Archive for October, 2004

Half term sojourn

Saturday, October 30th, 2004

We’re off away for a couple of days  There’s a small clue as to where in the picture below.

So, we’ll be after having tea with Mrs Doyle, sippin’ a few pints with Father Jack and a bit of a wander to see what’s what.  After that, we’ll be coming back.

my lo-fi ears are listening to Grazed Knees/Snow Patrol

Happy Hello Ian

Saturday, October 30th, 2004

…or Happy Halloween, if you care to contradict my youngest sprog.  We’re not big on the imported tradition of trick or treating in this house.  This is in no way meant as a slur on those that choose the true Wiccan path, simply a reaction to the commercialisation and it’s temporary appropriation by budding blackmailers each autumn. 

In this neck of the woods, any little toe-rag wearing a 99p mask or combined witches hate and nylon wig seems to qualify as a bone fide trick-or-treater.  They wander the local estates mob-handed, seemingly in groups that never fall below three digits, bashing on doors and demanding treats with menaces.  Years back, a sweet or novelty was proferred to each and the mob went about their business in a fairly amiable manner.  Nowadays, offering anything less than a PlayStation 2, a fully tricked out BMX bike or an all-inclusive family holiday to Florida is seen as a snub and an invitation to make the householders night a living hell.  This being the case, we have taken a neutral stance and simply do not answer the door – as someone always buzzes them through the communal door – to anyone, preferring to spend the evening wondering if the car still has wheels and the cats have avoided ritual sacrifice at the hands of pre-pubescent diabolists.

That said, yesterday our assembled brood threw themselves unbidden into a frenzy of creative activity.  Dress in suitably dark dressing-up outfits, accessorised with long stick-on nails and the odd witch’s hat, they produced and amazing array of ghoulish pictures and posters to decorate the flat.  Even the youngest sprog joined in, producing her first ever all-by-myself picture of a ghostly pumpkin face.  Halfway through this Vision On-on-acid session, SWMBO arrives home from the supermarket with a corker of a pumpkin.  This beauty was duly dissected and carved into the superb Jack O’Lantern you can see above.  The pumpkin flesh we scooped out was used to make a cracking soup, a second portion of which I have just had for lunch.  My gift this Halloween to a loyal readership, who never complain when I fail to post for days, is the recipe for this most autumnal of soups.  Enjoy.

Pumpkin Soup for six

50g/2 oz butter
1 large onion, thinly sliced
500g/1lb pumpkin, peeled, deseeded and cut into chunks
250g/8 0z potatoes, thinly sliced (peeling’s too much hassle)
1 clove of garlic, peeled and crushed
A sprig of fresh or 1 tsp dried thyme
1.2 litres/2 pints chicken stock
4 tblsp lemon juice
150ml/¼ pint double cream
salt and pepper

  1. Melt butter in large saucepan and fry onions over a low heat until soft.
  2. Add pumpkin, potatoes, thyme and garlic, then cover the pan and cook slowly on a low heat for 20 minutes by which time the vegetables should be soft.
  3. Add the stock and salt and pepper to taste, brining to the boil before reducing heat to a slow simmer for another 10 minutes.
  4. Reduce the soup to a purée using a blender, processor or a sieve and return to the pan, along with the lemon.
  5. Stir in cream and heat through, taking care not to boil.
  6. Serve with warm bread.

Yum yum pig’s bum!  The recipe based on one culled from Hamlyn’s ‘The Complete Cook‘, a superb 600 page compendium which, with me in mind, a friend kindly grabbed from one of those £5-for-any-book shops that spring up all over the West End, only to disappear just as quickly.

Toe rag is a term that, disputedly, originated in and around the docks a quarter mile from where I sit.  Toe rag was the moniker given to those stevedors who unloaded the grain for the local mills.  These dockers wrapped hessian or cloth around their trouser cuffs puttee-style to prevent spilt grain dropping into their boots.  The alternative, which is equally likely, is that it refers to the cloths that shoeless (transported?) convicts wrapped their feet in.  Given the disparaging nature of the term and it’s use in Australia, I suspect the latter is more likely.

my lo-fi ears are listening to Sweet Surrender/Sarah McLachlan

Home Truths & John Peel

Saturday, October 30th, 2004

“Before we start, I need to talk to you about David Essex and breasts…”

So began one of the many editions of Home Truths I have enjoyed over the last six or so years.  Of all the mornings to sleep in and miss the show, today with it’s tribute to John Peel, was not the day to pick.  Luckily, the BBC’s Listen Again website provides for muppets like me by providing streamed playbacks for several days after broadcast.  I have just listened to today’s show, which was presented by Roger McGough, and was comprised of just a small sample of the many stories the show has covered.  All of which served as a fitting tribute to a man who has brought both cutting edge music and personal oral testimony to the radio listeners for over 35 years.

my lo-fi ears are sadly not listening to John Peel

A real boneshaker

Friday, October 29th, 2004

A skeleton riding a recumbent

Spent an hour or so in the company of a few hundred other like-minded souls this evening in Central London, putting faces to a few names and generally having a hoot on the Halloween critical mass ride. Sadly, I had to tear myself away as I had promised to cook jerk chicken with rice and peas for SWMBO and friend this evening. With this in mind, I flew home from the City in double quick time, which was a perfect way of working up an appetite…and a thirst for the two cold cans of Guinness hiding in the fridge.

iUpdate #2: You speaka Applese?

Friday, October 29th, 2004

UPS Package Tracking shows that my iPod has now completed the following steps in the replacement process: ‘despatch > box > label > collect > despatch > arrive > swap > relabel >despatch >get lost > get found > deliver 3 times whilst I’m out > return to lose somewhere in depotWhen I tracked my case via Apple’s support site and after a little farting around to get Apple to recognise my case and despatch numbers,  I was presented with the Repair Status Detail page which is a little sparse and far from clear.  First, the sequence of events declares that all dates are shown in “MM/DD/YYYY” format but the actual dates show as “/2/04/10/2” as in the screenshot below:

Taking an educated guess, this is meant to represent 10/22/2004.  If that’s the case then these chaps are clairvoyant…because I didn’t ring them until the 23rd.  No matter, entries in the table mean that Apple, like UPS, acknowledge they have my iPod. 

However, the actual status messages are brief and a little vague, not to mention seemingly in reverse order, if one reads from top to bottom as convention dictates.  A hunt around the Apple site reveals a Repair Status Terminology cribsheet to help mere mortals like me decypher their case status reports.  Using this, and inverting the order above, I can tell you that the current sitrep for my iPod is as follows:

  1. Unit Received: The unit has been received at the repair depot.

  2. Replacement ordered: no definition supplied in cribsheet – should I worry?
  3. Repair Requested: Repair has been requested – Repair? what happened to ‘replacement’?
  4. Order Created: An order has been created for a replacement unit – is this not the same as ‘Replacement ordered’?  Or am I getting a replacement that has been previously repaired?
  5. Order Created: An order has been created for a replacement unit – are they sending me two repaired/replacement iPods by way of an apology for my original new iPod dying after just six weeks?
  6. Item Shipped: The unit has been shipped back to the customer, Apple Service Provider, or the Apple Store – bloody hell, I’m in danger of being impressed.
  7. Item Shipped: The unit has been shipped back to the customer, Apple Service Provider, or the Apple Store – So you’ve said.  That’s all well and good but seeing as all the entries show the same date, namely the unfathomable /2/04/10/2, this information is of little use.

Putting my cynicism to one side and taking the status as gospel, this is not bad, all things considered.  There again, it bloody should be considering the original purchase price and the fact that the product failed after just 40 days of moderate use.  Ironically, given my concern about how long this was all going to take, I am now worried that UPS will try and deliver over the next few days whilst I’m away in Dublin, thereby giving them every opportunity to fulfill the ‘deliver 3 times whilst I’m out > return to lose somewhere in depot’ part of my scenario. Stay iTuned for more.

When is a map not a map?

Friday, October 29th, 2004

When it is one of the most widely used and recognised diagrams in the world.  Nicholas Crane has written a short but informative feature about the London Underground map/diagram and how it has helped shape London and Londoner’s perceptions of how their city looks.

If you’d prefer pictures, GeoffTech’s excellent site has more than a few versions of the Tub Map – some serious, like the geographically correct version, some less so like the Have I Got News For You version and some just plain silly like this one.

You’ll be missed, John Peel

Wednesday, October 27th, 2004

John Peel 1939 – 2004

“The Monday evening show the weekend after the Hillsborough tragedy was a piece of broadcasting I’ll never forget. He said nothing at the start of his show. He just played a record. A long slow record. It was Aretha Franklin’s heart breaking gospel version of You’ll Never Walk Alone. I looked through the glass from my adjacent studio and John was just weeping. Silently. So were all of us – his listeners. Nothing more needed to be said.” Nicky Campbell of BBC Five Live.

The fact that 30,000 users have emailed the BBC’s tribute page in under 24 hours is testament not only to John Peel’s broad appeal but the fact that he has singlehandedly helped increase the muscial awareness most of Britain’s youth in the last 30 years. Rather than blather on myself, please check the links to some excellent content care of his long time employer, the BBC.


Legendary radio DJ John Peel dies
Tributes pour in for DJ Peel
Glastonbury tribute to John Peel
Peel’s huge impact on music
His life away from music


Nicky Campbell: ‘A great guy’
Paul Morley: ‘Forever young’


British music’s champion


A life spent in music
Front Row profile
Peel remembered
BBC Radio One
The John Peel site

iUpdate #1: how many dead iPods does it take…

Wednesday, October 27th, 2004

…to make UPS a healthy profit?  In one fell swoop earlier today, a courier arrived at my place and assisted me in completing the ‘despatch > box > label > collect > despatch…‘ phase of renewing my deceased iPod.  OK, maybe I’m easily impressed but it was a good start.  Whilst I track the ‘>arrive > swap > relabel >despatch >get lost > get found > deliver 3 times whilst I’m out > return to lose somewhere in depot‘ phases via the UPS and Apple (if it’s working again) online tracking services, you might like to ponder on the following tit-bit offered by the aforementioned UPS guy and the logical statistical implication. When I asked him how often he does this ‘hand over the box and instructions on how to mail my iPod to oblivion’ thing, he snorted and said “Pah, about 10-15 times a day at the moment”.  Closing the door, I suddenly thought ‘Hang on, if that’s true and he’s just one courier from one depot in one major city then…WTF!’ 

Let’s, as they say in the States, do the math and don’t worry, it’s my worst subject so this’ll be very rudimentary.  The UPS web site’s European facts page gives their European fleet size as being ‘more than 9,700 (package cars, vans, tractors and motorcycles)’.  Let’s halve that to 4,850 for trunk (not local) vehicles, vehicles in repair and otherwise not likely to pick iPods up.  Let’s be generous and halve it again to 2,425 for those vehicles only carrying business-to-business packages and halve it once again to 1,212 to remove those consumer market vehicles operating in rural/less populated areas where iPod ownership is likely to be correspondingly lower.  Now let’s assume that my friendly courier was having a bad day and like most of us on a bad day was looking for sympathy.  So we’ll take his 15 dead iPods a day as an exaggeration and halve that to just 7 as well.  If we mulitply his dead iPod figure by the number of colleagues driving the remaining vehicles it could just mean that an entirely hypothetical and imaginary parallel universe, eight and a half thousand imaginary iPods are being returned each day.  Even if you halve that and then…well, you get my drift. 

Whichever way one looks at it, if this guy was being even halfway honest – and the forums and mail lists would indicate iPods have issues by the bucket load – my experience may be more common than Apple, whose Q4 profits have soared on the back of selling 5.7 million iPods, might care to admit.

A hidden gem worth seeking out

Tuesday, October 26th, 2004

The Horniman Museum and Gardens is like a badly kept secret – you’d keep it all to yourself except for the fact that everyone else seems to know about it too!

Overseas visitors and those less familiar with the bits of London not served by the Tube may never have heard of The Horniman but it is truly one of our best museums. The tea trader Frederick Horniman amassed a collection of natural history specimens and cultural artefacts from around the World during Victoria’s reign. Horniman sought to bring the world back to his home in South East London and he opened part of it to the public. Soon the collections grew too big for the family home and Horniman commissioned Charles Townsend to design and build a museum to house them all. This opened in 1901 and Horniman gifted the museum and the surrounding park to the people of London. The original collections comprised natural history specimens, cultural artefacts and musical instruments. Over the last 100 years this free museum has increased the musical and ethnological collections tenfold and further building have been added in the last few years.

Current additional attractions include “The Spirit of The Sufi: Troubadours of Allah“, a collection of superb photographs in and around the sufi shrines of the Indus valley taken by German Horst Friedrichs. For the kids during half term and for an additional charge (£12 for 2 adults + four kids), ‘Dinomites‘ will bring them face to face with ‘life-size’ baby and juvenile dinosaurs shown in suitably prehistoric settings, Fact sheets, information boards, soundtracks, a quiz and a great ‘put the scales and plates on the stegasaurus’ model help liven things up for the ‘been there, done it’ Jurassic Park smart alecs & alexia. When the appeal of educational enlightenment wears off, you can head outside. The park with its small animal enclosure, rose garden and large sloping grass area are well kept and provide space for kids to let off steam and charge about. As with all museums who need to make ends meet, there’s the usual shop (though, commendably, they have resisted making folks exit through the shop unlike so many places these days) and a cafe that is pretty expensive. As a family of six we expect to pay more than most but two pots of tea, four cold drinks and six pastries cost us an eye-watering £15, making us wish we’d brought a picnic lunch to enjoy in the beautiful Victorian conservatory (virtual tour here), which sadly my T610 phone’s camera cannot do justice to.

Don’t let this put you off visiting because this museum is great, has a unique collection of Native American and African cultural artifacts and is blissfully uncrowded compared to it’s big brothers in Kensington – which is why it was voted the Good Britain Guide’s Museum of the Year and London Family Attraction of the Year in 2004. Just make sure that you don’t tell anyone else.

also posted to the London Metblog.

Does this mean I’m a biathlete?

Sunday, October 24th, 2004

Having finally rid myself of the company car, I have spent a few weeks getting to grips with the combined timetables of the Docklands Light Railway, the London Underground and First Great Western Link.  Whilst I have experienced the odd delay, on the whole the experience has been a positive one and has gone a long way to exorcising the demons of nightmare commutes into the West End from Sutton back in the ’80s.  On Thursday, the final piece in the commuting jigsaw fell into place with the arrival at the local bike shop of my new Brompton, identical to the brochure shot below. Or was until I swapped the seat post for a telescopic one, added some Cateye lights and Brompton’s ingenious front pannier. 

All this happened a day too late for me to show off the Brommie to the assembled monthly gathering of the Tower Hamlets Wheelers earlier this week.  The Wheelers are a very active local borough group affliliate of the London Cycling Campaign and you will find a wealth of information, advice, advocacy, links and contacts on their site.  After a few pints of foaming ale following the meeting, I rode back to the island with the Wheeler’s coordinator, Owen, through a full-on down pour.  Soaked to the sink in seconds, I was soon seeking out the biggest puddles like a six year old on a new trike.

To finish on the same energetic theme, I am now less of a lazy illegitimate of late and have supplemented my bike usage with what almost resembles a regular schedule of training runs.  Despite lingering lower back aches, I have been slowly getting into some sort of shape to tackle the Nike 10k night run in London next month.  I was keen to pick up tips from fellow competitor Paula Radcliffe but I have to say that, and call me old-fashioned if you want but, wearing American Tan pop-socks and sitting on the kerb don’t seem to be the way to get to the finish first.

my lo-fi ears are listening to Do Your Thang/Basement Jaxx