It experience was as incredible as I’d expected it to be.
BT Tower (previously, the Post Office Tower) was once the tallest building in the UK. Officially opened in October 1965, it was built to provide London with microwave communication links to the rest of the country.
Interestingly, this icon of the London Skyline was, apparently, an Official Secret for its early life. In theory, you couldn’t admit it existed. It originally opened with a rotating restaurant operated by the Butlins holiday company. I wonder how you made a booking if you couldn’t say where it was? For security reasons public access, including the restaurant, closed in the early 1980s.
BT Tower: Broadcast Hub
In the mid 1990s, when I worked for the audio distribution company, SMS, we had audio circuits connecting our satellite network to ‘Tower’ to allow us to send – and receive audio from – BT’s broadcast network. We were based only a 9-minute walk away from the tower with a perfect line of sight (if we leaned out the front door). We didn’t use the circuits very often but there was always a little excitement when we called BT to arrange a connection.
Years later, I was back in the Euston Tower for work which provided a birds-eye view of the rotating screens. By then, many of the dish-shaped aerials had been removed for safety reasons but the Tower was still at the heart the UK’s broadcast network even if the signals had migrated to underground fibre cables. And even now, at least until we move offices at the start of December, I walk along Tottenham Court Road every morning past Maple Street, the Tower’s official address, with a daily view of whatever message is set to appear on the big screen 167m (548 ft) up in the London sky.
I’ve been to the top of many buildings with a birds-eye view of London but, until last week, I’d never been to the top of the Tower. The charity RedR arranged an evening of visits as a fund-raising activity so I got to look backwards to my former, and current, work places.
While at the top of The Tower, they turned the rotation on for a full sweep of the London skyline which, at night, is very impressive. As we are in the season of Christmas lights, there were some spectacular views of the lights along Tottenham Court Road, at Regent’s Place and of the Hyde Park Winder Wonderland. It experience was as incredible as I’d expected it to be.
According to the London Landmarks site, the Tower is the “only building in the country which is allowed to be evacuated by lift (an oddity which required Parliamentary legislation to be passed)”. Fortunately, an evacuation was not required this evening.
#SOLS is the project to have something written on this site on the last Sunday of every month. I covered topics such as a visit to Japan, the state of the trains and why we change the clocks. I have one more expected in 2017 at the end of the year. I wonder what that will cover? Follow the sequence with handy sols tag.
The clocks went back last night. Thanks to the marvels of jet lag I missed it and saw no benefit to the extra hour in bed. I’ll spend the rest of the week trying to determine which devices don’t automatically reset themselves and I’ll find my kitchen clock out by an hour until next weekend. Then, when I realise, I’ll struggle to synchronise the clocks on the top and bottom ovens. Admittedly, nothing compared to the 379 clocks that need to be adjusted at Windsor Castle. I wonder who adjusts HM’s bedside alarm clock? Truly, first world problems.
Timezones are fascinating. I’ve spent my life trying to remember if it’s during the ‘spring forward’ phase or the ‘fall back’ time that we don’t adjust the clocks at the same time as my colleagues across the Atlantic. I never remember. But, I think it’s now. I do know that all of our meetings are messed up for a week now and nobody is in the right place at the right time.
I feel that, for as long as I can remember, it’s been assumed that we in Britain change the time because of farmers or school children. Lighter mornings mean fewer accidents, or something like that. It always sounded plausible but I am not sure I was convinced. Today, the Telegraph notes that, back in the early 1900s, William Willett “wanted to stop Brits from wasting valuable daylight hours” by staying in bed in the summer months and introduced the concepts of daylight savings time. So, really, it’s all about combatting laziness (or, to put it another way, our health and well-being). What I never knew was that the concept of British Double Summer Time, helpfully, BDST, was introduced to help save fuel during the post 1940 war years. by making Britain work on a 2-hour offset against GMT. It seems we are always tinkering with time.
Do You Hear What I Hear?
With the nights drawing in and the world donning a Halloween mask, my thoughts turn to Christmas. Although I have not seen that many Christmas treats in the supermarkets yet, I did spend some of yesterday in the local B&Q DIY superstore looking at Christmas lights. As the Most Wonderful Time of Year is rapidly approaching, it’s time for me to start hunting out the Yuletide musical delights uncovered at My Festive Fizzy Pop. It’s a bit of a guilty pleasure. With just 57 days until Christmas, it’s time to start building this year’s playlist of new Christmas music and My Festive Fizzy Pop is the perfect place to start. If you love Christmas songs and have never read the Fizzy Pop festive blog then you should go and do it right now.
I am unashamedly a fan of Christmas tunes. I do, however, limit my consumption to only the newly released songs in November. Come 1st December, however, the Christmas back catalogue will be playing for the majority of my listening hours. Look at my Last.FM stats for 2015 and 2016 and you’ll see the December spikes. Most of these tracks are songs from the my ever-growing festive archive. The most limited version of the archive (which contains the material I will actually listen to) is running at almost 48 hours of total listening time. Better start now.
And let me be the first to wish you a very Merry …. (maybe not).
Sermon of the last Sunday is my weak attempt to make sure I a am not thawing the hosting fees for this site away by ensuring there is some new content every month (yes, I’ve turned all modern media and refer to this a content). The #SOLS tag helpful links to the others (although I must remember to go and tag the missing one).
Dear Diary is an exhibition at King’s College, Somerset House, until 7 July, that is a celebration of the art of diary keeping in all its forms. From the early almanacs, through the diaries of Pepys, online journals and YouTube, they are all covered in an interesting collection that forms this small exhibition.
In the archive you’ll find that I posted an entry from 2002 entitled “Give Us Our Daily Blog” which is a collection of daily blogs that I read. Most of the links are now dead and I don’t recall that much about many of them. I do know that one thing that appealed to me in the early days of web publishing was the very personal nature of the content; it was the kind of window on the world I don’t think we had seen before.
Since then, we have become used to a never-ending stream of personal thoughts that pour onto the screen from blogs, social media and now YouTube videos. In the first days of the web it was like opening the padlock on somebody’s secret diary and reading their inner-most thoughts. Of course, we’re all used to it now and we all move the first things that pop into our heads onto a screen via a keyboard.
Dear Diary is an exhibition at King’s College, Somerset House, until 7 July, that is a celebration of the art of diary keeping in all its forms. From the early almanacs, through the diaries of Pepys, Kenneth Williams, online journals and, now, YouTube, they are all covered in an interesting collection that forms this small exhibition. If you are in London before 7 July 2017 then you should go and see it (and you get to see inside one of the wings of Somesert House that you would not get access to unless you were a student).
It was a thought-provoking exhibition and made me think about what element of these journals I’d like left behind. After all, a printed version of this site could hang around but – eventually – nobody will be paying for the hosting and I imagine my hosting provider will hit the big delete button. I’ve already commented this week, in the post about satellite dishes in New York, about my early online life which has already disappeared. What version of history does the web give us if much is deleted?
How do you preserve an online diary for further generations?
Through London in the early morning: did somebody fall asleep with the light on? Who’s awake at this hour?
The day’s first light has not quite made it above the horizon but the dawn sky says it’s coming. The city’s suburbs are stretching themselves awake from their slumber. I’m travelling at just the right moment: the morning’s engines have not quite started and the only thing slowing me down are the red traffic lights on the way, mainly stopping me for imaginary vehicles or invisible people.
Yet there’s light all around, but it’s artificial. As the morning yawns, announcing a new day, all the lamps seem unnecessary yet turning them off would make it feel nighttime eerie. There’s a strong pulsating white headlight from a bike coming down the hill; a cyclist adorned in orange high visibility. You can’t miss it although the beam might be blinding. As we cross over the bigger highway with empty lanes waiting for the morning rush, there’s the throb of an orange warning light sitting atop of a recovery van while more people in high visibility scurry to attach a vehicle to the back. Travelling through the suburbs there’s a momentary flash of emergency blue from a police car but I have no idea why he’s pulled-over, alone, on the side of the road.
There are lights in the block of flats to my left but, with curtains drawn, any movements are invisible. Did somebody fall asleep with the light on? Who’s awake at this hour? There’s a lamp in a hotel room creating a shadow of arms dressing – no curtains, but more anonymity. Passing an office block, the lights of the third floor illuminate in a sweeping movement ahead of a shadowy figure with a machine sweeping the floor in preparation for the arrival of the worker’s feet. There’s a fully-lit supermarket with lines of lifeless shelves waiting for the day’s first shoppers and the dancing movement of a man and a mop. And there are more shops, partially lit, yet locked-up to all: their night-lights highlighting a small portion of the retail space, with a focus on the empty cash-registers, seemingly saying ‘there’s nothing here’ while lighting the wares.
Every car we pass has a brightly lit dashboard that’s announcing the route or the currently playing track. The mid-80s music playing from the easy-listening station is more alive at this time of the morning than it’s been at any point since it was originally heard 30 years ago. There are a couple of people at the bus stop; their faces lit by a combination of the countdown screen announcing the next arrival and the faint glow of the mobile screen. The white headphones suggest music accompanies their journey too.
As time ticks by we drive in the opposite direction to the arriving bus. It’s empty now, I can see the security screen taking a continuous picture of unoccupied seats. I know the automation will be announcing the stops to nobody except the driver. I wonder if she’s listening – checking she is running to timetable – or if the repetition of the ‘next stop’ and ‘stand clear of the doors’ has rendered her deaf to the voice.
We speed past a group of young people; laughing. Those of us that remember that mid-80s music the first time wonder if they’re coming home or leaving for the day. Where do the pretty young things go at this hour in the middle of suburbia? The idea of an early-morning house party seems at odds with the neat driveways and solar-powered garden lights of this part of town. I see the smiley face of the speed-check sign showing we’re travelling within the allowed limit: the language of the smiley and the emoji is more from their generation than mine yet the sign is aimed at me. A digital sign-face that provides a reminder that, even in dawn’s first light, the machines are still watching us.
And through the tunnel to the airport: a tail-back of traffic through a strangely uniform light beneath the ground, emerging, after just a few minutes, into the crisp, bright morning light. The sleek glass buildings reflect the early morning rays as the morning finally wakes. Yet the purple glow of the airline’s colours can still be seen high in the vaulted entrance through which I pass into a different world. For the next few hours it could be day or night. Inside the terminal it can be hard to tell what time the sun-dial might show, but, finally, time has passed and we board. For once there’s a blue and cloudless sky through which we climb, seemingly, towards the burning, never dimming, rays of the sun.
One of the amazing things about Japan was the food. And such a variety of tastes and styles. Oh, and the rice.
Each day I looked back through the photographs I had taken and tried to find one that summed what we had seen or done. Some days that was very easy because the day had a big goal – the Mt Fuji visit, for example – but other days it was much harder to select a single picture that summed up the visit.
Looking back over the collection, however, I see that it’s a nice overview of our trip. However, there is one major element missing: food. I have not captured the variety of amazing meals that we had. Japanese cuisine was definitely one of the highlights of the trip; no wonder it has been given UNESCO heritage status in order to protect it from the onslaught of western dishes and fast food chains.
From conveyor-belt lunchtime sushi to a high-end fish-market fresh version; from teppanyaki (accompanied by a Japanese improvised comedy show) to high-end tempura and soba noodles, ramen, sake & delicious wagyu beef. In the UK it would all be in one restaurant labelled ‘Japanese’ but each place we visited specialised and was delicious. There were no bad meals, most were incredibly cheap and service was outstanding.
Breakfast seemed the most different to my British palate: fermented soy beans, dried and grilled fish, pickled things of all sorts (labelled vegetables but I wasn’t always sure) and dried seaweed and all served – like every other meal – with white rice. I never saw another type of rice and didn’t really get an answer as to why it was always steamed white rice alongside every meal.
I can’t wait to return to try more.
My Japan restrospecive (so far) is available in two earlier parts: Tokyo and Kyoto.
If going to Japan had been a goal of mine for many years; riding the bullet train was a second aim and was a real highlight of the trip (even though you are really quite oblivious to the fact that the train is travelling at 162mph). That train, or Shinkansen as they are known, is part of a high-speed network that covers the country and runs – almost exclusively – on dedicated high-speed track. As a consequence trains are not delayed by other kinds of rail traffic and, generally, run to time. The phrase ‘to time’ Japanese-style seems to mean to the exact minute rather than the rather looser British version meaning ‘within five minutes’.
The Saturday lunchtime train took us to Kyoto for the second part of the Japan experience. We returned to Tokyo to spend the last day at Tokyo DisneySea; which really is a very different world.
Japan Vacation Retrospective Part 2: Kyoto
Photo of Day 7: Hikari Shinkansen: Bullet Train
I love travelling by train. There’s something inherently fascinating about locomotives, carriages, tracks and the networks that are formed from these things. So, I’ve always wanted to ride on the world’s original high-speed network: Japan’s Shinkansen. It’s amazing to think that trains that could reach speeds of 130 mph were introduced back in 1964 for the first Tokyo Olympics. I measured 162 mph today on the Shinkansen to Kyoto. Who knows what speeds they’ll reach for the next Tokyo Olympics in 2020; a line using maglev technology is already under construction and maglev trains have set the world record at 375 mph.
We rode the Hikari service on the Tōkaidō Shinkansen which runs through to Shin-Ōsaka & Okayama and is, apparently, the most heavily-used high-speed train line in the world. Hikari is the fastest service that accepts the Japan Rail Pass (which makes using Shinkansen much more affordable) so we lingered at some stations while faster Nozomi services passed on the dedicated high-speed lines. Amazing to think that the only thing that could delay our train was an even faster train. No delays on Chessington South stopping services or leaves on the line here.
But the running speed isn’t the only fast things about the trains. The turnaround time for our train today was less than 15 minutes after the set had arrived into the platform at Tokyo central station. Waiting patiently at a space for each door was somebody to clean, turn all seats 180 degrees to face the direction of travel and place new headrest covers on each seat. The efficiency of the teamwork is a sight to behold. The bow to the boarding passengers a pleasing part of the culture.
Apparently, Shinkansen changed the way business was done between major Japanese cities by making day trips possible where they hadn’t been practical before. I wonder if we’ll ever see similar between London & Scotland?
Photo of Day 8: Fushimi Inari Taisha
A Shinto shrine houses the spirits that are worshiped in the religion. As well as the dead, the spirits could be forces of nature or elements of the landscape. There are many sub-words for Shinto shrines in Japanese but the English language only has the one.
At the base of the Inari mountain is the Inari shrine; Inari being the spirit of commerce and industry (and also of rice). There’s a 2 hour hiking trail up the mountain, from the base at the main shrine, where you climb up through thousands of orange Tori that have been donated by Japanese businesses. On the accent the gates posts appear bare orange but on the decent you see the names of the companies that donated the Tori. It’s quite simple but also remarkably clever. I don’t know if it works as advertising or not.
Conveniently located near a railway station, this temple gets busy. But as you climb the crowd thins out. There are hundreds – maybe thousands – of small shrines on the way up. And a few shops and resting places. We made it about an hour up before deciding that we should head down to see some more of Kyoto.
In a city of temples this one really stands out.
Photo of Day 9: The Way of Tea
If my memory serves me well, you should brew a Yorkshire Tea teabag for between 4 and 5 minutes. You can leave it in the mug infusing until it’s a good strong ‘proper brew’. At work, I use the timer on my watch to make sure I brew for enough time otherwise it’s too weak and somewhat pointless.
Not so with the Japanese Way of Tea which takes a good ten minutes of ceremony to get to the first cup, and is served without milk or sugar but, generally, with some kind of sweet food immediately before the drink.
Using the Matcha green tea we’ve been enjoying throughout our trip, The Way of Tea is a quiet, thoughtful process of precisely using the tea-making implements (linen cloth, tea bowl, ladle, caddy and the whisk) to prepare the perfect cup (70 centilitres of water at 80 degrees Celsius). Apart from memorising the correct sequence and placement of the utensils, whisking the Matcha powder with the water correctly to prevent bitterness is a real skill.
Hanging scrolls and flowers decorate the room and the host, perfectly attired in traditional kimono, pays respect to both the tea and the invited guests who, in turn, reciprocate with appropriate bowing. Apparently, following the preparation of the tea there’s polite conversation where controversial topics are avoided and the chatter is more about the heritage of the tea-making equipment.
Mastery of The Way of Tea, learnt in special schools, can take ten to fifteen years but, in the end, what you get is a beautiful art form and the perfect cuppa.
Photo of Day 10: Ryokan
I was expecting Japan to feel stranger, more alien to me, than it turned out to be. I assume this is because Tokyo is a major world city that exhibits the characteristics of such a sprawling urban mass: and that turns out to be quite familiar. Plus, many of the signs are in recognisable (and, therefore, easily readable) Roman characters and there’s a Starbucks wherever you turn.
Kyoto was a little different; a smaller city with narrower streets, what seemed like a temple on every street and, it seemed, more people in traditional dress. It was also the place we stayed in a more traditional Japanese Inn, a ryokan. Although I think the one we stayed in was straight out of the 1950s rather than 1650, it was simple with a tatami-matted room, public bath and basic facilities (if you count air conditioning and wifi as basic). Sitting on a cushion on the floor, sleeping on a mattress rolled onto the mats & drinking green tea is probably a tourist stereotype but it made for a different way of doing things and was unlike any hotel I’ve ever stayed in. I’d recommend it: even for a few days, if your knees can cope.
Photo of Day 11: Disney Resort, Tokyo
When planning the Japan trip, there was a full day in Tokyo following the return train journey from Kyoto and before the flight home. Somehow, and I am not sure I recall how we came to this decision, we decided to visit the Disney parks in Tokyo.
In many ways this was an odd thing to do. Disney is the undisputed global king of the theme park but, surely, the experience is identikit and it would be a waste of a day that could otherwise have been used for more authentic local experience.
In the end I am glad we did. Aside from being quintessential Disney there are some subtle differences that we would have missed if we’d done something else. Plus, of course, it’s a theme park with enough rides and queues to fill several days.
There are two parks, Tokyo Disneyland, which I imagine is from the ‘how to build a Disneyland’ manual. And the nautical-themed Tokyo DisneySea which, according to its Wikipedia entry, was the fastest theme park in the world to reach the milestone of 10 million guests.
Apart from the fact that Disney doesn’t have another park like this one (although many of the major attractions do appear in other places), the most subtle difference can be seen the enthusiasm of the guests for all the Disney characters; for some reason I noted a lot of Donald Duck fans. And this is from visitors of all ages. It would be natural to expect the kids to jump with joy with an unexpected Chip & Dale encounter but not so much their fathers. Almost everybody was wearing a Disney character about their person; there’s a factory somewhere churning out thousands of pairs of Mikey ears for each day. And what makes it most interesting is that the enthusiasm is infectious. It really is a happy place.
Bringing together my impressions of Japan in words and pictures: the first week was spent in Tokyo.
Looking at the calendar I see we are already at the last Sunday in February which means it’s time to fill your timeline with the hashtag #sols once more: Sermon Of the Last Sunday. It’s my attempt to write something new each month on my site (although, a few days ago, I felt the need to write Will The Internet Kills Television?).
Apart from fulfilling my #sols need for February, today I am also keeping my personal site commitment of maintaining a copy of things I post elsewhere. Two #sols birds with one #sols entry.
At the end of January I took a holiday in Japan. Japan, and particularly Tokyo, was a destination that I have always wanted to visit but it’s taken until this year to get there. I was not sure what to expect: would everything seem radically different from life in London or would it maintain the familiarity of a big city?
As always when on holiday, I took a lot of photographs. Increasingly, these are taken on a phone which is both portable and has many other uses aside from pictures (in Tokyo, having constant access to Google Maps was enormously helpful when trying to navigate a big city). Having all the photographs accurately time and geo-stamped on a device which makes uploading easy is another significant advantage.
I decided that each evening I would review all the pictures I’d taken and post a single image that summed-up the day to an album on Flickr. It’s a little Japan vacation retrospective. I also decided to post a different kind of picture each day to Instagram. Combined they might make a small, but hopefully interesting, summary of the visit for me to remember and for others when researching Japanese holidays.
I’ll post the Instagram pictures later in the week but this is my Japan collection. However, I am dividing the pictures into 2 parts. Week one was primarily Tokyo and the second week was Kyoto.
Japan Vacation Retrospective 2017: Tokyo
Photo of Day 1: Godzilla through the years.
Movie posters in the lobby of the Hotel Gracery, Tokyo. There’s a large Godzilla climbing the outside of the hotel.
Photo of Day 2: Meiji Shrine in Shibuya, Tokyo.
A torii, or traditional Japanese gate, at the entrance to the Meiji Shrine in Shibuya, Tokyo.
This Shinto shrine is dedicated to the spirits of Emperor Meiji and his wife, Empress Shōken.
An amazing forest of 120,000 were donated by people from all across Japan when the shrine was built.
It’s simple, peaceful and very relaxing. There is beautiful simplicity to the architecture and the more religious customs.
Photo of Day 3: A robot at Robot Restaurant, Shinjuku.
For some reason whenever I think of Japan I think of robots doing useful stuff. We haven’t found any of those yet but we have found the most bizarre cabaret show, The Robot Restaurant, where the hostesses walk around the room – boxing ring style – with signs asking you to turn off your Bluetooth and wifi enabled devices for fear of interference with the controls for the show.
Ironically, most of the ‘robots’ are people in costume but there are some remote controlled participants in this video-game inspired 90-minute strobe-lightathon. There are no words to describe the craziness which seemed entirely appropriate in this neon-lit district of the city. After the Robot Restaurant’s bought what it needed, the fact that there’s any neon left for the other venues is really a modern day miracle.
Photo of Day 4: UNESCO World Heritage Site, Mt Fuji
Standing 12,388 ft, Mt Fuji is the highest peak in Japan; a World Heritage Site and, apparently, still classed as an active volcano. It’s snow-capped peak has become a symbol of Japan, which I imagine, is something of what makes it attractive to hikers and climbers. According to our tour guide the climbing season starts in July and officially ends in September but he wasn’t recommending anybody attempt it after the end of August. Given we were all quite happy in our heated, wifi-enabled coach, I’m not expecting to see any of my fellow tourists climbing next season.
We got got as high as 2020m (of the 3776m which make up the aforementioned 12,000 or so ft) before the road was closed due to recent snow falls. Still, the air was crisp, the sun was out and you could see the peak. It’s quite an impressive sight, although at the 4th station it’s the surrounding peaks you’re looking at rather than the one immediately above you.
There also seems to be an annual photographic competition which might help explain the abundance of stunning images of the mountain on the internet, as well as the large number of people carrying tripods & camera bags around the tourist locations.
My picture may not be up there with the greatest but it’s all mine. Taken at the first tour-stop, Lake Kawaguchi-Ko, one of the “five lakes”, it was our first proper Mt Fuji sighting. When they said you never forget your first time, perhaps it was views of Mt Fuji they were talking about.
Yes, I’m sure that’s right.
Photo of Day 5: Tokyo Imperial Palace Tea House
Covering an area of 1.32 sq miles the space was, during the height of the 1980s Japanese property bubble, valued to be worth more than the sum of all of the real estate in California. So, it’s decent bit of land to own. It is the main residence of The Emperor of Japan as well as home to a bunch of the kind of administrative offices needed by the ceremonial head of a nation.
Unlike, say, Buckingham Palace which you can stand in front of and photograph, it seems quite difficult to get up to The Emperor’s front door. There is some kind of limited daily tour – conducted only in Japanese – that visits some non-public areas but I can’t tell you about it because we didn’t do it.
However, the East Gardens are open to wander around and are a fascinating collection of horticulture, including areas given over to cultivating roses, tea, bamboo and a plot of land where trees representing each of Japan’s 47 prefectures have been planted. There’s an area called Cherry Blossom Island which, I imagine, will be amazing in a few months. Surprisingly, at least one tree was in bloom but it stood out against the bare winter branches of most of the plants.
Towards the end of your wander around the gardens, if you follow the route suggested in the free map (and why wouldn’t you?), there’s a 18th century Japanese garden complete with running water, pool and wooden bridge.
Around the gardens there are examples of guard houses, a museum and a beautiful example of a tea house (pictured). There’s also a late 1960s concert hall and buildings named Gakuba and Shoryobu on the guide (which house some of the aforementioned administrative offices; for the Music Department & Archives Department).
All-in-all, a place of beautiful, traditional tranquility in the heart of modern Tokyo. Open from 9am if you’re interested.
Photo of Day 6: Tsukiji Fish Market, Tokyo
Some reports suggest that Tsukiji Fish Market is the largest wholesale seafood market in the world. I can’t vouch for that but it could take several hours to walk around the stalls of all the intermediate wholesalers. Although, as a sightseer, you don’t get several hours. The inner market is open to tourists from 10am, by which time most wholesalers are packing-up & the professional buyers have taken their fish away to be served-up across the city. That’s not to say there’s nothing to see; just most of the selling is over for the day.
If I was being strictly accurate, the market is open to 120 sightseers from about 5am if they were to have queued through the night to see a portion of the frozen tuna auction. Our guide wholeheartedly recommended not bothering and, anyway, you can’t watch the fresh tuna auction. I’m not entirely sure why.
Apparently, we were lucky to see the market in it’s current (post-1923) home: a move to a more modern facility that should have happened last November has been postponed. Cue local newspapers running “something fishy” headlines.
We took a tour of the market with local food writer & guide, Atsushi, the Tsukiji King, and I’m very glad we did. Tsukiji is a fully functioning fish market, complete with high-speed delivery vehicles & special band saws designed to chop huge chunks of frozen tuna. It’s not a place you’d particularly think to enter as a tourist so a guide proved especially welcome as I don’t think we would have wandered the warehouses alone. Atsushi showed us the inner & outer markets, explained the selling process and provided a guide to all the food paraphernalia that’s also for sale in shops around the area. I’m continually amazed by the pieces of plastic sushi that are mainly used by restaurants to show-off their ‘dishes’ in their windows.
There was the added bonus of using an expert guide; he recommended the most amazing sushi place for lunch at the end of the tour: every piece hand-made in front of you from the very freshest ingredients. I thought I’d eaten good sushi before but now I know differently.
The second part of my Japan 2017 Retrospective (pictures from Kyoto) will be uploaded tomorrow but you can review all the pictures right now in my Flickr Album.
An article in The Economist prompted me to think about how television has changed in my lifetime and why it’s taken a little bit of time for it to be threatened by the internet.
In my lifetime being connected to an always on computer network, the internet, has changed almost everything: from what you for a living; how to file your tax return about that employment and how your order form your local takeaway when you get home. Some things seem to have radically changed very quickly. When I first started working on digital advertising with major UK publishers, editors held-back news stories for the printed edition (next month) rather than post in today’s online news. I guess, they’re now tweeting it for themselves first as there’s no printed edition of many of those publications any more.
But, will the Internet kill television in the UK?
Television has behaved a little differently. When I was born there were only 3 UK television channels and not everything was broadcast in colour. Fast forward to when I was 12 and the Whiteley-Vorderman duo hosted, effectively, the first programme (Countdown) on the fourth channel. It was a slow and highly regulated evolution.
As with everything, over then next 30 years the pace of change increased. The UK went through the dish wars with the Sky-BSB years (check-out these BSB promos promising five channel television: they feel very dated indeed now) and a fractured cable industry only really came to be a player with the merger of NTL and Telewest in early 2006.
I guess it was February 2005 when video on the truly internet arrived (YouTube launched) but I think you can be forgiven for looking at the media landscape back then and thinking the internet was primarily for the written word even if, within 2 years, Netflix was launching a DVD streaming service. But the internet develops video models for business very quickly. Just this week, YouTube announced it will stop supporting the 30-second unskippable advertising format that has been the backbone of broadcast TV for decades. Can television continue to hold on to that model?
The internet has already changed what viewers watch, what kind of video programming is produced for them and how they watch it, and it is beginning to disrupt the television schedules of hundreds of channels, too. But all this is happening in slow motion, because over the past few decades television has developed one of the most lucrative business models in entertainment history, and both distributors and networks have a deeply vested interest in retaining it.
Television’s $185bn advertising business is a hefty war-chest to fight the challenge of change. I wonder how it will look in five more years? Will it be radically different – in the way printed media is now so different – or, like its broadcast parents, will television for the internet continue a slower evolution?
I also wonder when my own habits will change. When will I consume more content delivered via the broadband connection than over the broadcast air? It can’t be that far away.
I made a simple resolution as we went into 2017: I would drink an extra small bottle of water everyday to improve my hydration. So far, that one is working. Back in December I also decided that, on the last Sunday of every month, I would write something for this site. It wasn’t really a resolution, rather an updated version of the Blog Every Wednesday in August task I set myself a few years ago: the idea was to write something here to make paying for the hosting worth it. This new commitment was given the title “Sermon Of the Last Sunday”. As with all things these days, there’s a hashtag #SOLS. See if you can work out which came first: the series name or the hashtag.
Also at the end of last year I set myself a Goodreads challenge to read 12 books in 2017. This shouldn’t be the hardest commitment as it’s just one book a month but, if I succeed, I will end up reading more than I did last year. There are plenty of people that inspired me to try this challenge (which you can follow on Goodreads) but, possibly, I made my decision after reading Bill Gates’ favourite books of 2016. He manages an eclectic list of recommendations. I hope to have as diverse a range of books on my ‘has read’ list by the end of the year.
Still, reading books is my favorite way to learn about a new topic. I’ve been reading about a book a week on average since I was a kid. Even when my schedule is out of control, I carve out a lot of time for reading. [source]
So, when trying to come-up with the first SOLS entry I thought I’d review one of the books that ended last year. It was the book I was reading when I read Bill’s list; it was fascinating and a little hard-going at times but it took me out of my daily commute and made me think about something else. Which, I think, is something a good book should do. I have reviewed books here before, and I am not sure I will attempt to review all 12, but it’s such a well written book I’d recommend adding it to your own reading list.
I’m grateful to the staff of Waterstones in Chichester who persuaded me that this was a book worth reading as I was browsing their store at some point last year. I don’t often spend time just wandering book shops but there was an opportunity and I took it. I’m very glad I did.
Skyfaring: A Journey with a Pilot
For some people, a job takes you to the same place each day, surrounded by colleagues who you see daily and get to know over time. Not quite so for pilots, especially those flying long haul, where the variation in crew is almost as changeable as the constantly altering view from the cockpit.
Mark Vanhoenacker, a British Airways 747 long haul pilot, writes about flight through series of chapters documenting the experiences of moving from one part of the world to another with chapters such as Place, Wayfinding, Night and Return.
It’s not a biography of a pilot, a technical guide to flying nor a travelogue rather it’s a rhapsodic love affair with flight and all it involves and, so, it’s a little bit of all those things put together with some beautifully written, almost lyrical, prose. Don’t expect a chronological guide to flight but a collection of chapters that take their subject and describe the experience from the complex to the minutia; written from a vantage of someone obviously captivated by the charm of flight.
The style is vivid and descriptive, but the detail of the language can sometimes make reading it hard work. Don’t let that put you off because it’s worth a little perseverance to get close to understanding why the experience of flight it both magical and disorienting at the same time.
Skyfaing, A Journey with a Pilot, available at Amazon.
There was a pivotal moment for the world in August 2014 when, for the greater good of humanity, I introduced a new hashtag. #BEWA (which stood for Blog Every Wednesday in August) improved the lives of, literally, no people. Ever since, I have managed to continually reference it as an internet sensation. If there was a definition of Fake News that could be it (but probably isn’t).
Lazarus-like, #BEWA emerged from cryogenic storage in August 2016. In many ways, last year’s version was even less successful than the original incarnation. Apart from — if it’s even possible — improving the lives of even fewer than zero people, the major structural failure was a lack of Blogging Every Wednesday in August. There was an inquiry. Experts were consulted. A report could have been written but, given that a lack of writing is the core #BEWA problem, it wasn’t. There might have been outrage in a daily newspaper but it’s unlikely. Still, an imaginary voice cried, “won’t you think about the children” and, not only did I know that something had to be done, I knew I was the only person who could do the thing that had to be done.
It’s clear to me now, on this the first day at the beginning of a new era year, that what the internet needs most is more words. There is a distinct lack of anything to read on the internet. If I were really making predictions for the year I’d clearly be calling into question the lack of reading material; I may even go as far as suggesting there’s a shortage. I’m sure there’s a UN sub-committee meeting on the issue right now. Each day I can hear you cry, “what can I read today: give me words”.
And that is where #BEWA Mk2 comes in. Radically re-engineered and improved for a new generation that’s (at least) 5 months more sophisticated than the last.
But BEWA is gone. You need to buy a black tie and throw the rose on the coffin alongside the other mourners (if you can find any). Generation Now care about #SOLS.
Yes, it could be the SOLutionS to BEWA’s problems but it’s not. It certainly nothing a smart as the School of Life Sciences and it’s only been to Canada on holiday, so fans of the Southern Ontario Library Service shouldn’t get over excited. No, the elders of this parish present “Sermon of the Last Sunday”.
It’s not a goal nor is it a new year’s resolution; it’s bigger. #SOLS is a mission, a calling; a vocation that will be approached with the proper rigour such an undertaking deserves. Yes, on the last Sunday of every month I’ll write something and post it here. Gone is the need for a mid-week rush: Sunday deserves thoughtfulness and dedication.
I trust you’ll set an alarm and join me for this 12 month experiment that’s going to solve everything. Yes, everything*.
See you in 4 weeks.
* If I had employed an army of legal experts to review this entry they would have removed all the good stuff and made me say that nothing will be solved by #SOLS. Use at your own risk. Might cause sunburn. Your home is at risk etc. etc.