Saturday, October 29, 2011

Some things were just not meant to be...

Some things go together like magic: peanut butter and jelly, mint and chocolate, strawberries and cream, .... you know... stuff like that.  But there are some flavour combinations that just do not work so well together.  Of course, to some extent, this is a question of taste.  For example, I would say that garlic cream cheese (which I love) just does not work if you put it on a blueberry bagel (which I also love). Steve, on the other hand, sees no contradition in this blend.

The world of icecream is an interesting place to think about this problem.  Certainly, there are those that prefer their icecream to carry 'chocolately' flavours, and those who prefer more 'fruity' flavours.  My mother, for example, leans in the direction of chocolate, while I lean towards fruity (I suspect one of my siblings would add here that the statement is true of me more generally).  But whatever the declination, I would had said before tonight that there is no such thing as a bad flavour of icecream.  I have even, for example, tried Durian flavoured icecream (which is quite stinky and yet also interesting). 

So it was with surprise tonight that I saw at the grocery store FOUR different icecream flavours that I had not run across before: malaysian coconut and lime; prune and armagnac; chocolate and rosmary; and (wait for it...) mustard savoury.

Mustard icecream.... bleech!
 Well....  what else could I do?!   I came home with "Mustard Savoury".  The label on the side says "savory and sweet at the same time".  I suppose that, strictly speaking, the label speaks the truth:  it IS savoury and sweet at the same time.  But not in a GOOD way!  Indeed, everyone in the house has tried a spoonful, and we have collectively come to the position that there are just some combinations that should not even be imagined into existence.  Mustard and ice cream is one of them.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Saturday mornings on the High Road

yummy challah bread
 I think we are getting some of our Saturday morning rituals in place.  While the Bonnie Banks O' Loch Lomond suggests that it matters not whether one takes the high road or the low road (you will end up in Scotland either way!), Saturday morning here in North Finchley does take us down the High Road (indeed, I am not sure exactly where the low road would be?)   And for a perfect Saturday morning, you really need at least a couple stops on the High Road.  Alex's first stop is usually the weight room over at the fitness club at the end of the street.  But others in the family are a bit less pure.  For me, the perfect Saturday morning starts with a stop at Yosi's bakery where, if your timing is right, you can get your hands on a still warm loaf of challah bread.  They keep asking me if I want it sliced.  Huh?  No... i would rather just rip hunks right off it! It is like candy.... who needs butter or jam? 
A stopping point on the High Road

Mango Blaster heaven

The only possible 'improvement' comes by grabbing a set of soft chairs in the coffee shop, and supplementing a stolen fistfull of warm bread with a warm beverage!  Well... Duncan would disagree about the value of the warm beverage, since he has discovered the delights of the much colder (and slightly more expensive) Mango Blaster Smoothie.  And if one's parents, in a moment of weakness, authorized a stop at the local Computer Games store, so much the better. 

Thursday, October 27, 2011

...oh yes, "Cool Hand Duncan"...

....ah... i forgot one more thing about our night out to see Cool Hand Luke.  That is, "cool hand Duncan", who, in the middle of act 2, reached over, took my hand, and without a word, deposited this little gem in it.  Cool as a cucumber.  What mother DOESN'T love getting handed a tooth in the middle of a play! I didn't even know the tooth was loose!   of course, if I had know, I would have loved to have pulled it out for him, but my kids are always declining my offers of help in knocking the teeth out.  sigh.   I guess the only question now is the conversion rate from dollars to pounds.... how much should I pay for a tooth like this?

Cool Hand Luke

Well, it is 'term break' here in London.   Quite a new concept for me, I will admit.  The wierd part is not the notion that you might have a break in the term.  it is rather the notion that, after only 6 weeks of school, the kids would get a full week of holidays.  A full week?!    And we get THREE of these things this year?!  
Christmas came early

OK.  So... what to do during the break?  Lots of the kids and their families went off to travel during the break.  But... having travelled a long ways just to get HERE, i thought we would just stay the course, hang out here in London and do a couple of things.  Monday was "XBox Day".  yes... after months of begging, Steve finally relented, and found a second hand XBox with a bunch of games. Many happy hours were thus spent by both boys, reaquainting themselves with the worlds of Halo, Call of Duty and Fable. 

Tuesday, we headed out to see the new Tintin movie.  What I learned from the experience is that going to see a matinee during term break is a psychotic parental choice.  The movie theatre does not hire extra staff, but every child in a 10 kilmeter radius was there:  I stood for 45 minutes in the lineup to get drinks for the boys.  A good thing we were there early, AND that they run at least 25 minutes of previews and commercials before the film starts. Crazy.  On the positive side of things, we all enjoyed the movie.  We also concluded that snowy and kiwi are kindred spirits... and that snowy even SOUNDED like kiwi.   that was fun.

Wednesday, I decided it was time for a bit of 'culture', so i got us tickets to see another musical, this time:  "Cool Hand Luke".  Yes, you heard me right.... Cool Hand Luke as a musical!  I grew up with the iconic image of Paul Newman in the movie version of this story (of the war hero who ends up on a Florida chain-gang), so was looking forward to see what would happen in the translation of the book to stage instead of screen. 
Dinner at Smollensky's

As usual, we met up with Steve downtown, and tried out a new restaurant on the Strand.  It was a bit higher end than many of the pubs we have been trying out, so it made me laugh that Duncan still chose his standard pub fare (bangers and mash)!  Still, we had fun.  We ended up being seated right by the piano player (who started her jazzy set about 10 minutes later).  We had a protracted discussion about whether or not it is better to have live music or less noise so you can hold a conversation.  
Covent Gardens at night
We concluded that the answer depended on how interesting the conversation was!   :-)   Since we were playing the word game at the same time (the one that goes "I'm thinking of a word that rhymes with..."), we concluded that our conversation was indeed fabulous, and that it would be best to keep the piano player, but sit a few tables further away!   I left the boys at the table for 15 minutes to pick up our tickets from a friend waiting over by the Covent Garden Tube station.  Twillight was firmly upon us, and the streets were slick from an early rainfall.  You can't quite capture it in the photo, but try to imagine the lights reflecting off the rain soaked streets, with the sound of a musician in the corner playing Lakme, from Madame Butterfly, but on an eastern (japanese? chinese?) stringed instrument of sorts:  both beautiful and strange.  
Marquis at the Aldwych Theatre

Aldwych Theatre
So, tickets in hand, back to the restaurant to pick my three men, and then we joined the theatre crowds milling around on the streets, heading for anyone of the dozen theatres in the area.  We wandered around the corner, past the Waldorf Hotel, to the Aldwych Theatre.  You can read about the history of the theatre at this link:

I will say that Marc Warren did a pretty impressive job of  being"cool".   I had worried a little about how musical numbers would work for this prison story.  Perhaps wisely enough, none of the prisoners sing.  The music was more in the nature of background commentary via traditional spirituals and religious songs (ie. sometimes I feel like a motherless child, Down in the Falley, etc). We had tickets on row B, so we were close enough to see the tonsils on the women who provided the music for this bit of theatre.  It was interesting.  They did a good job of capturing the florida landscape, the feeling of the second world war in germany (well... the bombs made ME jump, that is for sure!), and the lingering PTSD suffered by the soldiers.  And the scene where Luke wins a bet that he can eat 50 hardboiled eggs in one hour?.... that one was probably worth the price of admission.  :-)
Sky above the Waldorf

Walking down the Strand
The evening over, we wandered back home.  The streets were still wet with rain, reflecting back the lights from the buildings and cars.  The sky was a gorgeous grey, and the weather still tolerably mild (in spite of the light sprinkle of rain).  We are still trying to figure out what to make of the very ending of the play... what does it mean when "the Boss" takes off his sunglasses at the end?!   Is he changed or not?  Who knows? 



Monday, October 24, 2011

Death and Football (american style!)

Go on my own or not?...
Harold Pinter Theatre
This week, the big question was whether or not to head off to see Ariel Dorfman's play "Death and the Maiden".  Well... it wasn't exactly a question.  I have been teaching the movie version of the play for years in the law/film class, but have never actually SEEN the play version.  How could I NOT go?!  The question was really whether or not to take the kids along with me.  Well... the play (which is all about finding justice in the aftermath of torture) did have a "not appropriate for 12 and under" warning on it.  So... I got a ticket for the afternoon matinee, and just went on my own.  Actually, I think it might be the first time in my life that I have gone of to the theatre on my own.  Now that I have jumped that hurdle, I can imagine that it will not be the last time!  :-)

The play was great (and if you want to read a great piece on the film/play, check out my friend Orit's article, which you can find at It was starring Thandie Newton in the role of Paulina (you may know her as Libby in the film Run Fatboy Run).  Such fun to see how it played out on the stage instead of on the screen.   The theatre was also quite lovely. I was saddened by all the "no photography" signs in the theatre, but you can see a ton of pictures of the theatre on the Arthur Lloyd website!

Rembrandt at 34
Rembrandt at 63
Well.... after indulging the fan side of me in a matinee performance at the theatre, I thought I would stroll over to the National Gallery, and say hello to a few paintings before heading home. This time, I had fun moving back and forth between two of Rembrandt's self portraits, one of him as a man of 34 , the other of him at 63 (the two paintings are in rooms next door to each other).

Bears vs. Skeleton Pirates

Trafalgar Square Fan Day!
After that, I headed out the front door of the National Gallery, to discover that there were plenty more fans out for the day:  this time time, fans of the NFL. Yes... it was "fan day" in celebration of the upcoming football game between the Bears and the Pirates.

St. Martin's in the Fields
Most of Trafalgar Square was blocked off, and there was a giant inflatable bear set up alongside a pirate ship complete with skelton on the prow.   I will say that they seemed a bit bizarre mixed in with the more traditional view of the four lions and Lord Nelson atop his perch!  There was also a stage set up with live performers, and a large video screen to make sure that everone could get a good view of the musicians.  I guess the square was providing something for everyone:  the sounds of drums pulsing from the square, with St. Martin's providing a different kind of music off to the left!  :-)

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Sunday Rugby

So... another Sunday, another day of Rugby at our local Finchley RFC (Rugby Football Club). I have to say, the Rugby group here are amazingly well organized and set up.  Like at home in Victoria, it is primarily volunteer run, but on a scale of magnitude that is quite something!  I can't get over how many kids are playing, and how many coaches and volunteers are deployed to make the events run like clockwork.

Covered stands!
Of course, there is great infrastructure too (and you can see more photos of the fields on Rabbler's 'Grounds for Concern blog here.)  There are upper and lower fields, and they are just packed with kids and teams playing.  The upper field has covered stands (which is going to make me a happy rugby mom come the rainy season), and the lower fields are big enough to accommodate at least 6 or 7 teams practicing at the same time.

The Clubhouse

Best of all, there is a clubhouse!  or... as steve would say, "a licenced clubhouse!"  The set up is lovely.  There is a kitchen there, and  people working it, so kids can get cheap hot food after the meal (or even free food if there has been a game with kids coming from away), and hang out in the clubhouse with friends and family, watching soccer or rugby on the big screen, or sitting around playing/talking. And, it is dog friendly.  Not only do people bring their dogs to the fields, but the dogs are allowed in the clubhouse.  All in all, the perfect setup to ensure a pleasant couple of hours as a family!

Steve had Alex signed up to play long before we arrived in London (and indeed, chose our location in part based on proximity to the rugby fields), but Duncan somehow managed to weasel his way out of playing (he did not want to get tackled, a feeling I can relate to).  Well... after several weeks of us watching the younger kids play, we finally put our foot (cleats?) down, and, over his most strenuous protests, signed Duncan up for the under 11 rugby group.  So... sundays now involve the entire family hanging out at the Rugby Grounds.

Despite Duncan's initial reluctance, i can now say that the sunday rugby hours are very pleasant ones.   Duncan played on one field, and Alex on another, so Steve and I just kept swapping places, so we could take turns watching both kids practice/play.  I could feel myself smiling througout... as Arta pointed out to me, the team colours are a bit reminiscent of Where's Waldo!  Still... it is really cute! (oops... i mean, "it is really manly!") 
passing exercises

 Duncan is still learning the rules of the game, as am I.  I am still not sure what 'rucking' is, nor what 'straight hands' or 'popping the ball' mean.  Nonetheless, it was a riot watching one exercise where the boys are having to run across a centre area to pass off the ball to someone on the opposite side, while NOT bumping into any of the other players crossing the centre from opposite directions.  A riot!   I must find me a rugby dictionary.  Still, it was a successful second week for Duncan.  Steve and Duncan were still there 2 hours after Duncan's practice ended, Steve watching games on the big screen with the other men, while the 10 year old boys were curled up in another corner drinking pop and playing pokemon... who could ask for anything more?. 
postgame stretch

Alex, on the other hand, came home right after the game.  He was complaining last night that his stomach felt terrible, but he still got up this morning to go play the game.  As far as I can tell, he has a major case of food poisoning.  He did make it home before throwing up.  He is now sleeping on the couch, but i don't think he will be moving much for the next day or so.  He didn't think he played his best game ever, but, ... frankly... given that he was working not to vomit during the whole game, he was awesome!  :-)  Talk about commitment to the game!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Bhangra in Hackney

Well... when you get a chance to see a musical with a title like "Britain's Got Bhangra", why not do it?!   OK.  I will admit that I had no idea what Bhangra was (which is maybe a terrible admission to make, but...).  I was not sure if it was a medical condition, or an animal species.  A quick trip to the internet got me sorted out, so I could tell the kids in advance that bhangra is a style of music and dance with its roots (haha... pardon the pun) in Punjab harvest festival celebrations.  You can check out the history of Bhangra here:

Before we headed off to the theatre, I would have said I didn't know Bhangra.  Now, I realize that I had more knowledge than I thought I did.  If you try to pull into your mind a dance scene for the Bollywood musical of your choice, you probably HAVE heard Bhangra!  :-)   Here is a clip from the show.  I gotta say, while I went in a bit skeptical, I came out with a huge grin on my face, several bhangra songs stuck in my head, and a powerful desire to dance!   A festival of colour, politics, humour, tragedy, and song.  Who could ask for more?  i would love to go again!

Hackney Empire Theatre
 Of course, the theatre itself was also a fabulous venue for the piece:  The Hackney Empire, built in 1901, and apparently the first theatre in London to have electric lights.  I didn't get a photo from inside, but someone on the web did.  It is a lush festival of red and gold, which was the perfect backdrop for the rich colours on stage. The theatre was recently renovated, and you can certainly tell.  Oh yes... just remembered that the very top of the roof has a dark circle, which has little lights sparkling in it.... it looks a bit like the night sky you would see in the planetarium.  Duncan said it was like the enchanted roof in Hogwarts (which shows you what the sky look like outside).  Either way, ... it was goregous.

...with a sunny day to enjoy

waiting for the train to hackney...

It was also an adventure to get to Hackney... our first time out that direction, which meant a ride not only on the tube, but also on the London Overground at Camden Town.  The only shock about it was how clean and quiet the overground train was compared to the London Underground!  :-)

St. Augustine's Tower in Hackney
 We hung out for a bit in Hackney after the musical was done... just long enough to wander past St. John's Church (which has some connection to the song "Amazing Grace"), and take a photo of St. Augustine's Tower (the oldest church building in Hackney... maybe 13th century?), partly to document the amazing clear blue sky we had today!

All in all, a fun day out.... and tomorrow is Rugby for both boys.  Not quite musical theatre, but it should be just as fun! :-)

Friday, October 14, 2011

Notting Hill Carnival (from August!)

Another late report from here!  The end of august gave us the Notting Hill Carnival, apparently one of the biggest street festivals in Europe. How can you miss that?! We decided to go on Day 1 ("children's day"). We got up early on Saturday morning (though not early enough to make the opening time for the parade). ah well.... we all got UP, which is the mainthing, and headed off to the tube station.

clear sky to the left...

...clouds to the right
 Now I have already heard that London weather is wierd.  But seriously.... this is ridiculous.  Here we are at the Woodside Tube Station getting ready to go to the Nottinghill Carnival.  On the left hand side, you have a photo catching the left side of the sky.  On the right, is a photo of the right hand side of the sky.   the other capturing the right.  Now HOW do you plan for weather on such a day?!  :-)
You don't.  You just roll the dice

a musical bike!

stopping for a snack

So off we headed....down to Notting Hill.   There were foodstands aplenty, and a place for us to sit and grab a bite to eat.  There were musicians aplenty, including one who had somehow managed to turn his bike into a one man band!  
Steel Drum Extravaganza

the parade route
We wandered a bit further, and arrived at the parade route, where huge trucks were carrying musicians and dancers around the route, with more musicians and dancers following behind.   As far as we could tell, the job of the trucks was to carry enough sound equipment to ensure that the sounds could be heard on the beaches of Dover.  :-)   It was great fun to watch, but amazingly loud.  The kids were worried that they would sustain not only permanent hearing loss, but that their internal organs might be ruptured by the sound waves. 



Olympic protests begin...

There were other interesting moments for me.  One was when one of the
 floats went by with an 'anti-olympic' poster stuck to its side ("Burning Injustice: London Lympics Big Rip-Off! Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic Businesses Carved Out of Contracts").  It warmed the cockles of my heart to see that the spirit of olympic protest is as alive and well here in London as it was on the westcoast for the winter olympics! :-)

a new take on rubbish bins
The other tricky moment was figuring out what to do with our garbage.  Impossible.  Finally, the penny dropped.  'Garbage cans' are something that you don't really find here at a festival. It was the same difficulty the first time we went to King's Cross station. I could NOT find a place to throw out the garbage from lunch. when i finally gave up and asked a police officer, he told me they don't have any: they are a terrorist threat apparently (someone might put a bomb there). so... what to do with your garbage? apparently, just leave it on the ground and let someone else clean it up later. it was the same thing at the festival. PILES of garbage on the corners of the street. Someone comes around at the end of the day to clean it up. It didn't seem to bother anyone else, but i will admit to discovering a certain fastidiousess that I never knew I had!

"The Railway Children"

Walking through Waterloo Station
So I will admit that I do own the audio tapes for E. Nesbit's story, "The Railway Children":  I bought them many years back, thinking I would play them for the kids while in the car on one of our 10 hour drives from Victoria to the Lake.  But somehow, we always ended up listening to something else, and the tapes never made it out of the box. 

So I was like the kids... coming to the production cold, with no idea about the story line, knowing only what I could see on the website, that is, that the play was being staged inside the Waterloo Train Station.  Waterloo used to be the terminal that the Eurostar left from.  However, the Eurostar now leaves from King's Crosss/St. Pancras, so there is a whole part of Waterloo station that is deserted.  So... that is where the play was staged:  right on the tracks themselves!   OK.  it was totally cool.  They use a real steam engine in this play (it comes in at the very end of the play), and so the 'stage' includes the actuall train tracks.  The seats are arranged in bleachers on either side of the tracks.  It was amazing!  They had a sort of platform that they used throughout to transform the space from london to the country, from inside to outside and back.  If you take a peak at the website, there are videos there that let you get a peek at the stage (   Great fun! 

Adventures Past - Camden Day Out, Wandering the Streets, and the London Transport Museum

Wandering in Camden Market

Horsehead in Camden
The days keep rushing forward with activities, even if I don't get them posted up in anything like a timely fashion.... We have twice now headed off to the Camden Markets, which are of course Glen's favorite place to hang out.  No surprise really:  if there is something in the world you want to buy, it is probably hidden away somewhere in a booth in the camden market!  One of Duncan's favourite places was a shop that had everything the well-dressed goth could want to wear, in every size imaginable (as long as the colour you were looking for was BLACK).  I will admit that the baby-goth wear (complete with skeletons and hellhounds) was kinda cute.

Pink Tights the new rage?
London does offer a variety of charms.  Wandering through Chinatown is one of them.  I do love the grocery stands and fresh produce!  While I have actually tried Durian-flavoured icecream (which was actually quite delicious, though simultaneously stinky in a way you can only understand if you have cooked Durian before), i am not tempted to purchase one.  Still... this large one was too beautiful to pass by without taking a photo.   So too, the man in pink tights....  just not sure what to make of him.  "Men in Black" has a certain ring to it, and they do say that pink is the new black!   Still....  Not quite sure that this look will be making it to the runway this year.

Lego Darth at Hamley's
More lego dudes!
And some places do require more than one visit.  Duncan did drag his dad back to Hamleys toy store for an afternoon of browsing (and to stand beside the huge Lego Darth Vader.... which would require both time and blocks beyond our family capacity!)

London Transport Museum

Driving the bus!
 Steve and Duncan also spent a happy afternoon at the London Transport Museum.  Tonia has long said it is one of her favourite places.  The boys agreed!  Not only do you get to 'look', but you get to touch! Steve forked out the cash for the annual pass, so we will be heading back there again!