Thursday, May 31, 2007

Jamie Oliver 2031

A rather disturbing vision of TV chef Jamie Oliver in 2031, with a brief appearance by a considerably aged David Beckham. Do not advise watching at meal time........

All I ever wanted to do was to make food accessible to everyone; to show that you can make mistakes - I do all the time - but it doesn't matter.

Jamie Oliver

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The rather unappealling face of Petronella Pan

I had what was termed "promotion drinks" last week.

I have recently been promoted to manager of my department and this was to celebrate the fact as well as enable me to socialise with my new peers.

Most of the evening passed off quite well at a City wine bar.

However the party was made up of at least three ladies of a relatively mature age- DOB range 1957-1967 who clearly had something of a Peter Pan complex- hence the title I will give them -Petronella Pan.

These ladies were not just wanting a fun evening out. They were wanting to re-enact their days as "bad girls". For me, a mere strippling in my early thirties, this was not so appealing !

First of all John, a rather worldly but wise and good hearted man in his 40s was telling me about his divorce. Quick as a flash, Sheila a peroxide blonde near 50 year old shouted in between swigs of white wine "Oh yeah- been there, done that, got the t-shirt". Clearly this was something she didn't want to be left out of !

Next the conversation turned to when Sheila had been "come onto" by various senior members of staff at Christmas parties past. These glories were relived with the emphasis being on how "gross" they were. Sandra, a slightly younger but less peroxided version of Sheila seemed to have a mildly envious glint in her eye !

This went round and round a bit with bad mouthing other people in the office. I would have left but as it was "my drinks" felt obliged to stay to the end.

It wasn't a late finish but by the end it was down to three ladies of the 1957-1967 vintage. Sheila said it had been a good night. Sandra agreed. Sheila said that Sandra was sort of person she'd like to go out and get completely "s***faced with".

Sheila then said it would be no problem as her (long suffering second) husband was always happy to come out and pick up drunk "girls". Sue, the most modest of the three, put in that her other half would never come out on such a mission. The taxi driver and I sat in silence listening to all this.

Sandra said if Sue's other half wouldn't play ball, Sue could always "crash" at her place.

I must have looked a bit sceptical about the Sheila's husband being happy to pick up drunk girls bit, because Shiela became more agitated and said "Oh yes, he's come out to pick up 6 or 8 girls before now- all drunk! ".

There then followed a discussion about various claims to have dated (and dumped) millionaires. Sheila proudly boasted she had dated one in an affair after her daughter was born. Still the taxi driver and I listened !

Thankfully we arrived at the station where we were all getting different trains.

Sandra giggled to me that it must have been an illuminating evening.

Sheila then asked my opinion of a teenage girl standing on the platform. My response of " a bit young" was not what she was looking for. She wanted "a male perspective".

It was harmless enough watching these vintage ladies act like bad girls. It was non-threatening to me to allow it be entertaining. However as I got on a train I felt a little bit sad. These ladies all doing relatively well in their careers have their sisterhood reduced to drunken boasts and tales more suited to some bad girls in their late teens. They haven't moved on and as the sun sets on their looks they seem to have found nothing else in their lives to provide meaning on entertainment.

Maybe I am being a bit censorious and maybe this was largely drunken banter. I have no idea if these are representative of many London women but next time ladies, I hope you behave in front of the "children" ! I'd rather not know all this !

Monday, May 28, 2007

A city that is drier than Sydney or Rome ?

London apparently ! Strange to think on what must be one of the wettest, not to say coldest, bank holiday weekends for quite a while.

In London, at least, it has done very little except rain since Saturday. Of course it is welcome for gardens and farmers as April was very dry.

Anyway for anyone thinking about old stereotypes of the London and British climate, here is what Wikipedia has to say on the subject:

Parts of the United Kingdom are surprisingly dry (contrary to stereotype) - London receives less rain annually than Rome , Sydney or New York. In Eastern England it typically rains on about 1 day in 4 and slightly more in winter.

Rainfall amounts can vary greatly across the United Kingdom and generally the further west and the higher the elevation, the greater the rainfall. The Lake District is one of the wettest places in the UK with an average annual rainfall total that exceeds 2000 mm. The mountains of Wales, Scotland, the Pennines and the moors of the south west are also particularly wet. In contrast, the south, south east, East Anglia, Lincolnshire and the southern Midlands receive less than 700 mm of rain per year.

The counties of Essex and Cambridgeshire are amongst the driest in the British Isles, with an average annual rainfall of around 600 mm (24 inches), although it typically rains on around 90 days per year. In some years rainfall in Essex can be below 450 mm (18 inches) — less than the average annual rainfall in Jerusalem and Beirut. On average the driest part of the UK is that part of south Essex and North Kent closest to the Thames Estuary, which experience a semi-arid climate.

The main reasons for high number of rainy days in the UK are its mid-latitude position, its close proximity to the Atlantic ocean and the warm waters the North Atlantic Drift brings.

Most rainfall in the UK comes from North Atlantic depressions which roll into the UK throughout the year and are particularly frequent and intense in the autumn and winter. They can on occasions bring prolonged periods of heavy rain in the north and flooding is not rare.
Precipitation over the mountains of the north is especially high and are some of the wettest places in Europe with an average annual rainfall exceeding 60 inches (1,500 mm).

No doubt the sun will be shining tomorrow, as I head back to work.................

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

London Blitz Spirit

It is an old cliche that London is at its best when faced with adversity. Hence the term "Blitz spirit" to refer to the comeraderie and neighbourliness that broke out during the German Blitz of London in WW2.

I sensed a bit of that appearing on July 7th 2005 when the transport network was paralysed and over 50 people killed in a wave of suicide bombings. Mrs. Donatella and I, newly married, met up and got a free boat home from the centre of London to Greenwich where we then lived. Despite the sombreness of the day, the boat ride for those not normally used to commuting via the Thames was accompanied by a commentary from one of the boat's crew on the sights we were passing. He even managed to get in some entirely suitable and well received jokes.

Today, in an entirely benign bout of chaos, the blitz spirit again started to break out. A fire under the railway in Bermondsey South London resulted in the major rail artery that passes through London Bridge to the south being completely closed.

An attempt to shift the strain onto trains from Victoria largely backfired as the crowds that massed around Victoria station meant the station and underground had to be shut.

I made my way on a packed DLR train out of the City. Normally the DLR is not the friendliest of lines. While it has a superficial veneer of civilisation, the mix of city boys and girls on the make, scurrying to and from work does not make for a very friendly atmosphere.

Today all was changed. The DLR was swamped with commuters from all sorts of places. I was crammed between a group of secretaries bound for Kentish towns, a scouser cracked jokes and a bald well spoken man in his 60s asked "Is it always like this". The journey was horrendous in physical terms. The burst of warm sunshine and packed conditions meant most people were dripping in sweat and completely wedged against each other.

The usual requests to "move down please" from people trying to get on the train were futile and were met with a chorus of about 50 people shouting "NO" from my carriage as we met fellow frustrated commuters at Canary Wharf. A few used other varients !

Despite the grim conditions people were unusually cheerful and most unusually talked to each other !

I can only draw from this that when London faces it daily pressures and troubles it does so glummly and in a surly way. However once the "pain" reaches a certain level the Blitz spirit kicks in and Londoners rediscover their humanity. That was how it seemed this evening at least.

London Bridge may well be closed again tomorrow so that is another day and I am not sure if the Blitz spirit is too easily awakened in the mornings !

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Straight Allies

I went on a Diversity course today.

Not for the first time, I was reminded that "Diversity" is about more than racial and sexual equality. Diversity is about "good business". To reinforce the theme, we were shown a few sketches performed by a group of quite good actors showing situations where clients asked about our diversity policy to how to deal with the office Alf Garnet.

Lastly the HR rep (the course was taken by some very well paid consultants) announced that in addition to the women's group, groups promoting the interests of families, ethnic minorities and "gay, lesbian bi-sexual and transgender" employees would be set up.

The last category tripped off the HR rep's tongue as if it was some German super aglomeration word "gaylesbianbisexualundtransgenderund".

To show how open everything was we were informed membership of the groups was not limited to the minorities for which they were primarily intended. For instance men could attend the women's group, the childless could attend the family group, "all ethnicities" (and none ?) could attend the ethnic minority group. Australians got a rather unlikely mention as a type of ethnic minority- they can be nationality minorities as well as strictly ethnic minorities. Lastly the icing on the cake came with the announcement that "the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender group is also open to straight allies".

As I was on the front row I was struggling to suppress a smile. Struggling not very successfully judging from the dirty look the "facilitator" gave me.

I don't know. Whatever happened to respect and common courtesy when such groups were not needed to promote good relations between employees. Then of course there was no work for diversity consultants !

Monday, May 21, 2007

Cutty Sark

It was with considerable sadness that I heard about the fire on Cutty Sark this morning.

Cutty Sark is a ship that London has very much taken to its heart. It has actually been in dry dock at Greenwich since 1957, so 50 years this year.

The adventures of this ship, charting the globe to China, Australia and elsewhere have been well documented today.

What is worth repeating is that this ship represents the best of the British adventurous spirit in travelling the world in search of opportunity. This ship and thousands similar laid the foundations on which the modern and wealthy British nation is built. London is the city it is due to the maritime adventurers who brought wealth to her.

Cutty Sark has played a special role in my recent life. It was beneath the shadows of Cutty Sark that I first dated Mrs. Donatella. We lived in Greenwich for a while. My local station on the DLR took its name from the ship. Many is the time that I have walked past her, jogged past her (occasionally). Frozen in time she nobly stood on the banks of the Thames.

That her fire could have been the result of vandalism is shocking but I suppose not unique. Think barbarians at the gate.

Thankfully, she is in the middle of a huge refit originally due to take until 2009. Her masts and many of her timbers are in store in Chatham.

It seems Cutty Sark may yet live. I certainly hope so and if this sad day certainly reminds us to value our heritage, something positve can yet come from it.

Here is the area around Cutty Sark just two weeks ago when Mrs. Donatella and I walked in Greenwich. There was little of the ship to see behind the hoardings but this brief clip gives a feeling for the area to anyone who does not know it.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

The best of the Beeb.

This was the week when the BBC lost its licence to broadcast the Australian soap Neighbours. Neighbours is moving to Five.

While this may not be the biggest cultural loss, I feel it is symbolic of a steady decline on BBC television.

Here are two reminders when the BBC spent licence payers money on innovative and entertaining drama rather than an endless line of cooking, home makeover and other "reality" tv....

Firstly from 1993 a young Ewan MacGregor starring in a production of Dennis Potter's Lipstick on Your Collar. Here is an entertaining, if slightly disturbing, scene from his office at the Foreign Office in 1956 London as Britain faces the Suez Crisis. They don't behave like this in my office:

Next, another Dennis Potter production first broadcast in 1986. Michael Gambon stars as crime writer Philip Marlow, hospitalised by a dreadful skin disease. He relieves his suffering through his imagination and halucinating. This clip is long at 9 minutes but is worth watching through to the end for the musical sequence at the end.

Maybe I'm missing something but productions this good rarely get made by the BBC these days ?

Definitions of Irony

A bit of a youtube fest today I'm afraid- Mrs. Donatella is out with friends and I am taking a "break" from tidying up !

Here are two examples of irony from an all too familiar global accounting and consultancy firm.

The first is probably unintentional:

The second is almost definitely (hopefully) intended to be ironic with tongue firmly in cheek:

Oh dear- get a life !

Thursday, May 17, 2007

It's a funny old world

Was just reviewing my latest reader stats. Always amusing (not to say sometimes a little strange) is the bizarre collection of search engine results that lead non-regular readers to stumble across the blog for the first time.

These are the latest results that lead people here. You will see that you have quite a diverse range of interests ! Anyway all readers, accidental or intentional, are very welcome. Keep searching !

glen maderios

jo o'meara gay?

hoxton and shoreditch 1989

bluewater kidnap

andrea peyser

glenn madeiros noting gonna change my love for you vertalen in de nederlands

horse-drawn edwardian hackney photos

london na

reykjavik stag gay

1980s in london

der spiegel thomas huetlin dont mention the beer

what does london calling mean

thomas huetlin

madeleine mccann

war brides 1944 london england to canada

abramovich kusadasi

the roman abramovich machine

delivery driver london

photo lorry delivery in bus lane

who is ysabella brave

the sun newspaper robert murat madeleine mccann

british tabloids

robert murat

Gordon's in the house

Prime Minister-to-be Gordon Brown came into our office today !

Or to be strictly truthful, he came into the same building as where I work. I work in a large 6 storey, former government building that is now owned by the media giant Bloomberg. My firm rents a couple of floors which includes the floor where I work.

"Gordon" came to see Bloomberg to mark the date when he became the unopposed candidate to replace Tony Blair. I didn't see Gordon as he is hardly a rock star and it would have looked a bit strange if we'd all run to the front of the building to see him.

My colleague Stavros showed no such inhibitions. Non-smoking Stavros accompanied regular smoker Sheila to the bus stop at the front of the building. There was still a no show from Gordon when Sheila finished her "fag". So Stavros loyally stayed outside until Gordon emerged and then came back to work a satisfied customer. This was the same Stavros who managed to forward me (and others) two emailed jokes in the first hour of work yesterday morning. Stavros is no workaholic !

We then all heard the Police sirens and Gordon disappeared. That's as close as I get to celebrities in my office :-(

A far away cyberspace of which we know little

Unnoticed by most people and apparently most governments too, an EU member state and NATO country has been invaded in recent weeks- at least in cyberpace.

The country in question is Estonia and the "invader" is Russia. Estonia foolishly/bravely/insensitively/arrogantly (delete according to political or national standpoint) chose to move a large bronze war memorial to fallen Soviet soldiers who liberated Estonia from the Germans. That the Soviets then proceeded to occupy Estonia and make it a Soviet republic for 40 years is another matter and the cause of why feelings are so divided in Estonia.

The Soviet legacy, amongst other things, is the fact that a third of Estonia's small 1.4 million population are ethnic Russians. Many rioted when the memorial was moved resulting in hundreds of arrests and one death. At the same time a concerted cyber attack was launched on Estonian press, government ministries, banks and investment companies. Some of the cyber attackers have been traced to Kremlin registered IP addresses.

As a booming Baltic economy with a highly internet connected society, it is particularly vulnerable to such attacks. In the internet age you don't need jets to cause bomb damage an economy- if you shut down key internet sites for a few days or weeks, revenue is lost and confidence is damaged for investors resulting in a not disimilar effect to conventional attacks.

Of course there are crucial differences. No one is killed in such attacks, at least not yet. Although as systems become yet more computer dependent that cannot be beyond the realms of possibilty if enough transport/health/power related systems are crashed.

I am no fan of Estonia. Moving a war memorial seems insensitive at the best of times. I have walked round beautifully maintained cemetries of invading Brits in Turkey. If Attaturk could respect fallen enemies then surely a modern European democracy can respect the memory of those who died defeating Nazi invaders.

Of course it is impossible to put yourself in Estonian shoes and appreciate the full meaning of their history.

Yet one thing is clear, Russia is awakened and is testing the water. NATO and the EU have no agreed sanctions for cyber attacks on a large scale. Tanks are unlikely to follow just yet but with the US otherwise occupied, the UK overstretched and the European armies at their generally feeble levels of strength, there is arguably not much stopping Russia marching into "its own backyard". Will Estonia become another "far away country of which way know little"*. Estonian cyberspace already has that status.

* The words of Neville Chamberlain to describe Czechoslovakia when Germany invaded in 1938

Not London Cannon Street !

For all commuters who are frustrated by regular train delays, such as I experience sometimes into London Cannon Street, here is an alternative response to the usual sighs and muttering. In Buenos Aires, Argentina yesterday they rioted and set fire to the station !

All this, due to a train that failed to depart on time. If this took off in London, I don't think there would be many stations left standing !

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Zee View ov Modern Britain

Anglo-German miscomprehension remains and is revealled in this rather harsh view of Britain from Thomas Huetlin, the London correspondent for Der Spiegel magazine. Here the Independent gives a summary.

There are however grains of truth from an outsider looking in:

I particularly liked:

"Life in Britain, meanwhile, resembles a giant face-lift operation - look better, live better, cook better - paraded on endless TV programmes. Understatement, charm and stoicism - once prime British values - have been replaced by a general desire for loads of money,"

I'm not completely sure about:

"The dreadful habits of the British include: "The drinking of very much beer in a very short time, going for a walk without socks in winter, the delusion that 42 years after its last win, the national soccer team belongs to a world elite - and, of course, the fact that the Hun is still enemy No 1 - even in the age of Osama bin Laden."

At least not the football bit !

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The usual suspects

I am inclined to agree with Iain Dale that the press coverage of the alleged suspect in the disappearance of Madeleine McCann is highly dubious.

This happened with an alleged suspect in the Ipswich murder case and presumably his life is ruined as a result.

Being a bit of an oddball, or even an estate agent as in this case are not the same as being a murderer.

The media is not helping by passing judgement on suspects before a single charge has been brought. I have no idea if this man is guilty of anything or innocent. What is certain is that his life is changed forever and as yet he may not have done anything wrong.

If he is guilty then of course, the book and more, should be thrown at him. Until something is proven the media would do well to remember the basis of justice in free countries- "innocent until proven guilty".

The Woody Allen world conspiracy

Below is an example of Iranian TV levelling rather improbable allegations of Jewish conspiracy against Woody Allen and his films.

Woody Allen is an acquired taste and I realise he doesn't appeal to all. However this film sounds like an Iranian version of a 1930's Nazi propoganda video. It is rather bizarre, not to say disturbing, to see such views in the twenty-first century. Woody Allen also makes a rather unlikely target as he is hardly an Israeli hardliner having been born and raised in Brooklyn. If anything he is normally associated with the New York artistic left. This suggests the motivation of the propoganda film is simply anti-semitic rather than anti-Israeli.

For anyone unfamiliar with Woody Allen and his films (where have you been ?!) here is an example of his "brainwashing" activities from the start of Annie Hall:

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Malta and Ireland

Thank you both. Enough said about the UK's total votes !

Congratulations to the chap from Serbia ! He was obviously a hit with the Eastern European block voters......

Thursday, May 10, 2007

So bad it's (almost) good.......

It's that time of the year again- Eurovision. Here is the UK's entrant- Scooch with "Flying the flag".

They are certainly uninhibited and refreshingly counter-culture in showing that flying can still be cool..........

I think the rest is down to individual taste :-)

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Shilpa returns !

Remember the dark days of January when there seemed no other story in the media than Shilpa Shetty and her battles with her three tormentors on Celebrity Big Brother ?!

Well, Shilpa is back in town and has even been reunited with one of the dastardly trio Danielle Lloyd. Alhtough Jade and Jo are obviously still beyond the pale ! Shilpa was at the Leicester Square Premier of her new film "Life in a ... Metro".

This film is quite mainstream. I saw that it will be showing at one of our local Odeons in South East London.

Anyway, rather spurious grounds to revisit a much overplayed story from earlier in the year !

Shilpa with a reformed Danielle

Remembrance of things past and the world's first unburstable bubble ?

This evening is unusual as it is possible to predict two things that have not yet happened but will to slightly varying degrees almost certainly happen tomorrow.

The first is the end of Tony Blair's 10 years as British Prime Minister. In actual fact he is likely to remain Prime Minister for several weeks but he will finally confirm the details of his departure tomorrow.

While many books have and will be written on the Blair years and I will not attempt to summarise such a significant period in British history here, it is certain that 10 years as Prime Minister is a remarkable achievement and to be able to choose your own departure date from such a job is even more amazing and unusual.

The second event likely to occur is a further modest rise in British interest rates. One of the main reasons for this is to cool the British real estate market. The market like many others in the world has been rising for years and today was confirmed in a survey that London has the most expensive real estate in the world.

The report on the top end of the market, by estate agency Knight Frank and Citi Private Bank, reveals that the average cost of prime central London property is £2,300 per square foot. That compares with £2,190 in Monaco and £1,600 in New York. Completing the top five are Hong Kong (£1,230 ) and Tokyo (£1,100). London's "super-prime" areas are Belgravia (where prices can exceed £3,000 per square foot) and Knightsbridge.

While "super prime" in Belgravia does not have much relevance to the average Brit there is no doubt that house prices in Britain are hugely inflated and increasingly beyond the purchasing ability of anyone who doesn't already own a property.

That this is not sustainable, would seem obvious from a point of view of fundemental economics although international capital inflows into London do continue to support the market. The market no longer (for now at least) cares that huge swathes of the population can't really afford property. There are enough wealthy foreigners supporting the top end and enough easy credit supporting the bottom to keep the show on the road for now. There have been so many warnings of price "corrections" that it almost seems like crying wolf to warn again.

However if the market doesn't "correct" it must surely count as the world's first unburstable bubble.

I recently helped a private client apply for a mortgage to buy 25% of an apartment in London. The client does a normal job that is of value to the community but all they can attempt to buy is 25% of an apartment. So desperate are people to get on the property ladder that such schemes are now very common.

The fear is that if a correction comes that buyers like her will suffer while the owners of "Belgravia Prime" will not suffer even if prices fall by a quarter.

As someone who already owns real estate I don't want a crash any more than the next home owner but the market does somewhat seem to have taken leave of its senses.

Emerging markets continue to soar in most cases although mature markets such as the US accept a property slump as already established and the over inflated Spanish market is also suffering. The FT recently used the somewhat alarming phrase "bursting bubble" to describe the Spanish market,Authorised=false.html?

Many real estate agents still carry on as if the British market really is the world's first unburstable bubble. Yet history and economics suggest that Britain arguably has the most to burst. The interest rate rise expected tomorrow will at least stop the bubble growing so fast.

It is also unlikely that a property crash will happen before Tony Blair leaves Downing Street.

However I think it is clear that in politics and maybe in real estate the times in Britain are achanging....

In more ways than one Britain may be at the end of an era

Thank you dear readers !

Today this site reached 5,000 on its stat counter installed last August. There have been some slow moments but glad to still be enjoying writing this.

And thank you to all those 5,000 whether on regular return visits with multiple page loads or on one off accidental visits. You are all welcome.

Something I like looking at is where my readers come from. For a London blog I view it as an achievement, not only to have London readers but to have readers from around the world as London remains in many ways the crossroads of the world.

Here, courtesy of stat counter are the locations of you the latest 100 readers up until this evening :

29 London England United Kingdom
11 Stansted England United Kingdom
7 Unknown !
4 Reykjavík Reykjavik Iceland
3 Derry New Hampshire United States
3 Lawrence Massachusetts United States
3 Rochester England United Kingdom
2 Paris Ile-de-france France
2 San Diego California United States
2 Liverpool England United Kingdom
2 Winsford England United Kingdom
1 Zurich Zurich Switzerland
1 Detroit Michigan United States
1 Silver Spring Maryland United States
1 Gothenburg Vastra Gotaland Sweden
1 Prince George British Columbia Canada
1 New York New York United States
1 Los Angeles California United States
1 Plano Texas United States
1 Sacramento California United States
1 San Jose California United States
1 Galveston Texas United States
1 Baldwin City Kansas United States
1 Antwerp Antwerpen Belgium
1 The Hague Zuid-holland Netherlands
1 San Antonio Texas United States
1 Milano Lombardia Italy
1 Seattle Washington United States
1 Vienna Virginia United States
1 Bellevue Washington United States
1 San Francisco California United States
1 Barcelona Cataluña Spain
1 Mckinney Texas United States
1 Stafford England United Kingdom
1 Brooklyn New York United States

Here's to the next 5,000 !

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

The saddest moment in Australian soap ?

Home and Away is apparently 20 years old this year.

Sadly, my regime means I haven't watched it for at least 10 of those years. In fact Alf Stewart is one of the few characters recogniseable to me today.

I did however watch it for a spell around the early 1990's- most regularly at boarding school.

This scene wasn't treated very sympathetically by a large group of adolescent boys when it was aired on British TV around 1992. I do however think it must count as one of the most poignant moments from all Australian soaps. There's a claim !

The background is one of Meg loosing her battle to leaukaemia. She wants to watch the sun rise over Summer Bay one last time.

Maybe you had to follow the story but it still seems a bit of tear jerker to me........

It's not all Greek to me......

I was talking to my Cypriot colleague, Stavros about his bank holiday weekend.

He told me he had been to a wedding in West London- a Greek wedding to be precise.

What he told me has to raise questions about the near monopoly hold that John Lewis now has over middle class wedding "gifts".

I have lost count over how many times I have been sent a wedding invitation accompanied by mandatory John Lewis card. This is not a criticism of anyone who signs up with John Lewis for their wedding list. Not least as people in glass houses shouldn't throw stones. Even Mrs. Donatella and I signed up with the dreaded JL !

JL is of course a good quality store but it remains a store and not a rite of the Anglican wedding ceremony or indeed the civil ceremony.

Stavros reminded me that those of Greek descent are not restricted to the John Lewis monopoly. No, they invite huge numbers of guests routinely and expect all there guests to pin money to the bride and groom. As well as cutting out the middle man this is apparently good in terms of presents- no one normally uses £50 notes in real life but at Greek weddings in London they are near mandatory in status. There would have to be a pretty exceptional reason for anyone to appear with a lower denomination at a London Greek wedding.

Stavros was at a wedding recently where the happy couple were rumoured to have cleared £35,000 with the assistance of many guests and a few very generous relatives. Now that has to rival the John Lewis wedding list :-)

Of course, its the thought that counts, but maybe people can start having a few thoughts that don't involve John Lewis :-)
I fear my own generation is lost on this but for any future generations, I would advice giving John Lewis a break and going a little Greek for a change..............

Monday, May 07, 2007

Confessions of a Compulsive Hoarder

Channel 4 produced yet another interesting documentary last week. This time, it was the called "The world of Compulsive Hoarders" examining the lives and trials of those who just can't throw things away.

This is to be distinguished from the untidy and lazy. Compuslsive Hoarders are often anything but lazy devoting hours and hours to organising their "stuff".

Naturally, for dramatic effect the programme focused on a few extreme cases. There was Roy, a retired accountant who drove his wife to despair by filling their 9-bedroom house with junk. Then there was loner Bill, who lived in horrendous squallor after collecting even his neighbours rubbish. Bill was more clinical than the others although was obviously on the same spectrum. Hoarding is not only confined to eccentric Brits, so there was 78-year old Lloyd from Los Angeles who took to collecting old bicycles after loosing his job as a computer programmer. At its zenith, Roy's collection of bicycles had reached around 5,000 and he was forced to sleep outside his well-sized home due to lack of space inside !

The message of the documentary was ultimately postive- compulsive hoarding is a condition but is treatable.

For my own part I think I should "confess" or recognise my own tendencies in this area, albeit much down the spectrum from Roy, Bill and Lloyd.

Compulsive hoarding has a "genetic" element in 85 % of cases or at least 85% of cases are in people who have a similar relative.

My father was a self-confessed hoarder and as a family our relatively frequent house moves used to be near military in scale moving huge quanties of stuff by multiple removal lorries.

My childhood memories are of unusually full rooms and of organising garages and lofts to accomodate the overflow. We had veritable columns of items as random as electric fires, suit cases, kettles and tea pots. We had enough blankets for an army to spend the night not to mention more positively a near public library of books.

My father did throw things away but there is no doubt he was slower than normal to do this.

I inherited some traits in this area and as well as sorting through much of his collection in recent years I have had to recognise my own hoarding tendencies.

Newspapers are a near genetic weakness in our family. Since the arrival of Mrs. Donatella my newspaper piles have been much reduced although some of the collection remains !

Of course hoarding, or collecting in its more benign variant, can be interesting in the long term. From my father's collection I have newspapers covering major events from the 1940s until the 1990s. If he had thrown his newspapers away like everyone else there would be no collection today. (although probably they would be largely accessible by internet now).

However my collection of air luggage tags and electronic hotel room keys from my travelling days are probably a bit unnecessary ! At the time, as someone who had not really flown that much, it seemed an interesting memento of my many work-related flights to keep some tangible record. Now I think I'd do better to take a few photos instead !

I am coming to realise that all material things perish and though familiar with the hoarding mind, it is ultimately rather short sighted as well as absorbing of huge amounts of time and energy best spent in the present rather than the past.

This issue finds common ground between the trendy practitioners of feng shui, the teachings of the Buddha or are best put in the Bible (Matthew 6:19) ""Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal."

Anyway better get off to tidy the "spare" room !

You don't Hoff to drink

For fans (such as me!) of David Hasselhoff from his days as Michael Knight in Knightrider in the 1980's or indeed in his Baywatch days, the following video makes unhappy watching.

To me, "the Hoff" was an all American TV hero. It is sad to see him reduced to this state by his booze problems. Thankfully the Hoff, with the support of his daughters, seems to be on the road to recovery and we can only wish he and others like him every success in their journey.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Young master fox

A fox has been bringing up her four babies on a bit of waste ground near to our house. Here I managed to get in close to a young fox...... It may surprise a few that this is a very common sight in London suburbs. There are no predators bigger than foxes so they do very well here.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Independent People

Reykjavik on a grey April day !

It's nearly 2 weeks since our trip to Iceland and I meant to write a little bit more about this unusual and interesting nation.

The Bank Holiday weekend is giving me a little bit more time and Mrs. Donatella and I are going no where more adventurous than Tunbridge Wells so I have lots of "webtime"- for now at least.

So to Iceland. On arriving at Keflavik International Airport one is struck by two things. Firstly a clean modern scandinavian airport of the style that I have seen in Gothenburg, Stockholm or on a bigger scale in Copenhagen. Secondly the landscape looks like being on another planet. There is literally not one tree visible from the airport. The reason is primarily due to the fact that it sits on an ancient lava field dating from a large volcanic eruption. The rocky landscape, human activity and generally cold climate have prevented any tree growth.

Reykjavik itself, about 45 minutes drive away is a lot more planet Earth in style and trees are not unusual ! That said it does have a unique style with many buildings being covered in brightly coloured corrogated iron. In the past Icelandic buildings were often constructed of rock and turf due to the lack of wood on the island. More recently iron has played a significant part.

Iceland's history has been long and hard with permenant settlement by Norwegian and Danish travellers since the 9th Century. It also has a significant Celtic (Irish) influence. Iceland is home to the world's oldest still functioning Parliament dating since 930. It has never been a monachy although for much of its history was under Danish rule of some form or another.

World War II brought the biggest changes with first British then American occupation. Iceland became fully independent in 1944.

The American influence remains to a significant extent and can be seen in the vehicles, food as well as foreign policy. Iceland generally sides with the US in most areas.

Iceland has a really very low population of around 300,000. Despite that, it is very much a nation with a President, parliament, police, hospitals, schools, TV and radio stations, factories, fishing industry and ever growing tourist industry. I doubt that the necessary talent to fulfill all these functions could be found in a British city of 300,000 people but somehow the Icelanders manage it.

Icelanders don't really have surnames and are known by their first name followed by the name of their father with an ending depending on whether they are a son or daughter e.g. Johan Petersson or Lolla Jakobsdottir. This apparently makes their telephone directories very difficult to use !

Icelandic wildlife and countryside is unique and generally unspoilt. On our visit there we went successfully whale watching (seeing a Minke Whale) and saw albatross and small Icelandic horses. The tough climate and island location mean many breeds are largely peculiar to the country.

The country sits on the rift between the European and American tectonic plates and in geological terms is relatively new. Geo-thermal forces bubble away close to the surface and mean Iceland is blessed with cheap power and boundless hot water. That said it is not unusual to get a strong smell of sulphur (essentially bad eggs) when turning on a tap. This becomes largely unnoticeable after a few days.

Icelanders are cranky islanders like most other people who live on Islands- obviously including us Brits ! They are however a proud resilient people who have survived a tough history on their rocky island. Today they enjoy the highest standard of living in Europe and are an educated and civilised race.

Iceland is on the tourist map although high prices (£5 for a beer) mean it is never going to attract the masses. That said it is a quite popular destination for up-market stag dos and slightly quirky girls from around Europe seem to appear on every tour complete with a back-pack. Reykjavik is a party town with bars staying open until 5.30 am. It's Northern lattitude mean long dark winters but 24 day light in the summers.

Despite their small numbers their influence is disproportionately high. Reykjavik was the setting for the US/USSR summit in 1986 between Presidents Reagan and Gorbachev. Bjork is is a global star and Haldor Laxness became Iceland's first Nobel Prize Winning Writer with tales such as "Independent People". Today crime writer Arnuldur Indriadson wins awards and fans around the world.

I was really impressed with Iceland. I like its uniqueness and eccentricity. On the days of our visit Iceland's news was dominated by a fire at a night club and bar in the centre of Reykjavik. No one was injured but a fire in the centre of Town was big news for a population the size of Reading !

I hope Iceland long remains unique and special because in a world where so many places start to look rather similar it is refreshing to go somewhere that is truly different and still feels like it has an independent people.

The youtube phenomena that is Ysabella Brave

Anyone who reads this blog at all regularly will realise what a great resource I think Youtube is. From the contributions of all its subscribers it is becoming increasingly possible to find that clip from an Australian soap 20 years ago, that news event or that series that finished in 1985. TV and film clips that would have taken months of tracking and therefore were effectively gone for good for most people are now easily located with a few key strokes.

Youtube is also full of numerous obscure personal videos, many of which it has to be said of little interest to a wider audience. However there are a few people of genuine talent I have seen on there and one of those has to be Ysabella Brave. The only thing I don't understand is quite who she is and what she is doing limited to Youtube. She surely deserves to be a conventional star. I think so anyway ! She currently posts an average of at least one video a week. Here is a flavour.

Thank you Ysabella Brave......

28 Weeks Later

This film, due to be released in less than a week is the sequel to 28 Days Later (2002). The background is one of deadly Rage virus that has wiped out the population of Britiain.

This story begins with a returning family of British refugees as the US Army starts the repopulation of Britain. It is largely filmed in London and shows an unusually quiet and orderly London. The DLR looks positively civilsed after a plague ! Maybe even house prices have stopped rising as the family go straight into a luxury apartment in Docklands !

I am not sure if I will like the film but when I saw the trailer in the cinema yesterday I was struck by some of the recogniseable contemporary London landmarks shot on location.

Trailer follows:

Peep Show

As a nation we have such a strong archive of classic comedy that it is easy to overlook some great new comedy being made.

After all, even "The Office" is over 5 years old and is probably almost a classic now.

Foremost amongst new comedy I've seen has to be Peep Show from Channel 4.

The show centres around the dysfunctional friendship of two very different University mates. Mark is the geeky one who took up a sensible profession while maintaining a unsually high interest in World War II while Jeremy is a failed musician come waster who can't get his life together but manages to have quite a good time sponging off Mark..

The character are played by Mitchell and Webb, now seen advertising Mac computers and starring in a film about to be released "Magicians".

In real life Mitchell and Webb also met at University but in reality Cambridge rather than Dartmouth as stated in the Peep Show.

Family viewing and PC this isn't but for anyone who hasn't discovered Peep Show (it is already in its fourth series) I can recommend something that is sure to join the long line of British comedy greats. At first glance Mark and Jeremy come across as completely amoral but somewhere deep inside they do care about somethings and maybe aren't so different from some of us after all.

Peep Show, Fridays 10.30pm Channel 4

End of the party

Actual quote from my cheerfully pessimistic 46-year old divorcee colleague Barry yesterday. We were discussing another colleague who is 50 this year and whether he should have a big party.

Barry observed that some people had parties more these days.

"Take my ex-father-in-law- he had one at 60, one at 65 and another 70, almost as if he was afraid he wasn't going to make the next one ! Most people have one at 60 or 65, whenever they retire and it usually starts to peter out after that".

Thankfully Barry himself isn't showing any signs of petering out just yet.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

New middle-class football legend.....

Shock news that footballing talents are not confined to the working classes :-) Here Tory MP Boris Johnson stylishly fouls a German opponent.........

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Sobering statistics from the material world

Last week Channel 4 broadcast a not very serious programme on the average British person's consumption and bodily output in their physical life journey from nothing to nothing.

It was not very serious as it did not seriously propose that anyone actually lives an "average life" and there is so much estimation required.

It did however come up with some sobering statistics on the average British human life (i assume there is little difference in similar countries). For example during our lifetime of 78.5 years the average person consumes a grotesque:

16,000 pints of milk, 4,283 loaves of bread, 2,327 potatoes and 845 tins of beans
Not to mention four-and-a-half cows, 1,201 chickens, 10,354 bars of chocolate and 5,272 apples — washed down with 10,351 pints of beer and 1,694 bottles of wine.

At the other end of things, so to speak, we use 4,239 toilet rolls.

Consumer goods abound with an average 8 cars, 5 TVs, 10 DVD players and 15 computers. Don't forget that these figures are each !

All this consumption of the material is rather off-putting. I don't think it is in danger of turning the average Brit away from the consumer society just yet but maybe it will cause the odd material boy or girl to ask "Is that all there is ?"

More sobering still is the average fate of the 1,700 people we will personally know during our lifetime (everyone from our own Mother all the way on a spectrum to the guy from IT we occassionally get to fix our computer at work). 1,700 sounds a huge number but over the course of a lifetime from nursery school, university, work and beyond we apparently "know" that many people on average.

Of those 1,700:

305 will die of heart disease
179 will die of stroke
99 will die of lung cancer
32 will die of breast cancer
10 will take their own life
9 will die in road accidents
and 1 will die in a fire.

Reassuringly, only 1 in 3 will actually know a person who is murdered.

The fate of our other approximately 1,000 friends and acquaintances was not stated but I assume there are a few other causes apart from benign old age left unaccounted for.

Of course there is no such thing as an average person. Each is unique which makes life interesting. However one thing everyone has in common is that in physical terms we all start with nothing and finish with nothing, whatever the "footprint" we leave in between.

See link to calculate your "footprint" to date