Canary Wharf

I was out and about late this evening for a walk since it was just beautiful out there (+12 and a very light breeze, not bad for Dec 27!) and after going for a bit I figured I'd go a bit further and wound up walking down to the Isle of Dogs to the Canary Wharf area. It's basically a commercial area, so one is mostly going to see shops and office buildings, but the three largest buildings in London happen to be there - all side by side - and they're quite a sight to behold, especially up close.

One Canada Square, aka Torchwood Tower for those in the know, is (for now) the tallest building in London, it's the one with the domed roof which has appeared in many pictures I've posted. The other two tall ones are the HSBC Tower and Citigroup Centre, and of course they're more obvious due to the corporate logos near the top of the buildings.

There was also a skating rink near One Canada Square which had a couple dozen people on it when I was there just before 11:00pm - and it must be said people here really don't know how to skate! I can't skate to save my life of course, so I'm not judging. There were also some Canada Tourism-type banners and sponsorship signs at the rink, which seemed so out of place yet welcome and familiar (not to mention it was the first time I'd seen an advertisement for a website using the .travel top level domain).

After wandering around a bit and testing out the (mediocre and far inferior when compared to my standalone unit) camera on my cell phone I meandered back to call it a night. I plan to get back to Canary Wharf during the daytime when there's some more hustle and bustle and give it a proper visit.



...and speaking of reality TV...

I hate reality TV. I hate it mostly because it's not reality. It's scripted at worst and loose or heightened reality at best. In the previous post I mention the show "Any Dream Will Do" and how I actually watched a few episodes. In that case it was because I had an interest in the subject matter.

That show, along with its predecessor whose purpose was to cast Maria in a revival of The Sound of Music, was presented by seemingly omnipresent presenter Graham Norton. Well, based on the success of those shows, another of that same ilk is coming to UK TV screens early in 2008. Titled "The One and Only..." it features people dressing up as famous singers and performing those singers' songs. It's quite like "Stars in Their Eyes" for anyone familiar with that, at least that's how it sounds.

To me the show sounds absolutely terrible and not worth watching in the least. I hate "Pop Idol"/"American Idol"/"Canadian Idol"/"X-Factor" as it's at best second-rate karaoke. This new show is going to be that, but in full costume. It's going to be just horrible, I know it.

Nevertheless the other day I found some web sites that offer tickets to be in the audience of various shows. You sign up, you say which shows you want to see (in other words, you apply for everything, which is what I did) and they contact you if you've been selected to receive tickets for any of the shows. So, of course I was phoned and told that I was being offered 4 tickets to the taping of (I think) the first episode of "The One and Only..." - one of the shows I really didn't care to see.

I've not yet decided if I'll go to the taping on January 9th, and if I can't find anyone else to go with I most likely will skip it, but nevertheless I have tickets to go. They of course overbook these things to try to ensure a full audience, so even if I show up I'm not guaranteed a seat unless I'm early enough in the queue, and that quite makes me less willing to go. Still, it's something I've never done before, and it's being taped at the BBC Television Centre, so it's a wonderful excuse to go see the place where so much great TV has been recorded, especially before the building is sold (as is planned in 2013 or so).

Time will tell if I go, and if some of the people I know back home (I'll not name names, you know who you are since you've heard me grumble when you've talked about one of those karaoke shows) were here with me they'd snap up the chance to go... although that's no incentive for me to go.


Birthday Bender

Being now the latter half of December, thoughts in my mind move beyond Christmas and toward my birthday. Generally I'll do very little for my birthday, preferring to do something like go for a few drinks with friends, usually to Devlin's on Whyte Ave to begin. Since that's not an option this time around, I've decided to go on a bender of sorts. A completely different bender than usual. A full-on London-style bender.

Yep, I'm going to hit some musical theatre shows.

Tickets are cheap and seat selections are decent at a couple discount/promotional sites I've come across of late. Thankfully these are sites run by proper, official theatre groups so they're not shady or anything. My birthday is on a Thursday this time around, and that's a good thing since some of the shows on my list only offer cheaper seats on weeknights.

A (roughly) yearly tradition of mine for the past few years has been to go see Henry Rollins at the Winspear Centre for his spoken word tour. He's quite the raconteur and unfortunately his Edmonton visit this year was in late October, after I'd left. Fortunately he's playing here at the Hammersmith Apollo on January 26, so I at least get to see the current tour, even if it's not at the regular venue. Once the bank card came in the mail and I was able to make purchases online I made sure I booked a ticket for that show.

And that's how this whole notion began.

In poking around, as noted above, discount tickets were plenty and available for good shows with good seats (some better than others). I did some thinking and some seat hunting and I've made bookings for a few shows in celebration of my birthday.

Wednesday, January 23 - I was able to score -- quite literally -- a front row centre seat for the Lord of the Rings musical. Reviews I've read have been mixed but mostly positive. It's allegedly one of the biggest and most costly productions mounted outside of Las Vegas, so the eye candy should be plentiful.

Thursday, January 24 - I've been wanting to see We Will Rock You for some time now, and while it's been running here for over 6 years (and obviously not going anywhere) I figured I might as well do it sooner than later, especially when a cheap seat can be had. It's a musical written by Queen (obviously) and Ben Elton (of Black Adder and The Young Ones fame) and since Queen is among my favourite bands this was a must-see.

Friday, January 25 - There was a realtiy TV competition broadcast here earlier this year on Saturday nights on BBC One called "Any Dream Will Do" in which hopefuls from around the UK vied for the lead role in a revival of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat. I think I made mention of this, at least to a degree, when I posted about seeing Dreamcoat a number of weeks ago. The person who won the Pop Idol-style competition was Lee Mead, and he was playing the lead role when I saw the production a few weeks back. Well, there are some weeks when he's on vacation and the understudy, Lewis Bradley (who finished third in "Any Dream...") is taking over the lead role. As I was able to watch some episodes of "Any Dream..." via YouTube and other means when it aired in the spring, I was keen to see others try the role and now I'll have that ability. I've booked a seat for one of Bradley's nights as lead in Dreamcoat and I look forward to the differences brought to the lead role.

Saturday, January 26 - Henry Rollins performs his spoken word event, as mentioned above.

So there we have it. A right proper London-style theatre bender. 4 nights of live performances, and while none of the tickets are exactly dirt cheap, none was over £25 including any service charges or postage for delivery (on average anyway, Dreamcoat was £27.50 but Rollins was £22.75), so it all adds up but it'll be a week to remember for sure!



On the grid again

As mentioned previously, I got my bank card in the post the other day and I've been waiting for it so I can get a phone sorted. I did some research the other week and came up with some possible options to consider, but spent a great deal of time the past two days researching every possible option available to me and I finally made a decision.

Earlier today I took the tube over to nearby (I say nearby but it's a 35-minute walk as I found out the first time I went there!) Stratford Centre where multiple retail phone shops are located. The place was a bloody zoo (as can be expected so close to Christmas) and market stalls all along the inside seriously impeded traffic flow (though the slow punters contributed too), but after wading through some crowds and talking to some shop assistants to formalize things I'd read online, I finally got a phone.

I won't bother to get into details about the handset other than to say it works and it lets me communicate with people... so I'm back on the grid as the saying goes.

For those who wish to call me, please do bear in mind the 5-8 hour time difference depending upon where in Canada those who wish to reach me are located, so no calling in the middle of the night and please try to keep it before 11PM. Also bear in mind you have to call internationally, so do check your rates before you pick up the phone to dial as it's quite probable you'll pay through the bloody nose to ring me. Even Skype, which I expected to have reasonable rates, charges $0.295/minute (plus $0.059 for a connection fee) to call UK mobile phones. Compare that to $0.024 to call a landline and it's a wonder they can get away with that sort of flimflammery. Also don't forget the international calling prefix for Canada, 011, and the country code for the UK, 44.

My mobile number for now -- THIS NUMBER MAY CHANGE AND IF IT DOES I WILL POST HERE TO LIST THE REPLACEMENT NUMBER -- is 07956 578 649. Remember to drop the leading zero.

So, long story short, to ring me on my mobile, it's 011447956578649 to do so. Got that memorized yet? There WILL be a test later... and no peeking here!

I've been playing with the stupid phone all day loading music and pictures onto it, learning some ins and outs of usage and so on. I still hate phones. Perhaps more than ever now that they do far, far more than any sane person needs them to do.



...and about time, too.

I opened my bank account over here in early November and since then I've been waiting for the darned bank card to show up so I can get some other stuff in motion. I was told to expect the card within 2 weeks of opening the account, and while I got 5 or 6 pieces of mail from the bank in that time, none of them was the bank card. I hesitated in contacting the bank for fear that I'd get the card in the mail the day after I called for a replacement, knowing the one to show up would be canceled as a result, and I'd have to wait another couple weeks for the valid card.

Nevertheless, after nearly 3 weeks past the expected date of receiving the card, I rang the bank this past Monday and explained the situation. They didn't offer any explanation as to why the card didn't come in the first place, nor did I ask about it (since any number of things beyond their control could have happened), but the bloke on the other end said he'd order a replacement card and I should get it in 3-5 working days.

Today being the third day, the card actually came, and it was nice to see the low end of the estimate come to pass. I was quite content to see the letter in the post and I practically tore the envelope open when I felt the hard plastic inside. I promptly got online and spent a little bit of money on things like adding some credit to my transit card (for which I get 5 free tracks at iTunes, oddly enough... not that I have any idea which 5 songs I'd want to order).

The other week I sat down and did up a spreadsheet outlining costs, details and benefits of various mobile phone plans for varying carriers here, all in anticipation of getting the darned bank card and getting the next phase, acquiring a mobile phone, in gear. Today I will be verifying all my research is still valid as well as expanding it a bit before making a decision tonight and going to pick up a phone tomorrow. We'll see what conclusion is reached soon, I suppose. I shall post here when all is sorted.



London Transport Museum

Today I decided to take a trip to the London Transport Museum, a museum operated by Transport for London (TfL) celebrating the history of public transportation in and around London.

I began the day in earnest, going to get a haircut at the barber down the road. That was a good thing except it's always a pain in the butt to get a haircut and then not go home to rinse out all the little hairs that get left on your head and neck, so for the first while afterward I was of course scratching my neck and trying to rub away the remnant hairs. Such a hassle.

I hopped the tube well west of where I needed to be as I figured I'd get off by parliament and take a walk along the north bank along Victoria Embankment, one of the original embankments put in place to prevent flooding from the Thames and to sculpt the shape of the river. There's really not a great amount of stuff to see along there, though on a clear and warm day it would make for a great place for a leisurely stroll. Today was halfway there, getting to about +14 or +15, but it's been overcast and cloudy all day. The forecast called for rain, but thankfully that didn't happen other than a bit of drizzle.

After walking east from Westminster bridge to Waterloo bridge, I headed north toward Covent Garden where the museum is located. I walked around for a bit seeing what was there, and strolled around the Covent Garden Market (one of the famous London flea market style destinations), but since arts & crafts and jewelry and the like really don't interest me, I didn't stick around for long. I left the area in search of somewhere to grab some lunch as I'd not yet eaten, and wound up going to the Pizza Hut near Trafalgar Square for the lunch buffet.

I gorged myself, went downstairs at the restaurant to use the facilities, and thanks to a lack of signage didn't notice the ceiling in the restroom was lower than everywhere else and proceeded to smack my head quite hard where the lower ceiling began. No blood or cuts were involved, but I was definitely dizzy for a while afterward. I stumbled (almost literally) back up the steps and out along The Strand, making my way back toward Covent Garden Market, nearby which is the entrance to the London Transport Museum.

I spent well over an hour and a half, maybe even closer to two hours, walking around and enjoying the exhibits. The museum covers everything from riverboat services over 200 years ago to the development of rail services, the use of horse-drawn carriages, the Underground, buses, taxis, trams, the DLR and so on. The definite highlight for me was the giant electronic map of London and area where they displayed things like current traffic congestion, various live CCTV feeds, demonstrations of travel times and methods to get around (with video footage on a screen above while the map has the route drawn on it simultaneously).

One quite nifty thing was a presentation showing the development of the Underground system from its beginnings as a regular rail system to the massive conglomeration of today. I've captured video footage of the presentation (it runs about 1m20s, and I've stripped the audio) and embedded it here (QuickTime plugin required):

A little after 4:00 I had finished with the museum and decided to just head back, so I left, went to a different tube station than where I began (I went to Westminster initially, and got on one stop east at Embankment for the return leg) as I often try to do (to learn or reinforce geography as I go about) and made my way back. I expected very heavy traffic on the tube given it was rush hour, but thankfully the crowds were minimal. I only had to go one stop before a seat became available.

Tomorrow I think I need to catch up on some laundry...