Monday, April 28, 2008

Of Playoffs and Postal Addresses

Woo-hoo--Playoff tickets have just been purchased. Next Tuesday, we'll be watching United's home game against Burton. The U's won their final game Saturday and actually ended up second in their league (I know that's hard to believe Mark and Shira--you two saw their one loss in the past 6 games!) They play their away game Friday against Burton. I guess starting away is better in football because then you know what result you need at home--in a 2 game series, a 0-0 tie at home might be enough depending on whether you scored in the away match. Let's hope it doesn't get that complicated.

And for those not interested in mediocre English football, we wanted to pass on a postal tip. A few cards have taken the long route to us because people are putting "U.K" right after Cambridge. The postal code (the UK zipcode) should go there. One card went via Paradise Park in California.

I won't post our address here, but I'll use the prime minister's home to show the proper form :
Gordon Brown
10 Downing St
London, SW1A 2AA
United Kingdom

It's also best to spell out U.K. to help any automated sorting machines.--jt

Sunday, April 27, 2008

A Spin on the Green Wheel

Yes, my butt hurts today...but more on that later.

Well, spring has finally sprung. The Midsummer Commons cows have returned (with a silly controversy as a local butcher angered some with a sign (right) outside its shop reading "Coming soon. Beef from Red Poll cattle grazed on Midsummer Common, Cambridge"). So has the rapeseed flower, which covers the fields of England like a yellow tarp--the plant produces a valuable oil and has become the crop of choice for many.

But the real evidence of spring is a sunny day in the 70s and me on a bike--on a bike for a ridiculously long time. My lovely wife is off the United States, enjoying the cheap dollar and as much Chicago food as she can stand (deep-dish pizza, Chicago hot dogs, Chiptole!), so yesterday I woke up early and decided to take advantage of the gorgeous day. I threw my bike on the back of Ralph and sped off to a park just outside the cathedral city of Peterborough. I was a bit nervous because I usually have KT reading maps but I made it to the park in 45 minutes and only circled roundabouts unnecessarily twice as I tried to figure out where to turn. The park--home to a real Thomas the Tank Engine--was beautiful and we need to go back to picnic, but I was determined to try the Green Wheel, the 45 (or 56 mile depending on the route) bike route that forms a circle around Peterborough and was created with about $20 million in national lottery money.

I had no plans to do the whole route as I have ridden at most 15-18 miles before. So I picked what appeared to be a 20-25 mile route. But around the point where I should have turned home I started riding with a real cyclist--and since I was feeling good, I didn't stop. When my new buddy finally left me in the dust I had made it halfway around the wheel and there weren't many shortcuts home. Uh-oh. Plus my back wheel, which has a busted spoke, was more wobbly than I liked. Worse, I faced a stiff headwind that made the ride back about three times tougher than going out. I wanted to stop in a pub for lunch but I worried my legs would tighten up and I would have to call a cab to take me back to the car.

Hoping to shave some miles off the return, I took one of the "spokes" into city centre and took a quick look at the beautiful Cathedral. I needed to walk a bit and replenish fluids as my thighs were cramping up. A final few miles along the river and back into the park where I started brought me back to the car about 5.5 hours after I left. Studying the map last night, I did a minimum of 35 miles and probably closer to 38--I must admit I'm quite proud of myself and had a lot of fun. I do need to buy some padded shorts as the tailbone isn't happy today. --jt

(Oh, on the right is a picture from the Ferry Meadows county park and here's a map of the Green Wheel. I started in Ferry Meadows on the left and went clockwise through Etton, Peakirk, and Newborough, before reaching Eye and heading into the city on the spoke)

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Bounce Bounce

It was a big sporting night last evening. The Washington Capitols lost a tough game seven in overtime to the Philadelphia Flyers, ending their Stanley Cup run (I taped the game and watched it this morning). Most of England was watching Liverpool take on Chelsea in the Champions League semifinal. Liverpool was at home and were ahead 1-0 til the minute when a Liverpool defender accidentally knocked the ball into his own net. Now they play at Chelsea.

But the BIG news was that Cambridge United clinched a playoff spot with a 2-0 home win over Torquay. We debated attending the game but stayed at home--amazingly, we could hear the crowd's chants of "Bounce Bounce" and "Amber Army" from the stadium a good mile or two away. Torquay is in second place--and could be United's playoff opponent next week--so this was a great win and makes everyone relaxed for the last regular season game on Saturday. We have to wait til then to find out who the team plays--and whether we will roadtrip to a playoff game of not. If United wins the first round (a home/away 2 game series), they would play at Wembley stadium on May 18 for the right to move up into the real Football League.


Monday, April 14, 2008

Life Less Ordinary

Live a life less ordinary
Live a life extraordinary with me
Life a life less sedentary
Live a life evolutionary with me
-Carbon Leaf

Part of the deal in moving to England was committing to give up our couch-potato ways and do new, amazing things often. I think we're doing a pretty good job. But lately when I go to blog about stuff we've done, I stop because I realize it's rather ordinary. For example, JT's 40th birthday was last week, and at one point he quipped that he was disappointed he'd only be in one country (unlike his birthday last year, when we woke up in Germany and went to bed in England). This year? We both worked 10-hour days and then went and ate cheeseburgers at our favorite local. I think this is how we've both spent more than half our birthdays.

Then, as part of the birthday weekend, we put the bikes on the car's new bike rack and headed off about 30 miles from here to Thetford forest, where we did two hours of off-road trail cycling. Nothing terribly unique about that, other than it's something neither one of us has ever done. We had a blast and spent much of the time talking about where else we could go with bikes in tow.

Last week, I took a morning off (well, um, OK, a little more than a morning) to walk to Grantchester and back, a 7-mile round trip. I'm infected with spring fever, so I was keen to find an excuse to spend several hours outside. If you'd have said last year I'd willingly walk 7 miles, I'd have asked you where my car broke down and why no one offered to give me a ride.

Friday night, we finally went to a pub we've been meaning to go to -- a pub that serves Polish food. We learned we were eating one of the last meals served; they closed down yesterday. We talked to the owner for quite some time about how hard it is to succeed in the pub business in this economy, and when England's pub culture is shifting as more people buy beer at supermarkets and go out less. We enjoyed our barszcz, zurek, pierogi, and pork loin, and left, sad that the Cambridge locals and local Polish community weren't enough to support Ralph and Ania's dream.

We do things that are very similar to things we did in the U.S.: Instead of a trip to Deep Creek Lake, we went to the Lake District. Instead of a trip to California's wine country, we're planning a trip to Portugal's wine country. If we don't feel like cooking dinner, instead of a walk into Cleveland Park or Woodley Park, it's a walk around Cambridge to one of our favorite locals. Instead of the Dupont Farmers Market, it's the City Centre Market.

In spite of the things we find quirky and odd, England has never felt like a foreign country to me. In fact, I'd say our "boring" little life suggests we're quite at home here. Occasionally ordinary, yes, but a life less ordinary indeed.

What's in your fridge?

I was going to write about how the Britsh papers are aghast that Hooters is planning to open up a bunch of new restaurants here ("It's more like a strip club than a restaurant") but another newspaper story commenting on America caught my eye. When we were looking at apartments to rent, we noticed that the British don't do big refrigerators. In fact, in many houses, they don't even do medium fridges. I've seen bigger ones in college dorm rooms. Part of it has to do with Victorian-age homes whose kitchens weren't designed with mammoth appliances in mind, let alone doors and hallways that are impossible for such behemoths to pass through. Part of it stems from the more European way of eating fresh--you only need a day or two of food in your fridge. In any case, the fridge disparity hasn't been lost on the Brits--many have fridge-envy if you can believe this story about how long to store stuff in your fridge.

Twenty years ago, we didn't really think about fridges. They were usually small and cupboard-like. They smelled a bit. They had a "freezer compartment" - often a solid berg of frost into which was set a broken ice-tray and a rogue oven chip - and they made that reassuring "thunkety humm" noise at odd intervals throughout the night.

Then the Americans arrived. We had already glimpsed them in imported sitcoms: vast, cavernous hangars of fridges with wide-spaced, well-lit shelves, groaning with Budweiser, leftover Chinese food in bucket-shaped boxes and orange juice that was drunk as profligately as squash. Over-stuffed and then, all at once, over here.

Demand rose and manufacturers such as Samsung and Maytag lunged at the opportunity, introducing new "American-style" fridges. That word "style" is important.
Consumer research showed we wanted fridges that were taller than us - but our kitchens, units and even doors couldn't cope with the size of imported models so slightly smaller versions were made for the UK market.

According to market research group, Mintel, sales of "larder" fridges - tall, with no icebox - or the even more bloated "side-by-side" type with adjacent freezer wing, have entirely outstripped sales of under-the-counter models. A fact borne out by the presence of an entire section dedicated to "American-style" fridges on the John Lewis website.

Oh, if you were wondering how to drink a squash, that reference is to the concentrated fruit juice that one mixes with water or soda. That form of squash is very popular in the UK and other countries.


Thursday, April 10, 2008

Have you been Rick-rolled?

Among my college embarrassments was that I owned a Rick Astley CD. And played it. A lot. Loud. (But I must say, my friends danced to it during our sad impromptu DJ parties in the dorm). So I note with some amusement that good ol' Rick is having quite a comeback. I initially read that some Internet pranksters were creating online videos on Youtube that promised sexy women or other lures, but once the video started it began playing the video for Astley's big hit "Never Gonna Give You Up". This prank, known as Rick-rolling, has taken on a life of its own and folks stuffed the electronic ballot box to chose the same song as the New York Mets new 8th inning song. This Times story about that prank is hilarious:

As upsets go, it ranks alongside the most extraordinary results in sporting history. When the New York Mets, one of America’s most revered baseball teams, asked their fans to select a new theme song, they could never have predicted that the winner would be a has-been Lancastrian pop star. But five million people had apparently voted on the Mets’ website for Rick Astley and his 1987 classic, Never Gonna Give You Up. Organisers were, to put it mildly, puzzled.

The story details many other examples of Rick-rolling--using the song or video to mock Hilary Clinton's reluctance to quit or blaring it at Church of Scientology protests--and notes his record label is releasing a greatest hits and planning a tour for him to capitalize on the publicity.

Astley said last month that he thought the fame was “a bit spooky”. “It’s just one of those odd things where something gets picked up and people run with it,” he said. “But that’s what’s brilliant about the internet.”

If you want to see the classic song and video, who am I to deny you. Click here.

Getting Pounded

For those considering a trip to visit us and lamenting the 2:1 dollar-pound exchange rate, we feel your pain. The front pages of British papers today are full of news that the pound hit an all time low against the euro--one euro equals 80 pence now (0.8 pound)--and how that is driving up the cost for family vacations to Spain, France and the rest of Europe that has moved to the euro.

From the Independent story:

Tens of millions of British people will experience their own credit crunch on holiday this year as the soaring value of the euro forces them to pay more for everything from the price of a coffee in a Parisian cafe to a hotel room in Barcelona. As currency traders pushed the European single currency to a record high against the pound yesterday, holidaymakers were coming to terms with the fact they now have almost a fifth less spending power on the Continent than a year ago.

Of course, it's all the fault of the United States once again!

...The 17 per cent fall since last February has come about as the euro has powered ahead on the strength of its member economies, while the pound has slumped, most recently because of the knock-on effects of the sub-prime collapse in the US.

So, I guess it's good that Kate and I bought a car and planned to explore England more this year. If only gas prices weren't so high....


Tuesday, April 8, 2008


Mark looking at a Concorde
I finally got around to downloading a few pictures from the air museum I noted in the last post. They're from my phone camera so excuse the blurriness--maybe Mark will send better ones. In any case, I though some blog readers--especially my relatives who build old planes and do aerobatics!--might find this interesting. If you are reading this on our blog site (not via email) click on a picture to see more detail.
Planes on exhibit

Planes being refurbished

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Punting, Finally

We returned from the Lake District last Friday evening (trip report part two to follow soon) and our friends Mark and Shira arrived from the U.S. early the next morning. Fortunately, they were jet-lagged from the overnight flight and needed to nap, which gave us some time to recover from our vacation. Unfortunately, by the time they awoke, the rare sun had given way to strong winds and occasional drizzle. Yet we ventured off on a long walk to see Cambridge United play--big mistake. Although I think Mark did enjoy the experience of an English football game, United were horrible. We arrived just at their opponents scored and things never got better. United went down 2-0 in the second half and we got colder and colder, so we left before the game ended--and before United gave up a third goal. It was only the U's second defeat at home, and they're sputtering at the end of the season as they try to hold onto a playoff spot.

Sunday was much more pleasant. In fact it was probably the nicest day of the year so far and we abandoned several plans and simply walked into Cambridge's city center, roamed a bit, and then went punting. Katie and I are a bit embarrassed we hadn't been yet but it's more fun with friends. Our Slovakian driver/punter/? gave us an amusing 45-minute ride up and down the river on the famous Backs running behind 7 of Cambridge's best-known colleges.Still enjoying the bright sun, we then relaxed on the riverside grass with pints of beer and devoured olives, bread, hummus and more that we had bought at the market just a few hours earlier. We ended the afternoon walking the long way home along the river. And Mark and I dashed our for a quick bike ride further down the river--Britain just changed their clocks so we had sunlight til almost 8pm!
On Monday, our friends did a walking tour of the city in the morning and then we jumped into the car. On their way to walk the gardens and mansion of Wimpole Hall, KT and Shira dropped Mark and I off at Duxford Imperial War Museum, an airfield about 20 minutes from our house that now houses Britain's premiere aviation museum. It used to serve as a U.S. airbase so it also is home to the American Air Museum, which "stands as a memorial to the 30,000 American airmen who gave their lives flying from UK bases in defence of liberty during the Second World War, and also honours those who fought in Korea, Vietnam, Libya, Iraq and other conflicts and battles of the 20th and 21st centuries."
The facility spreads over 5 hangers, has impressive audio-visial exhibits on the history and role of aviation (I listed to a World World I pilot describe a dogfight) and includes a Concorde and an amazing array of other airplanes. We even got to watch some stunt flying from a few vintage plane, including a Spitfire. There's also a land war museum that documented England's tanks and other military vehicles, dating back before World War I--it included exhibits on D-Day and "Monty", the famous World World II military genius who was England's counterpart to Patton in the U.S. We only had a few hours before the ladies returned but we could have spent a full day. Come back and visit us Mark and Shira!--JT