Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The bicycle must be one of the most beautiful things ever invented

I have spent the past few days fixing up my bike. I disassembled the bottom bracket and replaced all of the bearings, fixed some damaged links in the chain, cleaned the whole bike up, added a small rear pannier, and touched up all of the paint. The bike looks and rides beautifully, almost too nice. I'm sure I will convert it from a fixed-gear to a single-speed eventually, maybe even get fancy enough to add a derailleur and multi-geared cassette. For now though I am enjoying riding fixxy, it adds a whole new dimension to riding and is super low maintenance; I may change my mind however, once I leave behind the flat London streets.

Check out this alley cat race to get an idea of what it is like to ride in London: ride hard, be aggressive, stay sharp!
..and mind the Maserati driver's.

I was preparing to leave for Dover today, but due to the party we had last night I woke up a bit later than I should have. Oh well, early to bed tonight to make the 113 mile trip tomorrow! If all goes well, and depending on how late I arrive, the cycle ride should end with a trip across the English channel by ferry.

I will miss the kids from the squat more than I could ever put into words here. They have been loads of fun and infinitely generous. I will see them again I am sure, we are actually hoping to meet up again in Bruxelles in a few weeks. As a departing gift they presented me with a bag of couscous and a jar of marmite ( ); the gift could not have been more perfect and left me with a smile for the rest of the night.

I would be lying if I said I wasn't nervous about heading to a country of which I can barely introduce myself properly, much less speak the language fluently. All I can do is hope for the best and try to learn as much French as I can in as little time possible.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Gotta dig the fregans

Woke up early a few days ago to go skipping at New Covent Market: Where beggars can be choosers. New Covent Market is a facility where all the local produce is prepped to be shipped to restaurants around London, I think they also have a market on premises as well. They throw away a lot of food each morning and leave it on skids to be hauled away later. The place is a fregan utopia; It's near impossible to go skipping without running into at least twenty other people out there at the same time, stuffing fresh veg into rucksacks and panniers. Each time we ride out to New Covent Market we come back with what would be hundreds of pounds worth of fresh fruit and vegetables, all thrown away, all free, and all very heavy to carry on a bike.

Later in the afternoon two of the squat mates and I went to get free Indian food, courtesy of a the hare krishna folks who set up a cart full of food and invite anyone who might be interested to come partake. We played some hacky-sack in the sun and then took a visit to a fantastic zoological museum nearby.

I spent almost all of yesterday riding my bike around London in a t-shirt. It was by far the warmest day we have had so far, sunny and absolutely gorgeous. The squat wanted to end the day in the most light-hearted way possible; we made a large pot of soup and gathered in the living room. We used the projector to watch an old beefcake film from the seventies while we ate, laughed, and talked about the day's events. Obviously, it did not take long before we were projecting gay porn from the second story window onto the outside brick wall of the flat next door. We surely turned quite a few heads from passers by; luckily no accidents were caused by rubbernecking.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Merci de la bière

Waiting for the bus after capture the flag, we used the leftover chalk (we had for designating prison areas a few hours prior) to decorate the sidewalk and scribble messages for onlookers to decipher while in queue. One of the flatmates stumbled upon a broken pair of sunglasses without lenses or arms. On the ride home, still with the whimsical spirit of street art in the air, she plucked a thin thread from a garment and tied the frames to the overhead handrail. She carefully positioned the glasses to stare into the cyclops eye of a CCTV camera mounted three inches above.

I met some kids from France last night. They bought me a drink at this pub called The Toucan (it has almost exclusively Guinness on tap). The college age boy and two girls are in London for a short vacation. The four of us began attempting to communicate the best we could; I must say their English is much better than my French has ever been. We talked for a couple hours and had a great time. I even had the opportunity to learn a bit of French before crossing the channel in a few days.

I knew better than to stay out too late and that the doors would be double locked when I came home, but I had lost track of time due to the wonderful company at the pub. (In fact, I had such a good time learning a bit of French that I was not about to let a little thing like not having a place to sleep ruin my evening) So I made the best of what could have been a lame situation and went to the snooker club. I observed other players until about 5 am when I decided to pick up a cue for the first time and feel the physics of playing on a 12 foot by 6 foot table. Not to my surprise, I found Snooker to be a very difficult game. Anyone who has mastered the sport of snooker should find 9-Ball as simple as Chutes & Ladders. I only played for an hour before the club had to close up, but my first taste of the sport has had me longing for more time at the table ever since.

Rock Steady Eddies had not opened yet; the sun was just beginning to show its face. So instead of a cup of tea I decided to catch a bus and have a warm place to sit for a while. With the soothing hum of bus tires rolling upon London streets, I was beginning to doze off. But a sharp smile was forced upon my face as I lifted my eyes to the sunrise one last time, only to find a pair of plastic glasses with the lenses missing, still suspended by a thin piece of thread from the overhead rail.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Sweet Boonies

So a member of the group that I am squatting with has been posting flyers for the past few weeks. We have been spreading the word to all other squats and infoshops in the area: Valentine's Day, 9:30 PM, Capture The Flag, Meet at Trafalgar Square. 

We had approximately 60 people show up. We shouted out rules of the game over a megaphone and gave boundaries marked by streets in the SOHO/Covent Garden vicinity, containing an area of a few square miles. Each team marked their faces with warpaint of corresponding colors: Pink Hearts VS Blue Lightning Bolts. And we marched through the streets to our designated areas of the city, waving two massive hand-stitched flags complete with our appropriate crests of honor, feeling as if we were the kids from The Sandlot who had just been transported onto the battlefields of Braveheart! We ran through the streets for hours defending our land, dodging taxis and rickshaws, leaving people holding flowers and heart-shaped balloons in a trail of dust and bewilderment. That was one hell of a Valentine's Day!

Our legs ached the next morning, but we all slept well that night. Sunday I took the walk up to brick Lane to search for a bicycle. Fearing I had gotten there too late and that all the decent bikes would be sold, I wandered around in hopes of finding even a good frame that I might be able to fix up. When five o'clock rolled around and drizzle was beginning to mist the air I realized that it was about time to give up and begin the walk home. Wet and not looking forward to the long walk I had ahead of me, I hung my head low but happened to notice something out of the corner of my eye. A good find, but I imagined out of my price range.

How much? I inquired. Forty Quid, he said. Thirty, I replied. Hell No, but I might do Thirty-five only because I'm in a hurry. Done.

So I was able to ride a beautiful black fixie home, just my size, and at an incredible bargain. Actually the price was too good and I suspect it may be stolen. I am posting on the London fixie-forum, if anybody responds with an accurate description of the bike I will return it to the rightful owner. But otherwise, I have an amazing bike, and fast too. I have really missed riding, and have been logging tons of milage all over the city for the past few days, jumping on any opportunity to go skipping (colloquial term for diving) with the flatmates around London.

I am an official member of the Camberwell Snooker Club now, and unless something else comes up tonight I will go play for the first time. 

Friday, February 13, 2009

Never knew I would like Vegimite so much

I have been unsuccessful at finding wifi these past few days, hence the lack of a recent update. Turns out, my little pub across the street not only has the cheapest guinness in town, but also the most  reliable internet access; so here I sit taking advantage of each, yay for The Joiners Arms.

So all of the flatmates decided that I should refer to them by “super secret code names.” I have a feeling this is probably more for novelty than security, nevertheless, spending a bright sunny morning in a London flat, passing around a sheet of paper and trying to figure out a witty name for the person sitting next to you is not at all a bad way to start the day.

It is very easy to spend a lot of money in London. Luckily it is also very easy to spend next to nothing while having the time of your life. Many days my total expenditure does not exceed 50p for a cup of tea at Rock Steady Eddies, a small diner much like Wimpy’s in Lexington. A few of us from the group went to a show the other night, not knowing if we would have to pay a cover. Upon arriving we were stopped at the door and each given a wristband, good for free admission and up to 5 free drinks. We spent the first ten minutes awestruck and perplexed, simply trying to comprehend the serendipity of the situation.

Gordon’s Wine Bar is a must-visit for any oenophile who happens to be in London (Scott & Chris, you would love this place). I had the extreme pleasure of sipping a couple glasses here a few nights ago. A narrow stairway in a side ally leads down to a barely lit doorway, the only evidence hinting at nightlife is a sign about a square foot in size, stating simply: Gordon’s Wine Bar. I recently learned that this may be one of the oldest wine bars in London, if not the world, check out the history at: Upon opening the door, I was quite surprised to find nearly one-hundred vivacious, candle-lit faces chatting amongst themselves and sipping all kinds of vino. The space has arching stone ceilings and a cold dampness in the air; the 17th century vault is now reminiscent of an old catacomb. A helpful and cute staff, as well as a fantastic wine list (including several wines and fortified wines made on site and kept in large casks behind the bar) top off the astonishing atmosphere. Gordon’s amontillado is highly recommended.

Continuing on the theme of secret niches beneath the streets of London, Shunt is possibly the most romantic space I have ever experienced. Last night some of the flatmates brought me to the London Bridge Underground station. Here is once again an unassuming brick entranceway. Stepping in is like passing through a portal from the hustling London underground station back in time to a world of chamber music, art installations, and nooks of artistic performances. Echoes of stringed instruments and performers are amplified by labyrinth of cobblestone and brick, the exoskeleton of a now dormant Tube corridor, seemingly designed for its acoustic luster.

Shunt is more than a special place; it adds a quality and diversity to the character of London that is inimitable. Sadly, in about a month it will be demolished for the construction of another strip-mall and supermarket.

The flatmates and I shared several glasses of wine and exchanged conversation until just before closing time. Several times throughout the night I found myself asking how I am so lucky to have found this group. Their individual personalities, as well as the group dynamic as a whole, are becoming increasingly apparent as I have been spending more and more time with them. I am looking forward to introducing them soon (through super secret code names of course).

Oh yes, and we have electricity now! We are now able to do such fancy things as make tea without the use of an alcohol stove, see eachother's faces at night, we even used a projector on the wall to watch a film last night... and (ghasp) I was able to take my first hot shower today!

I have also managed to find a good coffee shop: Flat White. I will need to sample more to determine if their spro is up to par with espresso news, but their latte art is world class. They have traditional drinks, and on the menu board give you the option of a ristretto shot vs. standard: something I have never seen another shop do. They don't roast their own beans however, that may be a fragrance I will either have to either create myself or wait until I return to Boone to enjoy. There are one or two other shops I need to check out, but for now this seems like a winner.

Pictures will be coming soon, I have been out of batteries but will be picking some up tonight. There are a lot of wonderful things planned for the next few days, but I do not want to give anything away. Check back in a few days; in the meantime, happy Friday the thirteenth, and I hope your Valentine's is looking as good as mine!

Monday, February 9, 2009

Here's to good times

Margaret and I had a truly fantastic time on Saturday. We ended up seeing a musical in the evening called la cage aux folles, which you can find out more about here: . The show was positively the best musical that I have ever seen, and one that had kept us each laughing through the entire performance.

Later in the evening I went to a drum & bass show in SW London. The pub is super underground and anything but official; they have a secret entrance in the back after you hop a chain-link fence. The scene inside was quite intense, lots of people crammed in to a low roofed space, dancing with sweat flinging in all directions.It was one of those places that had it caught fire there would be a news article about it the next day reporting how many people had died. Joints were being passed around the space, and there was a makeshift bar to order any beer of choice. Sadly, the music was more reggae than drum and bass; I was hoping for something that differed from what I could find in Boone. Nevertheless, I had a fantastic time, met some good people, danced a lot, and hopped the 4 am bus home when I had had my fill.

Last night I had a Guinness at the local pub. It was rainy outside and the drink was a good excuse to warm up a bit. The barkeep's name is Jon, this is the second night I have stopped in and met him. He seems like a nice guy and makes good conversation, so I am sure to go back.

On the walk home I found a members only snooker club and stopped in. Apparently membership is free. Judging by the size of the tables I may have found a challenging new addiction to feed. I'm now in north London, posting this blog from the Apple store, and about to search for the closest bookstore that wold have a section on snooker.

So that's it for now. I miss you all and hope all is well. I will be in touch soon, Cheers!

Saturday, February 7, 2009

The revolution is in your pants, now dance!

OK, so far my only complaint about London is the lack of good coffee shops. Coffee shops are everywhere; it’s hard to even walk into a building without spotting a shiny new espresso machine. It’s a pity that either all the baristas suck and/or the shop itself is the epitome of hipster bullshit. So, next on the list of things to do: find an indy shop with a barista who can pull a double that will make my tongue dance.

Other than that, London kicks copious amounts of ass.

I left Aunt Margaret’s place after most of the snow had cleared, or at least had time to melt into a beautiful slushy mess. I had an absolutely wonderful time there and was sad to leave, yet excited to get into London. I had a contact set up that I could potentially stay with for a night or two, but didn’t want to burden him if I could help it. So I started a hunt for a new possibility. The first place I found with wifi after stepping off a train was a McDonald’s about a block away from Victoria Station (I still can’t believe that one of the first places I sought out in London was a McDonald’s, but hey it had free internet). I didn’t order any food, but I must say, It was by far the nicest McDonalds I have ever been inside of in my life. It looked more like a modern spa in Tokyo than a cheap burger joint; there was designer furniture everywhere and fresh cut single tulips in slender glass vases on every table… double U tea eff? There was even a lounge downstairs.

Anyway, I went to 56A’s website (an infoshop whom I have been in contact with for a few months now, they have a list of radical contacts and collectives around the city) in hopes of finding a promising place to stay for the evening. I stumbled upon something similar to a food not bombs meal taking place that evening. It was a benefit dinner for Sri Lanka at a squat in Southeast London called The Library House. Forty-five minutes later I was knocking on a door behind a public library with a Section 6 taped to it, the lights were on. The people I met were extremely nice, one girl was from Georgia (in the states), another girl I think was from Italy. I was a little early so I offered to help cook, they put me on brussel-sprout duty. Before long people were trickling in, everyone from a different corner of the world. Soon some gentleman from Sri Lanka came and brought some native food as well, which I must say is quite choice if you ever have the opportunity to sample it. There was a presentation given about the genocide occurring in Sri Lanka now and the government’s silencing of any free media trying to cover the situation within the country. About 25 people attended in all. Afterwards we sat around and discussed, among other things, the presentation. I managed to inquire about potential squat opportunities, as most people there were squatting somewhere in the city. Eventually a group of three offered me some floor space for the evening. They are part of a group of fifteen who had only the previous night found a four-bedroom flat in SE London and were able to escape the snow. (I may introduce some of the fifteen at some point, but for privacy’s sake it will only be with their permission. For the time being I will refer to them in general as a group, or perhaps use pseudonyms). The group, with rotating members, has been hopping squat houses in London for three years now. Their last squat received quite a bit of (unwanted) press coverage, as they were residing in a £1.2M house in a posh part of North London, I had actually read an article about it a few months ago in the states.

The group is all kinds of incredible, they are so generous and in that way remind me of all the people I love to interact with in the states. They are worried about being a little over-crowded in the house, but for the time being have allowed me to stay for as long as I like, or until a better squat situation turns up. They are trying to find another house to spread out a bit. As it is, there is really never any more than about eight staying in the place at a time (with the others staying at satellite properties), and as a new squat, it must be occupied by at least one person at all times, so having a surplus of people is not necessarily a bad thing. We will have electricity in a little less than a week, but for now it isn’t bad at all. We spend most of the day in the city and really only use the house to sleep, there are a ton of extra blankets and plenty of people, so we stay quite warm in the evenings.

So this is who I have been staying with for the past few nights. These people are loads of fun and have been showing me all over the city. Yesterday we attended a free cinema showing Italian films. In the evening we attended a guerilla radio show, in which several of the mates were invited to come and discuss squatting in London. One of the members works at a vegan café and brings home extra food in the evenings for the rest of the mates. Every Saturday there is something like a cattle auction in one part of the city, except for bicycles. A few of the mates are attending that today, I have other plans so will be attending that next week.

That’s it for now. I am about to meet up with Margaret for falafel, as she has come into the city today.

For more info on squatting:

Monday, February 2, 2009

Aunt Margaret's Cottage

Kegan and I made it into East Grinstead without a hitch. Margaret showed us around town a bit and around the property as well. It is so beautiful here, she lives next door to a piece of National Trust property which she also volunteers at to help maintain, lots green rolling hills and far reaching views. On Saturday Margaret, Kegan, and I went to the Millenium Seed Bank and surrounding gardens: more gorgeous property and wildlife. We have made quite a bit of Indian food and more tea than I have had in years, which is fine with me as I enjoy every bit of it. On Sunday Kegan and I took a train into London and said our goodbyes, shortly thereafter ze hopped a plane to finish out the semester in Spain. I wandered around the city all day and had a wonderful time. I eventually me up with the nice folks from 56A infoshop, they offered me a place to work and even potential places to live in the London for a while. Later that evening Margaret took a train down from East Grinstead as well. She took me out to dinner and a play for my birthday.
Monday morning Margaret and I went to Tai Chi, and then hopped a train back to London, walked around the City for a while, and saw a free contemporary dance show. When we took the train home later in the afternoon it started to snow.
Today the BBC is calling it "arctic conditions," and the most snow that the country has seen in eight years. Most transportation systems have been delayed or canceled. I just laugh because it is only about 3.5 inches or so! Margaret and I walked a couple miles into town to get groceries and just finished lunch.