Archive for the 'London' Category


Two weeks back in Europe

My whirlwind trip to Europe begins very soon. I’m just about packed.

  1. I work a half day tomorrow, then head to Sydney International Airport.
  2. I fly to London (via Bangkok) and meet up with my better half, who’s already there.
  3. I have five awesome days of holidays back in London. I lived there for 9 years, but have not been back since I left two years ago. I’m planning to see a lot of people.
  4. We fly to the south of France, for a few days in the spot where we got married (aww).
  5. She flies back to Oz. I, however, take the train from Toulouse to Barcelona (via Montpellier and Figueres).
  6. I have a work conference for five days in Barcelona.
  7. I fly back to Sydney, via London and Singapore.

If you look close, you can see me in a window, very smug. Photo from velodenz via Creative Commons license


Umbrella from James Smith

When I arrived in London in February 2001 one of the first things I did was to buy a quality umbrella. It rains quite often in London, I reasoned, and I don’t want to keep buying cheapo umbrellas that break. Might as well get a good one that will last.

I went to James Smith & Sons, a world-famous maker of umbrellas and walking sticks. I paid – if I recall correctly – £90 for a proper city umbrella. They look to be £125 now.

I still have that umbrella, today, and I still use it all the time. I’ve never taken any special care of it, and in fact have probably treated it more roughly than I ought to. Nevertheless, its ribs are still in good shape, the canopy is intact, and the mechanism for putting it up and down work just fine. It is one fine piece of rain-avoiding machinery, and it’s done much better than dozens of cheaper ones would have.

Thanks, James Smith. Quality craftmanship is worth it.

The brolly that won't quit


Places I’ve Lived

I’ve lived in a few places in my life; more than I thought I would end up doing, anyway.


Nova Scotia

Jan 1969 – Aug 1987: West Brook

A very small farming community in a small eastern Canadian province. Our family farm is there, and my family is still there farming it. Like a stupid kid I didn’t appreciate it enough when I was there, but I sure do now. I love going back to the peace and quiet and family.

Sep 1987 – Aug 1993: Halifax

The capital city of Nova Scotia, Halifax is where I did most of my university studies. It’s a port town, a navy town, an historic tourist destination, and home to one of the largest densities of drinking establishments in North America. It’s a simple place, but an easy place to have fun in. It got a makeover several years ago when it hosted a G8 summit and it’s been looking good ever since.


Sep 1993 – Apr 1994: Toronto

The biggest city in Canada, and the capital of the province (but not the nation) it’s in, Ontario. I was there only a short while, for grad school. Toronto is the world’s most ethnically diverse city, a mosaic of 5 million+ people from all around the world. It’s a bit like a big American city – sometime it wants to be – but with very few of the downsides like crime or extreme economic inequality. Sure, it’s got plenty of big-city problems, but not on the scale that usually happens for cities this size. It may be one of the least friendly places in Canada, but that still makes it very friendly. My brother and his wife have lived there for many years.

May 1994 – Oct 1995: Pembroke

I lived in this small northeastern Ontario city for a year and a half while doing my Master’s research at a nearby nuclear research facility. It’s known for its logging heritage. I can’t really say I enjoyed it that much.

Nov 1995: Deep River

I was here for just one month, as my lease in Pembroke ran out before I could move to Ottawa. Given that it’s a town made specifically to house nuclear physicists for nearby research facility I was glad I wasn’t there for longer. Interesting note: in David Lynch’s film Mulholland Drive, Naomi Watt’s character Betty is from here.

Dec 1995 – Jan 2001: Ottawa

I got a job and moved here, Canada’s capital city. As fate had it, some of my best friends in the world had moved there, too, so Ottawa was a lot of fun (they still live there). I lived in two different spots, both in centre town – one a big apartment tower, the other a nice spot in a duplex top unit on a leafy street. Like many capital cities it’s well taken care of: there are plenty of museums, green spaces, and festivals. The Rideau Canal makes for a great centrepiece in summer and winter. It’s a relatively quiet place, but it’s got everything you need, and seemed a good place to bring up kids. When I got to the end of my six years, though, I was ready to move.

United Kingdom

Feb 2001 – Oct 2009: London

London has it all: everything happens there, it’s got awesome history, the cuisine is tops, and there’s no better hopping-off place for travelling. Well, that is, until the economy went south. And getting around was expensive and, sometimes, painful. And the weather was sooo gloomy. But I never, ever got tired of London. If I had to move back I would not begrudge that ancient, lively, mysterious city at all. I lived in Hampstead (which is genteel and quite fancy), West Hampstead (which is just a bit rough around the edges), and Ealing (which was comfortable and independent). I still have amazing friends in London.


Nov 2009 – present: Sydney

Another great city. Its natural beauty – the harbour, the beaches, the nearby Blue Mountains – is breathtaking. So far I’ve lived in Cammeray (small hilltop enclave to the north), Neutral Bay (genteel family suburb on the north shore), and Marrickville (former Greek neighbourhood, then Vietnamese, now burgeoning yuppie hangout). It’s another city of recent immigrants, and has that energy, and that diversity of neighbourhoods that means you can always find something exciting. But it also feels like it’s resting on its laurels a bit, and needs to prove itself if it doesn’t want to be overtaken by the other Australian cities where things are growing.


Girl Geeks

My pal and fellow Canadian Judith Lewis, back in London, was always involved in tech, online initiatives, and social media. She was – and still is – involved in London’s Girl Geek Dinners, a regular gathering for women who are interested in technology.

I’m all for any initiative that tries to balance the skills, experience, and outlook in the tech world. And the BBC agrees, with a writeup on Judith and girl geek gatherings around the world. Congrats, girl!


Goodbye, London

Goodbye, The Grove. Goodbye, Ealing. Goodbye, London. Goodbye, UK. Goodbye, Europe. Goodbye, Northern Hemisphere.

Talk to you all soon.


the 11th hour

It’s all finishing up. Our stuff is gone. Our house is empty. We’ve eaten and drunk lots. We’ve said goodbye to everyone here. Kisses, hugs, tears.

I’ve been in London for nearly 9 years now.

I’m really going to miss it.


Goodbye London: you’ve been a cool place to explore

You find no man, at all intellectual, who is willing to leave London. No, Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.

Samuel Johnson

Although I wouldn’t phrase it quite so strongly as Johnson did in the 18th century, I very nearly agree. I love London: have done since I arrived in February 2001. There are wondrous experiences to have elsewhere, though, so here we go.

But there have been so many places, sights, and events here that have been amazing. Here are some I won’t forget.


  • Outsider Tart make amazing sweet treats at their Chiswick shop or several London markets
  • Colchester Oysters from an alley behind Columbia Road flower market
  • L’autre, the Mexican and Polish restaurant in Mayfair
  • Ealing Italian food at Osteria del Portico
  • Southall, and especially Madhu’s: the best Indian ever
  • Kiraku’s super Japanese in Acton
  • Wonderful gastropub the Ealing Park Tavern


  • Sitting on the pavement at The Bulls Head pub in Chiswick, letting my legs dangle over the Thames
  • Crispins Wine Bar in Ealing: so low-key, so local
  • Monmouth Coffee and their shops around the city
  • The Gallery bar in West Hampstead
  • Proud Bar and Gallery in Camden stables
  • West Kensington’s Builders Arms pub
  • The old warren of rooms that is the Hollybush pub in Hampstead
  • Ealing’s Red Lion pub
  • Munson’s coffee and deli in Ealing
  • Taste a thousand ales: the Great British Beer Festival at Earl’s Court
  • Smallest pub in London, The Nag’s Head in Knightsbridge

Sights and Things

  • The Thames. Pubs along it, walking along it, the South Bank, boating on it. It’s a peaceful, pervasive river
  • Notting Hill Carnival is so exciting
  • People whinge about the Tube, but it really is a great way to get around the city
  • The Woman in Black play at the Fortune Theatre. So scary I saw it twice
  • Borough Market near London Bridge has been running for a thousand years. It’s great for foodies
  • Crazy, busy, stand-offish, multi-ethnic, bustling, keep-to-themselves, widespread, worldly Londoners
  • Natural History Museum
  • Science Museum
  • British Museum
  • British Library
  • Feeding the fanboy: Shaftesbury Avenue’s Forbidden Planet
  • The Tate Modern
  • Walking and running and playing frisbee and watching kite-flyers on Hampstead Heath


  • The Astoria would be here, but it’s now gone
  • Brixton Academy is just the right balance of size and vibe
  • The O2 for large-venue modern style and efficiency
  • The Royal Albert Hall is magic
  • Ain’t Nothin’ But… in Soho for my live blues fix
  • Indie opulence at Camden’s Koko

My last London Blogger Meetup: Mojito Madness

Last night was another nifty London Blogger Meetup; it was also my last.

It was held at Chamucos, a basement Cuban bar underneath the Green and Red Restaurant on Bethnal Green Road. The east end location seemed to stymie lots of people, since only about 35 of the 150 promised attendees showed up. Probably just as well, though, since it would have been a sweaty mob if any more folks had been there.

Judith Lewis spoke about search engine optimisation, and I was asked to speak about my blogging experiences. I am loathe to take the spotlight, but was eventually persuaded to say a few words.

The whole night was sponsored by global Cuban arts and Havana Club rum initiative Havana Cultura, which I’ve blogged about before. They kicked off a competition (a Twitter Treasure Hunt Campaign launching October 19th), mentioned their Gilles Peterson Havana Cultura CD launch  (October 26th), gave away some prizes to attendees, and gave us all the free mojitos we could drink. Which, it turns out, is a lot of mojitos. They also gave us all goody bags of lime, mint, and rum to make our own at home.

London Bloggers has been really good to me. It’s balanced just right for me, informative yet social. Organiser Andy Bargery has turned it into something thriving and useful and fun, and is a genuinely nice guy, too. I hope these meetups continue to flourish; I’m going to miss them.

You lookin at me, punk?

"You lookin' at me, punk?"

Youre getting veeeery sleeepy...and not just because youre bored.

"You're getting veeeery sleeepy...and not just because you're bored."

Hey, bartender: would you mind not throwing those bottles around while Im back here?

"Hey, bartender: would you mind not throwing those bottles around while I'm back here?"

All the above photos were taken by awesome London blogger Peter Marshall.

  1. Twitter Treasure Hunt Campaign (launching October 19th)
  2. Gilles Peterson Havana Cultura CD Launch (October 26th)

Stuff I’ve done – and people I’ve met – in London

As my stay in London comes to a close I’ve naturally been reflective about my UK adventure.

I’ve been thinking about all the excellent live music I’ve seen; that’ll be an upcoming topic for my other blog, The Plummet Onions. But I’ve also been thinking a lot about the associations I’ve made here: all the people and groups that I’m now connected to, and better for, simply because I moved here in February 2001.

The most important of all is obviously my amazing wife, whom I met in November 2001. There are also the really good friends I’ve made via that relationship, flatmates and friends of hers, people that I now count amongst my best friends: PC, the She-Aussie, the Colombians, and others. We also have some good friends in the Neighbours. I’ll leave it at that, since – despite appearances – I don’t actually live my entire life on the internet.

I’ve made some good friends at work here: the Scotsman, the Other Scotsman, and the Other Other Scotsman (see the trend?) especially. There are definitely some folks I’ll keep in touch with, and Facebook and LinkedIn make that easy to do.

It’s important to say that I’ve kept in touch with my closest friends back in Canada since moving here, and that’s not going to change. We never talk as much as I’d like, but I get to see them now and again and we email all the time and I know they read my blog. I’m not letting them go.

There are also some groups I’ve connected with that have resulted in some really good times and friendships here in London. One of those was Echoing the Sound, a Nine Inch Nails fan discussion forum. I was quite busy on there for a few years during the productive recording and touring period for NIN. I’m not on there much anymore, but the common thread of the band meant I got to know some new, cool people all around the world. And the London shows meant I got to meet a lot of them here for lots of Good Times™.

A couple of years ago I also started attending thlbme London Blogger Meetups because I felt a little isolated in my blog writing. It was a small group when I started, but under the guiding hand of Andy Bargery it’s grown into a waiting-list, sponsor-pursued social networking event. I’ve gotten to know lots of good people via that gathering. Andy’s even been kind enough to ask me to say a few words at my last LBM tomorrow night.

The LBM has been a gateway for some other fun, friendly, and beneficial associations, particularly with Qype UK. If you read this blog you know that I was getting invited to a lot of food, fun and drink events with them. They’re a very good gang of folks as well. And that in turn has spawned occasional invitations to food and drink blogger events with Relish PR.

And all of those channels have spawned Twitter connections, some of which have turned into real-life connections of various types.

Some of the things I’ve been involved with in London have been temporary, of course: not everything produces life-long friends. I really enjoyed the many evenings I spent at Birkbeck College getting my Certificate in Philosophy, and the few weeks I spent at the London College of Contemporary Music learning to play the bass guitar.

People often complain that it’s hard to get to know people or make new friends in London. And maybe that’s true, relative to other places where people are less guarded. But it’s certainly not impossible to extend your network of acquaintances, and maybe even make some real pals.

You’re ace, London.


Weekend fun

This weekend was, wisely, a more subdued one than we’re tending toward these days. Time is short, and there’s a lot to do before we head Down Under, but some of that stuff happens closer to home.

On Saturday I ran 12 miles, the farthest I’ve yet done in preparation for my half marathon. It was a bit tough because I missed a couple of the shorter runs earlier in the week. Still, it gave me confidence that I’ll be able to do the 13.1 miles I need to do on the day.

Last night PC made us an awesome dinner at their place. It was, like every meal they make, wall-to-wall tastiness. I left stuffed. And it was really good to hang with them; we don’t have an endless number of London opportunities for that now.

Today I spent some time out wandering in London. The main thing I did was to see Telling Tales, a free exhibit at the V&A. It was a pretty mixed bunch of modern art. They’re pieces that try to tell a story, and are arranged in broad themes. They’re all very modern, and most are semi-functional, straddling the line between art and design. Worth a look since it’s free but I wouldn’t cross town for it.