26 March 2007

Builders in the midst

It’s been a bracing week here in London. The temperatures dipped lower, almost back into the realms of winter for a spell. There was even a chance to enjoy a little snowfall, as foreshadowed by last weekend’s sudden hailstorm at the end of the St Patrick’s Day parade. There was nothing heavy or cold enough for snow to settle on the ground, though. On two occasions the snowfall was presaged by the rapid blackening of the skies while I sat at my desk at work, and the effect of the encounter was muted by the protection of double glazing and central heating. Only the builders outside the window felt its effects. But one morning the heavens decided to sprinkle a gentle dusting of snow while I walked over the river to Hammersmith Station, and it was a perfect start to the day: just enough snow to cast a romantic air, and not enough snow or wind to make things properly miserable and icy.

One highlight of the week was the chance to meet up with Allie Jacobs (nee Burk) plus her husband Pete and baby Thomas, after work on Monday. I met Allie and her sister Andie in 1997 when touring around England, and have stayed in touch in the years since. I was also lucky enough to stay with the Burk family for a few days in Burlington, Ontario, on my way back to New Zealand in 1999. The Jacobses were enjoying a holiday in London and Paris, taking in the sights and showing their young charge a small corner of Europe. Pete chose the venue: the Sherlock Holmes pub in Northumberland Avenue. Our table was next to a strange room mocked-up with Holmes nick-nacks, behind a glass wall. The mannequin dressed as Holmes sported a strange dark spot on his forehead, which Allie suspected may have been a bullet-wound, rather than a birth-mark.

There’s also been a bit of cricket on this week, and I went over to Steve & Fiona’s one night after work for dinner and to watch a bit of the coverage of the NZ v Kenya match. I also followed some of the NZ v Canada match a few days later on Cricinfo and Radio Sport via the internet. Nice to see the batting improving, but of course the real test will be some quality opposition. But it was a slight pity that NZ batted first in each game. Would’ve preferred a chase, because it would’ve meant I could’ve followed the NZ innings in the evening!

One source of ongoing frustration this week has been the afore-mentioned ever-present gang of Polish builders outside my office windows, working on the exterior of the Nuffield building where the BOA is situated. I’ve no idea what they’re actually doing to the place, but it definitely involves a lot of shouting and clanging. At one stage on Thursday the whooping and bellowing was coming thick and fast every few seconds – perhaps a warning that some heavy scaffolding was being lifted, or a builders’ ritual mating cry – and there was also the astonishingly piercing screech of the scaffold winch, which rung out much of the afternoon, for want of a decent drop of oil.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune could also do with a few other things, like a TV and some bedding here and there. And as luck would have it, The McLean has recently moved in with her debonair chap-about-town, Patrick, and they offered some gear that was surplus to requirements. So in two trips to their chic Vauxhall pied-a-terre, I picked up a little TV set formerly owned by Louise & James Gardiner, and some bedding, which will become particularly useful once I actually get myself into a flat for good. While in Vauxhall we also leafed through Fiona’s farewell book that she was presented with when she left the SCO in 2001 – I’d assisted Trayner in piecing together the many photos and captions.

On Friday after work I made a tactical patrol of Oxford Street to try to sort out some mobile phone difficulties (SIM card inconvenience, nothing substantive). I noticed a throng outside Schuh – a shoe-shop, unsurprisingly. Plenty of young fan-types were queuing both inside and outside the shop to meet someone famous.

This brought on quite a philosophical observation, if I do say so myself. A shoe brand I’d never heard of – “Keds”, which sounds like a defence acronym a la Kinetic Energy Disintegration System – had paid a large wad of cash to a starlet I’d barely heard of – Mischa Barton – to become their ‘brand representative’ in the UK, which seemed to largely consist of Ms Barton appearing in an advertising poster wearing a dress that looked not entirely unlike a white bin-bag liberally adorned with the Keds logo. I didn’t even know what Mischa Barton is well-known (-by-other-people) for. Aside from wearing a bin-bag dress, that is. As I threaded my way through the Oxford Street human maze, I decided that this sensation must be what people in their fifties experience every day of their lives, until they reach their sixties and seventies, and just give up caring.

One other Oxford Street story before I change the subject: this week the Playstation 3 was launched in London. Numerous die-hards had queued on Oxford Street for several days for the right to buy the first consoles. Turns out they might’ve had the right idea: when they were finally allowed to purchase their highly-priced electronics, the first 120 buyers in the queue each received a 46-inch HDTV to accompany their game console. Not only that – when the police mentioned that customers might be at some personal risk, given they were trying to stagger home with not one but two expensive bits of electronics, the promoters laid on taxis home for all concerned. Reports that they also offered to peel the customers some grapes and do their trigonometry homework were unconfirmed.

There were a couple of parking-related incidents this week, which just about led to a double parking title for this post. Earlier in the week one of my employment agents called with a possible policy job for a London council. Sounded interesting at first, and the money was fine. But on closer examination it turned out to be in the council’s parking services department, and the job description included ‘conducting customer surveys and covert surveillance’. Er… not really my cup of tea, I think. And yesterday the double yellow lines at the north entrance to the Hammersmith Bridge were adorned for several hours by what looked suspiciously like an abandoned or broken-down Aston Martin DB9. I just had to take a snap for the record:

Yesterday was one of the first times I’ve permitted myself a little retail therapy. I made a beeline for HMV, where I scored an excellent Eddie Izzard DVD set on special – six of his stand-up performances on disc for only £12 – what a bargain! And at the Virgin Megastore I bought that Calvin Harris single I mentioned last week, although I had to suffer the ignominy of having the actual track come onto the instore radio system just as I was queuing to buy it. I assured the check-out girl that I’d already picked it up before the song came on. I like to think that she believed me.

The weekend was nicely rounded off this afternoon when I caught up with Richard & Sam for lunch in a café near Clapham Junction. They’re both well, and they expect to sign their lease for a 2-bedroom flat tomorrow, so with any luck I’ll be able to flat with them for a bit out in the wilds of Purley until something more permanent comes along.

After lunch we perused the stock in a Waterstone’s bookshop, noting a book on Toilets of the World, which featured a picture of the classic stainless steel male urinal in concrete surrounds that graces a formidable venue of some sort in Te Puke, and of course the Hundertwasser toilets at Kawakawa.

Aside from that, one how-to book caught my eye, and I momentarily pondered the strangeness of a world in which someone publishes a book on how to polish things. Who needs a book on that, I wondered. Butlers? Until I looked a little more closely, and noticed that it was a how-to book on Polish, not polish. Perhaps it was written for Londoners hoping to improve communication with their builders.


p.s. Here's a photo in my messy room in Castelnau, taken with the tripod & timer this afternoon.

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