Thursday, June 30, 2005

Barnet Photos

I've started to put photos of Barnet up online. Check 'em out:

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Driving Very Wrongly

Attempted to learn how to drive a stick today, in Mary's cute little Citroen. We went out to the RVC campus, where there are empty parking lots, and motored around for half an hour. Despite patient ministrations from the girlfriend, it was slow-going. Never really got past the "getting into first" phase of things, let alone getting out of the parking lot and trying my hand at the left side of the road. Laura (Mary's roommate) has an automatic, so I always have that crutch if I want to try driving here without dealing with a stick, but I would really like to learn!

Also bought some new glasses today, or I should say "spectacles". My old glasses were about five years old, and not only has my prescription changed, but the frame was rather worse for the wear. So for 19 pounds I had a British eye exam (not appreciably different than an American eye exam), and next Tuesday I will pick up my snazzy new pair. (One hour lenses does not seem to be a concept over here.) They are plastic and thicker, and a bit more trendy then my current ones, as the salesman helpfully told me.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Monday, June 27, 2005

War of the Roses

Spent the morning tramping around in Hadley, the area adjoining Barnet. Hadley Green, which was and is the town commons, was the site of a major battle in the War of the Roses--in 1471, Edward IV defeated Warwick the Kingmaker here. Today, it's just kind of a grassy area divided by the Great Northern Road (the traditional route from London to York) and punctuated by a few muddy ponds. Nothing too spectacular, but rather bucolic, especially considering how developed some of the surrounding areas are.

Also managed to stumble across a lovely little church: St. Mary the Virgin of Monken Hadley. It dates back to the 15th century, and is just a simple little country church with a rather nice stone tower, and a tiny little cemetery in front. The oldest gravestone I could make out was 18th century, but there were other older ones that were completely illegible. The area around it has quite a few nice old Georgian homes, dating from the period when greater Barnet was a low-key country retreat for Londoners. Also some dreadful McMansions cropping up. It's amazing how undeveloped the area is though. Many of the old town commons remain intact, and there are plenty of horse pastures and playing fields around. I gather the whole area is protected by some sort of conservation scheme that has kept things in check. I think I shall return again this week with a camera so I can post some pictures.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Me Against the Nettles

One of my jobs here in England, in my position as houseboy for a bunch of working women, is to keep up with the gardening--it's actually a part of the girls' lease to "maintain the garden." Growing up in California, I'm used to a very different vegetable order. In California, if you don't take care of a plant, it dies. If you don't maintain your garden, you no longer have a garden.

Things are very different here. In England, especially this time of year when the heavy rain is often interrupted by sunshine, one has the opposite problem. If you don't maintain your garden, it flourishes and becomes a menace that threatens the very fabric of society. The garden here has not been touched all year, and what was once a sedate little patch of grass has become a swirling storm of bramble. And you can imagine what sort of plants thrive in this competitive environment: blackberry bushes, various thorny-frond things, and acres of stinging nettle. The last was not something I was very familiar with, until I grabbed a stalk with my bare hands and, once the tremendous pain subsided, was rewarded with all these little welts that have swelled up my fingers.

Tomorrow, I buy gardening gloves and a more sturdy pair of gardening shears. I shall tame this garden if it kills me.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Somebody's Sins

Saw Patti Smith tonight, performing on a bill with John Cale at the Royal Festival Hall on the south bank of the Thames. This was a concert Mary and I had been planning to go to for quite awhile--I woke up early to buy the ticket a month ago, and just barely got one as they sold out in hours. The big draw was that Patti was going to perform her original 1975 debut album Horses in its entirety.

Horses was not necessarily my favorite Patti album of all time--I quite like Easter best, I think--but as a symbol it's always been really important to a lot of people. The poetry that begins "Gloria" at the start of the album is just a lovely moment: "Jesus died, for somebody's sins, but not mine." It's not, of course, original to Horses, it was also on Patti's original single, "Piss Factory". And before that, it was supposedly the line she started many a poetry reading in the Village in the early seventies. Such a great line, and you never get tired of hearing it.

The concert began rather disapointingly. John Cale played a long drawn-out set all by himself for the first half; somehow, I had thought that Cale, who produced Horses, would just be playing along with Patti. Kind of a slow start.

The second half, however, swung into gear. Patti came out, the crowd went wild, Lenny Kaye (late of EMP fame) began playing the opening of "Gloria", and then... "Jesus, died, for somebody's sins but not mine." Ahh....

Good stuff.

Batter my heart, three person'd beer

I have arrived safely in London, or Hertfordshire at least. The weather is lousy, but after L.A. I am rather enjoying the rain. I also enjoy that nowadays Mary picks me up from the airport in her car, rather than slogging on the tube for an hour. And to top off the enjoyment, we went to a lovely pub in Highgate that evening, which had outdoor seating sheltered from the rain and cheap beers for all.

The flight was long and cramped, and had bad movie selections. But I read two books--a trashy detective novel, and Judith Halberstam's new book, just to keep up with my roommate (I thought it was brilliant. Definitely want to try and take a seminar with her this year.) And I started David Halberstam's The Fifties, in which I learned this fascinating tidbit of information. You know that the very first atomic bomb was code-named "Trinity"? Well it was given that name by Oppenheimer, who named it thus after a famous line from John Donne: "Batter my heart, three person'd God." So poetic! And interesting, considering Richard Rambuss's description of that poem (in Closet Devotions) as a metaphorical gang-bang. I wonder if John Adams works this into Dr. Atomic.