Thursday, 30 August 2007

Misplaced priorities

Oh, excellent. We're getting ever closer to needing to move away from hydrocarbon-based transportation, and the Brits are addicted to cheap flights, and huge amounts of technological know-how has gone into developing hover cars.


Tuesday, 28 August 2007

Ginger's Fringe

(Sorry for the title: had to be done)

This weekend I spent 36 hours in Edinburgh on what was my first trip north of the border (and, I'm afraid to say, north of a lot of places). It was therefore my first ever taste of the Edinburgh Festival, and an enjoyable one it was too.

I decided pretty quickly that Edinburgh is a great place. I'm such a city girl - I can't help but be lured in by nice architecture and the buzz of city life. It was such a contrasting cityscape to London. For one thing, although it's a large city, nowhere I've been to is as big as London, so you have all the proper city stuff close together without all the excess padding that London has. For another, there's a whacking great... ditch? valley? that separates the old and new towns. I was convinced that there'd be a river down there and was most disappointed to find it was just a railway line. Nonetheless, it's certainly got a very interesting topography which creates some very striking views. Alongside some amazing scenary on the route up to Scotland, it made me realise there aren't enough hills in my life. Real ones, that is. Goodness knows I've had enough of metaphorical ones for a while!

Had some good fun exploring bits of the Fringe Festival. The amount of stuff on is absolutely overwhelming - our first act after arriving somewhat worse for wear was to get hold of the guide of events for that day and sit down with some breakfast to make a plan. It took quite a while. Discovering that some of our choices were sold out added to the confusion, but we got there eventually. We ended up seeing some Taize singers (soothing), Flamenco (exhilarating), a rap interpretation of the Canterbury Tales (not really my cup of tea but well-executed), and 'Tony! The Blair Musical' (I like both musicals and satire, so this was probably my highlight). We also managed to fit in a visit to the Castle (well, we couldn't not go) and a very good free exhibition at the National Library of Scotland focussing on a number of authors who had had work published by John Murray.

So, despite my much-professed love of London, I will happily admit that other cities (especially capitals) have an awful lot to offer. I note that the university does a Masters course I'm very interested in (what, you though I was going to get a proper job after I finish my PhD?!) So don't be surprised if a few years down the line I become the author of 'Ginger's Guide to Edinburgh Streets'. ;-)

Monday, 27 August 2007

How not to run a coach company

Here are some suggestions for you, if you are considering setting up business as a coach company:

  • Don't sell more tickets than you have seats.
  • Don't bake your passengers with excessive heating (outward journey) or freeze them by leaving a sunroof open that is inoperable by the passengers on an overnight journey from Scotland (return journey).
  • Don't whinge about being overwhelmed with passengers when your main route is between Edinburgh and London and it's the English bank holiday and the Edinburgh Festival. It's not an inconvenience, it's a business opportunity.
  • Don't be rude to your passengers. They are paying for a service - you're not doing them a favour.
  • Don't spend the first hour of the outward journey leaving Victoria Coach Station, driving round the block, and then returning to where you started. Four times. If you really must, at least explain to the passengers what on earth is going on. And don't get narky with them when they become fractious due to lack of information. Particularly if you've been slow-roasting them during this period (see point 2).
  • If you arrive two hours late at your destination, it might be nice to offer passengers some kind of explanation/apology.
  • If your overbooking means you have to ask passengers to board an extra coach which will require them to change partway through the journey, perhaps a 'please' or a 'sorry' might be nice. If you then have to reverse the decision, try asking nicely. Declaring: "Right, we need six of you to go back on the other coach. You two, get your bags and get over there." doesn't really say Excellent Customer Service.
  • If your drivers look so harranged that they are actually grey (and I'm not just talking hair-wise), perhaps your management is so poor that it's having a negative impact on your staff.
Only suggestions, mind. And if you're Silver Choice Coaches, feel free to ignore the above advice.

Wednesday, 22 August 2007


Soundmap is a new site that offers downloadable audio guided tours of different areas of London. They've only got three so far, but it looks like they're working on expanding that. I haven't tried any of them myself, but perhaps I should give them a go, particularly if I want to be inspired to venture further afield for my own rather unstructured guide.

If you go to the Soundmap website and you have your speakers on, you'll hear a background burble of chat and street noise. The funny thing is, I found it as soothing to listen to as the sea! Several generations of London based ancestors have obviously passed something on to me!

Monday, 20 August 2007

Lies, Damned Lies, and Meteorology

No, you are wrong. Your algorithms are askew and you clearly haven't looked out the window today. Your forecast bears no relation to the fact that two of us are wearing boots, the windows are all closed, and everyone is feeling grumpy about the greyness outside.

Please: don't give us false hope.

Sunday, 19 August 2007

Semantic Double Standards

Why is it that, if an Indian woman opts to abort a female foetus because of the social stigma and financial difficulties of not having male children, it is referred to as 'foeticide', but if a Western woman chooses to abort a foetus of either sex because she wants to get on with her career, or dissociate herself from the consequences of a casual sexual relationship, it is called a termination?

Both are decisions influenced by desire to conform to certain social constructs, both are decisions that may well be influenced by financial considerations. But one of them attracts greater linguistic condemnation than the other does. Why?

Looking after other peoples' children.

Took the youth group to Chessington yesterday. Contrary to the worst case scenarios on the umpteen-page risk assessment I had to fill in, nobody died. Which was nice.

It occurred to me that if you removed the people and the rides, all you would be left with would be sugar, plastic and various means of queuing. Odd.

Thursday, 16 August 2007

Making Progress in a Stationery Fashion

I have a serious weakness for stationery. I don't know why, but I do get a kick out of buying new stationery. Perhaps it's the sense of promise and potential that I get from clean blank pages and nice new pens. Perhaps it's nostalgia for the optimism of a new academic year (yes, I did used to look forward to September - I make no pretence at being anything other than a geek).

Anyway, I've come to the reluctant conclusion that it's all very well doing literature searches and printing out loads of papers (double sided, I hasten to add). But unless I sit down and read them, and actually absorb some of their content, this thesis thing isn't going to happen.

So I figured that some new stationery might inspire me to get going. I am, however, feeling increasingly guilty about unnecessary consumption as I become more ecologically aware. I settled, therefore, for a happy medium. I bought an Eco notebook from Paperchase (recycled plastic cover and paper), a ruler from Remarkable Pencils Ltd., a pen from Pilot's Be Green range and, for good measure, a card for a friend from The Carte Postale's range of environmentally friendly cards.

So I get to be excited about stationery, whilst simultaneously having less of a negative impact than if I hadn't given it any thought. Hopefully soon products like these will be so widely available that people who don't give these things any thought can buy them too.

(Picture credit: 'I used to be a car tyre...' pencil case Originally uploaded by shampooplanet)

Sunday, 12 August 2007

Ginger's Guide to London Streets #5: Brushfield Street (E1)

Another report from my foray into E1, and this time it's quite a biggie, compared with the streets I've looked at so far.

Brushfield Street (left, with a view of Christ Church, Spitalfields, on the end of Fournier Street) runs along the south side of Spitalfields Market, a place that people keep telling me I'd love. Unfortunately I still have yet to investigate it fully as, by the time I found myself in the vicinity, it was pretty much closed up for the day.

I started off with a spot of people watching, sitting outside the lovely
Patisserie Valerie, whose work I was familiar from a cafe on Russell Street in Covent Garden, which doesn't, despite what t'internet would have you believe, actually go by the name 'Patisserie Valerie', but I'm darned if I can remember what it does call itself. They stock some of their cakes, anyway, and very nice they are too.

Whilst I'm often quite content playing the 'happy loner', eating alone at places where you're served is one of those things that does make me feel a bit uncomfortable. But I'd just been to a wedding, so was uncharacteristically smartly dressed, and it was a sunny day, so I pulled up a seat at a table outside, ordered something to eat, and pretended to be someone else. This unusual air of sophistication was somewhat shattered by my interspersing the people watching with re-reading 'Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince', but hey ho. I can't be looking too mature, can I?

Anyway, feeling nicely fueled I then took a stroll and discovered a wonderful array of shops. One
was bearing a "Save Our Small Shops" campaign sticker which is a nice sentiment, although net-wise it seems to have fizzled out, and even when it was launched there was skepticism as to whether it was too late. I am, however, pleased to report, that Brushfield Street is a place where the small indie shop seems to be thriving.

Brushfield Street seems pretty good for cafes. As well as Patisserie Valerie (yes, there are a few of them in London but they can hardly be described as a chain) there were a number of others:
The Daily Grind has been recommended to me; I was tempted to get a cup of tea in the Market Coffee House (to people watch from the other side of the road) but they were just closing; and there was also the disturbingly named 'S&M cafe' which, upon closer inspection, thankfully revealed itself to be specialists in sausage and mash. Add to that a chocolatier, and many a happy hour of munching could be had on this street alone.

The lovely thing about the East End is the combination of the old and new side by side. Thus, the contemporary shops could be found alongside indications of trade from a previous era: the
London Fruit Exchange and the London Wool Exchange once had premises here which were built in 1929, although that's pretty new by East End standards.

The one place that really had me fascinated, though, was "Verde & Company Ltd." (below), which didn't look as though it was in current use, but may have just been closed for the day. It appeared to have had various commercial manifestations over the years. The shop signage declares it to be a Fruit Importers, and a ghost sign suggests that it was
up for sale in 1931. The window proclaims it to be "Pierre Marcolini - Chocolatier". (And yes, that is my reflection in the window - I told you I was ginger). Other websites, meanwhile, classify it as a 'delicatessen', a 'take away food shop', and an Italian Grocer's. As for the Scottish flag and theatrical cardboard cutouts in the window, I have no idea what that was all about. I think I'm just going to have to go back sometime during trading hours and investigate for myself!

Thursday, 9 August 2007

Statues, Steps and Smiths (Part I)

the 39 steps

Originally uploaded by codepo8

I’ve been doing rather a lot of cultural stuff lately, which is nice, as I’m one of those people who always says ‘I’d love to go to X’ and then never gets around to it. First up was, unbelievably, my first ever use of the tkts booth in Leicester Square, where it’s possible to get cheap tickets for performances that day. Of course when I say ‘cheap’ I mean ‘just about affordable as opposed to the normal horrendous price’. I ended up seeing the 39 Steps, which was very good. Originally a book by John Buchan it was, apparently turned into quite a famous film, directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Me being me, of course I’d never seen it. Which did put a slight question-mark over whether I would ‘get’ the stage version which was supposed to parody the film. But I love a good parody, and although I may have been deprived of the odd reference from time to time, there was plenty to find amusing in what was a very high-energy performance by a tiny cast. So definitely worth the (half price) tickets.

Partly to become more active in supporting my lovely city’s artistic endeavours, and partly to give myself a kick up the backside to ensure I actually go to some of the exhibitions I always intend to, I joined the National Portrait Gallery earlier this year. As well as getting free entry to all the exhibitions, there are sometimes members-only events, and I actually decided to go along to one the other day. Essentially it was just an opportunity to get to go around the gallery one weeknight with the benefits of late opening and without the disadvantages of be-rucsacked tourists. The two exhibitions that were the focus were the BP Portrait Award, an annual competition, and ‘Daily Encounters’, a collection of photos from Fleet Street.

The former was, as always, very interesting. I don’t pretend to have any coherent critical capacity of the arts – I gravitate towards things that I find aesthetically pleasing, or emotionally or intellectually stimulating, but I can’t always tell you why the particular work elicits this response. I don’t think there’s any harm in enjoying things without being able to ‘justify’ them, but then, I’ve never been particularly highbrow. Accordingly, I can tell you that I prefer realism to abstraction and, in portraiture, I prefer to see people in some kind of context, rather than just posed in a sterile environment. Thus, I far preferred the picture of the blacksmith in his smithy to the family group in a studio dressed in their best clothes but entirely removed from their normal context.

The latter (‘Daily Encounters’) was a little disappointing actually. It was presented as 'Exploring Britain and Britishness through newspaper photography', but it didn't really do either to that great a degree. I have a very limited knowledge of any kind of history, although I guess if I know a little about anything, it's post-war British social/political history (thank you Andrew Marr). But I didn't really learn anything much about that period, or before then, that I didn't know already. I don't know if perhaps the remit of 'portraiture' and 'Fleet Street' and 'British' was too narrow - certainly it was a shame that the exhibition stopped in the mid 80s, which reflected the journalistic shift away from Fleet Street, but meant that images of a lot of interesting events were omitted. Perhaps they were attempting too much, or I was expecting too much, but either way I felt this missed the mark a bit.

Oh heck, this was supposed to be a review of three things and I've written tonnes without even getting on to the Antony Gormley exhibition at the Hayward Gallery. I think that better become a separate post! To be continued...

Who are you?

I do find personality testing things quite fascinating in a 'but I don't put too much faith in them kind of way'. According to Personal DNA (how could I resist a title like that?!) I'm a considerate analyst. The different coloured blocks (see below) represent the degree to which certain traits apply. Thus, scrolling over them tells you I have, apparently, 'low spontaneity', 'slightly low femininity', 'average masculinity', and 'average confidence'. None of those surprise me particularly, but I don't know what people who know me would make of it.

I came across another test via a science site the other day that tries to assess the extent to which your character resembles that of someone with some degree of Asperger's syndrome. Starting from the premise that scientists/geeks seem to have an inclination towards that direction.

The results to this one don't come in a pretty chart but were quite interesting, yet unsurprising, nonetheless. I scored 22, which ranks me below 'Average Math contest winner'(24) but higher than Average male or female computer scientist (21), Average male scientist, and average male or female physicist (19) Average man (18) Average female scientist (17) Average woman, and average male or female biologist (15).

So essentially, neither of these results told me an awful lot about myself that I hadn't already surmised, although I do think of myself as being fairly self aware, which is a trait in itself. I guess these sort of things could be useful (other than in a procrastination capacity) if you felt you didn't know a lot about yourself, or had changed a lot (I know I would have answered some questions rather differently a few years ago), but these sort of things only take a snapshot of a person outside of the context of some of their environment. Essentially, I think if you like the results one can say, 'How true', and if not, then happily take them with a pinch of salt! Who a person is will never be completely uncovered by a quiz, and I think it's important to define oneself by a number of other things...

Other collections of everyday minutiae

One of my reasons for starting my street review guide was to celebrate the minutiae of life. To highlight the little things that people accidentally miss, deliberately ignore, take for granted or consider not worthy of comment. I've been on the lookout for others with a similar mindset. Here is some of what I've found (Health warning: some of the following may not be suitable for nerd-allergy sufferers)

10,000 Birds (yes, ornithology, in case you were worried)

A Nice Cup of Tea and a Sit Down (Reviews of all things biscuity)

Art of the State (I'm hoping they'll help me identify my mystery graffiti)

Bog Blog (yes, really)

Boring Postcards

Classic Cafes

Cupcakes Take the Cake (I know someone who'll like that one!). And also Blognut (all about doughnuts)

Ghost Signs

History of the Button ("Tracing the history of interaction design through the history of the button, from flashlights to websites and beyond.")

Literally, A Web Log

London Review of Breakfasts

Passive-Aggressive Notes

Smells of the Day

It takes a certain type of person to devote themselves to recording such things. I'm not sure what sort of person that is, but I had assumed that I was one of them. Having said that, it seems my focus is positively broad and unspecialised compared to some! Here's to all those who care!


PS. I should also namecheck Grow a Brain who/which(?) I found by Googling 'unusual blogs' and pinched a couple of these sites from their archives.

Sunday, 5 August 2007

Necessity is the mother of invention.

But who can say that they've ever needed a device to turn their electric hand whisk into a power tool?

One of many wonderful offerings from a blog I discovered today that seems to chronicle a history of bizarre inventions. Have a look at Modern Mechanix, and have a chuckle.

Friday, 3 August 2007

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