Saturday, 30 January 2010

Crazy golf update

I went on a wander after my guitar lesson in Hither Green today to seek out the crazy golf place. I can confirm that it is open, and it's situated on the Meridian South complex near to the Tesco Metro.

Here it is in all its glory:

18 holes! It's £5 for adults and £3 for kids, and from what I remember it's open from 1pm - 9pm on weekdays, and 11am - 9pm on weekends.

Please do correct me if I'm wrong!

Thursday, 28 January 2010

Come hither

Call me oversensitive, but after spotting a couple of negative tweets about Hither Green recently I feel compelled to defend the little corner of London that I call home.

When I tell people where I live (to clarify: I don't run up to strangers and tell them where I live, I mean when I'm answering a question), most have never heard of it. Well, for those of you who have never heard of it, Hither Green is a little suburb in south east London which nestles cosily between Blackheath and Lewisham in Zone 3.

I moved here just over a year ago because house prices here are bloody reasonable and the transport links are, for the most part, ace. Despite the lack of tube, there are trains to central London every ten minutes or so; more frequently during rush hour. The trains even run later than a tube would anyway, with the last train from London Bridge departing just before 1am. Sure, during the recent snowy conditions the trains buckled somewhat, but Lewisham DLR station is a only 15 minute walk away, and the DLR is ALWAYS running.

It's by no means the most exciting place in the world to live, but it's got a lot going for it, such as:
  • Crazy golf. Yes, you heard me right. Rumour has it that Hither Green is to become the London's crazy golf hotspot, with an indoor course taking shape as I type. My dream of becoming crazy golf world champion lives on!
  • Manor House Gardens. One of the prettiest little parks I've ever come across in London, and I'm lucky enough to have it on my doorstep. There's a lake with a fountain, a 'beetle loggery', tennis courts, a cute cafe, and there's a farmers' market the first Saturday of every month (pictured above - Flickr photo from basswulf). There are lots of other parks within walking distance too.
  • The best library ever. Ok, maybe not the best, but it's a beautiful building (I've blogged about the library before, here)
  • A fab curry house. I'd very much recommend Bengal Brasserie's banquet deal on Mondays and Tuesdays.
  • Shops: Hither Green itself isn't exactly brimming with retail outlets, although the lovely independent furniture shop on Hither Green Lane is great (I bought my coffee table and living room mirror there) and an amazing interiors shop on Lee Road called Objet D'Art. For groceries there's a big Sainsbury's. But Blackheath is so close for a bigger selection of boutique-y type places, and don't dismiss Lewisham either - it's even got an H&M!!!!...
  • A creative vibe: The Old Firemaster Building is now rented out room by room to creative types, such as artists, singers and musicians, and a gym may be opening there soon. Witness To The Beard (my band) have practised there a few times, and it's also where I have my guitar lessons.
  • Live music: The Station Pub runs an acoustic music night every Thursday evening called The Icarus Club.
  • Cute cafe: Just outside the train station there's a coffee shop / bakery / florist / gift shop called You Don't Bring Me Flowers. It's a little gem of a place, with kitsch decor, shabby chic charm and a secret room upstairs where you can nibble on cakes and drink tea from fab mis-matched china. 
Ok, and here's some more negative points for the sake of transparency:
  • Hither Green is sadly most famous for a nasty train crash which happened here in the 1967. Lots of people died.
  • Although transport links to central London are great, transport links to anywhere else are pretty poor, and it's often just easier to walk to places like Blackheath or Greenwich. But it is a lovely walk, and the view from the Greenwich Observatory is worth it (about a 40 minute walk from my flat).
  • Lack of watering holes. Hither Green was originally based around the Corbett Estate, which was built by the Scottish Presbyterian Archibald Corbett. Pubs weren't allowed back then, and sadly that theme lives on. There's really only one pub in Hither Green, and that's The Station.
Useful websites about the area:

Message-board based site which is useful if you're new to the area or looking for general information.
Lib Dem candidate for the council election for Lewisham Central, who's got his finger firmly on the Hither Green pulse.
Hasn't been updated for a while, but still gives you a good feel for the place.
Some more historical info, including rumours that Jude Law apparently grew up here.
The Blackheath Bugle
Blackheath's only up the road...
And Greenwich is only a bit further...

Here's what Time Out and the Guardian have got to say about Hither Green.

This blog post has taken me a lot longer to write than I thought it would, which is testament to all the great stuff there is here, and proves how much I like living in the area. It's not - and never will be - the most happening spot in London, but after a hard day in the office, it's just so nice to be able to hop on a train to this quiet and safe area where I can relax and get an undisturbed night's sleep, yet only ever be 30 minutes away from the bright lights of the West End.

    Sunday, 24 January 2010

    Strum and strummer

    Carrying my brother's guitar on my back this morning in its protective case-stroke-backpack I felt stupidly cool walking through Hither Green on my way to my first guitar lesson. I'm certain that I didn't look it, since the guitar added a few inches to my overall height and width, meaning that I kept getting caught in branches and doors that I normally never notice due to my relatively small stature. Clumsiness aside, I made it to the lesson venue in no time for the group session.

    It's a class for 'complete or near beginners', and the majority of us were just that. When asked what we knew already, I proudly proclaimed "E Minor!", whilst one chap said "errr, well I know this is called a guitar..." which made me laugh. But despite the supposed novice status of the wannabe guitarists, everyone picked up the initial chords and C-Major scale quickly and easily....with the exception of me, that is. While everyone else's strumming sounded clear and had a nice ringing quality, my attempts at chords and notes all sounded distinctly clunky.

    I could blame it on the fact that I forgot to cut my fingernails, or on the fact that my hands are pretty tiny. Or perhaps because the guitar I'm learning to play on has evil metal? steel? well, painful strings rather than nylon ones, but basically I really don't think my mind is attuned (ha!) to melodic instruments.

    The room in which we had the lesson was kitted out with lots of guitars and music-related equipment and technology, but I couldn't help but gaze at the electronic drumkit in the corner. I know I'm not an amazing drummer and I never will be, but I know that if I was to sit down at a kit with a pair of drumsticks I could bash out a decent rhythm without even having to think about it. Whereas learning the guitar from scratch and developing the dexterity and coordination to move between different chords really quickly - and efficiently - feels incredibly daunting. And it hurts! But I'm a trier if nothing else, and I will continue with my weekly lessons until the tips of my fingers on my left hand are as hard and as numb as MDF. The teaching is good, so hopefully I'll be playing bar chords in no time at all...

    Photo from Ru Tover's Flickr

    Saturday, 9 January 2010

    Toad in the coal

    Just got back to Bristol to hear a very amusing telly-related tale from the rest of the Dunlop clan. As a family, we are big fans of the classic British dish, toad in the hole. So when BBC1's programme 'Rachel Allen: Home Cooking' had a segment dedicated to cooking this dish this very morning, my mum and brother watched with interest to get some tips.

    Chef Galton Blackiston was the chap leading the proceedings: "The tip is to leave it in a hot oven for 20 minutes and not look at it once." Fair enough, they thought. However,when they saw the result, they understandably doubted the chef's 'wisdom':

    This is definitely, without a shadow of a doubt, burnt, right??!! But Galton didn't reference its charcoal-like state, and neither did the people who had to eat it!

    You watch the sillyness for yourself here in the latter half of the show.

    The Mayfly Project

    Thanks to becksldrt for flagging up The Mayfly Project which she discovered on Meg Pickard's blog. The Mayfly Project is this:

    I know it's a little late, but here's my 2009 in 24 words:

    Career steps up. Nervous 'VIP', but confidence grows. Night, Nan. Blushes, but laughter always follows. Drums and Glastonbury. Punbreak my heart, Twitter. Goodbye Granny.

    Two-eight Two-eight Two-Snow

    Before I begin, let me quickly point out that the title of this blog post is a reference to my age as of Wednesday, combined with the snowy weather conditions, combined with the once-famous advert with the telephone number that sounded like an owl.

    Now my shameful pun explanation is out of the way, I would like to firstly say that I've had a brilliant week. I remember when the white stuff descended in February last year and transport here in south east London was well and truly borked, with no buses, no trains, no DLR, and the snow was really too thick to walk through. This time I think both the snow hasn't been quite as severe (albeit it's more persistent), or TFL have pulled their socks up somewhat, or a little of both, as despite various transport cock-ups I have managed to get into town and home again every day. Yes, it's taken me a little longer than normal, but the DLR really has come to the rescue.

    I'm very glad it did, because the last thing I wanted was to be stranded on my own on my birthday and for my planned celebrations to be a 'white off'. So I made it to the office after a rather epic effort, had a lovely birthday lunch with colleagues (three out of five of us have our birthdays within a week of each other; obviously Capricorns make good newspaper PR people) then went to a local bar for 'Birth-hay drinks'. I was absolutely chuffed to bits with the turnout as I thought the weather would have put more people off. My friends who live in Abu Dhabi were in London this week, so they made it along, as did lots of other good friends. A huge thank you to all who came (but absolutely 'snow flurries' if you couldn't make it).

    I then had a couple of days off work, during which I was out and about quite a lot, catching up with the aforementioned Abu Dhabi pals before they flew back, and tonight I went to watch The Snow Queen ballet at The Coliseum. A fantastic production and some of the dancing actually made me gasp. I have a new-found appreciation for ballet after stumbling (apt for me) across a fabulous BBC4 drama about Margot Fonteyn last week.

    In all honesty I know I've been lucky this week as during the latter half when the weather really deteriorated I haven't had to battle through rush hour crowds to get into town and back again. But I must say that - when I have needed to travel - I've been mightily impressed with how smooth my journeys have been. Yeah, it's taken a little longer and my wellies (above) have probably worn down a few millimetres with all the extra walking, but it proves that if you don't want to be sat at home on your own when the sky shakes out its dandruff, you really don't have to be.

    And finally, here are some [girly] 'when it snows, anything goes' observations from the last week:
    • You can walk in the middle of the road
    • You can wear wellies in The Coliseum (well, I did and no one told me off)
    • You can wear a hat without even considering what your hair will look like when you take it off because NOT wearing one simply isn't an option
    • You can leave the heating on at night (cos, you know, you might freeze otherwise...)
    • You can wear uber-cosy clothes to work
    • You can build a snowman ANYWHERE. I saw one yesterday on the roof of a car...which was being driven along the road. Classic. Shame it wasn't on top of a van as it could have been a SNOWVAN.

    Saturday, 2 January 2010

    Doctor Boo-Who

    Let's just say I'm glad I had the flat to myself last night. David Tennant's final flourish as the tenth Doctor was always going to be emotional, but I hadn't prepared myself for full-on sobbing.

    I have loved Doctor Who since it came back five years ago. I just about remember watching it as a child on and off (the Sylvester McCoy era mainly), and I'm always proud to tell people that the second - and arguably the best - Doctor was my Great Uncle, Patrick Troughton.

    I thought Christopher Eccleston did a pretty sterling job during writer Russell T Davies's first series at the helm, but I always thought it was a shame that the BBC failed to keep it a secret that Eccleston was leaving after one series, as the moment when he regenerated into David Tennant would have come as a massive shock, a bit like when The Master regenerated into John Simm (or am I alone in thinking that they managed to keep that gem under their hats?).

    Tennant was born to play the Doctor. Unlike Ecclestone, he's a huge Doctor Who fan and he knows the show inside out. It also helps that he's a talented actor (not that Ecclestone isn't). And acting was what it was all about last night. Tennant - and Bernard Cribbins as Wilfred - blew me away in the key 'knock four times' scene; a genuinely spine-tingling moment when the Doctor realised with bitter dread that he hadn't managed to escape his prophesised demise after all. The sobbing began at this moment for me, and continued for the rest of the episode. I've sensed on the web that many people thought that the final 20 minutes was a load of over-indulgent, sentimental crap. But I'm firmly in the 'sod it' (or 'sob' it) camp on this one. Yeah, it was all a bit 'get the violins out' as the Doctor travelled through time to say a few final farewells to those humans he had encountered over the previous few years, but it was good to have absolute closure for once in a television series.

    All too often these days (US) TV shows like Lost, Heroes and Flashforward appear to be uber-clever and mysterious at first and suck in their audiences (and advertisers) for countless series, seemingly promising some kind of huge reveal and plot twist, but it quickly becomes apparent that the 'writers' actually have no idea where the story is going. But The End Of Time tied up all the little loose ends very neatly, and you have to applaud Davies for being able to do that so masterfully.

    So on to the eleventh Doctor. Young Matt Smith - and I'm permitted to say 'young' as he is nine months my junior - made his first appearance at the end of last night's episode. I've never seen him act before (I have the Sally Lockhart Mysteries on order, in which he plays cheeky cockney lad Jim. If you haven't read the Philip Pullman books on which these TV dramas are based I would thoroughly recommend them) so I have no frame of reference. It's pretty impossible to tell what his characterisation of the Doctor will be like in such a brief appearance, but I hope he doesn't try and copy Tennant too much. I know he's youthful and all, but it would even be nice to see him as a more melancholy character, with less bouncing around. Here's a preview of the next series which hints at what is to come:

    I notice that Alex Kingston is in there as the character River Song. My friend Carl, who is a MASSIVE Whovian, detests the River Song episodes (Tennant's Doctor didn't recognise her, but we were led to believe that he meets her at some point in the future and gets very close to her indeed), but I actually quite liked them. Interestingly, these episodes were written by the new main writer / producer of the forthcoming series, Steven Moffat, who also penned my favourite ever episode, Blink (the Blink statue baddies are in the series preview too, woop!), and another brilliant episode, The Girl In The Fireplace, in which he falls for Madame de Pompadour. I think the fate of the next series lies largely with Moffat rather than Smith, so here's hoping for some more top-notch writing.

    But, for now, let us as a nation mourn the passing of the tenth Doctor; for he was fun, he was handsome, he had good hair and wore good clothes and - most importantly - he was a proper geek. And we loved him.

    Friday, 1 January 2010

    Drumming fingers

    Wow, a whole new decade hath landeth, and it's that weird time of year during which I seem to sit around and wait for the cycle to begin once more. 2009 ended in an uncharacteristically disorganised fashion as me and Dunlop Junior desperately tried to battle the crowds and cross the Thames for our planned parental rendezvous, but I now realise how naive we were to try and even attempt such a feat a mere hour before the fireworks began. Despite having alighted at Embankment armed with the reasonable plan of hopping on a quick train from Charing Cross to meet the folks at Waterloo, we had no physical choice but to be herded like Lemmings east along the Strand all the way to Blackfriars Bridge. To be fair we did have a partial view of the fireworks from there, but nothing like this:

    The silver lining was that we somehow managed to bump into our parents at London Bridge on the way home for a little family reunion. I'm sure they're glad they made the trip from Bristol for that... (sorry mum and dad!).

    But before the decade was out, I returned to London to discover a package from my London Blogger Secret Santa, which was all very exciting. It was a nifty little finger drum kit. I have no idea who sent it to me, but it's nice to know that they took the time to send me something so appropriate. The festive geekery was a concept developed by Melinda, who I know through the London Bloggers Meet-up Group, and I thought it was a great idea. I just hope my giftee liked my present as much as I like mine. Oh, I just googled 'drumming fingers' and look what I found! Blimey.

    I don't do new year's resolutions, but I've been involved with some exciting work stuff over the last few days so hopefully that's an indication of how 2010 may pan out. I'm curious to see what the next 12 months will throw up, but I guess my main aim is that I keep smiling both in and out of work, and that I continue to meet new people, but also spend as much time as possible with the awesome people I already know. Oh, and I must *try* and write in my diary more frequently (I'm still out of the habit). Speaking of which, I have a new one sitting on my bedside table right now, patiently waiting to be written in, so I will save my Dr Who sorrow for there (for now).