Saturday, May 31, 2008

In The Swim

On the excellent Urban 75 forums there's a thread entitled 'Brockwell Lido Breakfast Club'. The Lido is an institution in this area of South London, and now I'm a member of its spanking new gym complex I can go in whenever I like at no extra charge.

Well, I went in after the gym this morning. Do not believe these other people posting on that thread. Reader, it is insanely cold. I got in at the shallow end and I was literally a bit dizzy with the drop in temperature. It took me about two minutes to get my breathing under control, and it didn't help that Ms T turned up and started making satirical remarks from the side.

Eventually I started swimming and immediately got cramp in my foot. That disappeared and was replaced by a burning sensation on my skin which I presume was my sub cutaneous fat reserves imploding in a desperate attempt to keep my body temperature to a viable level.

After a bit I started enjoying it, but frankly the best thing was getting out. I admit I sort of felt energised. But mostly I was relieved my heart was still beating.

*Hat Tip to the editor of Urban 75 for the photo in this post. I would have taken one myself but my fingers were numb.

UPDATE on not drinking. Finally fell off the wagon last night and had three lovely pints at the Albert. And Rachel and J are coming for dinner tonight, so that's that then, for this weekend anyway. It's done me good, I'm feeling a lot fitter, but God, I was starting to bore myself by the end.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Windswept in Shropshire

I haven't spent much time in Shropshire; maybe a couple of interviews in Telford and I think I went to a tennis tournament there years ago. This weekend, up there with my book club discussing the work of Mary Webb I was blown away (almost literally) by its mad beauty. There are birds of all types everywhere, long hedgerows, big skies and a sharp East wind that makes you happy to encounter a fire and a good dinner (with locally sourced ingredients). Really a fantastic Bank Holiday Weekend.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Walking in Kent

Time Out Country Walk No: Not sure, but it was Borough Green to Sevenoaks.
Time: 6 and a bit hours, but difficulty 4. So no sore feet.

A lovely walk on a Sunday afternoon in a green portion of Kent; really hard to believe it's half an hours train ride out of London. Can't look back on it with much, or indeed any, pleasure; my friend T rang as we had lunch and told me his Dad had died. A grim week had begun. Went to Manchester for the funeral on the Tuesday, marvelled at the courage of those closest left behind. A remarkable man has left us.
Posted by Picasa

Saturday, May 17, 2008

I'm On The Train

Living in London boasts many advantages, but one drawback is visiting my Dad who lives in Stockport. The drive is excruciating; never really less than four hours once I've spent an hour negotiating around the Congestion charge area and then another three on the M40, the extortionate M6 toll and the crowded M6. And all the while the thought lurking at the back of my mind: Driving is Dangerous. One day, somewhere on these motorways, my number will come up.

Well, no longer. This week I threw caution to the winds and booked a first class ticket (£80) with a company that boasts one of the worst reputations in the country, Virgin Trains.

Reader, I have to report that the experience was fantastic. The train was one of those swanky new 'Pendolino' efforts that shot out of Euston like a bullet from a gun. A pleasant staff brought me a cooked breakfast. The train leans elegantly into curves, gently shaking the coffee in your cup. I'd brought a book but instead found myself watching verdant England sweep past the window. London was left behind in a trice, replaced by green fields, churches, canals (I never knew this country had so many canals) and growths of boxy houses (I think one of them was called 'Stoke').

It's a world away from what this was just a couple of years ago with worn out staff and knackered rolling stock - finally it feels like all Virgin's investment and PR pain has been worth it.
I'm not bothering with the car again.

UPDATE: Don't make the mistake Andrew Neil did and try it at a weekend. How long has he lived in this country? Everyone knows the rail network is substandard on Saturdays and Sundays.

Facilitating Murder

The internet is a dangerous place, apparently, so what to do about the kids? The net is present in schools in the capital, in the form of what's called 'The London Grid for Learning'. You'll be pleased to hear the web is properly filtered for the city's little ones, according to a good source.

This blog is allowed through to the childrens' browsers, though heaven knows it has no educational value; me not indulging in obscenities is enough to get it the green light. Rachel's however is not, because it is described as 'obscene and containing swearwords'. I thought she'd been quite restrained during her run in with Kitchen's Direct but there you are.

The website belonging to the Friends of West Norwood Cemetery is madly labelled as 'advocating prostitution' (really must pop over to pay my respects) but the prime idiocy is reserved for a revision site for Shakespeare's Macbeth. That's banned on the grounds that it 'facilitates murder'.

There's no point in getting exercised about this; my source says all the 'kids in need of protecting' are well versed in the ways of the internet and skate round the digital censorship effortlessly, usually in front of the teachers who are of course dunces when it comes to the art of point and click.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Giving Up Day 18

I always knew I'd get this far, but I hadn't anticipated it being so bump free. The big enemy is boredom. Sitting in pubs is really dreary when you don't drink, although a pub quiz can wile away the hours till everyone else considers they've had enough.

The bonuses are the slow and steady disappearance of my beer belly, helped on its way by swimming and working out my old limbs in the gym. And the clear head which lasts well into the evening which makes the long shifts much easier. Maybe I'm fooling myself but I also seem to be more mentally agile.

Now I should be back on the booze next Monday, the deal being that I'd stop for three weeks as Alice suggested. But I like this now and I'm considering doing another week.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

This is It!!

I got home from Manchester yesterday to find a parcel containing this little package of digital loveliness. It's my Asus EEE900, pictured above with my horrid digits upon it, and which I have ground on about before on these pages.

The first thing that strikes you about it is just how tiny this device is compared to most lappies; it's really wee, as can be seen above. But for a little thing it does a lot. It doesn't run Windows (although it can be made to) instead preferring the free and very credible Linux operating system. And instead of Internet Explorer there's the Mozilla 'open source' Firefox. There's a music player on board, a full suite of Open Office to do your letters and presentations with and a version of the free photoshop application, the Gimp.

Added to this is the Thunderbird e-mail package which took me three minutes to get up and running with my Pop Yahoo account, as well a suite of games. There's some educational stuff on board relating to astronomy and maths, which needless to say I haven't dared boot yet.

So far so good. How does it shape as a piece of hardware? Well it ain't bad. There's a little keyboard that gives you a satisfactory typing experience once you get used to it and a little touch pad that does the mouse stuff. Reportedly this can behave like an itouch with scrolling and zooming, but not with me so far.

There's a SD card sot which I used this afternoon to upload some some pictures, including the one above, and it's fine; together with three USB 2.0 ports and an ear and mike input jack for skype-ing, or whatever. (There's a skype client already loaded. Ever had a conversation using skype? No neither have I.) A 1.3 mp web cam is fitted above the bright and friendly screen.

Battery life is a tad disappointing; it seems to be an hour and a half from full charge. When i bought a little wireless mouse for it this afternoon the chap behind the counter said he thought longer life versions would come soon. We will see.

There are no full solutions in gadget land, in as much as the 'problem' these things solve are so various, and the fast pace of technology keeps making us ask new and different things from the technology we spend time with. There's no way this is your main computer - 20 gig of storage is nowt these days, and it has no onboard optical drive. But for a little lightweight computer I'll cheerfully take on my travels and do blogging and e-mailing on this really can't be beat.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Can You Trust the Media

When you're a tiny hermit crab in the media rock pool it's sometimes hard to grasp the bigger debate. Why are we in this pool anyway? Why does that starfish look so different from me, a little hermit crab? How long will this pool last anyway, and is that rushing sound the tide coming in? That's why it's good to have books like Adrian Monck and Mike Hanley's 'Can We Trust the Media?'. They help you take your mind off the search for the next piece of plankton.

Back in the day Adrian was a bigger and faster fish in my pool; a producer of Special Reports for News At Ten before I did the job, then off to Five News where he was Managing Editor for some time; now he's at the City University where he lectures in journalism. I flinch to think what he teaches, because his book is no advert for our trade. Instead it is a slick exposition of everything that is wrong with the way the media operates in this country, and in one or two others.

Reading it as one who works in 'the media' I was first slightly ashamed, then appalled. Can we get anything right? It is a catalogue of venal editorial sin, ranging from a brief and effective summary of the Gilligan disaster on the 'Today' programme to the Sun's shameless nonsense about a Great White Shark off Cornwall. Hardly any horrid breach of faith is left undisturbed. Not content with the wickedness of ourselves on this side of the pond the authors even go Stateside to discuss the case of Jayson Blair, who used to make up entire stories for the New York Times. It's all deeply humbling. And in fairness Adrian doesn't spare himself; an incident in which he gave money to joyriders is related and (gleefully) so is another incident in which he stitched up the BNP live on Five News.

No academic dry text this, instead there's lots here to interest and entertain; especially if you like well informed material about how the media operates. A concise account of Silvio Berlusconi's rise to power is accompanied by a quick flashback to ancient Greece, for example. There can't be much wrong with a book which has both Plato and Piers Morgan in the index; the narrative jumps around healthily and has plenty of Zap and Pow.

But the authors' vision is of a media that pretends to be trustworthy in order to somehow cheat people of their attention, and so the book ends up as an analysis which borders on the cynical. "All news involves some form of artifice" they say. (Chapter 5, P91). The expansion of television news has simply "allowed people the convenience of opting out." (P63 in a chapter headed 'Media Bulimia'. You get the picture). It is an unremittingly negative account and if I was to take it to heart I'd never get up in the morning (or work all night, for that matter).

There's a bit missing; the portion where Adrian and his co-author could point the way ahead, to the bright shining uplands of re-establishing a better contract between media producer and consumer. In my opinion the web means that's already well on the way to being negotiated, with bloggers and comment redefining all kinds of coverage in an enormously exciting way. But that isn't here and I'm sure that's a deliberate omission; there is no way ahead in their world view, there can only be more denuding of any authority the media has and a gentle drifting away of audiences and revenue. I don't agree. I think the party's just starting.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Not Drinking Day 9

The first week was hardest; this week it's a tad boring but now there are benefits; deep sleep comes easily and stays for the full seven or eight hours, and I'm much more alert in the evenings. I also feel 'better' presumably because my aged superstructure isn't being deluged with sugary toxins night after night. A week and a half to go, but now I'm thinking, maybe I should do this for longer.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Nicest Day of The Year

It really was. The advantage of spending the Bank Holiday weekend locked up in the newsroom was escaping the following day to a largely deserted Henley. The sun blasted down as we trekked along the Thames then across fields and woods to Marlow. There was wildlife everywhere; a swan with her eggs, kites hunting above the trees and a thousand ducks in riotous assembly.
Posted by Picasa

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Walking in Surrey

Time Out Walk: Number 42
Bluebells seen: 300,045
Quaint Victorian Relic of Rural Repression: 1 (see above)

Another lovely walk, this time in Surrey about ten miles east of Gatwick Airport. I'm really starting to like it down there, but perhaps that's because I can go home at the end of the day. Lunch in a bizarre pub with the smallest Ham Ploughmans I've ever paid £7.95 for. At one point one of the staff ran from the pub weeping. Ms T went to the loo and the manager came to quiz me on how I'd enjoyed my lunch. I told him his plate was a tad wee.
"I've sold twenty of those this lunchtime" he said.
No wonder country pubs are closing in droves.
We passed the weeping member of staff sat crouched next to the road, being comforted by the chef.
Posted by Picasa

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Giving Up Day 4

Regular readers of this blog, if there are any, will know I'm trying to give up drinking. Now I'm at the end of Day 4, so how am I doing? Well, I haven't had a drink. And I'm missing it in a slightly nagging fish-hook in the consciousness kind of way. Not sure if its the taste or the effect I'm missing, but I am missing it.
And there are some big tests ahead. There's the pub a bit later with Ms T, Tam and Rob. And tomorrow there's lunch with Rachel.
Deep breath.