May Sunshine

May is here and rather shockingly it’s too warm.

This weekend just past was the anniversary reception/ring exchange and everyone from Spain and California was a bit surprised to find themselves in the middle of a sudden heatwave, especially since I had told them how cold it was literally one day before they all started arriving. Between that and the Leicester football victory they have returned home with the notion that England is a place of blue skies and endless revelry. Ah well.

The event was great and almost everyone we had hoped for made it. Things went more smoothly than we had any reason to expect and a lot of drinking and dancing ensued. It was also nice to be back in Leicester for a whole week and show it off to folks a bit. Everyone got to meet each other and plans where hatched for future adventures. The Case and The Belmont both did us proud, even if the latter did have to deal with a massive and rowdy wedding prior to our event which put a little strain on them and us alike.

Now its just a question of relaxing, recovering, and watching the Facebook photos trickle in.

Birthday

This past weekend John had a friend over and massive amounts of gaming ensued, which I mostly skipped except for a game of Battlestar Galactica (I lost) and one of Power Grid (I lost a lot). We did leave the house once or twice as well, once to hit 7bone for a burger and on Sunday we popped out briefly to get a pint with his visiting uncle.

But Monday it was time for my birthday! John had to go into London for work-related activities and as my birthday present he took the next day off and we got a hotel for the night. While he was off presenting his poster I met up with a friend of Jade’s named Miko who lives in London and has many overlapping interests, life being life we both ended up running late and we had less time to hang out than I had hoped but it was still fun and hopefully I can make it back up to the city for a more extended visit at some point.

Once John was done he made his way to the hotel and we popped over to Queensway street, where there’s a whole street of restaurants that Miko had just clued me into. We had a light lunch at a Persian place to lay a basic foundation for the evening and then got changed before heading down to the Soho area. I had a list of likely looking places that might do for a drink, but not a strict itinerary. We started with happy hour 2-for-1 martinis at a trendy, kinda slick, but still fun place called Dirty Martini and then moved on to a very friendly bar called Graphic which was hosting a gin tasting. The tasting was already wrapping up when we arrived, alas, but we still had a couple of pretty great cocktails served in paint cans (presumably to match the theme). By now we were properly hungry so we hit an American diner which has alcoholic milkshakes. Mine was pistachio and rum and extremely good. Satiated and tipsy we headed through the freezing night in the direction of the hotel in order to get a nightcap at a warm and cozy bar in the Zetter Hotel. This was the perfect place to end the night and even the subsequent walk through the cold didn’t quite defeat the afterglow from their very civilized cocktails.

On Tuesday we woke up late and had a solid continental breakfast at the hotel before making our way towards downtown. We popped into a few stores, has some barbecue at Bodean, and then wandered in baffled circles in Soho trying to find one of the delicious looking French pastry shops that had seemed plentiful earlier in the day. Luckily John’s instincts led us to what I’m sure must be the cutest pastry shop in London (and which Wikipedia assures me is the oldest) Maison Bertaux. Despite being quite sated from our plentiful lunch it was difficult to restrain ourselves and we ended up leaving with three slices of assorted cakes to bring home to Southampton.

We wrapped up the extended weekend drinking coffee on our new sofa, eating a lovely and surprisingly light chocolate mouse cake, and watching Her.

Eastleigh

A couple of weeks into the job and feeling pretty settled. It’s a temp assignment so I’m still looking, but the free floating anxiety over entering a workforce in a different country has faded a bit as it becomes clear that the broad strokes are basically the same. The coffee is instant but otherwise I could almost as easily be working in a San Francisco office.

Eastleigh is small but has enough to keep me busy during a lunch break, including a bunch of charity shops and a tiny little market on Thursdays. But the best part is that from door to door my commute is under forty minutes, with only fifteen of those being the train ride. It’s not really enough time to dive into a novel but I am getting back on the podcast wagon at least.

Beyond that, the exploration of Southampton continues apace. John and I have now visited the Waterloo Arms for beer and scotch eggs, and the Wellington Arms for a pre-pho pint with his parents. There is a third pub equidistant, because of course there is, but we have not been there yet. Where we have been is a very cool local brewery called The Dancing Man, which is located in a medieval wool storage house and which John’s parents kindly took us to lunch at. The food and beer where great, although I did have to get all American at some people who were not controlling their children.

Now the weather has turned very cold, with the weather news promising sleet and all sorts of horrors but I think I may finally have enough sweaters.

 

Valentine’s for once

Usually on February fourteenth I find myself at the LAX Marriott along with a couple thousand other Whovians. This year I wasn’t able to attend Gally but I did get a nice consolation prize; my first proper Valentine’s Day with John.

We started with breakfast at a little Portuguese cafe near our flat which reminds me a lot of similar style Spanish places. They do an English breakfast but I had a chouriço com batatas and John got steak and eggs, both were good and cheap and started the day off well. We dipped back into the real world to get some chores done and then headed down to the city’s indie cinema, Harbour Lights, for a special Valentine’s Day screening of Casablanca. It’s been a while since I’d seen it and it’s still fantastic of course, but I had forgotten quite how funny it is as well. Finally in the evening we had hot chocolate sand read for a while before ordering some very nice pizza from a place we hadn’t tried before. A successful first Valentine’s together and I hardly checked the #gally1 hashtag at all!

And now today is the last day before I start my first job here, up the road a bit in a town called Eastleigh. It’ll be nice to feel that much more properly settled, though I’m really not looking forward to getting up early again.

Year of the Monkey

January went by quickly but has left me in a pretty good place, with most of my settling in processes sorted out including UK banking and NHS, and with a job on the horizon. I also got my computer repaired and my room somewhat set up, and less productively played about a zillion hours of Pocket Mortys.

During the month I also got some more exploring done in Southampton and John took me to his favorite burger places, a Vietnamese restaurant with good pho in our neighborhood, and an excellent Mexican place in Portswood. We also found out that the kebab place nearest us is actually really good, which is super handy. His brother visited and I joined in a Star Wars roleplay which I admittedly didn’t hate and may even have enjoyed.

We went into London to see the Cosmonauts exhibit at the Science Museum and a recording of the John Finnemore Souvenir Programme at the BBC, both of which I really enjoyed. Later in the month we joined his family to see Cirque de Soleil’s Amaluna at the Royal Albert Hall and had really good American style barbecue.

All in all well done January.

So far February is doing its level best to keep up the excitement, and not only by hitting the country with Storm Imogen. We spent this past weekend in Leicester to see some of the Leicester Comedy Festival. I really enjoyed both of the comedians I saw; Sophie Hagen and John Robertson (of Dark Room fame) and John also saw a third show on the Sunday. It was nice to spend some time in Leicester again, the city is looking great and has a few new cocktail, beer, and food places so I’m looking forward to showing people around in May.

 

Southampton

I’ve been in Southampton for about a week and a half now and am slowly getting acquainted with it. It’s less picturesque than Leicester, though it has an old town area with remains of some city walls, Tudor buildings and so on. World War II wiped out large parts of the city and it retains an industrial character that Leicester seems to have mostly left behind. It also feels more spread out, but that may be due partly to our apartment not being as central.

Still, there is a fair bit to explore; I spent two hours wandering in a wide circle from home and back around the city, and didn’t cover nearly all of it. There are pockets of potential interest outside of the major shopping areas and some intriguing looking food options in addition to the excellent list of burger joints that John has accumulated. There’s a nice pho place near the house plus a little Portuguese lunch place that resembles what I would expect the Spanish equivalent to look like, also a surprisingly great kebab place that also does a nice pizza. The city is chock full of polish delis as well, and I found a bakery that makes sourdough bread. So at any rate I won’t starve.

English Holidays

After landing in England there was a mad dash to drop off my suitcases and pick up my residency document from the local post office in Southampton. I had ten days to do so after which there would be a significant fine. Ten days would have been plenty of time except for a couple of things. First off, when I selected the pick up location back in September I had obviously chosen the office closest to John’s flat, but here in December John’s plan was to spend the holidays with his family in Peterborough several hours away. A second impediment was that being the holidays the post office would be closed for three or four of that ten day window. Luckily my plane landed nearly forty minutes early and we made it in plenty of time to get everything done, enjoy a kebab, and have a relaxing evening before setting off to Peterborough the next morning.

The Coxon family Christmas is very cozy and involves a house full of people, lots of great food, plenty of wine, and board games. We spent last year there as well, which is when John proposed, so it was a nice anniversary as well. We spent about ten days there eating mince pies, seeing The Force Awakens (again) plus also a pretty great pantomime version of Aladdin, and playing Articulate, Codenames, and The Resistance. All in all it was a good way to start my time in England. After the new year we took a quick trip to good old Leicester to visit folks there and then it was finally time to head back to Southampton and get started.

UK at last

The last few weeks have been a bit of a mad rush.

On December 10th I received an email letting me know a decision had been made regarding my visa application but of course not giving any clue as to what that decision might be. On December 14th I got my passport back with the entry visa inside it and a letter telling me the entry stamp was valid for 30 days. Great news! Except the 30 days started November 27th, meaning I had less than two weeks to give notice, get my plane ticket, and fly out.

Christmas is not the ideal time to travel in a rush but a quick google suggested that attempting to correct this alarming error was risky and could be expensive so I found a plane ticket for the 22nd out of LAX and packed my bags!

In spite of the rushed timeline things worked out pretty damned great, my work was aware of the situation so were very understanding and got me my last check processed just in time. Our company holiday dinner doubled as a goodbye party and the next day was my last so some of us hung out and finished off a bottle of wine which a grateful customer had dropped off. This left me with one full day free to pack everything, clean out my room, cuddle the cats, and hang out with Palle for some Flash and Arrow binge-watching.

The next day was Saturday. Palle and I packed my suitcases into his car and we drove to San Jose to celebrate Mette’s birthday. Again the timing worked perfectly, I would have hated to rush off without saying goodbye and this was the perfect way to leave the Bay Area. The evening started with an awesome burger at Cafe Stritch followed by a Psychi donut and Comedysportz. Afterwards we headed back to the house for Cards Against Whomanity and (in my case) mixing too many liquors. I did not cover myself in glory on either front but had a great time and managed not to end up hungover despite certainly deserving to be.

I had planned to catch a bus or train south but Leigh Ann was having none of that and declared we would have one last road trip to send me off. We stopped at Casa de Fruta, as you do, then drove listening to the requisite Indigo Girls and Greek Suite, arriving at my sister’s house in Santa Monica on Sunday right as the sun set. I’m going to miss those drives but at least I have a playlist to remind me of them when I’m feeling nostalgic.

Sunday I just chilled with Ashley, we had a drink with Leigh Ann before she took off back to the Bay Area then watched the latest Almodovar (very silly) and had some of the marionerry pie from Casa de Fruta. Monday I finally went to see Star Wars with Andres and Isabella, I loved it and managed to enter the theatre almost entirely unspoiled. On the way home I bought a second suitcase and repacked my stuff so I wouldn’t have to leave much behind (I still left a pile of books for family members to bring when they visit). That night Raul came to Santa Monica and along with Ashley we went to see the Tina Fey/Amy Poehler comedy Sisters, which was silly, raunchy fun. We finished the evening with some beers and conversation.

That was my last night in the US but next morning we fit in a short visit to see Pat, Rebecca, and Alma. Rebecca seemed to enjoy showing us all of her books and we hung out for about an hour before piling into Pat’s car and heading at last to the airport.

The new international terminal at LAX is much better than I remember it being and I got through check in and security with an hour to spare before boarding. Norwegian is a budget airline but very civilized and friendly so my flight was as pleasant as one can really expect a transatlantic economy ride to be, especially since Ashley managed to get me an aisle seat instead of middle. I arrived to a cold and rainy England on December 23rd just in time for the Coxon family Christmas!

New Laptop

My poor old laptop gave up the ghost leaving me with only my phone to get online for a few weeks there, meaning little posting and no podcasting. But the new one is here and after a couple of days of set up and updates (man Windows 10 is a bear of a download) I’m back online properly.

Thanksgiving came and went with no news on my visa, but I did get to spend time with Ashley. She was in town for a few days and we toasted goodbye to San Francisco repeatedly and at several places that I hadn’t had a good excuse to check out before. Among them  the Starlight Lounge at the top of the Sir Francis Drake (not what I expected but surprisingly fun), the Redwood Room at the Clift (fab, and so much friendlier that I would have expected), Hogwash (delicious, cozy, and friendly to boot), and the Library at Bourbon & Branch (so fun!) all in all it was a very fun visit and a good send-ff. Hopefully.

Meanwhile I continue to wait. Will obviously be spending the holidays here, but expect to hear soon and be able to plan 2016.

Netflix-o-rama

There is so much genre television right now that it’s hard to remember how sparse the landscape once was not all that long ago. And how it seemed like you could only really have one subgenre at a time, horror or science fiction for example, but not usually both. Now there’s plenty to chose from, ranging in style, flavor, and quality. No longer do we have to sit through a craptastic hour of television just because it’s the only thing on the air with superheroes or vampires or whatever your favorite is.

Which is a roundabout was of saying I’ve been watching a fair bit of Netflix lately.

Person of Interest is my current obsession, basically taking the spot in my heart previously occupied by Fringe. The two series are very different in a lot of ways but both fill that action-thriller spot, have interesting explorations of ethics and morality, and manage to build a strong ensemble cast with excellent female characters. They also both share a clever approach to ideas that are not entirely novel but haven’t been explored quite so well previously on television. I do hope POI stays on target better than the latter seasons of Fringe did, though.

In superheroics Arrow has built from a workmanlike action hero series to a pretty decent comic book series, allowing itself to relax into the inherent absurdity of its genre. It’s still serious and angsty and often soapy as hell, but they seem to be having more fun with it and expanding into a shared universe both internally with more heroes and villains and externally with crossovers.

The Flash needed no long build up, maybe because of the groundwork already laid down by Arrow, and has more great comic book stuff per episode than you can count. The other thing it has going for it is a much lighter tone and a solid sense of humor, which is appropriate to the title anyway but has also always felt more like DC’s strength anyway. I loved the Mark Waid era of the comic back in the nineties and am enjoying the fuck out of the series so far.

Gotham is a bit more frustrating. I loved the first half dozen episodes; a little grotesque and a little weird but mainly focused on the story of the struggle to control Gotham by criminal syndicates, the corrosive effect of that struggle on the city’s public servants and citizenry, and the start of a crusade to clean it up by Gordon. It’s not quite in the superhero genre as we now know it more in that pulp era masked crime fighter sensibility of The Shadow or Dick Tracy. But towards the end the season there seemed to be a loss of focus, some clumsy writing in regards to several female characters, and just a general loss of focus. Hope they get back on track next season.