Wednesday, February 27, 2008


So last night in England, at about 1am I was awoken by the biggest earthquake to hit England in 24 years. Now at approximately this time, 24 years ago, I would have been celebrating my 10th birthday. I don't think the two are related, but you never know...

The thing with me though is that if I am awoken just after getting to sleep, I am really, really confused. The brain has just shutdown and entered weird dreamland, so getting roused from that state is never a smooth process. First I felt the shaking, and then thought that someone was trying to drive their car through the house to get me. I heard someone calling my name, seemingly from outside (it was downstairs), and didn't know what to do. Then some footsteps on the stairs and I was seriously thinking someone was going to burst into the room at any minute and I was trying to find my pj bottoms. But they didn't. I heard voices, recognised my housemates, and managed to get out bed to confirm that there had just been an earthquake, only lasting about 10s but enough to wake almost everyone.

It was definitely stronger than anything I felt in Japan, where every month at least I would feel was a mild rocking that without the sound of display case windows clanging against each other probably wouldn't have woken me from sleep. Here though the 2 seconds of violet shaking was quite a jolt. Not much damage - in my room just precariously placed decoration fell down, but nearer the epicenter in Lincoln around 60 miles away there were chimney stacks that collapsed and as of the morning just one casualty was reported.

So that was exciting! But disappointingly (?) I only heard the old cracker "so did the earth move for you?" three times during the day. Maybe that was a blessing.

BTW the picture is from the Tate Modern Museum in London when I arrived in Jan. Called "Shibbolleth", it is a deep crack in the floor of the Great Turbine Hall, peering into the foundations, which according to the artist in part represents "the history of racism, running parallel to the history of modernity and... it's untold dark side".
If I can misinterpret an earthquake as a smash and grab invasion into my house, and world-famous artists can interpret a crack in the earth as reflecting racism and colonialisation, am I in the wrong profession? I must admit to sometimes needing some imagination interpreting experimental results in a positive light. I seemed to see more colours in membrane-thin ceramic samples than my Russian student Svetlana when polishing last year, so perhaps it can be useful to be a bit weird in the head...

Sunday, February 17, 2008

So where am I?

The town is called Loughborough, often shortened to L'boro, and pronounced "luffb'ra". It is in he East Midlands district, about 180 km north of London, just off the M1. [So if there is an east-of-the-middle lands, is there also a "just-south-of-the-east-of-the-middle- no,- a-little-bit-to-the-left, -more,-more,-lower,-thats-it-lands?]

L'boro is a university town of about 50,000 people, with the university most famous for having a center of sporting excellence which attracts many elite athletes and much of the British olympic team train here.
Other than that there doesn't seem to be too many major attractions. The John Taylor Bellfoundry is here, the guys who made Great Paul, the largest bell in England that sits in St. Pauls Cathedral. At 17 tons it's even bigger even than Big Ben. I'd like to see Piffy play that one (obscure Late Show reference to you out there in Aus). There is also a steam train.

When asking about places to live, ie: should I stay local or is it better in the bigger cities and commute, no town gets any recommendation, including L'boro. It was the same situation when asking about which bank to use; everyone proceeded to disown the bank that they used, with the net result being me none the wiser.

Surrounding cities include Leicester, Derby, and Nottingham, and if you stretch it a bit, Birmingham. Lieceister is closest about 10 miles SE (no, they aren't fully metrificated). All the comments about Leicester are that anyone can live elswewhere, does. But no-one tells me why. I suspect that its higher population of "asians", what they call the Indians, Bangladeshis and Pakistanis, could explain it. My indian housemate goes there to get a curry rather than anywhere in town here.

Derby is about 15 miles to the north, and where Rolls Royce PLC (ie has its headquarters. It is basically an industrial town full of old worker's cottages, and again doesn't get too many recommendations as a place to live. Other industries there include Bombadier rail transportation and aeronautical, and Toyota. And a big deal, believe it or not, is the new-ish Westfield shopping center that has opened there recently. Whoop de doo. Admittedly it was one of the first places I drove to when I got my car.

At 18 miles to the NE Nottigham frequently gets mentioned as the best place for a night out and the biggest of the cities so far, but also as the stabbing death capital of the UK. "How vibrant", the real estate agent might say! But probably too far away.
And Birmingham is another industrial town that has a small bit of urban renewal as a jewel of hope for the coffee culture future. It also has, apparently, the stupidest sounding accent in all of Britain. Dunno about that as I'm still amused by all the Scots who work at RRFCS. After 6 weeks youd've thought I'd be over it, but no. If only I could get them to say "cheese eating surrender monkeys".

And there are lots of small villages in the surrounding areas, generally quiet little places that I could see being appealing if I was planning to stay here and had a young family and a dog. Quorn, Ashby de la Zouche, Burton on the Woods, Barrow upon Soar. Doesn't it all sound so English? And the Peak District is not far away, about an hour or so, and Lakes District about 2 hours... so access from the Mid-lands to the Aroundy-lands is quite good.

So what do I like about Loughborough so far? Dunno yet. The English do know how to do pubs really well, so words like 'quaint' and 'rustic' can be used in abandon. But not "pubikt", which is a bastardised swenglish word I made up once, and that was enough. I have found The Orange Tree which plays good indie music, including some kinda obscure stuff from Sweden. There seem to be heaps more clubs and bars here than in Lulea, though my one clubbing experience was about as poor as expected, as it isn't my thing. But even at Club Cleo in Lulea the people really dressed up to go out, and being Swedish generally looked really good. Here... not so.

And there is an Australian Restaurant, which I've already eaten at, called Moomba. Apparently no Australians are involved, and the menu is not particularly aussie at all, just that there is lots of kangaroo as the meat option. They didn't even do anything special for Australia Day. And Fosters - it's everywhere! It is the cheap beer of choice, but not my choice. We managed to have Boags and Coopers at Moomba.

I've already done the weekend trip to London once, to catch my fill of kulcha, and catch up with Christina. The much better accessibility of that to here ($72 aud 2 hr train ride) when compared getting to Stockholm from Luleå (min $300 plane trip), is a very good thing.

So I leave you with some pics of the town center. Complaints about the weather and bad food will come soon, I promise!

Meanwhile pics via Facebook, just click on the link:

Thursday, February 7, 2008

...but instead I just might save the world.

I used to be living in Luleå, now living it large in Loughborough, trying to save the world one green and highly efficient watt at a time! Optimistic, Hell Yeah!

Welcome to my new blog. I just wish I knew exactly what to do with it. To most of you aussies life in Loughboroughland will be far less exotic than Luleå, but nevertheless I will try to keep it interesting. England isn't just a colder, greyer, version of home; they do things very differently here; ugg boots are worn out in public, without shame, for example!

Anyhow, I arrived a month ago, to work for Rolls Royce Fuel Cells Systems,
  • yes, that's those "hydrogen fuel cell thingys"
  • no, they are not for use in luxury cars. Not even for ordinary cars, or trucks. Possibly for submarines though.
And just to be clear - the car maker is now split off and owned by BMW, and is totally separate from the engineering goliath that is the No. 2 airplane engine maker in the world (after GE), and which also makes gas turbines for stationary power generation and naval propulsion systems. That's these guys:

In brief, since arriving I have:
  • - got myself sorted in my share house with 5 housemates, soon to be 6
  • - wished I had brought my copy of "He Died with a Falafel In His Hand" with me instead of selling it on eBay. Might've needed it need to revise a bit.
  • - got through some admin stuff easier than expected - beauty of being in the country
  • - drank warm fosters (I know, I know.., but it wasn't mine though)
  • - bought a car
  • - had a visit from Christina, and a weekend in London together is happening from tomorrow
  • - been pelted with the crappy English weather
  • - been kept awake by the howling of the wind
  • - gotten to work by about 8:15 every day, earlier than I was getting up for most of my adult life
  • - made a guess that put at risk $100,000 aud of product
  • and perhaps most suprisingly, already had an international grocery queuing incident!
There is kinda lots to tell, but between company confidential information and the time I have to tell it while organising myself, it could come out in dribs and drabs, but checking back every now and then for exciting news from "mother country". And you never know, you might just learn a bit about the car company anyway.

Ciao for now.