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We are lucky in the UK to have free access to a government-funded local library network. Despite the swingeing cuts imposed by the coalition in the last parliament that forced the closure of hundreds of branches, they haven't disappeared completely. If you are resident in the UK, you can sign up with any public library in the country*. And perhaps due to the effect of the changes in recent years, several councils in London have partnered together to provide a broader set of resources, particularly online. Indeed, two of my favourite aspects of public library membership in London provides me with unfettered, free online access to The Times newspaper and The Economist archives, in addition to the latest editions of over 330 magazines and journals such as The Economist, The New Yorker, The New York Review of Books, National Geographic, Newsweek, Businessweek and The Week. The great thing is that you can read the magazines on your computer, tablet and smartphone.

(* So long as you turn up once in person to prove your identity and residence, plus pick up your membership card.)
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Some time ago, I picked up this gem of a second-hand coat-pocket-sized book at my local market for the magical price of £1.25, a steal from the original RRP of £8.99 for a 2007 publication. Packed within it are 128 pages, including over 100 photographs of notable inn signs, and short insights to the stories behind them. The ideal companion to the history-loving, trivia-obsessed tipple-quenching Londoner. Can you think of anyone...?

Here are some of my favourites:

The Assembly House: (Kentish Town Road NW5)
The name refers to the fact that travellers gathered here before making their journey to the north across Hampstead Heath hoping that as a group they would avoid being attacked by highwaymen.

The Barley Mow: (Dorset Street W1)
Dates back to 1791 claiming to be the 'oldest pub in Marylebone', and it probably did serve farmers who came to the village of Marylebone from what was then countryside surrounding London. Many of its original features are intact including small snugs and a private bar. The name is more often attached to country pubs as a 'mow' is a stack and as barley is an ingredient of beer, the barley mow sign merely indicated that beer was sold in the house.

The Black Friar: (Queen Victoria Street EC4)
This pub, built in 1878, remodelled by H. Fuller Clark 1903-05, and refurbished in the early twentieth century, is a miraculous survival of art nouveau decoration. The area takes its name from the Dominican friary, which was situated here from the thirteenth century until its dissolution in 1536. The friars, founded by St Dominic in 1216, were known as the Black Friars from the colour of their robes. The trial of Catherine of Aragon, wife of Henry VIII took place in the Blackfriars Hall. The whole facade and interior of the pub is ornate with friars imbibing drink or having other connections with beer. The vaulted back room was added after the First World War to provide extra seating space.

The Blind Beggar: (Whitechapel Road E1)
The Blind Beggar was Henry, son of Simon de Montfort who was killed at the battle of Evesham in 1265. Henry was left for dead but escaped by assuming the guise of a beggar. The sign shows him accompanied by a nobleman's daughter who is said to have married him in the east of London. The event was recorded in a play, The Blind Beggar of Bethnal Green, first performed in 1659. General Booth of the Salvation Army 'opened fire' in the pub with his first sermon in 1865. The pub was also the site of the murder of George Connell by the rival gangster Ronnie Kray in March 1966. Connell greeted Kray with the words, 'Well, look who's here' before being shot through the forehead.

The Cannon: (Cannon Street EC4)
The sign shows a trooper by the sign of a cannon, which he is about to fire. Though the name is taken from the street, Cannon Street was once Candelewrithstreet, where candlewrights had their shops.

Cat & Mutton: (Broadway Market E8)
This is a splendid Victorian pub with a sign showing a cat running away on hind legs waving a leg of mutton in its right paw being chased by a furious butcher. There has been a pub on this site since at least 1680 when the building stood on the Porters' Path, a drovers' road leading to Smithfield Market. John Rocque's map of 1745 identifies it as the Leg of Mutton and it has also been known as the Shoulder of Mutton.

The Dublin Castle: (Parkway NW1)
The pub shows a castle purporting to be that in Dublin. The name dates from the time when the main railway line to the North West from Euston was being driven through Camden Town and Chalk Farm. Navvies from all parts of the British Isles dug the line, but this often led to violence between the national groups. To try to stop the fighting separate pubs were built in the Camden area. The Dublin Castle was the base of the Irish navvies, the Windsor Castle served the English, the Edinboro Castle the Scottish and the Pembroke the Welsh. As the pubs were placed far apart this strategy seems to have kept the peace.

The Flask: (Flask Walk NW3)
Dates back to 1663. The sign shows a thirsty soldier drinking from his flask. The pub was originally called the Thatched House then the Lower Flask. There was an Upper Flask, which has now been demolished. Mineral waters, which were discovered in the vicinity, were exploited for their presumed medicinal qualities and flasks of this mineral water could be bought at the pub. The present building dates from a rebuilding of 1874 intended to serve the local workers and at one time had separate bars dividing the gentry from the working class.

The Hand & Shears: (Middle Street EC3)
The pub stands on the site of a twelfth-century alehouse which served the monks and guests of St Bartholomew's Priory. The sign, which is the guild sign of the Merchant Tailors' Co., commemorates their role in the Smithfield Fair or St Bartholomew's Fair held at Michaelmas every September and one of the largest in London. The officials of the company checked the cloth to ensure that the cloth was sold with the right measure. The Lord Mayor opened the fair, first recorded in 1133, by cutting the first piece of cloth, which seems to have given rise to the tradition of cutting a piece of tape to open an event. The last Cloth Fair was held in 1855. The pub claims to have provided refreshment to those who wished to watch the prisoners leave Newgate Prison for their execution at Tyburn.

The Jerusalem Tavern: (Britton Street EC1)
This is a small building dating back to 1720, through having the sign of the head of St John on a platter, has reference to the Knights Templar who protected pilgrims on their way to and from the Holy Land. The Templars were suppressed in 1314 and their duties were taken over by the Knights Hospitallers, the Knights of the St John of Jerusalem, whose priory was close by.
mcgillianaire: (Changing Guard London)
Following the first snowfall of the winter, London woke up to a gorgeous white blanket yesterday morning. Having missed last winter's snowfall (while preparing for exams in Oman), there was no chance I'd miss out on capturing this weekend's main event. It pays to wake up early, esp on a Sunday!

A panorama of Enfield Chase Green, complete with an Englishman and his dog. [Taken: Yesterday morning around 9am]

Enfield Chase Green is a five minute walk from my flat. And because it was a Sunday, most of it had remained untouched even at 9 in the morning.

Usually, trees like these in winter appear lifeless and somewhat haunting, but all it takes is a coating of snow to make them look beautiful again.
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A week ago if I heard police sirens in the distance I might've wondered momentarily about what was happening, but I probably wouldn't have checked to see if anybody had tweeted about it. How things have changed. In the past hour I've heard three sets of police sirens in the distance and each time I've checked on twitter to see if anybody else has written about them as well. Nothing yet and hope it stays that way. Nighty night peeps!

My tweets

Aug. 9th, 2011 12:16 pm
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Read more... )

My tweets

Aug. 8th, 2011 12:16 pm
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Read more... )
mcgillianaire: (Changing Guard London)

Who knew? My old digicam still works. This is great news, London photo/walking tours beckon again! But for now the view outside my bedroom window will suffice. [Taken 23 Jul 2011]
mcgillianaire: (Portcullis Logo)
I voted about two hours ago - YES of course. But I thought I wouldn't because I misplaced my polling card. Turns out you don't need it. Surprisingly, I didn't need to prove my identity either, although I did take my passport and bank statement along just in case. The ladies at the polling station were the same from previous years - pretty as ever. I've voted every year since 2008 but unfortunately tonight's will be in a losing cause. Oh well...
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Thanks to the non-stop Oman Air flight, it took me less than 12 hours door-to-door. Just in time to watch Match of the Day! YNWA
mcgillianaire: (Football player)

The Crown & Horseshoes pub down the road from where I live. It seemed pretty busy minutes before the Uruguay game kicked off.
mcgillianaire: (iPhone)
I did some downloading last night and there's a noticeable difference since the upgrade. I used to download torrents between 800Kb/s-1.1Mb/s but now I can download upto speeds of 4.1Mb/s. In practice that's about 1GB every ten minutes! Now, I just need more HDD space!
mcgillianaire: (TV)

I've just upgraded to BT's Infinity high-speed Internet service. Download speeds have jumped from 7 Mbps to 37 Mbps while upload speeds have gone from 0.3 Mbps to 8 Mbps. There doesn't seem to be a noticeable difference in browsing speeds but needless to say, I'll be putting the download and upload speeds to the test later today. Yay, this is exciting! I love being at the forefront* of available technologies...

(* Though truth be told, I have already spent a year living with these speeds during my first year at uni eight years ago)
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Saturday 27 March marked exactly thirty years to the day since my dad first arrived in London, leaving behind everything he had grown up with in India. He was 27 and it was his first-ever flight. Thai Airways from Delhi to Heathrow. Long side-burns and bell-bottoms were still in vogue in South India. This post is dedicated to my dad, whose move changed the course of Ramanathan history. The year is 1980. Enjoy!

My dad never wanted to leave India, even though many of his med school mates had already emigrated to America and Britain. After completing his postgraduate Master of Surgery (MS) degree in Chennai (Madras) in the late 1970s, his plan was to return to his ancestral town of Erode and spend at least five years at its primary health centre. It seemed a simple enough plan, even if it lacked ambition. My dad was/is an idealist. Besides, his father had been in poor health for a few years so he felt it was his duty to support him. So after completing his MS in General Surgery my dad returned to Erode and applied to work at its General Hospital. Rather surprisingly, there were no available jobs. And after my grandfather's health deteriorated in the summer of 1979, my dad was not keen to move back to Chennai. And even if he did, his previous work experiences there promised poor remuneration. As a result, my grandfather encouraged my dad to try his luck abroad and so he applied for the Professional & Linguistic Assessment Board (PLAB) test, that is the compulsory procedure for overseas doctors to practice in the UK. Sadly however, on 4 November of the same year, my grandfather passed away at the age of only 54. With two degrees, no job and a family to look after, my dad was a confused young man. Should he stay in India or head abroad?

Shortly after my grandfather's death my dad received confirmation of his PLAB test date, but postponed it in light of the family tragedy. Sometime later a letter arrived confirming a rescheduled date to complete the test in April 1980. My dad was not keen to leave my grandmother on her own so he didn't act upon the letter. Then during a visit by my great-uncle (grandfather's brother), he happened to see the letter and asked my dad about it. My dad explained why he wasn't keen to go, a view my grandmother and many other family members concurred with, but my great-uncle felt otherwise. He thought it was too good an opportunity for my dad to forego. The elders were worried about how the temptations of the Wild West would have a corrosive influence on him. Thankfully in the end, sense prevailed.

A lot of preparation was necessary. This was the first-time my dad would be travelling abroad and his first-time on an aeroplane. Since he couldn't afford the flight ticket and visa, he borrowed the money from his cousin in Bombay. A college mate that had already emigrated to America arranged some pounds sterling for my dad. In those days, India had very strict controls on foreign currency exchange and the amount of foreign currency that you could travel with abroad. Another college mate sorted out the brief stay and travel arrangements in Delhi. It was a team effort. And after completing all the requisite religious pilgrimages, finally the big day arrived. A couple days before his flight to London, the entire extended family saw my dad off at Erode Railway Station in grand style. My dad was to become (in all probability) the first person in his caste community to travel abroad, and possibly even aboard an aircraft. He was already making history.

The layover in Delhi was short and the people who looked after him were very nice, although they did drop him off at the airport several hours before his flight because they didn't want to travel back home in the dark! It was all a new and surreal experience for my dad so he didn't really mind. Besides, this wasn't the first time he was leaving his family. At the tender age of five and a half, my grandfather enrolled my dad into one of India's prestigious British-era boarding schools, several hundred kilometres away from home in Erode, and where he remained until his graduation at the age of fifteen. My dad joined Lawrence School, Lovedale in the year of its centenary celebrations.

His first love was Mathematics and he even aspired to study Engineering at an Indian Institute of Technology (IIT). In fact, within a month of joining the boarding school, he was promptly promoted to the next class due to his aptitude in Math, though it was delayed by another month due to his weakness in English. Thereafter my dad excelled in Math but didn't break any records in his other subjects. He loved extracurriculars and took part in several sports, including field hockey, cricket and football. He even captained the school team in the latter. But he always felt out of place in an institution designed for rich kids. My grandfather was not very wealthy and had very little education, having left school at twelve. It was a real struggle to pay the exorbitant school tuition fees, but my grandfather was determined to provide as good an education as possible for my dad, however extreme the financial burdens it imposed on the family.

My dad's two sisters, one older and one younger, grew up and went to school in Erode itself. But since the death of my grandfather's elder brother, and later his sister-in-law, my grandfather had taken in his brother's family and was providing for all of them, as well as for his short-tempered mother (my great-grandmother). A total of eleven! Moreover, my grandfather was heavily involved in domestic politics and was a member of the ruling Congress Party's branch in Erode. At one point, he was even President of the Erode branch. And though it seems incredulous, given the corruption that pervades modern Indian politics, my grandfather used to invest his own money into the party. He was a Gandhian, wearing only Khadi (handwoven cloth) until his death and a no-nonsense, though short-tempered politician.

Anyways, I digress. Despite my dad's engineering ambitions, my grandfather wanted my dad to become a doctor. There were no doctors in our family. After all, we came from a caste of weavers. If any members had not become weavers they had at least found work elsewhere in the textile industry. My grandfather wanted more for his son, a whole lot more. And even though it was not his first-choice, my dad recognised the sacrifices his family had made for him and agreed to study medicine. Interestingly however, while waiting to hear the results of his med school application, my dad moved to the nearby city of Coimbatore and started on an Engineering course. Think of it as an insurance policy. A month later and thanks in no small part to the caste-based quota system, my dad was admitted into Chennai's Stanley Medical College. He was not even sixteen! My dad spent the better part of the next decade in Chennai studying medicine.

And in his spare time he played a lot of field hockey, first representing his medical college, then the University of Madras and eventually captaining both. He was a very talented hockey player and won competitions all over India. Even today you can see his name on Stanley Medical College's Hall of Fame board, for his achievements in hockey. Indeed, one of the players who played under his captaincy, Vasudevan Bhaskaran, went on to captain India to the Gold Medal at the 1980 Moscow Olympics and later became its national coach.

But we return to London. It was the morning of Thursday 27 March 1980. My dad had just entered Heathrow Airport and made his way to the immigration counter. Over the course of the next hour, two short exchanges would leave an unforgettable impression of what life would be like in this new country. The white immigration officer asked to see my dad's PLAB test documents but he didn't have them on him because he thought it would be safer to store them in his suitcase. Upon conveying this information, the officer asked my dad rather innocuously if he had a return ticket, to which my dad replied equally innocently in the affirmative. "Good", said the officer while adding rather curtly, "you made need to use it". My dad was rather startled, though the officer asked my dad to leave his travel documents with him and was allowed to go down to the baggage carousels and collect the necessary documents. Worried sick as he was for the suitcase to arrive intact, my dad left the contents of it wide open while scurrying back to the immigration counter with the crucial documents.

Luckily, there were no further problems and my dad made a successful entry into the UK. And incredibly, nobody had stolen anything from his wide-open suitcase by the time he got back to it. The next challenge was to figure out how to make his way to the Underground and his final destination, Gordon Hill Station. Upon taking a seat in the Piccadilly Line carriage, a white passenger sitting across from my dad asked him if he was new to the country. (An Asian lad with a thick accent, two big suitcases, bell-bottoms and long side-burns in early 1980? He certainly wasn't from these parts!) My dad said yes and unexpectedly received a reply he'll never forget alongwith an outstretched hand, "How lovely, welcome to the United Kingdom". And there it was, in the space of an hour, two sides of the British coin.

The friendly passenger convinced my dad that not all Brits were like the immigration officer. But the journey was not yet over. For some reason, the college mate with whom my dad was to be staying, gave instructions to switch from the Underground to the Suburban Rail network at Finsbury Park, instead of staying on the Piccadilly Line, all the way to its penultimate station, Oakwood. So poor dad was forced to reorient himself at Finsbury Park, while carrying his two heavy suitcases up a fairly steep spiral staircase. Another unforgettable moment. He eventually arrived at Gordon Hill Station and was picked up by his mate who lived nearby. That afternoon my dad experienced his first English pub at The Robin Hood, near Chase Farm Hospital. He studied hard for his PLAB test, sat it a couple weeks after his arrival and soon started work at Chase Farm Hospital. Over the course of the next seven years, my dad fell in love with everything British.

But his life in England began not just in London, but in Enfield where I have been living since my move here in 2007. In fact, the nearest station to my flat is Gordon Hill and I travel through Finsbury Park's spiral staircases almost on a daily basis, continually reliving my dad's first brush with this amazing city. My dad loves retelling the tale of his first trip to London and I hope you enjoyed it too! It seems surreal that the only reason my dad came to Enfield was because the friend he stayed with was living and working here. That friend has moved on, but not only did my dad end up working in a few hospitals in the area, but we bought a flat here before moving to Oman (in fact the one I'm living and typing this from right now!), my sister was born in the hospital just down the road and where my dad first worked, and thirty years later, I'm keeping the Ramanathan flame burning in the same area. May there be many more years of the Ramanathans in Enfield!
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It is not often one sings praises of Our Dear Mayor, Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, but this is one such occasion. Since January 2nd, we have been able to use our Transport for London (TfL) Oyster Cards as Pay As You Go (PAYG) journeys on all National Rail routes serving Greater London. For someone who lives by two National Rail stations that have been affected by the change, the impact has been immeasurable. It's a convenience long overdue but not too late in arriving. No more heartache for those unpaid journeys (sneaky & legitimate)! Well done Boris, your work is much appreciated, but ye still won't get my vote at the next election!
mcgillianaire: (London Weather Forecast)
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The obligatory traditional English Breakfast at my local pub as a send-off this morning for my Parisian-based close friend from McGill.
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A five-minute walk from where I live and this is the view you get!

I woke up earlier than expected this morning and decided to capture a few of the sights in my picturesque neighbourhood.

10 More Pictures From My Hood )
mcgillianaire: (London Weather Forecast)
It's snowing outside. It's probably not going to snow much but something is better than nothing. The past few weeks have been absolutely amazing. If it were to snow more often and not get anywhere as cold as it did in Montreal then I'll take this every winter!


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