Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Oyster Fun

Warning: this is a rant about the London transport payment card, and as such is of limited interest to those outside the capital (or indeed within, the less kind may suggest)!

Background to story: I had an Oystercard before going travelling. Quite a low serial number too (couple of thousand), which I was quite proud of (being a geek). It had an auto-top up set up for West Hampstead station (I now know that it was just the initial setup that happened at WH). Anyway.. I’m back from travelling, and a couple of weeks ago it topped up at St. John’s Wood, which at the time I thought confusing. Another time, it topped up randomly (apparently on the bus I later discovered). All a bit strange. Then when I tried to go through the barriers at Heathrow T5, it rejected my card. Given all the trouble with the system recently I ignored it and used one of my spare PAYG cards. It then didn’t work on the bus today. So I tried to log in to the website, and it tells me to call their 0845 number, which I do.

Story: After a multitude of automated choices, I get through to a chap. It turns out..

1. Because the credit card that the auto-top up was linked to had expired, I had not paid for the last two top-ups
2. The fraud team had investigated, and tried to get in touch with me, but..
3. All of my contact information was out of date on the website, partially because the site wouldn’t let me in anyway!
4. Without being able to contact me, they had put a block on my card.
5. The chap said technically I could just default on the card and they wouldn’t pursue it, but I of course wanted to do the right thing, so offered to pay..
6. So he says the way this has to be done is two separate payments of 20 pounds to cover the two auto-top ups.
7. Then, they can release the 21 quid or so already on the card to me. Fine. So I give him card and he does this.
8. So will he now unblock the card? No, he can’t, the card is useless now and can’t be reactivated! Bin it! So I've just spent 40 quid to get to 21 quid.
9. Where does the credit go then? He’ll send it to my other PAYG card, but it won’t appear on there for a few days, and at a specific station (i.e. annoying).
10. At my request, he’ll send it instead to my credit card, which I had to hand over for the third time.
11. Can I get the 3 quid back for the card? Apparently not, as allegedly I never gave a deposit for it (I am sceptical about this but have no memory or evidence to prove otherwise)
12. So new Oystercard for me..

All this was a 20 minute phone call to an 0845 number. Not helpful with my exorbitant Orange bill (switching as soon as contract is up). Maybe I’ll make an Oyster magic wand to use instead of the blue card.

TFL I shall be watching for tube delays like a hawk with a refund form in its talons!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Kimchi and the Dolphin

Every since Sandy Toksvig tried some on Excess Baggage, I've been craving kimchi, the Korean spicy pickled cabbage. I found some in the Japan Centre this afternoon. Yum!

Rice cooking as we speak

In other news, I'll be cycling to Weymouth on Thursday. Okay, not from London - from Southampton. Here's the route: http://tinyurl.com/6acjxr

Should be about a 70 mile rile. Via the Dolphin in Blandford Forum!

Update: ended up being 84 miles! Coming out of Southampton not fun (I'd recommend Brockenhurst to start), New Forest was beautiful, Blandford Forum was nice, the hill out of town was deeply unpleasant, then the rest of Dorset was hilly and tiring. Overall a good ride though!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Sunny Sweden

Just enjoyed a mostly fun weekend in Sweden.

The view of Stockholm from our boat

Not very comfortable!

The morning after

In between meeting friends we wandered the old town and visited the Vasa, a four-hundred year old boat which is remarkably well preserved.

Dinner with Tom


The weekend was conducted under the watchful and expert eye of Emma, who did a marvellous job of keeping us busy and entertained day and night. Certainly it was nice for me not to have to be in charge for once :)

Karin, Lewis and myself


Fame! The Crawley brothers with Emma

Escaping with wallets in tact

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Royal Institution Arms of Great Britain

Yesterday evening I visited the Royal Institution of Great Britain, where a lecture was being conducted entitled “The Science of Beer”, given by O’ Hanlons Brewery’s head brewer Alex Bell.

I met up first with Adrian and Brendan in the Red Lion pub nearby.

Supposedly having the second oldest licence in the West End, being over 400 years old, this pub is described as London’s last village pub, and certainly the pint of Cornish St. Austell’s Tribute was well served.

Apparently on the last Saturday every January, Cavaliers in full costume crowd into the Red Lion to lament the death of their hero Charles I, who was executed in Whitehall on 30th January,1649.

Spilling out into Crown Passage

The palette sufficiently warmed up, we headed up St. James’s then Albermarle Street to the Royal Institution.

The Royal Institution of Great Britain

The RI was founded in 1799, and is a charity foundation supporting science and technology, both through education, lectures (mostly famously the annual Christmas Lectures) and actual research. They have apparently been home to 14 Nobel prize winners, and witnessed the discovery of 10 chemical elements. Names such as Faraday and Rutherford are bandied about as if laymen in these hallowed corridors.

That said, the advanced bar-coded ticket was not examined with the thoroughness I was expecting! Never mind, we are given a pink sticker to wear, indicating that we are tasting in a particular room after the lecture, we then head up into the lecture theatre, initially picking seats in the lower level, but moving up to escape leg-room that would send Ryanair aficionados running – anyway I don’t suppose the chap in front would have appreciated my knees in his back for the whole talk. In the upper gallery one is really looking down on the action, but there is a good inch or two more giving your legs a vague hope of keeping blood circulating. I suppose people were shorter in the 1700s..

The introduction was conducted by the beer writer Adrian Tierney-Jones, whose waffle seemed to be a big-up for the position of head brewer – “God” supposedly, with his Angelic brewhands.

Finally Alex Bell was on. Impressively only in his early 30s, Alex described how he studied Chemical Engineering at UCL before going into brewing.

Alex Bell

Starting with the history of beer,

possibly dating back to the 6th millennium BC, and records in Sumerian writings, he covered the accidental fermentation of bread with yeast in the air, how originally beer was brewed by women at home until the Industrial Revolution, and how many historical texts contain substantive references to the stuff.

We then moved on to the basic ingredients of beer – water, malt, hops and yeast, and examined each in detail.

Water – different levels of softness suit different kinds of beer. Pilsen in the Czech Republic apparently has soft water, good for light pilseners.

Malt – barley provides the sugars – in order to get to them they accelerate germination of the husks by soaking them. Roasting provides darker flavours, as found in malty or stout beers.

Hops –

a relatively new addition on the block (only in use for a few hundred years), hops have a hugely beneficial effect on beer – providing antiseptic, anti-oxidant effects, meaning beer lasts longer, as well as oils providing aroma. The hop itself, in the same family as marijuana, is a complex plant, with over 500 chemicals, as opposed to a typical plant having around 100.

Yeast – the workers of fermentation –

Yeast process the sugars in the malt and yield alcohol and CO2. Interestingly, this process is quite inefficient – it would be much easier for the yeast to respire aerobically, but for some reason they choose not to, and thank goodness!

Different enzymes based on temperature and hence desired beer characteristics. Mash tuns and other archaic terms came up, but were deftly explained by Alex.

New vocabulary

Alex threw in a couple of slides with the full chemical equation of the main fermentation reaction, and was amused that many of the audience were trying to follow.

He then moved on to describing and appreciating the beer, and put up a spider diagram which will prove useful for our trip to the beer fest in August.


A Q&A was held at the end of the lecture - and an American piped up asking why American beers were so bad compared with European equivalents. Clearly not a Craft Beer Radio listener - the American beer scene has never been so healthy since Prohibition!

The talk over, we retired to our allocated room for the tastings – in our case the Library. In a light room lined with incredible volumes on all walls from floor to ceiling – names floating back from our Imperial undergraduate days – Maxwell, Boyle and others – most books seemed to date from the 19th century and were here for browsing.

We were to try three beers, and were given a half pint of each, keeping the glass between tastings. Brendan slipped up, ending up with a half glass, which the server chap still half filled!

Brendan and Adrian tasting


First up, Yellowhammer, which was a light hoppy ale which was surprisingly sweet (or balanced, as Alex put it). As Alex pointed out some of the flavours we may detect he dropped in a new one for me - Weetabix! Never noticed that before! Swirling brought out fantastic smells, tropical fruits and banana. Strangely I hadn’t spotted these at first sniff. Someone asked about the name, but Alex confessed that it was the work of the marketing lot.

Your author contemplates

Some questions were raised about the hops (American Cascade in this case), which Alex referred to a trade person in the room who appeared to be a hop sales rep!

Royal Oak
Next up a bitter, malty, copper-coloured ale.

A nice session ale, but perhaps not so memorable.

Whilst waiting for the next beer we collared Alex and asked him firstly whether O’Hanlon’s beers were available at any pubs in London. After reminding us that they used to brew in Vauxhall, he suggested that the Rake Pub in Borough Market was our best bet, though Wetherspoons also take shipments of their barrels occasionally.

We also asked whether they’d be at the beer festival – yes they would, with Yellowhammer and Dry Stout.

Dry Stout
I’m not so keen on stouts myself. Unless they're free! This particular specimen was described as a “crossover stout”, though I’m not sure what that means!

Adrian deep in thought

When the top-ups slowed, we made our way out, stopping at the small but friendly Goat Tavern round the corner in Stafford Street for a couple of pints of Shepherd Neame’s Spitfire for the road. See you at the Great British Beer Festival, 5th to 9th August!

Friday, July 11, 2008

The London to New York Tunnel

Did you know that there is a tunnel between London and New York? Furthermore, that this tunnel enables residents of the aforementioned cities to peer into each other’s worlds? I few weeks ago I visited the London end, which surfaces just near Tower Bridge. Despite the appeal of such an attraction, I had the weather on my side in ensuring that the crowds would not be too great enjoying this spectacle – yes, it had poured with rain the whole day, and indeed made no effort to change outlook during my visit.

After paying a pound for the privilege (as they point out, the NY end does not charge – this is because HMRC won’t allow VAT rebates unless they charge entry – though arguably surely they could have charged a nominal fee of a penny, say, rather than a steep pound), though you do have the ticket lovingly written out for you by a robotic chap wearing a top hat. The ticket itself is really quite nice, with old fashioned “roll up, roll up” prose – I reproduce some of the text here:

This Ticket entitles the Bearer to visit the ENCLOSURE where he may
see across continents
by means of the MAGNIFICENT
and unusually ATTRACTIVE
invented by
Alexander Stanhope St George
and realised by his descendent
in collaboration with

Overleaf, one finds the “Guide to Conduct”:

At times of excessive Busyness, Visitors will
be limited to five minutes in the enclosure.
Please do not cause a Rumpus if asked to leave.
Persons visiting the Telectroscope must be
orderly in appearance. Obscene gestures will NOT
be tolerated! No money is to be given to the

So, in I go, and wait my turn behind an American couple with baby, who are greeting their State-side friends, the wife of whom apparently has a phobia of flying and so has never visited the UK. French television happen to be on hand to record the tunnel and some reactions. Those better prepared have brought along boards or paper with pens to write messages to show to the other end. I make do with waving to my American cousins, all of whom are having difficulty seeing their end with the bright sunshine – certainly they’re all dressed for summer – flipflops, shorts etc being the norm of clothing being exhibited to us as we stood under our umbrellas in the gloom!

The idea of this comes from Alexander Stanhope St George, who conceived of a transatlantic tunnel, and whilst planning this trip, I did stumble across the VacTrain concept . Effectively when Japan was busy showing off their bullet trains to the world, the Americans decided that they couldn’t be left behind (until they worked out the bill), so they conceived of a network of long distance train tunnels between major American cities, built far underground in rock, with the tunnels a partial vacuum, enabling the trains to run at vastly increased speeds than have ever been witnessed before – 3 to 5,000 mp/h. Yes, you read that right. Five thousand miles per hour.

Some of the gadgetry which controls this NY-LON tunnel

An extension of this idea is a transatlantic tunnel, potentially anchored to the seabed, well below any oceanic turbulence, making London to New York a journey of less than an hour. What a marvellous idea. Real design studies of this have been carried out, including input from one of the key designers of the Channel Tunnel. Projects of this vision and forethought tend only to happen under Tory governments though, unlike the poisonous decay and lack of investment we’ve suffered under the current government – let’s get trans-atlantic trains in the manifesto! Think of the boost to tourism and business both to the link cities themselves, but also to the US and whole of Europe – with high-speed European services coming into St. Pancras from the Chunnel, we could be talking about London being the world’s surface transport hub. No more carbon worries or Heathrow expansion nuisance!

Anyway, back to reality. At least the sun’s out today. That would be why the Bakerloo line is suddenly roasting hot, and my pre-pay Oyster credit dwindles ever quicker for short uncomfortable journeys across our marvellous capital. Sigh!

Glastonbury 2008 - Sunday and Monday

Day 5: Sunday – the Last Day

After about two hours sleep, it was time to rise again. Weather was looking iffy again. Energy was provided from the “Danish and Delicious” stall, who were kindly still serving breakfast bacon and egg baguettes long after their claimed finish time.

But really, who stops serving breakfast at 10am at Glasto, especially several days in?! Opening the day was Gilbert O Sullivan, who I didn’t think I’d heard of, but I did recognise some of his old 60-70s pop songs.

Torturous lyrics (eg Jenny was a mare, who I could just about bear, I met her on the stair, she had nice hair, etc!!), but I’d been clever today and brought my fold-away chair so I was slouched with breakfast in front of him with no energy to move!

After bacon baguette.. special Yeo Valley Glasto yoghurt.

Great Success (said in Borat accent)!

Next up was Brian Jonestown Massacre. I didn’t have to move.

As I sat, three Japanese girls came and sat in front of me. They carefully laid out their mat, then sat very properly. One had a carrier bag, out of which she took three paper cups and one can, one single can of Carlsberg. She opened it daintily and carefully shared it between the three cups. They toasted, sipped away, then when they’d finished, folded the mat up and headed off. Very amusing. I wonder if they were drunk?!

Then I went for a wonder.. to get some much needed coffee. A folk group were in the bandstand singing about Glastonbury and how nice Emily Eavis is!

Back to Pyramid, John Mayer was on.

Watched him for a bit then went round to other to meet up with the gang, who were watching Jack Penate.

It’s getting to that stage..

Not sure I approve..

The flag was clearly visible..

Someone had a reel of stripy tape and was busy sectioning off large parts of the crowd for no apparent reason!

Crowd games



Tom demonstrates tai chi

Sarah’s got the right idea

Scouting for Girls,

another Introducing tipped band a year or two ago, are up next, and really get the happy crowd going, in particular somehow making the following work:

“Woooahoohoh, yeah yeah yeah, I’ll see you at Glastonbury next year!”

Scouting for Girls

Brief threat from cloud

Flag still going strong


Next… I’d really like to trawl round to Pyramid for Neil Diamond, but it’s too far and I’d have to rush back for Mark Ronson who is on next. Again someone I don’t know much about, but my little bro Lewis keeps going on about him, and his remixes being better than the originals.

Mark Ronson

Sam hates Mugabe too

Sarah’s friends

Close up of Jo’s badges

Mark Ronson’s band

Mark brought up a series of guests to do his songs with him. Some were quite well disguised.

Others not so – Lily Allen appeared, but didn’t know her lines, and so sang from a piece of paper, and still managed to screw it up!

Lily Allen


Lisa issues Pete with marching orders

The group now splits, with the others staying here, but myself heading off with Sarah’s friends to see Leonard Cohen at Pyramid. We caught the end of Goldfrapp. What hair! What a dress!!

Into the magic central D for the show..

No crowd squash

Leonard Cohen

is back from a 15 year absence from performing, and what a chap. He just charms the socks off us. Grinning with delight at every applause, bowing and taking his hat off after each song, going down on one knee as he croons – I’d surely have his babies!!

Down on the knee

The crowd loves it!

And the sun begins to set on my first Glastonbury. It’s been incredible.

But it’s not over yet. Back round to Other for Groove Armada. Huge flows the other way for Verve who are playing Pyramid. I think in general more people went the other way, as Groove Armada had room to dance.

We made the right choice – the gang who went to Verve were freezing, whereas we were toasty warm dancing around like nutters to I See You Baby (Shakin’that Ass) and At the River (If you’re found of sand-dunes and salty air, etc). The lights were awesome, especially wearing the Tilted Disco glasses, though how Pete wore them for almost the whole set I do not know!

Fireworks going off over Green Fields

The end of the night…

And that was it. The set finished early, which was slightly disappointing, but the show itself? Incredible, and a great way to end the day. We all headed back to the Camper van to rendez-vous and have a cuppa. Interestingly, heading out, it would appear the gate security was all gone, which I was a little confused about – surely this means anyone could come in and steal stuff etc? I would have thought it would make more sense to hold security until Monday lunchtime or so, as I think the majority were leaving then. I got the brews in at the van..

Then I realised what might happen… eyes were drooping all around me.. surely not.. the night is still young?! But the oldies were ready for bed.. and so I had to go it alone – take a stance for the team and party all night. Glastonbury was not over yet, not whilst the Pyramid’s beams were still lighting up the sky!

I headed down to my beloved Trash City,


and into Drag Strip..

Drag Strip

Sure enough, a energetic punk band had the audience going.. it was Urban Voodoo Machines.

When their set finished, I headed through to Shangri La. This was my last chance to explore the whole place properly. First up, Shackney, the reggae joint:


Then the SlumberRave,

where one takes shoes off (yuck, plus my back wasn’t really up for bending down to them anyway!) and dances on beds

Music was no good though, so I didn’t stay long.

The venue of the night for me was Dada, which had two bands still to play full sets whilst I was there –the first of which was Shantel and the Bucovina Club from Germany,

Shantel and the Bucovina Club

Who really had the crowd going, although with the amount of dodgy cigarettes being puffed on I was having difficulties staying inside the tent!!

Before the next set, I went round Dirty Doctor Fiddley’s Bat Cave, a bizarre tiny place playing scratchy 20s LPs,

Tarts n Tease, where a live set was setting up, but for now was just a disco with an almost empty bar..

A quick look at Basslines (music wasn’t all that), then back to Dada for Destroyers Vs Phol Bros, a mad act with seemingly more people on stage than in the audience – there must have been about 15 musicians playing!

When they finished, it was time to grab a bite and head up for sunrise at the Stone Circle.

Portion of chips, very nice. I strolled up, enjoying the last couple of hours before home time. There were still lots of people streaming about.

The thing to do seems to be congregate with chums, have a fire, and smoke things. Frankly I think more of the haze was from smoking than the fires! Sacred indeed!

Time to head home.

Quiet gates on the way back to my tent

Very very sleep-deprived but.. I made it!!!

Glastonbury 2008 I have loved every minute of you!!

Day 6 – Leaving the Dream
I packed tent up, left a note for the others and headed across the site for the last time, right to the other side, for the 8:30am coach.

Rubbish being collected at Pyramid

Despite the Leave no trace, the place is a tip. There are so many rubbish bins, I don’t know why people still treat the place so badly. They’re very strict about glass, but the amount of cans trampled into the earth, surely not good for cows?

On the way out I pick up a copy of the Q end of festival magazine, which has reviews and summaries, and a large fold-out aerial colour photo of the whole site, which is interesting. You’re supposed to locate your tent, but I reckon I was about an inch off the edge!

Queuing for the bus home

Such is Glasto that I missed all of the following, all of which I would have liked to see. But that’s what Glasto is like.. I don’t have any regrets.. alright, I do regret not seeing Massive Attack in particular, but, you have to make choices and what I did see was amazing. What I can say with certainty is that I made the most of it! So here’s the list of misses, in no particular order: KT Tunstall, Editors, Fratellis, Kings of Leon, Franz Ferdinand, Massive Attack, Sinead O Connor, Freestylers, DJ Yoda, We Are Scientists, MGMT, Estelle, Fat Boy Slim, The Cribs, The Ting Tings, Howard Marks, Dizzee Rascal, Pete Docherty, Ethiopiques, Crowded House, James Blunt, A Skills, Massukos, British Sea Power, Wombats, Elbow, Matha Wainwright, The Futureheads, Buddy Guy, The Proclaimers, (most of) Kosheen, Liz Green, Cerys Matthews, Neil Diamond, (most of) Goldfrapp, The Verve, Eddy Grant, Katie Melua, Annie Mac, UNKLE, Dirty Pretty Things, Derrick May, Bluetones, Thecocknbull kid, Noah and the Whale, Mitch Benn, Tony Benn.

You know it’s over when

Although for the next couple of days I saw people about in London with them still on! Denial!

It does seem like leaving a dream world. I had the same feeling coming back to London from Glasto for 5 days as being away for a year and a half! Don’t go travelling, just go to Glasto! You won’t regret it, especially if you go with such a nice bunch as Mike, Tom, Lisa, Pete and Sarah - thanks guys, you really made Glasto the amazing experience it was for me. And so it just remains for me to say…

Woooahahooo, yeahyeahyeah, I’ll see you at Glastonbury next year….!

Glasto 2008 Blog Index: Wednesday - Thursday - Friday - Saturday - Sunday Monday