Urban

Hammersmith on the shore

Strange things are happening in my area.

A thief jumped the fence and broke into our bike shed yesterday. Not only did he break the padlock, but he removed the entire locking device by pulling out the screws. This must have made an awful noise on an otherwise quiet night. There were three expensive bikes parked in that shed, and it would have been easy to walk away with them. Investing such effort, it would almost seem natural to nick at least one of them (I would!). Still, nothing was missing. Or so I thought until I discovered that my front light had been stolen and the rear light tinkered with. He took the bike light and the holder with him, an operation that requires a screwdriver, fiddling with tiny screws and thus a generous serving of patience. Now, who on earth would do that?

In a completely unrelated event – yet, adding to the mystery – I swear to god I saw a man in earnest discussion with a cat the day before.

The title of this post pays a not so subtle reference to Murakami’s ‘Kafka on the Shore’, a brilliant book whose plot revolves around a man with the ability to strike up conversations with cats and make fish and leaches fall from the sky. It is weirder than it sounds, but all the more compelling.

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孫子兵法

London has been turned into a gigantic sociological laboratory over the past couple of days: a 48-hour Tube strike went ahead as planned.

Like power cuts, heavy snow fall and other mega-disruptions, the strike has created new forms of community and something for everyone to talk about without really saying a thing (‘it’s bad, innit?’). On the other hand, it has drawn up the lines even further between some of those groupings who already thought very little of each other.

Rush hour traffic in London, especially on the main commuter routes, was always a prime example of urban guerilla warfare. It is literally a cyclical war between cyclists and motorists, with pedestrians caught up as innocent victims somewhere in between (tourists are fair game, though). Such is the tense atmosphere and entrenched hatred that the Taleban should probably consider embarking on a daily recruitment spree to hit their ambitious targets.

From a bike perspective, what used to be a matter of struggling with light artillery (scooters), snipers (electric vehicles) and the odd gunship (bendy buses) is now a full-on nuclear disaster. Negotiating Kensington High Street in strike mode – i.e. normal congestion x 2.5 – at 8am is comparable to wearing a pink ballerina skirt while attempting to tiptoe through a phalanx of black cabs. If we could only harvest the bad karma and turn it into electricity, there would be no need for fossil fuels.

There are a number of lessons to be learned:

a) All black cab drivers are idiots. Fact.
b) All black cab drivers are idiots. Fact.
c) London needs more cycle paths (which would have the added benefit of eliminating the widespread tendency for cyclists to routinely dress up as sweded(!) storm troopers).

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I spy with a Google eye

What better way to introduce Google’s controversial UK Street View service than to show off my new home.

London, here I come.

Posted in Everyday Trivia, Technology, Urban 2 Comments »

Tunnel of snow

Paddington Station

It is normally quite a delight to step out of the train at Paddington and enjoy the kind of splendour that can only be afforded by a grand railway station. This morning, however, there was something eerie about the light; it appeared more like a tunnel than the usual cathedral of old-style grandeur and mobility.

Hyde Park

Hyde Park, on the other hand, presented itself as an all-encompassing source of white, interrupted only by the occasional fellow human being or companion species. A nice but demanding bike ride indeed.

Trafalgar Square

On Trafalgar Square, the Admiral stood in his usual place, silently watching the crowds passing by. When I finally reached the office, I was one of the few people actually turning up. My otherwise reliable colleagues P. honeline and Int Ernet even decided to take the day off so I embarked on the return leg right away.

Sometimes the journey is the destination.

Update: Stuart Jeffries has a nice piece on the ‘day of innocence‘ in the Guardian:

In London, this doesn’t happen often. We trust our dour reflexive, self-poisoning moaning as a lifestyle philosophy instead. We like it that way: strangers are strange and Britain, damn everything about it, doesn’t work. Why don’t the buses run on time? Why are we so hopeless? Why can’t something be done (usually by someone else who we can blame for their shortcomings)? And this chorus of self-immolation is taken up countrywide: why, non-Londoners ask, is the capital brought to a standstill by a little snow? Why can’t you southern ponces get your act together? And the cry is international too: as I walk through the St Pancras Eurostar terminal, a French couple consulting the warnings about the tube, roll their eyes as one. He said: “Typiquement anglais. Rien ne va plus!” They both laugh, as if to say their Gallic expectations had been confirmed.

Posted in Picture posts, Urban 1 Comment »

How London copes with the crunch

credito.jpg
New Row, Covent Garden.

PS. My Neapolitan colleague tells me that ‘Credito Crunchio’ is not proper Italian.

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A view from the library

img00037.jpg

The Business School is built in such a way that, inevitably, it seems to attract its fair share of performers to the open space in front of it, whether BMX riders, jugglers or animal protesters.

Working in the library today, I have enjoyed watching a budding breakdancer and his accomplice, the camera man.

A really good work space, it certainly does ‘draw people in‘ at so many levels.

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My first week on a fixed-gear bike

The Pista[Click above for more pictures]

I got my Pista a little over a week ago and I have been riding it ever since. These are my experiences so far:

It is a beautiful, retro-looking bike and people ask all sorts of questions about where I got it and why on earth it has no gears.

Not being able to coast is much more difficult than first anticipated, which means I still find myself cautious – bordering panicking – when going fast downhill or having to negotiate bumps in the road. Not being able to keep your feet in a level position can be a little nerve wrecking. On the other hand, once you get used to pedaling non-stop, you do notice an emerging symbiotic relationship between the bike, the road and your body. It requires a lot of energy, though, in the beginning I felt exhausted after spinning around for a mere 20 minutes.

The second major difference, having ridden only crap bikes for the past five years, mind you everything gets stolen around here, the drive-train efficiency is absolutely shocking. In addition to this, the stiff frame and the race geometry make for a virtual speed-machine, and a silent one at that. I am used to bikes making a lot of noise, clonk! clonk!, but this is like a stealth fighter in comparison. Nevertheless, this is also a cause of some anxiety since you only realise how fast you are actually going once you start overtaking cars, even before rush hour kicks in.

In conclusion, it has been a bit of a mixed experience to date, but I am sure that another couple of months in the saddle will make my initial fears go away. There is a much more appreciative essay on riding fixies here.

Posted in General, Technology, Urban 6 Comments »

250 nest boxes

My friend from way back, Thomas Winther aka Dambs, combines a hardcore gangsta lifestyle with, um, putting up 250 bird nest boxes. Now, that is higher-level convergence.

I love it and hope the boxes conform to RSPB guidelines.

Check out the MySpace profile here.

Posted in Street Knowledge, Urban No Comments »

Dimitri’s Barber Shop

At Dimitri's, the barber

Hidden somewhere at the feet of the towering skyscrapers in San Francisco’s financial district, there remains a well-preserved pocket of culture from the 1950s, Dimitri’s Barber Shop.

Dimitri, who is either from Macedonia or Greece, is the perfect antidote to the glittering temples of dullness aka Vidal Sassoon, Toni & Guy, etc. While there is not enough customers passing through to justify the two cutting stations, one now serves as a permanent seat for Dimitri’s clarinet.

If you ask him nicely, he will take you on a musical journey that outweighs by far any barbershop experience, pun intended, you may have enjoyed previously.

Click on the picture to see more shots.

Posted in Music, Picture posts, Urban 3 Comments »

Inverting roles

The other day, I went for a walk down Memory Lane in my old neighbourhood, Paddington.

At one point, an aggressive homeless person started shouting at me, demanding money. When he returned for a second round, still shouting, I asked him to ease off a bit; I always found it a little unpleasant when random strangers start yelling in my face.

Furious with anger, what he said next, coming from a mouth with only a couple of brown teeth left, subsequently left me with a tiny smile on my face:

Look at you; you need a haircut and a shave, you f****** c***!

See, coming from a poor soul in the street, that is a pretty innovative line of attack.

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