Tuesday, 19 April 2011

All of a Hither

Over a year ago I wrote about the delightful little corner of London that I call home - Hither Green in the borough of Lewisham. It's become one of my most-read posts, with people apparently stumbling across it when researching the area as a possible place to live (not that any of my posts are massively well-read - and none are as popular as the one I wrote about the chap who wears a pyramid on his head, but I'll save that ongoing story for another time). So I thought I'd write a bit of an update to that post to share some other cool things that are popping up in the area.

Manor House Gardens. OK, not strictly speaking Hither Green, but very very close

The main news: Hither Green now has its very own supper club! I went along to the inaugural Wattleseed supper club last weekend, and can't recommend it highly enough. The food was delicious, the hosts - Freya and Trace - were so welcoming and friendly, and it was fantastic to get to know other people in the area; plenty of local tips were shared and lots of gossip about the area was exchanged. There are two more nights lined up for May and June, and I'd urge anyone to go along if they're up for a laugh (lots of laughter, in fact) and would like to meet some fellow Hither Greeners.

Sticking to the food theme, myself and friends have taken to hitting the Hither Green streets once in a while to check out some nearby eateries. So far we've been to Spice of Life on Lee High Road, and the fantastic Villa Moura on Lee Road (yes, imaginatively-named roads in these parts).

These local jaunts have helped me to discover some great new places in the area, so earlier this month I volunteered to write a blog post for the (excellent) Londonist site, who had called out for Londoners to share ten of the best places to go and things to do in their local boroughs. I quickly volunteered for Lewisham, and very much enjoyed writing about my ten favourite places which I have discovered in the two and a half years that I've lived here. 

What many people rightly pointed out to me once the article went live is that there's a lot more to Lewisham than, errr, Lewisham, Lee and Hither Green. Indeed, had someone from, say, Brockley, written the piece instead and had focused on ten places in their locality I, too, would have jumped in and passionately defended my local hotspots. But what's great about the article is that there are now loads of other suggestions for places in the borough to eat, drink and be merry in the article itself and in the comments, so I think - despite my obvious bias to my immediate vicinity, it all worked out OK in the end. 

I like it here.

Monday, 10 January 2011

Collecting: sussed

Just before Christmas work was crazy. Then on one busy day I received an e-mail that was so unexpected that it pierced through the craziness like a laser and filled me with absolute joy.

The e-mail was from a Spanish gentleman and, in endearing broken English, he politely asked whether I might be kind enough to send him a pen. But not any old pen - it had to be a Guardian-branded pen. You see, this chap collects pens, but *only* if the pen is branded with some kind of publishing-related logo. You can check out his dedication for yourself on his meticulously-organised website, where he displays photos of every pen he possesses by country.

I dutifully popped a pen in the post, and forgot about it until this very day, when he e-mailed me to let me know that my pen had been received, logged, categorised, photographed and uploaded to his ever-growing 'Inglaterra' category. I felt strangely proud, and his pen-aticism got me thinking about the notion of 'collecting', and what drives people to do it.

I've never been much of a collector. The only time I can recall ever collecting anything was a couple of hundred or so badges, but that was only so I could get my collectors' badge at Brownies. I detest clutter, get a weird sense of satisfaction whenever I throw something away and I offload my unnecessary yet usable possessions to enthusiastic recipients on Freecycle as often as I can.

However, on the other HAND, I must confess a strange urge which I have so far kept at bay: to keep a log of all the hand dryers I have ever used in my life, and to create the definitive list of ALL hand dryers. You see, collecting actual hand dryers would be a bit OTT, and indeed HOTT. But over the years it has always astounded me how SO MANY brands and makes of hand dryers are out there (this Flickr group is great). So many, in fact, that I often wish that I had started to jot down the makes and models in some kind of book when the seed was first planted in my strange, warped mind. But I didn't, and now it's too late to start, surely? 

Flickr image - Amy Watts
I realise this is a bit of a niche area to TAP into, but I think - when it comes to collections - the more specific the better. That's why I admire our pen-collecting friend, because it has to be a certain TYPE of pen.

If you do a Google search for 'weird collections' a lot of eerie stuff comes up, most notably the dude who has collected all of his belly button fluff and stored it in jars, by decade. But there are also some pretty neat (and by this I mean both cool AND organised) collections out there.

Isn't it just wonderful how the world seems to balance itself out in terms of those of us who hate clutter, and those of us who thrive on it, and that Freecycle allows us all to co-exist in perfect harmony....

If you're still reading, I applaud you. How about you? Do you collect anything weird, or do you know anyone that does?

Monday, 3 January 2011

Two thousand and then what?

So that was the year that was. It ended very pleasantly indeed, with a wholesome trip to the countryside. May I heartily recommend paying a visit to Home Farm Slot Car Circuit if you're ever in or around Liphook in Hampshire. This was the most fun I've had in ages - and the perfect "sporting" pastime for a competitive soul such as myself who doesn't necessarily excel at physical activities. This is demonstrated by the fact that I came second in the individual stakes, and The Dunlop Duo came first out of the three sibling-based teams. We even got medals. Go there!  

And onto the 'end of the year' bit...

Last year I discovered The Mayfly Project for the first time, which encourages people to sum up the last twelve months in a mere 24 words. So, without getting too soppy or melancholy, here are my 24 words for 2010:

Secret bathroom. Two sides of the States. Change, promotion. Splitness To The Beard, drumming down. Nice drinks and dinners. Bitter? Nah. Twitter? Too much.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Soft, strong and WRONG

Time is turning me into a right cynical so-and-so. Case in point: I saw a news article today about the new Andrex toilet roll ad campaign, which has a CGI puppy in it instead of the real thing. My instant reaction was "oh, they're blatantly hoping that some poor sod with nothing better to do will instigate a Facebook 'bring back the real puppy' campaign in order to drum up more publicity". And, even though this may indeed be true, the fact that it entered my head before anything else makes me feel a bit sad.

Sadness aside, perhaps I'll create a 'YEAH I TOTES LOVE THE NEW CGI ANDREX PUPPY, THOUGH PERSONALLY I PREFER CHARMIN BOG ROLL' Facebook group just to prove that us consumers aren't that easily manipulated...

...Oh my God, it's worse than I thought, Andrex have actually created a Facebook page themselves. Check out the comments. And look how many fans it's got. WE ARE DOOMED (and here's a page that someone else has created).

OK, cynicism is in this case justified. Sigh.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Page against the machine

I had a really eye-opening moment in London Bridge train station yesterday and it's been playing on my mind ever since.

As I was weaving through the crowds between the underground and the overground stations, I spotted an advert for an iPad. It's an advert which I've seen countless times before, but for some reason last night, I stopped and thought about what I was looking at for the first time. 

The advert depicts someone turning a page of an eBook on an iPad. You can see the edge of the 'page' being turned in the bottom right hand corner with a swipe of a finger, a bit like this:

Flickr photo: Mike Baird
And suddenly it dawned on me: at some point, in the future, people won't turn real, paper pages anymore. OK, so this may be hundreds of years in the future, rather than in the next few decades, but ultimately pages, as we know them, will no longer exist. And this makes me sad.

On the train on the way home I looked at the passengers around me. Every single person in my immediate vicinity was preoccupied with something they were holding. Out of ten people, seven were reading newspapers or books, one was watching a video on his iPhone, another was browsing the web on his smartphone and another was reading an Amazon Kindle. How long before the technology is more prominent than physical, paper-based content? Indeed, you could almost argue that my unscientific sample is unrepresentative, and that technology is already overtaking paper.

For future generations, the act of swiping a screen with a finger is going to be more familiar than turning a real page, and there will come a time when children won't have ever touched a book or a newspaper or a magazine. Or perhaps, one day, they won't even have touched any kind of paper at all. The concept of physical pages will be totally and utterly alien to them. How terrifying is this?? 

They'll go round to their grandparents' houses, and giggle at the massive, dusty objects on the bookshelves, and roll their eyes at how crap the 'olden days' were when everyone had to lug around textbooks and get their fingers covered in newsprint. Parents will have to explain to their guffawing offspring that the concept of a bookmark on web browsers was named after strips of card or leather, which you actually had to PUT BETWEEN PAPER PAGES TO REMEMBER WHERE YOU WERE IN A BOOK. LOL.

But what will happen to all the books? What will happen to the libraries? Will charity shops be inundated with books when more and more people begin to replace their collections with one tiny gadget? I don't mean to lament technology, I simply find it absolutely mind-boggling - yet fascinating - how this digital revolution is happening all around us. Funnily enough, the advert which brought it home for me was what you would call a 'poster' ad, yet it was on a digital display, rather than a paper poster. This only reiterates my ultimate question: when will pages cease to exist?

On the upside, good news for trees.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Matthew Herbert: newsical genius

Every so often something happens which makes me pinch myself, and wonder how the hell I got to where I am today. Last night was one of those occasions, as I went to one of the best musical performances I've ever seen as a result of my job

A couple of months ago composer Matthew Herbert approached the Guardian as he wanted to create a concert inspired by a single copy of the Guardian. We agreed....as we're kinda cool like that....and the results were performed last night at the Royal Festival Hall by the London Sinfonietta as part of the London Jazz Festival.

My my, it was an absolute hoot. As the audience arrived to take their seats, we were all handed copies of the Guardian from Saturday 25 September 2010, which was the edition he had used to draw inspiration from. As the performance got underway with a piece based around the sounds of the Guardian printing presses, we were told which sections of the paper had influenced which compositions. 

What lay at every audience member's feet at the end of the night
When I initially heard about the project I had presumed that he would be using some of the big news stories to provoke his pieces, but instead he tended to focus on little random stories in the various sections, which made it even more quirky.

One piece was prompted by a small, wry article in the business section about a forthcoming auction for a Lehman Brothers sign. Herbert had bid for the item online hoping that the Sinfonietta's percussionest would then be able to 'play' the sign as part of the performance, but this hope was dashed when it sold for a whopping £23,000! Instead, a piece of music was created around the sound of the auction itself which Herbert had recorded, with the audience being instructed by the conductor to rub two credit cards together at certain points. A fantastic composition critiquing money and consumerism was the result.

Another section of the concert was based around the paper's various articles and features about food. There was even a chef on the stage cooking the recipes which had appeared in the Weekend mag that day, with the smells wafting across the audience throughout the entire evening. As a foley artist created the sounds of mould growing (to match a video being shown which had been mentioned in the paper, of-course), we were told to make paper aeroplanes out of the recipe pages to represent food airmiles. The sight of hundreds of paper aeroplanes whizzing around the RFH was magical.

The most poignant piece was prompted by a poem which had been printed in the Review section about a dying mother. Herbert set the poem to music, which was sung by Eska. It was simply beautiful.

Less beautiful, but more fun, was a composition based solely on footage from a football match that took place that day - Oxford United v Crewe Alexandra to be precise. Herbert cleverly selected a section in the match which contained very little football and lots of schoolboy altercations, with the orchestra providing the sound effects for every shove, whistle and bounce of the ball.

Wow, I could go on and on about this but I'm aware I've already written too much. Other highlights included a cover version of a Status Quo song, volunteers rhythmically building a house on stage with bricks to reflect the property articles (during which the audience jangled their house keys) and a pianist whose birthday was mentioned in the paper that day playing the intro to one of the songs. We were also encouraged to try and complete the cryptic crossword during the course of the evening, with the first to do so winning a bottle of wine.

However, I think my favourite piece in terms of the actual music was one based around a recording of an interview between Ed Pilkington and Jonathan Frantzen (the resulting feature appeared in the paper on the 25 September). Herbert spliced and remixed their conversation live on stage while the orchestra 'played' copies of Frantzen's latest book, which he was promoting in the interview. It sounded bloody awesome and deliciously trippy.

The climax of the concert was a mass audience participation piece, where each section of the audience had to use their copy of the Guardian to make various sounds, through rolling it up and tapping, ripping the pages or even blowing through it. Very enjoyable, though it meant that the venue looked like absolute carnage afterwards, with torn up Guardians cluttering every aisle. 

I cannot express enough how much I enjoyed the entire concert - it was performed with such humour and intelligence, even including when the performers bowed at the very end to reveal Rupert Murdoch's face adorning the top of everyone's heads. But I'll let you all make your own minds up about what Herbert was trying to imply with this...

Sunday, 31 October 2010

The extra hour that never was

Twice a year I am baffled by the sheer volume of intelligent people who are totally and utterly fazed by the clocks changing. In the UK, the vast majority of the population have coped with this time-related quirk twice a year for their entire lives, so you'd think we'd all be used to it by now.

However, people appear to be becoming increasingly undone by the ritual of putting the clocks back or forward by an hour. I blame one thing for this proliferation of confusion: technology. 

Ten years ago we would have traipsed around our abodes, obediently winding each clock backwards or manually altering our mobile phones before bedtime. Nowadays, mobile phones and clocks - even the ticking variety - cleverly adjust themselves overnight. That's all well and good, but the trouble with this automatic update is that when we wake up the next morning, we have no real clue as to whether the clocks actually *have* adjusted themselves, since we no longer possess the useful recollection of having done it ourselves. This invariably results in people tweeting or updating their Facebook status with the ludicrous - yet necessary - question 'WHAT IS THE TIME?'.

Now I'm a bit of a traditionalist, and have an old-fashioned style watch that I have to wind back myself, which I diligently did last night before bed. However, come 1am I was still awake, and I noticed that my iPhone hadn't altered the time, so I put the clock back an hour myself. I should have realised when various apps started having hissy fits that something wasn't right, but I was too sleepy to care.

So this morning I wake up with the headache from hell. Check iPhone - not even 7am yet. Bliss, I can sleep for another 2 hours at least. WRONG! Turns out my iPhone did indeed adjust itself automatically at some random point in the middle of the night, so the extra hour I thought I had didn't actually exist, as confirmed by a glance at my watch which I *knew* was correct as I had changed it myself. To say I wasn't happy would be an understatement; I felt like time and technology had cheated me out of the extra hour that everyone else in the country was somehow savouring in another dimension. Of-course that's a load of crap, but it was extremely frustrating.

I really don't know how this problem can be solved. Unfortunately, as technology develops and becomes more sophisticated, this issue can only be confounded. Someone I follow on Twitter sensibly suggested that devices should have some kind of polite pop-up message when the clock has changed. Sounds like a good solution to me, although does that carry with it the risk of someone changing all of our timepieces to some kind of ridiculous o'clock as a cruel joke / to bring down the economy???? OK, I'm thinking about this too much now. Time for bed. Or is it....?