Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Olympic rings on the Thames

Yesterday I was on my way between meetings (*) when I saw these five interlinked rings on a barge on the Thames by the Tower of London and Tower Bridge.

Not just that there was also a helicopter circling overhead and the fire boat was pumping two lovely arcs of water over the scene. Alas I was slightly out of iPhone camera range so I decided to proceed directly to the second meeting (**).

By the time the second meeting had finished (***) alas the barge and its rings had disappeared but one didn't have to be a rocket scientist to work out what it might all mean.

Apparently they were due to start at Battersea Bridge but plans were cancelled due to "tidal flow". Ah, if only there had been a way to predict these things in advance!

(*) ok maybe one meeting and a "networking opportunity"

(**) ok, ok, this was indeed held in a pub by the river

(***) after much useful work was discussed, honest!

Photo from: Metro web site

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Opera Review: Don Giovanni

On Sunday evening I went to the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, to see Mozart's Don Giovanni.

It was the same night as the Oscars so I spent some time imaging what a Hollywood mega-movie mogul would have made of it, which was the source of yesterday's post - aided, no doubt by that glass of bubbly before hand.

And very good it was too, in particular Don Giovanni who was sung by Erwin Schrott (see picture in yesterday's post), who was just right for the role. Swaggering, tall, handsome and clearly spending many hours in the gym he relished the role, striding confidently across the stage as if he owned it.

The other singers were good too, as you'd expect from a classy ROH production, in particular the servant Leporello (sung by Alex Esposito) and Donna Elvira (sung by Ruxandra Donose above) stood out. Chorus, orchestra, conductor and costumes all ticked the right boxes too.

The only let down was the set which has been a problem all too often for the ROH. It was basically a tall (full stage height) curved wall, the inner side for interiors and the outer for exteriors. That was pretty boring, but it was made worse by using materials like glass and steel that would be more appropriate for a modern executive apartment.

Indeed at times it looked like a curved wall of those glass blocks (above) that are used in fancy modern wet rooms style bathrooms. Now in a modern production that would make sense but the costumes were in period.

Then there was the statue of Il Commendatore which came to life, which was basically a framework of metal, like the burning man but formless, which was swung from side to side and then was replaced by a man with a metal hand (hence the Terminator reference).

I remember the Ring cycle from the 90s where the conductor admitted he tried not to look at the stage: the ROH hasn't a good track record when it comes to set (though to be fair the Mastersingers shortly after was a triumph).

Anyhow a fantastic evening filled with great music and a cracking story.

Updated: well it could have been worse as it seems the ROH has another turkey on its hands as can be seen in this review of Rusalka. For most of the audience this will be the first time they've seen this opera so why did they make the production such an obscure self indulgence?

Picture from: here

Monday, February 27, 2012

The Don Giovanni pitch at the Oscars

INT: the Oscars. Movie mogul WEISUP is with his assistant YESMANN watching the proceedings glumly.

WEISUP (applauding)

Jeez, another for The Artist: Best Original Score. Well there was no real dialog so I guess they could put some money into the music. What ever happened to that classical number of ours, what was it, THE DON or something?


I think you mean DON GOVIANNI sir


That's the one. Is it a silent?


Er, no sir. There's singing.


What, you mean, like a musical? Who's the composer?


It's Mozart sir.

WEISUP (applauding again)

Jeez, lost another, we've got to up our game. I'll give this Mozart guy a ring.

YESMANN sir... that's not going to be easy.


One of these hard-ball playing arty types? Won't return your call or something? I'll find out who his agent is. Ok, fill me in, what's our Don into?


Well Don Giovanni's a real womaniser, seduces all the ladies....


I like it, I like it, he's really the victim, one of those sexual compulsive types, a bit like Shame, that won awards. We can have lots of hot women and its all "for art". George Clooney, he'd be great in that part, you'd believe he could score anyone.  Ok, who's the love interest?


Well there's Donna Anna, she's the one he betrays in the start plus he murders her dad.


That's a great opening, can see it now, we can get Jennifer Aniston to play the dumped girl. But we need someone tough to stand up to this Don and raise the stakes.


Yes sir, that's when Mozart brings in Donna Elvira. She used to be Don Giovanni's lover but he abandoned her. Now she's out for revenge but a part of her still loves him - she's conflicted sir.


Now that's something we can work with. I see her as Clare Danes - on the edge, borderline psychotic. You never know if she's going to kill him or marry him, popping handfuls of those green pills the docs have prescribed, right?


.... well sir, I'm not sure the director sees this as being about modern medicine and pills....

WEISUP (thumping the arm of the chair)

He's right, dammit, she's not taken her pills!!! She's about to blow!! This sounds great, Yesmann. But the humour, we need to round this out, can't be all grim.


There's Don Giovanni's servent, Leporello. He gets the best lines, but you have to play them straight, not Jim Carrey, maybe that Hobbit.


Not that creep that goes all weird about his precious?


Er.... I think the director was thinking of Martin Freeman, you know, Bilbo?


Oh him, yes he's good. Ok, tell me more, what's the plot?


Well there's this wedding of a peasant girl......


She can be Penelope Cruz - make sure the dress is cut real low


... and Don Giovanni tries to seduce her but Donna Elvira is there too with Donna Anna and her fiancée, and they're out for revenge. There's a decadent ball which turns into a rampaging mob out for Don Giovanni's blood but he escapes in the dark of night to a graveyard.

Here a statue warns him ....


A statue?


Yes, it sort of comes to life, and Don Giovanni invites him to dinner later that night.


I know - we can get Schwarzenegger and he can say "I'll be back". They'll just love that.


That sounds a great idea sir, because the statue, that's the ghost of Il Commendatore, Donna Anna's dad, does return and at the end of Act 2 he drags Don Giovanni down to hell!!


I like it, I like it!! It will be like Terminator all over again. Ok, so what happens in Act 3?


Er, there's no Act 3 sir.


No Act 3? But there's always a third act! Robert McKee told me himself at that MGM drinks reception.


Well Mozart only wrote two acts sir.


And you told me this Mozart dude doesn't return calls, that's right. But you can't end up with Clooney in hell!


I've got it, it's going to be great. We can write our own!!! As I see it this Donna Elvira broad goes after him, yup, even into hell itself. And no guns work there so she and Il Commendatore battle it out with swords, flashing amongst the red fires.

It will be like Kill Bill! Or Buffy and Angel!! All blood and guts! Even the devil is scared of her, right?

Then of course she wins and they return to Earth. Sure he's a sex junkie and she's psychotic, but together they work, right? And then Aniston get's her man too, and that's a wrap!!


Er.... yes sir.

Picture from: Covent Garden

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Book Review: The Watermen

I'm always aware when writing a review that the author could be in the audience. So its hard to know what to say when you don't enjoy a book, particularly when the author, Patrick Easter, was a police officer for 30 years, including some years working on the River Thames.

You can just imagine him - or a colleague - stopping this humble kayaker with a "hello, hello, hello, what's all this then?" and then charging me under some obscure 18th Century by-law.

And he'd know all about those, for this book is about the life on the waters of east London in the years leading up to 1800, and the conflict between the criminal gang leader and his nemesis on the newly formed police force.

I really did want to enjoy this book and had picked it up at Heathrow airport with high expectations. And yet I gave up half way through, having had enough.

But what put me off? It could be style isn't one I go for. Maybe where I picked it up was a clue as it does have an airport thriller air about it, the sort of thing Bonnie blogged about (and not this one with my comment that must have seemed cryptic to those that hadn't seen film the devil wears Prada).

It reminded me of my writing classes and that old saying "show don't tell". This was tell, tell, tell. Take the "nemesis" bit: just in case you didn't work that out it was in the text - indeed the lead two characters used that word to described how they felt about the other.

Do you remember those children's books full of adventure that you loved when young then came back to and winced at the technique? It reminded me of that.

I must admitted a lot happened in each chapter, but when there was a death or at least an assault in each after a while I got a bit tired.

It might just be me: there were good reviews in both the Guardian and the Express.

Sorry Patrick!

Picture from Waterstones here

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Sea Change by Michael Martin

The tides are an ever present reality for those sailing in the waters around Britain. We have some of the greatest ranges in water level in the world and it has a dramatic impact on the coastline as shown in these photos by artist Michael Martin.

Sea Change is a series of pairs of photos, one at high water and another at low water, exploring how the landscape is changed and how that effects how us humans behave. Most were taken during springs when the contrasts are at their greatest.

A beautiful and strangely moving set of photos, and I look forward to seeing the exhibition in September.

Photos: by Michael Martin from here.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Tow a tug

We saw this when sailing on the Solent this weekend.

Now usually a tug tows an oil tanker like this one but here it seems to be the other way round. It looked a bit like a dinghy bobbing along behind a yacht or a car behind a Winnebago.

Any ideas what might be happening?

Monday, February 20, 2012

JP puzzles Buff

G'day all! Buff Staysail here! Buff by name and Buff by nature!

What is it about poms and the weather? All this talk about it being a bit "fresh" and going "frost-biting"?

I mean take JP, off sailing over the weekend. Ok, it was helping a mate sail his yacht over to the boat yard, but there was black ice on the foredeck! Jeez, you never get that in Brisbane.

JP was going on about these new mid layers he bought at the boat show - what a drongo! Surely he knows the only point about boat shows is the bar.

But JP said he had a great time sailing under blue skies on an empty Solent - rather him than me!

This is Buff Staysail, keeping warm and toasty, over and out!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Which sailing club?

Just back from sailing so feeling all dozyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy...................

oops...... where was I?

Oh yes, we sailed passed this sailing club which should ring some bells for a blogger out there...............


Friday, February 17, 2012

The shipping forecast

There's poetry and there's prose that's poetic.

The BBC's Radio 4 shipping forecast is an essential tool for the working sailor but it has a magic all of its own.

Dogger, Fisher, Bight....

Issued and broadcast four times a day it gives wind direction, strength, wave heights, weather, visibility and a sense of security all in one go.

Thames, Dover, Wight.....

The idea of having a weather forecast for mariners came originally from Admiral Fitzroy, famous for being captain of Charles Darwin's voyage around the world on the Beagle.

Fastnet, Shannon, Rockall.....

Now the shipping forecast is 90 and there are while there are threats to long wave transmissions, in one form or other it will be informing those at sea and hypnotising those on land for years to come.

Portland, Plymouth, Fiztroy

Find out more by watching the reading this BBC story and watching the short video here.

Picture from: The Met Office.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Patagonian Expedition Race 2012

I did another trip to the gym this evening and had that nice warm healthy feeling, but then I read about the Patagonian Expedition Race and that put my 25 minutes in perspective.

The "Last Wild Race" as it is also known, involves competing teams of four biking, orienteering and kayaking their way across remote parts of Patagonia including Tierra del Fuego and the Strait of Magellan. Each year's course is different and no GPS is allowed, just old fashioned compass and map reading.

Over around 10 days they will navigate across between 500 and 1000 km of incredibly beautiful yet hard landscapes.

There is a wicked part of me that thinks "Across the Andes by Frog" but that's probably because I'm jealous of the experiences they will have - if, that is, they finish it, as the drop out rate is around a third.

Anyway, good luck to the British teams and in particular Nick Gracie who is looking for his fourth victory!

Map of 2012 route: from Patagonian Expedition Race

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Comedy writer in 130 knot cyclone

One of my favourite blogs is "By Ken Levine".

It's not on the boating blog list as he's not into boats that don't have bars. Indeed when he recently visited Auckland he thought he was going to the "city of sales" and was disappointed to learn the truth.

However he is a very funny writer behind such favs as Cheers and Frasier so I visit his site regularly and recently he's been through a cyclone where the wind speed hit 130 knots.

Fortunately the crew rose to the moment and continued with those all important bingo sessions!

Read all about it here.

Picture from: By Ken Levine.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The romance of the sea

Today is a good day to remind ourselves of the romance of the sea.

John Masefield summed it up nicely with his Sea Fever:

I must down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by...

Surely no one who has sailed at night under starlight will be unmoved by those words.

And there are of course many others, siren calls of distant shores, tropical nights and of ships that pass by night.

But the reality is of course very different. Being waken at night by calls that can't be ignored, one's life becoming secondary to the demands of the ship, warm glow vanishing after a drenching in cold water.....

I was wondering that maybe there are echoes there of shore based romance and maybe that's why some like to sail solo.

Can you think of any other parallels between romance vs. realities of the sea and shore?

Monday, February 13, 2012

Book Review: Hostage

There is not much sailing in this book; but if the sailing had continued past page 2 there wouldn't have been a book at all. For this is the story of Paul and Rachel Chandler, the attack by pirates on their yacht Lynn Rival sailing off the Seychelles and their long, long captivity.

Of course we all know how it ends - indeed I met them at the London Boat Show - but what happened in-between, somewhere lost in a lawless land?

It is probably a question many have wondered on hearing stories of hostages in failed states around the world. The reality is boredom, helplessness, fear, discomfort and soul destroying uncertainty. No contact with the outside world, no way of knowing what is going on and most importantly when - or even if - it will all end.

During these long months they relied on the one thing left to them - each other. But then even that was taken away from them as they were separated, kept company only by their guards in a series of shacks and camps in the Somalia wilderness.

It is hard to make even the slightest suggestions to a couple that have been through so much, but I wanted to know more about the politics of the land and the back story behind their captors.

What impact, for example, did foreign interference in Somalia have in destabilising its government? Did this lead to a loss of control of Somali waters and hence influx of trawlers with devastating impact on local fishing fleets? How much did their guards know about Britain? What was their education? What were their hopes?

I don't think either Paul or Rachel will be going back to ask those questions any day soon.

The book flows well and there are some useful maps and a couple of snatched photos which both add to the text.

If you want to know more about the realities of piracy, ignore the Hollywood fantasy and read this book instead.

Picture from: Waterstone's web site

Friday, February 10, 2012

The boat races and the fishy fish

Two stories from Putney to end the week.

First up the news that from 2015 Putney will no longer be the start of a University Boat Race - rather there will be two University Boat Races, one for men and another for women. About time too, many will say.

The second news is from the soar-away Sun about the record 10 lb rainbow trout caught by an angler on Putney Embankment.

However today doubts have been raised, with an expert pointing out that the rainbow trout is not indigenous to the Thames and that it had marks that could be signs of it being frozen.

Hmmmm...... something smells not right about that story.

Ah well, at least now have a whole weekend to ponder about there being a tide in history etc.

Picture from: The Telegraph here.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Fulham Reach and Oscar Wilde

Yesterday's post about Oscar Wilde's Impression du Matin brought a number of comments which raised issues such as artistic references and the character of the young woman he described, but no one mentioned exclusive riverside properties.

It was on the way back from Geneva in the BA in-flight magazine that I saw an advert for the Fulham Reach development and soon googled its web site. It is what an ex of mine would call "fancy": facilities include not just a gym but also swimming pool, spa (with sauna, steam room, treatment room), screening room, virtual golf and a wine cellar (obviously).

There is even a movie you can watch, but note on the page about the apartments the interior designs were apparently inspired by "Oscar Wilde's evocative poem about the River Thames, 'Impression du Matin".

Hmmmm..... lets look in more detail about the images in the poem. The yellow fog for example - this reference suggests the yellow could be associated with decay. Another article takes a more chemical approach considering how the yellow could be associated with tar soluble in fog water - in other words, industrial pollution.

The young lady is in many articles described as... well, shall we say lady of the night? She could have political overtones, for at the time a contentious issue was the contagious diseases act that attempted to prevent the spread of VD but the approach outraged many as an insult on working women.

In summary, as this article put it, this is not a "stop and smell the roses" poem. It promises sparkly water but gives the reader a glimpse of London's dark underbelly.

Not what one would usually associate with an upmarket property development, I'd fancy.

Picture from: Fulham Reach web site

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Oscar Wilde's Impression du Matin

THE Thames nocturne of blue and gold  
  Changed to a harmony in grey;  
  A barge with ochre-coloured hay  
Dropt from the wharf: and chill and cold  
The yellow fog came creeping down
  The bridges, till the houses' walls  
  Seemed changed to shadows, and St. Paul's  
Loomed like a bubble o'er the town.  
Then suddenly arose the clang  
  Of waking life; the streets were stirred
  With country waggons; and a bird  
Flew to the glistening roofs and sang.  
But one pale woman all alone,  
  The daylight kissing her wan hair,  
  Loitered beneath the gas lamps' flare,
With lips of flame and heart of stone

Impressions? Interpretations? References?

Closed for business

This snow covered building two thirds of the way down les cascades raised hopes of refreshment, but alas it was closed.

Just as well Buff didn't join me - he'd have been so disappointed!

Monday, February 06, 2012

The les cascades run from Flaine to Sixt

The 14km long les cascades ski run from Flaine to Sixt is according to Wikipedia "a classic". I didn't know that at the time, just that it was a very, very long blue line that went all the way across the piste map, seemingly on and on forever.

The weather being bright but very, very cold I decided to give it a go, taking the gondola from Flaine up to Les Grandes Plateires, then down serpentine until I reached the start (above) before heading off into the wilds (below).

But is les cascades right for you? First lets consider its strong points:

  • Its great scenery, from Alpine peaks to deserted valleys, then down to wiggle through wild forests
  • It's less busy than the main slopes: for about two thirds of the way I was completely on my own, seeing no one at all. When I stopped all I could hear was a solitary bird singing and sometimes the sound of snow falling from a tree hidden in the wood
  • You get all types of runs in one, from cross-country, to green, blue and even a little bit of red
  • At the end you zoom along a track between trees, across narrow bridges and around the sort of corners that would make Jeremy Clarkson go "orch, orch, orch!"
  • You get a real sense of achievement by completing it
  • You can reward yourself at the end can get a chocolate chaud for €2.50 rather than the €3.90 at the bar at the top of Les Grandes Platiers
  • Afterwards you get to explore the rest of the Grand Massif by heading from Samoens over the top via Grands Vans back to Flaine


  • There are four or five very flat bits where you have to walk
  • There are no opportunities to stop and escape the cold in a restaurant, you just have to keep going
  • The snow at the Sixt end isn't quite as good as in Flaine - a bit icy even, with chunks of ice scattered across the run
  • That bit of the run is also narrow with no edges and if you slide off you'd fall down a steep edge
  • You will have get a bus from Sixt to Samoens: it's pretty simple and regular (and free!) but that's 20 minutes you're not skiing
  • You need to buy a more expensive ski pass to cover both Massif and Flaine

In the end it took me about three and half hours from starting at the top of mountain to finally returning to Flaine the long way round, but that included half an hour or so for lunch.

All in all I'd certainly recommend it: it allows you to ski through amazing scenery along near empty runs and feel you've achieved something.

Les cascades is certainly not your average run: it is indeed a classic.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

The big slush

I'm having trouble taking the "big freeze" story seriously.

My flight into Heathrow might have been delayed over 2 hours but as I walked down the steps and breathed the sweet smell of aviation fuel my impression was of balmy weather.

At 2 - 3C it was about 30 degrees higher than I'd experienced the same time the day before, and there was just a thin layer of slush rather than several metres of packed snow:
Maybe I'll feel differently tomorrow during rush hour!

Saturday, February 04, 2012

-25C skiing

A cold snap has hit Europe and it is currently -12C (that's 10.4F) on the streets of Geneva.

Luckily for me I've spend the day skiing in -25C conditions (that's -13F) so have to a degree (ho ho) become acclimatised.

I'm pretty sure those exposed ski lifts were even colder - maybe down to -27 or -28C (-18.4F) with wind chill so had to rely on that old reliable to warm up:
More to come as feeling returns to the fingers......

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Cargoes by John Masefield

Quinquireme of Nineveh from distant Ophir,
Rowing home to haven in sunny Palestine,
With a cargo of ivory,
And apes and peacocks,
Sandalwood, cedarwood, and sweet white wine.

Stately Spanish galleon coming from the Isthmus,
Dipping through the Tropics by the palm-green shores,
With a cargo of diamonds,
Emeralds, amythysts,
Topazes, and cinnamon, and gold moidores.

Dirty British coaster with a salt-caked smoke stack,
Butting through the Channel in the mad March days,
With a cargo of Tyne coal,
Road-rails, pig-lead,
Firewood, iron-ware, and cheap tin trays.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

SS Robin wins funding

In amongst the plastic mega yachts of the London Boat Show show there was a silhouette across the other side of the docks that caught my eye in the late afternoon light.

It was the SS Robin, a relic was from another age, built by the grand sounding Thames Ironworks and Shipbuilding Company way back in 1890 on the banks of the River Lea.

She is a coastal steamer and is considered so important she is in the core collection of the National Historic Ships Register, up there with the Cutty Sark and HMS Belfast.

And today it was announced that she has won nearly a million pounds of funding to complete her restoration together with a visitor centre.

I look forward to inspecting her more closely when they open for visitors.