Monday, May 26, 2008

Africa Day and the Roman Bath

This afternoon I braved the miserable weather and headed off into central London. First to visit the Roman Bath just off the Strand. It can be found if you head down the road next to the disused Strand Station, Surrey Street, then turn right into the alley where you find this sign:

It's closed off due to construction. Drat. So, back to Trafalgar Square, passing the Savoy Hotel,

fed by the Savoy Court Road, the only road in the UK where legally one must drive on the right hand side (supposedly the law was introduced so that carriage doors would open directly in front of the Savoy Theatre).

Africa Day

Today, to celebrate the global Africa Day, in London there is a festival hosted by the mayor, Boris, celebrating African culture featuring music, food etc.

Unfortunately the weather has been terrible all day, and shows no signs of getting better. Plenty of umbrellas blocking the view, but still a surprising turnout.

It's busy enough that it's easier to watch the big screen than try to get near the stage. When I arrive, Bassekou Kouyate from Mali are up on stage, playing the ngoni, a kind of traditional lute from West Africa.

After some good music, it's time for lunch. There were food stalls around the square, but one was clearly the most popular by far - "Spinach and Agushi", a Ghanaian food outlet.

They had an interesting selection of foods and were friendly and happy to hand out advice, but for a newbie, the obvious choice was the "bit of everything" dish!

A few seconds later, I was handed a tray with a bed of spicy rice, with about four or five curries on top, including a creamy pap-like chicken one, spinach, lamb and other tasty things, with a healthy dollop of chilli sauce at the edge (really spicy, it actually hurt when I had some!), and some chopped carrots sprinkled on top.

Whilst eating this, I watch the last of the music, including the fabulous Manu Dibango from Cameroon, headlining the acts (and replacing Les Amazones de Guinée who could not get visas). What a wonderful end to a very horrible day!

All in, musical performances include: Manu Debango, Bassekou Kouyate, Kanda Bongo Man, Busi Ncube, Emmanuel Jal, Inemo Afrobeat Experience, Kaago Drummers, Black Eagles Dancers with DJ Rita Ray and DJ Eric Soul filling in the gaps. Fantastic and free.. Who'd want to live anywhere in the world but London?!

Sensible Ideas for London Improvements

Living in an age of Popidol shows or Downing Street e-Petitions, surely it is not beyond our means to set up a website to collect and rank ideas for London improvements? The conventional way is of course to write to one's MP or London Assembly representative, but I envisage a site where one can take ideas, put them up for public view and discussion, and let the more enlightened politicians take these forward.

Here are a couple of mine that occur to me as I write now:
* Change traffic flow on Oxford Street, massive priority to main road, less to feeder roads, would speed up buses. Mostly taxis on the feeders, they can wait!
* Enlarge bus stop cutouts in pavement around Bond Street to lessen buses blocking Oxford St during this narrow section.
* Ban cabs from Oxford St in rush hour – in London they are an alternative to public transport, not to driving (other cars aren't allowed down Oxford St anyway).
* Ban hand-outs of freesheets etc. They should be available if people want them, but don’t have people standing in the middle of rush hour traffic handing them out.
* Driver-less tube trains a la DLR.
* Oystercard on all public trains – including all overland trains
* Standardise recycling policy across capital
* Hourly tubes through the night wherever possible - maintenance is done by shutting down whole lines anyway, so conversely we should get night service!
* Make all public transport free in London (as proven by a study to be cost effective in long term based on saved costs in ticket infrastructure, reduced pollution etc). Start by making buses free.
* New drive to make Oystercards a cashless payment system across the capital (the previous study ended without conclusion, I seem to recall).

I'm sure everyone in London could add to a list, and over time government would have an enormous database of how to fix our glorious city!

Right, the rain seems to have abated, briefly I'm sure. I'm heading out to visit Africa Day in Trafalger Square, the Roman Bath in the Strand, plus perhaps a closer look at the only road in the UK where one legally must drive on the right - Savoy Court!

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Public Enemy and Progress on the Balcony

Friday evening Hedgy took me to see Public Enemy play in the Brixton Academy. We arrived late, just as PE came on.

Yo bum rush the show!

Yes, the old line up was up - Chuck D, Flavor Flav and Terminator X! And for this tour they were belting out their 1988 album "It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back" in its entirety. Unfortunately for me, this was the album before I really got into PE, but there was still plenty to enjoy, including Louder than a Bomb, Bring the Noise, and Public Enemy Number One.

Being an old fogie, I found it a bit loud, so had the old headphones on. I was also a bit disappointed to see that the only blacks in the venue were security, and this is Brixton too! What's with that? Anyway, a great night, thanks Hedgy!

Clifton Nurseries
My new exciting place near home is Clifton Nurseries, London's oldest garden centre apparently, at 5A Clifton Villas, W9 2PH, just a block away from me, and very tucked-away, complete with organic cafe/restaurant and lots of tall plants you can lose yourself in. Visited with Elaine yesterday and purchased some nice plants for balcony, as well as eyeing up some accessories I'll have to look in to, such as secateurs.


Beautiful greenhouses - image from thisisnaive's blog

So I now have rosemary, mint, the existing yucca and geranium (prostitutes for the bees!) and the highlight, a lovely purple pink Pericalis. It's absolutely lovely out there, even without sunshine:

My Pleasure Zone

Note the parasol too, completing the scene.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Taken Down from Google by the BSA

Came across the following notice when searching on Google. It would appear the BSA used the DCMA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) to issue a take-down notice on Google. Without wishing to defend the actions of the websites themselves, I find it disgraceful that search engines are being censored in this way. Watch out for more intervention in free speech coming your way soon.

I reproduce the text as listed at

BSA Claims Infringement

December 11, 2007

Sender Information: Business Software Alliance
Sent by: Director of Internet Enforcement

Recipient Information: [Private]
Google, Inc.
Mountain View, CA, 94043, USA

Sent via: email
Re: Infringement Notification for Web Search

1. The copyrighted works at issue are Microsoft Windows , CodeGear, and numerous other copyrighted works.

2. Search Query:

Infringing web pages:
codegear builder
codegear builder
codegear builder
codegear builder
registration key
serial numbers
serial numbers
serial numbers
serial numbers
oem software
cheap software

3. I can be contacted at [private] In the future, [private] (a new member of my team) will be sending these notices.

4. The above website does not provide any contact information.

5. Based upon BSA's representation of the copyright owners in anti-piracy matters, we have a good faith belief that none of the materials or activities listed above have been authorized by the rightholders, their agents, or the law.

6. BSA represents that the information in this notification is accurate and states, under penalty of perjury, that it is authorized to act in this matter on behalf of the copyright owners listed above.

Director of Internet Enforcement
Business Software Alliance

Monday, May 19, 2008

Wakeboarding in Nottingham

Over the weekend I went with my Dad up to Loughborough to visit Lewis.

Standard dingy student accommodation

Father in town

After a good breakfast, we headed off to the National Watersports Centre, just outside Nottingham, where Lewis and I had a go at wake-boarding.

I prostate myself and worship the instructor

Rather than the conventional way of being pulled by a boat, they have a cable-way, which is something like a ski-lift, going round at almost 30km/hr, pulling the ropes round with more competent people behind, or in my case, wobbling for a few seconds then plunging in ("stacking it" is the accepted lingo), followed by the inevitable swim back to shore.

We try knee boards. Lewis goes in first:

Followed by yours truly:


After a couple of goes on the knee board, it was time for a proper board. I was given the dodgy one with flip-floppy straps. Lewis encouragingly tells me that he spent most of his first session falling straight in the water on launching off.

And indeed, so it happens. Though my issue is not so much launching off, when you suddenly get your arms ripped out of your sockets my the rope, but staying on a couple of seconds later when you turn on to the course.

That's not going to last

And sure enough..

But soon.. getting a bit more confident:

Look ma..

Unfortunately, the first couple of runs I managed where I was going somewhere, I promptly came across someone in front who had fallen off, and after unsuccessfully trying to turn out of their way, I had to "stack it" to avoid serious injuries. The first chap who I nearly collided with did think he was in trouble watching me wobble towards him!

The final challenge, and the one Lewis spent the entire session battling, was the first corner. You see, as you turn the corner, unless you get the line of approach perfect, the line goes slack on you, then a couple of seconds later yanks with enormous force, so if the slack doesn't get you, the force will. I listened to Lewis complain about it with scepticism until I reached it and was promptly slapped down head-first on the water, which I can confirm hurt. Lots. Somehow those who knew what they were doing just took the corner effortlessly - I suppose it comes with practice.

All seems to be going well..

..until the corner!

Anyway, good fun, but my upper torso was in serious pain for several days afterwards. Perhaps boat wakeboarding is the answer, for as Lewis says, "the corner problem goes away"!

Madrid - Europe's Highest Capital City

Viva España, and my first overseas blog since coming home!

Did you know that? Madrid has an average elevation of 650m, and is of course not far from the geographical centre of Spain. Despite being landlocked it is known as the “best port in Spain”, having superb seafood which of course I availed myself of the last couple of days during a quick mid-week visit (as recommended by the Telegraph, I later discover), ostensibly to meet up with Jina, my old friend from South America, but, well, who passes on a city-break in Spain?

Bocadillo de Calamares for lunch

At El Brilliante

So, cheap Easyjet flights from the god-awful Luton, a nice yet very reasonably priced hostal (budget hotel, c.f. hostel), Marlasca near Sol, right in downtown Madrid, and plenty of chocolate con churros, tapas, cerveja and art.

There are three major galleries in Madrid, which one can cover off with an Art Pass for 14 euros. I would strongly recommend not trying to do more than one per day unless you fancy burning out. Unfortunately for me, one of the three, and indeed the one I most wanted to visit, Reina Sofia was unexpectedly closed on my last day when I tried to visit. The other two, Thysseen and the famous neo-classical Prado, were both enjoyable, although there’s only so much I can take of classical painting – Goya, Velazquez etc.


Thysseen also had a Modigliani exhibition, which has just finished in fact. This was of particular interest as I attended and enjoyed the RA’s show a couple of years ago, and wanted to see what the Spanish angle would be on this painter who was born in Bologna but spent most of his creative time in Paris.

Indeed I was not disappointed, the show being much bigger than the London one, pulling in more of Modigliani’s work, early sketches and even his rare landscapes, alongside his more famous nudes. They also sourced much from his contemporaries and the masters who inspired him, and the exhibition continued across town. No photography allowed in any of the galleries unfortunately.

Dos del Mayo

The other space I stumbled across was the Museum of Contemporary Art which is hosting an exhibition about the Dos de Mayo (2nd May) revolt in 1808, when the Spanish uprising began against Napoleon’s occupation of Spain. This was of interest, as the British had a large part to play in what became the Peninsular war, helping the Spanish and it is said that without our help, Spain certainly wouldn’t be what it is today. This featured on the Today programme recently, which is how I learnt about it – to be honest I knew nothing of the history of this war! Anyway, it’s the 200 year anniversary, and so the whole year is marked by celebrations of what is effectively the Spanish “Independence Day”.

A plaque outside the Royal Palace

The Festival of San Isidro

The other celebration I had the good fortune to stumble across, San Isidro, marks the start of the bullfighting season, with a week of events, music, theatre, etc. Across town Madrileños (Madrid residents) had dressed their kids in traditional dress. I caught a bizarre event with several tall puppets dancing in a square, no idea what it all meant!!

Crowded square

Some sort of presenter waves down to the crowd

Tall people

And not so tall people

Madrid is a beautiful classical city, and the quite compact centre is a delight to wander around

Plaza Mayor, dating from the 1600s

The best beers

What ever!

Modern mix

Classical hotels

World’s most beautiful post office

Quiet streets for siesta time

The new CaixaForum Gallery

Now we come to the highlight!! Well, first up on my arrival was of course some "chocolate con churros".

This is a typical Spanish breakfast dish of thin donut-like fried bread which one dips into thick hot chocolate, and when I say thick, I mean you could spoon it up, it’s almost solid. Yum!

Never lasts long - Jina tucks in

Later I tried the most famous, that at San Gines, which was indeed super-tasty.

Of course, central to the Spanish food is tapas, and there is no shortage of bars serving up delectable nibbles to anyone feeling even slightly peckish. Remember, you need this as you don't have dinner till 11pm (assuming you're having an early night), or much later! I've seen families with small kids coming into restaurants at about half past midnight!!

Penguins chilling out

Just round the corner from my hostal I found Cantina Alhambra, a lively tapas bar where I whiled away the evening with boquerones (vinegared anchovies in oil), Spanish ham freshly cut off the leg, trotter still in place, and plenty of beer. Book was Reinhold Messner’s Search for the Yeti! (He decides it’s a rare species of bear)

La Casa del Abuelo is a chain of traditional Spanish restaurants serving up fried pigs ears amongst other dishes, which I visited with Jina and her friend. We stuck to more conventional dishes like shrimps with garlic, calamari, patatas bravas and blood sausages (my suggestion, and they were good!).

On my own the following day, I visited Nina Restaurant (and met Nina herself!) in Calle Manuela Manasaña for a lunch of traditional fare in smart surroundings, enjoying a meaty lentil soup then steak with creamy sauce and potato.

The home made ice-cream was part of the deal

Other Random Observatons
The main train station, Atocha, is worth a visit, as it has a jungle greenhouse area in the middle, complete with dozens of turtles pottering about.


What it doesn’t seem to have is a single ticket machine? Hence enormous queues for tickets. I was thinking about popping to Seville for a daytrip (never been) but it wasn’t cheap – about 70 euros each way on the high-speed AVE trains, and so not worth my while – I’ll go there another time.

Another interesting aspect to Madrid (as a Londoner) is the different racial mix – you find lots of Peruvian types about, with their distinctive height and facial features. I presume much of the Spanish speaking world must gravitate to Madrid at some point in their lives.

Across town, I visited Debod Temple, supposedly the best spot for sunset (I was there mid afternoon and had no interest in waiting around several hours!). It was a gift to Spain from Egypt for saving the famous Abu Simbel temple in the south when it was endangered by the flooding of the Aswan Dam.


Puerta del Sol
Sol, as it’s known, is commonly regarded as the centre of Madrid – it’s where the New Year Celebrations are held, and it hosts Km0, the point by which all distances are measured in Spain (and the name of a good bar in Cusco I spent some time in)


Famous Tio Pepe advert

Traditional symbol of Madrid

Yes, their symbol is a bear sniffing a strawberry tree. It's something to do with a dispute between the church (bear) and the people of Madrid about hunting rights.

Finally, if anyone can explain this to me, I'd be grateful. This symbol appears at major road crossings all over town:

What does it mean? No groups of 4?

So, a good couple of days all told. If anyone is planning a trip, have a look at the Telegraph article, or do like me just go and work it out without advice, enjoy the uncertainty!

P.S. I’m thinking about a Nepal trip this autumn (work permitting). Everest Base Camp. Interested? Let me know..