Thursday, 31 March 2011
I see its fifty years since Yuri Gagarin's first orbit around the earth. To celebrate it as a piece of Big History there's a new play by the Royal Shakespeare Company. It's by Rona Munro and tells the story of Sergei Korolyov who was the chief designer of the Soviet space programme.
The play shows how Korolyov leaves a Gulag in Siberia after being wrongly accused as a Nazi sympathiser (because they both made rockets). He makes his way some 4000 miles to Moscow whilst still technically under arrest, so that he can rejoin a rocket programme.
Then he juggles the demands of the new politicos Kruschev and Brezhnev whilst figuring out how to get to the moon. He may not have made it to the green cheese, but his teams celebrated many of the other firsts associated with space.
It reminds me of the strange reverse logic of space travel. When I used to read comics as a lad, the space stories were futuristic but had possibilities. Most technologies accelerate, but space travel has gone into reverse. There's actually 12 men that have walked on the moon. Some have now died and others are in their later years.
Korolyov's little eagles are still very rare birds.
Wednesday, 30 March 2011
And as if yesterday's picture of Nelson's column wasn't enough, here's the rather sorry state of the Olympic clock prior to its cleanup.
After it's installation and switch-on, we had that embarrassing moment when it stopped. Now it is going OK again, but the splats of paint on both sides are another illustration of the rather central role that Trafalgar Square plays in protests.
Fortunately London is a pretty robust place so I expect that even by the time I write this the clock is scrubbed back into shiny order.
Although I'm still not quite sure about that logo. I can't get the unfortunate rude description of it out of my head when I see it. If you know what I mean.
Tuesday, 29 March 2011
They say 'what difference a day makes' and the transformation already at Trafalgar Square from the situation at the weekend is a good case in point. Most of the signs of protest from the weekend have already been removed and the symbols in Whitehall have been coated with a thin white paint before being removed completely.
The same with some of my work stuff, which has whizzed through various roller-coaster moments over the last few days.
Of course, it still important to register the difference between the superficialities and the underlying situations. The importance of the difference between mere blips and systemic challenges.
Let's say the jury is still out.
Monday, 28 March 2011
As we arrived in the Tristan Bates theatre, the swinging man on the stage was already swigging a tin of lager and starting a half engaged conversation with some of the audience. We could see the concrete walls reminiscent of a rebuilt town. We knew it was Nottingham, but it could have been plenty of other places too. The sort of town with a sprawling bus station, maybe a largely concrete shopping mall and what gets referred to as mixed housing stock.
Soon there was a music track. Eighties hip-hop and the start of the action. Two kids meet. Both riding Raleighs, one a chopper, the other not quite. They are from different parts of the town. They have their evening meals at different times. The black guy eats at four. The white guy at seven.
They talk about music. They agree to swap music tapes (remember them?). They decide to sniff stolen aerosols together. And so it starts. A friendship, and the turmoil of making way through late school years in a provincial town.
Daniel Hoffman-Gill's writing cuts through. There's little sentimentality but an affection for the characters. They are sharp. They each have a style. They each make a statement. It's a kind of shorthand for people we've all known. Growing up, filtering differences. Trying to make a kind of sense even when the folk around don't match. Seeing how it can change one. To fit in. To be part of the posse. Even a quite small posse with some ragged edges.
Daniel sets questions in his writing. In the manner of an early Chekhov he is using street stories to make a point harshly and leaving the audience to think of the answers.
And also in the manner of a Chekhov, Daniel presents a weapon. Not in the first act, but soon enough for one to be able to surmise it's destiny.
So there's enough here to create thought and discussion. It's Poles Apart from another piece of Daniel's writing which suggests a flexibility and creativity being used within the boundaries of a still small theatre space.
And what about the rest of it? Strong ensemble acting. James Hooton's shadowy one man chorus to create a kind of back beat narrative. The two friends (Dimeji Sadiq and Jarrod Cooke) one of whom morphs considerably in the influence of the other and the grey blank surroundings. A further disturbed individual dressed in a shell suit graffiti (played by Kent Riley) who ratchets the tension. The girl (Annishia Lunnette) who provides a robust counterpoint to the boys and their toys.
A staging that emphasises the concrete. The back parts of a city. The places to go to sniff glue.
The music of a hip hop going on acid era. No guitar heroes allowed in these parties. But oh, to create a style. That is legendary.
Sunday, 27 March 2011
Yesterday's slight preparation paid off as we were able to transition around London without the level of trouble depicted on the television.
We started South of the River around lunch time, at the Mason's Arms, which no longer contains the Rubic cube replica of Battersea Power Station. Six of us enjoyed a raucous and boozy lunch before dividing our separate ways at Battersea Park train station which gave some of the gang a clever way back to the east.
We carried on back over Chelsea Bridge towards the centre. We'd met some of the marchers from the peaceful protest against the cuts and the general impression seemed to be of a pleasant and well natured crowd.
In our case we were heading eventually for the Two Brewers just off of St Martins Lane where we had planned further rendezvous before heading on to a theatre.
We used a pretty circuitous route to get the the area, with various thoroughfares closed and part of the central area effectively cut in two. Unfortunately one of our friends was already caught up in the London bottlenecks and there were hurried text messages before she had to make a sensible retreat.
The Two Brewers was surprisingly busy and it was obvious that about half of the occupants had been on the march. All somewhat incredulous at the television reportage which bore little comparison to the peaceful events of the day.
The last of our group arrived and after a second round of drinks it was time to head for the theatre. A three minute walk punctuated by the drone of several helicopters overhead.
The show was the entertaining 'Our Style is Legendary' by Daniel Hoffman-Gill at the Tristan Bates.
More of that in a separate blogpost.
After the show we hung around to say a brief 'hi' to Daniel, before heading to a conveniently close Thai restaurant for a late evening supper. A pleasant round table near the window, which meant we could all see the escalating number of blue flashing lights passing on their way to Trafalgar Square. Suffice to say they were going left so when we left the restaurant we decided it prudent to turn right.
Then back across to the west. Along parts of Oxford Street and Piccadilly which looked about typical for early hours and also by chance along the edge of Fortnum's still standing largely as normal despite the earlier 'occupation'.
And eventually homeward, with a strange blend of meetings with friends, pubs, Nottingham storyline and a rather strange and divided view of the London scenes from earlier in the day mixing together in our heads.
Thursday, 24 March 2011
Filling the car with fuel today after the budget reduction.
I couldn't help notice it was 141.9p per litre. Last march it was 117p. That's a 20% increase making it about £6.45 a gallon or $10.50 a gallon.
I'm not sure whether yesterday's 1p reduction has really made much difference?
Wednesday, 23 March 2011
I know what you're thinking.
I had to get the issue - strictly in the interests of research.
It meant checking the A to Z.
And the detailed write up of that *ahem* repurposing of the Review Bar.
The Box that just has a door now.
And very expensive tables.
No, I was looking for something more...
No, a better word...
I found it.
More or less an invitation.
I'll be there.
Sunday, 20 March 2011
I'll admit that I'm quite a long way behind the latest episode of the rapidly concluding Danish detective series "the Killing", but I've been enjoying it in catch-up mode on the iPad. I was slightly disturbed to read that this has been discovered to be the mode for watching this series by its small audience.
I spent quite some time in Copenhagen a couple of years ago and enjoy the series as a kind of nostalgia as well as for its generally naturalistic acting, cleverly woven plotline and a type of realism less found in much of the Hollywood equivalent material.
It's set in November so there's a kind of automatic darkness to many of the scenes. There's an occasional skyline shot but even most of these are shot at night with neon lights. And a daylight skyline managed to include the hazed twin smokestacks of the DONG power station.
The main detective is a determined Sarah Lund, all pinned back hair and knitted sweaters and supposed to be relocating to Sweden but staying over to finish the case. Some slightly strange dialogue about whether she'd be understood in Sweden - given that there's a special trade zone between Copenhagen and the adjacent area of Sweden across the bridge. There's bicycles galore given the nature of the Copenhagen transport infrastructure and some parts of the plot revolve around borrowing cars in a particularly Danish way.
There's also some different continental manners, with lots of coffee, flatbreads and smoking indoors instead of hotdogs and doughnuts.
It's quite good to be able to be ahead of the somewhat gritty plot occasionally but never too sure when it will loop away unpredictably. Then as well as the detective story there's some town hall politics as another plot line.
I should mention it is in Danish, with subtitles, but its still eminently watchable and after a while a few of the phrases start to become recognisable.
I'll need self control to not dial up the last episodes on television and instead to watch in sequence before the DVDs arrive.
Saturday, 19 March 2011
I first read something by Jennifer Egan in a magazine. I liked the rhythm and humour of the piece and subsequently googled to see if she’d written anything more.
It turned out there was a novel set in the same genre, which I recently enjoyed and appears to now be getting some press coverage. It’s called “A Visit From the Goon Squad” and is a kind of mashup of stories and lives, loosely around the music industry.
The structure is charmingly bonkers, with what could be a series of separate short stories that somehow interlink to create a mood and a lifestyle.
I can relate to the idea of creating characters, placing them and then letting them run wild, to see what they’d do and how they impact one another. Its best to go with the flow in the early part and let the storylines gradually converge like reassembling a cut-up.
I like to think that even the book’s binding gives some of this away, with that uncut rough edged look to the pages. It might be simply that I’ve got a rogue copy, but I suspect not.
And the story telling has a sort of continuity in amongst the multiplicity of points of views and huge gaps in time between characters and events. Artfully done by drifting from one character to another across the chapters.
I won’t describe the woven storyline here. It’s amoral West Coast American punk-rock meets East Coast business, vectoring into deserts, war-zones and a post iPod accelerated generation.
Its funny, edgy and despite the shapeshifting, there’s a heart.
Oh, and a chapter in PowerPoint.
Friday, 18 March 2011
From time to time I get people email me about a picture that I've posted onto flickr.
It will usually be a snap of a particular London building that someone wants for an online guide or a picture of a 'thing' like a locomotive or 'person' like a pop-star that I've clicked at some point.
If it's non-commercial/non-political then I'm happy to assist and I can usually work out the basis of the request. This time someone has asked me about the bridge on the M25, which I happened to snap when riding as a passenger whilst stuck in a traffic jam. The slogan on the bridge is known to many travellers 'Give Peas a Chance'. There's probably quite a few of us that smile as we pass it (even in the traffic jams).
Anyway, I was intrigued at the request and did a sort of reverse google to find the person that had asked me. It turns out that they have a special site for the bridge on Facebook and are collecting pictures of the bridge. It's a bit like when I started to collect those little yellow men crossing pictures that have been spotted by various pedestrian road crossings.
What fascinated me about the bridge was a backstory that the sign hasn't always said "Give Peas a chance". Apparently it started out with just "Peas" and someone else added the rest of the slogan. I've uploaded a large resolution version of the picture and, yes, there's a difference in the painting style between the word "Peas" and the rest.
And thats all we are saying.
Wednesday, 16 March 2011
A few of us had met together in a riverside pub. It was a somewhat ad-hoc gathering after work.
It felt almost unusual to be close to 'home ground' because several of us have been travelling with paths that have crossed randomly in other cities and countries.
I was drinking London Pride and innocently made a comment about proper London beer, getting a response about, "So what other sort have you been drinking?" to which I explained my recent travel which has also involved some fancy wine bars and similar.
Indeed, during my travels I was even part of a Swiss/Dutch/Swedish/English winning pub quiz team. The wine meant my return trip had checked baggage.
Another well-travelled but non quiz-winning colleague was drinking expensive Belgian beer in any case.
So we looked around the little group of us, there were a tall frosted glasses of premium lager, various bottles and someone sipping beer from a wine glass. I think I was the only one that would keep draft bitter as a default drink.
But I'm not bitter, even if I do have a little wine.
Saturday, 12 March 2011
Back at home after a week on the road. A passing visitor to the garden this morning gave the usual occupants a run for their lives.
I was making a cup of tea and spotted the initially languid sparrowhawk. I worked out that the only reason the bird would be perched was ahead of hunting.
Sure enough, within seconds it did that sparrowhawk thing of launching towards the bushes and scaring some kind of finch out of cover.
The sparrowhawk has both great speed and incredible manoeuvrability alongside a brilliant 3D eyesight system. Within a couple of seconds the raptor had a different and no doubt equally startled small bird in its talons before itself disappearing into the bushes.
Thursday, 10 March 2011
Most people will recognise the taxi above as a London Black Cab. There's actually more than one shape, but they are similar enough and apart from the mixed colours of maroon, silver and occasionally white, they are still generically referred to as black cabs.
The thing is, it's all changing, and quite significantly.
Mercedes have designed a version of their van-car called the Vito which also meets the London cab specification. That includes the need for bits of high viz interior, ways to carry wheelchairs and other accessibility features and even a turning circle to allow Yuwees (U-Turns). They achieved the last point by adding a button that actually makes the rear wheels steer when turning around at less than 5 mph.
According to my recent taxi driver these replacements are selling well and have comfy driving areas and quiet reliable engines. It's just that they don't look like London taxis. They look more like minicabs or vans. Nothing against that well-known London company that drives corporates to the airport but, well, the London Cab is part of London branding.
I was leaving a meeting last week and needed a taxi. I couldn't help notice that the first two in the rank were both silver versions of the new type. I looked twice for the little white taxi driver number, in order to check that they were not minicabs. Not black and not taxi shaped. Now the small white oblong becomes the frame of reference.
Add that to the other recent night-time phenomenon where we're seeing official looking blue high visibility jacketed minicab touts outside some of the west end venues. I assume its legal, but wonder if its borderline?
It'll be an interesting period to see whether the makers of the more traditional shaped taxis figure out better engines, economy, driver comfort or whether Vito2 will have a more taxi shaped look, to stop the drift away of an iconic part of London.
Sunday, 6 March 2011
Cycling this morning and although I'd wrapped up, the wind was cutting a little too thoroughly through to my head. The aerodynamic cycling helmet's vents are sometimes too efficient. It's partly my own fault though because I did sip some wine yesterday evening and have found myself feeling slightly fragile today.
In truth I don't think its last night's modest drink but perhaps my body resetting after a week on 'the Malaysian project' which has been pretty full-on.
Actually I awoke at around 4am this morning and thought it was already Monday and therefore that I needed to be in Paris, only to realise that I could afford a few more hours sleep and a much more leisurely start.
And then mysteriously during my cycling travels I came across the building illustrated at the top of the post. Its called 'the Triangle' or something similar. What intrigues me is that I've genuinely never noticed it before yet I use a building quite close to it as an inspiration for a setting in the second book - The Square. I guess there's plenty of places called 'The Triangle' around, but weird that one is so close to an actual venue I've selected.
I'm back at home now and the next priority is packing.
A small bag only for this trip. Reminds me of an airport scene.
Friday, 4 March 2011
Thursday, 3 March 2011
It's not part of my normal behaviour, although I do know other people that do it.
Hanging around on corners.
I was trying to be inconspicuous about it.
It was only doing it out of necessity, after all.
Three times in the last couple of weeks. Once, it was the wet forum, then rice and finally moonlighting.
It was because of the problems; drowned computers then drowned phones and finally annoying pop-ups. During my search I was told that Silverlight would give me a better experience, and I actually said 'Yes'. The better experience comprised unexpected screenfuls of invitations to join vacation sites, wine clubs "and more".
I don't think so.
So then to the forums to figure out how to disable everything.
That's where it pays to be inconspicuous.
Wanting to disable certain cherished features seemed to be treated by others like a betrayal of trust. I didn't want to be one of the ones that gets a post saying 'this person seems to have written something negative'. It seems to become an invitation to others to add their stylish critiques
A sort of mob mentality.
Not very silver. And not very light.
Having just recovered the MacBook Pro that was inadvertently filled with water, it's time to move onto the equivalent iPhone. This one fell into the loo, which apparently is a more common situation than one might imagine.
The rescued dead phone was handed to me to fix. The basics are:
1) Power it off by holding down the power and front buttons for 4 seconds.
2) Remove the SIM, so that more air can get inside.
3) Put it in a ziploc bag of uncooked rice.
4) Place it on a warm to hot radiator.
The 'power it' off step is slightly futile, because if it was on when it hit water any shorting out will have already occurred. The remove SIM is mainly because the space created improves airflow. The rice is something that readily absorbs water, like those little bags of silica gel sometimes in the packaging of electronic devices. The radiator is to heat up the innards and hopefully assist recovery.
Leave 24 hours and it should all be back to normal.
If it doesn't recover, there's still a good chance that the iPhone will be readable in iTunes. That's because the screen is the most likely piece to fail, which doesn't affect the rest of the operation of the device. If so, back it up - it can be recovered to another device.
In this case, normal service has been resumed.