There’s no replacement for displacement

I’ve been a little light on the blogging lately.  I think part of it is that I’m starting to feel like less of a tourist after getting an apartment, figuring out a commute, and making more connections in the city.

It’s a long weekend here in the UK.  Between seeing my wife this week and scrambling to meet the April 30 income tax deadline, things have been alternately exciting and then very very dull.  The long weekend really did sneak up on me, and the folks I would typically hang out with have taken time off to go to Spain, Greece, and France respectively.  I’m stuck here.

And, of course, it’s raining.

Now that taxes are overwith I’ve headed to a new bar-café on Old Street that seems to cater to the hip cyclist crowd – the types seen at Jet Fuel in Cabbagetown.  There are fixed gear bikes hanging on the walls, genuinely hip décor, good music (Vampire Weekend, new album) and a generally homey feel that would be familiar to patrons of the Dark Horse on Queen East.  At 9:30pm on a Friday night it is about half full, which given it just opened 2 weeks ago isn’t bad.  When everyone you would want to talk to is on another continent, sometimes it can be nice to chill out in a semi-public space like this and hunker down with an Amstel and a Macbook.

Still raining.


Most of my friends in Toronto have skinnier jeans, cooler jobs, and more alternative facial hair than I do, so when they talk about what is and isn’t cool I tend to listen to them.  When in Toronto, we were always in search of the coolest neighbourhood – which didn’t have anything to do with nice-ness, but rather authenticity.  Half a year after settling into our cheery-gritty east end pile, one of my friends found a place east-er and gritter than us.  He might have been the first ironic mustache on the street, at least as a property owner rather than a tenant.  A true pioneer.  Johnny Appleseed.  Paul Bunyan.

As time went on and I developed my hopelessly detailed neighbourhood coolness matrix, which took into account a number of things (% of non American cars; % skinny jeans; PBR consumption per capita; number of fixed gear bikes, and so forth) and this guy and his hood remained at the top.  Couldn’t imagine him moving anywhere else.  Linked forever.

Then life circumstances changed, and he moved into a neighbourhood that was by all accounts much nicer but without a shred of grit.  Uncool.

I spoke with him about it, and he basically said that being on the leading edge caused him to discount all those neighbourhoods that weren’t.  Which, of course, I was completely guilty of as well.

Now I’m without a home, without a hood – seeking “approval” from co-workers and other Londoners about neighbourhood x,y,z (for the record, a lot of my ideas didn’t go over well).  If someone had asked me about Toronto neighbourhoods a year ago, I would have been able to rule out 80% of Toronto, and 93% of the GTA, in about six seconds based largely on the aforementioned matrix.  Coming to London, I had my own set of preferences (cool!  authentic! gritty!) that were completely impossible to fulfill, and even it were possible to fulfill them I wouldn’t know how.

In Toronto I thought I had it nailed down, which isn’t necessarily a good thing.  When we return to the 416 it won’t likely be to a neighbourhood that’s as gritty, cool, or authentic.   I don’t know that our neighbourhood in London is any of these things.  And I don’t know if it really matters either.

So this weekend, an Upper Street Survey.  Wish me luck.  And apologies to those whom I’ve offended in the past about comments “north of Bloor”.



We have neighbourhood

Looks like our days of flat hunting were successful, and we have a brand spanking old flat in the Angel, a vibrant neighborhood about 3km/2mi north of the City.

At first flathunting wasn’t what we expected.  Since London is such an expensive city, we started with a bargain-basement budget and went on a tour of some of the most depraved neighborhoods in the east end of London.  At our price point it was just tower-block after tower-block, and while our experience in Toronto included “mixed neighborhoods”, a lot of the stuff we saw at first was downright rough.  I thought I could handle anything.  I can’t.

Our next option was to head to the end of the tube line, where there were more flats in our price range but nothing terribly appealing.  We started to think living far out would be a false economy, with Zone 1-4 tube fares adding up quickly, and the likelihood that we would be out, and therefore have to eat out more frequently.  After having a 20 minute walk to work, I don’t know if I’m going to be a great commuter.

So, we kicked the budget up 10% and a funny thing started to happen – we could afford tiny, unrennovated (but still serviceable) flats in completely awesome neighborhoods.

What is our neighborhood essentially like?  30% Queen West, 30% Leslieville, 20% Danforth, 20% College Street.

And what is it exactly like?  Neighborhood tour coming up, eta this weekend!

Odds & Ends

I went to Heathrow LHR to pick up the lovely Mrs. Expat  on Thursday.  Take that, volcanic ash!

Updates to be sporadic.  Spent today flatsearching, a completely awful experience, looking forward to it being over soon.

In the meantime:

Pimm’s is tasty.  Wife likes it.  Also, pre-mixed gin and tonic.  Brilliant.

London has some great concrete buildings.  I don’t think many people appreciate them, but I do.

Stiff upper lip, outside Burough Market.

Ekranoplan: It’s Metal

So, volcanic ash might delay my wife’s visit tomorrow.

If the Russians had won the Cold War, maybe we would have had these to scoot about in (under the ash, of course).


Global Aircraft:

The Lun-class Ekranoplan floatplane was one of the most distinct designs to emerge from the Cold War. The aircraft was designed around the idea known as “wing-in-ground” effect, which basically allowed for an increased weight aircraft to utilized the low-altitude lift over water for increased range and better fuel economy. In essence, the aircraft would skim the surface of the water after achieving take off and utilize this lift for the duration of the flight. This effect can be commonly observed in seabirds flying low, scouting for prey. The bird seems to effortlessly skim across the surface of the body of water without the need to flap its wings for some time. This same idea was brought to bear in the Lun-class flying boat, of which only one was ever produced and operated with the Soviet Navy. The primary goal of the Ekranoplan design was to submit a system that could operate under radar by staying close to the surface of the earth, where “clutter” signatures were more apparent.

Make no mistake – the Ekranoplan was a large aircraft for its time. The design was an achievement by Rostislav Evgenievich Alexeev but was by no means a new concept. Wing-in-ground (WIG) effect aircraft were being tested as early as the 1930’s, most notably by the German firm of Dornier. The Ekranoplan was unique in that it A) was a successful design attempt that was used operationally and B) it relied on turbojet power, something not afforded the systems of earlier attempts.

The Ekranoplan entered service with the Soviet Navy in 1987 with the designation of MD-160, operating in the Black Sea. The system was powered by no fewer than 8 turbojet engines mounted on a variable forward canard system (four per side) that would be controlled by the pilot during take off and could be leveled during flight. The fuselage was designed with the boat hull-style look common to many World War Two flying boat aircraft. Wings were mounted low at fuselage center and a V-shape high tail section rounded out the design components. The cockpit was fitted just forward of the wing roots and the entire system was crewed by fifteen personnel.


St. Helen’s on Bishopsgate, in the shadow of SwissRe’s Gherkin

(only about 40 stories, but it’s beautiful, no?)

Original Banksy in Hackney.  There are a lot of fakes (especially in the City), but this one is a survivor.

Columbia Road Flower Market in Hackney/Shoreditch/Hoxton.  The Queen West force is strong here!

Bet you can’t hold 4 of these.  On the left, a light Belgian lager at 5.2%.  On the right, the girly-looking beer clocks in at 9% alcohol content.  Not for amateurs – mighty powerful stuff.

Recommend you click the picture above and check out the contrasts.  Taken at the canal above Old Street, minutes from Hipster Central.

Lastly, here are some tube cars on a roof – not sure why.  They seemed to be turned into apartments.