Archive for July, 2009

The boyfriend and I took in a film a couple of days ago, it was his first in the theatre in ages. Moon, a story of a man posted to a mining unit on the back side of Earth’s moon for a three year contract, was wonderful. No aliens, no sudden loud sounds, just psychological suspense, and very good.

Sam is alone at his post, aside from a sentient computer named Gerty, voiced by Kevin Spacey, in a good-sized space station for one person. I noted that being assigned, alone, to a post that far away for that long is basically like being in solitary confinement. A computer is not a person, and even one other person would get to be too much after a while. Soon, it is apparent that he is cracking up and the rest of the movie is spent examining that and the system that placed him in such a dehumanizing setting for so long.

This was an excellent movie, everything well thought out with an extremely realistic setting and a nuanced performance from the lead actor. Definitely recommended.

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PhotoshopDisasters is one of those sites that can keep you occupied for far longer than you expected and then suddenly remind you of why advertising is often an evil, evil instrument of the devil.

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Responsible Buying

I have been reading the blog (now mostly skimming) of a New York City resident’s journey through zero environmental impact living since just before the end of his self-imposed year of zero impact, titled No Impact Man. It’s certainly a worthy endeavor, and I am exposed to many more ideas about environmentalism and subjects I want to know more about than I would without his blog. Hence “skim”. While I think that his discussion topics are important, I often dislike his tone and don’t think his methods have been made as transparent as he asks for from companies. Still, I keep him around because some of his posts make me think.

Other people in my online reach expose me to questions about my food and where it comes from. A short series shown here in the UK on More 4 titled Blood, Sweat and Takeaways took 5 young Britons out of their comfortable homes to Thailand, to do the jobs required to bring them their takeout food. It was an eye-opening series, one statistic in particular, regarding rice: from planting to packaging one 130 kg bag of rice nets only £17. That same bag nets £140 when sold in England. This put me in mind of my favorite restaurants back in NYC, two sister Thai restaurants who do a booming business in cheap, delicious dishes. Do they profit off the backs of those in their homeland? Because if they can’t source the raw ingredients cheaply they can’t pass them on cheaply. How do we ask for the fair trade ingredients we’re becoming accustomed to requiring from coffee suppliers when we go out to eat?

Next up is the clothing we wear. How many remember the scandal over sweatshop labor practices in Kathie Lee’s eponymous clothing line? Can ompanies like Top Shop and H&M possibly pay their workers fair wages when they’re selling shirts at $4 a pop sometimes? Or is it just that their business model relies on large amounts of inventory to enable them to sell at lower prices? American Apparel was supposed to be the answer to that, clothing made in the United States by US workers paid fair wages and provided with health and dental insurance. It may not be cheap but I am willing to pay a higher price in order to support a company that is good to its employees. But the company has been dogged by rumors of sexual exploitation on the part of its founder Dov Charney. So what I want to know now is: are the actual labor practices of the company as golden as they are claimed to be? And how do I find out?

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Well, now you can.

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Well, we are in a tiny, adorable attic room in East Dulwich the view of which looks out over south London rooftops and reminds us of a scene from Mary Poppins. I found a small crawl space just outside the room at the landing, which I will be using to get as many boxes as possible out of the room. Some are ok, but he is happy to leave them all piled up on one wall of the room whereas I would like to use the bedside table and not have another sitting out in the middle of the open space we do have. That will happen tomorrow, today we could barely get out of the house in order to mail paperwork he desperately needed to get out. I had trouble sleeping, worries and our flatmate’s television keeping me up. Then it seemed every time I turned over the boyfriend had a knee or an elbow poking me in the back or the side and was sleeping on 2/3 of the bed. We’re all stressed and tetchy but we’re out of the apartment and happier for it. Tonight is the drinks night for Southeast London but I don’t think we should go to it. We spent a ridiculous £50 on Sunday and whenever you go out in London, probably all of England, people buy rounds. Suddenly there’s a pint in front of you and you’ll owe that person somewhere down the line. We seem to owe half the LFGSS forum drinks at this point and it’s getting to be a pain. It also means I drink more than I want to. The boyfriend had to get up at 6:30 a.m. yesterday, ride 40 miles for day work with Rollapalooza and then help move, so was out like a light by 10 p.m. We didn’t get up until 9 a.m. this morning. I wish I’d slept longer. I wish it wasn’t gray and drizzly. I like the mattress in here. I have to go have dinner now.

New True Blood and Weeds to watch tonight.

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Moving temporarily to East Dulwich (south of the Thames, somewhat centralish, for those of you not in London) in order to leave house owned and lived in by landlord we were forced to have arrested, who is now embraced by the long arm of the law. We have been offered a garret room of romantically small proportions (and a slanting roof and a window cut into the slanting roof) free of charge for two months in exchange for house and back garden DIY. These past three days of semi-squatting have been mentally taxing. I say “semi-squat” because we have paid and are thus allowed to be here but feel weird and want out ASAP. Today we meet up with the guy whose house we’ll be moving into for the handover of keys. This all comes at a fortuitous time, he’s about to go on holiday tomorrow and we need to save money. Tomorrow another friend with access to a work van has agreed to shuttle our stuff from Point A to Point B.

The flat is an utter wreck and I feel somewhat crap about that. I’ll be forced by my own conscience, despite our landlord’s actions, to vacuum the hallway and to put the kitchen to rights. That’s not a big deal. Then we’ll have to leave a note for the back tenant to take the trash and recycling out on Tuesday night since we (God in Heaven) won’t be here.

East Dulwich is a working class neighborhood with a more racially diverse population than Ealing. It feels a bit like Brooklyn and is as cut off from the rest of London as Red Hook is. There are no Underground lines, hardly any bus lines and only London Overground and National Rail. That’s fine, because it’s not permanent. And it’s about 6 miles to London Bridge and quite a bit closer to O & K than Ealing so we can visit more regularly (I hope). Also will be one n’hood over from my new friend A, an American girl from Tennessee who is baking my birthday cake. We trade pilates for massage, it’s awesome. Don’t think we’ll be able to do that for a while as I would feel really bad to take over the living room of the temporary lodgings unless I knew no one else was in the house.

Also, through some quirk or other, we’ve had no hot water for the past few days. Cold water showers in England are bitingly cold. I think we had summer, it was like a week long, in the 80s, and they called it a “heat wave”. Last night I was shivering and had to wear my hoodie. Today is the Bright Times vol. III BBQ at South drinks (The Coach and Horses). The boyfriend is making Mexican rice & beans. I wanted to make the luscious mac & cheese with pickled chiles that A made last week but gave in when the boyfriend made an oh-please-can-I? face.

I hope to have photos of charmingly tiny room soon. Finally found the battery charger for the digital camera.

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On Birthdays

I am about to turn 31, which is a bit of a surprise to me. These past 9 months have kind of felt like I don’t exist. I imagine that when I do finally retain employment, I will grasp the edge of December and the edge of whichever month I am in, gently pull them together, and sew up the portion of my life when I was unemployed. It feels extraordinary, in the original sense of the word, not the thrown-around, overused sense. It is out of the ordinary to be unemployed, to be living, first in one European country, then another (though England is not Europe). It is out of the ordinary to be floating around, doing nothing, for so long.

Last year, when I turned 30, I was happy. I was excited to be entering my 30s, felt like life was just about to really begin. Everything was going to open up and start happening. When I realized that in less than a month I will be 31, I panicked a bit. This time I feel like most people claim to at 29. Compound this with the fact that even though I have just been added to the register and thus am legally allowed to begin applying for Qualified SWer positions it doesn’t mean that any interviews will be forthcoming. Though Britain is desperate for QSWs, I have been out of the field for 7 years and am new to this country and its laws. I am running out of money and it may take months yet to be called for an interview and then takes an average of 1 1/2 months from interview to start of employment.

This is the first year that a birthday means less celebration than cause for worry. I hope this isn’t a trend.

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Chocolate Pudding

I made chocolate pudding (that’s custard to you Brits) from scratch today! I’ve been wanting to make pudding from scratch for a while and decided to make it today on a whim. Since I don’t know what milk looks like just before it boils I had my face up close to the pot, which unnerved me, and am unconvinced I cooked it long enough. It thickened up, though, which I assumed was good. Then it thickened more in the second cooking stage. Not sure if it’ll thicken up like box pudding mix but I hope it will. Used dark chocolate, opted not to throw in any vanilla, at the last minute. It is delicious. I plan to follow up by making ‘nana puddin. Next week, I guess.

6 egg yolks
600 mL (1 pint) milk
50 g (2 oz) sugar
100 g (4 oz) plain chocolate, grated

1. Put the milk into a saucepan and bring almost to the boil. Remove from the heat.
2. Whisk the egg yolks and sugar together until thick and fluffy. Gradually pour the milk on to the eggs and sugar, whisking continously.
3. Return mixture to saucepan and stir over a very gentle heat, until it coats the back of a spoon. Remove from the heat and add the chocolate. Stir until dissolved.
4. Serve the custard hot or cold. To cool the custard, pour into a bowl and place dampened greaseproof paper directly on to the surface to stop a ‘skin’ from forming. Chill.
ure to saucepan and stir over a very gentle heat, until it coats the back of a spoon. Remove from the heat and add the chocolate. Stir until dissolved.

Edit: Believe them when they say to grate the chocolate and have patience, it will thicken properly overnight.

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