Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Christmas Finally Ends...or does it?

Here in the Duke household, we really know how to eke out Christmas. We take the twelve days of Christmas very seriously. For us, Christmas Day is but the start of a long and laborious process of International Phone Calls, the continuation of 'last minute postage' and the sheer mounts of food eaten. The advantage of relatives living abroad is that lte received Christmas cards have a viable excuse (they were lost in the post). The other bits and bobs that are sent include parcels of fruit cake and hard currency, wired in a matter of minutes so that relatives abroad can enjoy their Christmas splurge. Honestly, sometimes I think it would be more cost effective to jet off to the country for a few days and hand out all these gifts rather than write/phone/post/wire to them.

Of course, to make it more complicated, there are two countries involved, Seychelles (mama) and Sri Lanka (upa). That means co-ordinating with two different time zones when calling. Plus the fact that everyone is at church on those days. Then there are the ones in this country.

Thank goodness for New Year's and the Epiphany, when it gets a lot more quiet. Happy New Year everyone!

Monday, 29 December 2008

Finally!

What I have believed in all my life has finally made it to the bookshelves of America. Apparently it is good for your body to eat, well, normal foods. That means full fat dairies, egg yolks and other cholesterol inducing bits and bobs. What has been known to anyone traveling outside the UK for many years and is only being realised in 'the West', are that diets affect the libido. You may receive a slim waistline but that doesn't mean you get the chance to enjoy it. Everyone needs a bit of cushion for the pushin'and there is far more to play with anyway.

As Christmas is coming to an end and one of the top NY-Resolutions for many will be diet, I always have to ask, how does cutting back on food make anyone happier? We have three months of perpetual darkness before the rays of spring finally decide to cast themselves on this barren little rock in the Northern Atlantic. In other words, with the cold, the lack of any holidays and the complete lack of an economy looming up ahead, why compound the misery with a lack of gastro-intestinal satisfaction? I like to cook, I like to eat and believe it or not, I like to shop for food (but not at the supermarket). Eating is an essential part of life and so why make it such a miserable part of existence. And (sod the carbon emissions) with food available from all over the world in this humble city, why not enjoy what is on offer. After all, when I am decrepit and old, the last thing I will be remembering will be how 'hunky' I looked but instead I will recount the delightful cuisines that I have sampled.

So make this New Year's Resolution something more positive. To enjoy food rather than restrict it. To revel in the richness of a varied diet rather than playing with boiled vegetables. Exercise, it gives a greater excuse to eat. And very importantly, explore food. Whether it is eating out (and it can be done on the cheap in London, especially when tee-total) or trying a new foods to cook, delight yourself in your tastebuds' fantasies. It will stop you pigging out on oversized coffees (a disgusting drink in the UK), you will have less cravings for chocolate (most of the high street stuff is vile) and booze will seem a lot less attractive (unless you are an alcoholic). We are what we eat, and so make it good!

Sunday, 28 December 2008

Rock and Roll!

Today I am having a lot of fun. Despite the fact there is less than five hours to go until I have to fill out two hours of FM airtime, I am still planning a playlist to delight and shock the world in its variety and entertainment value. And this week, in a very different change of tack from the last year, and by special request, this will be a show encompassing the great and good of the 50's, 60's, 70's and 80's. So hold on for a bit of Rock & Roll, Sweet Soul Music, Psychedelia and groovy tunes on the Movies and Music Show from 5pm tonight!

Saturday, 27 December 2008

Christmas Review

Okay, so I ate the turkey, stuffed myself with Christmas Pudding and watched far too much TV. It is good to take a 'break', but life continues pretty quickly once Boxing Day is over. I love Christmas, but it does amuse me tat we go into a state of frenzy for a one day dance. Still, it is unusual to see shops closed and streets deserted for a whole 24 hours (and let's be honest, Boxing Day is not much busier too). Some take the week off, some just take a few days, others have no time off, but Christmas is an interesting time with which to compare the rest of the year. It is also the highlight of winter. Despite the sunny weather outside, it is cold and the daylight hours are only so few. We still have three months of wretchedness until we get any decent amount of daytime hours filtering through, such is our distance above the equator.

As another year comes to an end (where the hell did 2008 go?), 2009 starts on a personal level, on a rather strange note. I look forward to the new year, but I also realise that there is much to be done in this one coming up. The end of a decade, the chance to build on the lessons learnt in previous years and real progress ahead in what I want to do. But as always, it won't be easy. It is going to be a challenge, but hopefully one that will not take place in a vacuum. I have some milestones that I want to topple next year, and in 365-odd days time, I hope to say that I have knocked them over!

Thursday, 25 December 2008

Christmas Funkiness

I love Christmas, as at this time of the year the news is filled with far more interesting stories, alongside the doom and gloom as their pages and spaces and bandwidths have to be filled. Here are a selection of some of the more interesting stories I have seen on my wanderings over the past few days:

Do you really expect me to have any sympaty for these fuckers?

Hey as if giving up an aircraft is a sacrifice. Oh, and the moment where the trader goes into a fury with a cup of cola is pure classic Muppetery.


Cousin Fucking is good for you.

Apparently so. But why is there no boner in that department?


Mexican Beauty arrested on Weapons' charges.

Now, to be honest, if I have to choose a way to die, she would be pretty high up on the list of the best ways to pop off.

Oh well, off to baste the turkey. Merry Christmas!

---

Oh, and something from Vlogsup!



(Thanks to Daniel for that piece of genius)

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Going, going, gone!

Gone: MFI, Northern Rock, Bradford & Bingley.

Going: Woolworths.

Going to go somewhere (not necessarily bust): Zavvi (formerly the Virgin Megastore), Whittard's, The Officer's Club, HBOS.

Trouble is definitely going to hit: Ford, Vauxhall, Royal Bank of Scotland, LloydsTSB, Alitalia, Allied Carpets.

Formerly safe bets looking dodgy: HSBC.

Who's Next: Well, this is a tricky one. Anything said here could be interpreted as falling share price. Oh please, as if I am that important!

Businesses offering 50% or more discount before Christmas: Debenhams, B&Q, Principles, Whistles, Waterstones, Borders.

Any more bargains out there?

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Shopping Spree - Fish, Meat and Vegetables! Oh, and of course Salt Fish...

Well, kt had to be done and yesterday was my official day for Christmas shopping. Not presents mind you (never a traditional strong point with me), nor cards (ooops!), but food. Unlike many people, but like so many other people, I head towards the markets in order to get food. The veggies were already sorted out (plenty of greens, sprouts and carrots were ready, along with potatoes) so it came down to buying the real food.

English cuisine has a tradition of culinary awfulness. And tp be blunt, yes, English food is bad, but with good reason. Most of it is tinned, and so the taste is zapped out of the creative process. However, London (thanks to its ethnic diversity as well as traditional centre for trade) has always had exceptional range of food stuffs. To truly appreciate the variety of foodstuffs available, the punter must venture away from the bland aisles of the supermarkets and into the areas frequented by dodgy film makers and poor bus drivers. Peckham, Upton Park, Dalston, Acton, Walthomstow, Wembley, Harrow and my particular spot, Brixton.

Britxton is close enough to me to make driving not a pain in the backside. And with the amount of food available, I need a car. The populace is one that appreciates food over anything else. Caribbeans being the most visible, but also the West Africans, the Indians and the Latin Americans. The traders themselves are from all over the world and so the mix of sustained demand plus exotic supply means that the food on offer is second to none in quality. Plus the speed at which food is being traded shows that firstly, there is no credit crunch when it comes to feeding and secondly, the food sold is going to be fresher. Quickly moving food, while riotous, has little chance of sitting in one place and slowly rotting away.

Shopping in any of these places requires a thick skin, a knowledge of the food being bought and cash. No cards are accepted here, but it is very easy to dispose of (real) £50 notes (don't try counterfeits, they will be spotted). You are going to get jostled, you are going to get screamed at and you are going to go home with more than you can cope. After all, these places are designed for families. Big broods. You can also haggle a little bit, especially when spending big. The haggle is friendly, not aggressive, more like 'Give me a good price Boss,' rather than 'It's a fiver and that's final!' Make sure you are not squeamish. Fresh turkeys (still feathered with the heads and claws attached) hang from the ceilings of the butchers. Trotters and tripe are everywhere. Fish is not some filleted piece of salmon in a polystyrene packet but the real stuff (remember, Mackerel is considered dog food in Seychelles) and the vegetables are positively funky.

As a foodie I enjoy shopping in Brixton. I can plan out menus seemingly exotic but for me, positively tasty. New kinds of fish, solid portions of meat and a palate for the spicy makes Brixton a delight in my eyes. Thankfully I know what to do with Breadfruit (anything), Chow-Chow (good with tomatoes in a broth) and Durian (just eat it, but make sure the place is well ventilated).

So, while I look forward to a traditionally tasty Christmas, it will be filled not with calorie counting guilt but with the joy of exploring the range of delights that are now currently stocked up in my kitchen. Good hunting!

---

Salt Fish may be an acquired taste, but for some sick reason, I absolutely love the stuff.

Monday, 22 December 2008

Filming this Christmas

While many of us will be spending the holidays on holiday, I will be working like a dog, on two fronts. Firstly, I will be tearing round London's streets at obscene times of the night to put cash in my wallet. Secondly, I will be spending my days creating, what I hope is to be, a visual masterpiece.

My films up until now have been simplistic affairs. Filmed on the cheap with poor sound, no sense of cinematography and shot quickly. Essentially they have been glorified home videos. But they have got me very far, considering the ways which they were made (poorly), and the experience of film making that I possessed (none).

Starting with ideas and scripts a few years ago, it is strange to see the journey so far. The fear of switching on a camera and editing on a computer has been replaced by cocky manhandling of my precious equipment and an internet presence that would make most spammers proud.

As a person who has never been to film school, I have been clueless about films. My education in film came from the PCC, my inertia towards cinema from my own mad writings (hey, how else do you think I can blog almost everyday) and my decision to plunge into film making from my own lack of foresight. Admittedly, now I see the credit crunch unfolding, I 'may' have made the right decision in not chasing after the money. Then again...

The real eye opener to making films came at Cannes this year, when I attended the Short Film Corner. This was where I was able to meet other film makers, see what was being made and see how the 'movers and shakers' in the industry were doing things. On a more fundamental level, I actually saw why producers and distributors did business the way they did. That was really important. I got to see what people were not doing as well. Finally, I also saw what was being produced by other film makers in my position.

Skip forward six months and it is Christmas. I plan to shoot two short film by March '09 and to have everything wrapped up by May. A tall order. Each time I have started on a new project, I have advanced somewhat. Now this next step is crucial, although it is so basic to the concept of film. Firstly, to make my films actually cinematic. Secondly, to make then sound nice.

Let me tackle the sound first of all. I have got a decent mic, finally. And yes, it does work really well, but I am not going to bother with sound until February, when I make a follow-on to the adventures of Jay and Kay.

For the moment, I am tackling the problems with visuals and finding solutions to them. Creating great lighting, pulling the focus point just right, knowing how to frame the subject, camera movements, etc. Initial results are promising, but there is still a lot of work to do. This first short film should be wrapped up by the beginning of the New Year, and I should have a rough cut by the end of January. And this short film, 'The Railway Tracks' is of a very different vein to the Paint. Darker, more twisted and with some funky camera angles to boot.

It is a scary moment for me, as I have to live upto the small steps forward that I have achieved so far. As with many things in the world of film, everything rests on what I can and cannot achieve. And I do not know whether the outcome will be successful or not. Only time will tell...

Sunday, 21 December 2008

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas

Christmas is a time of huge expenditure, massive parties and a gluttonous feast for the belly that takes our thoughts away from the awful climate, short daylight hours and lousy jobs we struggle to hold onto. So this Christmas has turned out to be quite a disappointment. On casual observation, I have seen very few shoppers, even less party goers and hardly any confectionary delights. Of course, these observations are subjective and it could be in the New Year that this Christmas was the best on record for retailers, the entertainment trade and chocolate makers.

Of course it is the credit crunch. It would take a complete idiot not to acknowledge the financial crisis and the relatively quiet festive period that 2008 has granted us. It is life, but doesn't it feel that this Christmas is a little bit of a damp squib? After all, the nights are deserted (except for the kids) and the shops are filled with the dulcit tones of 'festive tunes' rather than ringing tills. Well, I am guilty in contributing to this lack of economic spread. It is well known that despite being a Catholic, I live like a puritan. No drinking (or any other casual drugs), no spending on frivolity. For such a believer in Capitalism, I make a great socialist.

This Christmas is going to be a great disappointment in many people's eyes. The presents to the kids will be poorer, the food will be shoddier (oh please, like overcooked meats and harshly boiled vegetables are something to look forward to), and the booze will be of the cheaper brands sipped at home. But for me, Christmas has never been about the presents. I cannot remember any of the presents I have received. All right, for the past few years I have explicitly not wanted any presents, but the Christmases of my childhood are not filled with fantastic games or brilliant toys Instead, the memories of Christmas are the warmness generated by my parents, and their arguments too! The sense of family and of belonging. The sense of family and being together, despite the fact that all the members of my family have had to work on Christmas Day at some points in our life, including myself.

Christmas is a Christian Festival although there is very little 'faith' left in today's celebration (come on, China celebrates Christmas). However, the important message of Christmas is not the shopping or the religious message, but the sense of spending real time with the people you love. For me, it is these memories of Christmas that I recall today. ANd they will be the memories that I will recall tomorrow.

Saturday, 20 December 2008

A New Bus for London?

One of major pledges of the Boris campaign was the return of the Routemaster. Yesterday, Boris and the powers that be at TfL revealed the winners of the six month design competition. The aim is to replace the much hated bendy bus.

I am in two minds about this. Yes, there are some great merits about this. Conductors means that drivers can actually drive. There are also more jobs to go around as there is a need for more buses (to replace capacity) and conductors (reducing crews have been part of London Transport philosophy since the 1950's, so this is a big turn around). The fact that a new bus specifically designed for London's streets will mean a far more fuel efficient fleet, that will be around for decades rather than the wasteful seven-fifteen year lifespan for current vehicles. Plus, they do look nice.

But this is also a huge waste. The design and development costs involved will only result in a few hundred buses being built, mostly for daytime routes in Central London. Night Routes and suburban services, even the busy ones, will still use the normal peasant wagons that are currently on the road. Add to that the extra resources needed for these new vehicles (land for depots, specialist engineers, more staff) and you can see why the mayor cut funding to so many projects. I wonder if the money would have been better spent on a new tram line or two.

I can see this project getting very far. It is amazing what can happen when there is political will. Never underestimate the power of voters outside London.

Thursday, 18 December 2008

The Cycle Blog 4: The Repairs

I know that I have already finished this little subject last week, but I have just spent the best part of the morning repairing my beloved two wheeler.

Before I ride out of the shop, there are certain things that must be attached to the bike. A bell, a rear reflector, and reflectors on the pedals. This makes the cycle roadworthy for daytime use. At night I also have to have lights and they can be steady or flashing LED types.

Take a look at the highway code. Yes, there is a section for cyclists. Along with the reflectors and bells there are two BIG laws regarding the condition of a cycle. Firstly, the use of lights at night time (and they can be the flashing type or a steady light). And second, my brakes must be efficient.

If you are as much of a dirt monkey as I am, parts go pretty quickly. The mixture of grit and water does no favours to a bicycle. Sand and moisture are the best abrasives a man can buy.

So yes, my brakes were shot. And they have been for a couple of weeks. They have been going for a while, but a couple of weeks ago, I spent about an hour shredding my cycle through a very wet piece of parkland. The result my brakes deteriorated fast. Oh well, luckily I had a spare cycle lunging about and so I cannibalised it for the brake pads. Two hours and a dirty rag later, everything was fixed and ready to cycle off!



(New brakes for old)

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

The 'Set'

Filming never goes according to plan. Today was one of those very weird days that tells you to just expect the unexpected. And it left me with some very mucky hands...

Oh, and I was V-logging yesterday, which you can watch by clicking here.

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

The Big Fat Con Continues

We know that the last two decades of capitalism have been one rampant source of corruption, but isn't it funny when it gets exposed, ad how it is always the classiest people who are the real shit scrapers.

It is quite simple, you cannot make money out of thin air. The big fat con has finally been show up for what it is!

To quote from The First Post:

The lesson to be drawn from Madoff's and Dreier's downfall...is that anyone who became insanely rich these past few years providing financial services is now under suspicion.

Monday, 15 December 2008

Life's a Box of Chocolates

Christmas is the time when we all pig out. And chocolates are in abundance at this time of year. Luckily in the Northern Hemisphere, is is so cold, that all that sugary fatty goodness lies contentedly on the stomach.

So you open the box of chocolates. If it is fancy ones, then they look decadent, and if they are off the shelf then they are wrapped in cheap foil. There is a difference in taste between all of them, but one thing that many people have in common is the likes and dislikes. Anything with soft caramel and nuts is a particular favourite no matter what brand is available to pick at.

And there are certain nasties that are always avoided. Coffee flavour or over-sweetened fruit creams (pineapple, orange, strawberry).

So why do the chocolate makers/manufacturers insist on theese yucky ones in the box. After all, in the first ten minutes, the good ones are finished, while those lousy fillings lie around the kitchen right up until Easter.

After all, who said variety is the spice of life when a safe bet is so blatantly preferred...

Sunday, 14 December 2008

Slow Down London

Something I saw in the Londonist (a great read if you have not already got it on your RSS). A campaign to slow down, London. The home page gives five suggestions by which we can all slow down and somehow become more serene. Tea (Caffeine Stimulant), Breathing (Hyperventilation), Pleasing Yourself (Wanking), Living in Real TIme (sounds stressfully internet like) and something interestingly called 'My Slow Places' (probably getting stuck on a bus).

All right, I'm a little bit sarky. Sorry. I will be good. There, I'm breathing in, slowing down, better?

It looks like a good idea. We can all slow down, but isn't the whole point of London, the self-induced stress, part of the buzz?

The Slow Down London Site.

Saturday, 13 December 2008

Jean Charles de Menezes: The 'Inquest'

To those unfamiliar with the English legal system, then it is all about hot air. I have twice blogged about the killing of Jean Charles de Menezes and one of the reasons I am glad that Ian Blair was shoved out by Boris was due to the events of July 22nd 2005.

This inquest was all about hot air. No murder or manslaughter charges were brought against any of the lying individuals or organisation, and even the paltry verdict of unlawful killing could not be brought against the pigs.

Just to refresh your memory, back in 2005, the police claimed that De Menezes had vaulted over the ticket barriers, ran down the escalators in hot pursuit by our valiant boys in blue and then was wearing a bulky jacket that looked as if he was concealing weapons. As you can see from the picture, there was no bulky jacket (unless the pigs decided they needed a warm fleece) on De Menezes and even the police later on retracted their own set of lies about the running, the the pole vaulting and the fact that De Menezes was a giant who whirled his arms in the air like a fundamentalist often seen in the movies from Hollywood.

Let us just for a moment recount the details of that morning. What has been established as 'truth' by the police themselves.

He was followed, from his flat , onto a bus to Brixton. He found the station was shut, so he walked back to the bus stop and went to Stockwell. He then went into Stockwell station and was shot.

If De Menezes had been a suicide bomber, he had a chance to blow himself up on a bus, in a busy town centre, then another bus before reaching the Underground. He was being followed for the best part of a hour. Wow, that is great policing guys.

Now, it is quite clear that this part of the police operation was simply incompetent, but in a laughable way. If I was Mullah Bomar living in on state benefits and preaching to newly recruited suicide bombers in London, all I would say is quite simply this:

'Don't worry guys, you have plenty of time to blow yourselves up! Remember, we have virgins, and the police are so stupid, they can't stop you getting at them!'

I digress, I will deal with the Mullah later. Today, my rhetoric is directed at the police.

Now, despite the much vaunted use of CCTV on every London Underground carriage, the jury had to decide whether to believe the police (De Menezes was a burly thug who was going to kill you all) or the passengers (eh, he was some guy sitting on the tube). In the end, the jury in the inquest did not believe that the armed officers gave a warning, and the jury also stated that they did not believe that De Menezes was aggressive towards the officers.

So if the jury does not believe the police officers who executed De Menezes, why are there no perjury charges brought up against them, and why have they been allowed to return to and remain on duty? Too many bullets lying around?

---

Let me conclude. The facts are all here, it is up to the reader to look at them. The police killed an innocent man. Fact. They lied about the events leading upto his death and the events afterwards. Fact. They tried to justify his killing by stating he was an illegal immigrant and had taken cocaine. Fact. And a jury made up of ten members of the public fundamentally rejected the police's account of the De Menezes death. Fact.

Despite all of this, there are still some pigs who believe that the marksmen were victims just doing their jobs. Well, as Chief Inspector Martin Rush trained the men who popped off one man with 11 bullets, who am I to argue with him? I would like my cranium to stay intact, so yeah, the man with the gun is always right. You go Martin, you really are working towards a safer London.

I will put this another way. The next time C2, C12 or any of their colleagues decide to go for a stroll on the tube, it could be your brains splattered against the carriage. The death of Jean Charles was that of a sacrificial lamb. He saved the lives of dozens of innocent young men in London. Hopefully the police will drop their shoot to kill policy, but as you may have guessed, I have very little faith in the MET.

---

Let me state again:

I am not a hater of the police. I have not (yet) been subject to their harassment. And as a former bus driver, I have had to deal with the police on many occasions. They are all right people, just doing their job. The rank and file officers are actually quite nice and you can have a laugh with them. And while my life has never been threatened, who else am I going to call if the need arises - the Ghostbusters?

This rant is really aimed at those police officers at the top who have squirmed and wriggled out of their responsibility, despite being paid to hold such responsibilities. It is aimed at those police officers who destroyed the trust and hope that a city pinned on them, due in no small part to the reassurance and the professionalism shown by ordinary rank and file officers during the aftermath of the incidents in July 2005. Unfortunately, it is those same ordinary ‘bobbies on the beat’ that are the public face of the MET and so have to put up with the vitriol that many Londoners feel towards the organisation as a result of 11 bullets.

---

Jean Charles de Menezes. Born in Minas Gerais 7/1/78. Killed in London 22/7/05 aged only 27. Rest in Peace.

Thursday, 11 December 2008

The Sex Blog 3: Cartoon Sex

The Advantages of having sex with a Cartoon chick:

She will always have big boobs.
You can do whatever you want and she will get really turned on.
So there is no need for excessive foreplay.
She will always have an orgasm, no matter what you do.
Emotional detachment.


The Disadvantages of having sex with a Cartoon chick:

It is a bit two dimensional (both personality wise and physically).
You have got to watch out for paper cuts, in some very sensitive areas.
No curves, just defined lines.
There has got to be some convoluted plotline to get into her knickers. A simple 'hi' does not suffice.
No post-coital moments (therefore second/third/forth etc rounds), unless it is an extra long version of the cartoon.

India's first sex cartoon (not work safe).

The article that drew my attention to this fine website.

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

The Cycle Blog 3: The Dirt Monkey!

And so the final blog in this mini-series on cycling through London. This time the thrill of the mud and dirt that exists in London. London is a filthy city and there is nothing more mucky than cycling in London during the Autumn. It is warm enough to make you sweat, moist enough to wet your clothes and muddy enough to stain everything. London is a city built on clay and gravel soils and it shows wherever you cycle in this city.

Mud is good. Dirt is fun. Wet is funky. Well, it has to be, otherwise I would never leave my door.

Right, On my way to work or going out, I will take mainly asphalt roads. Advantages include less mud, but more water (surface water is evil - kills off the brakes). However, on the way back from work or somewhere else, or if I just feel a little sadistic, I will take the muddy route. And living a stone's throw from the Thames, it is an option that I love to take.



In the UK we live sanitised lives. Filled with hand wash creams, anti-bacterial wipes and deodorants, we are a little bit clinical in our appearance. Squeaky clean. Well, I like the dirt. It allows me to wallow in the thrills of being dirty (cue chants of: 'I wish my wife was this dirty'), mucky and well, a little bit different.

For some reason, the British look at cyclists s a bit eccentric. You know, tweed jackets, bumbling fools, a little bit left wing. Actually, cycling has got to be one of the most common sense options around. For me, my nearest train station is a mile and a half away (5 mins by bike), the nearest shopping centre four miles (around 15 mins by bike), the nearest tube station six miles (40 mins-ish) and my work place 10 miles (one hour exactly). And I am not cycling fast for any of these distances. While the tube station may seem excessive, and the workplace distance one that might kill the mere mortal, remember that I am not super-fit. And to put it simply, in the rush hour, all these distances are quicker by bicycle except for my workplace which is comparative (really does depend on traffic, but it is close).

In other words why is a common sense approach to getting around the city seen as weird? I do not pay a penny for petrol, insurance or road tax (note how I am making the Exchequer poorer). I do not need gym membership, I do not need to waste as much money on public transport, I usually spend less time traveling than a car driver, I am almost always quicker and more convenient than a bus, and I am far more oxygenated than a tube journey. While bicycles come and go, the peripherals (lights, locks, rechargeable batteries, hi-vis jackets, helmets) last a lot longer (my chain and padlock is nine years old). My only regular maintenance is some grease for the chain and some air in the tyres. Once a year I can take it to a bike shop and get it checked out; £60 usually gets the bits and bobs replaced.

But yes, there is probably one overriding reason why cyclists are seen as nutty. It is the dirt. After all, who would willingly coat themselves in mud, just to travel a few miles. Well, it is a hazard of life. It is not exactly a thrill seek, but facing the elements on two wheels, pure human strength in the face of the wind and succeeding is an exhilarating thrill. A little bit of mud can easily be washed off, but the sheer fun, and yes, it is fun to get mucky and yucky in the great outdoors lets me act like a kid. And you know what, I love it!

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

The Cycle Blog 2: Night Cycling

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If you are going to take to two wheels in the Winter months then eat your carrots. Coming up to December, this country can barely muster eight hours of daylight, and having an affinity for the dark really helps. If you are a shift worker like me, then the dark is your friend. For half the year, it is a reality that I can thankfully thrive in. But what abut cycling at night. After all, there are so many bits and pieces of advice floating around, what is the best thing to do?

Well, I would advise on lights. One on the back and definitely one on the front, that is the priority one. As a cyclist, we are well lit up from the back, but from the front is where vehicles pulling out need to see us. Out lights are not for us to see, but for others to see us, especially in the urban area.

With regards to Hi-Vis and helmets I am unsure about their need. While common sense dictates that these should be 'de rigeur', my own personal experience tells me it is better to be all in black, and just have a set of lights at night. If I look 'safe' then cars take greater risks with me, while if I look like someone who does not care about life, I will get a wide berth from passing vehicles. Also a cyclist in a Hi-Vis looks like a prat, while a cyclist dressed in dark colours looks like a nutcase. However, it is each to their own, but there is a case for a lack of cycle safety as it does put the onus on road users who actually cause the fatalities.

(By the by, I am no road safety officer and these comments are from my own personal experiences. They should be taken with a large pinch of salt. In other words, I am not responsible for anyones else's experiences on the roads after they read this. Got it!)

Cycling at night has its hazards. Drunk drivers are the worse followed by drivers who just don't give a s**t (minicabs, saloon cars, sports cars, vans, 7.5T lorries, tipper trucks, single deck buses in that order) and the hesitant ones who pull out halfway and stop. Then there are people, kids, who take great delight at trying to knock you off. Finally, the biggest criminals, doors opening from drivers, too fat to turn their necks and look out for cyclists. Yes, it is the responsibility of the driver to control their own doors and there is a straightforward lawsuit if struck by an opening car door, for the cyclist. But my well being is far more important than an easy paycheque.

So why cycle at night? Well, it is peaceful, especially in the early dawn hours, or when the clubbers and pubbers have died down. London is a 24 hour city, but at the same time, it is a tame urban sprawl that likes its beauty sleep.



There is a startling array at night that makes deserted roads, small lanes and hidden paths a delight to discover. Structures that look one way in the day can suddenly seem ethereal at night. It is a poignant beauty that makes you stop and look, something that is rare in London, when the rat race is all encompassing.



A picture is worth a thousand words. It is very easy to write about the negatves of night time cycling, but even easier just to show why I enjoy taking to my cycle during the small hours. It is through necessity why my timing is always strange, but nonetheless I take advantage of the fact and I am one of the lucky few who gets to see the capital in a different light.

Monday, 8 December 2008

The Cycle Blog 1: Autumnal Cycling

Autumn/Winter is not a time to cycle. The nights are far too long, the rain is heavy and recently, the recent freezing conditions means that it is actually a pleasant experience to use the Northern Line at this time of the year. The pleasures of summer have given over to the dull realities of winter.

Well, not necessarily. Not for me, anyways. Day in, day out, I still prefer two wheels over any other form of transportation. Sure, it is a bit cold, but the body warms up relatively quickly, even in the absolutely hellish conditions over the past few nights (and they have been torrid).

Why cycle? A good question. Primarily, it is because I like to eat. A lot. And my weight will balloon if I do not carry out any physical activity. Dieting is not in my vocabulary and so the only other way to not head for a heart attack is to exercise. I find gymnasiums dull (and too camp for my liking), jogging is equally a chore and swimming is too much of a mission. Essentially, these activities require free time. I do not have free time.

Cycling is the perfect hybrid solution to all of this. In terms of time-keeping, it is not that bad, especially when cycling in the awful London traffic. Plus I actually get to keep fit and so my transportation and health needs are taken care in one full swoop.

I am not here to encourage cycling. London's roads are filled with nutters (I am one of them) and I have been hit more times on a bicycle than by any other type of transport. A thick skin and plenty of patience as well as an eagle eye are necessary elements to cycling in the capital. And remember, in these long dark nights, you will not be seen by the imbecile pulling out from the driveway with windows that are all misted up.


(What a driver might see if he/she actually looked out of the window instead of the sat nav.)

Cycling also fits into my natural urge to explore as well. You see very little from the windows of an underground train and when walking, there is often very little to appreciate when trying to get from A-B. Driving by car in a city designed for, well, bicycles, horses and trams, is not a dignified way to travel. On a cycle, there are the options for main roads, side streets, rivers, canals and parks, and a lot of these places are open 24/7 to cyclists, long after car drivers are scuttled onto the surrounding streets. Grab a camera and see the sights. It is surprising, even to me, just how many bits and bobs are lurking around the corner from were I live.

There is also something quite exhilarating about cycling through the long cold nights, with mist creeping from the river banks or finding a hidden path that takes in streams, railway tracks and industrial sites. And because I cycle at odd times of the day, I see a very different side of the city. London is an incredible place, it has a diversity in the urban fabric that is unmatched by any other city on the face of the Earth. Cycling gives me the chance to see the hidden parts of the city, often shunned by those on a quick commute or those with a mission to nowhere. It may be a little less efficient than the tube, or a little more risky than being surrounded by the metal plating of a car. However, there are certain pleasures to be gained from the power of the pedal.


(The current incarnation of the Dirt Monkey, in all its glory)

Sunday, 7 December 2008

The Grand Tour

Some of you might know that I drive the Night Bus through South London's daunting streets. If not, you now do. Last night/this morning was an interesting job. Shocking. Not for the job itself, but where I drove. It was one of those 'funny' duties that had three routes in one shift, plus a lot of 'out of service' driving to get from one route to the next. Essentially, I was flying around through South London last night sometimes in service, sometimes out of service, but covering a huge amount of mileage.

Here is a list of the places (not in order) that I drove to/through last night:

Wallington, Hackbridge, St Helier, Sutton, Cheam, Worcester Park, Mitcham, Streatham, Brixton, Lambeth, Waterloo, The West End, Westminster, Elephant & Castle, Kennington, Oval, Stockwell, Clapham, Balham, Tooting, Merton, Morden, Carshalton, Croydon, New Malden and Kingston upon Thames.

(Now I could give a far more detailed list, that would include places that people have never heard of before including Wrythe Green, Roundshaw and Coombe. However, as most parts of South London are pretty obsucre, I have just gone for the major centres).

As you can see, a shocking distance covered visiting a quarter of the Capital's boroughs in one shift. At least the sheer variety of places kept me awake all night long! Oh the joys of the Nightbus.

Saturday, 6 December 2008

This week's Vlogsup

Shockingly, it was my longest video for vlogsup, and possibly my least interesting one, as it was not weird just a straight forward blog.

Enjoy

Thursday, 4 December 2008

The Sex Blog 2 (Robots)

Previously on 'El Director'.

The Advantages of Having Sex with a Robot:

Turned on when you are.
No need to be presentable before sex.
Customise the voice to what you want (sultry/squealing/sassy)
Basically you have a 'hard wired sex slave' (damn, I wish I came up with that quote)


The Disadvantages of Having Sex with a Robot:

They are heavy. This is not obesity, just pure solid metal.
Needs to be recharged continuously. These things can die out in the heat of the moment (unless you are into necrophilia).
Lack of mobility (you can't take these things on the tube).
Kind of geeky to have.

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

London - Protected

The UK loves to list its buildings, and for those reading this blog who are not on these fair shores, that is quite simple. Anything old, leave it alone. This is (part) of the reason why nothing works well in this country. We are not allowed to knock it down and start afresh. Of course, this makes for quite an unusual architectural landscape:



It is not just the pretty structures that are protected, but those which serve as some architectural tab of an era or event. Somewhere like the US or China is famed for knocking down anything that is past a certain date, but over here bricks & mortar, plus a lack of earthquakes, allows us to hold onto things that in reality would have been packed away in a museum a long time ago.



Now, as you know, I, via this blog, regularly visit various crossings (click for the list so far) over the Thames. Once a month I make a point to go out into the city and visit a place by the River where I take photographs, take in some local history and check out the fine cuisine on offer. Normally, this is not a food blog, so I keep the reviews down to a minimum. For the last 18 months I have kept up this steady stream of crossing points over London's great divide, making a point to fit in one journey per month. I have had two deviations from my course along the Thames. One up in the far north (a photo fest) and one in the not so far north. I do this as it gives me a chance to explore my city, my inner geek and my own sanity.

But I deviate. Recently, a lot of these crossings have now received listed status. So that means that a lot of the crossings I have used and a lot of the crossings to be used cannot be knocked down. Technically. Well, they can, but it is bloody hard to do so. The reality is that many of these bridges could not be knocked down anyway as they are essential to traffic flow and to be honest, we really do not have the cash to rebuild.

But one thing that is interesting to note, is how much of London's infrastructure is protected. It does show how good the engineering of the time was to allow them to be protected as well as utilised today. This city has far outgrown it design, but it is a testament to the work of today's workers that this stuff still holds up. But one thing I have to ask. Would any other country conserve so much of its heritage in the face of modernisation. One of the problems in this country is that we do not modernise. It means that tasks are usually very slow to achieve here in the UK. However, we are very good at adapting, using our present facilities. It is a trade off, but in the effort to save a few minutes, countless areas of the world are loosing a piece of their own history. There is not much history on this little island, and so what is conserved for the future is worthwhile. London does not have the prettiest cityscape, but it is unique one, due to the heritage laws that are in place. And that makes for a far more interesting city, especially when compared to some of our European counterparts, which may look beautiful, but ultimately do not have the eclectic flavour of the Capital. Anyway, sometimes English Heritage gets it right:



(Next month, Vauxhall, another newly listed bridge)

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Bridges over the Dollis Brook: The Northern Line's Dollis Brook Viaduct



I was wandering around this part of semi-suburban North London last week (don't ask why) and decided to take a stroll to see one of London's most impressive but least talked about structures. The Dollis Brook Viaduct.

Now, the Northern Line pretty much holds a lot of records. It is the busiest line on the system, it was the first of the 'deep level tube tunnels' (Stockwell to Bank), has the longest continuous tunnel on the tube (in fact one of the longest tunnels in the world Morden to East Finchley), has the lowest point below the surface (Hampstead), had the highest point above the surface (Dollis Brook Viaduct), the lowest point below sea level (Waterloo), the longest escalators in Europe (Angel) and of particular interest to me as I live on the wrong side of the river, the ironically named Northern Line goes the furthest south (Morden). Oh, and I work along the line as well.

Dubbed the misery line, it has got better over recent years (honestly, it has) but it suffers from severe overcrowding as the surrounding rail network is crap, there is a lack of timetabling and in summer it is baking hot (although at this time of year it is toasty warm!)



The Dollis Brook Viaduct seems like a mistake. After all, it carries a shuttle service between Mill Hill East and Finchley Central over a single track. Hardly befitting of such an impressive structure. Why would London Underground waste so much money on such a huge structure to serve just one station on a spur.

Well, it was built, allegedly, way before in the Victorian times and linked Edgeware (to the west) with the Ally Pally to the east, King's Cross and Moorgate. Then in 1935, the New Works Programme kicked in as a way to stimulate the depression hit Brtish economy and Mill Hill East was to become the epicentre of the Northern Line's operations. An electrified speedway encompassing the glories of North London. Typically, a war kicked in and then afterwards the government realised that we were bankrupt and stopped the plan to make the Northern Line truly Northern.

But, let us get back to the viaduct:



It is huge! With a train regularly crossing over it, I am shocked that TfL did not close the line in the 1980/90's when other forlorn branches went. In today's political and environmental climate, it is unacceptable to close stations and Mill Hill East looks safe. For now. But it is a grandiose structure, strutting away over the Dollis Brook. And I must admit, I expected a raging torrent to be responsible for the necessity of such a large bridge.



Yep that is the Dollis Brook. Want to see it again?



I expect the areas contours came from Post Glacial Melt and yes, the maximum extent of the ice pack reached Finchley. I told you it was cold up noorf. But saying that, this is quite a pretty part of London. Lots of parks and woods interspersed with dinky little houses, this is prime credit crunch territory. This is the place where the recession is going to hit home hard:



So before the area becomes a swathe of forgotten repayments, a rat race turned to hell and repossession central, just remember, the reason why the Northern Line comes out this far in the first place. It was an effort by government to stimulate the post-depression economy of the 1930's by creating thousands of construction jobs.



Now whoever thought that a simple bridge could encompass so much politics, history (both natural and man-made) and factual fun. Such is the extent of London, just scratch beneath the surface and a whole story can be discovered. Sometimes, you got to love this city, despite the pap it throws at you.



The viaduct ends up at the unimpressive Mill Hill East. Now this is one forlorn looking station and one of the few points on the Northern Line that does not have its own Night Bus. Mirroring the lack of development from the 1930's, the area looks as if it has been forgotten as well. A new supermarket round the corner illustrates the wasted opportunity to utilise this area's transport links for real high density housing, built to modern standards. But this is posh country and the locals needed that shopping zone, the North London equivalent of a farmers market.



Despite its location on the Northern Line, Mill Hill East is in a different world to the rest of that tube line. While there are some grubby parts to the tube's busiest line, the branch to the north east is actually rather posh, with only Archway as the anomalous (crappy) bit on the track. No, I did not stop for photos there (another mission, another day), as I was too busy up in Mill Hill East scrabbling in the mud.



Okay, it is a little deviation from my normal monthly ramblings about the River Thames, but hey, it makes for an interesting diversion. In fact, one thing I am very impressed by is the fact that I am still keeping up to that monthly programme.

End of the line...



Getting there and away:

The Dollis Brook Viaduct is a short walk downhill in a straight line from Finchley Central or a scrabble through the back streets from Mill Hill East tube stations. Alternatively route 382 passes underneath it.

---
Also related, the Northern Heights Walk which I completed later on as part of my wanderings along the Northern Line.

Monday, 1 December 2008

Calling all Musicians! Want to get on the Radio?

For the uninitiated, I run a radio programme. All right, it may not be much, but it has one unique bit on it. I invite musicians to the show and give them a one hour plug themselves over the East London airwaves.

So, how do you get yourself on this show. Or if you are a manager/agent, how do you get your clients on the air. Quite easy, drop me a line, and you can find the e-mail address on our website. Yep, just send to the 'info' address and I will get the message.

And there is no need to be nervous. Remember, I want to hear from you and I want to get you on the air and expose you (musically). After all, this is the whole point of the NuTaqlent spot. To promote new musicians, artists who do not have a voice and to garner them an audience that is a little wider than the norm. Also, it really helps with PRS registration and other official bits and bobs.

So this is what you should do:

1)E-mail me via NuSound Radio. Attach an mp3 or a website link where I can listen to your song(s).

Personally, I really do not care about an official introduction ('I saw your station on the uk media website...'). I really want to hear about you, the artist. A couple of lines is fine. Tell me about yourself. And make sure there is a way I can listen to your music. Send an mp3 or a weblink.

If you do have a website or a myspace/youtube/blog, whatever, provide that information. I am a nosey fella and like to have a gander round. And of course, provide a phone number/mobile etc, but most important provide an e-mail address. I do most of my contact via e-mail and so that is essential.

2)Organise a date.

Yep, I will e-mail you back. I usually check my NuSound inbox twice a week, so do not worry if I do not get back to you immediately. The show is every Sunday from 5-7pm (UK time) and the artists own slot is from 6=7pm.

3)Material.

I normally ask for two CD's of music. It is a logistical thing, trust me. Spare CD's are always good, you can never go wrong with spares. Mp3 files and memory sticks are not so good. Never know when the computer is about to crash. It has only happened once on air, but I do not want to repeat that experience. And does anyone use tapes anymore?

4)Clean Material.

I am on the radio. So are you. Make sure the lyrics are clean. That means you have to provide enough songs (at least four) that are safe to play to both your little nephew and niece as well as to your elderly grandparents. Well, it does not have to be that sedate, but no swearing and no hate lyrics.

5)No Plugs.

This is optional, but I love a live performance, so bring your voices and either a backup track or some peeps to play some music with you. Swinging!

6)Yourselves.

Turn up. And turn up on-time. This is the biggest bug bear of many musicians, the fact that they do not turn up on time or they sometimes do not even turn up at all. Sigh.

You can come on the show from 5pm (good advice as that allows you some free exposure) but definitely arrive in the studio by 5.30pm. That gives time for you guys to do the sound test, and make sure your CD's are working. Logistics, but it helps. And remember, as it is a Sunday in East London, plan your journey carefully.


So what are you waiting for. You are one e-mail away from radio broadcast!