Saturday, 30 June 2012

a state of England

Lionel Asbo A few days of travelling around the centre has given me a chance for some reading. I realise I've pretty much abandoned new normal books now and tend to use the Kindle.

It wasn't something I was expecting, but there's the convenience factor of small size and ability to store a whole reading pile instead of limiting to a single book.

That's not to say I won't pop into bookshops as well, but it does highlight a change.

And yes, I realise my iPad also has a Kindle reader, but there's a few factors that keep me using both. One is reading outdoors, where the iPad isn't as clear if its sunny. The other, which sounds a little feeble is the respective weights. The Kindle is decidedly lighter and more compact than the iPad when reading for a while.

Alongside finishing my proper paperback copy of Hemingway's 'To have and have not' which is set in Key West (which is where I bought it), I've been reading the latest Martin Amis book 'Lionel Asbo'.

They both feature a main protagonist who has to do 'a bit of this and a bit of that' to keep head above water, but for Hemingway's character there's a bit of a downward spiral, whilst Amis gives his character a lottery win.

I've always enjoyed the turns of phrase in Martin Amis writing, and this one continues that, with a set of Dickensian named characters and places set in a missing part of London called Diston, conjuring any number of Hackney/Dalston/Leyton-esque parts of the capital.

We get a slice of London, rough, violent, fairly disgusting and the subsequent magnification of the characters via the immense money that appears within the plot line.

I know Martin Amis leaves many readers divided but I'm one who has enjoyed quite a few of his novels over the years. The early Rachel Papers was a singleminded plot line first book but then the middle books where he painted some of his London street life characters whether directly or indirectly engaged in some form of crime.

And along the way there was Time's Arrow, which took a stark theme and played the action in reverse, I can still remember reading a sample chapter of that in Granta before it emerged as a novel and wanting to finish it when we arrived at my station.

So what to make of the latest one?

A banged-up convict who wins crazy money and dates a Formula 1 Pit Pet who wants to be a poet and sell underwear. A nephew with a torrid secret who is trying to tread an altogether conventional path. A stately home guarded by pitbulls named after murderers. You get the picture?

Some of Martin Amis' writing is truly tonto and all the more fun for it. Other recent London books I read were 'Hackney - that rose red empire' by Sinclair and 'Capital' by Lanchester. Sinclair's was a heavy book and sometimes dull. Lanchester's grounded a believable street story which at times became an over-explained soap opera. Amis drives his questionable set of characters and situations relentlessly right up to the edge. And somehow turns it back on us all.

Friday, 29 June 2012

posh bubble lies

posh
I passed David Cameron in the street again this week. He was walking back from Parliament to Downing Street, which is a brisk 5 minutes, dependent on traffic and obstacles.

It proved to me that he was back from Mexico where he'd distracted from Eurozone and Syria with UK tax dodging and the Falklands.

So his feet on a local pavement might be useful as world media start to provide a London focus for the upcoming games.

The bubble world creates an easy distraction. With the City as a place that makes money out of money, there's every chance to be caught in virtual unreality, like the business guy sealed into his mobile office car in Cosmopolis.

When the Libor thing first appeared in the papers it was on about page 7, along with a mention of the mere £250m fine imposed on the bank implicated in profiteering on billions. Here's the people in the city that makes it's main living out of trading promises, yet here's some of the same self-interested people trading on lies.

It's difficult to comprehend the scale of deceit now in the financial trade, with dodgy housing loans, mis-sold swaps, poor insurance practices, bale-outs at the scale of national economies, global interest leverage fixed by cartel and exploitation of small businesses through sneaky interest rachets.

No wonder submarine captain Osborne whispered "bring about" on the petrol surcharge, as another distraction. I can't work out (a) whether anything is left from that budget or (b) why cowardly Osborne still has his role.

That last statement's not true, of course. Anything's OK if you're in the Riot Club.

Thursday, 28 June 2012

on the wrong side of a police line

a few of the 33 buses in a row
I found myself on the wrong side of a police line today. I'd been in a meeting in Central London and when it finished I exited the building into sunlight and a surprisingly quiet street.

That's when I noticed the red and white tape.

And then the blue flashing lights and the policemen.

I looked along the road the other way - a similar scene.

Hmm, the door I was existing from seemed to be about in the middle of a 200 metre strip of street that had been cordoned off.

I decided to walk towards the policemen, and the large crowd of people behind them. I also noticed the traffic seemed to be quite backed up behind the police and the flashing lights.

I was fairly aware of the helicopter overhead, but not sure if it was related.

Of course, as I exited the cordoned area I asked the policeman what was happening.

"Suspect package."

Old habits made me walk around a corner. There was now both distance and large building between me and the tape.

As I then walked back towards Whitehall, I noticed what is probably my personal best for a row of buses. It's not so unusual to see a dozen buses in a row in Trafalgar Square.

This time, as I walked towards Westminster Bridge I counted 33 buses. Actually I think there were more but I gave up counting at around that point.

All caught up in the same cordon and road shutdown. I'm hoping it was part of the various London practices that are taking place.

And then over the bridge. Westminster Bridge - after what I'd blogged yesterday, I noticed it was strangely devoid of Eastern Europeans playing card tricks or shell games.

It turns out that today a Route 2 red bus had been commandeered by the police. They drove it alongside the Romanian card players and then swooped to round them all up. Actually, they had attempted to drive it to the bridge but were initially stuck in the dense traffic that I'd noticed. London has its own variation on a car chase. One could surely say the card tricksters were BUSted.

I noticed Shrek and the bagpipe player were still in operation.

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

we are the space invaders

space invaders
I've written previously about crossing Westminster Bridge during busy times. If I'm alone I sometimes think of it like a game of Space Invaders, where there's all manner of unexpected obstacle to traverse.

From the south side it starts as you pass the hot dog stand 'chili dogs available' and then progresses all the way to the traffic lights by Parliament and the soon to be named Queen Elizabeth Tower.

There's random tourists, groups of students with identifying hats or tee shirts or jackets, people with cameras taking pictures of "Big Ben" at various distances according to their camera lens.

One of my favourites is the small groups of tourists with wheely bags and cameras, clearly distracted about what they are doing. They sometimes remind me of those little toys that whirl around looking for edges to bump into.

There's always a selection of dodgy traders and someone usually playing bagpipes or an accordion. Nowadays there's a few rickshaws toting for tourists and parked along the red lines as well.

Then there's the rotation between people dressed up as characters from Shrek or the people playing three card trick and shell games. Take a picture of someone in the costume and expect to donate a banknote. And weirdly the card playing crowd or shell game crowds all seem to have a general Eastern European family resemblance to the person operating the game. Except for the normally far Eastern tourist waving £20 banknotes around in the middle.

There's always the gang's 'watcher outers' for whatever illegal operation is under way and they will set up 6 or 7 pitches across the bridge at one time. Nowadays the police are using pedal bikes as a way to home in rapidly on the naughtiness.

I suppose it's inevitable that the area will attract modern day costermongers to ply their wares but rip-off gambling in the shadow of Parliament still seems wrong. I blogged about this some time ago but yesterday noticed that it has now been discussed in Parliament, presumably as another part of the tidy up for the games.

Oh, and on reflection, maybe it's more like Galaxian than Space Invaders?

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

ancient corner of a marsh

Untitled
We stayed at a pub after the gig, in a small 17th century place on Romney Marsh. Next door was a churchyard and we had a proper look at the church the next morning.

I initially wondered about the large construction next to the main church, which looked something like an Oast house used for storing hops.

Then I wondered if it was the remnants of an earlier church, maybe in a Nordic style?

It turned out to be something rather improbable. It was the belltower, typically something you put on top of the church. Apparently there's a legend that when two very unlikely people got married, the steeple jumped off the roof of the church.

The practical version is that the original construction was built in the 11th Century as an open structure with a single bell to warn of impending floods. Then it was modernised in the 15th Century by the addition of the external cladding and a full complement of church bells.

For such a small church the main building was well stocked with unusual artefacts too. There was a 13th Century wall fragment showing St Thomas of (nearby) Canterbury and a leaden font from the 12th Century (probably nicked from France), inscribed with the signs of the Zodiac.

And tipping its hat to modernity was a set of precision weights and measures which included the differentiations of a Winchester pint and a separate Wine pint.

They were from as recent times as 1799.

Monday, 25 June 2012

detached viewing?

Close encounters?
We were zipping about around Kent at the weekend and did spend some time at a music concert. On the way in there was the usual bag check, but I noticed a slightly different phrasing of a question.

"Do you have a camera?

"Does it have a detachable lens?


I suppose it's a sign of the things to come at the Olympics, where there appears to be a specification for maximum permissible camera. The spec appears to be a maximum size of 30 cms, including the lens.

I presume these measures are to stop commercial photography. I go to a wide range of music venues, from small pubs to muddy fields to theatres and arenas and in some cases quite enjoy taking a few snaps of whom I'm seeing.

I get it that theatres have "no pictures" policies, but I'm less sure about the other categories.

Events like Glastonbury (not on this year) have been kind to picture takers and I guess it spreads the word about some bands as well.
Untitled
At such an event, there's still the fun of getting to the front for some shows, although its actually quite easy if you follow a more mellow approach to the music.

It's different with a mainly 'single artist' show, where the true fans have queued for hours to take their spot. We polled into the gig on Saturday about 10 minutes before the main act was due to start, so there were about 6,500 people in front of us in any case.

So we initially found a spot on the stripy cable casing that runs from the mixer desk to the main stage. It gives a usable height advantage if you are late and don't mind a slightly oblique angle.
Untitled
But true to form, many of the people who had spread out picnic cloths and little chairs actually moved forward as the main act started, so a better position was available in the front but quite a long way back.
Untitled
That's why the pictures are all 'top halves'. There were too many people in front to get legs as well. And I had to use an itsy little camera without a detachable lens.

Sunday, 24 June 2012

carbon dioxide cooled, graphite moderated, natural uranium and magnox alloy cladding with boron-steel control rods

Untitled
Another coastline today - that's three Sundays in a row. Key West, East Anglia and now The Channel, facing towards France.

Again, a surprising lack of people, but then it was getting ready to rain.

You can just make out the decommissioned nuclear power station without secondary containment in the distance.

Friday, 22 June 2012

i gazed a gazely stare

Spiders stamp 2010 Divided loyalty tonight, with a combination of muddy 2012 Isle of Wight coverage playing against some vintage television clips of Bowie on strange channels where I don't even remember the idents.

Probably a Captain Morgan phenomenon.

Anyhow, for big gigs, a combination of musicianship and showmanship is needed. At least an audience connection. So the Spiders somehow beat the very worthy and drum beating Elbow.

And then a second chance for the Island to shine with its HD 3D format rockers, yet a 4:3 SD with black side bars of Bowie at the BBC Radio theatre trumps.
London Cakking stamo 2010 The wall-to-wall is calling, it lingers, then you forget.

Ja, und dann sind wir Helden, für einen Tag.

Oh, and as for London Calling being used in Olympics promotions, someone should check out the apocalyptic lyrics.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

at the top of the dial

Queen's Speech - Westminster
London's preparations for the various upcoming events continue. Yesterday I was around Waterloo and noticed quite a few people in demonstrable finery (morning suits, top hats, ladies in fine frocks and big hats).

Of course, they were on their way to the races - I suspect that some will not return in quite such composed conditions.

That event neatly precedes the Wimbledon season and then the home stretch towards the Olympics, with the parallel Cultural Olympiad festivities also kicking off right now.

Yesterday's Metro and Stannit both had wrap-around adverts from British Airways saying "don't fly" - which did make me smile. The premise is to stay in London and support the teams during the games.
BA Advert
The trick with all of this will be to figure out how to do it without turning into a tourist. London is a great capital, but there's a need to be careful and not get sucked into the mainstream tourist vortex.

I'll confess this happened to me briefly a few weeks ago, when we'd selected to go to a particular show which turned out to be truly awful. I don't recollect blogging about it at the time. It was not one of my finest decisions and we decided to leave after about 20 minutes.

It's that dilemma about having booked to see a show and then not liking it. Do you stay because you've paid or leave to get the time back? We left and decided that the show in question was a crass money spinner designed to extract cash from the gullible (oops).

So I'm hoping that there are not too many of those type of events in the run up to what will be a peak number of visitors to the capital.

Like many tourist rich cities, there's a sort of two tier economy between those that work and live in the centre vs those that are on a short vacation. I'm equally aware of this when I'm in other countries and don't have time to tune into the right frequencies.

So I guess I'll be just slightly more alert as the city gets remodelled for the next few weeks.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

seeing ghosts

Nerina Pallot
I took a few pictures during the music gig last Saturday, but have only just had a chance to upload them from the camera.

I hadn't really planned to take pictures and strangely enough, as we moved from further away to closer to the front I could sense my likelihood to get any sensible snaps diminish.

It was a combination of factors, I'd only brought a small camera and the density of people close to the stage (but not at the front) meant shooting through the gaps to get anything at all.

The singer above is Nerina Pallot, who played a good and quite joyfully delivered set, mixing her own piano and guitar based songs and accompanied by a small band comprising bass guitar and drums.

I know it's a rather impressionistic snap, which I took on automatic mode instead of the shutter priority I usually use at these type of events. I usually keep the shutter speed fast enough to prevent everything getting very blurry, which is a factor with a lot of stage lighting shots, even at pretty fast ISO ratings.

But here, using the camera's auto mode, I noticed something that I've also seen when I'm walking around galleries or sometimes in churchyards.

I call it 'ghosts'.

It's when, with a modern camera on its automatic setting, it thinks it has seen a face.

It puts up that little square display that locks on to the face to keep it in focus.

Some cameras (including mine), can also put up multiple little face squares.

It's sometimes quite touching to see an old portrait in a gallery or a stone carving in a churchyard get the squares appear. The camera is thinking it's seen person, and in a way it has.

Here, at the music gig, there was a different phenomenon. The camera would pick up the faces of other people in the audience. Weirdly, it would be the one's that were not so engaged, maybe just talking or looking around.

The reason was obvious. In automatic mode the camera was deciding what type of picture to take. Then suddenly it it would spot a nearby face )much closer than the artist on stage) and would flip into its portrait setting.

I think I'll go back to traditional shutter priority for music venues.
Untitled

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

neither piety nor wit

another room
screenshot_59 The march of technology continues in the workplace. We had the Nokia cellphone, then the Blackberry and more recently the iPhone. Now we see the iPad increasing its corporate presence.

It started as a travel adjunct which would be used to view movie clips, then became part of the PowerPoint presenter's toolkit but more recently is becoming a note-taking aid.

There's plenty of new discussions about the choice of stylus and I'm starting to see handwritten notes being forwarded.

It will probably still take some time to mature and of course a short note will eat up even more storage and bandwidth.

But I suppose I'd better get one of those styli now, because just writing with a finger somehow looks wrong.

Monday, 18 June 2012

Another evening in Wales

night club
East coast to west coast in a day. Me arriving late, just as the nearby clubs were getting going.

It had quietened down again by about 3 a.m.

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Sunday's wash adds no mud to my boots

The Wash
After last Sunday's photo of my feet in the Atlantic at Key West, I thought I'd do another seaside picture now that I'm back in England.

Let's just say that when I was strolling about on the south side beaches in Key West, it was about 33C and very sunny.

Back here on Sunday it was 'dramatic' and the sea also seemed to have gone out a very long way. I was around the area of England known as 'The Wash' which is that little notch at the top of East Anglia, around where it joins to Lincolnshire.

I decided not to attempt to dip into the water which was probably a little colder than that in Florida. It was also a fairly long hike across the mudflats. King John lost the Crown Jewels attempting a similar trip back in 1216. Admittedly I did have my Wellington boots in the car, but they were still clean from not being used at Saturday's music concert.

I decided they could stay that way.

Friday, 15 June 2012

oh float with me to distant lands, wondrous and fair

Hunter Original Neoprene Green Wellies
I realised we are off to listen to some music in the open air tomorrow. That season has come around again, so I was burrowing around in the garage looking for boots.

Yep, I suspect its going to be muddy this weekend, so the relevant boots and plastic bags will be needed.

I found my posh Hunter wellies, but I think I'll probably go Dunlop. The Hunters are supposed to be the bee's knees but I have always wondered if they have been made a little too insect like in the legs. A tell-tale hint was that when I found them they were still folded down, which is a sign that they'd been too oppressive the last time they were used. The idea is that they are stylishly sculpted to the legs, but a side effect of this is that they can create blisters, which my economically prices Dunlops don't do.

The Dunlops may not last quite as long, but at around 1/8 the price, they still do a perfectly good job of keeping out the splosh.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Olympic Tickets and 9 Zones of travel

Olympic Tickets
It's still some way off, but I have already received some tickets. I suppose I will have to pay proper attention to the travel advisories now.

The 9 zone Travelcard is a thoughtful touch. To be honest I didn't realise there was a Zone 9. I sort of thought it stopped around 6. Maybe it's because I'm an Oyster card user.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

statutory feet shot

feet Here's a regulation feet shot from just before we returned to the UK. It's the same water that laps the shores of the South Coast of England, except this is the warm bit looking out towards Havana. It might look slightly shallow though, and there's a reason.

A day of contrasts having breakfast on a Hot Tin Roof accompanied by those cooling ceiling fans, looking out to the Gulf of Mexico and then much later a British cuppa back at home.

We jumped into our blue convertible to drive from the Southern edge of America back along the Florida Keys to Miami, before heading for the airport.

A kind man offered us seat upgrades for $50 each, then it was a movie, a nap, breakfast and back ahead of schedule to Heathrow.

Then the contrast...It was almost laugh out loud weather, with grey skies and bucketing rain. The shallowness of the morning's Atlantic could be explained by the quantity of water currently in transit from the sky to the ground.

But you know what? I think I'll post the sunset instead.
sunset

Monday, 11 June 2012

apple talk

screenshot_03
I see that Apple has announced a bunch of new things at their conference. Some were fairly predictable, but I think it's interesting in terms of the changes that will affect the ways we use computers over the next few years.

I'll ignore the speed and capacity increases on some of the laptops, but the new Macbook Pro is moving closer towards the MacBook Air form factor. A high resolution screen (2880 by 1800), solid state disk and no DVD. My Air (1.35kg) is about a year old, but if the new Pro (2kg) had been available it might have been a tough choice.

Then there's the addition of allegedly usable speech dictation. I've been pleasantly surprised with the speech on the iPad, although it beams the speech to the cloud where Nuance processes it, which makes it still a slightly disjointed operation. It's pretty accurate though, as you can see with this spoken blog entry.

The underpinning for the speech is Siri, which is already on iPhones and will go to Macs. It seems to be part of the integration of the messaging and notification environment too, one view everywhere, which already works pretty well.
screenshot_04
It looks as if Siri will also be making its way into cars for sat-nav and similar. My car already has voice recognition for sat-nav and phone dialling in any case, but I can't ask it 'Are we nearly there yet?' which I suppose Siri will support (in fairness, my car already tells me this both in distance and time)
screenshot_05 The interesting thing will be whether the new "Eyes Free" for cars is fully integrated or whether it will be a separate device plug in like the iPod/iPhone. I see that about half a dozen car makers (e.g. BMW, Mercedes, GM, Honda, Audi, Toyota) are adding a Siri button to the steering wheel. It's still important for the sat-nav console to not become a source of distraction so I guess Angry Birds is out of the question.

Another related concept is streamed traffic congestion data - which is an idea that has been around for years- and is where the sat-navs in cars can send in data from their GPS that provides communal road status updates. Nowadays it'll be called crowd sourcing or similar and presumably part of the new mapping offered by Apple.

I noticed my car in the USA was Microsoft Sync enabled, complete with a Setup and a rather ominous Reset button. I guess we'll also get the war of Google vs Apple vs Microsoft as part of the battle for mapping. There's a whole load of new 3D imaging and so on, but I must admit I usually revert to basic 'North Up 2D' mapping when I'm in the car, except if I want to show off 3D pictures of London buildings to passengers.

I guess its different on a computer and I sometimes replay bike routes that I've ridden and GPS'd using google maps. (My Garmin Edge 800 is great for that)

Then there's the new Mountain Lion OS/X and iOS 6 releases for Macs, iPads and iPhones which I'm sure I'll use. The iOS has a few features that I've already had on my Blackberry over the years like - 'Do Not Disturb' (i.e. in a meeting), 'Reply with Message' (i.e. I can't talk right now but here's a standard courtesy text) and similar.

We also see FaceTime over cellular although my corporate world still uses MS Lync for ad-hoc conference calls and sometimes Skype, so it will be interesting to see how pervasive this becomes.

There's also some catchup items for OS/X like TV screen mirroring (at last) and hooray finally Aperture and iPhoto get the same database for their photographs. There's plenty of other new detail features, but the basic way to drive the system remains the same so the new stuff is sort of optional for usage.

I suppose these changes are part of the definitions for the next generation of computers.
  • Speech enabled
  • Very high resolution screens
  • Very lightweight form factor
  • End of spinning hard drives for laptops
  • Always connected - even when 'power napping'
  • Cloud dependent for certain functions
  • No more DVDs
  • No more ethernet plugs
  • Not announced, but they should have an option for non-reflective screens
I can't see this being the end for desktop machines though. There's still a different feeling sitting at a desktop system (e.g. iMac) compared with a laptop. But maybe the next iMac should also include a video in from a laptop?

Friday, 8 June 2012

street life without rain

P1030542
The cashier at the clothing store didn't say a word as a siren tears the night in half. Hot air melts shapes as blue flashes bathe the street, reflecting razor grins.

We hear laughter washed with beer and shots of jello. The cops are standing by the small white shape. Someone climbs out looking both ways at passers-by and then into the eyes of the cop on the left.

We move out of earshot knowing that in five minutes the whole thing will cool down to just a warning.

pelican crossing

Need speed?
Sometimes it's most unexpected moments that give one a chance to pause and reflect. Yesterday we were whizzing about on a boat through glittering seas and past others similarly engaged.

We'd decided to go to a particular reef which is about seven miles from the shore. In our speedy boat it still took about 45 minutes.

Even with the sunshine and sea the short journey gave a few minutes to pause and reflect. Maybe change down a gear and even idle a while. It's great to be busy whilst on holiday and to try to catch as many things as possible, but there also has to be spaces for those moments of calm.

Today I can still think of another 20 things to do but we've decided to chill for a while and watch the world go by. In front of me I can see other small boats skipping around, the nearby bar is busy and there's parasailing out towards the horizon.

I'm sipping a cool lemonade and there's a guy singing 'Southern Cross' and picking it out on a guitar nearby. A two foot bright green gecko slithers over for a look and then heads under a nearby rock. A pelican lazily flaps its wings as it crosses my view.

Bliss.

fast buck freddie's

P6070300
Key West literally lives on the edge. It's also at a point of balance between its uniqueness and its need to thrive.

The imminent closure of Duval Street's large department store is an example. I believe it was founded back in the 1970s and has a slightly ramshackle history of location, expansion and recent demise.

Called Fast Buck Freddie's (after a Jefferson Starship track), it occupies a prime location but now looks quite sad as it sells off its fixture and fittings.

There's also a feisty set of descriptions of its history draped along the length of its windows. It exemplifies the difficult balance of progress in a once very free-thinking environment.

Other areas around Duval have already become more corporate and there's extensive manicuring in parts of the central area, where apparently up to 600 cruise ships now arrive per year. Tourism drives the Keys and Key West in particular. That business need also affects the balance between uniqueness and surviving without becoming over ticky-tacky.

As Grace Slick might have sung it:

Now it's hard to get serious when the joker 
Is laughing 
And by now the joker is wild 
It's hard to keep laughing when a rich man's 
Reflection 
Looks like a gun that's gonna smile 


What's going on,  I ask you 
What's going on,  can you see? 
What's going on, I ask you and 
Who's coming on, is it you or me? 


Thursday, 7 June 2012

conch republic

Harbor Walk - Key West
They say a lot of places in one's memory can seem smaller if one returns, but I'm finding the opposite with Key West.

Take Duval Street, which runs from the Atlantic to the Gulf of Mexico. It's always done that but somehow it seems longer and with more restaurants and shops than I remember. It's also changed a gear or two in some parts.

There was a bohemian edge to most of the properties and not so many well-know chains.

Now there's a prominent Hard Rock Cafe and even a Starbucks, which suggests a certain adjustment. I can remember some of the other places still present, which were sort of 'one-offs' but the extra harborside area seems to have grown beyond my recognition.

Step a few feet from the beaten track and there's still plenty of people wearing sandals instead of trainers, if you know what I mean.

I guess that's part of the fun of Key West. It's the area of Florida that seceded to the US, where others failed and it proudly wears the message on its Conch Republic flag.
Conch Republic There's the whole story about how it declared war on the USA, fought the Naval Base with stale Cuban breadsticks and then surrendered requesting $2 billion reparations. Of course, what they really wanted (and got) was that the tourist route remained open and not subject to a US Border blockade. And all of that happened in the last thirty or so years - in fact they've just celebrated the anniversary.

Today I've been out to the reefs, looking at the stripy fish and the enchanting coral. It's a long, long way from the mainland.
cuban coffee queen

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

cafecito jolts

P6060265
The cockerel has crowed enough times today. He's a protected species around here and takes care of the scorpions. At 4am its a reminder of day and later becomes part of the soundtrack.

A shorter sound burst was two F21 Raptors above us in very close formation at low altitude. We had the roof down and there was no mistaking their proximity before they broke and looped away across the sea.

And now it's the US Coastguard checking out the Gulf of Mexico. We'll be out there on a boat tomorrow but tonight we'll be drinking Cuban coffee.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

the iguana made a much better job of hiding in the car park

P6060160
I know it's nearly Wednesday (it is already in the UK) and I still haven't unpacked, though I do plan to tomorrow.

Today has been meandering through a few more beaches and then eventually re-linking with the US1 and heading south towards the Keys.

I'm pretty used to driving on the wrong side of the road in Europe and America, but must admit that the bright blue car I'm using seems to attract unusual behaviours from some other road users.
P6050133
Aside from that aspect, everything continues to go well and there was that magic phrase as we checked into a hotel right on Mallory Square in Key West, when they said,"We've upgraded you."

"Thank you very much" because our suite now has a view across the square, to the Gulf and the Atlantic, to the spot where the sun sets and across to where all the jugglers, fire eaters and musicians perform.

It made sense to have supper in the room this evening, sitting on the balcony and watching the sun set.

I'm liking this short break in Florida.
P6060189

Monday, 4 June 2012

the plugs and wires are still packed

P6040061 (1)
I'm travelling relatively light at the moment, although there's still a few clothes that seem overpacked. To be truthful, I'm living out of a case again, rather than unpacking although that will probably change in the next day or so.

It means I'm mostly reliant on iPhone uploads for blogging too, until I can sort out the relevant connectors to make things work.

The view from the room and a quick snap on the walk to the beach are just about all I can manage until I get organised.

Unsurprisingly, if it were work, I'd probably have it more under control like the last two weeks when I stayed away for work. In those circumstances the electronics and connections are part of the main survival kit and I routinely plug everything in as soon as I get to a hotel room.

So my current chaos is more a feature of this being a break and that therefore the techno stuff can jolly well wait until after I've located the sun cream.
P6040069

Sunday, 3 June 2012

adjusting to a different time

Time to hit the beach
We seem to be well positioned on the main drag. We can fall out onto the sidewalk straight into a bustle of restaurants all along the Ocean Drive.

It's quite a while since I was in this part of Miami and it seems to have raised its game from the sometimes razor edges between the good areas and the others.

It was still difficult to find a parking space and I had visions of the freshly hired Mustang being towed to a corral somewhere within the first few hours in town.

Fortunately, the sheriff put in a good word and everything is fine.

And I've worked out that this is a town for the night owls. I don't think Sunday really stopped until about 4am on Monday.

Saturday, 2 June 2012

red white and blue with an occasional white star

Flying Fortress this afternoon
There's a sort of time warp occurring at the moment. Scratchy monochrome television adverts. Re-instatements of old corporate logos. Bunting. Today's newspaper arriving with an old picture of the Queen on the front.

Yesterday I snapped a B-17 flying overhead. I know, I might have expected a Lancaster, but it was definitely an American plane, sporting a big star on the side.

I'm guessing it's preparing for a fly-by somewhere, although the artists' impressions for the Flotilla parade and the Mall fly-past only seem to show British planes.

Around here we're fairly unadorned. The television version of Britain is crammed with street parties and central London areas like the Mall, the bridges and Covent Garden are very flag enriched.

But later on, I'll be on another type of plane, and so will have to see London's events unfold from afar. flags

Friday, 1 June 2012

prometheus looks for a beginning

Prometheus
I couldn't hear anyone screaming but maybe that's because we were in space.

Since Alien, there's been a couple of other sci-fi movies that add to my enjoyment of the genre. One was The Fifth Element with its quirkiness (obv.) and another I'll quietly admit was Riddick.

They both added flashes of orange, some humour and massive landscapes to their stories, so I wondered what Ridley Scott would do with his Alien prequel.

There's a fair amount of the Alien styling in this one, conveyed on a sweeping scale. A corporation sponsored science cruiser in deep space with a numerous and slightly randomly assembled crew which hints at early reel expendability.

Then there's a far planet and a deserted cave system. Traces in the torchlight of organic glop.

Sound familiar?
Prometheus
I guess that's part of the formula - although this one adds references to Erich von Däniken, Darwinism, some edges of religion and the first discovery of fire. Some good and potentially conspiratorial ideas are floated but in the second half the action takes over.

We also get an android channeling Peter O'Toole as one of the most characterful performances and a spaceship that looks quite like 2001's Discovery One on the inside.

It's a 3D movie, and uses a big screen format immersively without overdoing the tinkerbell effects. That's not to say there aren't some suspenseful and splattery moments and a pretty cool soundstage that was good enough to convince me that I was getting sprayed with liquids and pelted with rocks. I actually thought this would be good to see on those D-Box wobble seats. I wasn't quite so sure about the space buggies they drive around in, which looked a bit hastily assembled.

I won't include a spoiler here, I guess it's one of those films that plenty will see at the cinema. It's too early to talk about 'that' scene let alone 'that other one'. In any case, Ridley Scott's already got two other landmark movies with Bladerunner and Alien.

This one hasn't given me quite the wow of the others, partly because of how much it tips its all-round gorilla glass space helmet to the earlier works. I'd rather have seen it develop some of its specific ideas and spin away from the Hollywood meets Weyland-Yutani financial need to link all the franchises together.

I still enjoyed it but it's got me thinking about other movies I now want to view again.

Here's the Ridley Scott prequel to the prequel, which isn't in the movie - and a link to the stylishly designed Weyland Industries (est. 2023), which also includes the David 8 brochure and video.

online booking is temporarily suspended


One of my favourite scary space movies is Alien. I can still enjoy watching it in the dark and being prepared to jump out of my skin at the right moments.

And that scene where they see the unexplained 'space jockey' has to be one of the longest 'elapsed time to prequel' moments ever.

So when I got to see the trailer for Prometheus at the cinema a few weeks ago I was mightily intrigued to know what Ridley Scott would do with this story set earlier than Alien but with more high tech effects.

The trailer I saw was the American version (below), which cranks up the action faster than the English one (above), which starts in what appears to be the Scottish highlands.

What I liked was that there are still proper references to the earlier filmic style, but with an almost casual use of modern effects. It also has a stunning soundtrack with deep bass in deep space to help the skin propulsion and spiky frequency oscillators to add creep.

But don't you just wonder about the people who name the space craft? Prometheus may steal the fire but also gets his liver plucked out by an eagle every day. Quite a portent, but then I guess it's another ship in Scott's Joseph Conrad fleet along with Nostromo and Sulaco? I'm guessing at Heart of Darkness somewhere in all of this?

I seriously contemplated the Curzon 00:01 showing this morning, but I guess I'll have to wait in line instead. "Online Booking is temporarily suspended".