Pub #5: The Famous Cock Tavern, Islington, Dec 15, 2010

I figured I should spend a little more time visiting pubs in the local area.  Also, I’m lazy and don’t want to spend £4-5 to travel to a pub in other parts of London.  So these excuses, and the fact that I was walking by it on the way home, compelled me to stop at The Famous Cock.   The pub is on the corner of Holloway Road and Upper St, right by the Highbury & Islington Underground station.   I’ve walked by it several times and always peered in cautiously.  A sign about a beer garden in the back seemed inviting, but it is very obviously a home for football (Arsenal) fans, as the pub is always advertising upcoming games.

It was a rare sunny Wednesday afternoon in London and I was walking back home from Angel and I stopped in at a whim.  The pub was calm, because of the lack of a football game that day and the fact that it was about 330pm in the middle of the week.   Some easy, adult contemporary rock music was playing from the jukebox and the few flat-screen TVs were tuned to Sky Sports.  There was just a single bar man attending to about a dozen people bar tabs, serving food, clearing up, and generally looking over worked!

There selection of beers included a pretty generic British ales and the imports.  I got a pint of Young’s bitter for £3.45, so the places isn’t cheap.   But it is fine local establishment to visit, when nothing exciting is going on.

Pub #4: North Pole, Canary Wharf, Dec 9, 2010

The North Pole took a little extra effort to locate.  But that’s what makes this local Docklands pub special.  It is barely a 10 minute walk from the busy Canary Wharf tube station (and ever closer to the DLR), but unless one knows a pub is located there, one isn’t going to find it.

It is tucked away in a corner and the narrow door blends in with the rest of the of the exterior decor, especially when the sun’s gone down.  The proprietor was very friendly and broke off a conversation he was having as soon as Reva and I entered to greet us a smile and ask what we’d like.  Oh, this is also the first of the 100 pubs that I visited with Reva.

The inside of the pub is nothing special, with a simple (and some would consider tacky) country themed decor that would seem well suited for any English country-side pub.  A log-fire was crackling in one corner of the room, giving the inside a very warm and homely atmosphere.  We went to the pub around 7:00 PM on a Thursday evening, and there was a good mix of locals and a few suits from the nearby banks/law firms.

I didn’t notice a food menu, but that doesn’t detract from the overall likability of the place.  In fact, if they did have a menu, I’d probably avoid trying anything.  The beer selection wasn’t anything special either, with the usual selection of European imports and a few English ales.  I had the Landlord, one of my usual favourites, for £3.25.  Overall, a very nice local pub and one to keep keep in mind if one is trying to avoid the usual chain pubs and their crowds in the wharf.


Hollywood’s take on stuttering: B-b-b-balderdash

Full credits to the author, but I enjoyed it so much that I had to reproduce it here:

Ian Brown
From Saturday’s Globe and Mail
Published Monday, Dec. 06, 2010 12:15PM EST

Ducks speak in Hollywood movies. So it’s forgivable that The King’s Speech, which arrived smooth, sleek and fully formed on movie screens in Canada recently, is scientific balderdash.

The movie accurately tells the story of George VI (Colin Firth), born Albert Frederick Arthur George, alias the Duke of York, the stammering second son of Great Britain’s King George V.

Bertie, as he was popularly known, unexpectedly became George VI when his brother, Edward, abdicated for the bossy charms of Wallis Simpson. That left babbling Bertie to lead Britain to battle with Hitler, which he managed with the help of an Australian speech therapist and commoner named Lionel Logue, who became one of the King’s closest and most unlikely friends.

As director Tom Hooper tells the story, Bertie stuttered because he had a terrifying father who had a terrifying father of his own who was in turn terrorized by his mother. Worse, left-handed Bertie was forced to switch to his right and he was strapped into leg braces to correct his knock knees.

The film implies that these external coercions – and those of being born into a life of duty – knotted his tongue. Which is romantic but false. Scientists now know that stuttering is a neurological condition, possibly genetic, and quite likely the result of lesions in the brain.

“The brain works differently in people who stutter,” Luc De Nil, who heads the University of Toronto’s Department of Speech Pathology, told me this week. “And there’s no question that there’s a strong genetic component.”

A stutterer’s brain goes into overdrive at the mere sight of a thing to be named. This electrical outburst interferes with the way the basal ganglia, which control the smoothness and timing of the movements of the mouth, interact with the cortex, the boss of sequencing.

It’s a common affliction, not just one of repressed bluebloods. One in 20 people stutter, and a fifth of them don’t grow out of it. But 80 per cent can learn to tame the affliction with behavioural speech-control techniques (some of the same ones Lionel Logue used on his famous patient).

“Of course, there’s a strong psychological aspect to it as well,” Dr. De Nil adds, “as people who stutter” – PWSes, as they call themselves – “learn to deal with these dysfluencies, which is when all the tics and secondary behaviours, the muscle tensing and the eye blinks, show up.”

There is newsreel footage of the “cured” George VI addressing a crowd in Scotland in 1938: His discomfort is still agonizingly palpable.

The best help you can offer a stutterer is eye contact and patience. Movies have done that scene too, as when John Cleese hilariously extracts the name of the Cathcart Towers Hotel from stammering Michael Palin in A Fish Called Wanda. Consonants are hardest (“It’s K-K-Ken, c-c-coming to k-k-k-kill me”); nine-10ths of stutters occur at the muscle-tensing starts of words.

Jaan Pill, co-founder of the Canadian Stuttering Association, began stuttering at 6. He was finally treated, in an intensive, three-week program, at 41. “I relearned how to speak,” he says today, at 64. “Or I could say I learned fluency as a second language.” The discovery that his stuttering was neurological, not the result of deep psychological conflict, was a liberation.

Unscientific or not, The King’s Speech works because speechlessness is an ancient and useful metaphor. “There’s a hierarchy of disabilities,” a professor of disability studies said to me the other day. “The blind are on top, of course,” because they can display all their rational faculties. Stuttering has nothing to do with intelligence, but its sufferers are further down that status ladder.

There have been as many hare-brained theories on causes – e.g., too much tickling – as wacko solutions (hit the stutterer full in the face on a cloudy day). But stammering itself is universal, an acting-out of the central human struggle between who we hope to be and what we actually are.

Before the treatment, Geoffrey Rush’s Lionel Logue asks the soon-to-be-king if he really wants to be cured, if he can handle the responsibility and power of a voice. Bertie finds his, only to use it, reluctantly, to lead his people into one of history’s deadliest wars. He must have wondered if the words were worth speaking.

Pub #3: Cittie of Yorke, Holborn, Nov 27, 2010

Having read about the Cittie of Yorke in several places, including on Tasty Fever, I decided I must visit it.  As pubs go, it has one the best interiors I have seen.  The back bar has high sloped ceilings with wooden rafters, stained glass windows, a long wooden bar, huge beer barrels balanced above it, bulbous lights hanging from the ceiling and cozy looking booths skirted by wood arches. All this makes the pub exactly what I image an 1800’s London drinking houses looking like (save the electric lights, of course).  Awkwardly though, there was a Deal-or-No-Deal video game machine in one corner that looks very out of place amongst the magnificent interior.

From the outside, you would be forgiving for not thinking it is a pub worth visiting.  A long corridor as you enter makes you wonder what you’re in for.  The only brew served is Sam Smith, and I found their stout very enjoyable.  The pricing of pints are strange though – the Extra Stout was £2.41 and the Mountain Larger £2.87.  I will have to find other Sam Smith breweries soon to try the others.  I didn’t visit the front bar or the cellar kitchen, which is another excuse for me to go back.

I stopped in around 3:00 PM on a Friday afternoon and the place was very quiet, with just one large group of what seemed like students, at the back.  By 5:00 PM though, it was packed with the office crowd, which is to be expected.

According to the interwebs, a public house of some form has stood at this site since 1430. This history makes visiting London’s drinking houses all the more enjoyable.  At a place like this, a little imagination is all it takes to conjure up a roaring fireplace inside, horses tied up outside while their masters bartered stories while drinking ale from a big, wooden mug.

Failed American Journalism

This story about President Obama’s trip to India costing U.S. taxpayers $100 million a day was most likely a bogus rumour attributable to an unnamed Indian official, but picked up and circulated by the political right.  Its taken time, but Friedman shows he does have some good writing/reporting left in him: (New York Times).

Says Friedman, “When widely followed public figures feel free to say anything, without any fact-checking, we have a problem. It becomes impossible for a democracy to think intelligently about big issues — deficit reduction, health care, taxes, energy/climate — let alone act on them. Facts, opinions and fabrications just blend together. But the carnival barkers that so dominate our public debate today are not going away — and neither is the Internet.”

But kudos for the original fact checking goes to CNN’s Anderson Cooper who felt compelled to check the facts after right-wing nut job Michele Bachmann used Obama’s trip as an example of where the U.S. could cut its deficit.

Pub #2: The Blackfriar, Blackfriars Bridge, Nov 10, 2010

The second stop on my quest to visit a 100 London pubs and write about them was The Blackfriar.  This historic pub (over a 100 years old) stands on the site of a former Dominican Friary.  One end of the building is has a triangular edge, which makes it impossible to miss.

The pub was recommended by Ben, who promised me I’d love the place.  I wasn’t disappointed.  We met there at 8:00 PM on a Wednesday night and there weren’t too many other patrons, which was nice.  The interior is beautiful, with intricately carved wood and marble depicting friars and much more.

Ben and I tried the 4 ales that were available on tap and I particularly enjoyed the Lord Marple.  The other three were London Pride, Landlord, and Hookey Gold.  Since we were there at dinner time, I also tried a “famous British pie”.  The only vegetarian option was the Lentil and Cashew nut tart, which was also really good.

Unfortunately I only had my Nexus One with me so the pictures I have aren’t great.  Next time, I will have to remember to carry the dSLR.

Choosing a new phone

I had been having a little trouble with my iPhone 3GS.  The software was fine, it was running iOS4.0 (jailbroken and unlocked). It used to be an AT&T locked iPhone, so to use it in the UK, I had to keep it unlocked.  The hardware was fine too, save the headphone minijack.  If I was walking and listening to something (which I’ve been doing a lot, lately) one channel would often cut out.  It was bothersome, but nothing I couldn’t live with for a bit.  Then on a telephone interview or two (with me using the included iPhone earphones/mic), interviewers mentioned they couldn’t hear me very well.  I didn’t quite put two-and-two together until I spent the entire day repeating everything I said on the phone one Friday two weeks ago, when I was working with a consultant to rewrite my CV.

That did it for me.  Realising that possible work opportunities depended on recruiters and employers being able to hear and understand me on the phone, I started looking for a new phone.  With the release on Windows Phone 7 around the corner, I stopped in at an O2 store to check out the phone in action.  They had the HTC HD7 on display which I could play with.

The hardware:  The phone looks and feels really nice.  It has a solidity to it that I’ve come to expect for HTC devices.  The 4.3 inch screen is a beauty, but just a little to large for me.

The software:  This was my first time playing with Windows Phone 7, and I must say, I’m impressed.  The UI has a fluidity to it that trumps anything else I’ve used.  One of the key things I look for in the UI/OS is how long a first time user takes to figure things out.  And as a first time user, I was very comfortable navigating in and out of the various apps in under 5 minutes.   I was pleasantly impressed by Internet Explorer on the phone (I was really dreading it, after being used to Safari on the iPhone). loaded flawlessly.

The things holding me back from getting a WP7 device is that I couldn’t get one unlocked or “sim-free” yet.  Also if I purchased the devices contract-free in the UK, they are still locked to the career.  Other things holding me back are the lack of copy & paste, a native Mac client for syncing, and the relative lack of multi-tasking for third party apps.  Some of this has been fixed already and others I’m certain will be fixed very soon.  Also I don’t yet own an XBOX 360, so I’m not tied to the Microsoft platform in anyway.


I also looked at several Android phones (unlocked of course).  The phones that I was considering were the HTC Desire, Desire Z, Desire HD (all £400 and above) or the Wildfire (around £200).  My rationale here was that I would probably want the iPhone 5 when it arrived in the middle of 2011, so a temporary Android device would let me get a taste of the platform.

But given my lack of a job, I wasn’t about to plonk down some serious cash on a phone yet.  So I listed my iPhone on London Craigslist, which isn’t very popular here, one morning for £250.  And lo, I got a serious offer that evening.  I wasn’t quite ready to sell, since I had listed it just to see if any fish took the bair.  But as Reva said, if I’m being offered £250, from a serious buyer, I should take it.  It would only be harder to sell later on.  I sold it that night, and reverted to using my ageing Sony Ericsson w880i while I scoured the Internet and high-street stores for an Android device I wanted.

What complicated matters even more was rumours of a “Nexus Two” to be released shortly.  I figured if I was getting a phone to experience the platform, it should be able to update to the latest OS as soon as possible, à la Nexus One.  I waited a few days and the tech blogs didn’t really heat up with the possibility of the Nexus Two with Gingerbread anytime soon.  If I could buy a Nexus One for around £300, that would be perfect, I thought to myself.  Randomly one morning, I looked on Gumtree (UK’s Criagslist) for a Nexus One in decent shape.  I found a very friendly lady selling a brand new, still in the box, Nexus one and she was willing to part with it for £300.

So for only £50 pounds more than I sold the iPhone for, I’m currently rocking a Nexus One running Froyo.  Not bad, eh?  Yes, the model itself is more than a year old, but it is likely to be one of the first phones to get new upgrades of the OS.  This was my top criteria for any Android model I got, anyway.  Given that the Galaxy S devices are still running 2.1 (Eclair) when 2.3 (Gingerbread) is around the corner, is pathetic.

So I’ve been enjoying this phone for about a week now, and it certainly fails the earlier test I mentioned (a novice to the platform being able to use it in under 5 minutes).  But I love the configurability.  I’ve not rooted it, and I don’t plan to at the moment.  I’ve got most of the apps I normally use for free from the Android Market, including a few games to keep me occupied.  I like that I don’t need a computer to get it up and running, or really to do anything on it, including downloading podcasts and music.  The phone came with Android 2.1 installed, and I spent a day or two pinging the servers to get the OTA update without luck.  Finally, I manually updated it to 2.2  I hope 2.3 isn’t such an issue, but I’m not sure if this has to do with the fact that the Froyo rollout for Nexus One is over or that I’m running it on Orange.  Additionally, I had to manually set the Orange APN for the UK to get 3G service (something I didn’t have to do with the unlocked iPhone).  The screen is not great, but the camera is better than the 3GS.  The keyboard is definitely a downer, but I like the audio input, which actually works very well in a quiet environment.  And I still can’t figure out how to get Swype on it.  Battery life seems decent, but I’ve not put it through any heavy usage yet.  I’ve also been killing of background tasks fairly often.  And the real bummer? The native GMail client doesn’t support copy/paste from a non-editable text field.

Overall, one week into using the device I’m happy.  I plan to keep using this till next Summer at which time I may upgrade to the new iPhone if it is compelling enough.

Update: And here we go, the Nexus S has been spotted.  No release date tho.  It does look like a front facing camera in that picture.