Sunday, May 27, 2007

Smoke-Free London

As of July 1st London, actually all of England, goes smoke-free. A large advertising campaign has recently launched promoting this new initiative, bill boards and newspaper advertisements are everywhere. I myself am quite looking forward to this as it will make going out to restaurants and bars much more enjoyable - I hate coming home and smelling like smoke.

Many people think if you can't smoke in public it will encourage people to quit smoking. Some pubs worried about losing customers have started offering stop smoking clinics for customers so they will continue patronizing the pub after July 1st.

Thursday, May 24, 2007


I received a letter in the mail from the property management company. Part of their services for landlords are to conduct routine inspections of flats. The letter stated that they had scheduled the inspection for Thursday, today, and I did not have to be present as they had keys and would just let themselves in. I was surprised by this and thought that was just the way things were here. I had already planned on working from home today so this wasn't a problem. As I started talking with others about this they all expressed surprised by the letter and said that they wouldn't want people letting themselves into their apartments when they weren't home.

The inspection itself was rather uneventful, they walked through all the rooms to make sure everything was in order. I put in a request again to have the sign from the front of the house and the bed removed. We'll see if it happens this time.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Grocery Shopping

You would think there couldn't be many differences between grocery shopping in the UK and grocery shopping in the US but you would be wrong. First of all there are 3 grocery stores within walking distance to my house, you wouldn't think 1 town would need 3 grocery stores but I guess it does. I'm still trying to figure out which one I like best, today I went to Sainsbury's. It's the furthest from my house but they have a recycling facility there and my plastic bottles were in need of being returned. I can't wait until they start picking them up curbside.

I started off in the fruits and vegetables section. Most of the vegetables are pre-packaged there are very few that are loose and you can just take what you need. This means I needed to buy 250 grams of green beans when I only needed a handful for dinner tonight. I'll either have beans for dinner every night this week or a lot will be thrown out. It's ironic that the food is all packaged this way as it creates more waste while there are all kinds of signs asking you to recycle and reduce what you throw away. The plastic trays that the vegetables come in is not recyclable so that must be thrown out along with the plastic wrappings. Some of the grocery stores provide a wider variety of loose vegetables such as the mushroom section at Waitrose and there's always the farmer's markets. Unfortunately the farmer's market doesn't always have what I'm looking for.

I have now gotten used to ordering meats and cheeses in grams and not ounces or pounds. Although the stores do show the price per pound and per kg. It usually takes me a little while to quickly do some conversions in my head to make sure I'm not ordering too much or too little.

The brands here are also completely different to what I'm used to and am still trying to figure out what's good and what's not. I did however stumble across a great find this weekend. I found a Whole Food's market in Kensington. I didn't stop in as I was afraid I would want to buy things and I was heading to watch The FA Cup , a return trip is definitely in store for next weekend.

Eggs are not stored in refrigerators, instead they are on the shelves just like any other boxed or canned item. The number of variety of eggs are astonishing - they are classified by the type of hen that laid them, the size, and whether they are free range. I haven't yet conducted a taste test to see what the differences between the different eggs are.

Sunday, May 13, 2007


There was an article in the Sunday Times today regarding the UK version of "The Apprentice" and the free advertising that companies are receiving. Product placements are apparently against BBC guidelines whether they are paid for or not. The BBC guidelines - "Never include a product or service in sound or vision in return for cash, services of any consideration in kind. This is product placement. It is illegal."

This explains why when US shows such as "American Idol" are aired here the coca-cola logos on the judges glasses are blurred out. Product placements in America are standard, most films and television shows wouldn't be made without a number of product placements, not to mention poking fun at them. Who could forget the clips from "Wayne's World" where they fit as many slogans and product placements into 30 seconds as possible and "State and Main" where they need to plug an Internet company in an old west film.

Many people here complain about watching US programs as you can see how many breaks they build into shows for commercial breaks. There are not half as many commercial breaks here so you just get odd black screens for a millisecond or so where the commercial should have come.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

My Christmas List

I'm always asked what I want for Christmas and luckily Virgin Money helped me out this year with an article on big spenders. From yesterday's Metro (please note all prices are in pounds):

  1. Island of Vatu Vara - Fiji 40 million
  2. 60 carat diamond earrings from Harry Winston - 4.6 million
  3. Chopard diamond and emerald necklace - 1.6 million
  4. The Piece Unique mobile phone encrusted with 2,000 diamonds - 670K
  5. Montblanc's limited edition pen, Solitaire Mountain Massif Skeleton made in 18 carat white gold - 90K
  6. La Modernista Diamond pen set with 5072 diamonds and 96 rubies - 144,612
  7. Hermes crocodile Birkin handbag with gold clasp and diamond studded padlock - 60K
  8. Jewel-encrusted Couture Swoarvoski Crystal J jeans - 5,814
  9. Essence by Creme de la Mere made from daffodil seeds and seaweed - 1,490

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

A Definite Change

I'll start off by saying that some of you may be offended by what I have to say here and I apologize.

The news is filled with stories of a 3 year old little girl that went missing while on holiday with her family in Portugal. It's quite sad and tragic and I feel for the family. Unfortunately what I cannot comprehend is the fact that her parents were out to dinner when she disappeared. They had left her alone along with their 2 year old twins while they went to a Tapas restaurant. According to news reports the parents were checking on the children regularly- every 30 minutes.

What I can't comprehend is the fact that nobody seems to be shocked or addressing the fact that 3 young children were left alone to sleep while their parents dined at a local restaurant. Instead reports are focusing on the security at the place the family was staying, the fact that other incidents were reported in recent weeks, etc. How can this behaviour be viewed as acceptable? I haven't yet had the courage to ask any co-workers if this is considered normal and acceptable.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Expensive Evening Entertainment

I decided to watch a movie and make a nice dinner for myself this weekend. Of course that required that I go out and buy a grill (or a barbecue as they're called here) , a home entertainment system, and a movie. The trick was to figure out how to get all the big items home since I don't own a car. In both instances the sales rep offered to bring the items home for me as I would get them quicker and it would be cheaper than if I used the delivery service the store offered. Very entrepreneurial of the sales staff to offer to deliver the items - they get cash, under the table and I get my products quickly.

I guess the offer of delivery makes up for the fact that they know absolutely nothing about the products they're selling. When buying the grill I was interested in the specs such as are the grills cast iron, how many btu's, pretty standard stuff. The first guy I talked to had absolutely no idea. He had to go and get the catalog which had a table comparing all the grills on offer. I was shocked that they couldn't answer what seemed like a simple question. What I found a little offensive was when I asked about the btu's they started explaining to me how to cook using a grill!

I had a similar experience when buying the home entertainment system. There were 3 sales guys standing around about 10 feet away from me while I looked at the 2 systems the store had to offer. I was leaning towards the Samsung but wanted to find out if had progressive scan and the option for wireless rear speakers. I had to go up to the sales reps and wait for them to finish their conversation (not work related) and asked for assistance. After I asked my first question the rep said he didn't know and would have to go check the manual. He ran off before I had a chance to say I had more questions. 5 minutes later he came back with the answer and I then asked my 2nd question. Didn't know the answer to that either 0- surprise, surprise. This time he came back with the manual in case I had more questions.

The next question I had was regarding the cables that were included for hooking up and whether it had the proper cables. I unfortunately did not look at the manual so I thought it used s-video the sales clerk said it didn't come with cables for hooking up. I bought the s-video cables and it turns out the Samsung dvd player does not have hook-ups for s-video. Of course I can't return the cables as I opened them prior to reading the directions and they were sealed in one of those vacuum packed plastic wrappings which get destroyed when you open them.

I guess it's normal here that the store sales clerks no nothing about the products they're selling and need to look at the product documentation for what is seemingly basic product questions. At least I got my merchandise delivered right to my front door I guess that counts for something.

Saturday, May 5, 2007


This week local elections were held for parliament. My observances on the similarities and differences between the election processes.

1) Since these were only local elections and no major general elections voter turnout was very low.
2) Voters expressed their disappointment in the Labour party and the state of affairs which resulted in the Tories winning 800 seats - giving the party the highest number of councillors since 1978.
3) Controversy over voting improprieties with mail-in votes and canvassers collecting and throwing out votes if they were for the "wrong" party.
4) Complaints of confusion in how to fill out the ballots and technical difficulties with machines.

1) Up to the minute results were not available.
2) No all night television coverage with updates.
3) No political ads on television - at least none that I've seen.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Good to be home

While I had a good time on vacation and my trip to South Africa was productive it was very nice to spend a weekend at home. I spent the weekend running errands.

1) I had to go to the camera store to return a lens I had bought for my trip. I wanted a polarizing lens for the camera and went to Jessop's prior to leaving to purchase one. After I got home and the store was closed I realized 2 things - I was overcharged for the lens and it was not a polarizing lens. Frustrated there was nothing I could do until I returned I left the lens at home. I brought it back to the store and am now in possession of the correct lens.

2) A trip to the bank to look into getting a credit card. The debit card I have is charging me anywhere from 2-5% every time I use it overseas which is the majority of the time. In typical Barclay's fashion they tried to talk me into changing my bank account, selling me insurance and a number of other things. In the end they couldn't even give me the information I wanted on whether the credit card would charge commissions on foreign transactions as I did not have a utility bill to prove I was who I say I am.

3) A trip to the home improvement store to look at grills. It was interesting hearing the sales man talk to another couple about the grills - he wasn't too keen on Weber as those are made in America, the other brand is made in Canada. Luckily I didn't buy one as when I got home last night I had a coupon advertising a big sale on grills this weekend at the store. With the 3 day weekend coming up looks like I'll be barbecuing.

4) The phone company came to check out my phone as it stopped working before I left. I checked it when I got home on Friday morning to make sure it was still broken - it was no dial tone. The repairman came and plugged in a phone and went and traced the wires outside the house, unplugged them, tested them and plugged them back in. Said there were no problems on the line but wouldn't you know I then had a dial tone and could send and receive calls.