Friday, August 13, 2004

Things change so fast

In my recent sabbatical / period of unemployment, I have often found myself in central Croydon in the day time. Wanting to either check my e-mail, blog something, or surf the web without going home, I have gone to the public library, that provides free internet access. However, the normal thing has happened that happens when you provide a "free" service: rather than being apportioned by price, the internet access has been apportioned by queueing. Normally you have to wait for ten minutes or so for your hour's internet access. This is in irritant, but I have genuinely not minded very much.

However, this afternoon I received a telephone call from the head of Smith Barney Citigroup's quantitative equity research team, offering me the job that I have mentioned obliquely in this blog that I have been interviewing for. Rather than being completely broke, I suddenly find myself with a sizeable income once again. My future boss told me that he would be e-mailing me some information, and I therefore needed to check my e-mail. I walked to the public library, and looked at the queue. Whereas thirty minutes earlier my response to the queue would not have been especially negative, I looked at a prospective ten to fifteen minute wait and the thought that went through my mind was essentially "fuck that". I walked a couple of blocks and went into a pay internet cafe for which I did not have to queue, which is where I am now. (Working for a large investment bank does that for you, I guess).

Once I have sorted a flight out, I am going to Spain and Portugal for a couple of weeks, where I intend to drink a lot of crianza. I am then starting the job at the start of September. I don't presently know what effect this will have on my blogging, although I suspect the volume will decline.

I will have to confess that I am relieved.

Update: I just impulse bought a 40Gb iPod that I can't can easily afford. I never impulse buy anything, but I am allowing myself an exception for this. (Except that it isn't really an exception, as I have been telling myself for months that I will get an iPod when I get a good job).

Thursday, August 12, 2004


As I thought might be the case, it has been confirmed that British SAS and SBS Special Forces troops are in Athens. There have been various comments from Greek and British government sources that they are there in a "consulting" capacity, and that they are providing "advice", although they are apparently there with a full complement of weapons and equipment. Why do I get the impression that if (heaven forbid) there is a terrorist attack on the Olympic Games in Athens, the "advice" might well consist of "Please get out of the way".

I am very pleased to hear that these guys are in Athens. The British SAS genuinely are the best in the world at this kind of thing, and I have no faith in the Greek army. I wonder where the nearest American aircraft carrier is to Greece right now? Perhaps quite nearby with a SEAL team and a substantial number of Marines handy?

When the olympics took place in Sydney four years ago, it was taken as a given that the Australian SAS where poised and ready for action. I was comfortable with this, becausee the Australian SAS are very good indeed. The Australian troops have essentially the same training as the British equivalent (and people move backwards and forwards between the two, I think) and they are troops I have great faith in when it comes to the crunch. (I believe that the Australian SAS excelled themselves in both Afghanistan and Iraq, and they have had fairly recent business in East Timor and the Solomon Islands, too). But the Greek equivalent, not so much.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

The taste of childhood

I mentioned a couple of days ago that at least a portion of Australian expatriates in London essentially make up an "economically successful minority". We are basically talking professionals who live and work in London and probably make three or four times as much money as they could make at home. (Such are the rewards of living in a genuine world city). But of course if you grew up in Australia in certain ways, including at some times gut feeling, London never becomes home.

When one travels from one country to another life changes. And the little details of life change in unexpected ways. When you are in a place that is not the place that you grew up things like tastes and smells are different, and this always means that in some ways the place you are now is a little alien.

And part of this is the things that you find in the shops. Often they are almost the same, but not quite the same. This is especially the case for food items, and I think very especially the case with food items when you compare between Australia and anywhere else. Australia is a big place. The country features several climate zones. All manner of things are grown and made locally, and due to the tyranny of distance importing things is often more trouble than it is worth. In a lot of cases why really would you want to? The quality of the local product is usually extremely high.

When one lives in London one normally just gets used to it. There are subtle differences between the ingredients you use to cook food in London and the ingredients you use to cook food in Australia. You could slightly different food. It may be a little different but it isn't worse. It may once have been, but British supermarkets are now full of high quality ingredients.

But you still miss things. More than anything you miss the distinctive and most intense tastes of things that you regularly ate during your childhood. Often, this is the tastes of confectionary you ate when you were a child. And as there are in most places, there are particular types of chocolate bar and sandwich spread and other like things that are distinctive to Australia.

The Harvey Nichols department store in Knightsbridge has a certain noveau riche quality about it. I don't think it on the whole sells terribly interesting products (although there is plenty of good stuff sold there), but it has a certain catchet, and its management know how to cater to a certain clientele.

It is the sort of place that you expect to find footballers wives, hosts of reality television shows, and people who work in the public relations business, thinking that it is the height of sophistication to shop there. (Large portions of the television show "Absolutely Fabulous", were filmed in the store). I get the impression that newly rich expatriates might shop there for a while due to receiving recomendations from their secretaries, before moving somewhere a little more understated after being in London for a few years. (Harvey Nichols is certainly a place where actual Londoners shop, unlike nearby Harrods, which has been transformed into little more than a tourist attaction at this point). Selfridges is a much better store than either of them if you ask me. Being in Oxford Street possibly helps, as this is where normal people shop and they don't so much in Kinghtsbridge.

In any event, on the top floor there is a bar, a coffee bar, a kaiten-zushi restaurant, some other kind of restaurant the details of which I can't remember, and a wine shop (selling some very good stuff, including an excellent selection of Australian wines) and a food hall. Besides selling fresh and high quality meat, seafood, and fruit and vegetables, this also contains shelves of immaculately arranged packaged foodstuffs, most of them imported from interesting places and of high quality. Look at what it includes.

(Sorry about the variable quality photographs. The light was so-so, and I took the photos surreptitiously and quickly, as the proprietors of many stores do not like people taking photographs inside. As it happened nobody hassled me about it though).

And there's this:

(On previous occasions they had Mint Patties in the place that is half-heartedly filled with chocolate truffles. Disappointingly there weren't any today. I would prefer a Mint Pattie to a chocolate truffle any time).

And of course it is marvelous what a difference Milo makes (even if it is a crappy photo).

But despite all this, these are all peripheral to the key way in which Harvey Nick's sustains Australian expatriates in need.

All non-Australian readers in London with Australian friends should appreciate a key fact. If your friend is suicidal or just needs cheering up, the way to solve the problem is to go to Knightsbridge, and buy a packet of Tim Tams (even for £3.35), and give them to your friend. This will solve the problem immediately. Judging by the size of the Tim Tams section, I suspect that this is a major money making venture.

Amusingly, while I was there a young woman walked down that aisle, looked at the Tim Tams, looked at the price, and then took one packet off the shelf. She then looked like she was about to move away but the though "What the heck?" clearly went through her mind and she took a second packet off the shelf before heading to the cashier.

Oddly, though, I am not a huge fan of chocolate or sweet stuff, and although I will eat Tim Tams, they are not quite as effective on me as on most Australians.

What I would really like is a packet of Twisties. (They're the number one extruded snack, after all).

Sunday, August 08, 2004

London today

The interview for the job for which I was learning the S+ went very well, and there is therefore a good chance that I will shortly be going to work in a quantitiative team in the equity research division of on of the world's largest banks. (Although one never knows, of course). The London based team I would be joining presently consists of a Greek, an Indian, a Romanian, a New Zealander, a Frenchwoman and (yes, really) and Englishman. I would be the only Australian in the team, but one of many working in financial markets in London. In fact, if things work out there will be two people I worked closely with in my last job in Sydney with who I will be working with occasionally, although they will be on different teams to me.

This is finance in London today. It has long been the case that the city is full of colonials from the ex-dominions, and for a few years the IT departments have been full of Indians, and we are now seeing the Indians spread to other parts of the businesses as well. And we are just beginning to see a few eastern Europeans. London is full twenty year olds with slavic accents working in basic service jobs, most who will probably be well paid professionals in a decade's time, and these are just starting to move up too. There have been eastern Europeans in IT departments for a while, too, although they are not as pervasive as Indians. They tend to be of type "guru" though, being concentrated amongst UNIX system administrators and things like that. The UNIX administrator who knows things about the operating system that no mere mortal should not know about, who is probably named Piotr or some variation thereof, and who has an accent that makes him sound like Count Dracula is something of a cliche in computer circles, and has been for a while. (The User Friendly comic stip parodies this cliche endlessly).

In any event, though, this is a sign of a broader trend, I think. Very international cities like London attract ambitious individuals from lots of places. The "economically successful minorities" from poorer countries tend to come in large numbers, too. Sometimes they do this because things get bad in the country they previously lived. Sometimes, though, I think they just come because it is simply less of a hassle to be a member of an economically successful group in a country where there are many economically successful groups (and where there is no poor majority group. And in a way there seems to be relatively little difference from groups who come from countries where they are an economically successful minority and those who come from somewhere like Australia, who come from countries with large middle classes and good educations systems, and who demonstrate a certain amount of initiative by self-selecting themselves and choosing to come in the first place. There is quite a distinct (and definitely prosperous) minority of Australians in London, who have, for instance, a reputation for being hard working. Getting responses like "Oh, he's an Aussie. That means he'll work hard" is definitely a good thing.

I have a piece on a trip to a Cambridge pub, and a slightly surreal phone call over at Samizdata. Oh well. At least I know the frequency was 1800MHz.

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