Friday, 30 March 2007

Driving the English countryside

I went to a conference up in Oxfordshire yesterday. It was at this hotel in the middle of nowhere, literally in the middle of these vast green fields out in the country. The setting was quite pleasant but unfortunately it meant I had to rent a car and drive there, which was a little scary! You know, because they drive on the wrong side of the road here.

It was actually relatively easy to do it in the city and on the highway. After all, you just follow the car in front of you. But once I got off the country and started driving down all the country roads, it got considerably more challenging. I actually started driving down the wrong side of the road twice, and the second time was kind of a close call! I was driving on the right on this country road for a good two minutes when I saw a car about 40 feet ahead of me coming head on. Oh, riiiiight. Had I been taking a sharp turn, I’d be writing blog entries from the grave right about now.

The conference was good, I actually quite enjoy them now that I don’t feel like a fraud anymore. Before, when I was covering private equity and had to go to conferences in the US, I felt like a big fake because I didn’t know what I was talking about. When chatting people up at events I had two options, nod and smile and pretend to know what they were saying, or admit I didn’t know basic things and have to ask dumb questions, and having them wonder why they should read our publication if the journalists don’t even know what they’re talking about. I usually chose the former.

Tuesday, 27 March 2007

Britain's leadership crisis

There’s been some really interesting revelations today about the Tony Blair – Gordon Brown succession here in the UK. Brown, who joined forces with Blair in the 1990’s to develop the “new Labour” movement (paralleling Bill Clinton’s “new Democrats” in the US), is the logical successor to Blair because he has been the Chancellor of the Exchequer throughout Blair’s tenure. There have also been reports that, when Blair and Brown sat down to develop their new Labour strategy, they agreed that Blair would be the public face of the movement at first, but would eventually step aside and let Brown take over. That stepping aside, according to these reports, is now long overdue.

But Blair and Brown have never actually gotten along so well, and there has been tension brewing between the two for many years. This has made the handover particularly awkward, as Blair seems to be holding out to see if anyone will challenge Brown.

The gathering storm on the horizon, of course, is David Cameron, the charismatic leader of the “new Tories” who is hard at work rebranding the conservative party as environmentally friendly and concerned about social welfare. The young, energetic and magnetic Cameron is a sharp contrast from the aging, dour and cranky Gordon Brown. Eventually, Brown will have to call an election (although he gets to choose when this will occur) and at that time Cameron will be ready for attack. It’s anybody’s guess what will happen then, but if Brown wants to defeat him he’s going to have to work pretty hard after becoming PM. People generally don’t like him too much here.

Thursday, 22 March 2007

It's tough being a cultural behemouth

Someone just reminded me that I owe you all, gentle readers, an entry about British television. What with the hustle and bustle of many visitors at once (Joel just arrived today) it’s plum slipped my mind. It’s downright peach, apricot and boysenberry slipped my mind was well.

I do enjoy opining about the differences I’ve noticed between British and American culture, mostly because Brits don’t seem all that interested in my insights. It’s not that they’re not interested, it’s just that they already know whatever I’ve told them. If I say, “Oh is that how you do it here? Like that? We do it like this,” I get a, “right, I know.” Not in a rude way, but they know all about American culture and customs already.

After all, we export our culture and customs throughout the world. Here in the UK they see how things are in the US daily. On TV, in movies, in music, and on web sites. What’s more, most of them have visited the US at least once. In fact I don’t think I’ve met a single person here yet who hasn’t.

Thursday, 15 March 2007

London hoodies

Josh and I went to lunch yesterday, he's staying at the YMCA down the street from my office while he looks for a flat. We were sitting outside at a café at about the time schools let out, and of course, the madness began. Before long there was a deafening chorus of screaming adolescents, making noises reminiscent of something from Apocalypse Now. I turned to him and remarked, "welcome to London."
We both agreed that one of the first things you notice when moving to London is how obnoxious the kids are. I mean no joke, they're awful! Josh should know, he lived here for a year for school before moving back to New York in November, and now he's moved back.

There's a housing estate next to my office, and every day around 3 pm this cacophony of noise begins from the courtyard, bouncing off the prefabricated walls and pouring through our closed office windows. It honestly sounds like a village of women are getting raped and killed. For some reason, the teenage girls here enjoy screaming at the top of their lungs as if they're getting a red hot poker shoved into them. It's so bizarre.

The first time it happened at the office I jumped up and ran to the window, thinking someone was being attacked. I was so confused when the rest of my office just kept calmly sitting at their desks doing their work. They then explained to me that these were just the mating noises of the "hoodies," teenage hoodlums. Apparently everyone here is just used to it by now.

Wednesday, 14 March 2007

Canterbury

I ended up going to Canterbury this weekend, as it was the easiest out of the three options. Stonehenge was too complicated to get to without a car, and the train station at Stratford-Upon-Avon is closed from November to May. It was interesting, if not totally thrilling.

The main reason to go is to see the Cathedral, which is the head of the Anglican Church (as well as the worldwide Angligan union, which includes Episcopalians in the US). It's a gigantic cathedral, sort of the St. Peters of Anglicanism. But everywhere there were these priests dressed in these creepy black robes and capes. I was a bit unnerved by them.

The big attraction of the church is the candle that burns at the spot where Thomas Beckett was murdered, right in the church. I read Beckett in high school but don't remember much about it.
Other than the cathedral there's not much in the town, save for a lot of chain stores and pubs. I went with this girl Lori who I met at Richard's party last weekend. She's also American, moved here just about a year ago from New York. She's from outside Boston, so we're also both from New England. We went to this hysterical reenactment of Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales with talking manequins. We both agreed it reminded us of the witch museum in Salem, which is unrivaled in its hysterical campiness.