19 March 2007

Narrow escape of the week

It's been a busy week here in London. A lot to pack in to one blog posting...

It's been grand post-winter weather for the most part - up to 18 degrees in the middle of the week. This was my second week working at the BOA, and one of my lunchtime tasks was to nip around the corner from the Royal College of Surgeons to take a picture of the Old Curiosity Shop for my mother. No-one's quite sure whether this well-aged building is actually the same one that Dickens wrote about, or if it's as old as the hoarding claims it is. The Great Fire of 1666 fell just short of the building, so it's at least of 17th century vintage.

I also took further steps towards rejoining the 21st century this week - I've finally got a British bank account that works. It took a few weeks longer than I'd hoped though, because HSBC sent the all-important approval letter to my old address in Karori rather than my London contact address. Luckily Al was kind enough to forward them to the Tuckers, who sent them on to me. On Saturday I received my first paycheque, so my task for Monday is to bank it and then await the flood of riches that will no doubt ensue.

Much of my commuting to and from the BOA is outside rush hour, so there's no great Underground crush to endure. But one morning this week there was an escalator failure at Holborn station where I emerge into the world. It's the deepest station in the Underground network, so halving the number of working escalators creates a major bottleneck. A queue of several hundred passengers backed up into the connecting tunnels, shuffling patiently but ever-so-slowly one step at a time towards freedom. What lent the scene a faintly absurd atmosphere was the peculiar silence that permeated the station. Not one person was making a sound. No talking, no laughter, no coughing: the stoic resignation of the London commuter. It was as if someone had pressed a huge subterranean mute button.

One minor item of note that reminded me of the importance of keeping a poker face while riding on the Tube: on the way home one afternoon the chap sitting next to me was wearing shorts, all the better to display his hairy legs. And just above his right kneecap was a clearly-etched tattoo of the dual lightning bolts of the Nazi 'SS' logo, presumably self-cut. Charming! Not that there was much likelihood of friendly chitchat. What do Nazis make smalltalk about anyway? Eva Braun gossip?

Thursday and Friday the courtyard outside our BOA office windows was filled with the clanking scaffold and pithy language of a team of London builders, whose productivity seemed to be inversely related to the proportion of swear-words they employed. One foreman was particularly displeased that a colleague had left his van doors unlocked, and subjected the miscreant to a lengthy diatribe that sizzled the air. The builders' scaffold winch was also constantly dragging pipes up past the windows with a desperately loud grinding squeal. Unfortunately the BOA's radiators only have one setting, which is 'blast furnace', so there was the choice between head-pounding noise outside or skin-melting heat inside. The things we do for a crust!

The contract market for analysts is pretty quiet at the moment until the end of the financial year in a couple of weeks, but I did have one interview this week. This was for a three-month contract at the Judicial Appointments Commission in St James' Park. It would've been a great position, what with Parliament Square only 300 metres away, but I found out at 5pm on Friday that it had gone to the other interviewee. Not the best start to the weekend, but at least I got positive feedback from the interview.

Once I got back to Castelnau Friday improved considerably as I listened to New Zealand defeat England by six wickets at St Lucia in their first Cricket World Cup group match. The BBC Test Match Special coverage featured Brian Waddle and Ian Smith, so there was plenty of New Zealand commentary on offer. After a tentative start in which NZ slumped to an alarming 19-3, Styris and Oram sorted out the run-chase and everything went swimmingly.

On Saturday I paid a quick visit to town to check out my old weekend haunt, the Mr CD discount music shop in Berwick Street, Soho - the street where the cover photo for Oasis' What's The Story Morning Glory was taken. The shop is as cramped as ever, but still has some great bargains. In the interest of economy, I only bought two £2 discs - Idha's second album on Creation Records, and an album by the shouty Futureheads. Back in SW13 Hammersmith Bridge was crowded with spectators as young rowers raced coxed eights downriver in fierce arm-straining competion (pic).

Later that evening I headed back into town on the Tube (sitting across from an otherwise immaculately-dressed gent wearing one black shoe and one brown shoe) and met Felix and Gavin plus their mates at Pizza Express in West Hampstead for dinner. Seemingly everyone at the table is going to Iceland soon or has already been. Then we headed up Mill Lane to a pub called The Alliance, which had a good local crowd, mainly of more senior types out to celebrate St Patrick's Day with a meal and a Guinness. (I stuck to Strongbow though!) Entertainment was provided with the tense but ultimately stunning Irish 3-wicket upset victory over Pakistan in the World Cup, which brought cheers from the whole bar. (A day later the news was sadder, when it was reported that the Pakistan coach Bob Woolmer had died in his hotel room in Jamaica).

Today's activities revolved around the 6th annual St Patrick's Day parade from Hyde Park Corner to Trafalgar Square. St Patrick, you will recall, is famed for casting out the snakes from Ireland back in the day - although given that this was reputed to have occurred around the 5th century the details are understandably a little bit hazy. The parade was held in London basking in warm sunshine on the day after St P's Day, because it was jointly staged with Dublin - some of the performers in Dublin's Saturday parade jumped on a plane to London to take part in London's the next day. I met F & G at Green Park, and we watched the long train of marchers, bands, dancers and performers romp by. London's mayor Ken Livingstone was up near the front, although he didn't do much romping as far as I could see. There were excellent Irish pipe bands, wee girls doing the flicky-foot dancing thing on the back of floats and many stilt-walkers and strange contraptions. The parade also featured the world's smallest club: the London Irish Temperance Association. (Six members, all a sprightly eighty-ish). There's plenty of my photos on Flickr to peruse. But not of the impressive hailstorm that brewed up just five minutes after the parade ended - proper cold and stinging it was, until the safety of the Underground was reached.

Book of the week: 'John Burnet of Barns' by John Buchan, 1898 - a rollicking tale of 17th-century Highland swashbuckling. A nobleman wronged by a dastardly cousin, and framed for a crime he didn't commit; a loyal manservant and shieldman given to spouting incomprehensible Highland gibberish; and a bonnie Scottish maiden steadfastly awaiting the return of her beloved. All good stuff from the author who later wrote the classic spy tale The Thirty-Nine Steps (filmed by Hitchcock in 1935) and who also became the Governor-General of Canada from 1935 to 1940.

Song of the week: 'Acceptable in the 80s' by Calvin Harris - pure neon synth disco-pop sleaze, and a sure-fire floor-filler. I initially thought the lyric about 'all you girls born in the 80s...' was rather dodgy, but then it occured to me that girls born in the 80s could be 27... Yeah, or 17.

Narrow escape of the week: Walking down Kingsway in my usual lunchtime daze, I espied a pound coin on the footpath. Just as I started to stoop to scoop it up, I looked more closely and spotted that it and a few other strewn coins belonged to a prostrate tramp lying against the roadside railings. Nearly taking money from a homeless person: talk about Robin Hood in reverse!

Next week: The 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade in Britain will be marked with ceremonies. And there's some rumours of snow for Monday or Tuesday. Looking forward to that!

Best wishes to all,

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