Monday, June 30, 2008

terra cotta day lily

P1030183-1, originally uploaded by London looks.

in my garden

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Our brilliant and brief career as pageant parents

The local Catholic church* had its summer fayre yesterday. Among the fundraising activities, was a Bonny Baby competition (entry fee £2). When I saw the flyer, I thought:

"Heck yeah, that cash prize/blue ribbon/certificate/goldfish in a bag is as good as mine. Surely, we have the bonniest baby this side of SW19."

I mentioned it to the Vol-in-Law who I thought would surely dismiss the idea out of hand, but he was keen. Eager, even. "I know we have the best looking baby, but it would be nice to have some official recognition."

We even discussed outfits and bemoaned the fact that it was unlikely that we could get him to wear a hat for the period of the judging for maximum cuteness and to cover his still somewhat lumpy head - a potential point loser. Even so, we figured as long as he was in a reasonable mood and we dressed him in bright colors we'd walk the contest.

But then he had the "accident".

Oh, it wasn't much at first. I noticed a scratch on his nose when I picked him up from daycare. But overnight the scratch inflamed a little and scabbed over in a most unsightly way. And in Bonny Baby competitions, I reckon they generally look for a child without blemish.

P1030146 copy bad nose
The Vol-in-Law immediately suspected sabotage. Some other parent, with some less attractive, but still quite cute baby got their child to scratch Buddy's nose in some Tonya Harding -esque bid to knock out the stiffest competition.

Quite clearly he wasn't competition ready - and though I briefly considered smearing a little concealer over the scratch - I couldn't quite bring myself to do that. I didn't want to be that kind of parent.

But I needn't have worried about becoming one of those obsessive pageant parents. The scab fell off and there was but the merest hint of a scratch, but I just couldn't be bothered find a clean, cute outfit and struggle with him over the hat. So we went to the playground instead.

P1030146 good nose
photoshopping away the imperfections


*I'm not sure it's technically our local. We probably fall outside the boundaries of the dioceses or parish or whatever it is even though it's definitely the closest Catholic church to our house.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Happy (late) (British) Veteran's Day

Happy Veteran's Day.

In Britain.


Yes, I let it pass unremarked, but so too did the rest of the country. Apparently. My British colleagues had no idea.

It's a new thing here. And I have to say it's much needed. Remembrance Sunday is a big thing here, but technically you have to be dead to be honoured - which takes a little bit of the fun out of it. Veterans - until a couple of years ago - had no official celebration.

I'm not a big fan of Gordon Brown, but good for him for bringing this in.

So, let me say - thanks to all the British Veterans.


Technically the Vol-in-Law qualifies as a British veteran, given his 14 months or so in the British Territorial Army (reserves). I think he was mostly in it for the subsidised beer, though.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Get to work

Get to work, originally uploaded by London looks.

Buddy is obsessed by brushes. Hairbrushes, nail brushes, brooms and scrub brushes.

The Vol-in-Law has fantasy in which he's going to train Buddy to clean up after us. I think he's nuts, but it looks like we're off to a good start.

The Widow Radomski's bouquet

graveside flowers (almost)

This morning I took Buddy out for a stroll in the nearby cemetery. The grass was so high the tombstones were barely visible in some places. There were yellow meadow flowers in bloom (I'll go back with a camera later if I get a chance UPDATED - I did!)) and it was lovely in a sad kind of way. I started to sing "Where have all the graveyards gone? Gone to flowers every one. When will they ever learn (to mow)."


We ran into a woman who was there to tend the grave and she said, quite unprompted, "It's disgraceful, isn't it?"

Now, I'm not much one for chit chat in the cemetery, because those conversations never end on a particularly joyous note. But I agreed and asked which plot was hers. She pointed out what I presume must have been her husband's grave. It was a bit overgrown, but not as bad as some of the other graves. She told me that she'd brought flowers to put on his grave and I asked her if they were from her garden and told her how lovely the bouquet was (see I was trying to bring it back to a happy note).

She then gave the bouquet to me. I refused, of course. But she said the grave was in such bad shape that she'd rather I enjoyed them at my house than leave them amidst the untidiness. And she misted up, visibly upset, and on her way to complain to the cemetery office and Lambeth council.

I left the cemetery, clutching the flowers and trying not to look like a grave robber. (But really there's no other way to look when you leave a graveyard with a bouquet in hand).

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Buddy met a little lamb

Buddy met a little lamb, originally uploaded by London looks.

We walked a very long way today to the Deen City Farm, which turns out is quite a long way away. I don't know why I didn't drive. I guess I just fancied a long stroll.

We'd been once before and Buddy could only summon up a bit of interest in some chicks. This time he loved everything. The sheep, the goats, the ducks, the geese, the chickens, the guinea pigs, the rabbits and the ferret. Especially the ferret.

He screamed so for the ferret that the sullen looking teenager who was messing with it (and who was probably there by some community service order) let him pet it.

In retrospect, slinky, bitey rodenty things are probably not best put into the paws of an exuberant one year old. But he loved it.

I would have taken a picture, but I didn't want to be that parent. You know the parent that takes the picture instead of staunching the flow of blood from the gushing ferret bite wound.

(There were no bites. Baby and ferret parted unharmed)

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Love those rental rates

Hey kids it's Wimbledon - and this is the first year that we have full service on a bus that runs from spitting distance from my front door (but not right on my street) straight to the Wimbledon tennis grounds. Seriously, it's less than 20 minutes* and practically zero walking.

And do you know what that means? That means if I could get my act together we could rent out our house or do a house swap during Wimbledon for some seriously fab locale. I hear rich people with nice houses like Wimbledon.

But, I don't get my act together. Our house is a tip. A tip filled with baby and baby accessories. Maybe next year.

For you folks with cars with America, maybe 20 minutes doesn't sound that close. In London it is.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Choosing from the dregs?

I do love the European Football Championship, but without England, it's just joyless. Yes, I know I've said this before. But for months after England failed to qualify, every time I thought about it I wanted to throw up a little.

As the first of the knock out games began, I started to watch a little more. But now all the teams I might have liked are gone.

Who's left to love? Russia, Turkey, Spain and Germany. The evil axis of footballing? Maybe Spain. I had a pretty good time there. Maybe Germany, I got a lot of free drinks there one time.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Smells like...

There's been some heavy advertising on tv lately for a new men's fragrance from Dunhill called London.

Now, I do love this city. But I don't know if you want to smell like diesel fumes and stale chips and the rush hour Underground on a wet day or maybe a little whiff of something icky coming off the Thames.

And Dunhill - don't they make cigarettes? I don't know if you want to smell like that either.

But hey, splash that cologne all over if you want to.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

America's got Mongolian throat music

Because I was missing Britian's Got Talent so much, we watched a little bit of America's Got Talent - with British judges. It's not nearly as good - and I keep watching it trying to figure out why.

Partly, I think it's poor chairing. The Hoff is just a bit too chaotic, he votes before he's supposed to vote, he speaks out of turn. The panel is supposed to have a rotating chair, but Hoff seems to think he's always chairing. On Britain's Got Talent, it worked. When Piers was chairing, Piers chaired. When Amanda was chairing, the other two followed her lead. And when Simon Cowell chaired, of course, he was in control.

I haven't been to an American business meeting in many, many years. I do know they're different. I know they have a different rhythm. From what I hear, there's more "get down to business" and less of the introductory weather related chit-chat that occurs in almost every British business meeting. (It doesn't last long, don't worry.)

Some time ago my friend Vol-K was over on business, and she asked me and another ex-pat what she should expect for her very first business meeting. We told her about the chit-chat. Later she said she was grateful for the advice as she felt herself getting impatient during the blather phase.

But what about American chairing? Are Americans less likely to follow the lead of the chair? Or is it just a David Hasselhoff thing?


One of the acts last night on America's Got Talent was a guy who played the banjo and did the Mongolian throat singing thing. He didn't make it too far. He was amiable, but rubbish. It was really worse than it sounds. And banjo + throat singing doesn't seem like a good combo on paper. But I could sort of peer through this particular artist's crapness to see that maybe banjo and whistle-tube singing could work. Just not with that guy.

When I was Amsterdam a number of years ago, not touring the red light district and not smoking myself into a daze at the "coffee shops" but visiting museums and viewing Dutch masters I came across a troupe of Mongolian throat singers. They were busking underneath an archway that lead to the National Gallery of the Netherlands (or some similar type museum). It was pretty darn amazing. I was entranced.

I bought a CD with a fistful of Euros. Then I had a little buyer's remorse. What if it was crap? What if that archway provided them was some sort of amazing acoustics that didn't translate to CD?

Anyway, I listened to it at home. Let me say this - it doesn't exactly have a great beat and it isn't easy to dance to, but it's cool in a weird sort of way.

The throat singing guy last night made me want to see if I could dig out the CD and by the fates, it happened to be the second CD in the giant stack of un-put-away CDs just sitting by the stereo. So I played it again - yeah, it was pretty cool.

Buddy thought so, too. He was transfixed and stomped his feet and wanted to get closer to the speakers.

The band was Altai Hangai and here they are with Barrelhouse.

Why I haven't been blogging much of late

Why I haven't been blogging much of late

Dunno, really. I've been blogging more at work. Don't bother looking for it, it's not that interesting. Well, for one or two readers, it might be kind of interesting, but not really.

I've been doing lots of Web2.0 things at work and I guess one only has so much to give to social media.

Plus, I'm tired. Still very tired. Buddy still doesn't sleep through the night.

Islamism and fascism, happy bedfellows

Here's an interesting post from Harry's Place which captures some interesting conversions from the far right to extreme Islamism.

I reckon it's not that big a step - particularly if you're fueled by hatred of the joos.

Commenter Wardytron nails it:

Plus they’ve seen that you get far more indulgence and less outright hostility as an Islamist as opposed to a neo-Nazi, the ideological leap is tiny - you get to keep all your enemies - gays, Jews, liberals, women - and you’re joining a movement which, if not actually flourishing, isn’t down to nearly single figures. I’m surprised it doesn’t happen more often.

I guess one thing that makes it hard to make the transition to Islam - even the violent, nasty political hate-filled kind is having to give up beer.

Lacklustre Euro 2008 blogging

Now that the European football tournament has reached the knockout stages, I should be a little more interested - even though England didn't qualify which makes the whole thing a painful endeavour.

Portugal v Germany? Who do I hate more? Hmmm...Portugal. They lost. Croatia v Turkey? Hmmm....I guess I'd be marginally in favour of Croatia because of the cool red and white check thing they have going on, but there's something about their sporting gloaty-ness which bugs me. Anyway, Croatia lost last night in a penatly shoot-out, but even though I checked in on the game, I didn't stick with it. A bit of shame, because it sounds like it was quite exciting at the end.

One game I did watch a fair bit of was the final qualifying match between Italy and France. A little rematch of the World Cup finals - without the headbutting Zidane. France just fell apart at the end, even amiable Thierry Henry crumbled like a cookie. I supported Italy last time around and this time, too. France bombed out of the group stages. Ha ha.


Thousands upon thousands flocked to Stonehenge this morning to see the sun rise in mystical alignment on this the Summer Soltice.

It was raining and overcast.


Sunday, June 15, 2008

Party animal

Buddy attended his first party today where he was the invitee. It was another one-year-old's birthday party and we were the mere chaperones.


He was raring to go and turned out to be a real party animal. After he spotted the beer, he cried until he got his hands on a bottle(empty), much to the amusement of your wicked, drunken sort.

We finally managed to get him off the beer with the promise of chocolate.

partied out

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Births, deaths and Londoners

As we were walking down the street today, a quiet residential street near our home, we spied a television news crew. We walked on. It's London, after all - who knows what it could be about.

We saw a strip of three pregnancy ultrasound scan photos in the gutter maybe 20 yards further on in the gutter. All scan photos look alike, but clearly they're generally quite precious to the person to whom they belong. We knew they hadn't been there long because they were dry, but it had been raining earlier.

We walked back to the news crew - they were clearly staking out someone's home so I figured why not take advantage. We handed off the scan photos to the tv journalist in case someone came back looking for them.

"Do you live on this street?" she asked. No, we sort of pointed off in the general direction of our house.

"Did you know him?" she asked. And then I realised just who they were doorstepping. The widow of a murder victim. The partner of a man who yesterday was doing nothing more than standing at a customer service desk of a grocery store we've shopped at, too. He was hit in the face by another customer and now he's dead. Nice. I wonder what the news woman did with the scan photos.


As we left the news crew, an old man with an adorable dog started off the same way. I think he'd been talking with the reporter. Buddy was quite interested in the dog. He pointed at it and said "dab, blah, dab-blah-blah".

I said something about nice doggie and the old man informed us that she was indeed a very nice dog who loved both children and cats. In fact, she loved them and they loved her. All the cats in the road would approach Skip (the dog) and kiss her. Awwwww. Just awwwww.

But then he said "Yep, Skip's a lovely dog. Better than a wife."

The Vol-in-Law, to his credit, said "Well, a wife's pretty nice, too."

"Not my wife," said the old man. "I had one for 36 years. Glad to be rid of her. Better to have my dog. The wife's in an old person's home and you can have her. No, Skip's a great dog."

(I paraphrase - he went on like this for quite some time until our paths diverged.)


Only in London, said the Vol-in-Law, would a seemingly nice, baby-admiring old man with an adorable dog reveal his dark, wife-hating side to a strangers in the street. London old people often seem to have a special darkness in their soul.


The dog in the photo is probably not Skip, but looks a lot like Skip. Reproduced here under a creative commons license. Image by Chris Jones.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The non-toddling toddler

Buddy is one year, one week and one day old - and yet he does not walk. Only in the past few days has he done the finger grabbing, hand-holding frog march thing with any skill.

At the weekend, we went to the playground and twin girls who were about his size were taking stumbling steps. Before they arrived, he'd been crawling happily but after seeing them he pretended to walk by gamely holding onto the hand holds of the climbing frame/ slide thingy. What a poser. I guess peer pressure starts young.

I'm don't really worry about it, when he's ready, he's ready. But the Vol-in-Law wants him to walk. He calls him the non-toddling toddler. He sat up pretty early, creeped and crawled pretty early, too. The ViL says "I don't want to be parent who says 'Some babies don't walk until they're sixteen months old. ' I want to be the parent who says 'Yeah, he's walking.'"

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Yeah, I'm bitter

Is it an even numbered year?


Is it June?


Yet, where is my preferred team? Where are my heart's sporting darlings?

They're at home, twiddling their thumbs.

That's right. England didn't qualify for Euro 2008 - the European tournament - the World Cup's little brother. It's going on right now and I can't bring myself to get excited about it - at least not in the group stages.

And although I know their absence from the tournament is probably saving me from the inevitable heartbreak of seeing them bomb out during the quarter finals, there's still an aching void in my early summer.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Yeah, I'm bitter

Hillary Clinton has conceded. She says she's supporting Barack Obama and that we should, too.

I knew she'd say that. I knew she'd do that. Because she is a party loyalist. She's a class act. I also knew she wouldn't back down while there was still a chance of victory. But the deck has been so thoroughly stacked against her from the beginning by both the media and the DNC that I can now see she didn't have a chance. Yet still she fought on - and still she won more support from a broader coalition of people than her detractors ever thought she could or indeed ever gave her credit for.

That isn't to say that she didn't make some mistakes along the way, some mistakes that cost her. Every candidate does.

I still believe that she's the better candidate. By far.


the invisible undercurrent to this entire primary season has been a sotto voce bitch . i think our national reaction to her campaign says much more about us, than it does about Hillary Clinton as a person and a woman politician. and frankly, it’s really disgusted me. you don’t have to be a Hillary supporter to feel outraged at the treatment she’s received. you don’t have to be a woman to be outraged at the treatment she’s received.

So says an Obama supporter. (Of course, I don't think the "BITCH" has been quite so sotto voce). If the vocal majority of Obama supporters even hinted at something like this then I'd be more inclined to vote for the guy. But they aren't. Many are largely implying that my electoral hesitation is fueled by racism.

Not so. Not so for me anyway. (I'm not saying that race isn't a factor in some people's votes.)

I've voted for a black man over a white woman in a primary race* in Tennessee. I voted for him again in the general election. Locally, I've voted for a man of color over a white woman that I know personally and like because I thought he was the better choice. And I'll campaign for him. But I wouldn't have voted for either of them if they'd taken advantage of sexism to win in the primary race quite so egregiously as Barack Obama has.

And there are other reasons why I hesitate to vote for Obama. Reasons I won't go into because some part of me still wants to support the presumptive Democratic nominee.

My vote could still be won, but if Obama and his supporters take Hillary Clinton's extended hand of support and friendship and kick her in the teeth... Then no, hell no.


Maybe Obama's charm and charisma will carry him to victory in November. I hope so. I think he'd make a better president than John McCain.

I worry particularly about McCain's nation-building aspirations in the Middle East. In many ways the neo-conservative agenda is an agenda of hope and global prosperity, but it's a doomed vision. Not everyone cleaves to democracy and trying to impose it on them won't make them the good liberal democrats that we'd like them to be. (And by liberal democrat I mean that in the classical sense - the sort of liberalism which allows a plurality of viewpoints rather than a leftist agenda necessarily) And trying to impose it seems to be leading to a kind of least best outcome - a stronger Iran, an angry and punitive OPEC, an Iraq ruled at the neighbourhood level by religious militia.

I worry, too about furthering a socially conservative agenda which is more about foisting someone else's dubious morals on me rather than maintaining decency and family life for the majority.
*Correction - I supported Ford in the primary race, but since I'm a little bit bad at voting in state level primaries from overseas and he was way ahead I may not have actually voted for him then. I definitely voted for him in the general.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Buddy and the big orange express

Loading up with big orange fun. Keep on truckin', Buddy.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Buddy is one!

Buddy is one!, originally uploaded by London looks.

Wow, we managed to keep him breathing air for one whole year. Beats our record with some pets.

Monday, June 02, 2008

All reality all the time (for real)

Since introducing my mother to the delights of Eurovision, we spent 7 nights watching the utterly captivating Britain's Got Talent. That was one night of condensed auditions, 5 nights of gripping semi-finals and, of course, the finals.

Dana (a distant cousin - we've been at the same reunions, but never knowingly met) sums it up as Possibly the best British show Americans will never see. It could be.

My favourite acts were the forties singers from Newcastle, the hula hoop trio (go to Dana's site - she's dredged up the YouTube videos) and Kate and Gin - a dancing dog act. Only Kate and Gin made it to the finals, where I have to say I didn't especially want them to win - but I hope that it launches a long career for Kate in the dog dancing acts at Crufts.

Do Americans get televised coverage of Crufts? If not, I'd vote for that in the running of possibly the best British show Americans will never see.

The Vol Abroad has a brush with reality teevee

It's true that I have been watching a little more reality tv than I'd have cared to admit a year ago. But I'd never consider actually going on one of those shows.

Still I'm proud to admit that I had a brush with reality tv today - and the daddy of all the British reality tv shows to top it all.

This morning, the guys from Lazee Lawn came around to install my new faux turf. And as they were leaving, they said they were off to the Big Brother house to do some work on their lazee lawn.

The Vol Abroad hires only the gardeners to the stars.

Top cat checks out the new top grass

(See more photos of my new fake lawn going in).

Sunday, June 01, 2008

World's biggest cocktail party on rails

Our new mayor, Boris Johnson, has banned alcoholic drinks on the Underground and the rest of the Transport for London network. Many American readers may be wondering why it was ever allowed in the first place, but drinking in public is a well established liberty in this country (unless prohibited by notice).

The ban comes into effect today, so like any good Londoner should, thousands went out last night to revel in the last moments of licentiousness. (Pictures from the BBC here).

Now, I've enjoyed a drink or two on the Underground in my day. I particularly remember one crowded journey when I took a delicious glass of fruity Pimms on the Victoria line much to the admiration and jealousy of the other commuters.

I have to admit popping a few tops on the train, too - making many a journey more endurable and my fellow passengers seem more genial.

But no more...

Now that my days of public drunkenness are largely to be set aside for the next two decades or so, I admit that I wholeheartedly support the ban. Young people these days just have no respect.