Apropos of Nothing, return of the revenge of the son of the sequel

Sunday, March 10, 2013

A few more random thoughts for your consideration:

On the Unaccountable Presence of Corn in Odd Places:

There is something about corn here.  Or, more specifically, about corn niblets. (Or "sweetcorn" as it is known here, probably to differentiate it from its close cousin, sourcorn. Actually probably because the term corn is sometimes used to refer to any kind of grain, but really I digress.) What I was saying is there's something about sweetcorn here, and that something is that often appears in odd places. (Not odd as in on the bus, or the sock department at Marks and Spencer, or the House of Lords, but still, you know, odd.)  Some of you may be used to encountering corn in shepherd's pie, and that's common here.  But what about in your cold lunch?  Not difficult because it's basically impossible to get a tuna sandwich here without corn in it.

A tuna sandwich related sidebar: the tuna + mayo combination that we in North America call "tuna salad" is here generally called "tuna mayonnaise".  And it's chicken mayonnaise or prawn (shrimp) mayonnaise as opposed to chicken salad or prawn salad. A sandwich with "salad" in the name here is one with lettuce and sometimes other veggies added.  Which, if you think about, actually makes much more sense.  After all, what does mayonnaise have to do with salad?

And what Italian chef has ever stood at a counter staring at a partially formed pizza and thought to himself, "Aha! Obviously what this pizza needs is MORE CORN!"

Corn pizza

Every one us us has probably walked down the street at some point with a slight rumble in the stomach and thought, "Hmmm... What do I want?"

Naturally, your first thought is probably, "Where can I get me a cup of corn niblets?"  And if that is your first thought, your're clearly some kind of freak and your next thought is probably, "Then for my main course, how about a lightly grilled stoat on a stick?  With extra cheese, please."

On the Disconcertingly Geographically Specific Nature of Air Hockey:

I like to think that I'm pretty well assimilated by now.  I've been living in London for two and a half years (!!) and I know how to read a bus map, I know it's a bumbag and definitely not a fannypack, and I can even sing "Jerusalem" without having to hum because I actually know all the words.  But still every once in a while I encounter something that makes me feel once again like a stranger in a strange land. That's what happened a few weeks ago when I went out for the evening with my friend Rob to an odd arcade / bowling alley / somethingorother on the south of the river at County Hall.  (For those of you trying to keep track of the Robs this was RobW, a relative newcomer, as distinct from RobH, frequent blog commenter and long hair fan, and Uganda Rob, now based in Nairobi.  Clear as mud.)  They had lots of video games, and old fashioned midway kind of things like those shove-penny machines and shooter games and claw machines and such. They even had coin operated bowling!  Weird, but fun.  They also had something that immediately caught my eye.

Many of you will be familiar with the game of air hockey.  A smooth table with bumpers all around and surface perforated with tiny holes through which air is forced, which makes a round flat plastic puck float on the surface while two player whack away at it unmercifully with a round paddle sort of thing.  The table surface is painted like a hockey rink with a white background and a centre line, face-off circles, blue lines, goal crease... all the things that make it look like hockey.

air hockey
Good, upstanding, god-fearin' air hockey.

I was delighted to discover an air hockey table in the basement of the arcade and happily inserted my pound coin for a quick game.  Then I did a double-take and realised, once again, that I really wasn't in Canada anymore.

Apro po of nothing
Weird, heathen GREEN air field hockey.

What the hell? Air FIELD hockey? They don't even use a PUCK in field hockey!  The whole thing must have shaken me up more than I realised because I ended up losing the game 3-2, which I blame entirely on the alien freakishness of the table. Obviously.

On the Greatest Queue Time to Event Time Ratio Ever:

One of the great things about London is that there is soooooo much going on.  Not just music and theatre and museums and such, of which there are boatloads.  There are also a ton of slightly off-beat things that crop up pretty much all the time.  I've recently subscribed to a daily email sent out by a great website called Londonist (which has the brilliant tag line: London. Londoner. Londonist.)  Every morning, by 7:00am, I get an email of a list of the cool things I could do in London that day, lots of which are free free free.

One of these emails recently noted that the art installation known as the Rain Room at the Barbican Centre was due to close soon.  I had vague memories of being told about this months ago and ignoring it completely, but since it was free, and since I still had a bit of time on my hands, I arranged with a friend to go down one morning in the last week of the installation to see what the fuss was about.  The Londonist warned that queues were getting long, so I reasoned that if we went first thing in the morning and planned to arrive about an hour before the room opened, we'd be fine.  Ha!

Of course it turned out that my estimate was laughably wrong.  London may have a ridiculous amount of cool stuff to do, but sadly it also has a ridiculous number of people trying to do it all.  By the time Ian and I arrived shortly after 10:00am the queue had already wound back on itself several times, and the Barbican had set out signs like this:

Rain Room
The queue

This caught us off guard a bit, but we quickly decided that we weren't going to wait five hours.  At least not that day.  Before we left Ian cleverly went to the front of the line and asked the people there what time they'd arrived that morning, so we could gauge when to make our second attempt.  So it was that we found ourselves settling in, second in line, at just before 8:00am the next morning, for a guaranteed three hour wait. (The gang of girls in front of us arrived at 7:00 and several people got there just after us, so I think we gauged it perfectly.)  The wait wasn't that bad.  At least we were indoors, on carpet, with ready access to toilets, free wifi and decent coffee.  And we had a deck of cards and are both skilled in the dying art of conversation, so the time passed pleasantly.

And what was it that we waited so long to see?  Well, the Rain Room is was an installation of cascading water that visitors were meant to walk through.  And before you point out the obvious madness of queuing for hours to stand in the rain when London provides ample opportunities for that on almost every day of the week, let me tell you the thing that made the Rain Room so fantastic.  The cascade was equipped with an array of sensors that turned the water off in the area in which you were standing, meaning you could walk through the deluge in a little bubble of dryness.  Yes, there were occassional drips even when the taps were turned off, and yes you had to move in a slow and deliberate way, but it was still quite a lovely experience.
Rain Room
(ARTY PHOTO ALERT!) Ian in the Rain Room.

They only let five or six people into the room at once.  It was mostly dark except for one bright spotlight, and the only sound was the water and the comments of the other visitors.  I loved looking up at the ceiling and then slowly spreading my arms out and watching the waters recede before them.  It made one feel a bit like Moses, if the Red Sea had been upside down, and if Moses and the Israelites had had to queue for three hours.

Rain Room
The ceiling, showing areas of wet and dry.

In the end we spent less than ten minutes in the Rain Room.  As cool as the experience was, there's only so much time one can spend not standing in the rain.  So we ended up with a ratio of about twenty minutes waiting time for ever one minute of Rain Room time.  Still, when we passed by the queue on our way out of the building (after towelling off the stray drips), we felt pretty smug, especially compared to anyone standing next to the "6 Hours from this point" sign.

On the Sudden Return to a Life of Toil:

And in other news: work, work, work!  My days as an unemployed layabout and full-time café dweller have definitely come to an end for the foreseeable future.  As seems to be the nature with freelance work, what started out as an occasional meeting and an infrequent hour or two with a spreadsheet has suddenly become a life filled with phone calls, lists, visits to scene shops, battles with budgets and looming deadlines on two different shows at two different theatres. All of this has been a bit of a shock to the system, but is also a relief and strangely kind of nice.  

I'd been quite worried that after a lifetime spent as a salaried employee ensconced in a building full of shops and people waiting to do my bidding (more or less) that I'd find life as a freelance production manager scary and difficult.  Certainly some things are harder, like having to go out and find people to build things instead of having them waiting in the basement, tablesaw at the ready.  It's also weird not to have a desk and a phone in an office, meaning that my café dwelling days aren't actually over, they've just morphed into something much less relaxing.  Then again, it's kind of liberating to be the master of my own schedule, and to have the freedom to, say, queue for three hours for a funky art installation before dashing off to a supplier to pick up samples, and then to the designer's studio to try and pitch him the stuff that's £8.40 a square metre instead of the stuff that £26.95.  Concatenating all the things I have to do and all the places I have to be is sometimes exhausting.  (Also: Concatenating!  That one was for both Robs W and H.)

All of this means that my blogging time has been severely curtailed.  But fear not!  I've got no intention of abandoning you any time soon.  But since my weekdays are quite full, weekend have become the best time for blogging, so you should all brace yourself for the advent of Monday morning blog posts (sorry Steve!).  

And finally, there is some quite interesting employment-related news on the horizon that I'll refrain from announcing until all the specifics are confirmed.  But I think it's going to be cool.

Scary. Big. And cool.  So stay tuned.


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