High Street High Jinks

Greetings From The Olympic City
24 July, 2012, 04:21
Filed under: Daily Happenings, Pics 'N' Stuff

So much for blogging every day, huh? I think by now I owe everyone a blog post.

With that in mind, I’m going to work backwards a bit. As of this sentence, it’s 3:57am — thankfully, a workday at The Independent doesn’t require me to get up until 10:30am, meaning I still get a better sleep than I did most nights during my university tenure.

Just a matter of hours ago, I met up with my Uncle for Portuguese food and wine. Think of it as a proper, albeit culturally incorrect welcome to London that left me well-fed and just soused enough that I properly navigated my way from Oval Station to Bayswater no problem. On the subject of food (most of my thoughts in this post will be tangential, by the by), I still haven’t properly set out for groceries yet. Part of it is lack of time, part of it is lack of motivation. Part of it is simply that I’ve been eating meals out with people. However, the stars should align on that tomorrow, and I will no longer go days with simply a lunch from the canteen at Northcliffe House (home of The Indy, where the lunches are gourmet and fantastic, might I add) and a dinner out at a random spot and nothing else.

Monday was also my first day back in a real newsroom and it turned out to be far more relaxing than I remember. Don’t get me wrong, it was still plenty busy: information travelling from desk to desk, numbers and quirky tidbits coming at me at an alarming rate, and so forth. But I felt far less uptight without a certain jerkwad at the helm whose name I shall leave out of this blog post. (Anyone who’s heard me rant about my last bout of work experience here will know the jerkwad to whom I refer.) And, to boot, I will have, at the very least, a supplement in Tuesday’s paper. Whether or not it is credited remains to be seen, but here’s hoping!

Had a fun day out on Sunday (unintentional rhyme, shut up) with my friend Elaine — always nice to catch up with her. The atmosphere in London when the weather is… y’know, not typical London weather, is actually quite nice. Most of the day was spent traversing the Thames. Probably didn’t take as many photos as I wanted to, but there’s a decent panorama attempt waiting for you at the end of this message.

To be honest, London isn’t nearly as crowded, either in public or on the Tube, as I assumed it would be based on all the rumour and innuendo I’d heard prior to departure. Of course, I could be eating those words by the time Friday rolls around and the Opening Ceremonies take place. Thankfully, I won’t have to worry too much about it, as I’m taking off to Bristol for the weekend to visit my good friends Liz Martin and Josh Silverstone.

Lastly, the place I’m staying at is a boarding house in Bayswater called Victoria League… Commonwealth… something or other. Let’s just say “Vic League” for the sake of convenience. (Shout out to Sarah Deshaies for the recommend.) Everyone here has been really pleasant thus far; I’ve also met two of the three other Canadians living here. Perhaps we gravitated towards each other? Who knows. Anyhow, there are people here from other parts of England, Australia, and so forth. Other issue I’ve encountered thus far is the fact that there aren’t any spare towels available, and I certainly didn’t think to bring one. Plan B: improvise by hitting up friends for their spare towels. I’m happy to report that I’ve resolved that minor setback.

So, it’s 4:18am now. I’m going to bed. Would’ve done that about two hours ago if I’d just created a smaller version of this panorama in the first place and not tried to upload the original 28MB version with a shoddy Wifi connection.

(Photo Credit, top: Elaine Hoekstra. Photo Credit, bottom: yours truly.)


An Olympic-sized Return
1 July, 2012, 00:00
Filed under: Welcome Back Kotter

Hard to believe it’s already been 23 months since I last posted here.

On the last series of High Street High Jinks, I was trying to pass off using words like “quid” and “gumboots,” being stalked by Lemmy Kilmister of Motörhead fame, and gushing about living on the cheap in one of London’s high-end neighbourhoods with embassies and Maseratis right outside my window. Toss in a few World Cup blurbs and lava cakes at 3 a.m., and it’s not hard to see why I miss it all.

Thankfully, another jaunt o’er the Atlantic is in the cards for this young curmudgeon of a sports journalist just three weeks from today. The purpose then was much the same as it is now: spend a handful of weeks interning at The Independent racking up some very invaluable and very expensive bylines — if you do the math, which, maybe don’t — then hunt for Easter eggs in The Original Smoke on evenings and weekends.

Here’s the rub, though: I’ll be doing all of this during and in the lead-up to the 2012 Summer Olympics.

Throngs of flag-bearing, face-painted tourists will descend upon London in the coming weeks. I’m imagining the atmosphere will be something like the inside of a Corn Popper vacuum when you slide it across the floor.

From there, an abundance of stories will quickly emerge. And while I sincerely hope none of my stories revolve around anything as batshit crazy as Tube bombings or being struck by an errant javelin, I intend to dive head-first into as many adventures as humanly possible.

Thus, my widely beloved, critically acclaimed, Pulitzer-sweeping (soon) travel blog is back for another round so that I may share with you — my two or three loyal readers, parents notwithstanding — said adventures in London during my three weeks there.

Resume High Jinks.

Over and Out
31 July, 2010, 00:21
Filed under: Uncategorized

Well folks, the time has come. It’s time for me to step out of the High Jinks of High Street and step back into the Regular-ass Jinks of some Canadian-ass Street.

Sure, I didn’t get a chance to write about everything that I wanted. Sometimes after a long day in a newsroom or after several hours of walking around London moving from touristy location to touristy location, one doesn’t always find the will to write about things. Some days I had it, other days I didn’t. For while there, I certainly didn’t have it, as there were a couple of times that I went weeks with posting anything. But, to those of you who followed along for these past two months, it’s truly appreciated. I know that you don’t have to give a damn about the things that I do, but you do anyway, and for that I am grateful.

There are people that have gone unacknowledged this entire time that are responsible for getting me here and deserve all the credit in the world. My Uncle Charles, first and foremost, got me this internship at the Independent in the first place — without him, I have no reason to come to London. (And say what you will about nepotism, but it works. Besides, I still had to prove to the people at the Indy that I was worthy of their time; they didn’t just hand me the keys to the office all willy-nilly and say, “make yourself at home Mr. Charles Darwent’s nephew sir.”) As well, my parents did a lot in preparing me both psychologically, organizationally, and in some respects financially. I don’t give them a lot of verbal credit, but I’d like to take this opportunity to do so. Also, a huge thanks goes to Elaheh and Hormoz, my landlords over in Massachusetts. Without them, I have no place to live in London (it seemed for a while like I wouldn’t find a flat; I put in inquiries, but no one would reply.)

As I get ready to head off to bed in preparation of my 9 a.m. wake-up time, I have many a random thought, so I’m just going to type them out in point form and title this section “Stuff I’ve learned/picked up in London”:

– I didn’t develop a British accent. At all. But I will come back to Edmonton with what I like to call “occasional British-isms” — things that I will undoubtedly catch myself saying at random moments that people will look at me and go “… heh?” For example, I’ve gotten used to the term “fiver” in reference to £5 bills. Occasionally, I’ll like my drink to have a good “lashing” of ice. And, honestly, I prefer the term “quid” to the term “bucks.” (I know that won’t fly in Canada, but I’ll give it my best shot.)

– It’s amazing some of the littlest things that you’ll miss about a place. No more going to the Exchange Bar on a Monday night for 2 for 1 pizza. No more nightly Friends marathons on E4 (but that might not necessarily be a bad thing.) No more E4, which is about all I’ve been watching for the past two months.

– Working at the Independent was tremendously helpful in allowing me to adapt to the speed of a real newsroom and the fact that I should learn to detach myself from my writing, lest it be completely edited beyond recognition. It happened, it will continue to happen, get used to it kiddo.

– The LRT is going to seem so Melvin compared to riding the Tube. Damn.

Okay, that’s about all I’ve got for now. And I really should turn in.

Anyway, once again, thanks for following the High Jinks for the past two months and I’ll  you elsewhere on the Internet!

– Nick Frost

Ehh Boy, Wha ya deaf? Is Strimps An Roti An Ting!
25 July, 2010, 20:29
Filed under: Daily Happenings, Pics 'N' Stuff

Without going into my entire family history, a rather large degree of my heritage comes from the island of Trinidad (located in the Caribbean just above Venezuela on map). Both of my parents, as well as my older brother and sister hail from the small nation of just under 1.3 million.

Over the years, I’ve been introduced to numerous morsels of Trinidadian cuisine and have enjoyed them to various degrees — some things rank among my favourite foods (doubles, curried meats), while others (tamarind balls, for example) are barely palatable. While I’m certainly not a connoisseur compared to others (see: actual Trinis), I still give my best efforts to sample Trinidadian food wherever I can and judge it compared to the best I’ve ever had. Thus, my mission in London was simple: find a place that served Trini food, sample it, and report back to my blog.

Of course, what really spurred this all on was the fact that several weeks ago my sister had a birthday lunch for my nephew Sebastian that featured doubles. Since I was very obviously handicapped by the whole “being several thousand kilometres away and across an ocean” thing, I couldn’t attend.

After a quick Google search for “trinidadian food london,” I came across what was likely going to be my only option — a roti shop in Clapham called Roti Joupa.

For those unfamiliar with the London area, let me explain something right quick: Clapham doesn’t exactly hold the reputation of being the friendliest neighbourhood in London. It’s located in the same areas as Vauxhall, Lambeth, and Brixton — all of which run rampant with low-income housing, shady-looking individuals, and are better known for crimes being committed in their areas (as opposed to, say, Kensington, Primrose Hill circa now, etc.) Fortunately for me, I semi-confidently strutted through the area with a camera swinging by a cord from my arm, and didn’t once feel in any sort of immediate danger. Clapham is actually very colourful and boasts a great deal of foliage. I suppose I’d have had to have lived in London longer than just two months to fully appreciate why that area has earned its reputation.

Anyway, enough about that, on to the good stuff — THE FOOD.

Having not eaten anything for the day and needing something that would tide me over while I walked about London’s Natural History Museum, I went for the gusto: curried shrimps and potato with buss-up-shot (also known as “paratha roti,” which is easily torn up and used to dip in the curry), a doubles (two fried bakes sandwiching curried chickpeas), and sorrel drink. Altogether, the three items cost me £7.75. Not as bad as I was expecting, but it didn’t really matter anyway because as long as I wasn’t being very obviously overcharged, I was going to pay whatever the man asked.

I started off with the doubles as I was looking forward to that one the most. While the chickpea filling was undoubtedly tasty and there was just the right amount of pepper in the middle, the two bakes were thinner than I’m used to. As a result, there was a certain lack of bite — I just couldn’t sink my teeth in and really come away with a significant mouthful. Certainly not as good as the best I’ve ever had, which — and this may surprise you — was actually from an Indian shop in Edmonton. And, yes, I have been to Trinidad. Go figure.

The rest of the meal was also very good, but again, not the best I’ve had. The potato in their curry was mashed as opposed to being in large chunks, the latter being preferable for scooping, which was… let’s say “different.” Not bad different, just different. The shrimps were tasty as always, and the buss-up-shot was very well made (not as good as my dad’s). The sorrel, however, was damn good and made for a refreshing compliment to the meal.

All in all, it was worth making the trip down, even with having to get out at a tube station other than Clapham North and walk the rest of the way (it was the weekend and, naturally, about half of the lines on the London Underground were closed.)

The boys from Penal, Trinidad all hard at work in the back.

As they say in Trinidad, “nigga belly full, nigga wanna sleep.” (Trinidadians say that, not me. Calm down.)

A Banquet Fit For a Block Party
18 July, 2010, 21:59
Filed under: Daily Happenings, Pics 'N' Stuff

With the promise of amazing food spread waiting in the wings, I met up with my Uncle Charles at Belsize Park last night and the two of us proceeded towards Primrose Hill for his friend Rosie’s annual block party. Rosie is a journalist in her own right, having worked as a food critic for a number of years, and I believe that the two of them once met at a cocktail party. Ever since then, as long as the party has been going on, Charles has kept going back. Fortunately, I managed to stick around London long enough to be in attendance this year.

Given Rosie’s background with food, I expected no less than top-quality grub with a smattering of awesome and a side of “the top button on my pants just flew halfway across the room!” And that’s precisely what I got. On top of other wonderful things on the tables lining the street in front of the cozy cul-de-sac, some of the wonderful morsels included bangers, roast beef, lamb chops, homemade hummus, and perhaps most deadly of all, duck. More specifically, duck skin.

I got to meet some interesting folks as well, including Helen and Roger, an Tennesseean couple who’ve lived in England for a number of years now — it’s interesting listen to Helen talk because she’s still retained most of her southern twang, but every now and then she’ll have a momentary lapse of British accent, or she’ll pronounce a word as a Brit would rather than an American (“to-may-to” vs. “to-mah-to,” for example).

All in all a successful evening, and if I’m ever back in London around this time of the year, you can be sure that I’ll be making my way back.

Primrose Hill, which has a spectacular view of London right at the top.

The former home of poet William Butler Yeats. The Primrose Hill area used to be a rather slummy neighborhood out on the edge of London several decades ago. However, as is usually the case with urban sprawl, it is now a part of north-central London and is a haven for million-dollar homes and flats, as well as cafes and restaurants the likes of which you never would’ve seen there even 20 years ago.

The party carries on late into the evening. A fantastic time had by all.

Ladies and Gents, I am officially accredited!
4 July, 2010, 18:08
Filed under: Daily Happenings, Pics 'N' Stuff

So I pick up a copy of the Independent on Sunday today and whose name do I see? Oh, I don’t know — MINE!

(See, I warned you all that I was going to make a big deal out of this.)

But, yes, all gloating aside, I’ve earned my first byline and first “additional reporting” credit in a real-life professional newspaper. Granted, it’s not attached to a 500-word exposé piece, or even a 250-word fluff article — it’s merely 30 or 40 words underneath a graphic that I researched myself.

Regardless of said facts, though, it’s still mine and I’m still extremely humbled to have something I can call my own that will be looked at by many Londoners. Plus, I only get a first byline once, so I’m going to damn well enjoy this. Have a look-see:

My initial reaction upon seeing my name in there this morning when Jen Huygen and I went out to get scones, coffee, and orange juice.

Here’s the spread. It’s on the stats page, so with the graphic accompaniment, it does technically have prominence (albeit on a left-hand page.)

And there it is! Every week, the Indy on Sunday does a “Team of the Week” box, where the starting 11 of a fantastical football squad are put together, and the names of the players have to be indicative of a certain theme (usually revolving around something timely). In weeks past, some of the themes have included the 40th anniversary of Glastonbury and others that aren’t coming to me right this minute… anyway, given that today is Independence Day in the United States, I went with an all-“Americana” squad.

I didn’t even realize this was in there until about an hour ago when I, completely by chance, decided to rummage through the rest of the paper. Mike Higgins’ four-page feature (that got released today, but I helped him with several weeks ago) on photographer Leah Gordon, who recently released a book of photography and stories of Carnival in Haiti…

…along with an “Additional reporting” credit to yours truly. The story is also up on the Independent’s website, along with my “Additional reporting” credit at the bottom, and is the top-read Arts article of the day.


“Ault” Canada: Celebrating Our Nation’s Birthday Elsewhere in the Commonwealth
4 July, 2010, 17:31
Filed under: Other Neat Stuff, Pics 'N' Stuff

This one was a Canada Day to remember.

About two weeks ago while walking through Trafalgar Square, which features Canada House right on one of its corners, I saw a poster up advertising a Canada Day celebrating at the Square. The itinerary for the event came complete with a street hockey tournament, performances from Canadian artists, and a celebration of all the wonderful cultural stereotypes that people laugh at us for, but that we embrace so wholeheartedly (and drunkenly). Never mind the fact that I was planning on going into the Independent office that day in my Team Canada jersey (the red one from the Torino Olympics in 2006) and verbally bludgeoning my co-workers with endless Canadiana and hockey discussion, but now I had a central location in which to loudly express my jubliance over the large mass of land that I was born on. Needless to say, I was sold.

The celebrations ran all day from 10:30 until 10:30, however I didn’t actually arrive until 6 p.m. when I had completed yet another day of researching and stat-checking at the Indy. When I got there, I met up with Jonn (my flatmate, who returned to Edmonton yesterday) and Jen Huygen, my good friend, former co-worker at the Gateway, and fellow south-sider. We spent a good half an hour waiting in line for overpriced faux-poutine (£5) that was absolutely flavourless and actually made me wish that I was eating poutine from Marco’s Donair. Yikes.

The three of us also saw Hawksley Workman and Sarah Harmer perform sets to the crowd of around (and I’m taking a complete shot in the dark here) 1,000 people. It’s probably less than that. Anyway, while it was exciting to see Hawksley perform, even though he really could’ve used a drummer and a bassist, that couldn’t even hold a candle to the evening’s actual excitement.

After we finished our poutine, we waited in line at the beer tent — there were two of them: one labelled “Bar” and the other one labelled “The Bar.” (Perhaps one served Sleemen’s and the other served “The Sleemen’s”?) After finding out that “Bar” had run out of the only Canadian beer option available, we headed over to “The Bar” to try our luck at snagging “The Sleemen’s.” As we soon found out while waiting in line, they, too, had run out. We stuck it out anyway because what’s Canada Day without beer, yes? And when I say “line,” it wasn’t really a uniformed line, so much as it was a giant mass of people piling in to try and be the next person served. Picture a large, disorderly crowd trying to get onto an ETS bus just before rush hour, and that’ll give you an idea.

While we were standing in the beer line, however, Jen happened to notice something very interesting. With a stunned look on her face, she turned around to Jonn and I and whispered “Is that Adrienne Arsenault!?” After catching a quick glance, without making it obvious to her that I was trying to figure out who she was, I could indeed confirm that it was ADRIENNE FREAKING ARSENAULT! (For those of you who might be reading this and might not know who Adrienne Arsenault is, she’s the London correspondant for the CBC. So, in other words, kind of a big deal within the scope of Canadian journalism.)

Naturally, in a large mass of people with very little room to manoeuvre, we needed some sort of a plan as to how we were going to grab her attention and go talk to her. Jen decided to keep eyes forward and grab beers for the three of us, Jonn kept and I out in case she started to leave the beer line, and I was waiting diligently for Jonn’s cue in case I had to move out. Within mere moments, Jonn notified me that she was leaving the beer line and I began to follow suit. (By the way, I know I’m making this sound both stalkerish and sort of like a poorly written reconnaissance novel, but bear with me.)

I managed to grab her attention as she came out of the beer line, and we began talking about the CUP (Canadian University Press) national conference that the Gateway hosted in Edmonton this year. Best part of this whole story: she remembered my face and she remembered me giving her my business card at Ceili’s Irish Pub in downtown Edmonton during said conference. NO WORDS.

Anyway, we began talking about my internship at the Independent among other things, and then Jonn and Jen finally got out of there and we started having a small discussion. Eventually, the two parties split off and we each went to do our own thing, but how cool is it that we ran into Adrienne Arsenault in Trafalgar Square on Canada Day?

Best ever? Yeah, no doubt.

Canada Day celebrations, complete with faux-poutine, curly fries, bison burgers, Tim Horton’s coffee and donuts, and Sleeman’s beer.

Hawksley Workman, who’s looking pretty bald and a bit fatter these days, performing.