My cover

My cover
Nell and her oranges

Friday, August 29, 2008

Bits and pieces

First - photos. Someone told me that the feeds they are receiving of the blog don't have photos. You may have to go to the blog page itself to see photos. (
And I haven't yet found a way to make the photos appear beside the text, so they're all at the bottom!

Second -
I've had an inquiry or two about why no more frequent posts. Truth to tell, partly I wasn't sure if anyone was paying attention! Secondly, it takes longer than I would have thought to check my facts; find, post, and label photos, etc., and so it's easy to get behind. And finally, some of my time lately has been spent on pretty mundane things - doing a bit of money-work by email and dealing with having apparently dropped my wallet in the cab on the way home from the Gun last Friday! American Express and my credit union have now delivered replacement cards, so I'm back in business! And I'll try to be better about posting something every day or two.

Politics -
The BBC Parliament channel has been carrying the Democratic National Convention live, and replaying it throughout the following day, so I've been able to see most of the important speeches. I've had two of three friends ask me if I think Obama will win, to which I can only say I hope so! And that after this convention things look pretty good. He seems to be well-liked here, and even people who I would not have thought were paying attention have a favorable impression of him. Though at least one person was not entirely clear on the concept and thought it was already in the bag that he'd be the next president. That may be because the British are baffled by our endless election process. Here, the party that's in power decides when it feels like having a general election and holds it, a few weeks later. This seems an unfair advantage, but apparently it sometimes backfires.

Money -
Prices here in London are shockingly expensive. It seems even worse than when I was here before, or maybe it's just me. The papers recently carried stories that the cost of living here went up 4.4% in July. Food prices have gone up 11-19% since January. I'm glad I'm not driving - gas is about $10 a gallon. When I was here in 2005-2006 I was smoking (that's addiction - smoking while I watched my mother die of lung cancer, although hers was not smoking-related) and paying $10 every day for a pack of cigarettes. A week or so ago I noted that the price on the cigarette machine in the Lord Nelson was 6L - almost $12 - and pub machine packs only contain 16 cigarettes!

Virtually everything costs at least twice what I'd expect to pay at home, and some things (e.g., cosmetics and skin care, manicures and pedicures) cost three to four times what they do in California, so I do without if I can. If you go to Burger King or Starbucks, the prices are just about literally and exactly twice the U.S. prices. The smallest size of brewed coffee in Starbucks is 1.70L, and last time I bought one at home, it was $1.65.

The small blessing in all of this is that the dollar has actually gone up substantially against the pound just since I've been here. A 10L purchase the first couple days I was here deducted $19.60 from my bank account. The next 10L cost $19.20. The next $19.02. And yesterday I took 100L out of an ATM and it only cost me $183.61!

The weather -
That most British of subjects! Apparently it's the wettest August in Britain in 100 years. Not necessarily in London - it's rained here but not every day, but there has been flooding in other parts of the country. There have been days of sun and warmth and many other days of coolish weather, clouds, and rain or at least on and off drizzling. But a far cry from the 90 degree weather, and April-October summer in L.A.!

Slang -
While I was here before, I ended up compiling quite an extensive dictionary of London slang, and I'm picking up new examples all the time. Cockney rhyming slang is alive and well. How this works, in case you don't know, is that a word is referred to by a phrase that rhymes with it instead - or sometimes only part of the phrase. (Rhyming slang has been around for centuries, but probably not until after Nell's time.) Examples in regular current use are "on me tod" - Tod Sloane = own; take a butcher's - butcher's hook = look; cream-crackered = knackered (tired, wiped out); haven't got a Scooby - Scooby Doo = clue! An electrian friend told me that even Betty Grable (= cable) is still in use! Slap-headed means bald. WAGs means the Wives And Girlfriends of footballers (soccer players, that is). And speaking of footballers, the other day I heard someone refer to a couple of them "roasting" a woman - meaning to have group sex, and specifically two men and a woman, the derivation being apparently to spit-roast, or to roast something with a stake through it or something stuck in at each end. Ahem.

Traffic and improvements, gearing up for the Olympics:
Traffic in central London is appalling. I'm not driving, but a few times have been with friends as we try to get out of town to go somewhere else. There is a ring road of highway outside central London, but to get there you have to first work your way through a maze of streets that were never intended for car traffic. Much of the street layout remains the same as it was 800 years ago or more. Almost nothing is less than a couple of hundred years old. To try to alleviate the problem, the government has imposed a congestion charge. If you drive a car into or even through Central London, you have to pay a fee of 8L, or about $15 at current rate of exchange. If you don't pay it, you are automatically fined quite a lot. I think it's about $50 or $100. And you can't hide - you and your license plate are captured on CCTV and they will hunt you down and bill you.

Part of the gridlock has to do with many improvements to roads, the underground system, and other projects that are being done in anticipation of the 2012 Olympics. Much of the activity will take place in the East End, the part of London that is most in need of investment and infrastructure improvements, and the aim is that everything that is built will actually be useful afterwards.

All right. None of this has to do with Nell Gwynn especially. A lot has changed since her day. But much, I think, has not. In August 2008 as in 1650-1687, London is still a growing, bustling city, noisy and moving fast. Populated by immigrants as well as native-born English, and encompassing a range of social and economic conditions from dire poverty to fabulous wealth, frequently within a stone's throw of each other.

More people now have access to education and opportunity than they did even a few decades ago. When I was here a couple of years ago, a survey showed that a large percentage of people in executive and professional positions still considered themselves working class. That's because of their background, not their achievements. Accent still to some extent places people immediately on the social ladder. That's hard for Americans to really understand, I think. It works in my favor, though. Because my accent is different (yeah, I'm the one with the accent here, and people keep telling me they love the way I talk!) I can't be pegged into belonging to any particular class or background, so I can mix with all levels and backgrounds. I'm as out of place or as in place in an East End pub as I am among highly educated professionals.

One of the things that I find so interesting about Nell Gwynn's life, and which must have been hard for her sometimes, is that though she was born and grew up at the lowest level of poverty and hardship, she rose to live among royalty and nobility, and her sons were titled (the current Duke of St. Albans is descended, as his predecessors were, from the first Duke, Nell's oldest son Charles). But she could never be one of them. And she could never really go back to where she'd come from. She was neither fish nor foul. It must have been a lonely situation. Thank god for Rose, her sister, her lifelong friend.

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