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Archive for August, 2007

What England Does Better

August 31st, 2007
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I frequently rant about things that we do not like in England (the last obvious example of that was the driving license treatise), and even wrote a post once about things that we took for granted in the States. But occasionally, we come across a concept that makes us think, Why don’t they do it in the US? It’s long overdue on my part to collate some of those into a post. So, here goes a list of some things that we like on this side of the pond.
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European living, Expat misc, That's England

Classical music and football support

August 30th, 2007
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There is nothing quite like a classical music concert to take your mind off mundane happenstance, even if the first piece of the program is somewhat disturbing Also sprach Zarathustra, by Richard Strauss (which has been immortalized by Kubrick’s 2001: Space Odyssey, but is more likely to be associated with Что? Где? Когда? for most of my readers). It was followed by very enjoyable Sibelius’s Second Symphony, and then, for encore, two short energetic pieces that I have no recognition of.

There is certainly nothing like the Royal Albert Hall, an immense spherical auditorium with unmistakably royal accoutrements and incomparably great acoustics. Our tickets were in a loggia box, right above stalls, to the centre-right of the stage. Great view (although I did have a small issue of trying to fit my legs into the couple of inches of space between my chair and the front partition). There were three more tiers of boxes above us, plus standing room on the very highest level. All fully occupied.

Furthermore, as the stalls seats are positioned in a circle, a lá circus, there is a large open space in the middle of the floor. That space was packed with standing-room-only patrons, whose only chance to sit down – on the floor – was during the intermission and only while half of them cleared some space up by leaving the auditorium for drinks and such. Those are the cheapest tickets in the house – at £5 a pop – and can only be obtained by queuing at the ticket office prior to the performance. I can’t say that I’d go for that, but it’s a pretty cool concept. Say, you are in the area, doing museums and some touristy stuff; then, at a minimal cost, you can finish your day listening to a great music at a great venue, all without prior reservation albeit with a little perseverance.

Otherwise, you certainly need to buy tickets in advance, especially if you want to get to a specific performance. These Proms run throughout August into early September every year, with a different concert by a different orchestra every day, and while you can buy tickets to some performances just a couple of weeks in advance, not all of them have the same availability.

I think we’ll certainly plan for a family visit next year.

There is not much else of note to write about, so I’ll take a moment to put some scare into Liverpool football club supporters.

I watched their side’s impressive performance in Champions League qualifying match against Toulouse the other day, and it had a similar effect on me to that of the Arsenal’s game at the beginning of the year, that made me proclaim my allegiance to the Gunners. Even the score was the same, 4-zip to the better team. This Liverpool squad was aggressive, imaginative, skilful and cohesive. The opponents looked amateurish at times, but it only slightly negates the positive impression left by the winners.

So, I am thinking: Maybe it’s time for me to try supporting Liverpool. It’s not like I have developed a strong attachment to Arsenal, yet…

Recalling that Tottenham, which I sort of supported at the end of last year, did not start playing well until I revoked my “support”, and that about immediately after I had declared for Arsenal its season took a serious turn for the worse, I can probably blackmail Liverpool supporters into paying me off to stay away. Or, conversely, pander to Liverpool-haters so that they pay me to work my jinx on the Merseyside club…

I have entirely too much spare time on my hands at the moment, as you could guess. Monday cannot come too soon…

London & Environs, Music, Sports

More solitary endeavors

August 27th, 2007
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I felt quite pathetic that I stayed indoors for such a lovely day on Sunday, so I decided to do a bit better on Monday. This was the last pre-Christmas day off (with an oh-so-imaginative name of Summer Bank Holiday), and it was very tempting – sunny, fresh, not too hot…
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Chronicles, Movies, Sports

Boredom on a sunny day

August 26th, 2007
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My lonely life has got so boring that I actually spent an hour vacuum-cleaning the house today. Hopefully, Natasha does not get any ideas…
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Chronicles

Gas turned out to be so not free

August 23rd, 2007
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One of my free rides has finally caught up with me. To the tune of £830.
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Chronicles, Customerography

Lonely guy’s diary

August 21st, 2007

Saturday

Got a haircut, then spent all day in front of the PC, working through the list of computer-enabled errands. Stock market has been beyond depressing.

Watched a previously recorded movie – crap. At least, the football season started, caught some games on the late-night re-cap.
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Chronicles, London & Environs

Social plans and political revelations

August 18th, 2007
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It is still quiet on our street, and I have not ventured out of the house to check what may be going on at the nearby intersection. There is a price to pay, of course. Pizza delivery man took almost an extra 30 minutes to get to the house, and was understandably cross about it. I tipped him well, though.

My social calendar has now got a few events on it to alleviate some of my loneliness.

Our good friends invited me out for a dinner with them Sunday night. They actually graciously invited me to spend a whole day with them, but I declined to inflict my general surliness on their poor souls for longer than a few hours.

Since I have to go to central London for the dinner, I figured I’d leave in the middle of the day and go to a gallery, or just aimlessly stroll around. I don’t expect that I will enjoy it a lot, but Natasha has been a bit lukewarm about visiting some of the places that I’d like to go to, so I might as well take a chance to satisfy my curiosity.

By the way, this outing will likely bring to an end my impressive rate of one post a day for this entire week.

On Monday, after work, I am playing nine holes of golf with an acquaintance.

And a week from Wednesday, I am going to Royal Albert Hall for a classical performance. It is part of the month-long yearly program called Proms that a developer who works for me has clued me in to. He planned to go with his girlfriend, and suggested that I might enjoy going as well. When I said that I certainly would not go by myself, he decided to invite me along with them. I figure I won’t be much in their way during the performance itself and probably will say my farewells immediately afterwards.

Tickets to the Proms are not easy to get, by the way. Our first choice of performance, featuring Tchaikovsky and Prokofiev, was sold out. We went for Strauss instead.

If there are just a couple of other interludes of this kind, I just might survive until my girls are back with me.

In other news, I’ve reached a startling revelation about my politics today. Well, maybe not really startling, but certainly a bit unexpected.

As most Russian-American emigrés do, I normally vote Republican in general elections. There is one overriding reason for that: I am strongly against big government and high taxes. But I’m also pro-choice and pro-gun control, which puts me into Democratic camp on at least a couple of major issues, which I have been admitting for quite a long time now. I even now support the notion of universal health care, having been exposed to the socialized system in UK, which by most accounts works remarkably well. Yet I cannot imagine myself voting for Hillary or Obama.

With a tip of the hat to my friend and colleague Brian (whom I seem to expropriate a lot of blogging ideas off lately), I went to this site to test my understanding of which current presidential candidates share my political views the most. The test is based on the data from 2decide.com and is certainly a gross over-simplification, but Brian’s own results were reasonably close to his “gut feel”, so I figured mine also would be a healthy mix of both parties.

Ah… no!!! When my results displayed on the screen, all eight Democrats were on top and all nine Republicans below. Only McCain and Giuliani even managed to score in positive single digits. By contrast, five of the Democrats scored above healthy +20, indicating a rather close alignment with my views (I have just one disagreement with each of them).

Goes to show how truly apolitical I am, beyond my stated views on major issues. I certainly read news and magazines, catch an occasional debate, peruse political commentary, but I truly have very slight idea who espouses what views in the end. Otherwise, I would not be shocked to find that Rudi and I disagree on more items that we agree on.

Anyway, the winner was Biden, whom I turn out to have no disagreements with whatsoever. A respectable choice, but he’s not going to get the nomination, anyway. Hillary was just a point behind, with a single disagreement of middling importance…

Chronicles, Idle Amusements

Of quietness and rumbunctiousness

August 17th, 2007

Tuesday morning it was some water leak in front of my driveway. Today it was the full-blown watermain burst at the busy intersection between our rented house and the train station.
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Chronicles, Family & Friends

Licenses and passports

August 15th, 2007
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On our trip to the States, we had to take care of renewing two sets of important documents.
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Chronicles, Customerography

Travails of travel (not really)

August 14th, 2007
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I was woken up this morning by the wonderful sound of jackhammer right under my window. Two nice blokes informed me that there was some water leak that they would be repairing for the next hour…

Looking at the bright side, I might have overslept work if not for them…
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Travel

Home is where your heart is

August 13th, 2007
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Of late, I have been using the word home in several different connotations.

First of all, without a doubt, my home is the country that I love, the country where I spent my entire adult life, the country where an immigrant with no money but a reasonably high IQ has the proverbial Dream within just a few years’ reach. Only one such country in the whole wide world – America.

But home is also where you make your bed day in and day out, even if that happens to be an ocean and several time zones away, even if the place is rented, even if after almost a year you still cannot get used to some ridiculous absences of simple comforts. So, England is my home as well, if only you go by a Freudian slip or two that I made while discussing my schedule of “flying home” and going to work this Monday.

Then, interestingly, I keep referring to my long-sold house in New Jersey as “home” (it should be noted that in Russian, the same word translates as both home and house). As in, “Kimmy, do you recognize where we are? Of course, we are right by our home”…

But coming back to England after ten days in the States, I realize that home is truly where your heart is. And despite our certainly stimulating and rewarding existence, punctuated by regular continental excursions, my heart is undoubtedly with the great U S of A. Could be that the aforementioned excursions have already created a level of saturation that makes infrequent rendezvous with friends and family all the more enticing. Could be that I am simply too much a creature of comforts.

Anyway, I am back in the Old World after a veritably whirlwind expedition. I managed to schedule spending some time with many close friends and relatives (and if I did not manage to spend time with you, my sincere apologies – I decidedly had very little time to work with), and chanced upon a couple of fun occasions. Even mild philosophical disagreements with some members of my immediate family and an entirely wasteful visit to our New York offices did not put a damper on good times.

But the week of greetings was simultaneously the week of renewed farewells as well. And I will be by my very lonesome for the next three weeks, which emphatically adds to the bit of melancholy.

I will post several nuggets about our holiday in the following days, but at present, I am letting myself succumb to jet-lag.

One final note. Having been sufficiently scorched by the hot and humid Northeastern weather, I decided to go to work today in a short-sleeved shirt. The sun was shining in the early afternoon, but the air was not overly warm. And on my way back home, the cold British wind has given me a well-deserved welcome. Brrrrrr.

Apropos

Pardon the Interruption

August 1st, 2007

My British colleagues are happily exclaiming that the summer is finally here. From my perspective, the weather is a lot more like spring than summer, but with no rain, and it certainly makes it feel considerably more cheerful.

Too bad we won’t be around for a while. Let’s feel the embrace of undoubtedly scorching and humid East Coast summer, I say.

In fact, this short post is to announce that the Burlak family is happily departing homeward for a long-awaited sojourn. I hope to see some of the most loyal members of my audience in person in the next ten days or so. But I will likely not resume blogging until my return to London around the 15th of this month.

See you all soon.

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