Monday, November 17, 2008

Tranquility in the Heart of Docklands

For my sins I now spend most of my woken day around E14, aka Docklands. A complete nuisance to reach from West London, involving the Bakerloo and Jubilee Lines, and a ten minute walk at either end. However, my office is a little away from the central complex, around South Quay. This means we have the Millwall Dock to walk round, a large expanse of water which is very peaceful and quiet, and probably a 45 minute walk round the whole basin.

Millwall Dock

The next lunchtime distraction is down the road, less than 10 minutes walk, is Mudchute Farm. Created from the spoil from Millwall Dock, presumably dumped via a "mud chute" over the road, this is now London's biggest inner city farm, and is a marvellous hilly oasis, in which one can lose oneself and enjoy a green view interspersed with sheep, cows and other such countryside paraphernalia.

Of course, the Canary Wharf complex is still there, but somehow it seems so remote. There's more of the farm to explore, I've just enjoyed a sandwich in the bit nearest to my office. More soon...

Random fact: The expression "toe rag" comes from the workers on Millwall Docks who used to process grain coming off the ships. In order to protect their shoes from getting sharp grains inside, they would wrap them in sacks, hence "toe rag".

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Science vs Art, and Shadows Saying Hello

There's an interesting series of lectures underway in Bristol at the moment:

The Creative Brain: Conversations between Art and Science

Essentially a dialogue about the interaction of science and art and how there are overlaps and elements of the other in both disciplines - my favourite example is the book on my bookshelf called Beautiful Equations, covering such delights as Euler's e^iπ + 1 = 0 (sorry no superscript!). Ok, may have lost some artists at this point. Well another oft-praised equation, stemming from its simplicity, is 1 + 1 = 2. You have to admit it is quite lovely!

Anyway, I've got a bit off-topic - titled of upcoming lectures include Neuroesthetics, Love and Literature and Art inspired by Science. The lecture series runs for the next few weeks - if you have a chance, get down to Bristol!


Went to see this yesterday at the BFI as part of the onedotzero festival. No idea what the festival was about (despite the creative director explaining before the film), but Tokyo was a film that got away from me at the London Film Festival - this was just another chance to catch it. The film's concept is simple - three directors - two French and one Korean, are let loose on the city with the remit to capture some aspect of it as they see fit.

First up, and arguably the best of the three, Gondry's Interior Design, about a wacky film maker and his supportive girlfriend arriving in Tokyo looking for a jobs and somewhere to live. As this task frustrates their efforts, the film takes a surreal twist related to people defining themselves by whay they do. Charming and engaging.

Following this, monster-film parody Merde features a Gollum-like character emerging from the sewers under Tokyo to cause havoc in Tokyo. Finally caught, he is represented in court by a French lawyer who, being part of some sort of red-bearded one-eyed conspiracy, has to translate the creatures mutterings. Most bizarre!

Finally, Tokyo Shaking from Bong Joon-ho, a film about hikikomoris, the Japanese social recluses who stay in their bedrooms for years at a time. The idea behind the film revolves around two of them falling in love - how do they meet?! Only when earthquakes happen and everyone is driven from their homes into the otherwise empty Japanese streets!

I liked the concept, but it felt under-developed, and the lead character was clearly not suitable as a hikikomori. Still, as the bumph handed out finished off, this was a "lovely sorbet with which to end a piquant three-course meal". Indeed!

Under Scan

This appeared in the papers a few days ago and I was delighted to catch it yesterday (hadn't realised it was still on..)

Essentially Under Scan is an installation in Trafalgar Square whereby sophisticated projection systems are used to show people trapped in the pavement in your shadow, actually interacting with you and your shadow.

Mexican-Canadian artist Rafael Lozano-Hemmer has filmed figures that start sleeping on the ground. As you cast your shadow over them, the come alive, looking up at you, waving, etc. One holds a dog!

As you move away, they look dejected, and lie back down, go to sleep, or turn away. Such an interesting concept!

Under Scan is on in Trafalgar Square until November 23rd.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Thames Estuary Shipping Live

I appreciate this may not be to everyone's tastes, but I find the the following very very exciting!

Over at GoogleMapsMania I found out about the AIS ship tracking system, which is required for all boats over 299GT, but presumably fitted to quite a few under this too. Anyway, this information is overlaid on a map and displaced in realtime at ShipAIS, with maps of the whole of the UK (I've linked to the Medway one in front of our house!)

Hover over a boat and a box pops up telling you name, speed, direction, what it's up to, where it's going, and what kind of boat it is, which usually gives away its cargo too. Oooooh! The reason I find it so exciting is that our house looks out over these boats drifting across on the horizon, so it's natural to be curious as to what they're up to, especially the particularly large ships. Now we'll know!

R4 Open Country in Seasalter

View Larger Map

Seasalter, the village where my family live, is on the north Kent coast just west of Whitstable. As the name suggests, the area was an important salt production centre, making use of the marshes that have seen civilisation since at least the Iron Age, as well as Viking plundering, before being turned over, according to the Domesday Book to "the kitchen of the Archbishop [of Canterbury]". A recent episode of Open Country, a Radio 4 programme, examined the culinary history of the area.

They visit the beach, then the Sportsman, a local pub next to the marshes which tries as much as possible to use local ingredients, including making their own salt. Next they head to Blean forest near Canterbury to forage for mushrooms. This, coincidentally was where I took part in the Old Canterburians' Cross Country Run on Saturday!

It is still possible to listen to the programme on the website, though sadly it's not available as a podcast, so go here quick!

Old Canterburians' Cross-Country Run
Ahhh the memories. When the weather was too bad to do sport, instead, we would do Cross-Country, i.e. trudging through puddles and mud under wind and rain in a forest near my old school (Kent College, Canterbury). So in a sense the weather was true to the event on Saturday, when we braved heavy bursts of rain and strong gusty winds to sprint through Blean Forest in a demonstration of how (hopefully) old boys could still show the whippersnappers how it's done. Unfortunately.. one of the girls running for the school has run for England and is a Olympic 2012 potential. Oh dear!

James Taylor, along with yours truly, was not an Olympic hopeful

There were about 15 runners in total, stretching from youngsters who looked like they weren't long out of Lower School, through to a Septuagenarian! There were two clear groups of runners: those who thought they had a chance of winning, and those who had been blackmailed into turning up. I fell in with my group, the latter one. Heading off into the forest, trying not to slip or soak my trainers too early on, I was struck at how pretty the place was - most leaves still being on the trees, unusually for so late in the year.

Paul Smith - one of my old Physics teachers!

Settling into a routine, I was following Paul Smith, our old Physics teacher, who seems to run in a slightly strange way - which clearly is effective as he's run a marathon before! The advantage of following him was that I didn't have to worry about navigating the many forks in the route. I started fast (for me!) but slowed to a pace that I could manage to uphold. About 15 minutes in though, I have to say, I was in a lot of pain! To qualify - this was a run, not a jog. When I say I go running, I mean jogging. There's a big difference!

Anyway, towards the end, Paul had disappeared out of sight when I came to a junction. Looking at the arrows, I decided I should fork right. This turned out to be the wrong way. And worse, it was a shortcut, as I realised when (a) I appeared in the car park from the path we started on (not the one where Herrington's Dad was clocking arrivals in, and (b) Paul Smith ran in about 10 seconds later. I had clearly cheated.. and so immediately confessed to the race officials (Will's Dad). Given that this was to have little bearing on the podium positions, I believe they let my time stand. Sorry Paul!

Most of the runners, myself in the middle

The afternoon was rounded off by a nice cold underpowered shower in the Sports Hall, then tea in the Old Library, coming out of which we bumped into Sue Barnard preparing for the evening meal (which we skipped). She looked as lovely and cheerful as ever. Unfortunately I missed Gerald Colson, who was to be there for the dinner.

So, the trophy was presented to the young chap who won the race - having left KC last year he was one of us, hurrah!

In the evening we headed down to Canterbury for a birthday dinner for Will's 30th. I look forward to next year's run! Race photo will be uploaded to this blog entry as soon as Will sends it to me.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Young Handsome and Tanned

But enough about me.. ;)

Dear Silvio Berlusconi has got into trouble over compliments he made about Obama. The best bit of the story was highlighting something I missed:

Apparently, on first meeting Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen in 2002, Berlusconi complimented him with the words: "Mr Rasmussen is not only a great colleague, he's also the best-looking prime minister in Europe." He added: "He's so good looking, I'm even thinking of introducing him to my wife."

He also sparked a minor diplomatic incident in 2005 by suggesting he had wooed Finnish President Tarja Halonen to ensure her backing for Italy to host the European Food Safety Authority. "I had to use all my playboy tactics, even if they have not been used for some time," he said, prompting Helsinki to call in the Italian ambassador to explain the comments.

And "God save us from imbeciles" if you don't find it funny!

Royal Mail - Where is My Parcel?!

I am a firm supporter of Post Offices, particularly in rural areas. Royal Mail as a delivery service, however, I am less convinced about. I order something from Amazon at the beginning of the week, and with Super Saver post, it arrived today. Except it didn't, as the postie didn't ring the buzzer. Instead, he (she?) did what he always does, not even trying to deliver and simply leaving a red card somewhat tauntingly claiming that "While you were out, we tried to deliver.. etc". So, I do what I always have to do, and rush down to the sorting office before 1pm to collect it.

Now, the card states that you're supposed to leave 24 hours before collection, but usually that's okay, the posties deliver early so it'll be back by 1pm. Except when I get there, Mr Jobsworth tells me that they've rejigged deliveries and now none of the posties are back before 1:30pm. Well that would explain why the post rarely arrives before mid-day these days (so much for a morning delivery). So no parcel. Of course, what was the original logic of the sorting office being open till 1pm for parcel collection? Because by then most of the posties would be back, so you stood a fair chance of collecting same day. I doubt this occurs to Mr Jobsworth or his manager Mr Cutcosts.

All of this is not a major inconvenience for me, after all, I'm not working. But my friend won't get his birthday gift on time, and more importantly, when I start work, how on earth do I collect a parcel? Frankly, what would be far more useful for me is for there to be a central collection point for parcels - could be anywhere in London really - presumably one of the main sorting stations would be the logical place to host it - how about Paddington or Mount Pleasant? Once centralised it could be open 24 hours, and I could collect my mail myself. Which would be far more useful. Heck, let's use some modern technology - how about emails or texts to tell me that something is waiting?

Sorry Postman Pat, you're FIRED!

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Dizzee Rascal for Prime Minister

Link to a video clip of Dizzee Rascal, the UK rap artist, on BBC Newsnight.

The bit that made me laugh was Paxman putting a question to him: "Mr. Rascal, ..". Reminds me of Meat Loaf appearing in South Park (214), and Cartman asking him a question: "Mr. Loaf .."!

I liked Dizzee's positive view of the UK and racial integration, something that I share. The Americans may have beaten us to have a black leader first, but I don't believe there are any barriers to anyone reaching the top office in the UK, and as Mr. Rascal says, it's only a matter of time...

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

红满天川菜火锅店 and Spamalot

Visited Spamalot with Chris and Dave. Before going, we went for a meal, and decided to try Red and Hot on Charing Cross Road. The interior is smart, and the place was full. We were the only white people there, usually a good sign. Three Tsing Tao beers, and then we were ordering:

* Husband and Wife's Pork Lung Slices (cold, bizarrely a beef dish)
* Shredded Pork with Chives (Token non-spicy dish for Dave)

Husband and Wife Lung Slices with Pork behind

* Fantastic Potato with Dry Chilli & Peppers (this was fantastic)
* Ma Po Tofu
* Sliced Beef Sichuan Style Lavishly Topped with Chilli & Sichuan Pepper (three chillis on their spice scale, a corker of a dish!)


* Da na noodles
* Rice

It was hot and tasty, though they were a little sparing with their Sichuan Peppers. The TimeOut review says they temper for non-Chinese people, so make sure you specify you want it authentic!

Download their menu from the website in pdf format - there's some good stuff on there - Fire Exploded Kidney Flowers anyone?! We all tucked in but unfortunately were in a rush to get to the theatre so ended up eating at an obscene pace. Not a good idea with food this hot.

By the end all three of us were perspiring away as we grabbed our coats and rushed for the door with one minute till performance!


Spamalot has been on my list of things to see for a long time - I seem to recall it opened the week I left on my RTW trip, so it was good to finally see it, especially as I believe it's closing this winter.

The Knights who Say "Ni" make an appearance

In the posters it is described as being the show that was "lovingly" ripped off from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and so it is - following the film's story broadly, with a few Python songs from other works thrown in, such as "Always Look on the Bright Side" which Dave was singing on the loo this morning.

Rather fetching maidens

The cast were all very good, with lovely supporting ladies, and Arthur played well by Sanjeev Bhaskar, i.e. the chap from the Kumars at No.42 and Goodness Gracious Me. Although he was about two feet shorter than everyone else on stage, making his kiss with Gwenyvere look a bit awkward!

Are there any Jews in the audience?!

The show was a partial send-up of other musicals, with song lyrics like "There's always a dueeet like this, with the couple singing passionately" etc etc. It was moderately amusing, particularly in the second half when we'd squeezed in some half-time refreshment across the road, but overall I have to say I was a little disappointed. I wouldn't go again, although I still think it was worth seeing once.

Brave, Brave Sir Robin

Run West London and Map Embedding

Just testing posting a Google Map within my blog. The following is my normal quick(ish) run:

View Larger Map

It's a pleasant route if the weather is good, and particularly nice at dusk, when the view over London from Primrose Hill is wonderful. Things to watch out for include the canal gates being closed early, and slippery leaves all over the place at this time of year, damn plane trees.

For something more challenging, I present my Parkathon 12.5 mile route:

View Larger Map

Taking in Primrose Hill, Regent's Park, Hyde Park, Green Park, St. James's Park, and Kensington Gardens, along with sights such as Marble Arch, Wellington Arch, Albert Memorial, Buckingham Palace, Paddington Station, Little Venice, the Beatles Abbey Road crossing and much more - who needs a tourist bus when you can run this route?

Monday, November 03, 2008

Bread, Wine and the Museum of London

St John Bread and Wine

Visited the little brother of St John Restaurant with Elaine. Sitting over the road from Spitalfields on Commercial Road, it's known for meat, and Fergus Henderson, the co-founder, has been quoted as saying "If you're going to kill the animal, it seems only polite to use the whole thing..". The restaurant itself is smallish, but they've made the most of the space, with one large room partitioned into dining area and kitchen. Hardwood floors and tables without table clothes gives a spartan feel. Of more concern to me is the lack of space, though this was mostly due to the lady sitting behind me!

At the time we arrived (booking is via time slots), several of the specials were finished, something which online reviews also complain about - if you're going to have daily specials, at least have them in quantities where they'll usually last a fair part of the evening, or have some held back for later perhaps.

Our strategy was to order several of the smaller starter dishes rather than go for one of the bigger mains (eg chicken and pork pie for two, 30 quid!). Thus we went for the following:

Deep Fried Pig's Head was delicious, like a really intense porky fishcake. Elaine was suspicious about the texture though.

Roast Shallots, Goat's Curd and Mint were sold to us by the waitress who described the flavours, texture and process of eating it with almost orgasmic delight! My take is that is was very nice, although the mint was so fresh and intense that it overrode the sweetness of the shallot and the very light creamy curd.

Terrine was good but of course we had a slab of it which would last a week or two in my fridge. It was just too much for two people. More on this later!

Blood Cake & Duck Egg was delicious, perhaps partially because I'm a black pudding fan anyway. The blood cake was bursting with flavour, and light in texture - I suppose it has less grain than black pudding.

Stinking Bishop and Potatoes was what it said on the tin - a large pile of melted Stinking Bishop cheese, with new potatoes. Now I like cheese, and I like Stinking Bishop, having purchased it on occasion from Selfridges. However, the quantity of cheese on the plate was absolutely silly, and supported with far too few potatoes.

Food was washed down by a bottle of the house red, a Cab Sauv Shiraz blend which was very drinkable.

Even those who cast aspersions on the restaurant cannot deny the quality of the desserts. We end up with:

Clementine Jelly & Shortbread


Ginger Bread Ice Cream

..both of which were delicious. In review, the food is good and interesting, but I would not advocate going for starters only. The starters are too rich, and contain too much of each item for a pair to share. In a larger group, any of our dishes would be fine. For us? Too much, and way too rich. In future I'd just order a couple of starters then go for a main, ideally whole baby pigs ordered in advance.

Museum of London
The Jack the Ripper exhibition at the Museum of London was clearly not advertised too well, as I only came across it via a leaflet I picked up in Dirty Dicks in Bishopsgate. When was it finishing? The following day! Therefore I charged down on Sunday the 2nd to visit, just as it closed (literally!). Would they be flexible about kicking us out on the final day? Oh no, the staff were busy rounding us up a good twenty minutes before closing time.

I've always harboured something of an interest in the Ripper, not least because one of my favourite lunch spots when working at Aldgate was on a bench in Mitre Square which was location pretty much right on top of the spot where Catherine Eddowes was murdered in a really quite nasty way. In fact reading the wiki page I've just learn that where I would sit is called Ripper Corner!

The exhibition itself was full of interesting material, well documented and explained. There were notebooks and logs from the police and homes for the "unfortunate class" as prostitutes were known then; newspapers from the time, including laminated full-sized copies that one could read; ound recordings of residents who could remember living around the area at the time; videos, explaining the background and social situation, or showing prints of life around the East End, and fascinating maps of London colour-coded by class.

I note that my street, Randolph Avenue (then called Portisdown Road) was a decent street even in the 1880s! :)