Saturday, June 30, 2007


Call me crazy but I went to Wimbledon today. I unintentionally woke up at 5:45 this morning and couldn't go back to sleep figured I might as well go and queue at Wimbledon. The process is very well run and given the inclement weather today the queue wasn't that long. At 7:30 when I arrived I received number 1341 . Many people camp out overnight in order to get tickets to the courts where the big names play - centre, 1 and 2. I knew I wasn't going to get tickets to that but grounds tickets would do just fine. With the grounds tickets you get access to courts 3-18 and standing room at court 2.

Once I got in they unfortunately delayed the start of the matches as a result of the rain. All the courts were covered to prevent the lawns from being ruined. While the matches were set to start at 11, they actually didn't start until almost 3, during this time I wandered around the grounds, spent some time in the gift shop, ate, drank and socialized with others in the rain. Some of the die hards who wanted to make sure they got a spot at a certain court took seats or spots in the standing room for court 2 at 11 and didn't leave. To me they are missing out on the atmosphere and experience of Wimbledon. Watching and talking to the different types of people there is just fascinating. There are people dressed in suits and dresses typically the VIPs or people with debentures and right along side are the people that have been camping there all week to be first in line to get tickets to either center court or court 1 each day.

Once play finally started I headed off to court 2 to see if I could find room in the standing room only section to see Venus Williams play and luckily I did. I managed to squeeze myself into a spot right at about center court for the hour or say that play occurred. When the rain came down again they were in the second set. Venus had won the first set and was losing the second set 4-1. When play stopped I decided that was a good time for me to make my departure as well. I would have loved to have seen more matches but that did not look good I did fully enjoy myself and may do it again next year.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Summons To Appear in Court

I got a lovely letter in the mail last week informing me that I was to appear in court for failure to pay my council tax. This came as a bit of a surprise to me as I had gone on-line the previous month and paid the amount for the year in full - or at least I thought I did. I checked my bank and saw that the funds were never withdrawn so I headed back to the council website to pay again. While going through the process a second time I realized why the payment didn't go through. After filling in all the information, confirming it and hitting submit the screen refreshed with a special offer from Visa to sign up for a free service called "Verified by Visa." It is supposed to protect on-line purchases, blah, blah, blah - I wasn't interested in the service so I didn't fill out the form. I noticed that there was no way to bypass the only option was to accept. Turns out that if you don't fill out the form then your payment is not processed, nowhere on the screen during the process does it say that this is mandatory. It just looks like one of those special offers for valued customers.

Completely frustrated I headed to the council offices yesterday morning to pay the bill and let them know of the problem. I was informed that the company that handles their on-line payments has told them that this will be required of all on-line retailers in the next 6 months. In the research I've done that doesn't quite seem to be accurate. Verified by Visa is actually a service that merchants can sign up for to help prevent on-line fraud, not sure if the merchant has to pay for this or not there is no cost to the consumer. A consumer can opt not to sign up for the service as I did 3 times, after the 4th time they refuse the service they will not be able to purchase items at any on-line retailers that offer the VbV service.

According to documentation found on the website "While the number of opt-outs given to cardholders may never be fewer than three, Visa recommends at this stage of market development that Issuers either stop sending the cardholder enrolment prompts after a few opt-outs (but let the cardholder continue with the transactions), or place no limit on the number of times the cardholder can exercise this opt-out. " Apparently Barclay's has decided that this "optional service" is actually a requirement. Meaning that buying things on-line has just become much more complex as I will need to enter a pass code each and every time I go to an authorized vendor. As of now this is offered as a free service I can just see them start charging for it in the future.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Weekend Events

I have decided I can't let the rain deter me from going out and enjoying London - I'll never leave my house if that's the case. On Friday night I went to Regent Park for Taste of London. Got to try food and drinks from a number of different restaurants and bars. While there were a lot of free samples from vendors the food at the restaurant and bar stalls had to be paid for. I did however manage to get a free beer. As the festival was ending I stopped by the Fuller's tent where they were sampling a number of different beers. The staff got upset that I was drinking a cider and tried to convince me to buy one of their beers. I was out of crowns (the currency of the festival) so they said they would take my half drunk cider and exchange it for one of their beers - how could I say no to an offer like that.

On Saturday I went to the West End to see some free theatre. West End Live was running over the weekend which had brief performances from a number of shows currently playing in the West End. I saw performances from Mama Mia, Chicago, Avenue Q and a couple of children groups. After seeing the scenes from Avenue Q, I think this is definitely something that I need to check out, it looked like a lot of fun.

Stay tuned as this coming weekend I may be doing something very silly. Wimbledon kicks off on Monday so I am currently toying with the idea of heading down and queuing to see if I can get day of tickets. Even if I don't get court tickets there are grounds tickets which will be a nice adventure.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Still no Paella

Four days in Spain and I didn't have Paella once! I guess that means I'll have to go back another time.

On Tuesday night I went to see a basketball game. It was the semi-finals of the ACB this was game 5 in the series so whoever won moved onto the finals. We didn't have tickets just decided at the last minute to go the stadium and see if we could get some last minute tickets, the seats were great. The stadium was much smaller than in the NBA but the noise level was much higher, it was very similar to going to a rock concert. You couldn't hold a conversation and my ears were ringing. Every time the opposing team got the ball this siren went off and kept getting louder and louder while the shot clock rang down.

European basketball is a little different than the NBA the quarters are only 10 minutes long as opposed to 12 minutes. There did not seem to be much in the way of concessions, there was a stand but we didn't' get anything and most of the other people around us did not seem to be eating or drinking anything either. I did check out the prices at the stand on the way out and they were not heavily inflated as they are in NBA stadiums. I also noticed right away that there was no jumbo-tron available to see instant replays. If you missed what happened you were out of luck.

For a while it looked like Madrid was going to lose the game. When I asked if there was going to be a riot if they lost my co-workers laughed and said "no this isn't soccer." In the end Madrid managed to win the game.

Leaving the stadium I was expecting to see taxis lined up outside like they do at Fenway Park at the end of games but that was not the case. We aimlessly followed the crowd to the metro and took that back.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Viva Espana

Hola amigos y familia. Estoy en Madrid hasta miercoles.

OK enough of that, my Spanish isn't good enough to do an entire posting. That however is why I finally signed up for a Spanish course. From July until September every Monday evening I will be back in school trying to become somewhat fluent, we'll see how it goes.

The last time I was in Madrid I didn't have any time to see the city so I decided this time I would come in on Sunday morning and go see the city. My first stop was the Prado Museum on Sunday afternoon, spent most of the afternoon wandering about checking out all the pretty pictures on the wall. They had a lot of work from El Greco and Goya.

I am trying hard to adjust to the eating habits here, restaurants don't open until 8:30 or 9:00 for dinner. Late afternoon everybody has tapas and very late dinners. On the weekends that's fine but when I have to get up for work in the morning I don't want to be sitting down to eat at 10 PM.

Today for lunch is Paella if I can find a place that will make it for 1, you usually need at least 2 people.