Saturday, October 29, 2011

Moving flats and a giant white dome

My walls are now bare. Well, almost - I still have some pictures of squirrels in Underground stations to take down, but that won't take too long. It took over an hour to wiggle all the photos off the wall and put them into neatly (well, maybe not quite neatly) labelled envelopes, in order.

The reason for my blank walls? I have a new flat! I will be moving this week. Hopefully it won't take too many trips (though it's amazing how many bits of paper you can amass in five months), so by this time next week I will be properly established in my new room, with photos back up on the walls.

The new flat has fairy lights in the living room.

This makes me happy.

Another thing that made me happy today, strangely, was taking down all my photos. There's something about staring at lots of smiling faces that makes you smile yourself, and I took so long taking them down and making sure they were in the right order (I plan to beat my previous time of three and a half hours for putting it back up) that I spent a lot of time staring at lots of smiling faces.

(Why do the photos have to be in order? some of you may ask. See my post here for background - scroll down for the pictures)

I went to the O2 for the first time this week. The O2 used to be called the Millennium Dome, and is a giant white dome in a bend of the Thames. James Bond slid down it once, and some people say it can be seen from space (sure, but where does space begin? I don't think it can be seen from the space station).

I'd forgotten how absolutely huge it is. I went to the Millennium Dome twice more than a decade ago, so my memories of it are a bit fuzzy (I do remember it was absolutely awesome, though). They have the O2 Arena in the centre, where they had Cliff Richard playing on Wednesday night and Britney Spears on Thursday night, and they also have lots of bars and restaurants and a thirteen screen cinema and a museum of pop music. The Dome is in North Greenwich, and they have a big line made in paving stones to walk along as you approach it. Being so close to Greenwich, I wondered if this was the Greenwich Mean (0 degrees of longitude), so I amused myself by wandering back and forth across it and muttering 'Eastern Hemisphere, Western Hemisphere, Eastern Hemisphere..."

I don't think it actually was the Greenwich Mean. I'll have to go and find that one day and jump back and forth across it.

Today is the last day of daylight saving, and I'm staring out the window and thinking that, this time tomorrow, it will be 4pm. It seems too dark for 4pm. The sun is going down. Okay, maybe I'm exaggerating, but still.

Stupid upper latitudes.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Ode to my Kathmandu Jacket

Today you are treated/subjected to some poetry. I call this piece “Ode to my Kathmandu Jacket”

Oh Kathmandu Jacket,
You are Teal and a colour that is vaguely like Mint
But not.
And also Cream.
(In a small stripe across your front and along your sleeve)

Though you do not particularly go with Work Attire,
You are Warm.
I can wear only one layer beneath you
Rather than my accustomed four,
And I am still toasty.

You are not particularly fashionable in London
These English people cling to their

Stylish Woollen Coats

And I am marked as a foreigner,
A possibly Scandinavian foreigner.
Or maybe German.

But I do not care.

You are also shower-proof
(but not monsoon-proof, as I found
on a Wet Winter’s Day in Wellington),
So I need not worry about
Sozzled electrical devices.

And, your crowning glory:
The hood that crowns my head.
When it is raining.
(It would be nice if you were automatic,
Like those awesome windscreen wipers that turn on when it's raining,
But even so I am content)

I need not carry a
Black Umbrella.

And your pockets are large enough to hold my e-reader!

Most faithful, most useful, most able to be stuffed into my bag on the tube when it's too hot,
You have first place in my heart.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Tube Battle Tactics, and a win.

I didn't manage to get my Wednesday post up this week, owing to spending most of my time flat hunting or, ahem, watching Merlin (it counts as research on plotting and humour). Today, therefore, will probably be an extra-long post. I have much to discuss.

First: Tube Battle Tactics.

Sometimes signals fail. Sometimes trains break down. Sometimes someone jumps onto the tracks. This means that there will be 'minor delays' or 'severe delays' on the line, or they might even close the entire line and 'your tickets will be valid on local bus services'. On Thursday morning, just as I was passing Hampstead, the driver announced that there were severe delays on the Victoria Line due to a defective train.

I change to the Victoria Line at Euston, and when there are delays (or even when there aren't delays) you might have to wait for three or four trains to go past before you can sardine yourself on. The Northern Line (Bank Branch) platform at Euston is separated from the Victoria Line platform by a short corridor, which is one of the best tube changes I've come across. I was on a Bank Branch train, as usual, but I stared at the Underground map and formulated my Battle Tactics. It may help to have a copy of the Underground map in front of you as you read the next bit.

The Northern Line (Charing Cross Branch) also goes through Euston, but is separated from the Victoria Line by two escalators, multiple sets of stairs and many corridors. Two stops later, at Warren St, it crosses the Victoria Line again, so you can change here, but again there are many escalators, stairs and corridors. The Victoria Line platform at Warren St, however, is very rarely crowded, and you can usually get on the first train.

So I got off my train at Camden Town, and took the next Charing Cross Branch train. Then I got off at Euston.

The sharp-eyed among you will notice that this was the wrong station.

I was almost at the Victoria Line platform before I realised my mistake. I had been wondering vaguely why the sequence of steps and escalators and corridors was different from what I remembered, but never got further than wondering vaguely. I determined to stick it out at Euston. Then I saw the platform spilling people down the corridors, and turned back the way I'd come.

Back on a Northern Line train. Mornington Crescent. Warren St. Change for Victoria Line. A train right at the platform, and not very many people. Hooray!

Finally I was on a Victoria Line train, squashed in, but going the right direction on the right line. For future reference: Do not attempt to execute Tube Battle Tactics when half asleep.

More was to come. Just as we were getting into Green Park, we were told that Victoria Station was closed (no idea why, but probably due to overcrowding). Some Victoria-bound people got off at Green Park, but not that many. I didn't realise just how few had disembarked until we got to Pimlico, and 95% of the people on the train got off.

Pimlico's a relatively small station. It has two escalators and a set of stairs. You might wait thirty seconds or so to get onto the escalator, or a bit longer if you want to stand as you ride the escalator, but never longer. But today the escalator hall was so full it was taking a while to even get off the platform.

The reason: the escalators weren't working. No idea why. I got out my book as we shuffled along, into the sea of people that was the escalator hall. They weren't letting any passengers into the station from outside, so both escalators and the stairs were filled with trudging people, two on each step. At a guess, there are about one hundred steps, and it was quite a sight to see so many bobbing heads and shoulders moving up and up and up.

Needless to say, I was late for work.

Next: Go All Blacks!

This probably should have gone first, but considering my last post was mostly about rugby, I thought I'd put it further down so the less-rugby-minded wouldn't be put off. Heh.

I went back to the Sports Bar at New Zealand House, reaching the doors just in time to see the haka. They were taking a cover charge of £5 cash-only and I had a grand total of £1.36 on my person, so I had to go a-looking for an ATM. These are in short supply in the area of Haymarket, Piccadilly Circus and Leicester Square, and even some of those that exist are out of order. Eventually I found one that would give me money, and ran back to the bar (I did a lot of running this morning). I still haven't got into the habit of carrying real money around with me...

To my surprise, around half the patrons in the bar were French. The French were easy to spot, because they kept chanting "Allez les Bleus" (go the Bleus) and clapping/jeering excessively whenever the All Blacks made a mistake. I reflected on sports etiquette, and wondered whether we did the same as the French. In some cases, I guess we did. Over the course of the match, thought, I decided that it is okay to cheer for your team when they do something good, but it is bad form to cheer for your team when the other team does something bad that has no connection whatsoever to the actions of your team. I.e., do not yell "Allez les Bleus" whenever a conversion or a penalty is missed.

It's just not cricket.

In the second half, some kiwis took up a chant of "Kiwi!" (clap clap clap), so we did that whenever the French began theirs.

It was a very close, very tense game. The curse of the All Blacks Number 10 jersey reared its head as the third man to wear it in the Cup was taken off with an over-extended knee (they kept replaying it. And replaying it. It looked extremely painful the first time. I didn't need to watch it a second or a third). I thought the All Blacks looked quite scrappy for a while, but then I realised that's just how you play defence. I'm not used to seeing them in defence. The French were a hard team to beat.

At last the final whistle blew, and the Black-clothed half of the bar cheered. Lots of people left, and the speakers began playng "We are the Champions" at top volume.

Now I'm back home with my homemade banana pudding with limoncello icing, which is as good as it sounds. Have a good week!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Open air writing, aka distraction

And another post that didn't post itself... grrrr... Should be 5 October 2011.

It was absolutely beautiful weather last week, so I took advantage of it to sit out in the garden and attempt some writing. Unfortunately, before I did writing-writing I wanted to do some letter-writing, so that took a bit of time, and then when I finally got around to opening Scrivener I found that the beta had expired. The garden has no wi-fi, so I had to go back inside and download the new beta, and by that time it didn’t seem worth going out again.

But today (Sunday) I came out again and sat in the middle of my nice grass field that nobody ever seems to use with my laptop and Sony reader and notebook, and had another go.

Then came the squirrels.

None of them actually ventured down to the ground, to my disappointment, but they ran around in the trees and stared at me and made funny noises, a cross between chattering and quacking. I will call it quattering. It has quite a ring to it.

Pause for groan.

So it’s very pleasant out here in the balmy evening, but I haven’t done that much apart from scrutinise the treetops for squirrels and write about being distracted by squirrels.

I suppose that counts as writing, right?

Addendum: Ooh! They squeak too!

Portsmouth and Southsea

WHY WON'T SCHEDULING MY POSTS WORK??? stupid... hmmm. ANYway, from a while back lol....:
I spent Tuesday in Portsmouth, and it was sunny! Actually sunny, with a blue sky and everything. I was able to wear one layer! And wish I had sunglasses!

Portsmouth confused me at first. Signs like ‘Other City Centre’, duplicate hotels and trains going to ‘Portsmouth and Southsea’ (what if I just want to go to Portsmouth?!) weren’t helpful.  I spent a time thinking about how cities in ‘New World’ colonies are generally beside the sea where they can be, but not in Europe, and decided that this is probably because inland cities are more easily defended.

As far as I can tell without consulting Wikipedia (which I will do tonight – I’m writing this on the train), there is Old Portsmouth, Portsmouth nowadays, and Southsea. Old Portsmouth is right on the harbour, as seaside towns should be, and Portsmouth is inland about half an hour, a good slog in bad shoes. (I am currently very tired after walking for at least three hours today). Southsea is south of Portsmouth (surprise!), and gets its name from a castle. More on the castle later.

I started in Portsmouth city centre and sorta-kinda followed my Googlemaps directions out to Old Portsmouth. I never actually got to Old Portsmouth, because I was distracted by the Garrison Church just outside. This church was bombed during the Portsmouth Blitz in 1941, and the main part of the church has no roof and is all bare stone. A fire burnt everything up to the chancel, and you can still see the fire damage on one of the pews. The chancel is still in good condition, with stained glass windows and beautiful tiles, and regiment flags hanging from the rafters. The place is incredibly atmospheric.

The guides were very friendly, and I spent a bit of time in there before walking up the sea wall right beside the church and along to the Square Tower, past a statue of Admiral Lord Nelson. My first proper view of the sea since flying over the Channel! There was a lot of water traffic, and some big round things that I couldn’t figure out. Didn’t think to put on glasses... I walked along the Millennium Walk and passed some amusement arcades, a scary-looking rollercoaster and a sign advertising jumbo sausage baguettes (not hot dogs). There are many memorials to fallen soldiers along the walk, some of them so old the writing has been worn away by the elements. I saw a hovercraft dock – they don’t bother with a pier or anything, they just zoom straight up onto the beach! Must go on one some time.

Then I came to Southsea Castle. It’s actually a fort built by Henry VIII to defend the harbour, but it deserves the name castle. Its outside walls are in a sort of star shape (to allow guns to fire parallel to the walls, and reduce blind spots), and it has a dry moat and a squat, square tower. A more recent addition is a black and white lighthouse, which is stuck a bit randomly (quaintly) on one of the walls. The castle’s open as a museum in the warmer months, so I crossed the drawbridge (actually, it was no longer a drawbridge. But it would once have been!) and went into the bailey courtyard.

It was like going back to the middle ages. Apart from the cafĂ© and souvenir shop and nineteenth century brick additions. I stood and stared happily for a while, then entered the keep (tower). It wasn’t actually that big, and had originally been only one storey, but the walls are at least two metres thick. I imagined that, if I’d lived there, I would have claimed one of the deep windows as my room. There was a model of Henry VIII wearing full regalia (including some kind of thing with a flap that attached to breeches and was padded to ‘accentuate a man’s figure’...), lots of cannons and information about the use of the castle since the sixteenth century. One of the cannon ports has been excavated, and you can imagine men working the cannon and firing out to sea. Henry VIII apparently watched the sinking of the Mary Rose from here, and people were born and died in the fort.

One of the information panels revealed the true identity of the big round things I’d seen from the Millennium Walk. They were forts, built right out in the middle of the strait in the nineteenth century, with soldiers’ quarters and guns and a well in the middle. I have absolutely no idea how they did them.

Another panel explained the wide grass areas beside the sea, which I’d thought a bit of a waste of space (why not have restaurants and things? Have a park or two, sure, but acres and acres of grass?). The area originally had to be kept free of buildings because the cannon might have to shoot across the land to aim at invaders.

This seemed an acceptable reason for wide-open spaces.

Hmm I’m falling into the habit of long posts again. But there’s so much to write!

Have a good week :)

A review of the game, from one who does not know much about rugby.

So, for those who do not know, the All Blacks beat the Wallabies in the International Tournament of the Funny-shaped Ball this morning/yesterday. I am Kiwi, so yay! Kind of felt for the Aussies though...

Last week I'd planned to get up early and go to the game, but rugby really doesn't seem as important at ten past seven on Sunday morning, so instead I watched it on NZ tv via Skype. For the first half of the match, the camera contrast wasn't very good, and all I could see of the Argentinians was white blobs, but then we got that sorted out and all was well.

This morning atten past seven, rugby still didn't seem particularly important, but it was a sunny day outside and it was a big game so I got up and ate breakfast on the way to the tube. I didn't want to go back to the pub I went to for the France game, because it is first and foremost an Aussie pub and whichever way the game went, it could have been awkward. Unfortunately, there don't seem to be that many Kiwi pubs in London, but I found one on Google and figured out the tube route.

And then the Circle and District lines were closed.

So I walked and walked (not that far, but still) and finally found the address, but it had been taken over by a Bavarian Beer Haus and was unlikely to be playing rugby at 8.30 in the morning.

By this time I'd missed the haka (8.25, I reckoned) and the 8.30 kick-off, but I was determined to find somewhere before half time. Where? Where? Where was there a pub that would be playing the rugby, and peopled mostly by New Zealanders?

And then I remembered the Sports bar at the New Zealand High Commission (embassy). Yes, there is a Sports Bar at the New Zealand High Commission. Duh. What else would you have at a High Commission?

I caught a bus, was proud of my London navigation skills, and found the Sports Bar. It was full of Kiwis, apart from a few Aussies wearing as much Australian support merchandise as they could. And, low and behold, the kick-off wasn't until 9! I had missed nothing!

I found a spot (a lot easier than it had been at the pub in Shepherd's Bush). There were still a lot of people, but the crowd was more civilised, many sitting at cafe tables or on the floor in front of the screen rather than pressed in on every side. The haka was performed. The whistle blew. A Wallaby kicked the ball off the field. The bar roared.

For the next few minutes, the game was a comedy. The Wallabies were thrown by the first bad pass, and the All Blacks danced around them, through them, as they fumbled the ball and scattered. They came back a bit later, but by that time the All Blacks had made a most awesome try (ball flying from person to person, almost off the field, no! throw back, caught, OVER THE LINE!) and a drop kick goal. There was no coming back.

The second half was a mess of rucks and penalties and I got a bit distracted by other things (hmm, they have American football posters up. They must show American football too. Why is that girl wearing a cheerleading uniform? Oh, she's a waitress. Again, why is that girl wearing a cheerleading uniform?), but managed to keep my mind on the game most of the time. I'm not much good at figuring out why a penalty is a penalty, and it was quite helpful to know who the penalty was for by the sounds of the crowd. It seems, at least in this bar, Kiwis roar and whoo, and Aussies say 'yesss!'. I considered whether this meant Aussies were more literary than Kiwis. Surely not.

The Aussie supporters were mostly quiet, except when they hissed 'yes!' or yelled 'go Cooper!'.  The Wallabies didn't manage to get any tries, but the All Blacks found another one and soon it was almost over. The coach started to play Musical All Blacks (a game where they swap people round with ten minutes to go... eight minutes to go... five minutes to go... minus 30 seconds to go... Piri Weepu went off, came on for a few minutes, and went off again). And then we'd won!

It would have been nice if the Wallabies got a try. But it was a good game in any case (in my opinion. And, no I don't know much about rugby).

Now it's just France to go...

Edited to add: Oh, all right, there was only one try. I may have made up the second one. I believed it when I wrote it....

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Name changes

I’ve recently come to the conclusion that one of my main characters needs her name changed, due to certain recent events in the news. She’s already had her last name changed due to its similarity to the last name of a teen film star, and several of my other characters have had their names changed for various reasons, including similarity to other characters and being the wrong gender.

I try to pick names that aren’t too common, so you don’t associate them with people or things you know. On the other hand, a name should also be normal enough that you don’t stumble over reading it.

Actually, I’ve broken that second rule a few times.

We’ll ignore that.

The problem with semi-common names, however, is that if something big does happen, that name is going to be associated with the event or the person and not with my character. I don’t want people to think of other things when they read my story, unless I’ve named a character specifically for that purpose. Search and Replace, here I come.

I think I mentioned a few weeks back that I keep running into people who have the same names as my characters, after I’ve named my characters. This is probably just my brain jumping on links and ignoring all the other characters that don’t have coincidental names, but I can’t help wondering if there’s something more than coincidence going on. What? I dunno. That’s as far as I’ve got.

Some of you probably know which character I’m talking about. Any suggestions for names? (Oh! And Scrivener has a built-in name dictionary! I’m not sure if this is makes up for the lack of a ‘synonyms’ button... I really like my synonyms button).

Sunday, October 9, 2011

On the silver screen

This week has been much like many other weeks in the scheme of things (apart from the fact that the new series of Merlin has reawakened my Merlin obsession. When will it end??? Maybe when I get the second and third series on DVD, which weren’t available in NZ but are available here. Yes, that will stop it). I had a lull between books to read in the tube, so for once I took the free newspaper they give out and actually read it.

It’s worth reading, it turns out. I found an article about a late night at the National Portrait Gallery, themed on the golden (or silver) age of film. They had interesting speakers and music and live photoshopping of photos, and were offering to make you up as a 40s film star.

This was something I was going to.

I was a bit suspicious that half of London might want to go too, so I arrived forty minutes before the night opened and stood in a long queue (people really do seem to love queuing. I waited ten minutes for an ATM the other day because people had somehow convinced themselves that one of the two ATMs was out of order. It wasn’t. It was just that they were only queuing behind one of them, and nobody was brave enough to get out of line. Me included...). There were lots of people who’d really dressed for the occasion in vintage dresses and hats, as well as some who had just taken the opportunity to dress up as anything – one woman was dressed in a medieval gown and cloak.

Staff came down the line and gave out appointments, but there were rather more people than they’d expected and by the time they got to me they were only handing out lipstick appointments. This was better than nothing, so I took my appointment card and wandered around the gallery until my makeup artist was free.

I learnt some new Photoshop techniques from the touch-up artist, and watched the photographers train people to model like film stars. Then I received some ruby-red lips and got lost in a few galleries before finding a science tour about immortality and slowing the aging process, which was very interesting.

Maybe I’ll be a forties film star when I grow up. I can join my friend Fifties Film Star! Who wants to be Sixties Film Star?