Monthly Archives: March 2009

Can’t he just Skype like the rest of us?

The stories about Obama’s entourage for the G20 summit in London read like the anti-environmentalist diary: I had no idea they brought the presidential limo overseas. Apparently Obama travels with his medical staff, back-up blood, the helicopter, and the military guy that knows the nuclear codes. I have no idea if the process is typical–I’m not sure we all followed Bush’s movements around the planet with such thirst for knowledge. But aside from my joking comment about the environmental impact of all of this, my serious question concerns cost. The presidential election and now the presidential operations seem to be associated with a huge amount of expense. Now admittedly the London G20 summit is supposed to be associated with improving the economy, but it does make one wonder if the business of running a country in the modern era isn’t neglecting the usefulness of the technology we’ve developed in the last decades. Surely the Blackberry president would be safer (and spare taxpayers the expense of traveling with such an entourage) by using Skype sometimes???

Danny Schmidt, singer-songwriter

One of the legacies of the one year I spent in Virginia before moving to the UK is a role as an enthusiastic supporter of a singer-songwriter named Danny Schmidt. The story of how this came to be is nothing short of bizarre: new in town, I was invited to go to the concert by my new boss along with his wife and some friends–those who know how the year unfurled will appreciate that this was the one and only time we ever interacted socially! The concert was Danny Schmidt at some tiny coffee house in the middle of nowhere, and I was absolutely mesmerized. Have a look and see if you agree:


I bought two CDs that night, and two more since, the latest one of which was just released, called “Instead the Forest Rose to Sing”–it’s available on iTunes and I cannot recommend it more highly.

Why am I writing this? No, I am not being paid by this guy to do publicity 🙂 I always find it interesting when you discover some rather un-famous but extremely talented musician, it makes me want to just shout it from the rooftops. It’s not like I’m not a fan of big name artists–after all, that year in Virginia was also when I saw Vince Gill for the first time, and the Violent Femmes (who the Brits seem to have never heard of, I’ve discovered!). But the smaller ones somehow need the fanbase to be mobilized and organized… so Danny Schmidt is one of my Facebook Friends, I get the email lists, will try to check him out when he has concert dates in the UK, and I’d absolutely love it if even just one more person discovered this unique talent through my shameless but heart-felt promotion by blogging about him. Any time you go to a show and see several hours of just a guy with a guitar and you leave with that sense of wonder, it’s worth the price of the ticket and worth passing along to anyone who might be listening.

Battle of the popovers

In the American camp, the classic popover, which is made in a deep-ish pan with high sides. In the British camp, the “Yorkshire pudding” made of the same dough but in a shallow pan. After my prior post on popovers, I had been advised to try the British version.

I was at my local kitchen store the other day and I decided that I had to try the “Yorkshire Pudding Tin” that was on offer, since there was a “buy two, get a baking sheet free” deal in place. I made my classic popover dough–roughly 2-3 eggs to a cup-cup and a half of milk and a similar quantity of flour. With a tsp of salt. I ran a control experiment by putting the same dough in my custard cups which had the classic popover aspect ratio and had worked for me in the past:

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But the “Yorkshire Puddings” performed well:

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… and at the end of the day, the British version won because it was easy to get the things out of the baking pan. I popped them fresh from the oven to insert a piece of brie cheese when hot (my favorite popover treat), and they worked perfectly.

As a semi-reformed vegetarian, now pescetarian, you won’t find me eating “Yorkshire Puds” in the classic manner, with gravy and a roast, but you will find me frequently baking “popovers” in my “Yorkshire Pudding Tin” instead of my American “popover cups” which I literally threw away tonight. Have I acclimated to British culture, or does this not count since I don’t indulge in roast meat gravy?

I need a tip…

…about tipping etiquette in the UK. Yesterday I managed to get my hair(s) cut for the first time since August (hollah!) and the guy was excellent. He not only gave me a good haircut but taught me some tricks about bringing out the natural wave in my hair, something I’ve been embracing in the last few months after 3 or 4 years spent as a slave to a flatiron. As I paid my bill and prepared to leave, I realized that I had no idea if there was a way to give him a tip. It was only the third time I’ve had a haircut in the UK–it’s one of those things that I strangely only seem to find time for when I’m back “home” in the states–and the previous two had not left me thrilled. So I had not worried about it previously, but now I’m curious. In the states, there were usually a few obvious and easy ways to leave a tip post-haircut, either on the credit card slip (like you can in a restaurant) or with the little envelopes on the desk for which you could put cash, the name of the cutter and your name and leave them with the receptionist. You could also just toss some cash over the counter and say “see that Brian gets this from me” and the receptionist would know what to do. None of these options were obvious to me yesterday. Furthermore, the guy who cut my hair was lurking about, making me a bit uncomfortable (for some reason the tipping ritual in this context in the states was always done in the absence of the person to whom the tip was addressed…) Any ideas or advice?

Expat blogger book review

I picked up a book at Glasgow’s Waterstone’s for the train ride home on Sunday, and it was a good read.

The book, Petite Anglaise, as usual shares the name of the blog that inspired it, but this was a book with a different story than the usual blog book: instead of being a compendium drawn from blog posts, the story was a narrative about the blog, the blogger, and how the blog changed her life. Well, up to a point: the real story got going right at the timepoint when the book finished, when the author was dooced, revealed in terms of previously anonymous identity, successfully took legal action for wrongful dismissal and won, wrote about this in several major newspapers, and generally got her life sorted out and embarked on a new career as a writer.

The memoir was excellent, honest, and funny; the stories about the blogger’s/author’s daughter had me in stitches. Her (Catherine Sanderson’s) novel is due to be released this summer, and there is lots of big news lately on the personal front (as I discovered when I obsessively read the blog for several hours after returning from Glasgow). I “became a fan” on facebook and highly recommend that you do too, after you’ve read and loved the book 🙂 After all, we expat bloggers have to stick together, and musing on one’s life in a strange land should not be a reason to lose your livelihood.

Glasgow train adventures, take 2

Most of my (flying) colleagues left Glasgow on Saturday, but I was staying over because my return train was booked for Sunday, noonish, well 12:30 to be precise. This becomes important. I woke up around 9 on Sunday, had plenty of time to enjoy a leisurely web surf and coffee experience before showering and packing. I checked out of the hotel at about 11:30 (more than plenty early) and got a taxi to Glasgow Central, the train station at which I had arrived. It was so early that my train was not displaying on the giant screens, so I went into M&S Simply Food for some nosh for the train, and was patiently sitting in the station watching the monitors. The trip back was due to be slightly more complicated than the trip there, due to the usual Sunday-ness of works taking place on National Rail (I assume) I was taking a different route home than I had taken there. When the trains for around 12:30 started displaying, I started panicking: there was no train for Edinburgh at 12:30, which was what I was supposed to take. I furiously started rooting around in my bag for the schedule I had from “thetrainline.com” (thanks to the blog commenters after my Manchester experience) only to discover I was in the wrong place: I was supposed to be leaving from a different station in Glasgow. Suddenly my being early was too late. I simply did not have time to guarantee that a cab ride to the other Glasgow station would get me there in time, and my whole trip (and assigned seats from Edinburgh to home) required me to make a connection in Edinburgh at 13:50. There was a 12:25 train leaving from Glasgow Central that would go to Edinburgh, and then I noticed, strangely also went to Doncaster, which was my next leg according to my itinerary: a booked seat from Edinburgh to Doncaster was in my itinerary. I boarded this train at 12:15 noticing that every single seat had a “reserved” card on it. I parked in the open area outside the loo until the train started moving, only then to then realize “were my tickets valid?” The ticket said “Glasgow Cen/Qun St” which I hopefully took to mean that it meant Glasgow Central OR Queen Street, which was indeed the case. Fortunately the train on this leg was nearly empty, so I stole a seat that was reserved only from Newcastle onwards, ate my M&S food and read my awesome book (more on that soon). It was only part-way to Edinburgh from Glasgow that it started to occur to me that this might be the exact train I needed to take from Edinburgh to Doncaster (it was). I waited until Edinburgh to move to my reserved seat, and sat there contemplating my mistake of planning. How had I not had the seat reserved from Glasgow directly to Doncaster? Had I mistakenly opted for “minimum time” versus “minimum changes” such that a 12:25 departure from Glasgow Central would have seemed inferior to a 12:30 departure from Glasgow Queen Street? This I will never know, but I will be more careful in the future.

The trip from Edinburgh to Doncaster was scenic to say the least, and only interrupted by yet another obnoxious person speaking loudly throughout. This time, instead of an American showing off to his work colleagues, it was a British (and clearly English, not Scottish) woman yammering into her cell phone for ages. Some drama had emerged in which her daughter, of indeterminate age, had been out sick from work (or school?) last week and needed apparently to get a doctor’s note to justify this. I was stunned on the one hand, seriously (to my British readers) is it still par for the course to have to get a note from a Doctor if you are sick? I have never had to do this in my life, and I thought it was one of the bygone trends from an earlier era. Regardless, I was subjected to about an hour of this woman first talking to the daughter, then relaying the story to any number of friends or family members with complete disdain: “I am her MOTHER, and she has CLEARLY been ill and is NOT LYING about it…” and so it went. As was the case with the previous trip, the assigned and guaranteed seat means that you do not have the liberty to escape from such things, which is a shame. I guess next time I should go for the “quiet carriage” in which cell phone use is discouraged.

I made it home without further incident, after the change in Doncaster and the remaining trip home, on a nearly empty train much to my delight. I finished my most excellent book, about which I will next write, and was home in time to enjoy a nice dinner picked up at the M&S at the train station on my arrival. Thus ends the excellent Glasgow adventure, with many lessons learned about the pre-booked reserved seating on British trains.

Last night in Glasgow

It’s been a good week (almost) in Glasgow but tomorrow I head home. I had a great trip, I spent most of my week here:

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This is the SECC, or the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Center. (Centre) It’s a fabulous venue, I’ve been to conferences in many places that did not boast the convenience factor of this location. Inside it had a convenience store, a coffee shop, several bars, restaurants, it was magnificent. And my hotel was in walking distance, as in easy 5-minute across the parking lot walking distance, and I got the view of this on the way:

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An original crane from Glasgow’s heyday as a shipbuilding center, which is being preserved as a monument to the city’s engineering heritage. Fantastic stuff. I also had the “squinty bridge” out my hotel window, here in daylight:

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(That’s my hotel between the bridge and the crane!) and in my previous post at night in its red phase (where the total spectrum ranges from red to blue via purple). I have not taken enough pictures of that, but hey, I’ve been working! My evenings were all about dinners out to schmooze with the locals and the conference attendees. But I just looked out my window and saw this:

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This makes me remember why travelling for work is still fun. I may not get out into the country-side when I travel like this, but I get to see interesting cities, interesting architecture and lots of places. I was just disappointed this trip that the Glasgow Tower (literally across from my hotel) was still shut for the winter and I did not get the panoramic views.