Monday, February 26, 2007
Well, it's done now... the Dunces have moved into their new home. We collected the keys a week ago today, and made our first visit to the flat right away. I have to say it was quite disheartening at first: Mrs G. (the previous owner) had lived there for 30 years, and with all of her things removed the whole place looked run-down, dated, and icky. And it didn't help that Mrs G had quite clearly been a smoker for many of those 30 years; white surfaces were no longer anywhere close to white. So quite clearly the first step was to buy a big-ol load of paint (lots of white, plus all the other colors for basically every indoor surface), and all the necessary accessories.
The next day I spent the morning tearing down a nasty built-in wardrobe in the main bedroom (revealing some serious nicotine coloration behind it), but had to go to work in the afternoon, while Mrs. Dunce slaved all day painting. In the evening we headed over to the old house to continue packing and cleaning (we'd finished most of the packing already, but it's amazing to see how many "left-overs" there can be. And then it was another day of painting. I seem to remember that I'm a very bad painter, but perhaps I'm mis-remembering the ineptitude of my brother (The Thief) as my own. After all, it is he who was well known for repeatedly "accidentally" stepping in paint trays so as to be barred from painting. In any event we proceeded slowly but surely, putting a few coats of paint here and there (the whole kitchen and bedroom ceiling, if you're keeping score). Our ambitious plans had slipped substantially by this point; we were instead focusing on the most urgent areas that needed to be usable by the time we moved in (kitchen and living room [UK "lounge"], the latter also serving as a bedroom until we buy a bed). I mention this like it was a very minor point and straightforward decision, but actually this decision process was full of anguish and despair as we wondered whether we would be able to manage even a tiny fraction of what needed to be done.
The next morning I had to work again (but really shouldn't have bothered as it turned out there was nothing urgent requiring my attention), and after lunch I headed out and collected the rental van. Let me tell you it's quite an experience driving a large van through the streets of London, especially if it's emblazoned with the name of a rental company, and also heavily dented and scratched already (it was that way when I got it...). Other drivers are amazingly polite in just about every way you can imagine, probably because they fear for their lives. We had some bold plans for the van: driving it out into the far reaches of northwest London to charity furniture shops which a co-worker (who happens to live in the far reaches of northwest London) recommended as fantastic sources of inexpensive second-hand furniture. We got an early afternoon start, but little did we know the journey would be long and arduous. We reached the first shop (in Kenton) about 3:30, but unfortunately it had practically nothing interesting (aside from a couple of dressers, but we were fully dressered already). And then we zoomed out to Watford, beyond the pages of our A-Z, only to find a nasty surprise: most of the car parks were multi-story, without enough headroom for a tall van. As we looped around a very unpleasant road system, the clock just kept on ticking toward the 5:00 closing time. By the time we found a place we could possibly park (perhaps illegally), it was too late. Talk about frustration; there we were, hours from home, without anything to show for it but a bag of subcontinental treats we collected at a fantastic grocery store along the way. The only thing to do was... a full-on trip to IKEA in Wembley. Maybe not the best choice after five or so hours of intense city driving but it had to be done. We staggered through, ending up with part of a wardrobe (the other part, we hoped, to be obtained from our local IKEA). And various other assorted necessities (and a few not-so-necessities). We really wanted a table and chairs, but IKEA's offerings were undesirable for various reasons, but we really wanted a table and chairs, so what were we going to do? The answer was to sleep on it.
The next morning we got up, heading toward our local(ish) IKEA (the infamous Edmonton location no less) to buy the remaining parts of the wardrobe, and a crummy table and chairs that would make do until we found something better (or, possibly, until they fell apart). But on the way there, eagle-eyed Mrs Dunce spotted a small second-hand shop/house clearance company, which had all sorts of cast-off furniture stacked around. And it just so happened that some of that cast-off furniture was a nice dining room set (table + 6 chairs, all in very good condition). We headed to IKEA anyway, and let me tell you, it's a joy to shop there in the middle of the day during the week (unlike weekends which are dire, and evenings which are still quite busy). Then a big grocery run (taking advantage of the van) and then off to the old house for one more round of packing and cleaning.
Saturday was the day of the big move, and the biggest of the big move items was our brand new sofa-bed. Which we purchased back in the holiday season, under the assumption that we would indeed be in possession of the new flat well in time for the January 29 estimated delivery date. Which would have meant that professional sofa movers would be the people moving it up the stairs, through the narrow hallway and into our living room. Instead they moved it into the old house, so we had to move it ourselves. I'd been having nightmares for weeks about this, because it's really, really heavy. And just barely small enough to fit through doorways (never mind the curve at the top of the stairs). Fortunately we had some macho lifting power on hand, in the form of our friend MJ. With quite a lot of effort we managed to get the sofa into the van (along with other items of furniture which were like feathers in comparison). And with superhuman effort we managed to lift it up the stairs; MJ doing the hard work, lifting from underneath, and me lifting/guiding from above. Then carefully edging it through the door at the top of the stairs, then coaxing it through the narrow doorway into the living room, where it will remain until it's no longer usable.
We spent the rest of the day moving all the rest of our things, with the aid of the Landlord (now ex-), and the Lodger (now ex-). The last thing we moved was the cat: just grabbed her, popped her in the carrier, and took her to the new place just like that. The rest of the day we did a small amount of arranging things so that the living room was fully livable (including use as a bedroom, using the sofa-bed until we get a real bed for the bedroom), and the kitchen somewhat in order. Imagine our surprise when we opened the sofa-bed for the first time, and found a sheet containing simple instructions: REMOVING THE BED MECHANISM FROM THE SOFA IN SEVEN EASY STEPS. So our superhuman effort lifting the sofa-bed up the stairs could have been divided in two. I get the idiot-of-the-week award for that one. Anyway, the first night in the new place went fine, except for poor Zosi. She was very worried about the new house, carefully creeping around, sniffing everything, and starting or growling at every little strange noise. At some point in the night she started with a miserable crying/meowing sound and just wouldn't stop. Fortunately things have improved since then, as she's become more confident about the new flat, even finding nice places to perch and observe things.
Sunday wasn't a day of rest either, as it was the (ex-)Landlord's moving day. Fortunately he didn't have nearly as many things to move, and none were anywhere close to the sofa-bed (although a huge, huge carton completely full of books was not exactly easy to shift). And then we were able to retire to the new flat, loaded with aches and pains, and good for nothing except watching some of Keanu's finest work on TV (the Bill & Ted sequel whose name I'm just too tired to check on IMDB, and then Point Break). Oh yeah, one of the absolute necessities in the new flat is a shower. Mrs. G was apparently a bath-only person, and that just won't work for us. But the current taps and pipes look like they haven't been touched in years, and I'm deathly afraid of breaking something while trying to shut off the water to put in new taps. So for now we're making do with one of those shower heads that fits over the regular taps, and probably getting professional help. I've returned to work now, while Mrs Dunce is doing one more day of painting (bedroom walls).
There are so many things we still need to do; very high on the list being "post some photos". Patience, grasshopper; photos will come soon enough.
Monday, February 19, 2007
We just got the word, everything is finished and we can pick up the keys to the new flat this afternoon! A good thing as we've been very busy packing up all of our stuff (and cleaning the house, the Landlord will be pleased to hear).
Pictures to follow soon (if I can see through the paint flecks/spatters on my glasses to post them).
Wednesday, February 14, 2007
I get all kinds of spam these days, despite any number of filtering/marking schemes. But today I received a message from the best spammer name of all time: Firmness K. Joystick.
Three guesses what he was trying to sell me.
Other good recent names include Holden Burns, Bishop N. Desfunction [sic], Snider Mat, Frailey G. Neblett, and Hockaday U. Sunday.
Wednesday, February 07, 2007
Another one of those odd little differences between US and UK English caught my ear again the other evening, when I overheard someone (UK) talking about a family acquaintance: "Their youngest son is called William". It caught my ear because it still sounds strange to me; my snap judgement about my own use of "called" goes something like this: "a dog is called Spot, a person is named William (although you might call him Will)." The use of "call" seems sort of OK in other contexts ("Will they call their son William?" seems just as good as "Will they name their son William?", and maybe even better), but the original example seems vaguely amiss for some reason. It seems to me that this sort of use of "call" (referring to someone's given name) is much more common in UK than in US English. Some of my linguistically savvy colleagues from the UK concur; they would never say "he is named William" (Or at least they claim they would never say it) but only "He is called William" or "His name is William".
It's a little hard to find information on this contrast online: there are so many situations where legal documents use phrases like "called or named", and also numerous instances referring to translated texts where an original term in another language covers both possibilities in English (most of the web texts that came up were related to Biblical translation, but this also seems to be the case for Old English "yclept" and "hight"). But eventually I did find at least some online discussions about this distinction many of which fail to recognize that there are dialectal differences (in addition to whatever other points the writers are making), leading to comments like this one where a (US English) writer seems particularly upset when he sees "call" used in this way: "Any time I read something like this where a person is "called" and then it lists their name, it just sounds so wrong and ignorant. I would argue that there's no option, exception, or exemption for not writing or saying it as 'The CEO was NAMED John Smith.'". A follow-up post suggests that "call" should only be used when it does not refer to someone's given name (it's ok for nicknames, aliases, and so on). Neither of these posters gave any suggestions about the penalties for violating this rule, but I'd imagine they would be quite serious indeed (drawing/quartering/heads on pikes)*.
Not all discussions on this matter are restricted to colonial prescriptivists. This discussion, for example, includes comments from US and UK speakers (tending toward the view that "called" is somewhat less acceptable in US English). Or this discussion, a seriously anoraky exchange about the TV series Firefly, concerning whether a character referred to as "the Shepherd" might be using the name "Book" as an alias ("[he] never actually says his name: 'Book. I'm called Book.'"). The discussion wanders into the basic priciple of magic, questions of identity, whether the use of "called" has been established in the Firefly lexicon as carrying any particular meaning, and so on, before one quite sensible suggestion that this may simply reflect Anglophilic tendencies on the part of the writer rather than being laden with deep meaning (cf. the calling of Paul).
Of course there's also the question of "called" vs. "named" for inanimate entities, which I think sheds some light on the UK usage for humans too. This discussion on Englishforums.com is about whether a computer file or website should be called or named, e.g. "blah.html". In this case it seems to be fairly well agreed: when it is being assigned its name in the first place, "named" would be used, but subsequent reference would use "called": I named the file "blah.html", and nobody has changed its name since then so it is still called "blah.html". This seems to be the same as the UK use of "named" for humans; its use is restricted to the assignment of a name in the first place. Thenceforth that person can only be called by that name, as naming has already happened. So the question really is why "named" is used less restrictively by US English speakers when it comes to referring to people by name.
* Right on cue comes a lovely posting on the Language Log about just how to deal with this kind of rage: The 12 step program in language anger management
Monday, February 05, 2007
Not far from our new flat is one of the most unusual combinations of ethnic cuisine I've ever seen in one place:
("Dardana Chinese and Albanian food": photo linked from mattsal.com)
I'm not at all familiar with Albanian cuisine, but a skim of a few websites (marga.org, wikipedia, boston phoenix) suggests it's not a million miles away from Greek/Turkish/other Middle Eastern cuisines (one Albanian restaurant featuring caged animals should probably not define the cuisine). And has very little in common with Chinese food (at least, any variety I can think of). There are a couple of Chinese restaurants in Albania (Asian restaurants in Tirana), but their descriptions suggest there's nothing particularly Albanian about them besides their location. I have no way of knowing whether there are any Albanian restaurants in China, but I would suspect there are not many. Leading me to wonder whether this particular establishment is (literally) unique (no doubt this claim will be quickly debunked by someone out there, perhaps by an expert on Sino-Albanian relations).
I imagine that it's not really a fusion restaurant in the typical sense of the term (grape leaves stuffed with Peking duck? Sweet & sour chicken with olives and boiled eggs?), but more likely offers an Albanian menu, plus a Chinese takeaway menu to pay the bills. We'll just have to see what happens when we finally (inevitably) pay a visit.