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....?

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Live life the Hollo-way

My hero is Ian Holloway. Ex-Bristol Rovers player/manager who is now enjoying Premiership manager success up at Blackpool. It couldn't happen to a nicer club (Blackpool fans are awesome), or a nicer man.

I used to live down the road from 'Ollie' as a teenager, and whenever I saw him walking his dog he always said hello. These were the days when I was ever-so-slightly obsessed with football, in particular Bristol Rovers. At the time, Holloway was our player/manager. There aren't enough player/managers these days. I always think that a manager bringing himself on as a sub must be a bit of a blow for the player being replaced.

Anyway, I was reminded of my respect for the man this week because of this video in which he rants about the ridiculous Wayne Rooney situation:

Everything about this video I adore: the passion behind his words, his increasing rage, his turns of phrase ("SORT YER LIFE OUT!"), his self-deprecation, how he appears to scratch his arse at the 3 minute point, his fabulous Bristolian accent (which hasn't softened at all over the years), his cheesy joke at the end of the BBC video linked to above, and his cheeky grin. What. A. Fella.

However, the one thing I don't necessarily agree with is what he's actually saying. Now I'm not going to pretend to be some kind of expert on the Bosman ruling and football transfers, and I completely agree that the fact a footballer can threaten to leave a club, then be rewarded with a massive salary hike in order to get him to stay is ludicrous and shameful. But the way Holloway describes Rooney as an entity - like a car or a house - is pretty depressing. 

*cue over-simplified argument*

If anyone else wants to change jobs and join another company, then they are perfectly within their rights to do so. But footballers are bought and sold like commodities, and are treated like possessions, not individuals. Holloway's rant is perfectly valid within the system that currently exists, but basically I believe the entire football transfer system is wrong (I told you this was going to be an over-simplified argument). 

Do I have any sensible solutions for how this system can change? No, of-course I bloody don't. Do I think that Rooney honestly wanted to leave Manchester United? No, of-course I bloody don't; he (or, more likely, his agent) wanted more money, and it's worked out very nicely indeed for both of them. You could also argue that this entire situation hasn't done any harm to Ferguson's reputation either, but I'm going to leave that particular conspiracy theory dangling mid-air...(though check out the labels I've tagged this post with).

But, yes. Ian Holloway. True legend, and a top bloke.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

A tale of two tunnels

One of the things that fascinates me most about London is its tunnels. I've previously written about my adventures in Tunnel 228 and the Kingsway Tram Tunnel, and I'm pleased to report that the last few weeks have provided me with two more opportunities to explore the city's secret labyrinths. 

First up was a tour of the abandoned Aldwych tube station on the Strand. You may have heard about this as it got a lot of news coverage when the tour opened, and I felt lucky to get my hands on a pair of highly sought-after tickets from the London Transport Museum, which organised the event.

Aldwych station closed in 1994, but during the London Blitz 70 years ago, thousands of Londoners sheltered there to escape the bombings from the German Luftwaffe. The aim of these particular tours was to give visitors an idea of what it was like to take refuge in a tube tunnel while the bombs rained down from the skies.

Walking down the emergency staircase to reach the platform (the lifts no longer work, obviously) genuinely gave me goosebumps as I imagined what it must have been like back in 1940, leaving your home and possessions behind and spending the night with hundreds of strangers. But sadly I wasn't overly impressed with the tour; there simply wasn't enough information given to us about the history of the tube station itself, and it relied too much on special effects and the cockney role-playing enthusiasm of a few actors.

Don't get me wrong, the tour was impeccably organised and it was entertaining - especially for the kids who were there with their parents - but I wasn't looking for theatrics, I was thirsty for information. It was great that there was an old tube train that we could explore, but surely if they wanted to give us a true indication of what sheltering in the tunnel was like during the Blitz then there shouldn't have been a train on the tracks or fancy lighting and sound effects? I simply wanted to be shown around and told about what people had to go through, but instead I learned more from health and safety talk which was given in the ticket hall before the formal tour began.

I was still glad that I got the opportunity to explore Aldwych station, but I'm not convinced it was worth £8.50.

My second tunnel adventure took place last weekend at the Old Vic Tunnels underneath Waterloo station. Indeed, these are the same tunnels that were used by Punchdrunk for their Tunnel 228 project I went to last year. This time the exhibition was called Hell's Half Acre, and consisted of a series of installation artworks by various artists, inspired by Dante's Inferno and curated by the Lazarides Gallery.

I must say I was utterly blown away by this exhibition. As usual, I couldn't tell you what it all meant, and having never read 'Inferno' I couldn't place the works within any kind of context whatsoever, but I can honestly say that around every corner there was an installation that made me gasp, coo with awe or grimace with a strange sense of admiring unease.

Humans in cling-film cocoons, a ball of pigeons, magnified maggots, a hypnotic perpetually-changing projection reflected in a pool of water, random etchings on layered plates of glass that formed a perfect image if you stood in the right place....I could go on.

Unfortunately the exhibition - which was free though you had to pre-book - is finished now, but I'll definitely be keeping an eye out for more Lazarides / Old Vic Tunnels projects.

Speaking of keeping an eye out for things, I must give a shout out to the IanVisits blog, as this is without doubt the best source of information for tunnel-related events in London.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

All conked out

So autumn is well and truly upon us, and nothing could have demonstrated this more acutely than what I got up to yesterday: I played conkers. But not for fun, no. I took part in a proper conkers tournament in a drizzly beer garden upon a mushy carpet of fallen leaves and twigs. I'm not sure you can get more autumnal than that.

Despite going on conker collecting sprees as a child (I recall my entrepreneurial brother planting them in pots and selling them to his friends - to be fair, one such conker is now an impressive tree in my Grampy's garden), I can't remember having played conkers before. However, the prospect of going to a pub in Dulwich, drinking hot chocolate, raising cash for charity and potentially winning a trophy wasn't too hard for me to resist.

  The tournament in question is called D.I.C.K; a childishly amusing acronym which stands for the Dulwich International Conkers Knockout. It turns out that conkers is an extremely fun game to play, and to watch, especially when it's a simple knockout process. Sadly the knockout nature of the competition meant that my professional conkering career was extremely short-lived. It's fair to say that my hand-eye coordination isn't the best in the world (with the odd exception of drumming) so I wasn't holding out much hope for victory, despite my ever-present conkpetitive spirit. So it was no surprise when I got knocked out in the first round. Though, to be fair, my opponent was a previous 'conkerer' from a couple of years ago, and his aim and power were undeniably good.

The rules for the tournament were nice and simple; each player has three attempts at striking their opponent's conker, and they each take it in turns. If both conkers are still on the string after four minutes of this it goes to sudden death, where each conkpetitor has nine attempts to simply make contact with - and not necessarily destroy - their challenger's conker as many times as possible. Whoever makes the most contacts wins, so it's about accuracy rather than power. The one exception to these simple rules is the 'snag clause', which was apparently introduced for the first time last year. This basically means that if you 'snag' your conker with your rival's (i.e. your conker gets all tangled up with theirs when you're attempting to hit it) three times in one match, you're out.
People were knocked out of the tournament in all manner of fashions; mine was a traditional exit in that my conker was swiftly destroyed as a result of my opponent's brilliance (he's laughing because I was so rubbish); other people were disqualified via the snag clause; others accidentally destroyed their own conkers by making an unfortunate contact with their adversary's target. One chap even appeared to conkpromise his horse chestnut's durability by wearing a shinpad on his forearm; a good way to protect your limb from bruising as a result of the speedy follow-though action, but it undoubtedly weakened his conker since it was constantly being buffeted by the hard protective surface.

The trophy for the winner was impressive:

I will most definitely be going back next year for another chance to claim it as my own. Let's be honest, though, that's never going to happen.