Colin's Journal

Colin's Journal: A place for thoughts about politics, software, and daily life.

February 23rd, 2005

Trips and pics

Today I booked tickets for a week-long visit to Toronto. It’ll be one of the more peculiar trips I’ve taken; visiting an old home that still houses most of my possessions, a city that I know and friends that I’ve left behind. The trip is scheduled for 22nd April, a good couple of months away yet.

Canary Wharf looking greyLast weekend was mostly a lazy one. On Friday I met up with Easter Bunny, Aca and Haggis The Second for dinner at a small restaurant called Pierino’s. On Saturday I had intended to get up early and catch the sun, instead I got up late, perfectly timed for the skies to have clouded over.

Sunday was also rather cloudy, but I decided to go for a walk along the river anyway. I can’t say much for the pictures, but it was definitely good to get out the camera again. The move over here has kept me busy enough the past two months that I’ve not really had the chance to get out and take photos. Hopefully a bit more effort on my part will take me out into London this weekend for more photography.

Another goal is to head out to enjoy some live music. It was only occasionally that we would go to see live music in Toronto, at the excellent Hugh’s Room and the Dora Keogh, but it’s something I’d like to do more of.

Canary Wharf, and the docklands in general, is a peculiar part of London. On the one hand they look like any typical North American city, full of sharp angles, glass and brushed metal. Yet it’s an area of London that certainly isn’t typical, more like a city within a city.

February 6th, 2005


Like a lot of people I have particular tastes when it comes to coffee. I like dark, rich tasting coffee. The kind of coffee that’s full of flavour. Flavour that you can sit and analyse in much the same way as you would a good wine.

Most coffees that you buy in shops and at restaurants tend to be either watery, or strong but bland. The exception is espresso, which if you buy from a coffee shop, can be excellent in flavour. Buying espresso in restaurants usually doesn’t work. It’s probably a combination of the low volume they produce (resulting in lack of expertise and older coffee beans) and the failure to treat the espresso correctly (use a warmed cup and bring to the table as fast as possible).

Bee hovering over pink flowersFor the last few years I’ve been buying ground coffee and using a Cafetiere (AKA French Press) to make reasonable tasting coffee at home. The result is certainly better than filter coffee, and usually above the taste of most coffee you can buy while out and about. One of the downsides of this approach however is that you are relying on the coffee shop staff to be competent at their jobs. The only way to ensure you get coarse ground coffee put through the non-flavoured coffee grinder is to watch them like a hawk and be ready to speak up when they get it wrong.

As my first step on the ladder of coffee obsessiveness I received a Rancilio Rocky for Christmas this year. Although the grinder turned up a week and half ago it is only this weekend that I went out of my way to get some good coffee beans to go with it. Following recommendations from a suppliers in the UK site I went into town to visit H. R Higgins (Coffee-man) Ltd.

The selection of available beans is impressive, almost to the point of being overwhelming. Several varieties were pointed out as being likely to appeal given my criteria, and of them I chose the Kibo Chagga. Although my taste buds are currently dulled by a cold, I have still been very impressed with my choice. Freshly ground Kibo Chagga made in a Cafetiere produces a very fine cup of coffee indeed. When I next need to get some more beans I’ll have a dilemma, do I go with something that I know is very good, or explore the alternatives in search of something that might be even better?

Remember summer? The season with warmth and flowers lives on in photographs from our holiday to Nova Scotia. The weather this weekend has been grey, although with no rain. Maybe next week I’ll grab the camera and take some of the sights of London.

January 30th, 2005

Living in London

Laundry drying over a canal in Venice.The last few weeks have been full of the tribulations of moving. In the end I saw a few more places before choosing somewhere, opting for a place in Limehouse. Since then I’ve been setting the flat up: getting food, phone, broadband (yay!), a wireless modem/router and lots of other bits-and-bobs that you need to live comfortably. Despite being fully furnished there has been an endless list of things for me to procure, ranging from wooden spoons to a pad of paper by the phone.

Now that I’ve got a good Internet connection again I’m hoping to clear my backlog of email and dedicate more time to keeping in touch with people. If anyone reading this is interested in meeting up in London let me know – my evening and weekends are going to be mostly free.

I’m not sure what to do in order to get a better way of judging colour in my photographs. The laptop screen is so different from sRGB that I know I’m not seeing my pictures as they should be seen. I’m reluctant to buy a CRT monitor though as it rather defeats the point of having a nice portable laptop! For now I’ll just have to take the opportunity to view pictures at work to ensure that the colours aren’t too far off.

Photo: Laundry left to dry in Venice (in the middle of winter!).

January 12th, 2005

The great flat hunt

After much delay, due to the Christmas period, I am finally deep in the process of finding somewhere to live in London. Shana is safely back in Toronto, and I’ve spent the last two days walking, viewing and negotiating. Day one wasn’t a success. The next paragraph was written in somewhat of a foul mood yesterday, but is still sadly accurate.

Lights of a boat passing through foggy VeniceThe London property market is depressing. The cost of accommodation is high, and more importantly the quality is extremely low. Take West Hampstead. A thriving, green, fun neighbourhood with many houses converted into flats. For £300 per week (that’s just shy of C$3000 per month for the Canadian residents among you) you would expect that landlords would have enough spare cash to spruce up the flats that they let. Certainly a quick clean of carpets, walls and windows couldn’t put them back too much. Unfortunately most of the properties I’ve seen in West Hamsptead at this price point are in urgent need of redecoration, never mind a good clean.

A converted house isn’t a two flat setup. A converted house will hold between 3 and 10 flats, all of them accessible off a narrow, winding, creaking stair case. The front door, entry corridor and stair case are all common areas (flats are owned by several individuals), and are subsequently poorly maintained.

Another way to look at the situation would be to write a West Hampstead style advert for our flat in Toronto. It would run something like “Sumptuous, enormous, superbly maintained, really-really big (no really, we mean it), well decorated, clean, big, large, spacious, you really could fit a family of five in here, split level, fabulous, centrally located flat with AIR CONDITIONING!!!”.

Day two, thankfully, showed more promise. I saw eight different flats in West Hampstead in the first day and of these only one was worth considering. The second day therefore was spent in a different neighbourhood. My initial experience of the docklands had persuaded me that I wouldn’t like to live there. There are very few local shops, and it’s hard to see how any kind of community could develop in such an environment. However, the Docklands have one major factor in its favour, and that is age. Unlike hacked up Victorian houses, the flats built in the Docklands were designed as flats from the beginning. They seem to almost always feature guest bathrooms, kitchens and bathrooms floors are always hard surfaces, and many have wooden floors through-out.

Unfortunately the Docklands isn’t restricted to high quality flats pitched at professionals. There’s also still a fair amount of poor housing stock in the area. As a result approximately half of the places I saw where inside gated communities, with a shockingly large difference in housing quality between the properties inside the gate and on the outside.

So far I’ve found two flats that would work for me. The first has views over the river, is close to Limehouse DLR, but is very close to a main road and has nothing really surrounding it. The second option is a completely new building, also rather closer to a main road than I would like, but close to something resembling a neighbourhood.

Tomorrow is probably decision time, and it’s not an easy call to make.

In Venice we had a couple of nights of dense fog. I’ve got a couple of good shots of a boat passing along the foggy canals, of which this one is rather abstract. I’m now using a laptop as my computer, so I’m not sure whether the colours and brightness are OK. Once I get a chance to view this photo on a CRT I may have to repost it.

Copyright 2015 Colin Stewart

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