Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Random scenes

As Robin and I walked to our residence hall from her night class, we passed a dance class in progress.

As I waited for Robin to get out of class, I started seeing double. I'm OK now.

An iconic UK symbol strolls through the Uxbridge town center. The iconic symbol on the left, not the right.

Reading a historic marker.

If you're gonna try this, at least come at it straight on, not at an angle. Oops. they've spotted me videotaping them.

The Uxbridge Town Pump. In 1800 it was installed to replace the old wood timber pipes that brought water to town. The pump is located on Windsor Street (the Uxbridge main drag for many centuries), next to St. Margaret's Church.

The Metropolitan pub, Magners Irish Cider, and Texas BBQ Chicken Burger

We walked to downtown Uxbridge today to (all together now) buy some items and look around a bit. Robin's new classmate, Amy, said her favorite pub in Uxbridge is The Metropolitan, so we decided to try it. It's one of the first places you pass on the way into town, just half a block past the spot where three men were burned at the stake in 1555 (I'm going to have a hard time forgetting that).

Nice typography is always a good sign (hmmm, is that a pun?).

This was a great tip from Amy. Amy, by the way, has never met an American before. Robin asked her "Do you like Americans?" Amy thought for a second, then said "I don't know, I never met one, but I like you." Fair enough. I said, "Don't worry, there's plenty of 'em I don't like." Lucky kid, we get to set the bar for what she thinks is American. Bwahahahaha.

Back to the pub: Friendly place, good food, lots of good sounding stuff on the menu. I had a Texas BBQ Chicken Burger. Really tasty. We both had Cider. Robin had a pint of Magners Irish cider (pronounced "Mahgners"), I had a Strongbow cider. The Magners is a little sweeter, so it's served to sweeter people I guess.

Enjoying that last sip of Magners. I might turn this image into a canvas, titled "Glass, Pearls, & Cider."

The Metropolitan entrance.

Patrons enjoy an afternoon in the Metropolitan. Maybe the evening too.

Movie Premiere - Uxbridge and Beyond


I've hastily thrown together a 3-minute movie of the past 10 days. You'll recognize a lot of the scenes from the blog. I've found that it's fast and convenient to shot most of the time with the Flip video camera, then make screen shots of single video frames to use for photos. That way, I'm actually shooting 30 photos per second and usually can find plenty of useable shots of a scene.

Uxbridge and Beyond: the movie

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Foxes on campus

Jonas, our Shoreditch flat neighbor from Taiwan, told us as we were standing around outside during a fire alarm incident, that you'll see foxes on the grounds around the residence halls early in the morning.

We haven't been outside early in the morning, but tonight, around 9:30pm, Robin and I were returning from the nearby convenience store, and a fox was right outside our residence building entrance. He disappeared into the darkness before I could grab my Flip video.

More Bonus Photos


The walk from Brunel campus to downtown Uxbridge takes you through a redidential section of apartments and townhomes. One of the houses has an aviary on the outside wall. We usually stop and say hi. And shoot photos.

We had lunch today at Bar Zest, a small cafe on campus in the Sports Center building. It's quieter here than most places on campus, and the customers seem older. Probably a faculty hangout.

View of the campus from the Bar Zest patio.

While shopping in Uxbridge, we had lunch at Slug and Lettuce. Probably the best place we've eaten so far.

The U3 bus makes a stop right in the middle of the campus, headed to Uxbridge (ten minutes, max). It's always full. If you decide to walk (20 - 30 minutes), there's always a steady stream of students walking both directions. The students heading toward the Brunel campus are always carrying shopping bags of stuff for their rooms. And, of course, there's always a couple of guys carrying several 12-packs of beer back to the dorm. Fosters seems to be the most popular. Probably the cheapest.

Uxbridge discoveries

While Robin was in class, I walked to downtown Uxbridge to get a few items and look around a bit.

St. Margaret's Church.

St. Margaret's Church is right on the town center. Windsor Street, which used to be called Lynch Street ("lynch" means "slope") runs downhill from the church to a small park one block away, Lynch Park. The church is the oldest building in town, with most of its architecture surviving from the 14th and 15th centuries.

This is Lynch Park. Small, pretty, serene. It wasn't so serene back in 1555 when three men were burned at the stake here for their protestant beliefs. The weathered stone monument in the foreground marks the spot, and includes the names of the men.

A stone memorial, placed here in 1933.

The Queen's Head, also on Windsor Street (formerly Lynch Street), dates from 1544, but is thought to be older, was originally known as The Axe. It's a former public house (pub) and coaching inn. It's said to have a tunnel from it to the church.

Another Windsor Steet establishment, The Fig Tree, was constructed in 1871 as a police station. It became a pub in 1988.

Finally, in the Windsor Street category, a local hairdressing shop. I'm not sure what this graphic has to do with hairdressing, or why, for God's sake, the horse looks like it has been run over, but I might have to go ask.

Side Note: I shot the "horsepower" photo above with my iPhone. I obviously must have moved the camera while shooting, and it warped the image instead of blurring it. The iPhone is the only camera I've ever used that distorted an image instead of blurring it. Just in case you thought the building was curvy.

They grow up so fast

I walked Robin to her first class. It was sad watching her enter that big building all by herself - wait, I think I'm confusing today with when my son started the first grade. Today's entrance was all good, and best of all, she loved the three hour class (something about researching, I'll have to get a description from her), and she thought her teacher was fabulous.

Monday, September 28, 2009


We were in the Uxbridge Pavillions mall today, shopping for various household items. We couldn't find one item, a down comforter, a duvet some call it. Every store had only synthetic microfiber duvets. Robin sat on a mall bench to snack on an apple we'd just bought. I was standing nearby, snacking on my apple turnover (hey, it's apple!) and noticed Robin was talking to an elderly lady. I figured she was asking the lady where we could find a down comforter (yes, she was) and I couldn't wait to remind her that local Brits never have a clue anytime we ask them where something is. Not even if it's a historic battlefield a few blocks away. Or how about the time it was the historic Inner Temple (where effigies of the Knights Templar are laying on the temple floor) that was half a block away from the men she asked. Admittedly, there's so much ancient history around here, people seem to block it out, like so much noise. For instance, at the Malt Shovel Robin asked a waitress how old the Tudor style building was, and the girl looked at us like the thought had never ever entered her mind. "Oh my, I wouldn't have any idea." She had a "Why would anyone want to know a silly thing like that?" look on her face.

To my astonishment, the elderly lady suggests "Deben's" in the other mall, The Chimes, just a block away. Of course, you have to know that when she says "Deben's," you're actually looking for a store pronounced "Deben's" but whose name is spelled "Debenham's." Brilliantly, we found the store and the down comforter.

Thanks to the elderly lady, from now on I'm going to cut the Brits some slack on the instructions thing.

As we left the store I grabbed this shot of a Debenham's employee in the display window. I consider myself open minded, but come on, get a room.


Monday sunset photo

Monday's sunset from the window of my UK office. Another residence hall - I mean office building - is seen next door. There's usually an airplane in this scene, taking off from Heathrow airport, 15 minutes away.

Barges vs. Narrow Boats

Our friend Laura pointed out in a comment that as a Mississippi Delta native, there's a difference between what I call a barge and a real barge, as in on the Mississippi River. She's right. I should have used the term Narrow Boat, although the Narrow Boats are sometimes called barges, I assume because they have barge qualities: they have flat bottoms and float in very shallow water.

In the future, I'll refer to the English boats as Narrow Boats. It sounds cooler, it's more accurate, and Laura is a Mississippi Delta expert if ever there was one. And probably a barge expert. She's been around the barge a few times, if you know what I mean. This is not her first barge rodeo, if you catch my drift.

Thanks for the comment, Laura.

A barge, as in "you're not gonna see one of these in an English canal, parked near a pub."

A Narrow Boat, as in "you probably won't see one of these on Ol' Man River."

Averaging two fire-alarms a week

And that's just in our own residence hall, Shoreditch. If you count fire alarms that we could hear coming from other halls, the number is 5 or 6 alarms a week. The first one in our hall was mid-evening, but the one last night was at 1:15am. Every room has an alarm siren mounted above the door, inside the room. Which means it's about 10 feet from you when you're in bed asleep. When it goes off, it pretty much wakes the dead, not to mention everyone on this side of the campus. We jump up, throw on clothes, hustle down 5 flights of stairs, then stand outside until Security shows up, turns off the alarm, and OKs everyone to return. During the first fire alarm, the second day we were here, a couple from Taiwan told us it happens 2 or 3 times a week (and they've been here for two months). I didn't believe him at the time, but I do now. Makes you wonder how much fun it'll be when it's pouring rain, or freezing cold. Or both.

Robin holds her ears while evacuating via the stairwell during a fire alarm. I'm sure many students will have permanent damage to their hearing before the semester ends. I once sat on the front row of a Led Zeppelin concert, and it was like a soothing lullaby compared to the siren used here.


My pal/sports buddy, Ces (Robin's brother-in-law), is playing in a golf tournament soon with some college friends and wanted a "Super Senior" image for tournament T-shirts.

Being at Brunel without my Wacom pressure-sensitive tablet, or a desk (Robin was using the small desk in our flat), I was able to do a drawing in my European office, JTmobile Studio, also known as "the couch."

JTstudios, Euorpean office.

Drawing in Photoshop, from an unfamiliar position, with a mouse, doesn't improve one's drawings. Freehand drawing with a mouse is about half a notch easier than using an Etch-a-Sketch (the plastic box that turned millions of potential artists into disturbed children who hated drawing). Luckily, I gave up on Etch-a-Sketch before it permanently damaged me.

It's OK for this to be a crummy sketch, because I'll place it as a template in Adobe Illustrator and redraw it using vector drawing tools, which are much easier to control using a mouse than the pixel-based drawings you can do in Photoshop.

The Illustrator version. Time restraints and other deadlines (Robin's book) forced me to eliminate the golf bag with clubs spilling out that's visible in the rough sketch. Hope it works for you, Ces. It was fun.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Book deadline done!

This afternon Robin finished her book and uploaded it to the editor and production guru who makes sure all the files are properly made and ready for printing.

To celebrate, we took an afternoon stroll along the canal that I discovered this morning. The Tea Room had closed by the time we got there, so we went next door and had dinner at the Malt Shovel again.

Tomorrow we plan to walk into Uxbridge and do some shopping. Later in the week we may have to go into London to the Apple Store again. "Pleeeease don't throw me in dat briar patch!"

When we got back to Shoreditch Hall from dinner, we continued to celebrate and watched the movie "Sunshine Cleaning" on my laptop that I downloaded through iTunes a couple of nights ago.

A barge dog keeps a close watch on the canal and foot path traffic.

Looks like a veteran barge dog.

There are some dumpy, ugly barges that look like the're from a Mel Gibson Canal Warrior movie, but lots of them are great looking.

Robin: "Hey mister, why is it the women who always have to open and close the locks?"

Man: "In my case, it's because she's afraid of the engine." Fair enough.

We'll try the Tea Rooms later this week.

On the way back to Shoreditch Hall, we stopped by our friendly neighborhood convenience store, run by Ahmed (pronounced ahk-med). He's not in this photo. That's his grandfather with the red turban, and his grandfather's friend in the background. They hang out here in the evenings to keep Ahmed company, and to give him advice. This week I'm going to ask Ahmed if they mind if I take some photos and video of them.

Ah, relaxation.

A Sunday Stroll: a shady lane and barge boats

While Robin was feverishly working to finish the final pages of her book, I walked down to the Malt Shovel pub to check out the canal that runs next to it. A day or so ago, I was looking at the neighborhood on Google Maps and noticed barge boats on the canal. So I went to check it out.

I passed a shady lane that looked surprsingly rural. It turned out to be a beautiful, narrow road to guest cottages, big estates, new luxury homes, streams with ducks, and fields with horses.

A lovely Sunday morning, don't you think, Mr. Ed?

Returning from the shady lane, I doubled back towards the Malt Shovel, peered over the bridge wall and saw them - "Houston, we have barges!"

A barge approaches a canal lock. Out of view and to the right is the Malt Shovel and a Tea House. We'll check out the Tea House later for dinner.

When you approach the lock, your girl friend hops out, onto the bank, uses a crank to unlock the gate, and then pulls or pushes on the gate just enough to let water pour into the lower lock. It's heavy.

Ever wonder what the guy in the boat is doing while his sweetheart is cranking and pulling and pushing? Shoulda' known.

A successful negotiation of the lock. Not unlike the Panama Canal.

The bargers head up the canal full-speed, 4 mph. You're encouraged to keep it closer to 2 or 3 mph, but these kids are obviously wild and crazy thrill-seekers.

You can rent barges by the week, minimum of three days, I think. Available to sleep four or six people. Dogs allowed. It's on the list. Need volunteers to share boat.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

All is quiet on the Brunel campus

But then, it's only 10 pm, Saturday night. I heard some students say there's a Jack Daniels party tonight, so, as Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin fame says in the title of the Rockumentary, "It Might Get Loud."

Here's a collection of tidbits from the last day or so.

We had dinner in the University cafeteria, located upstairs on the main concourse, Friday night. Not many people there, but pretty good food. Robin likes their curry and rice.

Each side of the school cafeteria has a large flat screen showing non-stop, high-energy, sexy music videos. Hey Brunel, Breaking News: these kids don't need excitement encouragement, they need enough downers to bring down to a normal operational level.

The cafeteria is upstair in the building on the main concourse. It doesn't look like a main concourse on Saturday, but there's usually more people here than anywhere else on campus.

There are a couple of small stores just off campus, within 4 or 5 minutes of our residence hall. This is where we do light grocery shopping (very light) and occasionally buy wine.

Just a door or two away from the grocery/wine shop is The best Kebob. I haven't tried it yet, but it looks popular. Or maybe being the only place open on Saturday night makes it look more popular than it really is.

The best Kebob. Big glass windows are ideal for video taping customers.

The kitchen in our flat. Those of you who've been to our house can probably spot the difference between this kitchen and the one we're used to cooking in. I mean besides the posters on the wall asking residents not to burn the place down.