The Day After Tomorrow

The message to all of Planet Earth is, of course, corrupted to work for the film and lost after the first third. But that doesn’t make any difference.

Jake Gyllenhaal in The day After TomorrowSo I’ve just got back from a nice – but rushed – meal and a visit to Clapham Picture House to see Roland Emmerich’s The Day After Tomorrow, starring Dennis Quaid and Jake Gyllenhaal. It’s a vision of what will happen if we don’t all take up cycling, ditch the cars and stop throwing out refrigerators with the trash (or some such thing).

Actually, it’s a disaster movie with a message and it certainly makes the grade as the first, although the message is somewhat lost along the way and the plot is, like all movies in this genre, ridiculously enjoyable. Basically, it starts to rain and then gets very cold and the only place where you seem to be able to survive is in the New York is the public library (and that’s because you can burn the books). Gyllenhaal’s dad, is of course, the only person on the whole of the American continent who can save him so he tries to. Marvelous, stupid and thoroughly entertaining.

Ian Holm puts in a notable performance from a remote Scottish weather station where – at the moment of disaster – they decide to toast England, Manchester United and Mankind (so not very convincingly Scottish – although they, of course, drink a decent malt to ward off the end).

It’s a mankind-in-peril, gripping disaster movie and I found it immensely entertaining. It’s stunning when it’s building and the effects are at their best (and who cares if the ice at the start looks computer generated)? Sadly, it does fade a little towards the end – especially as any last elements of believability fly out the window – but as a couple of hours entertainment you must go and see this film.

The message to all of Planet Earth is, of course, corrupted to work for the film and lost after the first third. But that doesn’t make any difference.

Tate’s Anniversary

The Tate Modern is celebrating four years this year.

turbine hall at the tate modernI’ve mentioned before that the South Bank is one of my favourite areas of London. Although I am not a big gallery goer (can I say that?) I do like the Tate Modern – basically because you can wander in and out as you wish and, for the most part, it’s free. I have always been a big fan of the exhibitions/installations in the turbine hall. There’s something about the sheer size of the art that is appealing. The turbine hall allows for some huge installtions or just a lot of space in which to interact (or lie on the floor as we did for the weather project). They are celebrating their fourth anniversary this year and BBC News has some great pictures from some of those bigger exhibitions.

Please Don’t Shout On Late Trains

Jakob Nielsen reports that researchers from the University of York have performed a study to assess why it’s so annoying when other people have cellphone conversations in public.

Earlier in the week, my fifteen-minute train journey was delayed due to over-running engineering works. Any regular traveller on the South West Trains suburban lines into London Waterloo station will be used to these delays after weekends or bank holidays. I know it to be so likely that I even plan for it and force myself out of bed and to the station a little earlier if I know there have been engineering works nearby.

As always some people are caught off guard by this or, perhaps, they use it as a cover for the fact they are running late. It’s amazing how many mobile ‘phone conversations announce that the caller will be late for the office/appointment/meeting due to how late the trains are when, in fact, there is no more than a ten minute delay (which when using London’s transport infrastructure you should be accounting for anyway).

Earlier this week, however, there was a well-spoken gentleman in my carriage who insisted in calling – what appeared to be – most of his mobile ‘phone contact book to let them know just how late he was. He also said that Justin would have to take the meeting (if Justin ever reads this, the gentleman in question claimed to have confidence that you wouldn’t screw it up which I thought sounded good for you). All very well but I didn’t want to know it.

The conversation was irritaing and irritation is always enhanced when a train is later (even if you have planned for it because other’s have planned for it and civilised behaviour goes out the window). The conversation, however, was loud but each one was brief and to the point and without any pointless small-talk. The gentleman was efficient in his conversations and factual. He was, however, still irritaing.

So I started looking for items on irritation factors caused by mobile telephony only to find that Jakob Nielsen has a some research on ‘Why Mobile Phones are Annoying‘ which implies that, upon testing, conversations face-to-face at the same volume are less irritaing that the equivalent mobile conversation. The research suggests,

Designing phones that encourage users to speak softly will reduce their impact on other people. For example, more sensitive microphones and improved quality on incoming audio will make most users less inclined to shout. [source]

Let’s hope Nokia et al. are listening.

Where is Ashley Paske?

He used to be in Neighbours and Richmond Hill. Where are you now, Ashley?

Ashley Paske Autographed PhotoI always thought Ashley Paske was quite cute when he was in the daytime soap Richmond Hill and, later, in Neighbours. But now where is he? The only reference I can find to him recently is in an ABC (Australia) documentary called The Fame Game that tellingly says that the stars, “reveal how they coped with the all encompassing fame followed by a sudden and unexpected return to virtual oblivion.”

And yes, that is his autographed photograph in the picture. It was a gift.

Britain’s Railways

The whole saga of the upgrading of the west coast main line is outlined in today’s Guardian.

A very interesting item it today’s G2 about the on-going saga of the upgrading of the West Coast Main Line, one of the key railway routes in Britain:

One of the most disturbing facets of the west coast saga is the failure of democratic government that it represents. Not just of a particular party, but the whole system of government.

and later

And yet we cannot accuse our elected representatives of looking the other way. In mid-February and early March of 1995, after the consultants had delivered their report but while Railtrack and the government were still mulling over it, members of the House of Commons transport committee questioned Edmonds, Horton and the heads of some of the big signalling firms about the WCML project … Members of parliament had done what they were elected to do, conscientiously and thoroughly scrutinising a big plan by an unelected organisation with power over the lives and purses of the public. It had pointed out its weaknesses. And nobody paid any attention.

What the article does highlight is that, today, projects of national importance and public good like this one come second to short-term profit, power and – to some extent – ego. I wonder if we will ever see a situation where transport planning is for all our good rather than the few?

Reflections on Florida

Having enjoyed Florida so much, I wonder how many more times I will go back.

I am back in London now and am missing Florida. The last week has been very different from many holidays that I have taken before because it was so packed with things to do. I tend to prefer the kind of holiday that allows you to relax rather than filling the days with more effort than would usually be required to go to the office. Orlando was, however, very different. Although the days were filled it was thoroughly enjoyable and felt like no effort whatsoever. I really have found a new love of roller coasters and it’s awoken a child-like interest in the theme parks. I think the enjoyment of the theme parks was the element I was most surprised about. Perhaps all these years of believing I wouldn’t enjoy them meant I found them all the more entertaining. Of course there was the added fun of there being six people to holiday with. It’s a time that I won’t forget easily.

What also struck me was that the ‘have a nice day’ mentality/philosophy which I often find saccharine and insincere in other American cities was so right in Florida that it made me readdress my thoughts on that whole approach to life. It adds to the whole experience and really does go to prove that just being nice to others can help make somebody else’s day all the brighter.

So, please, have a nice day and any suggestions of alternative American locations for a holiday would be most welcome.

The Florida Adventure Continues

This holiday just gets better and better. We’re at Universal Studios Florida right now.

Today is our last day in Florida. On Saturday PY and I left the villa for the Royal Pacific Resort at Universal Studios, Florida.

I thought Epcot and Busch were good but this has been fantastic. Jaws, Earthquake and Back to the Future at Universal Studios were fantastic (Terminator and Men In Black not so great). In particular I have to say how much I enjoyed the Jaws ride which is entirely made by the actors who are the guides on your boat tour and they really do make it fantastic.

Islands of Adventure has also been wonderful. Given my new found love of roller coasters I have ridden the Hulk and Dueling Dragons several times and I can heartedly recommend to them. The most amazing ride, however, isn’t an actual roller coaster. The spiderman ride mixes and indoor ride with projected 3D imagery to create the most superb ride I have been on while here in Florida. I am thankful that we were staying at a Universal hotel as the hotel keycard is good as a Fastpass as many times as you want so we’ve done Spiderman a number of times. If you go to Universal Islands of Adventure than don’t, under any circumstances, miss it.

And we managed to see the Black Eyed Peas at Universal Studios Mardi Gras on Saturday – which was a fun bonus to the whole adventure.

A Florida Friday

Ever since I was a child I’ve tended to avoid roller coasters because I was a little scared. Now I am addicted.

my photo of epcotIt’s Friday when I am writing this but I am not sure when I am going to get round to publishing these entries from Florida. I am on the verge of applying for a green card so that I can stay here in the sunshine and ride roller coasters all day.

Wednesday was Epcot day. It was the first Florida theme park that I have ever been to and it was amazing. Last Tuesday evening we went to eat in Downtown Disney. As we drove past the large Disney World signs PY was grinning uncontrollably. He has been here several times before and was excited to be back. After twelve years together I have to admit that I have never seen him like that – it was a fantastic experience. Oddly, by the time we drove under the same sign on Wednesday morning on our way to Epcot I was – similarly – grinning. We made our way to Test Track and got our Fastpass before seeing Ellen’s piece on energy (which is a little simplistic and to be seen in the context of being sponsored by an oil company). We then went round several of the other experiences which I won’t list here as there are many good guides to them.

Eventually it was our time for Test Track but it kept breaking down and we waited an hour to ride (the non-Fastpass queue was three hours by this point). This is where I admit I have never been any good at rides, roller coasters and fairgrounds. I get nervous so tend to stay away. Anyway, after all the wait I was very apprehensive about riding Test Track only to be a little disappointed. The screams that you hear as people hurtle around the side of the building do lead you to think you are going on the ultimate thrill but it’s really just an amusing diversion.

Then I went to ride Mission Space (which PY wouldn’t ride because it, apparently, spins you round to generate the weightless experience and he isn’t any good at those kind of rides). The built up to this ride is incredible (all the warnings about motions sickness managed to put two of our crew members off at the very last minute so there were only two of us in the pod). It was great but it wasn’t fantastic and it was over very quickly. And that’s when I realised where the fear comes from. It’s the clever build ups and staging. The rides themselves seem quite tame to me.

Now don’t get me wrong, the Epcot rides were great. World Showcase is fun; a lot of imagination has gone into the park and the fireworks impressive. It’s a great day out and it’s the place I overcame my fear of these rides.

So by yesterday when we went to Busch Gardens I was happier to ride the roller coasters. And I did – even the one where your feet hang down. And I would ride them again and again. I’ve discovered that I am thoroughly enjoying the rush of riding. It’s not something I had expected to get out of this trip but I have now uncovered a whole new world and I fear I’ll become addicted.

Go now and ride them all.

Borough Market: Southwark’s Great Food Home

Borough Market in Southwalk is well worth a visit.

So, this is the 12th Valentine’s Day I will have spent with PY. We are spending much of this weekend with friends and exploring new parts of the city.

Last night we were in Balham at Dish Dash. We had previously visited the Goodge Street branch (PY had his 30th birthday party there) but had never been out this way. The evening was spent with plenty of little Persian dishes (Swordfish Kebabs & Spinach and Chick Pea Mazza being my favourite). If you are ever in the area you must go. There were, however, a large number of other, tempting, restaurants in the area Peter Sellars once called ‘Gateway To The South’. It’s an area we must visit more often. Recommendations welcome.

Today we rose early (for a Saturday) to visit the tempting delights of Borough Market. If you have never been this is a gourmet market to be found as you head eastwards. The market sells some top-quality fresh produce, and it’s a charity so it should be preserved. It is also a wholesale market at other times of the day/week. There are all types of breads, vegetables, meat and fish sold by proper market traders who, from what I can tell, know their products very well indeed. The Spanish Chorizo stall had the longest queue I have ever seen for a take-away food stall in London. It must have been superb. We bought Ostrich streaks for dinner this evening and they certainly look very tempting (and almost fat-free, apparently).

Borough Market is in Southwark which must be one of my favourite parts of London. The South Bank from Waterloo and the London Eye via the Tate, Millennium Bridge and The Globe was a deserted riverside area when I first came to London. There was, more-or-less, no life between The National Theatre and Tower Bridge. Nowadays, it’s one of the most bustling areas for tourists and locals alike. I really think a Saturday walk down the south bank of the Thames is well worth it. This is the kind of place which makes all frustrations about living in a big city evaporate. It restores my faith in London.

Tomorrow, we head for Highgate to visit some American friends. Certainly looking forward to Sunday Lunch.

Integrity in Public Life

First Gavyn Davies quits as chairman of the BBC and now Greg Dyke, Director General, has decided to call it a day. I respect them both for the integrity in doing the honourable thing.

Hutton has spoken and the BBC came in for criticism. I have a great affection for the BBC, I worked for them for a while, but in the light of some of the facts that emerged it seems that some of the procedures to ensure accurate journalism seem to be flawed. The government, on the other hand, seems to have got off lightly. But I do wonder if the resignations of both Gavyn Davies and Greg Dyke will some how backfire on Number Ten.

I also wonder if, had the tables been reversed, politicians would have resigned in quite such dignified manners?

I am a great believer that leaders, in business and government, should take responsibility for the decisions of the people they employ. That is not to say that they should resign for every mistake made (I am also a believer in that human beings make mistakes and mistakes are allowed). I think Gavyn Davies and Greg Dyke were great for the BBC. But it is right that they do the honourable thing. It speaks so much more about them as people than anything that has come from Parliament since Robin Cook resigned.

the resignations of the BBC’s Director General and Chairman illustrate the differences of mentality that exist at the BBC and in the government. Though sad, it is refreshing to see those with responsibility acting honourably and resigning. By contrast our cabinet ministers usually have to be pushed from power when found wanting – clinging desperately and shamelessly to their posts and privileges. Greg Dyke and Gavin Davies have acted with a maturity and correctness unmatched by the government.

[What now for the BBC?]

I hope the people that take over will have as much integrity.