Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Juicy Royal sex scandal

When will the Royal Family learn it's not still 1936? They simply can't expect to hide the relevant information from us plebs loyal subjects in the UK when the whole rest of the world knows. Especially when the allegations are this juicy: Royal/Gay sex/blackmail/secrecy etc etc etc.

Also, surely some civil law issues here? - How can thay have a trial completely in secret??? - is it going to be 'off with their heads' next?

As all of us slavering gossipoholics know, thank goodness for Google. And Wikipedia.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Serpentine Pavilion

My lack of a camera inhibited me from going to see the Serpentine’s 2007 Pavilion: I really like photographing the structures. This is one that is better in real life than in photos – strangely, photographs don’t really show how it fits together or works spatially. The Serpentine’s description is pretty good:

“The Serpentine Gallery Pavilion 2007 is designed by the internationally acclaimed artist Olafur Eliasson and the award-winning Norwegian architect Kjetil Thorsen, of the architectural practice Snøhetta. This timberclad structure resembles a spinning top and brings a dramatic vertical dimension to the traditional single-level pavilion. A wide spiralling ramp makes two complete turns, allowing visitors to ascend from the Gallery lawn to the highest point for views across Kensington Gardens as well as a bird’s eye view of the chamber below.”

While very modern, the building seems to foster a ritualistic approach: the spiral is quite processional, and affords great views over Hyde Park as one slowly progresses to the top. Near the bottom, the walkway dramatically opens out into the internal space, which while large feels cosy and cave-like, with amphitheatre-style seating curving around an oval space and a large uneven conical dome opening up overhead with an oculus at the top lighting a balcony precipitously jutting out over the space. This balcomy is definitely calculated to bring out your inner shaman. The pavilion's colouring is uniformly a dark bronzy brown which adds to a sense of mystery.

Even though the building shows you where the processonal spiral terminates as you ascend, when you get there it is still a surprise – the disjuncture between walking gently up in open space in natural light and suddenly entering a dark, enclosed, high space artifically lit is quite pronounced. The balcony suddenly feels quite vulnerable and dangerous. One has an amazing view of the crowds seated in the amphitheatre. Some balcony visitors couldn’t resist giving fascist salutes – it is that type of space.

I worried this wasn’t going to be as spectacular as Olafur Eliasson’s last gig at Tate Modern; that it wouldn’t stand up to Rem Koolhaas’s astonishing 2006 Pavilion - but was completly swept away. Much recommended.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Ping Pong

Ping Pong opened the last year I was with my old company, and we had our departmental Christmas dinner at the original branch opposite the London Palladium. It was packed solid, and I remember it was difficult to get a booking. I had the day off due to moving into my new home that day and met my shortly to be ex-colleagues for what was a very fun evening, with delicious, madly affordable food served in a gorgeous setting. My boss managed to give me no sign I was to be unfairly dismissed right after Christmas.

My fondness for Ping Pong survived this incident and I went back with my now ex-colleagues (minus the boss) for a catch-up about 6 months later, after the legal wrangling was completed. Again, it was fun.

And in the last few months, I have been back twice, with very different crowds – once with my houseguests in the summer, after a performance of “The Sound of Music” at the Palladium, and last week with my brother and the niece and nephew after our Royal Society lecture.

Both visits were great. I think my older guests enjoyed themselves – the Jasmine tea is always a show-stopper – and they are the type of older visitors who appreciate an experience of ‘trendy’ London. The dim sum were duly demolished while friendly banter was exchanged with a couple down from the North at our communal table.

Professional critics have sniffily compared Ping Pong to Hakkasan and Yauatcha. I have yet to go to Hakkasan but I’ve been to Yauatcha and I think the Ping Pong dim sum stand up very well, considering Ping Pong is aiming at a completely different market: mostly the post work crowd; with the dim sum hoovering up excess alcohol consumption.

The trip to the new branch at the Royal Festival Hall on the South Bank was a wonderful half-term family treat. We arrived just after 8pm, me thinking innocently that there would be a lull as punters left for performances at the Hall. Ha ha ha. The place was hopping, with a queue snaking out the door. We were told we had a half-hour wait but would shortly be moved into a bar area. I asked if the kids could have a snack while they waited, and my brother started complaining we couldn’t wait 30 minutes with the children ‘at this hour’. I mentioned there was an EAT around the corner – but my nephew bridled at this (EAT is clearly their default pit stop in Cambridge). Also, he had spotted the Chinese script on the ceiling and wanted more.

We were asked to hang on for 5 minutes and a table was magicked up for us. I was really impressed they even bothered, considering they had flocks of people to spare. Service was brilliant and slick, and the dim sum arrived smartly. Stand-outs were the Har Gau and the squid in satay sauce. The Jasmine tea blew the children away – my little nephew thought it was an alien pod hatching.

The dim sum are keenly priced for such a glam atmosphere – the most expensive item is £3.99: each menu item comes with 3 portions, allowing easy sharing. My nephew had a series of lemonades with fruit ‘shooters’ – these were as phenomenally beautiful as the jasmine tea. My brother and I stuck to G&Ts – quite fabulously delicious. These were Tanqueray but on a completely different plane to others I have had recently. 3 G&Ts = half the bill for 4 (12 courses) : £67 including service.

up your street

According to various free-sheets and celebrity magazines, Keira Knightley is planning to move to Clapham to avoid the paparazzi.

The London Paper claims she is buying a £3.5M house in a street that already boasts Johnny Vaughan and Mark Owen of Take That fame as residents. Who knew? I thought Vivienne Westwood was our only genuine celebrity.

Another claim is she is moving into her boyfriend’s Clapham bedsit.

Alas, if the delightful Ms Knightley was planning to come here to avoid the press, she’s unlikely to do so now that they have already rumbled her. A pity, as I would have enjoyed bumping into her in the aisles at Sainsbury’s.

National Chocolate Day

chocolate malteser cake, originally uploaded by hedgiecc.

Nigella Lawson's Chocolate Malteser Cake (from her last book, Feast, made by me in honour of the clocks going back (and, apparently, yesterday was National Chocolate Day and October is National Pudding Month).

Funniest clocks going back story is the cock up at Gatwick Airport. Hilarious, except i suppose for all those poor passengers.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

half-term with the brainiacs

My bother's idea of a half-term break treat for the children is pretty jaw-dropping stuff: he took them to an evening lecture at The Royal Society. Professor Ottoline Leyser was addressing the question of 'Thinking Like a Vegetable'.

Ottoline is the 2007 recipient of the Royal Society Rosalind Franklin Prize. My brother said her work on X-ray diffraction images formed the framework for Watson and Crick's hypothesis on the double helical structure of DNA (Watson and Crick won the Nobel Prize: she didn't), that she was controversial, and that Watson (he of recent racist-comment notoriety) had apparently bad-mouthed her.

This riled me up considerably. "That bastard", I thought. "Stealing credit and denigrating women as well as making racist comments." It inspired me to come along too just to show support.

Well, I thought Ottoline looked surpringly young to have worked with Watson and Crick. My brother explained this was because Ottoline didn't, his comments were about Rosalind Franklin. She didn't get the Nobel, but at least they named a prize after her. Oh, I see.

Anyway, how can you not love a city which offers, amongst all its exhaustingly multifarious entertainment options, a free public lecture on Vegetable Thinking by a top scientist?

Ottoline's lecture brilliantly explained the basic concepts of plant hormonal systems in a very clear, memorable and entertaining way.

One of her basic points is that in studying plants it is desirable to attempt to achieve a plant-centric viewpoint rather than our more natural animal-centricity, as this creates the correct mental atmosphere for the right questions to emerge.

For example, a picture of a bee visiting a flower can more correctly be viewed as a flower manipulating a bee to help it have sex with another flower somewhere else. All the energy in the transaction is supplied by the flower - it supplies all the bee's energy needs as well as reproducing itself.

The hormonal systems of plants which regulate growth and growth options and patterns became quite complex quite quickly, which temporarily lost me and the children, but then Ottoline brought it back on track with a ringing condemnation of our modern cult of the 'natural'.

Nothing we grow is natural - all of it has been artificially developed over thousands of years.

She took the example of a can of organic sweetcorn. "This a can of sweetcorn babies. The sweetcorn does not want you to eat its babies".

Compared with 'real' sweetcorn, our cultivated sweetcorn is a massively engorged freak. 'Real' sweetcorn is tiny, brown, and bristling with unappetising fibres - it evolved this way to avoid being eaten. South American farmers used the technology they had to develop the sweetcorn we have today over many years - by implication, GM is just a souped-up version of what we as a species have always done to the plants we cultivate. The plants scientists want to genetically modify are artificial to begin with.

So I think Ottoline is a GM-supporter. I wanted to ask her if she felt there was absolutely no value in the Organic movement's philosophy, but the chairlady stopped taking questions from the hippies at the back of the room after a magnificently hairy French hippy asked about plant consciousness. Ottoline took the question in her stride, however.

My brother wanted to ask how the hormonal systems evolved, but he looks even more like a hippy than me so stood no chance.

The Royal Society's intellectual generosity did not spill over to offering us a glass of wine (invited reception only), so we spilled out into the crisp autumn evening in search of dinner. I think the children were moderately amused. It was a visit to London, after all.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

ban bags now

Everyone in London can register their opinions on the control of plastic bags. I prefer banning them outright, but I think the councils see another opportunity to make money and so want to introduce a levy. Banning them will make more of a real impact on the environment. Currently London gets through 1.6 billion plastic bags a year (not counting ones tourists use, apparently. Don't know how they got to that conclusion.)

Make your voice heard here - closes Friday.

news roundup

South Africa wins the Rugby World Cup - hooray, I suppose. My neighbour told me I was the only South Africa he knew who wasn't excited. I replied rugby was the reason I left.

If anything, I was disappointed England didn't win. Does that make me English??? My father, his father, and so on back to who knows when, was born on this island. I made the mistake of being born in Africa and despite living here for 20 years clearly will never be English. My nephew, on the other hand, also born elsewhere (Portugal) and only one-quarter English by blood, is quintessentially English because he learnt to speak here.

Friday, October 19, 2007


Still on the food theme – I saw the new Disney animation film Ratatouille this week, and it was really fun. Much recommended. Far more adult and complex than their previous releases (obviously they are focussing on the kidult market), the visuals are wonderful. There is a bravura display of digital skills in the sequence where the rats get washed down a drain; my favourite bit however was a chase along the banks of the Seine – Paris was realised so beautifully.

The basic plot is standard issue “follow your dream” but the developments are always imaginatively surprising, A really refreshing experience, and blissfully calorie-free.

just desserts

I am slim and trim and never put on weight. Until now. And in fact, even now my ferociously skinny and very kind colleague tells me I’m not fat – however, I have a definite incipient doughnut. Yikes!

I keep telling myself when I start cycling to work this will melt away. When. And, to be truthful, if. But I *must*.

While I build up the willpower to cycle, I am attempting to control calorie intake. This is challenging as our sandwich van man’s wife makes the most superb carrot cake imaginable and they serve it in vast wedges. I have succumbed to it two days running.

Picking up a few things (mostly salad) from Sainsbury’s for dinner later on, an intense urge to buy a pack of extra chunk chocolate biscuits almost carried me away. I held painfully to my goals however and departed triumphantly with my cucumber, lettuce, etc.

Only to find on the doormat when I got home bars of Galaxy chocolate – a marketing genius has come up with the idea of posting free chocolate through SW4 letterboxes to promote Galaxy’s new shape!

Now that’s the kind of junk mail I like! :-)

This was clearly a reward from the universe for my virtue in Sainsbury’s, and gratefully I scoffed the lot.

Oh well.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

news roundup: a bad week in politics

The Observer last Sunday: ‘Blairites plotting as Brown lead evaporates’


Luckily, the exit of Menzies Campbell as leader of the Lib Dems must have eased the pressure a bit on our poor beleaguered Prime Minister.

under the weather

If I were Michael Fish, I would reconcile myself to the fact that my name, unlike the names of lesser weathermen, would live forever – admittedly not in the most glorious context imaginable, but hey. No-one can seriously blame Mr Fish for the hurricane of ’87; he was just the face on tv reporting the information he had been given. But unfortunately, he did make that comment:

"Earlier on today, apparently, a woman rang the BBC and said she heard there was a hurricane on the way... well, if you're watching, don't worry, there isn't!".

His claims now that the remark was made about a potential hurricane in Florida, that he wasn’t on duty *that* day, that the whole of Britain and the news media have gravely misremembered the actual situation, are just so embarrassing, pathetic, and demeaning.

Monday, October 08, 2007

More edifying News Roundup

I love animal stories in the news; animals always get into the most amazingly inventive situations. Two great ones this last week:

Daisy the miniature dachshund unearthed a fossilized woolly mammoth bone up to two million years old on the beach at Dunwich, near Southwold, Suffolk. The Dialy Mail has the full story and a fantastic pic of Daisy salivating over her juicy find.

Over at Maunsel House, Somerset, Sir Benjamin Slade’s peacock ravished a peacock-blue Lexus, causing £4,000 of damage in the process (The Telegraph reports). There is speculation the peacock involved is gay, because peahens are brown, not blue. However, it is also possible the peacock was just attempting to defend his territory from a (much larger) rival.

Testosterone-drenched birdbrains can react oddly: our canary Gregory Peck was set off by any electrical device being turned on – washing machine, kettle, etc. Canaries can be ear-splittingly loud for their size; sometimes we had to cover his cage in self-defence.

News roundup

After being such a clever tease all summer long Gordon Brown is now looking utterly foolish. He has cleverly contrived to lose the election that never was. He has helped the Tories revive and unite behind their leader – who just a couple of weeks ago was on the skids.

The Tories had a good conference, and the shadow cabinet members all made excellent speeches, with genuinely electorate pleasing policies being announced. David Cameron’s speech was good stuff, although I felt not the genius level wizardry the press were claiming.

So the Tories definitely deserved their bounce, but I do think Brown’s insane visit to Basra accelerated it wildly. A new New Labour Prime Minister who has promised new ways of doing things and vowing to do away with spin cannot afford to be seen spinning, of all issues, the Iraq war – the very war we were spun into so conspicuously by his predecessor. Tony may have gone, but New Labour doesn’t get a get-out-of-jail-free card with his departure. It is still their utterly misjudged war, and it is nauseating watching the Prime Minister using our soldiers sent to risk their lives as a backdrop for his blatant electioneering. What a twit.

For a career politician, to spin may be essential; to be seen spinning is bad; but to be caught spinning incompetently is catastrophic. Perhaps Gordon could ring Tony for lessons.

Thursday, October 04, 2007


Why do so many London pigeons have injured feet? Are our anti-pigeon defences too harsh and cruel to the poor beasties?

Pigeons are certainly clever enough to recognise the possibility of a free lunch. Sitting waiting for a train at High Street Kensington, I was quickly marked out by two hobbled-feet scavengers. I realised that they must have clocked I was carrying an M&S carrier bag containing sandwiches for my lunch.

Saw another pigeon cripple immediately afterwards at Vauxhall station. Obviously, London living must be dangerous. But why are they so careless of their feet?