetence and being held up (although I'd probably still be claiming it was fine, because I only unleash my rage on people I know).

I walk home, and upon getting back promptly launch into the Toffee Tiffin Slices I'd bought, because, er, they were reduced. I'd no idea what a Tiffin is (any relation of a Puffin?), but I took the toffee bit to mean they were sugar with some other stuff thrown in. But on the walk home I'd desperately been trying to work out where I'd encountered the word tiffin before recently. Eventually I realised - blog research for the previous post.

Anyway, the tiffin slices were some odd combination of dried fruit, digestives*, brown sweet stuff holding it all together, with a covering layer of chippable beige stuff (that'll be the supermarket's interpretation of toffee then). The ingredients list is in very small print and takes up most of the label, but then after each ingredient comes the constituent ingredients of the that ingredient, so it'd say something like "Glace Cherries (Hydrogenated Vegetable Oil, Glucose, Citric Acid, Colour E90210, Pectin, Whey Powder, Lignin, Potassium Sorbate, Cellulose, Soya Lecithin, Titanium Dioxide, Clay, Mono and Di-Glycerides of Fatty Acids, Sulphur Dioxide, Reformed Cherry Tree Bark)".

Basically sugary junk. Ideal for eating while you decide what proper food to have.

* No idea how to explain the concept to my American audience, considering they can't be sold under that name there. Biscuits which aren't cookies and on the cusp between savoury and sweet.

So after such a distinctive starter, which tasted a bit odd and strangely tasteless, and I prefer my lethal sugar dose to at least be unadulterated sugar, like Kendal Mint Cake, I followed this with the Indian snack selection.

Turns out it was a Taste The Difference version, and thus originally hugely expensive. Of course I couldn't actually taste much difference from their lower market ranges, except perhaps not having as much pepper. It was only after eating it that I discovered that the samosas were date and spinach. Somehow the act of putting any ingredient, be it date, walnut, goat or caviar, inside a triangular parcel of filo pastry makes it all taste the same. It tastes like a samosa. Maybe it stems for expectations thing, whereby a bright yellow apple drink will be said to taste of lemons because that's what the brain expects. Which is why blue drinks are as rare as blue fruit.

And don't try arguing that a blueberry is blue. It has a bluish blush which is mould on the surface, which rubs off (and is more of a grey anyway). It's only blue in comparison to a blackberry. And what's the colour underneath? Black, or purple, or red if a bit underripe. Squash it and what colour juice comes out? Hardly azure is it?

Just think of all the drinks made from berries. They range from pink to red to purple. If you taste a red drink made from a blend of strawberries, raspberries and blueberries, what does it taste like? Are you sure you're tasting a mix of those berries, or just what you've been conditioned to think red tastes like?

But getting back to the Indian food, the selection also came with a little pot labelled "Cucumber and Mint Raita Dip", and the specific instructions, repeated twice, not to heat the dip.

Now this may seem a daft question, but what other type of raita is there other than that made with mint and cucumber? Paperback?

After that came cheese on toast, made with 2.5p sesame baguettes. I'm quite bad when it comes to reduced bakery stuff. I see it's cheap, I buy it, I get it home and realise it'll go stale, I try to eat it all in one go. If I succeed I realise I haven't bought enough.

Moving on once more, have you ever been battling long and hard over something which is a key element of your life for the next few months, only to have the opposite reply with "So what?"

It's somewhere in the realm of bloody infuriating and frustrating, and the third member of the troika is too bloody quite to intervene, even though her reactions give away that she's firmly on the same side as I am (oh, and probably most of the population of this country would be too). Just because he's seen something cool in Beirut does not mean it well work here. He even started dragging in references to the American prairies. Hello, this is London, England. Cramped land of grey light and misty spires, oh and did I mention drunk people? And he wants to do something which would be so bad it would scare the drug dealers off.

So what? So what? [You’ll have to imagine that I'm steadily starting to interfere with bat navigation systems while also managing to send signals across the Atlantic] Have you any idea of what you're talking about? Can you think beyond the aesthetic? Can you think of other interpretations? Heck, can you even think at all?

Bloody committee design. I don't mind committees, in fact I quite like working in groups, but that's because I'm good at bringing individuals together and round to the same way of thinking: may way of thinking.

And what really doesn't help is that the silent partner is the expert who is supposed to be doing this bit and we're meant to be helping her.

In an effort to be more constructive, we change topics. It gets no better: "I think, eh, these things... they are of no matter".

A. Of course they matter, but I'll accept I may be getting a bit bogged down in detail and fixating on one subject, except that, B. he said that in answer to everything. We went round in one big circle and any alternatives which were contrary to his grand masterplan (which he hasn't thought out), or clarification sought, received his response. Any criticism of his plan got a "So what?"

I was paralysed by indecision over whether to beat some sense into him or throttle him.

And better yet it has been assumed (by him) that we will all go off and be socialable together. Which of course the poor unfortunates who couldn't provide evidence of prior engagements fast enough will be subjected to patronising small talk, before being ignored as he and his cohorts lapse into some other language. They'll then be offended when the people who've been ignored for at least an hour don't want to go on to a club.

But in other news I've just discovered that the person I kept meaning to go and visit in some other country (well, one of the people in that situation) is no longer living there, and about to be leaving in London. Ok, Londonish - the freak lives outside zone 2 (said he who has realised that finding somewhere else to live may well involve having to get a wider-ranging travelcard).

I think that had better be it.


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