Shakespeare’s London

The White Tower

The White Tower

Yes, I’m falling down a little on the blogging. It’s hard; I’m both very, very busy and also not, in part because some of what I’m doing is boring life admin stuff, and so much is just… ‘and then I saw this‘. Things continue to go well, by and large. Friday was a difficult day – I had a job interview that did not go well, and it shook my confidence a little – but I turned it around: the National Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery are wonderful places to go to regain one’s zen. I also went to the Tower of London, and… and other places. I’m finding it difficult to keep up. So many places, so little time!

Saturday was effectively a day off, because Australia had an election and my present location on the other side of the world was no excuse not to follow it. I did go for a walk first, though: down towards Kensington, a direction I’d yet to wander in. This eventually led me to Kensington High Street, where I discovered T.K. Maxx (I’m not sure why it is T.K. in the UK and T.J. in the US, but I digress). I’m trying not to do too much shopping, but that place is amazing: big name brands for often half price. Buying a proper raincoat had been on my list, so I was delighted to buy a high quality one for half its normal retail value. I also, later, made some purchases on Amazon UK: merino wool is my new best friend. This was exciting in part because, with Amazon Prime, I can get next day delivery (or even same day delivery), and that just about blew my mind. In some ways, yes, Australia is a backwater.

I digress.

(Also, it is somewhat ridiculous that I have travelled halfway around the world to start buying up New Zealand merino. It’s just… I never really needed it, in Sydney!)

I digress again.

I spent the rest of the afternoon watching election coverage. All of it. I admit, it is something that is more fun watched with others, but I had a lovely time all the same: I drank some T2 tea (I hadn’t realised that T2 is an Australian company that has spread to the UK, but I’m so glad: going in to that shop and smelling the lemon myrtle tea and so on was delightful, though I ended up buying raspberry rush and french early grey instead), ate some chocolate biscuits, and gorged myself on it all. Another hung parliament. Yay.

At some point during the day, I registered a facebook post from my friend Kat, in Canada, in which she talked about the poutine she’d just eaten. This… this encouraged a craving. Which in turn led to a quest: good poutine is not easy to find in Sydney. Is it easier to find in London, a much larger city? I found the answer quickly: yes. In fact, my timing was perfect, because every Sunday there is a poutine truck at the Brick Lane markets in Shoreditch. My next step was clear.

Street art in Shoreditch

Street art in Shoreditch

Thus, I found myself at the Brick Lane markets this morning. Actually, this turned out to be an excellent decision, because those markets were amazing. Shoreditch is cool; there is a lot of street art, and the whole area has an artsy, alternative vibe. I’m told that it wasn’t like that ten years ago, that it used to be quite a downtrodden and dangerous area. There are still some hints of that – and it is still heavily multicultural and very very different from, say, Notting Hill – but it hasn’t turned ‘trendy’ so much as alternative. Newtown before it was gentrified, I suppose.

Those markets are, too, a food lover’s paradise. In addition to the poutine, I saw duck-fat chips with truffle mayonnaise, crepes, sushi, all kinds of vegan goodies, and food from every possible ethnic group you can imagine. There were rainbow bagels. And… The Cereal Killer Cafe. Which, yes, serves cereal. Just cereal. Finally, of course, I can’t forget to mention Dark Sugars, which had some of the most amazing chocolates I’d ever seen – with some of the best presentation, too. Big, beautifully carved bowls of truffles; a huge array of fancy chocolates; shiny chocolate pearls; an impressive collection of vegan chocolates, too. Reader, I died. (Read, I hyperbolised.)

The markets are also full of antiques, home made wares, and general random market junk, but for me, it was mostly about the food. The weather was perfect; it was a lovely morning.

In the afternoon, I was due to meet up with a group for a tour of ‘Shakespeare’s London’, which I was very much looking forward to. It was a good choice: there were perhaps 20 or 30 of us, mostly locals, and everyone was very friendly and social. I ended up spending most of the walk talking to one woman in particular, and she and I got along very well, despite a fair age difference. The guide knew what he was talking about, and showed us all kinds of things along the way – and afterwards? Most of us went to the pub for a few drinks, where I ended up in the midst of a lively discussion about politics, among other things.

One thing I really like about meetup groups is that if you pick the correct groups, you know you’re going to be meeting people who share at least some of your interests. Most of the people in this group are a good 20 years older than me, but we still share interests, and that made it easy to interact. Age is no barrier!

It was a good day. But now my feet hurt, so I am going to curl up and relax for the rest of the evening.

Democracy in Action

The Get Up signs were pretty funny.

I kind of love the experience of voting. Yes, it’s gut-wrenching when your candidate/party of choice doesn’t get in… but I still love it.

Yes, I’m one of those people who would still vote, without fail, if voting were not compulsory in this country. Voting is important. As a woman, I’m conscious of all those people who worked so hard to make sure that my gender was allowed to vote. As a human being, I’m conscious of all those people who worked so hard to make sure that anyone was allowed to vote.

I love doing my research beforehand, and organising my preferences. I love that I get to vote below the line, filling in all those boxes (110 this time!) so as to put the people I consider most vile right down the bottom. I love chit-chatting with the poll staff, stuck indoors on a beautiful spring day like this one. I love overhearing conversations while I queue, even when I think someone else’s politics are appalling. I guess I just kind of love knowing that at least we live in a country where we get to have those opinions, right or wrong. We may end up with a government that I can’t stand, and it may make me despair of people in this country… but it’ll be the one we, as a country, elected. And that’s still worth something.

I love the sausage sizzles, the cake stalls and the jumble sales. I always look through the books, even though I don’t buy physical books anymore, and don’t really want more in my house. I bought three little wooden sailing ships today, even though I don’t really want to add more dust catchers to the house. It was nice.

Despite everything, the mood was positive. People weren’t complaining about having to queue. The poll workers were great at bringing the elderly and parents with young children to the front of the queue so that they didn’t have to wait as long. The people handing out leaflets out front weren’t too pushy.

I know there will be things I get worked up about, later today. It seems pretty likely that the result is not the one I would choose. But right now… I feel positive about democracy.

And that’s a good thing.

I’ve heard a lot of people mocking our electoral system, lately, especially people from overseas who don’t seem to grasp our preferential voting system. I’m well aware that there are things in the system that don’t work as well as they should… but I still think it’s a better system than many of them out there. In Australia, voting for a non-major party is not a wasted vote. I can put whoever I want as number one on my ballot, and if they don’t get enough votes? My vote moves on to my second choice, all the way down the line.

This is so important. It means I don’t have to sacrifice my integrity to vote for the party I think is least worst that has a chance at winning. It gives our government an opportunity for diversity. The Greens (who I do vote for) will almost certainly never win government – and without preferential voting, they’d likely never win so much as a single seat. But with preferences, they stand a chance, and that gives them a voice.

And in a way, it gives me a voice.

Mathematical Wizardry

My name is Louise, and I have a problem.

I really, really, really love elections.

I love watching polls, in the lead up. I love reading about what’s going on in key places. I love stressing over whether my preferred candidate(s) are going to win.

And I really love the numbers.

It’s weird, because back in high school I had no time for maths. I dropped even the most basic maths option after year eleven because I hated it so much – I just couldn’t see the point in continuing with it. I came very close to first in the subject before doing so, and was strenuously advised against it, but I was adamant: I wanted nothing to do with it.

The older I get, though, the more value I see in practical applications. It’s the same with science: I didn’t even consider taking any of the science subjects after year ten, and would have said quite honestly that I found science boring. And now… not so much. Not at all.

Rohan showed me Moneyball a few months ago, and despite having no interest in baseball whatsoever, I found it fascinating: the idea that you could predict winners and losers based on the numbers. Algorithms and probability and statistics and… all of these things made sense for me.

And the same is true for elections. It’s all down to polling data: with the right statistical analysis, you can predict actual results. Accurately. Really accurately. Of course, a lot of people don’t like the idea – but today’s election results seem to be a pretty conclusive win for some people say.

Me? I’m delighted. I love polling data. And I love it even more when someone smarter than me can explain what those numbers really mean.

(And yes, I’m also delighted by today’s election results. So many women! Obama! Gay marriage! Marijuana decriminalisation! There are a lot of wins, right there. I may no longer live in the USA, but I find that (overly complicated, utterly inefficient) system fascinating; this certainly won’t be the last of their elections I obsess over.)

I may even be ready to cope with Australia’s next federal election, although I’m not quite sure about that.