Monday, June 30, 2008

Glastonbury 2008

Wow, what a festival. I had the privilege of seeing the following over the past few days:

Mark Ronson, Leonard Cohen, Groove Armada, Urban Voodoo Machines, Shantel and the Bucovina Club, Destroyers vs Phol Brothers, Scouting For Girls, Manu Chao, Amy Winehouse, Jay-Z, Kosheen, Gilbert O'Sullivan, Emmy the Great, Los Camposinos!, Laurel Collective, Team Waterpolo, Alphabeat, Picturebooks in Winter, Courteneers, Raconteurs, Duffy, Vampire Weekend, Ben Folds, Candy Staton, Hoosiers, Lupe Fiasco, Fun Lovin' Criminals, Reverend and the Makers, Jimmy Cliff, Shakin' Stevens

Full report with photos soon!

Monday, June 23, 2008

London to Lille Ride Approaches

Just a quick post to say the charity ride is soon! Sponsor me!!

I've been doing some more detailed route investigating, which leads me to believe that 141 miles is a slight under-estimate. This was based on the optimum Google Maps (avoid highways) route, whereas we'll be deviating. Here are links to the routes I think we'll be taking:

UK: (Gravesend canal, down through Medway avoiding A20)

France: (Coast, Dunkirk, then Ypres and Passchendaele)

So that’d be 183 miles (just under 300km) then!!!! We leave Friday lunchtime and hope to get into Lille Saturday afternoon (there's an English language tour of the old town I'm hoping to attend). Maybe I should fill my Camelbak with Lucozade!

In other news, I'm off to Glastonbury in two days. Wish me luck, sunshine and happy music. Full report when I get back (and after I've showered!).

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

For the Fallen

Our ride to Lille on the 5th July will take us through areas which witnessed some of the worst horrors of WWI. With this in mind, we hope to visit some of the memorials and cemeteries, starting from the Cenotaph in London (which I visited this afternoon),

The Queen lays a wreath at the Cenotaph

then on the continent Ypres (Passchendaele), Loos, Lille, Arras, and others. We probably won't manage the Somme and Verdun this time, but they're close by. I am moved just reading about some of the tragic battles that we will ride over - with losses of hundreds of thousands of men on both sides to capture mere miles which later were surrendered again. I reproduce a beautiful poem written by Laurence Binyon in 1914:

For the Fallen
With proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children,
England mourns for her dead across the sea.
Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit of her spirit,
Fallen in the cause of the free.

Solemn the drums thrill; Death august and royal
Sings sorrow up into immortal spheres,
There is music in the midst of desolation
And a glory that shines upon our tears.

They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted;
They fell with their faces to the foe.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

They mingle not with their laughing comrades again;
They sit no more at familiar tables of home;
They have no lot in our labour of the day-time;
They sleep beyond England's foam.

But where our desires are and our hopes profound,
Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight,
To the innermost heart of their own land they are known
As the stars are known to the Night;

As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust,
Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain;
As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness,
To the end, to the end, they remain.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

More NCN Sign Fun

Much as I applaud the concept, the implementation of the National Cycle Network signposting is at times atrocious!

What does it mean?

The fundamental problem is that the signposts are useless unless you have a fairly good working knowledge of the area, bearings and ideally a TomTom Navigator! Furthermore time after time one follows a road signposted as a cycle route, only to come to a junction with no markings whatsoever. It's worse than no information at all!

Thames and Medway Canal
Rather pleasingly, on my last cycle up from Whitstable, I came across the Thames and Medway Canal, a disused route between Higham and Gravesend.

Here's a map from the Canal Association:

Perfectly flat, it was originally built around 1800 to connect Deptford and Woolwich Dockyards on the Thames with Chatham Docks on the Medway. It runs along a firing range, which had the red flags up as I rode past, although my concerns about major artillery throwing me off my bike were allayed when I heard occasional pops of rifle fire. It's also very pretty - being disused there are lots of rushes growing in the water, and a fair amount of small wildlife too.

Unfortunately for cyclists, the key bit of the route, the tunnel from Higham to Strood, which would skip the enormous hill above Rochester, is used by British Rail and so is not an option. Still, the rest of it is a very nice ride along the graveled towpath, and I shall we going that route next time I cycle to Kent, possibly using the Tilbury ferry to come in to London a different way too.

Weekend cycle ride with Will was to Oxford. We slightly underestimated how long a 75 mile ride along the Grand Union Canal then over the Chiltern Hills with a mild headwind for most of the journey would take. Suffice it to say that cycling back was not really an option, and I'm still feeling slight pangs in my upper legs a day later! There were, I am bound to report, some very nice-looking pubs, especially from Marlow onwards, but we sadly did not have time to visit.. this time.

Plant update:
Geranium has flowered, small white petals, surprising and quite pretty
Pericalis looks dead
Marigolds hanging on
Yucca fine
Begonias looking lovely
Herbs all fine
Seedlings starting to sprout

Monday, June 16, 2008

Mugabe vs the EU

One is..
A Zimbabwean Dictator clinging to power.

The other..
An undemocratic body of Eurocrats clinging to their gravy train.

One often refers to war of independence and colonial masters for his purposes.
The other was born out of the ashes of WW2, and pulling together as a United States of Europe to ensure we don't fight militarily and can compete on world stage with the US.

One renamed Rhodesia to Zimbabwe.
The other renamed the Common Market to European Economic Community to the European Community to the European Union, and... just Europe!.

One held previous elections, but ensured win through a variety of tactics including violence.
The other held previous elections, but ensured wins through a variety of tax-payer funded tactics, including brainwashing children.

One is corrupt and doesn't manage food aid correctly.
The other is corrupt and has not had its booked approved by auditors for the past 13 years and caused the recent global food crisis by dumping its food mountains last year and protecting its own markets.

One lost previous election, but refuse to let go, so re-running the election.
The other lost many previous elections, but refused to let go, so has re-run every no vote for the past 20 years until receiving the "right" answer.

No wonder we don't intervene in Zimbabwe...

The fundamental point here is the European Union's lack of legitimacy. They may suggest that it is less than a million Irish voters that have rejected this treaty, out of almost 500 million citizens of the EU. This, however, ignores the lack of a referendum in every other country - what portion of the 500 million actually want a United States of Europe?

I love Europe to bits as a continent, I have friends in every corner, and waste no opportunity in visiting. I've flown and taken the train or boat to about 18 of the continent's countries, and it's only a matter of time before I get to the rest. One would have thought I'd be for the federal super-state. But I'm not - I'm deeply against the whole project, and frankly can think of no decent reasons to defend it. From what I can gather, the main suggestion of the Europhiles is that it benefits us in ways we can't quantify, and if you're against it, you must be a nationalist xenophobe. Try pinning that on me.. (alright, the nationalistic bit might stick!)

Anyway, the French and Dutch rejected the constitution in 2005, and it is clear that the UK would undoubtedly say no in answer to any question - hence why Labour have dodged the issue repeatedly for their entire term. The Czech Government is against it, one of the few in Europe actually to represent the views of their people. The Irish voted No to the Nice Treaty in 2001 and were asked to vote again with a modified question a year later. The Danish voted No to the Maastricht Treaty in 1992 - but were polled again after a year.

To quote a headline in one of the weekend newspapers "What part of 'NO' do our leaders not understand?"

Monday, June 02, 2008

Nibbles and Grandma D

Baker and Spice
Visited with Sandy. Very nice, like a mini version of Whole Foods in Barkers! We also have Vicky’s Blah Blah Blah, Cafe Rouge, and Raoul's CafĂ© in my little strip in Clifton Road.

Yummy cakes

Roast veg salads

Yes, I've made my first cheese. Quite easy really - two pints of milk, a pinch of salt, 10 drops of rennet, a bit of heating and thermometer trickery to get the milk the right temperature, then later straining through a hanky and then leaving to dry.

My first cheese

It tastes good! Watch this space for more adventures along similar lines.

Seamus and Helen invited me along to their son’s Christening in a Catholic church in South Ealing. It did occur to me that I put up with an awful lot of religion for Seamus’ sake, but it’s always good to see the Sloyans, a new bit of London (I took an overland train from Paddington to Ealing Broadway then a bus), and the Hog Roast promised at the reception may have also been a temptation!

Good food at Seamus and Helen’s son Thomas’ Christening

The Hog Roast

Mark Beech Folk and Ale Festival
Leaving the reception to go to this “festival” was a mistake. Getting there involved a long tube journey from Northfields to Charing Cross, a train to London Bridge, then another train to Cowden. Alighting alone at the station, I set off on a 25 minute walk along country lanes between cows. On arrival at the Kentish Horse in Mark Beech I discovered that of the two additional beers they’d laid on for the “festival”, one was off already. Not impressed!!

Cow Lane in Cowden

Still, the music was interesting, if a bit quirky, and any place that serves cheesy chips can’t be all that bad. Last train (10pm) back to London, and an interesting end to the evening involving most pubs in Norwood Junction and buses to Crystal Palace and goodness knows where else to get home!

Grandma Daphne

Gran on the beers

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Just a Day in Milan

The Flight
On Wednesday I continued my Life of Riley existence by popping over to Milan for the day. Main purpose was to see work from my friend Eunjeong, who was exhibiting at the Institute Marangoni, but also to meet up with Quy, who was at the RCA when I was at IC (I’ll leave you to work that out!). Unfortunately the cheap Ryanair flights didn’t extend towards the weekend, so I ended up making it a daytrip. Cue horribly early departure – about 3:45am, finally returning about 1:30am the following morning.

Bus to Luton and as much sleep as I could squeeze out of the relatively short flight. We landed on time, which meant we received a loud fanfare noise over the PA – “Another on-time flight from Ryanair”! Marvellous. They didn’t have the right to play it on the return flight though! I remember once when I was flying back from visiting Ursula in Verona – on the last flight of the day. “Have you booked a cab from Stansted?”, she asked. No need, I reply, there’s plenty of time to catch the last Stansted Express train. “Book the cab”, she replied, “you will not make that last train”, and she was right.

Of course, it all comes down to 20 minute turnarounds – whilst Ryanair claim 90% punctuality (though I suspect if you dig into how this is defined, there will be some fixes), but if you look at the last flights on each route, I am convinced the punctuality will be far lower. According to, 75% of Ryanair flights arrived within 15 minutes of schedule last year. Sounds more realistic! Can’t wait to fly these guys transatlantic!

The Exhibition
Institute Marangoni is in downtown Milan, just a few doors along from Alexander McQueen’s shop. The exhibition was in a room called The Black Room, and no prizes for guessing how it was painted. Not ideal for exhibiting the way it had been set up, as it was very dark, yet lined on one side by very bright windows, hence difficult to see the work.

Wave from East exhibition

Detail from Eunjeong’s work

Eunjeong’s work

The City, the Sunshine
After the tranquil gallery, it was time to head out into the glorious sunshine, made all the more joyful given that it was raining and miserable in London. A few minutes away I hit the Duomo (Cathedral) and main square.

Duomo from the side

Elephants being moved into position

The Royal Palace, adjacent to the cathedral, was hosting a Francis Bacon exhibition, which I decided to visit – not knowing that much about the Irish born painter who lived most of his life in London. Exhibition is on till the end of June.

Francis Bacon at the Royal Palace

Whilst clearly a talented artist, I don’t claim to support his style of distorting faces and figures. As part of the exhibition, they showed a documentary clearly filmed many years ago in which he was interviewed by none other than Melvin Bragg. You can watch it here: As you watch, it becomes clear that there are a few screws loose in Bacon’s head!

Next up, a wander through Milano, past the usual tourist suspects of cathedral (second largest gothic church in world), and the enormous shopping arcade leading off the piazza in front:

Duomo from the front

Vittorio Emanuele Gallery

The Food
Lunch was a tasty Milan-style (i.e. very thin) marinara pizza with a beer. Then of course, the Italian staple for a warm day.. yummy pistachio (I was told off about the pronouciation – Italians say pistaccio – hard “c”s sound) gelati, enjoyed sat in the square facing the Duomo.


Then a pleasant stroll through town towards where I was to meet Quy.

San Lorenzo

This was the canals area in the South West, near Porta Genova station. The canals here are fast moving, with a fair bit of green plant debris in them – being fed by some rivers out of the city. I believe the canals are also very old – 900 years or so. Not as pretty as Little Venice in London, but still a welcome aquatic artery in this city.

Canalside on the Naviglio Grande

Was good to catch up with Quy, and I was sad to be leaving so soon as the vibe was great as everyone enjoyed aperifs and the mild weather – even the local Irish bar looked inviting! Who would have thought?!

Trendy Irish bars!