Tuesday, December 30, 2003

Evensong at Salisbury

In the weekend, we visited Salisbury via Shaftesbury. The latter is billed as a 'Saxon hill-top village' and to be sure it has a very photogenic cobbled steep street complete with thatch, bulgy stone walls and all the other 'Ancient Britain' trademarks. But nowadays the hilltop is crowned with a Tesco's supermarket and car park: not what the Saxons would have favoured, I suspect. A gloriously eroded St Peter's church on the side of the hill - more gargoyles and beasties duly photographed. More shibui.
Salisbury, on the other hand, is quite a delightful town. Grid layout, no less - no more easy to get lost in mediaeval twisty narrow streets. Lots of quite old houses and shops: mostly intact/restored above the ground level floor, better not to comment on that ground floor level though. Imagine, if you can, a Mr Minit below and a 15th century half-timbered three storey house above. Salisbury is full of these and the overall effect isn't nearly as clash-filled and unfortunate as might be expected.
Salisbury Cathedral is an amazing church. It was put up (as is usual) over several hundred years, starting in the 11th century, but it was when they started adding the 6,300 ton tower (123 m high) that things got interesting. The columns inside hadn't been expected to carry that weight, and they bowed. There was much hasty buttressing and lightening, in two goes, over the next three centuries, and it is now stable, we are assured. Inside, the bowed columns are very obvious: they have bowed towards the body of the church by around 15-50cm (by eye-ometer) and the tower centre is around 75cm out to the south-west as a result.
We did the usual tour around, then noticed that Evensong was at 5.30pm. So after shopping and looking round Salisbury a little more, we attended.
It's been perhaps thirty years since I attended church except for weddings and funerals, and we were seated in the quire (choir) stalls. The Cathedral itself is of course massive - 147m long on the nave - a nativity scene under the tower at the crossing (there is a technical term for that bit of floor space but the booklet is packed) and room for several hundred people in each part of the cross layout.
So, apart from the choir (people), the organist, the clergy (it took six or so), there were precisely 20 other people there, of course. Seated in the quire stalls, the choir was literally alongside, clergy either end, organ right above, and the celing was 30m up in the dark. Full Evensong service, complete with two lessons, intro organ and a voluntary organ piece to end. And a collection. We put in, to make sure that tower doesn't fall in the near future. But considering we are rather rusty at Church ritual of any sort, it was easy to follow (standing and sitting were clearly marked in the Order of Service) and of course, so close that it was all very real and moving. Evensong is sung every night in a well-ordered cathedral parish, and is quite a happy service. Keeps those gargoyles away for the night (not that Salisbury the building has many, certainly not like Notre Dame). We left into a light rain, strangely uplifted. Must have been that closing organ voluntary, an all stops out affair with rolling bass.
Then off to a playhouse with a light-hearted Xmas production: funny and the music (they all played instruments) very well done. And a meal, then home to Wincanton through the dark, sweeping curves of country A-roads. A great night.

Saturday, December 27, 2003

Xmas and Brunel in Somerset

But first another little London vignette:
After the theatre in the West End, we were waiting (and waiting...) for a Picadilly line tube. Everyone on the platform suddenly noticed all these mice running around in the trackbed. We saw one with a suspiciously short tail. Then, in the usual deadpan manner of London Underground announcements, came this. "Ladies and gentlemen, your tube will be here in about five minutes. In the meantime, please do not, repeat, do not feed the mice, They are specially imported Patagonian fighting mice and are trained killers. Thank you".
Xmas Eve night, we had an amazingly fast bus trip out to Wincanton (roads were unaccountably empty). Xmas day was just marvellous: turkey, champers, a choice NZ red and white, pudding, chocs, more turkey, beer. Presents, including many books. Much reading. Missed the Queen's message. Bugger. And then a Nurofen or two in the morning....
And so to Bristol on a Brunel expedition: we've found that two things in a day are about the limit, so Brunel's SS Great Britain was #1 and his Clifton suspension bridge was #2. Isambard Kingdom Brunel was a rather driven man but an engineering genius. Think, Great Western railway, for starters. And so it was, in that order.
Bristol city centre was badly bombed during the war (there were aircraft factories, docks, other juicy targets) and so is rebuilt in Glorious Concrete style. The river is flanked by abandoned factories, warehouses and lots of industrial archaeology, with some apartments on the water, multicoloured on the high rock terraces to the north. The Rustbelt.
SS Great Britain dates from around 1844 and is the first 'modern' steel ship: screw plus sail propelled. It was rescued in 1970 from the Falklands (where it had called in for repairs that never happened and was subsequently used as a hulk), and was docked in the dry dock where it was originally built, 127 years to the day since it was launched.
It has been being lovingly restored ever since: it now has most masts, decking, rooms and will have replica engines soon. It was (can't make this up) chain driven - the engine couldn't make more than 18 rpm and the prop needed 53. So a bike-chain type gear-up (suitably massive, of course) was the solution. Amazing stuff - it carted over 15,000 Australians during the Gold Rush era. It still retains a lot of Brunel's egotism in its lines, size and general air of Victorian confidence.
Then on to the suspension bridge, a very delicate affair with multiple plates as the suspension chains, slender rods holding the roadbed, and suitably slim, tapered masonry towers. It just leaps across the gorge just west of Bristol centre. The Avon is a lot more muscular than Christchurch's one: the tidal bore in the main Severn channel (well west of Bristol) can be up to 40 feet, and even here the Avon looks to have several tens of feet of tide, to judge by the silted walls through the town. Light is fading but photos are still possible. A beautiful piece of engineering.
Finally, we head back through the centre of town to find Briavels Grove: the pre-war family home. Found the Grove, as usual in Britain, the houses look all the same when built in a row as they so often are. Then, back through still surprisingly uncrowded roads to Wincanton. Dark at 4.30 pm, of course. Great day.

Tuesday, December 23, 2003

Another London weekend

Back from Harrogate, a little stuffed - exam on the Friday and then 4 hours travelling.
An expedition to the British Museum (off Tottenham Court Road, in Bloomsbury). The architecture is very massive and plain on the outside, but inspiring on the inside. There's a large central court, once clearly open, now enclosed with a geodesic structure roof, and the Reading Room - a very large elliptical floor plan - in the centre of the enclosure. Very impressive inside - vaulted ceiling and books stacked around the outside, and reference and reading space on the floor and in a gallery at second fllor height.
The Museum itself - we started just wandering through with only a map - was initially disappointing. There seemeed little organisation or themes - there was a ' living and dying' themed exhibition in the ethnographics section with the usual encomiums to 'spiritual cultures', but a lot of other items were simply stacked up in cabinets with only a vague chronology.
Then, on a whim and after a coffee, we went Rosetta-stone hunting and found the Egyptian wing. Big difference. Big pieces. Old stuff - some huge statues were 2360BC - that's 4363 years ago. Beautiful carving and scripts. The Rossetta stone was impressive - it is inscribed very clearly and deeply, in Greek, demotic (common script) and hieroglypics, and was the key to deciphering the latter. By an Englishman and a Frenchman. Some of the old stone columns had a palm frond top, were made of granite and have aged very well indeed. Very satisfying. Some of the smaller animal sculptures were positively modern in their stylisation - there really is nothing new under the sun.
Onwards to an Italian pizza just off Leicester Square and then the Odeon theatre and Rings III.
What an amazing movie. A three-hanky affair, with the best battle scenes we've ever seen. The audience spontaneously cheered at Legolas' little run (no scene giveaways here) and stood up and clapped at the end. Theatre was packed to the rafters, too. The sunsets and NZ scenery brough on a bit of homesickness, naturally. A lot, actually.
Monday, after a day's work, another little treat: a performance of Handel's Messiah at St Martin-in-the-fields. We had gallery seats right over the orchestra (mostly a string section, a couple of flutes/oboes/brass), and a drummer. The drummer was something of an obsessive: he constantly tuned, tightened, listened, tuned, loosened, listened. Couldn't leave those damned skins alone for more than two minutes at a stretch. There was a choir, naturally: mostly singing the words in roundelays. If you can imagine a religious version of 'Row row row your boat' with slight variations for two hours you have it. However, the church was beautiful: very plain outside, faded but massive and elegant inside, with a glorious pipe organ (not used for Handel, unfortunately). Not the biggest we've seen (that would be the 5,300 pipe one at York Minster, with a 32 foot bass pipe that had to be seen up close to be believed), just a 16 ft bass, but polished and with little angels carved right at the top of the pipe ranks. Despite the obvious talent of the performers, especially first cello who got a lot of work to do and was visibly enjoying herself, more memorable for the setting than the work itself. The singers were very good, but the content was just too labouredly religious for us unbelievers. With a drummer, double bass, cello and small brass section we did hope for some light jazz to finish off. Ha. Didn't happen. Walked back to the Westminster tube station in gripping cold. Need more possum fur.

Sunday, December 21, 2003


Talking to the guys at Coda (on the course) it seems that my stress-out experience with traffic is actually quite common. It's not unusual to take 4 hours to go 85 miles here in the Midlands, and accidents, fog, general congestion all compound that. Route-switching is needed quite often, and the A-roads clog very quickly. Sounds like traffic densities in some areas have reached the 'knee of the curve' - a fundamental of queuing theory - waiting time goes up quite linearly with increasing desnity until around 70% of capacity is reached. Then, quite suddenly, waiting times go through the roof. That certainly explains things here. Flying is very expensive, so the usual NZ city-hop is not on, and trains while great on the main city routes, can be sporadic elsewhere. Hard to get in and out of some cities and do a day's work. So driving it has to be, and they (other consultants) generally hate it. They are amazed that in NZ it's possible to average 90kph start to stop in most parts of the country. We don't know how lucky....

Retail Rant

We are quite bemused by retailing in the UK: there's a lot of low-paid jobs (around 5 pounds/hr) and a fierce job demarcation ethic: you cannot persuade a waitress or a cook to take the money if there's a cashier etc. Not my job, you see. A far cry from NZ. And there's a delight in petty officialdom and status in both government and retail. And queuing. We don't do queues as a rule but sometimes they are unavoidable.
The reach of EFTPOS is very small - cash is the norm. It feels very last century. The banks take 3-4 days to clear (transact) even electronic payments: you pay a high premium for 'same-day' transactions (!). Definite lack of competition here. Internet banking is in its infancy - a lot of suspicion (well-founded - read on...)
Back in London, doing a server changeover at a client, I get talking to the Kiwi IT manager and he confirms my low opinion of electronic preparedness here: their equivalent of a debit card (Cashflow etc in NZ) is a 'Switch' card.
I still cannot quite believe this - Switch cards do not have a PIN! Signatures are needed but are widely ignored. So if someone else gets your Switch card, or knows the number (like, you tell them over the phone while buying goods), they have an open door to your account! The banks have elaborate pattern-tracing software and will call you if there are for example transactions in two cities in one day, or an unusal rate of use. But talk about insecure! That's like ringing the stable and asking if the door is open. It certainly explains the hesitancy to wider adoption. PIN's are on the way - but the reluctance born of all the present Switch card fraud will be an inhibitor for quite some time. It takes a certain sort of genius to come up with the notion of an instant-debit card unprotected with a PIN, and the Brits have done it.

Harrogate, Half-fonged

After a grand Italian meal in Harrogate (yes, it seems like a contradiction in terms, but the proprietor - Luigi, what else? - has a very fine voice and we have had a very drinkable Montepeluciano red), the blog beckons.
I'm (W) up to Harrogate for an intensive training week. We've come to really like Harrogate: old stone buildings with a very human scale, that wonderful Northern Yorkshire accent everywhere along with a no-nonsense attitude to life, people who stop and talk (it's mostly heads down and keep walking in London) and good shops and amenities. Including Italian restaurants. And a totally disproportionate number of antiques shops. We wonder if we've stumbled across a money laundering scheme for the Russian Mafia or something - there are way too many for the immediate population. It's a former spa town (springs, spas, bottled water etc) and has an elegance and grace as a direct result. The firm (Coda) is right on the side of a hill facing south, so I walked there (half hour walk) three days in a row: up Cold Bath Road through the graceful old stone houses and shops, over the top of the town (Querns found here, according to an 1849 map of the area), down to Coda. Tom Waits, Dylan, Dido, Chris Rea, and Bic Runga accompany me on the MuVo. Certain music tracks have always meant places to me, and I have the feeling that some of these are going to stick, too, already.

A London weekend Dec 13/14

Two plays, a Victoria and Albert (VA) museum expedition and a shop-up on Oxford and Regent streets.
The plays:
Jumpers (Tom Stoppard, an early 1970's one revived to good effect) and Sweet Panic, a drama by Stephen Bukianski(sp?). Jumpers was the clear winner. Tom Stoppard's play is in some measure even more relevant now than then: he rails against the relativism that in the 70's was making inroads into philosophy, and that now is still excusing aspects of other ways of life even as those same 'other ways' are actively seeking our own culture's demise. Sweet Panic was billed with Jane Horrocks ('Little Voice') leading, but she wasn't there on the night, which doubtless contributed to our lower opinion. Jumpers was very verbally and gymnastically clever, and the lead actress (Essie Smith) turns out to be Australian. A great night. Both productions were in West End theatres, one near Picadilly Circus, the other near Trafalgar Square. There was a circus nearby in Leicester Square, with a large traditional merry-go-round and...dodgems! Hadn't seen those since I was a kid. Short movies of each were in order. Picadilly Circus has the statue of Eros, but the greater interest there is a magnificent statue in one corner of the Circus itself - horses leaping from a fountain.
VA: it's affectionately dubbed 'Britain's attic' - it certainly is. There were two exhibitions mounted when we went in: a Gothic (14th to 16th centuries), and a Zoomorphic one (natural world reflected in architeture). VA is just huge: we concentrated on the Gothic and the paintings, but there were another 6 wings we didn't look into at all. There's only so much one can take in: we've found 4-5 hours is it. You'd need a week to get around VA alone at that rate, and it's only one of a row of three: Science and Natural History are the other two. Then there's the British Museum up in Bloomsbury. It just goes on and on. Samuel Johnston said something to the effect that 'if you're tired of London, you're tired of life' and that's so true. Mind you, he hadn't seen Shadwell or Wandsworth.
Oxford and Regent streets are a strange mixture of high-end stores and absolute tat: we went to Hamley's, the famous toy store on 5 floors, but it was crammed to breaking point. Wonderful ship models. Looked in on quite a few shops but nothing memorable. However, Virgin Megastores had a good DVD deal so we accumulated a few old favourites and got an airline voucher too. The choice of CD's was simply the best we've ever seen anywhere. And the obligatory gadget buy for W further down the street: a Creative MuVo memory stick/music player. A 128Mb stick with track hop and volume controls, powered by an AAA battery. Depending on compression used, can fit a couple of hours of selected tracks on this.

Friday, December 12, 2003

Paris back to London

Early train - and it's dark again! Well it is winter, but we haven't seen anything of the French countryside or houses. Just Calais-Frethun which is forgettably industrial. And there are delays through the Channel tunnel too. Congestion. Must be cows on the track or something. Back to dear grimy old London. Grump. Over all too soon. C'est la vie.

Paris - Musee D'Orsay

The Musee is a conversion of a former railway station, which itself is a work of art. Rivetted steel beams with very elaborate infill panels, in a huge, soaring arch. C'est magnifique.
And the art! It's the first Sunday of the month and entrance is free. So a lot of people are there. We head up and away (there are three levels) but there's really no getting away from the crowds. The good stuff (Manet, Monet, Sisley, Renoir, Gaugin, Cezanne, van Gogh.....and so much more) is truly appreciated by most present. We spend a very happy late afternoon there.
Then back over the Seine, with the moon setting over the Louvre and everyone taking pictures (with flash - like that'll help) of this conjunction. We have an expensive but superbly cooked and presented meal at Hotel d'Louvre, and a Line 7 Metro back to Gare L'Est.

Paris - Le Metro et Tour Eiffel

A day Paris pass is only Euro 6.50! Much better than London's Tube equivalent. I manage 'what is the line for St Michel' in French and am told 'It's line one'. But of course. The lines are numbered (London's are named). We find the right one and our stop without problems and notice how clean the Metro is compared to London's tubes. Obviously they employ more cleaners below ground than above, it seems.
Onwards to the Tower! But it's an RER train there, and we spend some time figuring out which platform and which direction. Asking helps, as always.
The Tower itself (we get off early and walk down the river to it) is simply magnificent. Photos don't convey just how big a footprint it has, and how tall it is compared to the rest of Paris. It's very delicate, not massive - curliques of ironwork everywhere.
The queues are very long already (it's 11 o'clock by now) so muttering 'we don't do queues' we buy a ticket for the stairs and walk up to the first platform. Not too quickly, but steadily. Queues duly bypassed.
This platform is only 1/3 or so up (100 metres of perhaps 330) but the view is very impressive. We have to go to the top now, and queuing for the lift is inevitable, so we do. The original stairs (there's a piece preserved) were spiral, narrow and 'became dangerous' so were removed. They looked damn dangerous to begin with, to our risk-averse, OSH affected eyes. And they used to go all the way to the top...
The view from the top is amazing. Paris from this height is white, and the gilded domes of the Invalides (soldiers hospital), the other church domes and the woods, make an entrancing panorama. It is extremely cold, with a biting wind, and many of the people up here are badly prepared for this. We aren't - possums have given their all for our comfort. But somehow the slogan 'Come to Paris and freeze your sorry ass off' (it's 1 degree C at midday, fer chrissake) hasn't occurred to copywriters.
Down again, and back around the river for a dose of Impressionists at Musee D'Orsay.

Paris - Louvre and Opera house

Meal at a chain restaurant on Boulevard St Michel - the waiter is tolerant of our French, and is heartened when we recoil from the 'sauce' he offers (tomato ketchup!) to go on our steaks. It becomes a standing joke (M'sieur, is zis alright weethout le soss?). Of course it is. Mais naturellement. Exit, well satisfied and exchange Bon soir's with our waiter. But he probably still thinks we're Aussies.
We walk back to the North Bank of the Seine and along the Louvre wing on that bank. It is one very long building. And it's only one wing of three. We get into the middle (the bit with the pyramid of glass in the centre of the three wings) and realise just how vast the place really is. As a demonstration of the power of the kings, by using so much physical space, it's very effective. If a little overbearing. British royal buildings that we've seen so far feel more human scale.
Up to the Opera House, and more photos. The Metro (tube) stations increasingly intrigue us: gorgeously curvaceous art-nouveau railings, arches, and lights. It's a cross between Isadora Duncan and 'Alien' (the first, best one).
Then a loong walk back up to Gare L'Est and our hotel. We will definitely try the Metro tomorrow and save our achy hips.

Paris - the obligatory 'oh shit' moment

Walking back from Luxembourgh gardens to the Seine, I check the traffic (to my right), step off the kerb... Shriek of tyres, Maddy yanks me back, I wave the motorist on my left on... my dear brother had warned me about precisely this moment but it seems I'm a slow learner.

Paris - Cluny

On to Musee Cluny - a mediaeval museum built on the ruins of (from the bottom up) a Roman bath-house, an early abbey, and later churches and outbuildings. It's just beautiful: lots of early, primitive carvings, truly ancient beams in the mid storeys, painted stonework in one of the chapels (a lot of early stome was in fact brilliantly coloured, not scraped clean as we so often see it nowadays).
And of course the tapestries - weavings dating back between 300 to 800 years ago. Lots of pix (no flash allowed, but I'm getting quite good at long-exposure, hand-held stuff). Lots of what the Japanese would term 'shibiu' - a sort of dilapidation which has become beautiful and artful in its own right. Example: a statue head (probably of a king) which has eroded so that the lips form something between a sneer and a genetic defect. Ozymandias, indeed. And an 11th century newel post (for a stair) carved to look like thin, long leg-bones jointed together. Great, morbid stuff.
Then, senses sated, off to the Jardins of the Luxembourg Palace - where Parisians are at play. We buy hot roasted chestnuts and love the taste (but others bought later are not nearly as nice). A lot of schooldays French is returning - and it's enough to make an effort - the locals respond and we don't have one problem all weekend. I find myself back in London nodding at shop assistants and murmuring 'Merci'.

Paris - Pooh and Piglet

Yes, all you've ever heard is true - the streets of Paris are somewhat littered in merde-du-chien - that's dogshit. The Pooh of the title. Not at every step, but every now and then there's a quick sidestep. And more frequent are the dried and not so dry trickles running from a doorway or corner to the kerb. We aren't sure of the species (man or dog) which produced these - both, probably. Compared to 'our' part of London, Paris streets are very dirty.
We walk down to the Seine - a long walk down Rue Sebastopol past increasingly classy shops, the Pompidou Centre off to one side, looking quite squat and ordinary. The doors onto the street fascinate me: a great variety of massive doors, generally in arched openings with decorated stonework, and often with ground-level corner protectors of very ornate cast iron. Very beautiful.
As are the houses - mostly 5-7 storey apartments, but with appealing roof detailing (lots of round windows, reverse ogee curves) but of course at street level, the frontages have often suffered the usual appalling retail conversions.
Paris - The Island on the Seine - we arrive opposite Ile de Cite which contains Notre Dame, so that's the first stop. Queues everywhere, so we content ourselves with pictures and a gargoyle hunt. Notre is absolutely infested with them, and there's a spare parts yard out back with even more bits. Coincidentally, there's a pair of ex Notre gargoyles for sale back at a London antique shop for a cool 75,000 poounds, dating from the 13th century. One wonders - how did they get there? Fly? Those early mediaeval minds were surely possessed by the thought of all the dark things that could happen, to have festooned their churches with the variety and quantity of gargoyles that they did. Or perhaps it was just a release. Whatever, if God ruled inside and during the day, these little creatures surely rule the outside and the dark even yet.
All churched out, we wander east to Ile St Louis, which has some of the more exclusive housing in Paris. These islands are quite forbidding at river level: we walk around a quay and observe a lot of barred windows at a sub-ground level. Certainly, the Conciergeries at the far end of Ile de Cite had been an infamous prison and generally unpleasant place since the 13th century. The history lingers. We have a fabulous cafe et glace (coffee and ice-cream) at Berthillon in the south of the island, cross over to the South Bank proper and wander down Boulevard St Germain, just window shopping.
And here we find Piglet. At a food market with, in one cabinet, rabbits still in full skin, poultry with feathers intact, and Piglet. A whole, baked one. Piglet's bottom is being hacked off and sold off as we pass. Our own health gestapo would have conniptions at the general state of the market, but to us there's a healthy display of food in its natural state. I have to say - the salads we get (in UK and France) are very good: none of the browning lettuce and tired look we expected. Quite fresh, a surprising variety of ingredients considering it's mid winter.

Paris - a shaky start

We decided to have the obligatory weekend in Paree. Eurostar train, of course: gets there fast and to a central station (Gare du Nord). So we book and start off.
Eurostar leaves from Waterloo, and it was nearly ours. Normally, to get there from Victoria, one would take the eastbound District or Circle tube, then change to a southbound Jubilee/Bakerloo/Northern (all go to Waterloo). So unaccountably, I (W) first choose a westbound platform.... Not a good start. Which I compound by losing M while crossing against the flow of Friday commuters to the Eastbound platform. We eventually arrive at Waterloo (all of 3 km away) somewhat frazzled.
Eurostar itself is a very fast train - well over 150mph at peak. Doesn't really feel like it at night, when we leave. We have to stop (that's zero mph...) for 'permission to enter' the Channel Tunnel. So that blows the 100+mph average. And it's dark, a characteristic of night everywhere it seems, so the only thing we observe about France after we exit the Channel Tunnel is that they have orange street lights and neon signs, too. Not very exotic.
Then, the train is ordered to 'come to an immediate halt' somehwere north of Paris, at some sad looking wayside station. This in itself is never a good sign, and is confirmed when the local losers start throwing whatever's handy - bricks, bottles - at the train! We exit south at some speed.
We arrive in Paris without further ado, and find our hotel, down Rue Magenta then up a typically quaint and tiny street (Rue Luciens Sampaix).

Friday, December 05, 2003

London Sounds and Smells

The roaring of the tube trains over certain (ancient) sections of the track, (Todays news flash - a rail broke in the Tube today, and they've chained it together (!) and made the trains run at 5 mph. You couldn't make this stuff up.)
The distinctive smell in the deep tubes: iron (from the steel on steel) and low oxygen content (pre-breathed).
Everyone in the car, swaying in exact unison in the tube trains as they go over that old track (alright, that's a sight).
The musical 'ching-chong' we hear with every train that leaves Victoria, as they negotiate a certain stretch (probably points) - we're right by the Elizabeth Bridge, over the tracks out.
The brilliant blue flashes from those trains as the pick-ups arc over joints. Like lightning, and it probably plays hell with electrical devices close by, too.
Buskers in the tube tunnels - snatches of music that's generally very high quality - blues, sax, a capella are the favourites. The sounds carry for ages and can be very eerie.

Thursday, December 04, 2003

National Gallery night

All work and no play etc, so we take ourselves off to look at some pwetty pixtures and then a meal.
NG is right on Trafalgar Square, which has Nelson's Column, Nelson way up there, but those four massive bronze lions that guard the base are what stays for me. Kids love them too - they get climbed all over. And St Martin in the Fields looking over the Square from the side - a plain, massive looking old church.
NG is free and has art from the early mediaeval period (1200 or so) through the early 1900's. We confine ourselves to the latter - the middle period (we sample quickly) is mostly boring portraits.
There are some familiar works: Van Gogh's Sunflowers, Monet's Bridge at Giverny, a slew of Constables, JWM Turners and (earlier) Gainsboroughs. Canaletto (earlier again, early perspective drawing) is a particular delight. Funny how many notes about paintings, views etc have little asides like ' the tower depicted in this view collapsed suddenly in 1744' - obviously the solidity of the structures left now, is the result of a rather darwinian survival race over the centuries.
What sticks are three impressions: the main movements in painting were often anticipated very early on: JWM Turner's Great Western Railway (1844) is pure impressionism, 40 years before the main body of this style was produced.
Seeing the actual works allows some insight into the techniques: you can see the slashes and scrapes and layers. Not possible in any reproductions.
And the sheer size of many of the works is never conveyed in books: some of the Gainsboroughs are fully 10 feet tall and exquisitely detailed in aspects like foliage and sky.
It would take days to explore this one Gallery, but that's Britain all over: everywhere has a story and it really is one big museum. We leave, visual senses satisfied.

Work, Rugby Ads and the Kiwi Invasion.

It's the middle of another work week, so mostly head-down, tail-up during the week. Work is just off Sloane Square, in Chelsea - a fashionable yet not expensive (lunches, pubs - clothes are another story) part of London.
At work, Kiwis are all over: one is in IT, another sold me a raffle (which yours truly plus the IT guy promptly won prizes in...) and yet another in the reprographics area. And that's only the first two floors. We are regarded as workers in the best sense - more of a work ethic, perhaps, and a tradition of just getting on with it.
Rugby ads for the British team, sponsored by O2 (a local telco), are still up in the big screens at the major stations round London, and are very clever. Two in particular:
'15 thorns in one side'
'It's been 200 years since we sent men this dangerous to Australia' (my own favourite)

Monday, December 01, 2003

And so to Dorchester and Judge Jeffrey

After the obligatory view of the Roman wall fragment and a wander down the main street and market, we stop for lunch at Judge Jeffrey's Restaurant. And what a history.
We get the story and a full guided tour from the new proprietor when we ask to see the Judge's bedchamber.
It (the whole building) has been around in some form since the 12th century - the front beams were a canopy for stalls, and shops behind. Then other buildings grew up over the next 300 years, and by Tudor times it was a priory for Glastonbury Abbey (a very rich abbey, which made it too dangerous for abbots to actually stay right there...)
There are allegedly secret tunnels through to the Antelope Walk (now a market lane) behind, the court chambers, and probably a lot of other places. Judge Jeffreys is infamous for the severity of his sentences: in dealing with the aftermath of the Monmouth Revolution (when the Duke of M attempted to take the Crown of England by force), the good Judge executed 72 of 292 prisoners and transported most of the rest to Virginia, which at the time was equivalent to life in a state of slavery.
And those executions weren't nice: they mostly took place in the cellar under the premises. There is a garroting post in the cellar (which we didn't see) and a local sport amongst the locals was to place wagers on how many garotte-revive-garotte-revive cycles a given prisoner would withstand. Par for the course for the times, evidently.
So it has the local reputation as an unquiet house - ghosts, things moving. The proprietor has only lived there 6 weeks, but has wanted the place since he was 5, and is just passionate about its restoration. He told us about his CD player switching on and off unaccountably when he was up a ladder painting, until he told the spirit to knock it off. Whereupon the CD starting playing and didn't stop again.
It has a monk's cloister, a bell tower, Tudor panelling carefully painted over (!) in the last twenty years, and enough restoration plans for the next twenty. A great meal and a spooky place. The personal tour was very unexpected (and he won't be able to keep that up) and very welcome. We hope he has an permanent understanding with the unseen residents.
The trip back to Wincanton has brilliant sunshine so some photos: a signpost series. Older Somerset signposts are cast iron, with a cast triangular weather cap and all picked out in black lettering on white. Very local: the weather cap has SCC (Somerset County Council). Within a few miles, there is Dorset, and Wiltshire in the other direction, each with their own signpost styles.
Sunday is Stourhead day: a National trust property with gardens by Capability Brown. And we have an NT card....
It rains quite heavily while we are there, but we are equipped. The gardens are of course winter season - leaves gone (which opens out the views). The walk around (we stay on the short walk) is designed to reveal successive views and with transition points through grottoes (with statues) and buildings. And a little house with a roaring fire halfway, with the usual retired volunteer as a staff member. Very restful and great photos.
We wander up to the main house (closed until March) - a park vista out front (the gardens are in a valley off to the side). There are many people here - and we meet a couple with Cairn terriers that are just like our own two, down to colours and temperaments. A photo, naturally.

Somerset weekend

Usual Berry's bus out to Wincanton to see Trev and Jane. Rapturous welcome from dogs. And relatives, it goes without saying.
Saturday is Judge Jeffrey's day.
We go with Trev or on the standard service-bus run he takes, to Dorchester. The trip is through back lanes, far from what tourists ever see. And it is raining very heavily at times.
The lanes are down to single lane at times, all are sealed, and there seems to be two basic rules:
1 - don't go straight for more than 200 metres
2 - dig them into the landscape by 1-3 metres
Rule #1 means overtaking is practically impossible, and passing by head-on trafiic is fraught.
Rule #2 means that the lanes become the de facto drain for the surrounding catchment, and mud from the dug-in-ness under these conditions is inevitable. Plus, there is literally nowhere to go if trouble occurs. Those banks are unyielding.
Narrow, twisty, muddy: that's Somerset country lanes. 20-30mph max, on the single track bits: there's just too much risk of not being able to negotiate a bend or execute a passing maneouvre otherwise.
But needless to say, this also makes the lanes quite beautiful in their own way. And, of course, almost impossible to change or improve: they're too embedded.
The little villages (Stallbridge, Sturminster, Plush, Mappowder) start to blur into each other: they share similar features: a twisty, narrow road through them with buildings crowding the road, a pub, a few houses, a crossing or central open space with a signpost or monument. Repeat every 3-5 miles.
Passed the River Piddle, and took a photo on the way back for Ike. Toilet humour always goes down well at age 6.

A London working week

First working week: routines established. Only 'trip' has been a Tube excusion to Waterloo (because we will go to Paris on Eurostar from there) - then out to South Bank for yet another walk around.
Work routines are a little different from NZ: many staff do not arrive much before 10 (transport issues, usually), have the occasional 2 hour pub lunch, and work till 6-7 at night. The pub lunch will take some practice to perfect.

Wednesday, November 26, 2003


The couple in the food court at Victoria Station, who carefully weighed themselves (sans shoes, of course) with a set of bathroom scales they clearly carried along for the purpose, before getting down and dirty with a Big Mac.
The singer downstairs at the foot of the escalator at Piccadilly Circus tube, using a road cone with the end chopped out as a voice amplifier (worked well, too).
The sax player a little further along in the Bakerloo tube, playing along to a recorded drum track. He was Asian, wearing a plastic red nose.
The Kiwi music played non-stop at the Wicked Wolf pub (just around the corner from Kypera in Charterhouse Street), chosen by (I asked) the Irish barman, named (what else?) Paddy.

Dateline Yorkshire Sunday

Drive around the entrance to the Dales, to Ripon, and Fountains Abbey. Yes, ABC - another bloody church. But this one is a ruin, and magnificent with it. Built from the early 11th century on, by Cistercian monks, who specialised in water, wells and similar projects. It was a very rich abbey finally, and the stones still just ooze with that power. In typical fashion, the great tower was built by the last Abbot, just in time to be rendered redundant by Henry VIII's dissolution of all monasteries, only 30-40 years later.
Half of the buildings were recycled into a nearby Hall (manor house) and the half that remain are simply stunning. And there's a 18th c water garden further down, complete with temples, follies, a 42m tunnel, and a slew of statues. Lots of pics. Lots of walking.
We drive back to York via Knaresborough, but (darn mediaeval street layouts) cannot see the river Nidd and a large stone viaduct/bridge we know was there (because we went over it on the train Monday prior). So carry on to York, thinking to go back to the Minster and hear a Bach chorale. But we are both too tired out, and also do not want to dilute the Fountains Abbey experience. So we just hop an earlier train back to London and listen to Tom Waits (Blue Valentines) on the way.
These weren't the real dales, but they are simply gorgeous - quite reminiscent of parts of Southland. A little homesick moment or three. Or we could just live here.

Dateline Harrogate Saturday 22nd

Drive Scarborough to Harrogate in the morning (Saturday) to see the threads exhibition and trade show (for M's work).
Tuck in behind a Rover, travel quite happily (they seem to know the road) for the first half of the journey at speeds up to 90 mph (140 kph). Then gradually the volumes of traffic build up and then we are back to 40-45 mph as we approach Harrogate, to single lane non passing possible roads, which seem (as in NZ) to be held hostage to the least confident/competent or oldest drivers, or, believe it or not, to tractors towing great trailers full of animal faeces. They actually expect main road traffic to yield way to these throwbacks.
Arrive at Harrogate, have a slap-up lunch at a little underground restaurant in the mediaeval part of the town, with attentive service and great food. Find a hotel (the White Hart) with a lower tarrif than in Scarborough, and better facilties. Clearly, Harrogate (which has a niche market in conferences and exhibitions) has greatly benefitted from the related international tourism service aspect. Check in, and phone brother in Somerset. Speed limit is in fact 60 (100k) or 70 on motorways. Oops...
Wander around Harrogate a bit (slept all afternoon after that rather stressful driving) - full of antique shops and good restaurants. We have a marvellous hotel meal at night, complete with that cheeky little Aussie shiraz I've been missing up till now, 2000 vintage no less!

Dateline Grand Hotel, Scarborough Friday 21st

We chose this largely on the basis of a Grundy's Wonders piece. The dear man clearly didn't stay at this architectural wonder.
And a wonder it is: the largest brick building in Europe when opened - over 6 billion bricks. An impressive pile. Of bricks outside, slightly weathered, and of completely crapulous srvice inside.
Pity about the staff and restaurant, though. We needed a 'security key card' to get in to get fed at the latter - which we did not think we had, thinking of a real plastic security card. Silly us: it turned out to be the foot of the reservation sheet - a piece of paper! No key/paper, no meal. First hurdle.
Second hurdle, getting back to the room to get the sucker once we figured out just what that was.
Hotel is running a (!) Country and Western weekend special, which has attracted a depressingly large number of truly tragic individuals dressed (mainly) as Kenny Rogers, or Dolly Parton (generally avec mucho decolletage). No sign of a Lucinda Williams influence, I'm afraid. Donning these costumes seems to have decoupled the brain-to-room-number link, so the lift went to every floor, just in case.
There seems also to be an inordinately large number of actually mentally challenged individuals present, and one in a group manages (what else?) to jam the lift - no doors, lights, action.... Staff sort this out quite quickly, considering.
We finally get to the room, return with and prove that we have the paper key card. We're in to the restaurant! Not so fast.
We are asked to sit at a maroon table. So we do. Turns out (after 5 minutes wait) that the table is set up for breakfast and cannot, just cannot therefore be used for dinner. The dinner module will not run on an Operating Surface (OS) geared for breakfast. The natural solution would be to reset the same table. Oh no. Too hard. So we move. To another maroon table. Without marmalade. I swear, that's the only difference.... But now, happily, dinner can be served.
Sadly, the food comes and is dire. Awful. Bony fish, exquisitely hand-turned from Roman era leather peas, diced swede. Boiled spuds were good, but it's easy to imagine Cook out the back, shlomping the grub onto the tin dishes in best prison camp movie style. Certainly explained the general consistency. They used to slowly boil the odd individual during the dark days of the Counter-Reformation, and obviously the long slow boil habit is hard to break around here.
We establish that our waitress is from Spain. Bilbao, not Barcelona. No Fawlty Towers here. Oh no.
We ask for a wine list. Sorry, the bar closes at 7.30pm, but we can get you dry, sweet or red from upstairs. Oh, don't bother, thanks. Can't see that red being a cheeky little Aussie shiraz, anyway, somehow.
Unaccountably, after all this, we (a) leave before dessert (b) convinced we have wandered into to a Hi-de-hi time warp, and (c) still damn hungry. One consolation: the meal is in the room rate - now that explains a lot...
We tramp the seaside part of town, lokking for alternative food offering places. Not many open (off season), and those that are seem to be mostly the Brit Pub style: tiny, smoky, fuggy rooms, carpet smells of thousands of spilled drinks. And the patrons are clearly happy as clams. We keep looking.
Scarborough has a little mousehole (mowzel) type harbour. We wander down. Then away. Because down here, S also has teen hoons and drunk seaman. No bovver but we don't feel comfortable.
Finally find a little hole in the wall place, closed, of course. We persuade them that having a coffee and dessert means they are really open. Good coffee and desserts. They're having a Fawlty Towers night! Oh, the irony. Our night in Scarborough is complete.

Dateline York to Scarborough Friday 21st

Rental car to Scarborough - Big Mistake! Took fully one hour to clear York (going the wrong way at first, but found the outer ring road quite soon). 15 k/hr average. Grr.
Curious Brit predilection for closely spaced roundabouts in this road: inevitable result: the tailbacks all join up and everything just slows to a crawl.
No solution except take the train next time! But eventually made it (through a quite thick fog) to the Grand at Scarborough. Which needs a section all its own....

Dateline York and the Minster Friday 21st

York is a walled city (no dogs allowed on walls signs everywhere) with gates (bars in the local patios) through them.
Minster is simply, totally overwhelming. Very old - Roman drains at the very bottom level, still draining away, and a large Roman military building's foundations in the crypt. Large columns from the Norman cathedral also incorporated into the foundations, and massive reinforcing collars (20th c concrete and bolts) which were needed to stop the whole tower collapsing (again - first one fell over in early 14th century).
Far too much here to describe, but a real sense of the mediaeval mind - so many memorials, inscriptions, carvings, gargoyles. The Church and religion was everywhere and of course claimed total authority. Lots of photos, and a little movie of the striking clock striking 2.15 pm, with 400 year old carved oak figures which strike two chiming bars. And a genuine 21st century child, immortalised in sound as the movie recorded, saying 'oh shit'.

Dateline Yorkshire Friday 21st

Got to Kings Cross early (delays on Victoria tube did not happen). We were booked on an 1100 train to York, but hopped the earlier Aberdeen train instead.
These trains hike along - up to 125mph at peak. It's deceptive - until you try to photograph out the window! Fast shutter speeds are essential. Big pressure changes in tunnels - hard on the older eardrum.
Farming here is a bit sporadic: lots of waste (fallow?) land, and little intensive cropping. Few stock units visible - may be indoors this time of year, or just not there full stop.
Very tidy large fields in both Somerset and Yorkshire - recently ploughed and sowed. Very gentle contours so far that we've seen.

Friday, November 21, 2003

Thursday and Wednesday - demos and slow Tubes...

Inevitable delays everywhere - could have walked quicker. One 'protester' on the Tube, wearing a Bush mask with a forked snake tongue and devil's horns (these guys aren't big on subtlety - or originality) was also bedecked in a clearly cherished Columbia Titanium jacket. These are expensive, top of the range garments: slightly at odds with the mask.
Needless to say, the atmosphere round the hapless guy was quite chilly but (typical Brit reserve) no-one said a word to him. He got the point and departed at Temple stop, probably half-way to his destination.
I'm working just across from the vegetarian's nightmare: Smithfield meat market. Before the meat show, it was West Smithfield, scene of quite a few martyrdoms and assorted late mediaeval crowd-pleasers. Reading up on some of the martyrs history to see who the plaques refer to, it's clear that it was a result of Queen Mary's displeasure at Protestantism. Some of the reasons for the executions were: possession of the Bible in English, not affirming the Pope as the sole authority on earth, and not wanting to partake in the Church (Catholic) rituals. Of course the Church was very much hated for the state into which the priesthood and Popery had fallen: they certainly did not practise what they preached, but made it impossible to sidestep their own authority. By, amongst other things, having frequent purges of free thinkers. And trying to suppress the English translations of the Bible.
Of course, it didn't and couldn't last. Protestantism won out, and the Catholic church entered a long decline. But while it lasted, it was fatal for a good many good people, and extremely unpleasant for many others.
It's hard to escape the parallels to today: Britain (with the Istanbul bombing) has suffered something of its own 9/11. The ideology which is behind these acts is not dissimilar to the Holy Church of 1540: unable to win finally (because the power of free thinking is always too strong) but capable nevertheless of inflicting a lot of pain to innocents along the way.
Time to stand firm (and be careful: London is always a target, and as I noticed when we got here, border control is laughable.)

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

That AB result

On Saturday morning, as we headed back from doing laundry, we looked in at a little pub in Warwick Way, to check the progress of the game. Second half, not looking great, pub full of Aussies! Green and gold everywhere. Sorry to say, we watched for a few minutes only, then caught up with the inevitable news later on. And of course on the Sunday, England's victory over France - although it didn't seem to result in dancing in the streets, not that we saw. Brits seem to reserve overt emotion for soccer and small animals.

Monday, November 17, 2003

London Day #14 Sunday Nov 16

Touristing again - off to Greenwich via the Tube, then Docklands Light Rail. DLR is disconcertingly driverless! Went through East London - ghastly, very dire extruded housing, all jam-packed together. It's hard not to think that pinched, cramped living lead to similar thinking - no wonder soccer (fitba' here) and sport are such an outlet.
Cutty Sark first - huge, graceful, but I couldn't help thinking of the seamens' lot, perched out on ratlines above a heaving sea, to handle all that sail she carried. Think I'll stick to small dinghies.
Went to National Maritime Museum, but apart from some boat and engine -type static displays, it was all a bit too interactive and kid-oriented. So cut away to the Queen's House - a little Inigo Jones (architect, around 1630) gem next door. Wonderful painted ceilings, old portraits, spiral staircase. Gorgeous Canaletto painting of the view up to this house from the Thames.
So many of the 'servants' in London are foreign: Italian staff at the QH, a lot of Africans on the Tube system, a lot of East Europeans through the restaurants. And still they come.
Up to Greenwich Observatory - hill, in parklands, full of people, dogs going crazy (homesickness for dogs enters about here). Saw Harrison's clocks: H1 to 3 are all going, H4 (the watch) is not, visibly. Very moving - beautiful craftsmanship everywhere.
On down the hill into the village, to the Fan Museum - great displays and intricate work in tortoiseshell and bone.
Home via the river launch straight to Westminster. Past about one-third of Londons former dock system (now all housing and some very fine, too). The sheer extent of the docks and London itself has to be seen to be understood: the docks alone underscore what a huge economic flow went through here, and provided the means to build most of what we have seen.
Up to Paddington, where the darned free WiFi has stopped! Hope this is not a permanent feature.

London Day #13 Saturday Nov 15

Tourist day! To the laundrette first, then the Big Bus trip all around central London. Stopped off at the Tower and did the trip through the White Tower (there's a lot more at the Tower, but the WT is the centrepiece). Amazingly old, thick walls, vaulted ceilings, air of absolute history. Ravens and remnants of Roman walls outside,, lots of armour, weapons, torture instruments inside.
Did a river boat excursion (packaged in with the Bus tour), ended up at Westminster, rejoined the bus around the West End - Parks, Marble Arch (which used to be Tyburn, another grand day out for the kiddies with multiple hangings). Ended up rather pooped, no lunch, so off to Harrods for a cream tea each. Very good.
Harrods is impressive - tatty in parts, and over the top in others, but a must-see. Walked back to hotel through leafy squares, M navigating (there is so much of London that looks alike at street level that I easily get lost, and the high terraced buildings means that landmarks are hard to locate). Especially at night.

London Day #12 Friday Nov 14

Tube to work via Chancery Lane, walked down Holborn, to avoid (what else in England?)- a tube strike which knocked out the most direct route. Nice and pictureseque around the top of Holborn - Tudor frontage, all crooked and leaning every which way.
Going to be in London all weekend - early night so we are fresh, to be tourists.

Friday, November 14, 2003

London Day #11 Thursday Nov 13 - Night

M came up to Kypera and did some stitch graphing work. We walked back along my morning route: West Smithfield, Old Bailey, Ludgate Hill, Cannon St. Quick BK at Cannon St (they are supposed to be the same taste the world over but the NZ BK is far better...). Then walk down the Thames North bank to Charing Cross - quite a step, and we ended up wishing we had caught the Tube to Embankment instead. But a beautiful night view along the Thames, anyway. The directions thing continues - got asked directions by a truckie.....
Then the London Eye (the biggest, slowest ferris wheel in the world). Absolutely well worth it - only 11 quid each - and we were almost the last pax (close to closing time) and uncrowded, plus the night was clear and sharp. Great views all around. Usual London landmarks - St Pauls, Parliament, really well lit. Took a couple of photos but they were long exposures and hence fuzzy. Tried a burst of short movies instead, just panning around the blaze of lights. So-so results (we dump the card contents onto M's laptop each night and name the shots before we forget what they are). Then back over the river, tube from Embankment station home. Familiar trip now, but we are changing hotels tomorrow, so last night. Stocked up on fruit at Sainsbury's - English Breakfasts are not over-keen on healthy ingredients.

London Day #11 Thursday Nov 13

W - have decided to walk a different way to Kypera (up in Charterhouse Street) every day. So this morning's route was tube to Mansion House, then down Cannon St past St Paul's (one tower shrouded in scaffolding but very photogenic none the less), then up Old Bailey (alive with the 'Sotham' trial right now) and Giltspur to the western Smithfield area. Turns out that Sir William Wallace was executed around there (plaque on the wall of St Bart's Hospital) and they evidently barbecued a few religious dissenters in the same spot, to judge from another sign. So having a major meat market just across the square is just a little ironic, n'est ce pas?

London day#10 Wednesday Nov 12

At a Kypera client in High Wycombe - some 25 miles north-west of London. Victoria and Bakerloo deep tubes to Marylebone, then Chiltern Railways train to HW. Fast and efficient service. HW filled with the standard extruded brick housing. Fast train back - very smooth and quick, nice fish (large portions, fresh) meal at night, around the back in Wilton Rd. M has picked out a new hotel in Eccleston Square for the weekend and next week.
Took a walk around the square tonight - leaves are falling rapidly and the nights getting quite sharply colder. This is the weather we had been expecting all along. Square garden is private - residents have keys but the garden is not open to ordinary mortals. We keep getting asked directions - must seem like locals.

London day#9 Tuesday Nov 11

At a Kypera client in Bloomsbury. Nice, old part of town (what, in central London, isn't old?) Tube there, bus (the real-thing double decker, not the sanitised new Volvo's) back to Holborn. Holborn has a row of very old Tudor? half-timbered buildings, and a Prudential Association building in new brick, very sympathetically done, lots of fired sculptures inset in to the walls.
Back to Paddington for a quick blog, and try to decide next accommodation - no joy in actually booking the thing over the net. Quick BK meal on the way back via Victoria, then crash again. London is much quieter at night than we had expected, and doesn't really wake up much before 0500. Night noises include aircraft turbofan noise which is quite penetrating. But no construction - this area is so densely settled that it's probably not permitted to proceed at night.

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

Somerset and London Day #8

Back to London on the bus, in daylight. Stonehenge on the left, lots of large paddocks (fields) worked up and showing chalk. Gentle rolling hills. Then the 'Great Wen' - London suburbs, with houses that look like they were just extruded in long rows, and industrial bits that could be anywhere. New hotel - still in Belgrave Rd, so we don't have to re-learn directions, slightly larger room, closer to Victoria station.
Walked all round the Thames in the afternoon - Millbank, Southbank, London Eye. Eye is an amazing piece of engineering: powered by ski-lift type tyres pushing on the outer rim. Plan to go up there one night. Back across the river on the Millenium bridge, back through the Strand to Trafalgar Square.
Parliament Buildings are just superb - carved details, the western tower (we caught that in afternoon sun , ditto Big Ben, glittering metalwork detail). We sat on the south Thames riverbank, listened to BB strike 4 pm, and thought - this is a beautiful city. It shows what a financial powerhouse Victorian England was, both in the buildings themselves and in the use of physical space and scale.
Nice meal in a cafe off Victoria Tube station, home and absolutley crashed at around 8 pm. But we're both over the jet lag - took fully one week....

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

Somerset, Day #7

Take-it-easy day: M's Dad died last week and while this was expected, still a wrench to be so far away. Speech to do and mail, to be read at the funeral.
The afternoon was excursion time - to Montacute (house, village - typical English country house and gorgeous village). Wandered through St Catherine's church in the village (great gargoyles, Green Man plus one Norman one under the organ stall), and then up Hedgecock Hill (with a folly on top, which we climbed). Hill has a motte-and-bailey defence dating from Norman times. Still very evident. History just oozes out everywhere. I swear I got Norman cowshit in my Caterpillar shoe treads.
Back via Yeovil (home to Westland helicopters) - industrial town with an only slightly charming Main street.

Somerset, Day #6

Wincanton is a typical English country village. Went on a bus trip with Trev for most of the day, to Stonar school (where Mummy and Daddy's little girlie can take Horsey, too). Backtracked to Bradford-on-Avon and spent most of the down time there. Delightful - many pix. Complete with a rendering of 'Jerusalem' on a pipe organ in a seventeenth century stone church - shades of 'Calendar Girls' WI meetings. B on A has a Shambles (market street, a canal (Kennet and Avon, with locks and long boats), lots of golden Bath stone. Tithe Barn, too. Practically every stone here has a story.

London Day #5

Went out to a client at Elstree - home of the film (fill-um) studios which do EastEnders and the Who Wants to be a Millionaire, amongst other things. Beautiful day, again - this is supposed to be winter, ferchrissake. Got there almost an hour early (deep tube Victoria to Kings Cross, then ThamesLink to Elstree/Borehamwood) and allowed far too much time for what turned out to be a very slick journey. Breakfast in a small snack bar.
Client visit was unusual - it's the first time ever that I'm gone into a server room, had a monitor turned on, and seen it instantly burn up, complete with smoke.
Got back early (slick trains, again) so tried to get out to Hammersmith bus station and hop the earlier bus to see Trevor and Jane at Wincanton. No joy - awful traffic. So we waited around for two hours at the bus station, and did the bus journey in the dark, as we had expected.
T and J very pleased to see us, and their two dogs ditto.

London Day #4 continued

Still jet-lagged - reckon the body clocks are around 4-6 hours out. Strong desire to sleep mid-afternoon, awake at 0400.
Tried the WiFi hotspot at the White Swan, Vauxhall Bridge Road (just through the back from where we were staying - no joy getting out (thanks, BT...). So had a traditional pub cod, chips and peas. Fosters on tap, too.

Friday, November 07, 2003

London day#4 Thursday Nov 6

Quicker trip in to work (had been travelling right round the Circle Line from Victoria to Barbican). Walked up from Blackfriars station to Kypera instead - much more interesting, too. Under Holborn Viaduct. Still brilliant weather for early winter.

Wednesday, November 05, 2003

WiFi at Paddington

Blogging this from the main concourse area ('The Lawn', not a blade of grass to be seen, natch). It works - insecure tho'. Nothing that's free is 100%.

London day#3 Wednesday Nov 5

Tube delays - grrrr. A lot of the infrastructure is over a century old.
Another fine day, took the chance to walk around at lunch. Kypera is in a very old part of the City (St John's Gate just around the corner), full of twisting streets, narrow lanes and old brick (what else?) buildings.
Smithfield Market is just across the road - very ornate iron and stone work.
A beer or three afterwards, then an Italian meal (very good) and home early next morning on the deep tube between Kings Cross and Victoria.

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

London day#2 Tuesday Nov 4

In at Kypera offices (Charterhouse Street) - very warm welcome and very warm (temperature) full stop.
Thought we were clever in avoiding jet-lag, until about 2pm in the afternoon, when the body clocks just decided otherwise. Headed for home early, found an 'Italian' restaurant in Victoria Rd, ate (not great, expensive) then crashed.
The weather is a real surprise - had expected rain, coldish, and little sun. The opposite: dry, quite warm, and good sun/high cloud.
Great Italian meal just around the corner from the hotel. Getting very tired of the tiny room and heating that's on whether needed or not, so have found another hotel for next week already, much closer to Victoria station, too.

Monday, November 03, 2003

London Day #1

Border control is absolutely minimal. No written customs stuff (I asked and was told you self-declare by choosing green or red path...!). Very slight immigration form - most interested (verbal questions) in where/with who we will stay. The show is just wide open compared to US of A.
Heathrow Express to Paddington (lovely cast iron forms at the station, but oh so dirty with diesel smoke). Then the Circle Line tube to Victoria. Tube is NOT set up for large wheeled luggage - lots of stairs. Bad for aging backs.
Whoever had the contract for the bricks in London must be a squillionaire. So many, ranging very old to quite new, used everywhere. Repeated patterns in the Tubes - columns and scalloped recesses - all load bearing bricks. Gazillions of 'em.
Staying in Belgrave Road, walked down to the Thames (tide out...), and found the (old) Tate. JWM Turner/Venice exhibit - great paintings. T was really an early impressionist - his skies are amazing.
No 'street' views in the minor streets: all this area is built up 4-7 stories with Georgian-style terraces. Map and a good bump of direction is essential...
Room is tiny, hot. Can't expect much for 55 quid per night but can do better than this. Even on the same street. Lots of budget 'hotels'.

Trip impressions

Auckland to LAX - in the back ... always a lumpy ride. Slept a little, watched DVD (Buena Vista Social Club) on the HP. Great widescreen quality. Great movie.
Flew in to LAX Terminal 1, out from Tom Bradley Terminal. Full-strength immigration - green forms, even though we were just in transit.
But no Customs, just a baggage transfer. TB Terminal is well set out, showing signs of wear, good views including the iconic 'Hollywood' sign in the distant hills.
Flew BA World Traveller class out from LAX to London - first row of seats, very spacious, slept not badly.
Had copied most of our favourite CD's into Media Player library - quite impressive quality, each CD around 40-50 mB. Used a splitter jack so we could both listen at once. Very good.

Wednesday, October 29, 2003

The machinery shootout

One laptop each: W has a (an?) HP NX 7000 - wide screen, but quite light and thin. Specs are for higher RAM, less graphics, fast disk.
M has an Acer 290CXi - high graphics, base RAM and HDD. Light, thin, smaller footprint.
Both are wireless-equipped and can talk to each other peer-to-peer if we really needed to: in practice a 256Mb memory stick will do. Both are Intel Centrino CPU's and should have a 3-5 hour battery life.
The obvious question: which will be better on the road? Watch this space.
Other essential machinery - digital camera.
Wanted a Fuji FinePix S7000 (SLR, 6 megapixels) to take along, but two things conspired to prevent this: (1) no physical stock in Australia or NZ (tried both), despite most store's web sites trumpeting the new release and even doing some discounting, and (2) the old Nikon F60 kit was worth very little as a trade-in.
So went with a Nikon CoolPix 5400 - 5.1 million pixies and a nice manual mode dial plus the legendary Nikkor glass bits out front. It's the wide-angle (28-116mm) CoolPix - the other one (5700) is more telephoto (35-2something) and is also fully screen menu driven - no quick mode change there. Got a 1Gb CF card (800 piccies at around a 1 to 1.4 Mb JPEG each) instead of the completely inadequate 32Mb card supplied with the camera. Supplier threw in a PC Card-CF card converter, and a LowePro camera bag. Don't expect pix on this blog tho: not available (well, it is free...you have to make some trade-offs).
Tried out the existing flash unit (Sigma EF430ST) on the hot shoe, and it works quite well despite not being a Nikon-dedicated beast. Weight restrictions may well see this getting left in the drawer at home, though.

Tuesday, October 28, 2003

Basic itinerary:
London from 3 November. Working with Kypera (www.kypera.com). If calling, please factor in the time difference... No fixed abode, but will log this as we move around.
Weekends mostly at (bro) Trevor in Somerset. The Continent will beckon, surely.
Barcelona for New Year's (Dec 29 through 2 Jan) - with Trev and Jane - look at Gaudi architecture and generally warm up. Assuming it doesn't snow.
Harrogate (UK) 3 Jan on. Working with CODA.
Fort Lauderdale (FL, USA) Jan 13-17 visiting Anne and Doug where 'a day of power tool frenzy' has been mooted.
Home (Christchurch) Jan 19.

Shelley and Andy are house-and-dog sitting, so that's who's answering the phone.