Monday, April 30, 2007

Why I don't catch the tube anymore

Disaster struck last Thursday night. I finished work at eight and went to pump up my bike tyres before cycling home. The rear tyre started to hiss.

I left my bike at work and caught the bus home. It started out slow and reduced to a crawl by the time we reached Oxford Street. A shop had been on fire and buses were being diverted down Regent Street.

The next morning I was running late and Oxford Street was still closed, meaning bus would have taken a long time. I had no choice but to take the tube and break almost two months of tube avoidance!

It was quick and easy but dark, dirty and smelly, just as I remembered. As soon as my morning class was over I went straight to the closest bike shop for a new inner tube. I'd never done any real bike repair before and I was surprised how easy it was. I felt much more proud of myself than I probably deserved.

Anyway, I was so glad to be back on my bike. I can't imagine a better commute to work anywhere in the world (although the ferry ride from Mui Wo to Central is still a very fond memory).

So here it is:

Out of the front door and past Seven Dials. If you enlarge the picture, you might just make out that Chicago is currently starring Australia's highest selling female recording artist.

From Seven Dials I head down towards St Martins in-the-Fields. If I'm lucky the bells will be ringing.

And past Trafalgar Square. Racing the taxis and buses here always puts me in a good mood.

The Mall is where I usually get the most speed up.

Past the big house.

And then through this path up the side of Green Park. Recently I've started to smell flowers which must be in the grounds of the palace.

The road around Wellington Arch is ugly and busy and chockas with traffic lights. But I get to ride straight through the arch and avoid all that!

This path through Hyde Park is the steepest part of the ride. Not bad.

I'm growing really fond of Kensington Gardens. I think I'd even say that it is my favourite London park. The trees here are beautiful.

After the parks I go through some quiet bits of Notting Hill.

And along Westbourne Park Road where ancestors lived, long before these estates were built.

Finally I reach Portobello Road, my destination.

And by that stage, I'm in a good mood and very ready for work.

And possibly looking forward to the ride home already.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Yay for the new term...

After just two weeks of full time work, I'm exhausted. My classes are going great but the start of the new term has had me actually working hard for the first time in my year and a half in the UK.

When did I become so soft? In Hong Kong I used to work 60 hour, 6 day weeks. Before that, in Sydney, I managed to combine full-time uni, a (fairly demanding) part-time job and a lot of socialising.

Still, I love feeling busy. I've cleared all my work stuff out of home and started doing all my lesson preparation at my workplaces, making a clear demarcation between work time and non-work time.

It helps, of course, that I'm really enjoying work. It's a privilege to be connected to such a mix of people. What other job would allow me to get to know 17 - 85 year olds from such different backgrounds?

In the old men's class this week we talked about things we like to do. 'I like parachuting' the 85 year old stated and we all stared. 'A long time ago when I was army' he added and started to laugh. I love it.

Thursday, April 26, 2007


Expectations can be so dangerous. Excitement so often turns into disappointment.

I've been waiting eagerly for Björk's new album, Volta (out on May 8), but I'm also nervous. Her record company predicts (on Wikipedia) that it will be her biggest selling album yet 'thanks to a new Timbaland-inspired commercial direction'. That worries me a little.

This live performance on Saturday Night Live is the only thing I've seen so far. I'm not sure what I think yet.

While my hopes for Volta are still alive, I gave up any intentions of watching Tara Rum Pum (out tomorrow) after watching this trailer.

I love Rani and Saif and had been hoping the film would be watchable... but dancing bears?

Monday, April 23, 2007


I made my second trip to Kew Gardens on Sunday. Last time, when I went with work, I didn't get to see much because our group was mostly kids and elderly. Early autumn wasn't the best time to visit anyway.

Kew yesterday was completely different. It was a great time to visit, especially for tulips, azaleas and rhododendrons. Bluebells carpeted every shady spot...

and Golden Pheasants were eating them!

Sunday, April 22, 2007

The wedding

Abhi-Ash, Abhiwarya, whatever you want to call them, Aishwarya Rai and Abhishek Bachcanan are now married. Presumably the wedding was (as they say in Bollywood) totally rocking, absolutely first-class and completely mind blowing.

The picture above is not from their wedding. Despite huge media interest, the whole event has been fairly private and very little real information has been available.

This has resulted in an abundance of speculation, particularly in relation to the guest list. Once you cancel out Abhishek and Ash's exes (plus their familes) and anyone feuding with Abhishek's father Amitabh (and their families) a large chunk of Bollywood is excluded.

The information vacuum around the wedding has been filled by the bizarre and ridiculous. The popular Indian news site Rediff resorted to interviewing labourers working on preparations at the Bachchan family house. The workers claimed that the decorations (as seen below) would make the Taj Mahal 'look like a tiny monument'.

And then there have been the scandalous claims that both Aishwarya and Abhishek have been married before to separate parties.

A previously unheard of model cum actress, Jhanvi Kapoor (aka Naina Rizvi), generated huge press when she turned up on the eve of the wedding, slashing her wrists and claiming that Abhishek married her in an informal ceremony last year.

Much more credible is the claim that Aishwarya has married thrice in the last few months. She has allegedly wed a Peepal tree in Varanasi, a banana tree at a Bangalore temple and an idol in Ayodhya, all to correct problems in her horoscope which harmed the prospects of the marriage.

Hooray for Bollywood!

Wednesday, April 18, 2007


Snowdon is renowned for bad weather but we managed to catch it on a gorgeous day. We anticipated cold but I did it in a shirt, much less dressed than some of our fellow hikers.

It was easy to see where the top is because Snowdon is quite pointy. There are several paths up and we chose the Pyg Track which started out quite flat.

The peak was visible the whole way.

At the halfway point the track started to climb but Mogfa continued strong.

We fought on past a couple of lakes.

And all the way to the top!

While we were there I got talking to a super keen hiker who was halfway through a horseshoe route that goes over the top of this ridge. I'm keen to go back again and try it.

After sitting for a couple of hours and taking in the incredible views we started on a longer steadier route to the bottom.

I want to do it again!

Monday, April 16, 2007

Beside the seaside

We couldn't believe our luck when we arrived at our cottage in Wales. Apart from the sheep smell it couldn't have been more perfect.

The best thing about our accommodation, however, was its proximity to the beach. I didn't realise how much I missed the sea until I got close to it again. And took a lot of photos...

On our first day in Wales we drove to the end of the Llyn Peninsula and sat watching the sea for hours. Bardsey Island off the coast was a popular pilgrimage site and 20,000 pilgrims are said to be buried there.

This stone was near the point where pilgrims set off in boats. It has inscriptions which I missed at the time but later read about on the info board in the carpark.

We then retired to nearby Abersoch beach where Clara purchased a badminton set and proceeded to demonstrate her flair.

Our local beach was just a mile away and it had a headland that was great for exploring. I hadn't felt the freedom of doing something slightly risky for a long time.

After following a little sheep path for a while we found this secret cave. We poked our heads inside and decided to go back with candles. Sadly we ran out of time and energy and never made it.

This, however, was my favourite thing about being by the beach...

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Back from the country

I've just arrived back in London - quite a shock after a week on a sheep farm in north Wales.

A rather smashing time was had by all and I have tales of adventure and plenty of photos to post. Mysterious islands, secret caves, treacherous mountain paths, lashings of rice cakes and Orangina - I promise you all these and more.

After all this excitement I fear that London may be a dreadful bore. At least I needn't worry about missing the sheep...

because three of them snuck in the car and came back with me!

I'm going to take a couple of days to readjust to city life and start desperate preparation for classes this week. In the meantime, take a look at Jason and Jean's pictures of the holiday.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Old stuff

Holidays are great so far. Monday morning was the end of term party at one of my jobs. It was great getting a chance to socialise with students without having to be the teacher.

One lady related fascinating anecdotes from her time working at an exclusive London hotel. She had cooked for several members of the royal family and commented on their respective eating habits.

Charles apparently eats very simple English food. The queen likes canapes and a lot of sweet cakes and biscuits. Both of them don't eat much, however, unlike Princess Margaret who apparently ate a lot.

And there were politicians too: the ever charming man of the people, Bill Clinton, ordered spaghetti bolognaise and came into the kitchen afterwards to say thankyou.

Not quite so affable was Ariel Sharon, who refused to eat from the hotel after finding out that there were Muslims working in the kitchen. 'If he doesn't want my cooking he can go to hell' she said.

I went straight from the party to Birmingham to stay with Nan. Our intended day trip to Stratford was sabotaged by bad weather and we decided to have a slide show instead - a Snowdon trip in 64 (since I'm about to go there).

Finding the slide projector in Nan's loft required a lot of searching and prompted a spontaneous clean out. In the process I found a bag of clothes that I had left there in 2002 just before moving to Hong Kong. I remember thinking that I might never need warm clothes again.

The clothes are not exactly fashionable but they do have a lot of sentimental value. Speaking of which, I also found this A3 size photo...

p.s. I'm off to Wales for a week tomorrow. Nothing to do except make rough plans for my classes next term, read 'A Suitable Boy' for the third time, play lots of board games and go for walks on the beach. Yay!

Sunday, April 01, 2007

School holidays

The spring term has ended for all my jobs. The last week was fun, I love having the students do end of term evaluations. The forms are quite useless really (but very flattering) because all my students are too nice to write anything critical.

In the old men's class the student I had asked to translate the questions into Arabic was also giving suggested answers e.g.

'Question one: What did you enjoy about this class?
...blah blah blah class blah blah yaani teacher'

I'm now on holiday for two weeks (not counting preparation I need to do for next term). I'm going up to Birmingham to stay with Nanny this week and on Friday I'm off with a bunch of friends to Wales.

I only tried to organise the Wales accommodation a couple of weeks ago and tried many places without success. My fortunes changed when I found an email address for a collective of Welsh farm wives who offer self catering accommodation.

Within an hour I had a reply saying that they had forwarded my request to all their members. Within three hours my inbox was flooded with emails from various Mrs Joneses, Owens and Jenkinses.

Most of them were apologising that they had nothing available. A couple of things turned up, however, including a farmhouse just behind this beach. I can't wait!