Saturday, September 24, 2011

The Crypt Gallery

Walking down the Euston Road today we stopped to take pictures of the St. Pancras Parish Church, and were approached by a gentleman who turned out to be the artist whose exhibition was hosted at the church crypt.

St. Pancras Parish Church crypt

At that time we were the only visitors of the dark crypt behind the enormously heavy solid metal door, and that fact combined with the subdued lights and almost complete silence broken only by the church bell from somewhere above the low ceiling sent shiver up and down my spine. It was totally resembling the setting of a horror film (strange place, sudden acquaintance etc.), but by that I don't mean a bad thing as it's actually a recommendation of the peculiar atmosphere. For those paintings exploiting the uneasy aesthetic of horns and blades spiced up with sexual motives it was a perfect match, I suppose.

St. Pancras Parish Church crypt St. Pancras Parish Church crypt St. Pancras Parish Church crypt

Worth a visit if you happen to pass by.

Friday, September 23, 2011

A night in museum

I realised suddenly this morning that the EU-wide Researchers' Night was to take place today. Here in London it was hosted by several venues but as most of them required pre-booking, we decided to go for the most obvious option - the Natural History Museum, which was also participating.

Diplodocus skeleton from above

The difference from the usual exhibitions (besides the late closure) were the real researchers working in museum itself and London universities telling visitors about their work and answering questions.

A scientist telling us about the fossilised "hobbits"

I don't know if that was really exciting for the people not usually working with public to answer endless lame questions from people like us wandering around but even if so the speakers were very nice to everybody indeed. And apart from just pleasure of talking to clever and nice people, I managed to learn a lot of things I didn't know before, e.g. about deciduous teeth of apes, how long does it take for an abandoned shell to fossilise or is the genetic distance between daytime and night butterflies longer than between two random ones.

A scientist after answering our questions

Having remembered my obsession with insects back in my childhood (I was a huge fan, read a lot and had my own collection), I rushed to entomology section where I had a chance to talk to speaker a bit longer, and was even asked if I am a scientist myself by any chance. Alas, not in the slightest bit :( This is the gentleman who endured my curiosity:


It as also allowed and welcomed to use various equipment: microscopes, preparations, cameras and even peculiar things like a special air drill used to break down the crystals covering the fossilised bones. For the latter option, you were given a real piece of rock with an ancient bone in it to play with.

Looking at nematodes Me holding a bug

All that was organised as desks standing in the museum halls with a unrestricted access. But we also went to a couple of special exhibitions which required to be there at specific time. First was museum library which is usually closed to public and contains a lot of hand-drawn pictures of New World species, many of them now extinct and not ever taken a photo of. And also among the books shown there was a very first edition of The Origin of Species:

The Origin of Species, the first edition

The second special event was a surgery section where three stages of cardiac arrest treatment were shown in a form of a dramatised show (performed by real doctors and nurses) with the comments given by an ICL professor:

Surgery section

For those of visitors who missed their traditional Friday pub, wine and beer was served as well as snacks and sandwiches. Everybody was enjoying their drinks right beside the desks with scientific equipment, and so did the scientists themselves (below is the sea algae desk):

People enjoing wine at the exhibition

A very unusual Friday night it was, and as much appreciated. But on the other thought, it is hard to tell what is unusual in London as something not typical is happening there at any given moment. What a great place it is to live in.

P.S. The full Flickr set is also available.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Navalny at LSE

Alexey Navalny, by far the most famous Russian whistleblower and lawyer was speaking today at LSE about his fight with corruption.

I was lucky to arrive earlier than I planned so I had no problems with getting in, but there were more people in the queue than it was possible to get seated and many visitors were not let into. This is quite typical for LSE public events, but I am not sure if it is still usual for the lectures being interesting almost only to foreigners. Roughly 3/4 of the audience were Russians (it was easy to measure as Navalny once asked Russian speakers to raise their hands), most of them students, most of those students from the LSE. As somebody mentioned in their Twitter ironically, the speaker was very likely talking to children of his opponents.

I haven't been to that many LSE public lectures but still this was the first one I attended organised more as an interview than as a talk. Instead of giving a speech, Navalny was answering questions asked by the host, who was reading them from the sheet of paper, eyes buried in his notes. That was when Navalny asked Russians to raise hands: "Alas, not all of you are Russian speakers so I can't speak Russian, and I'm tired talking in English", he complained.

Russian media always mention Navalny's "brilliant English". That's not true. His speech is fluent but with many grammatical mistakes seasoned with a heavy accent. It is not really his fault as he is a Russian politician and lives in Russia, and also he's simply famous enough to get invited here and there across the globe having people listening to him anyway. And my English is also far from being perfect, so how can I judge. Still, that surprised me enough to mention that.

I liked some of Navalny's points:

  • In its history, Russia has never been as rich as it is now, so people generally don't mind negative aspects they face when dealing with the public institutions.
  • Western societies, UK particularly, are also generally fine with filthy rich Russians, not being interested in how had they acquired their money. "There are so many people with LSE diplomas in Transneft and Rosneft, do you run a special embezzlement course here?" (host laughing).
  • There is no good cop in Russian presidential tandem, as there is no bad cop either. They're both evil and even more precisely, there is only one guy who's in charge, not two of them. For the same reason it doesn't really matter who of them will "win" the next elections.
  • Putin's rating is not a complete fake and he's indeed the most popular politician in the country. But his real figure is hardly higher than 35%, and when everybody learns that, it will drop significantly.

But what I didn't like today was the same attitude I didn't like in Navalny before this talk when reading his posts back in Russia.

The man on the slide above is Oleg Simakov, a supposedly corrupt Russian official, as many of them are (at least he was caught red-handed with £1.000.000 deal). But he was never named during the talk while mentioned several times, because he was always referred by Navalny only as "Mister Unibrow". That might be funny (well, for the first two or three times) but don't you find that Mr. Putin is already very good with rude jokes? Do we really need another guy with this precious talent?

I also had a chance to ask Navalny about his late political commercials showing him shooting a stereotypical immigrant with a handgun. My question was how did his beliefs change since that moment and does he regret now or proud of that activity. The answer I got was long and calm but in brief he told that yes, he's fine with that. I don't really think Navalny is a true racist or something, but I have a strong feeling he's not very picky with his methods. Whatever works, he will use. First liberal socialism in Yabloko party, then nationalism turned out to be less effective, so why don't we try corruption - oh yeah, that works. Okay, but what will be the next? I am not really comfortable with that approach, if you ask me.

There were funny moments as well. "We are not living in a better country because of ourselves", said Navalny solemnly, which, in the context given, made me giggle. Some of us are actually living in a better country, aren't we.


Speaking of who lives where, while standing in the line I overheard some talks between Russian students. Many of them are concerned by the new immigration rules which no longer privilege foreign UK graduates over other foreign workers, so if you don't manage to secure a job soon enough after graduating (being now handicapped by the foreign workforce limitations during your search), you have to leave. "It's actually not that bad", - said one guy - "There are much more opportunities in Moscow. Not as comfortable as London, but nothing money can't buy". And as I mentioned in the beginning, I couldn't help thinking that many corrupts targeted by Navalny reason in a very similar way.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Open House 2011

BBC Studio A

It wasn't the best idea to start the Open House weekend with Alexandra Palace or, more precisely, with the first British TV studio. The venue hasn't changed much since the last time I've been there - its "People's palace" motto will probably make you remember another modern cliché, "broken society".

Alexandra Palace

Looking so magnificently from the distance, inside it is nothing more than a rather shabby empty box. Still, we were expecting the famous TV studio left intact and even the 20 minutes film which everybody had to watch right after getting inside (and you weren't allowed to proceed to other rooms until it ended) didn't really disappoint us. However, the studio itself was a major failure. Several mannequins in the corner were the only interesting part:

BBC Studio A, Alexandra Palace

Apart from that, there was only a collection of old TV sets, radios, recorders and some cameras. All that was donated by public and never really belonged there, and the exhibition wasn't really organised very well - things just lined up on shelves, that's all. The design of the Golden Era electronic devices is generally nice but hey I was born in USSR and I still do remember devices like those being used by people in everyday life. Yawn.

BBC Studio A, Alexandra Palace

And yes, there was dust everywhere, on every surface. Something you don't really expect from any of London museums, even from the improvised one: BBC Studio A, Alexandra Palace

What I liked though was a strange TV set with a screen placed upside down and a built-in mirror to watch the proper picture:

BBC Studio A, Alexandra Palace

Also, I learned about one of the oldest electronics brand in the UK:

BBC Studio A, Alexandra Palace

There was also a chance for visitors to get a glimpse of the theatre currently being refurbished, but the entrance to the hall was restricted and you were only let to peek through the glass, which in addition to the poor light conditions made it very hard to actually see a thing:

Alexandra Palace closed theatre

St. Augustine's tower

The oldest building in Hackney was once a part of the 13th century church with additional floors built on 300 years later and then bought from the Church by council in the beginning of the last century.

St. Augustin's tower

It is amazingly spacious inside on all of its 4 floors thanks to the lack of internal walls and the spiral staircase being so narrow that space is left only for one person:

St. Augustine's tower

The wooden details of the interior including floors and ceilings still look quite authentic while being obviously not as old as the tower itself, so they doesn't spoil the impression as it often happens:

St. Augustine's tower St. Augustine's tower

The exit to the roof is also very narrow and you have to bend to get through it. And on the roof, it is awesome.

St. Augustine's tower View on Hackney from the St. Augustine's tower Stones at the roof of the St. Augustine's tower

Livery Halls and the Guildhall

Pardon my ignorance, but the City of London halls we visited at the end of the day all looked somehow similar to me. All of them hit first by the Great Fire, than by bombs, rebuilt several times and their rich interiors restored. They look splendid inside and outside but there is little interesting you can say beside the fact that it looks very noble and expensive. Perhaps it takes a lot more of history knowledge than I have to get the proper impression and get all the references.

The story of livery companies and their role in London development is undoubtedly worth studying. Still it is hard to connect in the mind, say, carpenters as workers and this as their guild place:

Carpenters' Hall Carpenters' Hall Carpenters' Hall Carved wood coat of arms, Carpenters' Hall

The Guildhall is a building that consists of several ones of different ages now forming a single complex. It is well visible form the outside:


Inside, it is again a combination of the old halls and chambers followed by the modern glass passages and then again by an ancient crypt:

Guildhall Guildhall

The Open House weekend continues tomorrow but unfortunately I won't be able to carry on as I have to work on that day - but those of you who are in London still have a chance. Use it!


The full Flickr set for today is, as usually, here.

The previous Open House weekend (which I, to be honest, liked more):

Village Underground
The Slice of Reality
The Linear House

Friday, September 16, 2011

Change of scenery

A year ago I took this picture of a mural near the Chalk Farm station:

Chalk Farm

Today I found a new one painted at the same wall:

Fabulous mural in Camden

The cheetah was fabulous but I like the successor even more.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Humble discoveries

There is something I wanted to tell a long ago but kept forgetting again and again, so that's what I noticed one day and found it funny.

Many foreign speakers who study English (myself included) are very curious for different accents, and the more gibberish, the better. Heavy accents from different regions of the country are often considered among foreigners to be the essence of the language. As a result, an ability to speak putting on some native accent and not your obvious foreign one is considered to be quite an achievement in learning (which it probably is).

This habit is obviously based on the fact that people don't speak like that on courses and the only way you can get enough of that experience is to live here. That knowledge makes you different from somebody just learning English in their home country.

What's the funny thing I mentioned in the beginning? The thing is, the best way to dispel that delusion is to listen to some undoubtedly well-educated person, especially if language is their profession. Suddenly you realise that oh my god I can understand everything as if he or she spoke my native language! Oh I didn't think that's possible! No, no, no it can't be THAT easy, WHAT DID I STUDY FOR?

So accents are still very interesting and being able to recognise and understand them indeed differ people with and without language experience. Still, the best and the real English is apparently... yes, the one that your teacher tried to speak. Might be trivial, but took some time for me to accept this fact.

I remembered about that while listening to David Crystal's videos today. See, I'm sure every English learner regardless of their skill level can understand very easily what he's talking about:

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Some sketches

As you may have noticed, there is a delay in sketching meetups I usually attend so last month I've only been drawing occasionally when found myself outdoors with a pen and time to spare.

Albert bridge today:

Albert bridge Albert bridge

Small sphinx figure on a bench armrest:

Small sphinx on a bench armrest

Resting pigeon in Springfield park:

Springfield park birds

Buildings near the Town Hall from the other side of the river:

South bank glass buildings

Monday, September 5, 2011

Nice things

Having to buy my first medicine here today I learned that all the prescription drugs in UK cost the same - regardless of what you've been prescribed, you pay a fixed sum of £7.40 to get it.

You can also buy a "season ticket" which is £29.10 for three months or £104 for a year to get an unlimited allowance, and if you're under 16 (or over 60), pregnant, rely on public funds or fall into any of other special categories, you get your medicines for free.

That sounds absolutely unbelievable to a Russian person, but when I told about my astonishment to others, first people thought that I had it the other way around and was actually appalled by high price - because it used to be cheaper before and also you still have to pay that fixed price even if the drug itself could have costed less if sold over the counter.

I wonder if the government plans to cut that in some way, but at least that's how things are now.


While writing that I remembered that I had mentioned I was going to visit a dentist a couple of months ago. Dentistry is also available for fixed prices, as well as the free emergency treatment. However, the queues are significantly longer than for other NHS services (you can easily wait for 4 or 6 months to get a simple filling) so I went for private practice that time. Still it was reasonable - not cheap but also not very different comparing to what you pay for similar treatment in Russia. Of course there are very expensive practices and if you're ready to pay, sky is the limit. But I can't tell that generally it costs much more than I was used to before relocation.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

On yer bike!

Today I volunteered as a cycle marshal for the annual so-called Sky Ride event. Basically, on that day main roads are closed to traffic from the Buckingham palace up to the Tower of London, and less experienced cyclists are given an opportunity to ride in the centre.

Our crowd near the Hackney Town Hall

It is still needed though to get to those closed central streets, and that's what marshals are needed for. People gather in groups all over the city and then are safely escorted to the destination, and our team's task was to get locals from Hackney to Blackfriars.

I was concerned a bit about my own confidence despite taking the planned route yesterday on my own as I had never before cycled in a group. Turned out to be not very hard though I got confused several times blocking the wrong lanes (hopefully I still was more help than hassle to other participants and to the ride leader).

I can recommend volunteering for similar activities to any regular cyclist because even if you're experienced enough the necessity to look after others still provides some valuable insights on what's going on around on the road (as you usually don't pay much attention to that). I can probably tell it widens your perception in some way. You'll find yourself to be much more attentive on junctions, when overtaking etc. - even if you're on your own.

Also, the feeling when after getting though traffic you suddenly see literally an endless flow of cyclists after another turn is very pleasing and inspiring. London is not considered to be very cycle friendly comparing to European capitals, and it is good indeed to learn that the potential is still high and many people are ready to ditch their cars and public transportation:

Marshal's vest

A bit more pics and videos are available in the dedicated Flickr set.

Friday, September 2, 2011

"This bus terminates here"

Today was the last day of bendy buses servicing route 73.

Poster announcing changes on route 73

The history of articulated buses in London is not that rich - they were introduced in 2002 by the previous (and probably the next) mayor and were then promised to get rid of by his successor. The idea itself is controversial - generally, bendy buses are loved by those who ride them and hated by road users.

Last day of bendy buses in London

Bendy buses are more capacious, but mostly thanks to their standing space while it is prohibited to stand at the upper deck in double-decker. So your opinion may vary depending on what do you prefer between waiting for the next bus but having a seat or being able to squeeze even into the packed one.

Thanks to the three doors and multiple Oyster card readers boarding a bendy bus is easier and quicker than a double-decker with its two doors working in one direction only. At the same time, that makes fare evasion simpler, rendering the advantage of the cheaper vehicle and service unimportant.

Also to note, those particular Mercedes buses had some weird engines problems which resulted in them catching fire several times. They were all modified to prevent that, but still the last accident happened right in our area only a couple of months ago.

Today we decided to take a "goodbye ride" by boarding the 73 to Stoke Newington, but after three or four stops the bus broke and driver asked everybody to alight. Coincidence, but that made it even more symbolic.

Goodbye, long friends - you'll be hardly missed. Especially by cyclists.