Big Ben and its 334 steps

Big Ben from the London Eye

Back in November, Shelly and I got a private tour of the inside of the Clock Tower aka Big Ben. You won’t find this free tour in any guidebook. You need to be a UK resident and arrange the tour through your MP. So, we took advantage of our temporary resident status and our Richmond address, and lined up a tour.

It’s a 90-minute tour that starts across the street from Parliament and the Clock Tower, once you pass through security and get your picture taken. After crossing the street in a tunnel below, you get to the Clock Tower door and you hear the lecture: To get to the top, it’s 334 steps up and 334 steps down. The tour guides are serious: If you don’t think you’re in shape to walk up, then you shouldn’t. Bad knees or hearts should look at it from below.

Sure, 334 steps, no big deal if you’re in shape, but taking them on small, worn down steps, set in a tight spiral, without windows to look out of, makes for a dizzying and heart-thumping climb.

If you must know details, the Parliament website has a good amount of info including animation, sound, and a video. And the clock strikes 12. (Upon listening to this clip I can’t help but think of AC/DC’s Hell’s Bells.) We were there when it hit 12 and had to wear ear plugs. The view from the belfry is spectacular and open air, which means no windows to protect you and just a lot of cold air blowing through.

The cool thing is once you’ve climbed up, listened to and seen the icon from inside, looking at it from the outside or in pictures, takes on a different dimension. One of those once-in-a-lifetime experiences.

Not coincidently, the chime is the same as Shelly’s grandparents’ clock that had the place of honor on our mantle in Oakland for years. Because it too rings on the hour, that cool little clock got unplugged a lot.


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A year in London

Thames River path

Exactly one year ago this past week, I landed in London. Shelly followed with the pups just over a week later. A lot has happened in those 365 days. In fact, more stuff than I can remember. A whirlwind. I like lists, so I made one.

What I’ve done in the past year:
Packed up the house in Oakland, CA and moved to London, England.
Moved two dogs.
Been to an English wedding. Congrats again, Ben and Mandy.
Stayed in Brooklyn, NY for two weeks to wait for visas. In a hotel.
Traveled to Naples, Sorrento, the Amalfi Coast.
Traveled to Berlin.
To Barcelona.
Bath, UK.
Derby, UK.
Drove to Stonehenge and the Cotswalds.
Returned to the Bay Area twice.
Sat on my glasses.
Visited a UK optometrist.
Purchased new glasses.
Got my teeth cleaned by a UK dentist and told I need to whiten my teeth. Oh please.
Learned to understand and appreciate wellies.
Drove a car three times, four if you include the time I drove my truck around the block in Oakland.
Swam in four pools.
Sweat through my clothes on a morning commute. Thank you tfl.
Walked to work in the snow.
Changed jobs.
Seen foxes.
Lost one umbrella on the tube and another to the wind.
Grown to like chutney or pickles.
Taken to having a cup of tea in the afternoon.
Lived in a flat that’s lost power and hot water, gotten infested by flying ants (think curtains covered), had a broken washer/dryer, tub flood, and a bedroom floor that has buckled three times and been replaced twice.
Enjoyed some really good pints of beer.
Learned the difference between Tesco, Sainsbury’s, and Waitrose.
Learned the difference between the underground, overground, Nationalrail, and Eurostar.
Entertained several guests: Mother in law, Kirk, Deanne and Paul, parents, sister-in-law Laurie.
Lost my dog.
Learned to appreciate (and curse at) Skype.
Learned how to dial the US and Europe from the UK.
Learned to really appreciate pub dinners. Especially on Friday nights.
Had juice splashed on me by Imelda Staunton or rather her character in a play.
Witnessed Royal Wedding hysteria.
Survived setting up bank and phone accounts in the UK. Horrible.
Walked along the Thames many times.

And the list goes on.

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When a dog has nine lives

When a dog has nine lives, there has to be one last one. And our Frances used all of hers up on Sunday. She came from Richmond, California and died in Richmond, Surrey, UK. Born on January 3, 2001, she graced our lives for nearly 11 years.

But let’s be honest. She earned her nine-lives stripes. Born to an abused and neglected dog, we plucked her from a craigslist ad when she was three months old. A lab mix, a rescue with a stunted tail and an outtie belly button/hernia. Our Frances. Named after a badger in one of our childhood books.

Frances' good side; taken in the spring.

We went through several vets throughout the Bay Area before she was diagnosed with a severe case of IBD at just 1.5 years old. Her doctor said he had never seen a case like hers at such a young age. A horrible disease. Consequently, she was a waif of a pup. Bone thin, starving most of the time. Couldn’t eat this or that. Picked on by other dogs in the neighborhood. But she turned out to be a real alpha, peeing higher on walls than any male dog in the neighborhood. And she carried her IBD badge with honor. Her life was saved or extended by budesinide. We had that stuff shipped from the US to England. Couldn’t live without it. And thanks to the parents for shipping it over.

For most of her life, she was on special diets, hand fed, given fresh food (hello whole chickens, potatoes, ground beef and turkey, weighed food). Heck, we even got her a sibling to get her competitive eating juices going (thanks, Mickey). Then came pancreatitis. Five days at the vet. Another painful time in her life and another new, diet.

And then, a year ago, after six months of paperwork and stateside quarantine and one week before she got on a British Airways plane to England, Frances was diagnosed with one of three things. Her head had pretty much caved in on one side of her skull in less than a week and before we put her through the stress of the trip, we wanted to make sure we were doing the right thing. Without doing any invasive medical tests or MRIs (our request), the vet diagnosed atrophy of the temporal muscle due to trauma, another autoimmune problem, or a malignant or non-malignant tumor. Because she wasn’t exhibiting many signs yet, they said she had three to 18 months to live.

And live she did. For 12 more months. Weekly walks to Richmond Green, Ravenscourt Park, Old Deer Park, Richmond Park with her little dachshund brother, Oliver. And snow. Boy, did she enjoy the snow drifts in her own yard.

But 12 months later, blind in one eye, unable to drink water properly, her legs going one by one, bumping into things, becoming unbalanced, and oh, the painful head. The spark faded. Quickly and in front of our eyes.

Frances leaves a legacy. She was the second and longest serving dog of Piedmont Stationers – greeting customers and blocking their way in front of the counter or on the sidewalk. She accompanied Shelly to work every day, because that was her job, her life. When the store closed, Frances had to retire, very reluctantly. Because of her, we went through more paper towels and white vinegar than a 7-11 (IBD = lots of throwing up). A superb travel dog, she made her way up and down Highway 5 to Los Angeles and back. Loved the pee spot at Anderson’s Pea soup. Got to see Utah and Tahoe, and places in between. She got herself stuck in the loft of a cabin and took a ride down a ladder in a duffel bag to freedom.

And Frances was smart. Very smart. Listened. Trusted. Obeyed. And loved us back unconditionally. We let her go with dignity. Before her condition took too much of her soul. She will be missed. Oh, so very missed.


A blog post I didn’t write for my blog

Traveling around Europe for work and play.

Wrote a blog post that would have been ideal for my blog, only I wrote it for Blurb.

Books on the Menu at this Irish Pub

Maybe one day I’ll write some more posts.

One day.

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Great tipping chart for traveling Personal Finances

I really need to get a handle on tipping on this side of the pond. Thanks to

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Next Generation Customer Experience

The Next Generation Customer Experience event is in Los Angeles in May and although a lot of the tracks sound very interesting to me, I know that I cannot attend. Living in London has its pros for sure, but when it comes to no longer being able to fly out for conferences like these, it has its cons.

One thing is to be able to attend an event like this, the next is being able to get good ideas, and the most important thing is actually being able to act on these ideas and execute them for your business and customers.

For instance this track – Strategies for Managing, Meeting and Exceeding Customer Expectations – caught my eye:

Designing and delivering outstanding customer experience requires not only feedback from experiences customers have already had but also to anticipate what those customers’ expectations are before the experience. But most companies do not have a process for collecting and understanding their customers’ expectations and communicating those expectations to their people. In this hands-on, high-energy workshop, participants will:

* Determine the customer expectations they already know and which expectations they don’t at each touch point
* Create a strategy for gathering customer expectations from their key customers which will drive strategies for serving them and others
* See expectations through their customers’ eyes
* Walk away with at least one usable action item for exceeding customer expectations.

The above sounds obvious and easy, but getting time to brainstorm with peers and walking away with even one good idea is priceless.

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Pictures of Italy

In my Blurb book.

For dog lovers (and cat lovers), there’s a photo or two for you.

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