Friday, 31 December 2010

Irfan Post 20 - Burn, baby, burn!

I am going to be blunt. My cast and crew probably did not give two hoots about the previous posts, but were politely reading them. But this post, they do care about:



For the past two days, I have been burning these babies. The film, is finished!

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

London Diary 38

Another day, another dollar. I slumped onto the tram. I hate Christmas. So many happy, successful people out there, enjoying time off with their families while I am too flipping poor to take the time off. Lording it with their bags of shopping full of goods for the sales while I have a gas bill as large as Mount Everest to pay off by the end of the month. And a Happy New Year to you.

I hate using the tram. The floor is always covered with some sticky residue, the dismembered voice telling me every few moments to keep an eye out for suspect packages and inane rattling of the metal pole that rings in my ears and prevents me from dozing off.

Well, by the time I get to Merton, I'm almost asleep. The rattling has stopped, but a jolt wakes me up. A girl behind me is talking on her phone.

'Yeah, the school expelled her because she is really disruptive in class. Her mum tried to send her to St Agatha's which is one of the best schools for special needs, but they don't want her. Yeah, she makes noises in class like an animal and the teachers can't control her.'

For some reason, my interest is perked. Personally, I do not like kids. Annoying, dysfunctional brats. Yeah. I was a kid once, and I am glad I am no longer that pratty. But this conversation is interesting. It doesn't deal with, like Facebook, yeah (most kid's conversations today), but of something real...

'She's on the ADHD drug. She has 80mg, because she is like, really fucked up, while I am only on 50mg. Shit, it's my stop!'

The girl gets up and walks past, in a gangly, adolescent way. Awkwardly growing into herself and into the world around her. But what the hell are we raising as a society?

We no longer love our kids but buy sh**ty gifts to prove our affections. No longer do we have contact in person, but online. We no longer smack our kids, but pump them full of drugs and send them to the naughty corner. Like me, the girl is mixed race - society's shameful lust - packed away to be harmless. Drugged up and eventually under trodden, to ride the rails like me. Fed up, worn out and listening to the bulls**t of the city. Thank God my stop is almost here. I have had enough of tonight...

Monday, 27 December 2010

Routine - again - with sound!

I just thought I'd add a small soundtrack and some credits to this short. Enjoy!

Sunday, 26 December 2010

Irfan Post 19...

Render, render, render...



While today I am in awe of the 4TB of hard drive that I am working with, in a few years time, this will seem all so quaint!

Saturday, 25 December 2010

Irfan Post 18c - The last one on Colour Correction...

...And not before time. The stuff bores me silly, but it is, well, essential to making the pic as beautiful as possible.

Here is a shot from the last scene to be shot. And that scene is normally the director's nightmare. The last scene that is shot is normally the most rushed, the one when the cast and crew is at its most rushed and fatigued. And if it is outdoors, the one where the sunlight level is constantly changing as the sun sets in the sky.

Yeah, note to self, the next time I shoot a final scene, make sure it is indoors...

So this was the scene where I am having the most difficulty in correcting the colours. I knew it when editing, this would be the scene that would stump me. Take a look at the original shot:



Time. When the sun goes down, you are racing against time, and it is humanly impossible to work against the sunlight levels, no matter how much goodwill is on set.

Right, so as you can see, the scene looks really bleached out, and a little red. So first things first, I got rid of the red and slightly darkened the clips in this scene:



Next, I moved onto the secondary corrections and managed to enhance Irfan's face as well as bump up the colour of the car. I also removed some of the light from the fence in the background, so as not to distract from the character's emotion onscreen.



It is Christmas, so I am on the computer? Hell yeah! One of the best day's to start the rendering, but that is another blog post - number 19 - the one that the cast and crew will be almost looking forward to (well, they are waiting for post number 20).

Merry Christmas everyone!

Friday, 24 December 2010

Are you dreaming of a white Christmas - still?



Well, the UK has been at a standstill for the bulk of the month, but there are still people dreaming of a White Christmas...not!

Well, the melt i here, but whether the snow will return or not, I hope you all enjoy the Christmas period! As for me...

Monday, 20 December 2010

London Diary 37

Just holding onto her...the warmth of her body on mine...felt...hmm, comforting...but why...after all, we have not known each other for long...so why do we hold onto each other...still...when we don't really know each other...is it sex...loneliness, or a fear of loneliness...is it love...ah, that word...the biggest word in life...only if you believe in the movies...but lying here with her...I think...a dangerous thing to do...

Sunday, 19 December 2010

The Bicycle Diaries - Snow 2010



Sometimes pictures speak louder than words. 7am this morning on Kingston Bridge while cycling back home...

Saturday, 18 December 2010

Irfan Post 18b - Correcting the Colours in the night...

(Note - I know a lot of these photos look pretty much the same, and for all you know I could be bulls**tting all of the corrections - but blame jpegs - a nasty codec that strips all humanity and soul from my blog posts...but take a look at the first and the last photos in the post and you will see the greatest difference of before and after)

This blog will look at the colour correcting of Irfan during night scenes, something very different from the last blog post which looked at an outdoor daylight scene.

Here, the grading is a lot more subtle. The whole point of a night scene is that it is dark. There are going to be few problems with digital fade which is often seen during daylight hours where the picture looks washed out. At night, it is the lighting on the set that matter - and thankfully the lighting was good during the shooting of Irfan.

This is the original footage from the prayer scene.



It is actually a beautiful shot, and something I will probably use in the publicity stills (later on). But there were a few additions I added to this shot. Firstly, I tinted the whole picture blue, in fact the whole scene is tinted blue. I wante to give that cold feeling to the audience, a chill, a sense of death. This may sound waffly, but I am a director, waffle is my bread and butter...or my syrup coated waffles...anyways, as part of the mechanics of the plot, this scene is meant to resemble death, and the blue tint across the whole of this segment of the movie for me gives a sense of cold.



Lastly, I put some subtle colours in at the Secondary correction stage. While not clear in this pic, earlier in the clip, when Irfan's face and mosque cap is in shot, I tinted both those features to give a crisper looking Mosque cap and a more vibrant face so we can see the charater's emotions.



You know what, let me back up a few frames in the clip, so you can see the effect the secondary corrections have on the picture quality. This is a shot from the same clip, with the blue tint (primary corrections) only.



And here is that same shot with the secondary corrections now in place. Note the Mosque cap is a lot cleaner while you can see a little more of Irfan's features.



Colour correcting with regards to dark conditions is more subtle. In fact, it is easier. In the daylight, I have to account for the changes in weather, the angle of the sun etc. Night time correction is easiest of all. As it is dark, I am not trying to brighten up (or dull down) the whole picture - hey, it is dark. So the corrections I am making are more focused on subtle points to enhance the story telling aspect. It is more creative, yeah, fun, and less technical as the tech stuff has been done by the lighting crew during the filming.

More fun from the crayon room coming soon...

Friday, 17 December 2010

Irfan Post 18a - Correcting the colours in the day...

Right, this is three days in a row of colour correction news, as to fit all of this onto one blog post would boggle the reader (as well as screw my head off). I will be blunt before I head into this. Colour Correction is dull. While editing and even sound editing has a creative edge to it that constructs the story, colour correction is actually quite dull, when doing the task in the strictest possible way. In other words, when you are just correcting colours. I had more fun doing colour correction for Caution Wet Paint, as I was actually manipulating the colours to make a story. But then CWP was a very different beast from Irfan - it was designed to look like a comic book, while Irfan is a serious piece, and so the colour correction process for this film is purely functional.

What I will show today is the colour correction of a normal scene shot in the daytime with great lighting. In other words, a scene that does not need a lot of work done to it. And I have chosen Irfan's longest scene, the initial conflict between the two main characters, Irfan and Vasile.



This is how the original sots of Irfan look like when the character of Irfan is at the front door of Vasile's house. It is beautiful, but the colours are a bit dull and flat. This was shot on digital film, and unfortunately no matter how good the camera is, you always have to do a little bit of correction to bounce up the picture. Of course the alternative is to shoot in black and white. A note to self when I do my next film, grade it so everything is B&W and you save yourself a lot of heartache during post!

But here is the picture of Sippy who plays the title role - Irfan with the colours now corrected:



As you can see, the picture looks instantly a hell of a lot better. More vibrant, especially when it comes to people. While last week I was talking about the colour of the car, the really tricky bit comes to people. Objects have uniform colours, smooth contours, and are often static. Even when objects are moving, the light usually acts in a predictable way on them.

Not for people. But my films are about people and so while for objects, you can usually copy and paste the settings from one shot to the next, for people, it is very different. Each shot requires the patience of a saint.

And for completion, let us take a look at the character of Vasile, played by Cristian. Different skin tones and an almost 180 spin in the angle means that the light is going to play completely new tricks on him, even though we are shooting in the same location. Here is Cristian before:



and after:



As you can see, the principles between the shots of Irfan and Vasile are the same. Bounce up the sin colour, improve the general light ambiance of the scene. But her, I also fiddled a bit with the background. While Sippy is in the shot, we get a blurry view of some bushes and the sky in the background, and so it was just a case of taking little bit of the brightness out of the sky so the image does not completely white-out. However, when Cristian is in frame, the background is a door, and is fairly detailed. I like the look of it, and so enhanced the image just a tad, making the door's colour a little richer, and refining a few of the details on the door. Well, trust me, I did. Subtle changes, but I liked them...

Next Irfan post, what happens when you colour correct in the dark...

Thursday, 16 December 2010

I am Navi's biaaatch

If you know who Navi is, then I am well impressed!

Anyway, I have been Kung Fu busy these past few days. Plus, pretty uninspired to write anything meaningful. My aim was to have written a Haiku on Sunday, but my mind could not figure out a whole 17 syllables!

But tomorrow will be a good blog post - haha!

Sunday, 12 December 2010

The Sun makes me feel -

Happy!

Look, I will be honest. I am not a winter baby. I love the sunshine. Plus the fact that the tube is almost working - just look at the amount of engineering works - almost nothing!



So that means I will have a fun day running around on public transport. Finally, I just feel...frisky!

Oh, and I have eaten some shortbread this morning. Mmm, shortbread...

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Two sides of the same coin...

A man, standing up for truth and virture. For freedom. Wanting to get the truth heard. Willing to risk everything, even, potentially his own life, in order to make the way for a better future. To hold governments responsible for their deeds and actions. He is now imprisoned, probably on trumped up charges and has an uncertain future. Let us think about Liu Xiaobol.

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A man, standing up for truth and virture. For freedom. Wanting to get the truth heard. Willing to risk everything, even, potentially his own life, in order to make the way for a better future. To hold governments responsible for their deeds and actions. He is now imprisoned, probably on trumped up charges and has an uncertain future. Let us think about Julian Assange.

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Don't you just love double standards?

Friday, 10 December 2010

Routine - New Vid!

A quickie here. As part of a competition of short films to be shown on the Tube. So I made a short twenty second short a couple of weeks ago. It is silent as the competition required and a lot of people have entered as you can see here. Anyway, this film proved a lovely little distraction from editing Irfan, and it was a fun challenge to make such an extremely sort film in such a short time.

'Routine' from Charles Michel Duke on Vimeo.



(If you can't see the vid, then click here to view it!)

Take a peek, click and state that you love this film and fingers crossed, we hopefully get this up and about!

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Irfan Post 17 - Colouring the Picture!

The good news is that if I am colour correcting, it means that the editing of Irfan is done. Really, it is complete. At 17mins and 54secs (not including credits) it is the longest film I have done in a fair old while. But thankfully, it is not technically the most complex. That honour goes to my last short film, Caution Wet Paint. The difference this time with Irfan has been the length, which has meant it has taken a lot longer to finish. Plus the fact that I basically had the whole of August written off, as I was at the film festivals on the continent.

One thing I have to add is that during the Sound Editing, I was always tweaking Irfan. Taking bits and pieces off the edges. When I sent the first draft to Nick for musical inspiration, the film was 22 minutes long. So you can see that in the meantime, it has been whittled down a considerable amount. While my main concentration has been the sound, you cannot help but fiddle with the lengths. However, a seventh of the film is much more than a fiddle. Yes, unfortunately I have dropped the feather scene (the cast and crew will know exactly what I am talking about) and a hell of a lot of lines are gone. There are really only two bits in the film where I have any real dialogue between the characters. The rest is purely visual.

And before I delve into the sticky and sweet world of colour correction, let me say that there were also a couple of moment shots that I also removed from the film. What felt moving in my mind was tedious on the screen. Interestingly, a couple of the ad-libs off the set have made it into the movie. The thinking on your feet, on-the-day stuff turned out to be damn useful!

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All right, as colour correction is actually a really dull exercise, I will show you some fun things that I do while sitting at my computer.

(My life at this moment in time is utterly sad. You will see below.)

This is an original sot from the movie, uncorrected.



And this is the shot when I have finished with it!



Look, the car is now green! isn't that amazing! Wow, I like, sooo love computers and all! Mummy, can you make your car turn green?!?!?!

All right, I am only mucking about, this is the shot, wuth the blue colour of the car bumped up, so looking a lot more vibrant than in the original (first pic):



(You can see why I have no life. I am excited at turning something blue into something green. Ugh...I despise colour correction!)

More next week on the process! I will be doing a lot of this, not just on the inanimate objects, but also bumping up people's skin tones, clothing and even eye colour. Do not underestimate the detail ;)

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

The Bicycle Diaries - More Winter Fun!

It was snowing last week in London. And so common sense dictated that I must use my bicycle to get to work!

Sigh...

It is time to adapt the bicycle to the winter period. I will explain why. I slipped up on the ice and so decided to change the tyres. Not that this is going to do to much good on the ice, but it does help a little. Honest!



The grip tyres are one part of the adaptation to winter. The second is an extra light. It gets very dark now, we will get almost 18 hours of night time come December. The lights will not do much good for seeing in the dark (after all - we have street lights!) but to be seen. There are too many times when cars pull out in front of you. Most of the time, it is because they DO see you cycling, but are just w**kers. However, what is more dangerous is when they DON'T see you and pull out far too close to you.



So I am almost ready for the winter weather. I will change my brake pads next week (need to buy them from the shops) and will be ready for whatever the cold throws at me.

POSTSCRIPT: Yes, while the weather is crappy at this time, it is not that bad to cycle in London. You warm up after ten minutes of riding, and the extremities are well protected from the wind. So all that leaves is for me to keep on slinking through the city...

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Charlie (on holiday) in London (7): Looking back, and over London Town...

Does a holiday count if you decide to stay in the same city? To visit the sights and sounds that is normally mundane and routine? Well, we have a much quoted maxim, you never bother to see Madamme Tussaud's unless a visitor is in town. Well, last month I decided to head out into the city, and explore it, just a little. So join me this week, as I take you on a mini-tour of some of London's more fashionable (and quirky) sights.

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I admit it. I love London. No, it is not the prettiest city in the world (anywhere else except Colombo could fit that bill) nor is it the biggest or the funkiest city in the world. There is a lot more clas out there to see, but the one thing that London has above the rest of the world its ecelctic nature. First, because there are thirty-three different fiefdoms, sorry, boroughs, each with their own agenda. Secondly, we have a city-wide government which has less powers than the boroughs, but then can also override those boroughs. Confused? Yeah. Add to the mix, the Central Government, English Heritage (which tries to list every building), NIMBY's, my neighbour's cat and the popular press that has their own agenda, plus, the fact that we have such a sense of businesslike savvy, that nothing is actually built by the state and yes, that means London is as varied as a curry - a tasty as one as well. And I like curry ;)

Now let me take a look back at the past week of blogging. As I said at the top of the blog, us Londoners never usually get the chance, well, to be honest, never can be bothered to actually see the city beyond our own front rooms. And so I am glad that I took some time out to actually see London. I have been to all of these places before, numerous times, but it was great to see London through a fresh pair of eyes.



Where shall I look back at London from? Ah, sightlines! There are quite a few hills in London, and the view towards the Centre of town, in particular, towards St Paul's Cathederal are protected by law. Yep, that is correct, the view, from a hill, is enshrined in the UK's planning laws. Wow. Only in London. It is one of the major reasons why there have historically been few high rises in Central London. That has now changed with the obvious need for commercial common sense. But there are still certain parts of London whose views of St Paul's must be unobscured. Shooter's Hill (London's highest point), Richmond Park, Primrose Hill and two that I visited on my mini-break, Hampstead Heath and my personal favourite, the Royal Observatory in Greenwich Park.

Hampstead Heath is gorgeous. And Parliament Hill Fields, the highest point of the heath is a great place to sit, enjoy the view and wait...yeah, London does look beautiful!



And then there is the view from Greenwich. Two of them. First, you have the view to New London, the gorgeous, the spectacular Canary Wharf. Yeah, a lot of people may not like the area, the redevelopment of Docklands is controversial, but I do like it. And Canary Wharf is iconic.



Here is the view of Classic London. Stunning, beautiful and amazingly still protected. St Paul's is there. And the Gherkin, rising up. There will be more skyscrapers joining the humble few in The City. And you know what, they are still going to look great amongst the backdrop.



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Getting there and away:

Hampstead Heath can be reached via Hampstead Station (Northern Line) or Hampstead Heath (London Overground). Bus route 24 gives a long but scenic ride from Central London.

The closest station to Greenwich Park and the Royal Observatory is Cutty Sark (Docklands Light Railway). Bus route 188 links Greenwich to Central London, and yes, this is a long ride, not so pretty as riding to Hampstead, but will give you an interesting view of South London.

Monday, 6 December 2010

Charlie (on holiday) in London (6): The City

Does a holiday count if you decide to stay in the same city? To visit the sights and sounds that is normally mundane and routine? Well, we have a much quoted maxim, you never bother to see Madamme Tussaud's unless a visitor is in town. Well, last month I decided to head out into the city, and explore it, just a little. So join me this week, as I take you on a mini-tour of some of London's more fashionable (and quirky) sights.

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The City of London, sometimes known as The Square Mile, due to the historical size of the old Roman settlement. Well, it is a Monday, and after a frivolous weekend of shopping delights, we all have to get back to work on Monday morning, to slave away at our desks and look forward to another weekend of shopping delights! And where else to work, but at the very heart of it all, where London really began - the City of London, more commonly referred to by its colloquialism, The City.

(The Bank of England in all its Glory)


The City is a financial powerhouse, and despite the ravages that our economy has supposedly undergone, there are still new buildings heading upward towards the sky. The future is bright, especially when the government subsidises you!

The City has traditionally been a low-rise contraption. But deregulation of the financial sector in the 1980's led to a surge in the economy. Loadsamoney! And those ancient sightlines (more about these tomorrow) to St Paul's Cathedral, were silently shaved off. Slowly towers rose up. First came the Natwest Tower (now Tower 42):



Then came the Lloyds Building:



But The City never really had any iconic structures until the arrival of the Gherkin, or 30 St Mary's Axe to give it its official name.



Ah, the Gherkin, what a legachy of the Noughties this was. Flash cash, but with a touch of style, it stands out. A mistake, probably not, but a wee bit embarrassing of the times. That is the social commentary. As a structure, I think it is gorgeous. Not the tallest skyscraper in London, but probably the prettiest, and it has become iconic in its own way. If approaching from the East End, it stands out, amongst the other tall structures of The City, while from south London, its curvy shape is instantly recognisable amongst the other office blocks in this part of town.



The City of London itself is a fascinating place to wander around. On a weekday, this tiny section of London is filled with workers from across the metropolis. On weekends it is a ghost town, devoid of life, with roads eerily quiet. Both are wonderful times to go for a wander. The hustle and bustle contrasted with tranquility. The City is surprisingly cultural however, with its Ancient churches dotting the landscape and providing quiet oases of charm in the urban fabric. The excellent Museum of London is also based here, and there are other outlets to visit including the Corporation's own headquarters - Guildhall:



As well as St Paul's which lies in the heart of The City.

The City of London is often overlooked by visitors as a place where there are offices and one great big cathedral. But it is also a place which holds a certain charm. It is the oldest part of London, although very little remains of the original Roman settlement. It is the core of London, and reason why it exists today. As the starting point of the metropolis, it does hold a special place in the fabric of London. It is also socially fascinating. Watch those arrogant flash things mingle with the minimum wage cafe workers. Or watch the difference in society as the most powerful individuals in the country dominate during weekdays, while in the wee small hours of the morning, an army of illegal workers clean their offices and makes sure everything is nice and neat. Come on, this is me here, El Director, you do not think I am going to let go of a piece of social commentary, especially here, in the heart of London town, where there is probably no greater gap between rich and poor anywhere else on this planet in such a short distance!

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Getting there and away:

The City is at the heart of London and as is such, is easily served by numerous tube stations and bus routes. The Central Line from Chancery Lane to Liverpool Street cuts right through the middle of the city, and any of the stations in between these two points will give you ample access to the rest of the Square Mile.

Bus routes 8/N8, 15/N15, 26/N26, 63/N63 341, 344 and 388 are the most scenic ways to cross The City, but really, the best thing to do is just walk it through!

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Charlie (on holiday) in London (5): The East End

Does a holiday count if you decide to stay in the same city? To visit the sights and sounds that is normally mundane and routine? Well, we have a much quoted maxim, you never bother to see Madamme Tussaud's unless a visitor is in town. Well, last month I decided to head out into the city, and explore it, just a little. So join me this week, as I take you on a mini-tour of some of London's more fashionable (and quirky) sights.

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Yesterday I wrote about the West End and so today, it is only natural to talk about the East End. Why? Well, Sunday is the day that this part of London traditionally comes alive! While the rest of London simmers in a swirl of Sunday trading laws, the East End has never really had this problem. A gathering of immigrants from European Jews to the Bengalis of late has meant that it was other days that became the Sabbath and so London's traditional day of leisure and relaxation has meant that those in the East End are ready to cash-in on London's greatest pastime – shopping!



All right, all right, I am cynical about shopping, but there are two exceptions to this rule. Firstly I love shopping for food, and secondly, I love markets. All too often in the UK, we are treated to sanitised, fluorescent lit malls and supermarkets, indoor arenas where everything is just right for that special moment – oh please, do not make me puke. But in the market place, there is something a lot more raw and ready, a link to a more primitive time – before solid foundations and building statutes, there have been markets worldwide, across cultures and nations, it is something inherent to humanity. Blame the Archaeologist in me, but I would have loved to have witnessed the great trading scenes of Tlateleco or I should have spent more time in Bangkok at the Floating Markets. Nonetheless, despite the ravages of modern, credit card dominated capitalism, we have a few great market places, all in East London, all trading (madly) on a Sunday. I myself used to work one of those markets, in Petticoat Lane, selling coats. Ah, such is the varied life of this particular film director...



One of the things I love about the East End markets is the food pickings. Have a wander, and do not be tempted by the smells of the first stall. There is usually a plethora of fod outlets selling everything from cinnamon coated Churros to Miso Soup and everything in between. Ah, such is the eclectic nature of London's food scene. Witnessed best, not in some fancy restaurant but on the grubby streets of the capital itself. Take a peek, have a sniff and make your gamble on what you desire. The food is actually pretty good, fresh and importantly, cheap!

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There are four big market areas in East London, open every Sunday from the early hours until mid-afternoon. They are Columbia Road Flower Market - one of London's most scenic. Brick Lane, one of London's most eclectic. Spitalfields, one of London's poshest. And Petticoat Lane, a piece of traditional London hemmed in by posh on all sides.

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Getting there and away:

Columbia Road - Shoreditch High Street (London Overground) and bus routes 8, 26, 48, 55, 388 and D3.

Brick Lane - Shoreditch High Street (London Overground) or Aldgate East (District/Hammersmith & City) and bus routes 8, 15, 25, 67, 135, 205 or 388.

Spitalfileds - Aldgate East (District/Hammersmith & City) and bus routes 15, 25, 67, 135 and 205.

Petticoat Lane (the best connected of the lot) - Aldgate (Circle/Metropolitan) or Liverpool Street (Circle/Met/Hammersmith & City and Central) and bus routes 8, 11, 15, 23, 25, 26, 35, 40, 42, 47, 48, 55, 67, 78, 100, 133, 135, 149, 153, 205, 214, 242, 271, 344 or 388.

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Charlie (on holiday) in London (4): The West End

Does a holiday count if you decide to stay in the same city? To visit the sights and sounds that is normally mundane and routine? Well, we have a much quoted maxim, you never bother to see Madamme Tussaud's unless a visitor is in town. Well, last month I decided to head out into the city, and explore it, just a little. So join me this week, as I take you on a mini-tour of some of London's more fashionable (and quirky) sights.

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If you want to pick out London's great past time, then it is shopping. Yep, 100,000 years of existence on this planet has come to this. The pinnacle of humanity spends its time buying crap they do not really need, only to throw it in the nearest landfill when they are deluded by the next object of their desires. But, if you want to pick something up, then, well, London's West End is the place to be.



Oh yes, this is Oxford Street. Normally filled with buses, taxis and shoppers, but occasionally they close it off so that the mighty pedestrian can rule the tarmac. It becomes a pickpocket's paradise. This is London's high street, but to be honest, you could exchange it with any other suburban town in the country. The chain stores here sell exactly the same junk in your own town, and even the large department stores do not really have much to offer...

But there are gems to be found in London's West End, away from the hordes. Actually, I am lying, the hordes are everywhere! We do not have much in the way of assets or originality, but we do have a lot when it comes to finding the best deal. Hah, I laugh at our capitalistic mores...

Shopping is one aspect of the West End, but the area is also filled with bars, clubs, restaurants, theatres and cinemas. Probably nowhere else best illustrates the lure of the West End than Piccadilly Circus. No more than a glorified billboard, but it does look pretty in the night sky...



It is hard to draw a real border to this part of London. After all, there is no official boundary to the West End and it can go as far as Notting Hill, but for me, anything to the west of Park Lane is outside the core of London, and of course, the West End is north of the River. That leaves one large landmark smack bang in the middle of London's West End - Buckingham Palace!



Before I take my leave of the West End, there is one last place I want to point out. Covent Garden Market, a fascinating place. Was once one of London's largest wholesale fruiterers, before being shunted over the river to Vauxhall. Its layout is one of the few places in London that has been designed like a European piazza. It is a beautiful part of London, and it houses the fascinating London Transport Museum, amongst other shopping emporiums. The buskers are still there, doing their thing, but it still remains one of London's most relaxing (if now expansive) quarters. A place to do a little bit of people watching, to sip a cup of tea, or (of course) a place to come shopping...



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The West End of London is really easy to reach, and is surprisingly compact. It is far easier (and often quicker) to walk through rather than wait for transport. Still, if your feet are a little tired, then bus routes 9/N9, 14, 139, 159 and 390 give the most scenic bus rides through the West End as well as pretty much connecting to everything else. Tube stations are everywhere, but really, it is a lot easier to walk through this part of London!

Friday, 3 December 2010

Charlie (on holiday) in London (3): The Big Three

Does a holiday count if you decide to stay in the same city? To visit the sights and sounds that is normally mundane and routine? Well, we have a much quoted maxim, you never bother to see Madamme Tussaud's unless a visitor is in town. Well, last month I decided to head out into the city, and explore it, just a little. So join me this week, as I take you on a mini-tour of some of London's more fashionable (and quirky) sights.

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How very true that above statement is. And there are a lot of sights in London that I barely visit or pass through without giving them a second thought. Despite living in this city, I very rarely take the chance to enjoy my own home town. And why not. So let me head to the big three of London. If there are thee landmarks to chose in the Capital, that are recognised worldwide, what will they be? Show any child or adult around the world these three buildings, and they will instantly associate the image with London itself. They are of course Parliament, St Paul's Cathedral and Tower Bridge.

These landmarks are not noted for their size, or even history, all three buildings being relatively new compared to the fabric of the city. However, they are all beautiful, and each structure has an architectural merit to them (as well as a great quirk) that makes the skyline of Central London what it is. And yes, I did (re)visit these three landmarks recently on my mini-break in London.



I have covered Tower Bridge in my epic quest across the Thames, so there is no need to head back and regurgitate what has already been written. Suffice to say, Tower Bridge is one damn pretty crossing, and if you really want to enjoy this bridge on a walk along the South Bank of the Thames, then start at Waterloo and head east. Therefore, you do not have to walk away from it when going to the tube station.

Tower Bridge is one of the world's most iconic bridges, but it is insane to think that inside of it is a proper museum, telling the history of the bridge, alongside the period when the bridge was built. Although I was i inside that museum over a decade ago, it still remains in my mind one of the best (Paying) museums in London. Worth a visit, but you do need a full day for this exhibit. This may not be the world's largest bridge, but do not be fooled by the size. The fascination of Tower Bridge is there to behold, both inside and out!



Hah, Parliament, and the Clock Tower. I can be pedantic and state that Big Ben refers to the bell inside the Parliament's Clock Tower, but that would take the fun away, and so here it is, in all its glory, Big Ben! It is kitsch, it stands above the most vile building in the city (we hate our politicians), but you know what, I love the old clock, and the fact that you can hear it above all the traffic down below is astounding. Do realise that Parliament Square is still a very busy road junction! Time your trip well, and your ears as well as your eyes can feat to the delight of the world's most famous clock.



Possibly one of the world's most iconic churches, St Paul's Cathedral. Located in the heart of the City of London, it was rebuilt after the Great Fire of London in a stunning style that mirrored London's emergence from the squalor of the Medieval age. It is such an important piece of architectural heritage, that sight lines from throughout the city are preserved for Londoners in the suburbs to enjoy the dome that rises 365 feet above ground (more on that tomorrow). It is brightly lit up at night, and is a handy marker in that is located on a slight rise up from the old course of the Fleet. Really, I could spend rolls of this blog just writing about St Paul's, but suffice to say that it is a pretty stunning piece of construction work. Whenever you pass it, you cannot help craning your neck to think...wow...

So there you have it, three of London's most iconic sights, visited and ticked off on what is (to be honest) a pretty impressive list. The nights draw in closer, and so that means only one thing can lift the city's spirits - shopping! Of course, all of that will be revealed tomorrow...

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Getting there and away:

Tower Bridge can be reached by Tower Hill/Gateway stations on the District/Circle and Docklands Light Railway.

St Paul's is round the corner from St Paul's station (Central Line) or Mansion House (Circle/District).

For Big Ben, head to Westminster station (Jubilee, Circle and District lines).

There are numerous bus routes throughout the city to all of these three places. However, if you want to take a scenic journey to these landmarks, then routes 11/N11 links Big Ben with St Paul's while routes 15/N15 links St Paul's with Tower Bridge.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Charlie (on holiday) in London (2): Trinity Buoy

Does a holiday count if you decide to stay in the same city? To visit the sights and sounds that is normally mundane and routine? Well, we have a much quoted maxim, you never bother to see Madamme Tussaud's unless a visitor is in town. Well, last month I decided to head out into the city, and explore it, just a little. So join me this week, as I take you on a mini-tour of some of London's more fashionable (and quirky) sights.

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London has a lighthouse! We may not be by the seaside, but at the confluence of the River Thames and the River Lea sits Trinity Buoy, London's only lighthouse (no longer functioning). After the main redevelopment of East London in the 1990's, it was sold off and made into an artistic village. An enclave of cool in the East End of the capital!



The view from here is stunning. Right across the Thames from Trinity Buoy, you can see the Millennium Dome, London's Millennial white elephant now London's musical vibe spot. Except when the Jubilee Line is knocked out. Every weekend.



While out to the west lies Canary Wharf. What was once an extension to the City, now firmly established as part of London's financial industry. Skyscrapers that every couple of years changes the skyline as a new tower goes up. Yeah, there is a crane there, which means one new tower is on the way. Again!



Trinity Buoy itself is a bit Higgledy Piggledy. Old bits of maritime debris has been repainted by the resident artists, containers from ships now offices, and some dance schools for a nearby university. Trinity Buoy is great to wander around, and it is a little bit weird. Hey it is an artist's den!



However for me, one of the great things about Trinity Buoy is Fatboy's Diner. Seen in Sliding Doors, it seems a bit stuck out in the middle of nowhere, but the burgers are pretty good, and really, if you want a milkshake, this is where you head to in London. What a breakfast joint!



One more thing to see while you are on Trinity Buoy, is the world's greatest museum. Located in a shed on the site, is the great Faraday, Museum, erm, in a shed. No, really, this is a great place. Michael Faraday did his experiments with electricity here on Trinity Buoy. But that is not the best thing about the museum. The shed is filled with exhibits that you can touch and fiddle with. Remarkably trusting for London, but nothing is bolted down. You could steal half of the museum pieces, really, there is no security here. Fantastic for the East End!



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Getting there and away:

Trinity Buoy is a bit of a pain in the butt to get to. But I will try to do my best.

East India Station (Docklands Light Railway) is the nearest station to Trinity Buoy, a ten minute walk away. It is a bit tricky to find, but head towards the Lower Lea Crossing and the graffiti on the pavements should guide you there. Take a map. Bus route 277 is the nearest bus, and is on the other side of East India Station.

Or you can swim across the Thames ;)