Monday, June 15, 2009

Can it be true?!

Not all good though, look at that 8% cloud cover the first night! (This is the weather forecast for Glastonbury - believe me, it hasn't been looking anything like this for quite some time!)

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Glastonbury is coming...

In two weeks I will be camping on a dairy farm in Somerset. That farm? Worthy. That village? Pilton.. That festival? Glastonbury 2009! Bring it on :)

Looking through Halvin's marvellous Clashfinder document for the festival, I have been doing some initial planning what I'd like to see. Pretty pointless really as the times haven't been firmed up anyway (but fun nevertheless). As usual the festival is going to involve missing many fantastic acts, but I'm sure what I do see will more than make up for it.

Roughly in the order I'll see them, I hope to get to...

Hobo Jones and the Junkyard Dogs ; Maximo Park ; We Have Band ; Stornoway ; Charlene Soraia ; The Gentle Good ; Liz Green ; Alessi’s Ark ; Golden Silvers ; Qemists ; Billy Nasty ; Jamie Jones ; Altern-8 ; Mr Hudson ; Pama International ; Golden Silvers ; BBC Introducing ; The Maccabees ; Emiliana Torrini or Puppini Sisters ; Lily Allen or Dan Le Sac vs Scroobius Pip ; The Specials ; The Streets ; The Doves ; Neil Young ; Broken Family Band ; Rolf Harris ; Lancashire Hotpots ; BBC Introducing ; Easy Star All Stars ; Dizzee Rascal ; Tinchy Stryder ; La Roux ; Shlomo ; Qemists ; Deadmau5 ; Pendulum ; Baaba Maal ; Bruce Springsteen ; 2 Many DJs or Playing for Change ; Africa Express Sound System ; GoodBooks ; Status Quo ; 6 Day Riot ; Twisted Wheel ; Goldfish ; Emmy the Great ; Amadou and Miriam ; The Mummers ; Tom Jones ; Yeah Yeah Yeahs ; Madness ; Roots Manuva ; MJ Cole ; London Elektricity DJ set or Nick Cave ; Reverend and the Makers or High Contrast ; Blur ; Prodigy ;

Watch this space for more details and a full report when I'm back!

Edit: updated list based on new schedules. NB some sets partial.

My blog from Glastonbury 2008: Wednesday - Thursday - Friday - Saturday - Sunday Monday

Cycling Snowdonia

Took an early train to Bangor in Wales, then from there cycled to Chester last week. I had grand plans for the day, including ascending Snowdon, the highest mountain in England and Wales (at a grand 1,085m!), but these were all scuppered by my bicycle's rear wheel misbehaving in the extreme. Essentially what started out as an occasional spoke breaking has now migrated to frequent broken spokes (3 in 3 days), the wheel needing constant trueing, and now the spokes all loosening themselves continuously.. all interconnected problems presumably.

The route

View Cycle: Bangor to Chester in a larger map

The route took me up the spectacular Ogwen Valley, over past Lake Ogwen, down to Betws-y-Coed, along the A5 before cutting across the very hilly terrain of the Clwydian Mountains on the B5105 then A494 towards Chester through Ruthin. If I had known what in particular the last hill, traversing the Vale of Clwyd, would entail, when I was beginning to tire, then I probably would have turned round at Lake Ogwen! Anyway, aside from the frustrations of mechanical problems it was a marvellous day through some of the UK's finest scenery.

My photos don't really do it all justice as I had wasted so much time with the bike that I didn't want to stop much otherwise!

The Ogwen Valley

Much of the day spent like this

Lake Ogwen

Very woody from Betws-y-Coed onwards

The Vale of Clwyd

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

London Underground Striking Again

It's that time of year to resurrect the marvellous London Underground song. Not safe for work (NSFW) or youngsters, but completely appropriate to be sung at any employee of London Underground or whatever they're rebranded to this week as they enjoy the latest two days off their grinding tea-break work schedule:

As sung by the fantastic Amateur Transplants (Dr. Adam Kay and Dr. Suman Biswas).

Lyrics (somewhat censored, and NSFW):

Some people might like to get a train to work
Or drive in in a Beamer or a merc,
Some guys like to travel in by bus,
But I can't be bothered with the fuss today
I'm going to take my bike,
Coz once again the Tube's on strike.
The greedy b$stards want extra pay
for sitting on their arse all day
even though they earn 30K .
So I'm standing here in the pouring rain,
Where the f$ck's my f$cking train?

London Underground
London Underground
They're all lazy f$cking useless cnuts
London Underground
London Underground
They're all greedy cnuts I want to shoot them all with a rifle.

All they say is "Please mind the doors",
and they learned that on the two day course,
This job could be done by a four year old.
They just leave us freezing in the cold.
What you smell is what you get
Burger King and piss and sweat
You roast to death in the boiling heat,
With tourists treading on your feet
and chewing gum on every seat,
so don't tell me to "Mind the gap"
I want my f$cking money back.

London Underground
London Underground
They're all lazy f$cking useless cnuts
London Underground
London Underground
They're all greedy cnuts I want to shoot them all with a rifle

The floors are sticky and the seats are damp,
Every platform has a f$cking tramp,
But the drivers get the day off when we're all late for work again,

London Underground
London Underground
WaWa W$nkers , They're all W$nkers ,
London Underground
London Underground

Take your Oystercard, and shove it up your a$sehole.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009


Say what you like about Microsoft's new Bing search engine.. It cannot be denied that it is currently exhibiting a mighty fine background image:

The spectacular Torres del Paine in Patagonian Chile, the starting destination for my travels which grew into my Round the World Trip! How anyone can gaze upon this scene without resolving to go there is beyond me. Now, what was I going to search for again?!

Only June and you think it's hot on the tube?

Well at least now we have projected adverts on the wall to watch as we wait and sweat.. great! And what do they show? Adverts telling how about how there won't be any service all weekend!! Marvellous!!!! You gotta love 'em :)

Ceiling-mounted heater

Sun sun sun

Oh Lord, give us this day some air-conditioning on London Underground.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Art, Beer and Sunshine

Kuniyoshi, Shah Abbas, Garden and Cosmos, and the RCA
On one of the hottest days of the year to date, I decided to spend several hours indoors. I'd let several large exhibitions reach their final weeks without visiting, and now was the time. The weather can wait.

Shah Abbas
First up, Shah Abbas - The Remaking of Iran, at the British Museum until June 14th.

Iran, being high on my list of places to visit, following all the lovely people I have met from there, the glowing recommendations from those who have visited, and all I have read, is of interest, and this exhibition did not disappoint. In the reading room exhibition space, at a steep £12 a ticket, I visited relatively early in the morning, meaning the place was full of oldies with their audioguides.

It's a very personal thing, the audioguides, but I generally don't like 'em. An exhibition at the British Museum generally has more than enough information for my casually-interested brain to take in. Every exhibit has a large text box with it explaining what it is, the history, where it's from, dates, stories etc. And you want more information? I think you have to be careful to not overload with these things, and for me (each to their own), an audioguide is one step too far.

Anyway, Shah Abbas took an eroded Iranian state (circa AD1600), which had lost territory on all sides to Uzbeks and the Ottoman Turks, grabbed it all back, and filled the Persians with a pride they had forgotten. He was responsible for making Isfahan the great city it is today, for fostering trade links with Europe and Asia - Iran being on the great Silk Route. He was ruthless, but could be gentle, promoted art and culture, and respected other religions - his dynasty, the Safavids, being responsible for making Iran an Shi'a Islam state, thereby giving it an identity separate from its Sunni neighbours.

The exhibition is an interesting mix of art, history, carpets, texts, silk.. the whole package. And a welcome seated area half way round where recent images of the beautiful architecture of Iran are projected on the wall. More interesting than Hadrian, but as said at the beginning.. expensive. The money might be better spent flying Easyjet to Istanbul and taking the weekly train to Tehran!

Garden and Cosmos
Next, the Garden and Cosmos exhibition which has just started, and runs until 23rd August. £8 entry, but a wonderful show awaits you inside the upper exhibiton space above the reading room. The cryptic title does not immediately give away the subject of imperial art of the 17th - 19th centuries from Jodhpur in Rajasthan in India - much of which has never been on display before.

Huge paintings of such fantastic scenes, with tiny detail revealing itself the closer one approaches. The colours.. the stories.. the exotic and erotic! I highly recommend this show to you. You may wish to read a more reasoned and intellectual critique of the show in the Times here.

Kuniyoshi, at the Royal Academy is on until June 7th. Irritatingly in the Sackler wing, meaning a smelly climb up the stairs to get to it, and invariably a cramped and overcrowded exhibition once you're up there. I would say "mustn't grumble", but for £9 (assuming you don't know someone who is a member) I think you have every right to grumble.

Anyway, the exhibition, with prints from the C19th Japanese artist and print-maker Utagawa Kuniyoshi, all supplied by Arthur R Miller. Yep, one guy! Kuniyoshi, along with the better known Hokusai, was a master of the "floating world" Ukiyo-e Japanese art, creating intricate prints, often illustrated with vivid colours.

There was humour in the exhibition, both in the price originally charged for some of his more modest prints (around the cost of two portions of soba noodles!), and also in the ways he responded to government efforts at censorship - by switching entire scenes from humans to sparrows or octopuses!

Outside the sun was shining on the "waste of metal" sculpture currently disgracing the space in front of Sir Joshua Reynolds:

Finally a pleasant walk through Hyde Park to the Royal College of Art, where their degree show, entitled "SHOW 2009", has just started. Free entry, and the chance to snap up work from budding new artists at a reasonably rate. Or perhaps scratch that last comment. I don't know how these student artists price their work, but the numbers are crazy - the lowliest mug will go for £30, with bigger paintings going for 5 digit sums. And they do sell.. those little red dots had already started to appear by the strangest of works.

Overall though, as a disaffected punter (I don't know much about art.. but I know what I like!) who doesn't buy into the rubbish touted by Saachi and their ilk, I found the show disappointing. One usually encounters a mix of absolute tat, mediocre drivel, and the occasional sign of brilliance. Sadly, the latter was missing from this show. The best that seemed to be on offer were four paintings which were mounted in such a position as to be hard to examine. It would not surprise me if the powers that be are embarrassed about genuine artist talent amongst all the modernist rubbish. Anyway, roll on next year, and keep those students coming!

Having done my time.. it was time.. for a cold beer, though maybe not one at.. zero degrees!

Zero Degrees
Zero Degrees in Blackheath is a micro-brewery and restaurant which has been on my list of places to visit for a very long time (for a place that sells beer at least - all those obscure museums can wait!).

Presumably named after the meridian it must be on or close to, and just the other side of Greenwich Park, Zero Degrees sits near a large church. On entering, it seemed busy but we readily found a table. Right.. a drink please!

They had four beers on the menu - a pilsner, a mild, a wheat, a dark, and off menu they had a special fruit beer - mango. I sampled them all - finding that the sweet beer was of course not to my taste, but all were good ales.

Initially unsure about whether to eat, we were sold by the food being delivered to adjacent tables - the bruscetta had an enormous portion of chopped tomatoes on the toast, and the pizzas looked good, as ours also turned out to be! I'd recommend the food here - reasonably priced and really tasty food. And there's beer too!

Main complaint? Too noisy! It's clearly been designed with that "industrial minimalist" feel to it, but the combination of loud talking and the background music slowly becoming foreground music was making conversation increasingly difficult. So don't visit at busy periods - how about the happy hour time - weekdays 4-7pm, when pints are just £2 - a saving of 80p a pint!

Ida - the Missing Link?

Say hello to our 47 million year-old relative, an awfully-long way back in our evolutionary chain:

On display in all its fantastically-preserved state at the Natural History Museum now. Click here for more information.

War on Idiotic Street Signs Pt 42

First up, what is presumably a temporary diversion for National Cycle Network 1 down in Kent, near Rainham. This anonymous and useless beauty was pinned up and pointing, I kid you not, right for the centre of a roundabout with three exits (where Otterham Quay Lane meets Lower Rainham Road specifically). No further instructions... lovely! Surely the general principle with roundabouts is that you sign the exits, not the entry?!!

Guess the exit, fun for all cyclists

Next up, some superb and safe marking down in Barnes in South West London. Some clever planner has decided that at every stretch of Lonsdale Road where there is a lowering of the pavement (for wheelchair access etc), they will suddenly ditch the marked cycle lane and feed cyclists out into the middle of the road.

In my photo, there is an island in the middle, but they have implemented this even where there is absolutely no reason for people to cross - with high fences along the side of the road. Surely the danger of a pedestrian stepping in front of a cyclist (which London cyclists are fairly used to, particularly on Bishopsgate) is vastly outweighed by the danger of cyclists swerving into cars every 30 yards along the road, or skidding in the wet on the heavy raised white paint if they decided to ride straight over the markings. Not at all clever..

Finally, one of amusement rather than any particular angst - the red box at the bottom of the sign has been added to this sign... why?! For Oxford, follow the A40.. As opposed to the top, which says.. Oxford... A40?

Finally a query? I'm very keen on bicycle routes, and clearly Sustrans are doing a great job overall, particularly in securing funding to implement routes. They've even started writing words on cycle route signposts rather than just numbers - fantastic improvement. Question though - if, say, I want to see a map of a cycle route - take NCN6, which allegedly runs from Reading to Bangor or somewhere... how do I do it?

There's the overall cycle route map of the whole country, which is a good guide but no use for detailed planning whatsoever - even huge cities like London and Birmingham are represented as points. If you google NCN6, you might find individual councils making reference to little bits of it in their neck of the woods. But what about the whole route? Where is NCN6? How do I use it? Do I just cycle to Reading and look about, hoping for the best? Why is there not a downloadable guide to each route, or map overlay? Give me Google Maps overlays! Am I missing something here?

Amadou and Miriam with Gilmour

Of course, one can never refuse any opportunity to see Pink Floyd, and now with the sad demise of Richard Wright, the next best thing is seeing the great Dave Gilmour. He was billed as supporting Amadou and Miriam at a charity gig to support Crisis, the homeless support charity. Tickets were not cheap - 30 quid including all the usual suspect booking fees, but at least a portion of it was going to charity.

The interesting Union Chapel venue in Islington

Who are Amadou and Miriam? A musical duo from Mali, they met in a blind institute, found a shared love of music, and started off making a name for themselves with Malian blues in Africa and France. They have come to prominence here since Manu Chao produced an album of theirs in the early ‘00s. The last few years they’ve been doing many of the big festivals, and this year they’re going to Glastonbury. Check them out on Spotify, they’re marvellous.

The gig was at a secret venue, announced the day before via text, which turned out to be the Union Chapel in Islington. Not sure what the point of keeping it secret was, as it was sold out a week beforehand at least. Think it's to make the point that homeless don't know where they'll be in 24 hours. Anyway, I've been to the Union Chapel before, but this time the acoustics seemed much worse than before. Perhaps the different kind of music, or bad set up? Anyway, really muddled sound in what is a quite interesting space.

After warm up gigs from Catherine AD then Paul Webb and Stephane Girard, neither of which particularly impressed me, and hence allowing time to sample the bottled ale upstairs at the bar, it was time. The crowd, many of which were clearly only here for Gilmour, were buzzing.

It wasn't obvious beforehand how the mix would work - but it ended up being Gilmour supporting Amadou and Miriam, who played several songs I recognised, including from "Dimanche A Bamako" and their latest album "Welcome to Mali", which was available for sale in the foyer. Sadly no chance for autographs - Gilmour is known for not doing them due to people just putting the signed items on eBay. Sad. Anyway, the gig was very much Amadou and Miriam's gig, but with Gilmour just throwing in occasional flashes of genius guitar. Wonderful.

I didn't realise until reading the reviews afterwards, but one of the songs was Gilmour's - No Way (really.. as in that was the name of the song!). Amadou and Mariam did the vocals, which is what put me off the scent! Amadou played away on his gold guitar, and at one stage had a jam with Gilmour which was fantastic - check the Youtube clip below. A crazy chap with a drum charged about the stage, often heading up to face Gilmour and bash away! After a good length set, well over an hour, the received a standing ovation which brought them back on stage for an encore. Hurrah!

I was very pleased post-gig to find lots of footage on Youtube (despite my irritation at people holding up cameras at the actual gig, cough!). If you want a flavour of the night, watch this embedded clip, it really is brilliant, despite non-perfect sound. If you want more, just search for "gilmour union chapel" on Youtube, or try the link below to a playlist of clips.

Amadou and Gilmour jamming together on Youtube:

Click here for a playlist with several clips from the performance.