Friday, October 31, 2008

What's Going On in the World?

Happy Diwali to my dear Hindu friends. There's a diplomatic crisis in DR Congo, with many fleeing their homes. The US is about to elect a new president. Drinking moderate amounts of alcohol apparently has no effect on babies. The credit crunch is ruining the global economy. My Dad's coming to Glastonbury next year. Priests will be checked to make sure they're not too horny. A car bomb has exploded outside a Spanish university. But... more importantly...

..some "humorous" presenters made a prank call! Two people complained, it appeared on the BBC website, then all hell broke loose, the PM himself moaned, the Radio 2 Controller resigned, and it's still the main story on the BBC after several days.

How uninteresting and pathetic.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

London Exhibition Mania

We have a slight problem in London this Autumn - most of the major exhibitions are, shall we say, of less interest to those who appreciate real art. The Turner Prize consists of the usual talentless drivel. Rothko, Bacon, Cy Twombly and others collectively churned out works which sit somewhere between your average five year old and Polish decorator in terms of how I am able to appreciate their efforts.

Ironically in the new Saatchi Gallery on King's Road they have a room where they've invited 7-year-olds to paint inspired by Kandinsky. And I have to say the results didn't seem so very far away from the offerings at Miro at the RA!

Luckily it's not all bad..

Firstly, this gives one a chance to seek out the smaller (and often free) galleries - Charles Avery at the Parasol and today:

Bruegel to Rubens - Masters of Flemish Painting at the Queen's Gallery.

The where? There's a gallery at the edge of Buckingham Palace. They house a selection of the Royal Collection, and also have rotating temporary exhibitions.

The marvellous Flemish one runs till next year, but a Baroque one comes online on November 14th (update, oops, I've just noticed Baroque is in Scotland). It's a lovely space, filled with some very interesting paintings, Faberge Eggs, clocks, etc, and most importantly, unlike the blockbusters at the major galleries it's not jam packed. Go see the Flemish Exhibition!

Miro, or to give the exhibition its full title:
"Miró, Calder, Giacometti, Braque: Aimé Maeght and his artists" is up in the Sackler Wing of the Royal Academy until the end of the year. Yes, you have to climb the stinky staircase to get to it!

One up there, one can appreciate "the freshness, optimism and inventiveness of the art that took post-war Paris by storm.". I have to confess that I was not bowled over, but it's worth a quick visit on a combined ticket with Byzantium. If I'd paid to see this only, I would have been a bit annoyed. The best part of it - an entire wall covered by the front covers of the art journal Derrière le Miroir. That and a couple of African-inspired Braque still lifes. Oh and I should mention a sketch entitled something like "the walker" which just had about half a dozen small scribbles, collectively implying a man walking on a large blank sheet of paper. Quite inventive!

Byzantium 330–1453

The blockbuster at the RA this autumn. Expect to do battle with old people!

The exhibition, a collaboration between the Royal Academy of Arts and the Benaki Museum in Athens, provides an overview of the culture and history of the Byzantine Empire. It's big, with over 300 objects spread over about a dozen large rooms. splendours of , 'Byzantium 330–1453' incorporates over 300 objects. Some of the works have never been displayed in public before, and the suggestion in the Telegraph review was that the objects with St Mark's in Venice had lent out, including the following incense burner, would never be lent out again.

Interestingly several of the icons from the Monastery of St. Catherine on Mt. Sinai had been held up and were replaced with colour copies. No reason was provided and the staff had not been told.

Also on display is the Chalice of Antioch, which has been a candidate for the Holy Grail.

Worth seeing. Allow time!

Hadrian: Empire and Conflict

Finally I should mention Hadrian, the current biggie at the British Museum. This is a timed entry exhibition in a modified reading room. In all honesty, I found it somewhat disappointing. As a British viewer, I was particularly interested in the wall of course. Not much information about that.

What was displayed was somewhat disjointed, much information about aspects which interested me less (his gay lover, for example), and overall a crowded and confused layout. One interesting takeaway though was that the Reading Room ceiling was modelled on the Pantheon in Rome. Didn't know that! Shame they'd butchered the Reading Room to put the exhibition on! The space is much smaller than the one they usually use for big exhibitions, hence part of the issue.

Still to see:
Edge of Arabia at SOAS till 13th Dec
Wallace Collection
Turner Watercolours at the Courtauld starting this Friday.
Renaissance Faces - Van Eyke to Titian at the National Gallery
Picasso and the Masters in Paris (this one pending a cheap Eurostar ticket!).

Snow in London!

It may be October still, but it's snowing outside - thick heavy flakes falling, and starting to pile up on the cars in the street. I doubt it will settle, and it's supposed to thaw out at the end of the week, but still..


Building up on my bicycle

Electric car below snowed in

Very exciting! And made even better as apparently other parts of London aren't having so much fun - according to my sources it's raining south of the river! Here's the article on the BBC about this brief Arctic snap.

Friday, October 24, 2008

More Film Fest

After Liverpool and Tulpan, I've been along to a few more Film Fest delights. Here's a brief summary:

Dean Spanley

An absolute delight of a film, the unusual story revolving around a fantastic set of characters discovering that Imperial Tokay wine causes Dean Spanley to have flashbacks to his previous reincarnation as a dog.

Peter O'Toole plays a particularly eccentric highlight to this mad film based on a book by Lord Dunsany.

The film will go on general release later this year, playing at the Curzon Mayfair. It's so good that I will buy the DVD when it comes out.

Tricks (Sztuczki)


A truly charming and nostalgic film about a young boy and his attempts to influence fate, aided by his elder sister. Using non-actors, the director Andrzej Jakimowski, who was present at the screening for a Q&A, leads us through a story about a six-year old Stefek, who is convinced that a man he sees at a trains station is his father. He intends to play "tricks" to win him back for their family.

Based on the quality of this film I would strongly recommend the director's previous offering, Squint Your Eyes.

All Around Us (Gururi no Koto)

Ryosuke Hashiguchi directs this slow-burning study of a modern couple without much in common apart from marriage. Kanao, a shoe-repair man is married to Shoko, a publisher. She is all-controlling, even scheduling their amorous sessions on their calendar. He is laid-back, and takes on a job as a court-room sketch artist.

In court he finds himself exposed to some of the most disturbed people and crimes in Japan, and perhaps partly because of this finds much of what happens at home trivial.

Shoko, traumatised by a miscarriage, begins to have a break-down, and unbeknown to him aborts the second pregnancy. Only with time, and much support and naturing from Kanao does she recover and blossom. A sweet but awfully long film!

High Treason

Part of the deal of the Film Fest these days are free screenings in Trafalgar Square. Outdoor events are always a risky business in London, but right at the end of October is surely pure madness? Indeed, on the evening I went to see High Treason, it was cold, windy and ended up raining for most of the evening. This I wouldn't have mind but that firstly I was sitting on the ground and secondly I didn't have a coat or brolly.

Anyway, the 1928 silent classic High Treason was projected onto a screen held up by an inflatable frame, which was in itself interesting given the wind - bending about as the gusts came through.

High Treason, accompanied by a pianist, was an enjoyable flick set in the future (1950s) in London, revolving around the build-up to war between a Federalist Americas and Europe, instigated behind the scenes by arms dealers.

Particularly enjoyable were the model scenes of London with New York-eqsue skyscrapers, zeppelins floating about etc. Also the Channel Tunnel, modelled and envisioned much as it is in reality today. The war movement is protested by the International League of Peace, HQed in London, and again a vision of the League of Nations and later the UN, but will their leader have to make the ultimate sacrifice and commit High Treason to avert the war?

The film was preceded by a ten-minute short, The Fugitive Futurist (1924), about a chap who had invented a gadget to see into the future - and using the latest special effects in the 20s we were treated to the Strand underwater and Tower Bridge with skytrains running across the top!

Country Wedding (Sveitabrúðkaup)

A directorial debut for Valdís Óskarsdóttir, filming in a quite intimate way with hand-held camera for many of the shots, about a wedding party being transported by bus from Reykjavik out to a rural church supposedly only an hour's drive away.

Unfortunately no one is sure where the church is, and the priest, in the middle of watching a football game (and on the beers) does not provide much help, so slowly the tension mounts in the group as they drive further into the wilderness, arriving at wrong church after church fitting the correct description, tempers start to fray, and we are treated to various amusing or tragic revelations about members of the party.

Particular highlight of the film was the music, which I recognised as being by the unique and highly talented Tiger Lillies, they of Shockheaded Peter and a show at Edinburgh Fringe this year.

The London Film Festival - Back next year, same place, same time, for two more weeks of fantastic challenging and emotional cinema.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008


Liverpool is the title of a film I saw at the BFI Film Fest a few days ago. Directed by Lisandro Alonso, I found it rather painful, with slow drawn out scenes and probably about two dozen lines spoken in the 90 minutes or so running time. The draw was the scenery - Ushuaia and the Tierra del Fuego. Here's the film's story:

A middle-aged sailor, Farrel, leaves his ship and begins a lengthy journey to Tierra del Fuego's interior, to an isolated village set around an old saw mill. The route seems familiar to him, and we gradually piece together his relationship with the community he finds there.

Ushuaia, photo from wiki

I never made it down to the bottom tip of South America on my trip, out of time considerations. The furthest south I reached was Puerto Natales, not bad at over 51 degree S, but there were two cities below me - Punta Arenas (Chile) and Ushuaia (Argentina), right at the bottom. And then below those.. a Chilean island called Navarino, the trekking circuit around which is called the Dientes Circuit.

Photo from wiki

The Dientes Circuit, as well as being the furthest south you can trek short of being on Antarctica, is a remote beautiful place, desolate, with views over the Cape Horn Islands to the south. Here's a fantastic account with photos. I'd love to get there, and regret not finding the time when I was just to the north. Next time, next time..

In other news.. Dean Spanley.. watch out for this film when it comes out on general release... absolutely fantastic!!

Freeparking Google Apps Verify Workaround

If like me you use Freeparking to hold your domain, and then just blind redirect all traffic to somewhere you don't own, like Blogger, you'll have trouble if you try to use Google Apps. To verify that you own your domain, Google insist you either add a custom CNAME record or upload a file. The former would be fine but for Freeparking's underpowered DNS Manager. Don't even try to make it work - it won't accept as a CNAME, Freeparking's FAQ suggestion of gets accepted but is ignored by Google, as is IP address. Nothing works. Not even contacting their CS and asking them to change it manually.

So, the thing to do is to experience a temporary outage of service (I'm sure my readers can live with it) and redirect via the muppet domain control panel to, where in a matter of a minute you can sign up for a free account which will quite happily host the temporary html file that will make Google smile upon you once again.


Friday, October 17, 2008

London Film Festival

Yay, film fest is on! As usual there's a fantastic catalogue stuff full of enticing descriptions of films, almost all of which I'd love to see given time and money. Yesterday evening I saw Tulpan, a 2008 film directed by Sergey Dvortsevoy, set in the Kazakh steppe, a barren desert region where people lead a nomadic life herding. Asa, the star of the film, finds life frustrating living with his sister and her husband, but he is repeatedly rebuffed by the only single girl around, Tulpan, who doesn't like his big ears.

Best laugh from the audience came when to prove that his ears weren't too big, he produced an A3 picture of Prince Charles, apparently "an American prince", as a reference. The film has a lot of animal husbandry action, but is an endearing and amusing portrait of a young Kazakh man and his dreams of making it big.

The London Film Festival runs until October 30th. I strongly recommend you try to see some of the offerings.

Fox Cottage in Aldborough

Aldborough Village in Norfolk

My family are lucky to have a cottage up in Aldborough in Norfolk, which is where I've spent the past week. It's a pretty village with a few hundred residents, two pubs, one of which I wholeheartedly recommend (The Red Lion), a shop, a post office, a school, a couple of churches, a town hall, and that's about it!

Fox Cottage

The cottage itself is lovely, thanks largely to the efforts of my parents and brothers (I have to confess I contributed little to the original restoration), but has one big issue. It's a bloomin' fridge! The ambient temperature inside the cottage is inexplicably several degrees cooler than out. Why? I have no idea, but the electric blanket is about survival rather than comfort here!

The other reason to head up to Fox, in addition to preserving food without needing a fridge, is to see my Grandfather, Clifford Crawley. Grandpa is 86, and is still in good shape, living in Sheringham, and eating ice-cream far more often than is advisable for anyone of any age!

Grandpa Cliff Crawley

Cliff has such fantastic stories, having travelled around the world on a merchant navy ship after the end of the war, stopping off in ports in Europe, Asia, Africa and the Americas, playing the piano in Buenos Aires and New York and anywhere else they were allowed to disembark for a beer! It was the RTW trip long before it was trendy.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

The Tilbury Gravesend Passenger Ferry

Not many people know about this ferry service, down-river from central London, crossing the Thames at what is a surprisingly narrow stretch of the river. Kent and Essex councils both have some information about the service, which apparently was suspended for some time when the boat was out of action. Worth checking it's running if you plan to take it!

It's run by the Lower Thames and Medway Passenger Boat Company. Supposedly there's a shuttle bus from Tilbury train station down the the docks but I wouldn't count on it - not only is there no information at the train station when you arrive, there's nothing at the actual docks!

Could be waiting a loooong time

I nearly gave up, but one of the people lingering about that I spoke to told me that there was a ferry, and it would just pull up at the other end of the floating dock carpark area. Whilst I waited I chatted with another cyclist who was equally in the dark as to whether the boat even existed - he had also taken the train down from London.

It's quite a pretty spot if the weather is good. Nearby are the large container docks which make Tilbury the primary cargo ship unloading point for London. It's all fairly industrial, but quiet at the weekend.

After not too long, a small boat came across from Gravesend, pointing into the current and dodging a large container boat heading out into the estuary.

On board, I handed over 2UKP70 for the one-way crossing. The sum of the passengers was the other cyclist, a foreign couple, and myself. Must be subsidised by the councils I suppose, but then as I bought my ticket he did flick through a large wad of notes to give me my change.

Price list

The Duchess Ferry

The short crossing complete, I headed off along my favourite canal towpath towards the Medway, pausing only for a small blackberry feast!

The Rest of the Ride

Mid-Kent Canal towpath

A Beritable Feast!

Over and into Strood, passing the nuclear sub (as you do):

Nuclear Russian Sub near Rochester Castle

On the other side, I follow the coast around past Chatham.

The Historic Dockyard at Chatham
The Docks at Chatham have a personal significance for me - this is where my Grandfather Cliff was stationed during WW2, though he actually only every went there once - to be discharged after the end of the war!

There's supposed to be a Nelson Brewery ("England expects... every man to drink our beer"!) somewhere inside, but I'm damned if I can find it (I've looked twice now)!

Not really fancying cycling in the dark for the last stretch, I planned to hop on the train. Tough, there aren't any. Engineering works, yet again!