Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Ode To The Toaster Oven

Here’s a picture of one of my best and most dependable companions this past year – my toaster oven, which I bought from Argos at the start of my time here in London. Surely the best £20 I’ve ever spent, considering the sheer hours of joy it brought to me and my satisfied stomach. It’s now old, used and full of crumbs, but the delicious memories will always be there. The nights may have been cold, and the work may pile up, but with the oven around, there’s always a Cornish Pasty to be heated up, or even a bowl of soup. What bliss.

Student lives are simple. We don’t ask for much. Just easy exams, less work, and a full stomach. I’m now nearing the end of my time as a student, though, with mere days to go. The past weeks in August have been pretty dreary – and even unhealthy – but I’ve had to put in time to work on my dissertation. How will I do? Well, just gimme a pass, and I’ll be happy.

I’ve been commiserating with the Swinger a few doors away, who’s also in the last stage of his much more massive dissertation. And even at this late stage, he’s yet to receive his experimental results from his university lab. Damm these Imperialists.

Anyway, I don’t usually preview my coming days, but the plan now is to hand in the completed work at the end of this week, check out of Goodenough College, and head off thereafter for a post-dissertation break, before returning to London later in September. I’ll then spend my last week here in this great city.

So I’ll be back soon. Stay tuned.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Towards The End Times

Nothing is happening. Well, nothing which is worth blogging about. I’ve been stuck to my desk, working on the dissertation, for the due date is looming large, and consuming copious amounts of Diet Coke, coffee and chocolate. Night is day, and day is night. It's not the best kind of lifestyle, but I think this is purely transient.

Even the weather outside has been crappy. I know I was afraid of a hot summer, but this is ridiculous. We’re in the middle of August, but I’ve had to turn on my heater, and put on a jacket when stepping even a step away from the hall. And meanwhile, the rain continues to drizzle downwards, soaking this capital in more misery.

A bright note has been my Anglo-Russian friend from class, who dropped off a CD comprising mainly German and French pop music with me. Heh, we’re certainly leading very cosmopolitan lives here. There are quite a few good tracks. But even as I write this, my room’s already half dismantled, with my move out of the College measured now in days.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

The Name Is Bourne, Jason Bourne

So I took valuable time away from much needed deskwork. But who cares? It’s Saturday evening, and awaiting me was a screening of The Bourne Ultimatum - simply a most brilliant movie, with lots of violence, lots of gore, lots of action, bullets and car chases, though there was hardly any sex. But I don’t think that was the point of this amazing thriller.

I met up first with SSG, GNK+1 and his other half for dinner at Royal Margin, where our Wah Laus marked us out immediately for who we were. Wah lau. And then came the big bowls of Vietnamese beef noodles, which were a delight on this rather cool August evening.

The Surrey Quays Odeon was rather packed, but we managed to get pretty good seats, and settled down for the third installment of the Bourne trilogy, which seized me instantly when the first, The Bourne Identity, was released some years back. It came right at around the same time as the disastrous Die Another Day, Pierce Brosnan’s final outing as James Bond, marred by an over-reliance on special effects. And the contrast was immediately striking.

Borne, thus, was the anti-Bond. The difference was reflected even in the camera directions, with conventional steady shots juxtaposed against edge, hand-held effects. And in fact, surely I’m not the only one who has noticed the similarities in their names? James Bond vs Jason Bourne? One being the suave agent of the state, and the other being the hunted enemy of the state? The Bourne Ultimatum had it all; chase sequences through most of Europe, including a wonderful scene set in London’s Waterloo Station – a place I’ve been through quite a few times.

While waiting for the bus after the movie, SSG asked if men aspired to be like Jason Bourne as well. I don’t think so. The thing about Bond is that it represents a fantasy. He has his vodka martini, his gadgets, his cool cars, and of course, the women. But Bourne gets none of this. He is a person without friends, without support, without even an identity. He roams the world, seeking to flee those who would wanna kill him, seeking to find out more about himself.

So, I’d much rather have my Aston Martin Vanquish than have to put up with stealing crappy cars.

Friday, August 17, 2007

The Raising Of The Bridge

SSG's back in town, and I went over to her new place this afternoon, exiting at Tower Hill Tube Station and then crossing the Thames on the famous Victorian-era Tower Bridge – surely one of old London’s most famous landmarks. It was a pretty good day to be out – delays on the Circle Line notwithstanding – with the weather remaining rather mild. I had feared a repeat of last year’s summer, with temperatures well into the thirties, but things have remained cool, if showery, this season.

Walking back later, a little unexpected treat was in store - the lifting of Tower Bridge. Both vehicular and pedestrian traffic were stopped, as the road bridge parted, pointing majestically upwards.

What a sight. Which august vessel could be sailing through? Soon, excited voices shrieked. I turned to my right, and witnessed this sail craft go by, with a posh looking posse on board. Heh. I can’t believe they would lift the bridge and stop traffic for such a small – albeit tall – vessel.

And after it sailed past, down came the bridge, and before long, all was normal again.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

An Evening With The Brains

How nice – another London experience in the bag. This evening, I attended a live recording of the BBC Radio 4 general knowledge quiz show, Brain of Britain, at their Maida Vale studios. I’d thought I’d try my luck and sign up for a ticket entitling me to be part of the studio audience. And though I had a good time this evening, I felt as though I had stepped back twenty years.

For Brain of Britain will always remind me of my childhood. I first heard it on the BBC World Service when I was growing up, and have continued to tune in over the years. It’s been chaired for eons chaired by the venerable Robert Robinson, who stepped aside this year because of health problems. In his place this season was another British institution, the veteran journalist Peter Snow, who seemed rather absent-minded, even given the straightforward format of the show. I bet the producer wished he had picked someone else instead.

The studios, too, must have been constructed decades ago, reminding me somewhat of the Caldecott Hill broadcasting centre in Singapore, which I’m familiar with. There was a 1980s atmosphere all round – hard to describe – but definitely present, even in the loos. And what about the audience and contestants? Well, let’s just say that it was a joy to be able to step into some place nowadays, and find myself lowering the average age, not raising it.

But I’m not here to be mean. I rather enjoyed myself, and wished at times that I could have been up there as one of the contestants. There were quite a few questions I could answer, though I need to brush up on my Greek mythology and my Bible knowledge. Several questions came from these fields. But at least I now know things like what a hydra monster is exactly, that Cassiopoeia is the mother of Andromeda, that the Epistle of Jude is the shortest book in the New Testaments, and that Patmos is the place where St John the Divine composed the Book of Revelations. Useful stuff eh?

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The Summer Soundtrack

Man, I just love Angels and Airwaves. What a brilliant band. Thanks HM! And barely a couple of months ago, I hadn’t heard of them at all. HM and the SSG may be away from London currently, but they’ve both left me with a stack of their music. And as I pound away furiously at my keyboard this month, I’ve had the pleasure of listening to their choice collection. My musical education is progressing along very well.

Of course, the two of them couldn’t differ more in their tastes. One offers classy jazz and ambient music from the likes of Stacey Kent, Moby, Sophie Ellis-Bexter and Dido, while the other has given me delightful palpitations with loud offerings from the Killers, the Fratellis, Artic Monkeys, the Caesars and more. Heh.

I also tried playing the music from 五五六六 (5566) though. Wah lau. I will stick with listening to my Jolin.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Dinner On The Terrace

This evening was definitely a nice interlude away from work. Everyone’s favourite Anglo/Russian-Israeli/Uruguayan couple from class decided to do something really special and nice, and organized a lovely home-cooked dinner for a few of us on the fourth floor roof terrace here at Goodenough College’s London House.

And by the light of the setting sun we all gathered, sipping wine, exchanging words, and tucking into a good spread of fried rice, potatoes, salad, curried chicken plus other dishes. I never complain when there’s good food, especially not when accompanied by great company all round.

After dinner, we headed to the Freddie’s Bar down in the basement, where a Scrabble board was quickly produced. I think it must have been years since I played Scrabble, but at least my team didn’t come in last. Words such as brood and quirk helped out quite a bit.

It’s difficult to describe the feeling of August. I’ve not been heading out as much as I did. Yet I hardly get a sense of time moving slower. If anything, I feel as though it’s heading forward inexorably – as time does – and at a faster speed. I don’t have many days left here, and it’s a shame that these final moments are to be spent mostly at the desktop, pouring over putrid academic work.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Scenes From The Neighbourhood

Well, I have been doing a wee bit of work. The enforced time inside my room has delivered some miniscule benefit. But the weather outside has been magnificent this week, with sunny skies and temperatures in the low to mid-twenties. How perfect. And what a shame I’m caged up in this pathetic coop called my room. Arrrgh.

But I still have to feed myself. And as I ventured out this afternoon, I thought I’d take the camera along, and capture some images from around the neighbourhood. I guess I’ll remember some of these scenes fondly when I leave London next month.

First I had had to make my way past these colourfully-dark prison-like corridors.

Down an equally dark stairwell, which offered a tantalizing view of the glorious weather outside.

Finally, the London House lawn, basking in the bright sunshine. It's pretty quiet this time of year, with few souls around.

And here's the Brunswick - home of Waitrose supermarket, Virgin Megastore, and the Hare & Tortoise restaruant - where I must have spent literally hundreds and hundreds of pounds over the past months.

This is the entrance to the Russell Square Tube Station, with the strong Underground logo juxtaposed against the dark early 20th century masonry of the station walls.

Less than a minute's walk away on Herbrand Street is this most impressive Art Deco building with its distinctive lines - now the London headquarters of advertising agency McCann-Erickson.

And here's my sentimental favourite - the Starbucks on Lamb's Conduit Street. The composition ain't much, but I spent many happy and high moments inside with my dear friends; the Chai Latte, the Double Tall Latte and the Mocca Frappuccino.

Here's the sign that greets you at the gate to Coram's Field, which is right next to Goodenough College. Never fails to bring a smile to my face. I've never been able to gain access as well. Anyone has a child to lend?

Walking back, I pass by one side of the London House building, and until recently, I could see someone actually growing a tomato plant - the verdant leaves clearly visible at the window's edge.

Back in my room, with the sun setting, I see a woman walking on the grounds of Mecklenburgh Gardens, with the shadows of the late afternoon casting long impressions on the luxuriant green lawn.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Scattered Thoughts

Compared to the frenetic days of June and July, I’ve been keeping myself mostly indoors this August, ostensibly to work on the dissertation. Except that I haven’t really been. Both spirit and flesh are weak. The mind is distracted. But there’s no other way to get round it, but to sit down, and start working. How am I to surmount this challenge?


I did take some time out on Sunday to join a few friends from class for another bout of dim sum at Queensway. As usual, I enjoyed myself thoroughly, and I hope they did, too. It will be a long while before I get tired of dim sum, which I once interpreted as Chinese tapas for someone not familiar with them. I can never have enough carrot cake or har gao. But the strange thing is that I find myself eating dim sum usually when I’m abroad. I cannot recall the last time I had dim sum in Singapore, much less have any favourite dim sum restaurant.


Back home, of course, is where DH, GNK, HM, SSG and BP are all right now. The Goodenough gang in London is getting smaller, with just minor remnants remaining. I know they’ve already gotten together for eating and for dancing, and a big part of me wishes that I could have been there as well. I miss my lor mee and my cat. OK…and it would be nice to see them too. For what does National Day mean?


Sunday turned out to the warmest day of the year so far, with temperatures hitting 30 degrees Celsius in London. My running route on weekends takes me not to Regent’s Park, as usual, but down a different path, past St Paul’s Cathedral, through the City of London, and into the Gherkin. The City’s much quieter on weekends, with hardly any traffic, and all the shops and offices are closed. It makes running there all the more pleasant.

And that’s one of the plans for August, anyway. To run as often as I can. To get into tip top shape before I leave for home next month, when working life beckons again, which typically means an inevitable downward spiral of the body. Still, GNK and GNK+1 used to be able to run all the way from Russell Square to Tower Bridge, but I think I shall pass on that.


I love the song, Moon River, but because I’ve never watched Breakfast At Tiffany’s, I didn’t know that it was sung originally in the movie by Audrey Hepburn, even though it came from there. But through the magic of YouTube, I got to see the clip where she sits at her window ledge, strumming her guitar languidly, singing the song. After hearing a succession of middle-aged men perform it – think Frank Sinatra, Andy Williams, Perry Como etc – it was a refreshing delight to hear Audrey Hepburn’s lithe and ladylike tones.

And what an angel she was. In the sequence from the movie, after she finishes singing, she looks upwards, and notices that someone had been observing her all along. With the camera on her face, she says, ever so gently, “Hi, whatcha doin’?", and smiles...

It’s enough to melt anyone’s heart.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

And Now It's August

I caught the Simpsons Movie today at Leicester Square. I emerged with mixed feelings. It was very funny and enjoyable, and I had also read many reviews lauding it. Yet, I guess I was also slightly disappointed, in that it wasn't as good as I thought it would be. Perhaps I went in with inflated expectations, but I felt the plot was rather far-fetched – even for a cartoon – while the depiction of Homer was bordering on caricature – even for Homer.

Ah well…it was nice to catch up later on in the evening with quite a few from the class, when we gathered for drinks at the Marquis of Cornwallis pub on Marchmont Street, right next to the Brunswick Centre. A few are bidding their final farewells to London, intending to complete their dissertations away from the UK. I don't know when I shall next see them.

I'm also well aware that we’re now in August. The clock is ticking. The days are starting to get shorter. The travel bug has been stamped out. The spirit is weak, but the dissertation remains unwritten. And so the lure of the laptop and library awaits. My life this coming month will be, well, slightly more boring…