Thursday, May 31, 2012

Diamond Jubilee Fever

London is going Queen's Diamond Jubilee crazy!

Bunting is going up in shops and across roads, street parties are being planned by the thousands, stores are advertising everything from Pimms (oh, yes please) to coloured cupcakes (no thanks).

There's a whole 4 day weekend of events from racing (horses that is), mega gig outside Buck P. (questionable line up if you ask me), carriage procession, church service (its not all fun), a flyby (writing QEII in the sky) and finally the real QEII herself on the balcony to do her waving thing.

Of course the highlight is the 1,000 boat pageant of boats on the Thames: as many ships for one woman as when Helen of Troy made Paris's heart go into thumping overdrive.

A lot more information is available out there, from the BBC's dedicated subsite to the newspapers (e.g. the Guardian's downloadable map here. Techies might be interested to note its being hosted on Google Drive), London focus sites like have their own take here and of course the official site here.

On the Thames Jubilee Pageant site as well as the map shown above you can also find a lot of information about some of the boats taking part including:

Plus without downloadable PDFs there are working boats, flags of the pageant and a whole swarm of police launches, RNLI orange specials, mean and menacing Royal Marines and the PLA to keep everyone in order.

Phew! What a list! Should be absolutely amazing even if the weather is threatening to be historically appropriate.

But I'm going to miss almost it all.

Ah well, there'll be another one in 350 years or so and Buff assures me that he has it all under control.

Installation review: Underscore

A quick post about last weekend before the Queen's Jubilee mega-bash takes over.

Last Sunday, when the sun still shone over London town, there was an installation in Wandsworth Park on the Thames opposite the Hurlingham, called Underscore.

It allowed you to follow the route of this weekend's pageant, but underwater, with your ears.

As you walked along a curly path under those pregnantly green trees you passed by wooden boxes with names like Kew Bridge, Embankment and Thames Gateway, on which stood monochrome clothed artists with megaphones.

They performed sounds that had been recorded at those places along the way, animalistic croaks and machine like thuds.

I enjoyed the aural walk under Thames so much I did it many times, both upstream and down, then went for an ice cream.

It was a good afternoon.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Nelson's Ship in a Bottle at its new home

While it was disappointing to find the Cutty Sark closed yesterday I took the opportunity while in Greenwich to see Nelson's Ship in a Bottle at its new home outside the National Maritime Museum.

And very good it looks too. It links the navy and empire with the peoples involved, combining a historic sailing ship with fabrics in a way that really works next to the new wing overlooking Greenwich Park (currently filled with Olympics preparations).

This evening there was a reception where its artist, Yinka Shonibare, gave a short talk about his thinking behind the work and what he wanted to achieve.

Make people think was one of his objectives, but maybe as important was to make a connection, for that is where it excels. It opens up the NMM to a wider audience and that can only be a good thing.

You can already judge its success by the steady stream of visitors having their picture taken with it in the background, at home as if it was designed for that location in mind rather than the 4th plinth in Trafalgar Square.

Monday, May 28, 2012

The Cutty Sark is closed on Mondays

A top tip for those in London.

If the weather is great and you wonder if it would be worth taking Monday off work to visit the Cutty Sark, then don't.

The Cutty Sark is closed on Mondays.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Diamond Jubilee's Biggest Poster and Culture in Stone

When Liz goes boating next weekend (along with 1,000 other vessels) she will pass this epically big poster from the Silver Jubilee back in 1977.

100 x 70 metres it has been hung on the sides of Sea Container house between Waterloo and Blackfriars.

I was a bit worried about the office workers stuck behind it, their windows darkened by the royal images, as in years gone by I've been to many a meeting there. But fortunately it's currently being renovated.

At its base you'll find the Gallery@Oxo which is currently showing an exhibition of Shona sculpture from Zimbabwe called "Culture in stone" - small but well worth visiting.

More pictures from: Culture in stone

Friday, May 25, 2012

London's burning, 2012 update

London's burning, London's burning
Open a cold one, open a cold one
Watch the sun set, watch the sun set

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Diamond Jubilee Top Tip

I was thinking of getting the iPad app The Thames: London's Crown Jewel but it only got 2 out of 5 stars on the Telegraph's tech column.

Not having bought it I save myself £ 1.99 but am unable to say whether that is a fair review or not.

All is not lost, as instead I suggest you make your way over to the BBC for their interactive section on the Queen's Diamond Jubilee Thames Pageant where they show:

  • the route
  • music barges
  • moored boats
  • recreation boats
  • working boats
  • historic boats
  • lead boats

Boats it mentions includes the Matthew of Bristol, Suhaili, the Golden Hinde, many narrowboats, some Thames barges, the Alaska, fireboats, HSL-102, lifeboats, Dunkirk little ships, Cutters, Cornish pilot, racing gigs, skiffs, longboats, gondolas, lifeboats, kayaks, dragon boats, shallops, a Viking longboat and of course Gloriana.

Well worth heading over and having a look.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The controversial restoration of the Cutty Sark

What could be controversial about restoring the beloved Cutty Sark?

It's a historic clipper, part of Britain's maritime tradition, as beautiful as it is functional in getting the first tea leaves back from China.

And yet the project has run into a host of difficulties and the decisions made created a storm equal to anything she saw when rounding Cape Horn.

The trouble was that the Cutty Sark was in a mess, even before it went up in flames. The iron frame had corroded away into thin air, her bones into dust. Resting the hull in a dry dock had stressed it further, warping it out of shape. Wood had rotted, as wood will.

That meant the only options available would be both brutal and expensive - £ 50 million or so was spent re-building her, or rather creating something that looks like the Cutty Sark. For there is a spanking new steel frame on which the hull sits like a 650 tonne coat on its hanger - but it is essential given the ship has now been lifted 3 metres into the air.

It isn't therefore something that could be sailed: it is an exhibit, and some are not at all happy. Indeed the Telegraph called the restoration a grade A turkey. Must admit there are worrying aspects - in particular the top deck is not authentic wood but instead uses modern composites.

I've yet to see for myself (planned for next week) but I have just watched this excellent BBC documentary: "Cutty Sark, a National Treasure Reopened". It reveals that in addition to the technical issues there were serious failings in management.

I'm very much looking forward to exploring the reborn Cutty Sark so I can see for myself whether the right decisions were made.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Book Review: Bounce, the myth of talent and the power of practice

Do you want to race as well as Ben Ainslie?

It sounds impossible, super human performance out of reach to us lesser mortals, but this book by Matthew Syed shows how it could be achieved.

Alas the starting point for the über athlete is childhood, so if those days are a dim memory you're going to be disappointed.

The key task is practice and lots and lots of it. The expert (for its not just about sport) typically has 10 years practice or maybe as much as 10,000 hours.

Its also got to be the right sort of practice, the sort that stretches you outside your comfort zone. As important is feedback, to learn from mistakes, and often these two come from being part of a small highly competitive group.

Motivation is also key, to keep going and it helps if practice is not a burden but a pleasure. As an example the author notes how a top skater could have fallen as many as 20,000 times, but every time she picked herself up and kept going.

One important lesson is to praise effort rather than natural skills. In an experiment by Carol Dweck in 1998 students were split into two groups and give a test. Afterwards one group was told "you must be really smart" and the other "you must have worked really hard" and then asked if they wanted to do an easy or difficult task.

The results were dramatic with the first group choosing to do the easy one, fearing to do badly and hence found out as not smart while the latter more likely to rise to the challenge and choose the harder. In addition when given another test those given the smart compliment scored 20% lower while the workers scored 30% higher.

Matthew Syed is clearly one to favour nurture over than nature, arguing that our minds are sufficiently plastic to learn almost anything.

That is great, as it means anyone could excel; but it is also sad, because so many don't.

Towards the end the book flags a bit and I did wonder whether information that didn't fit the story had been excluded (e.g. given two groups which both had practised equally wouldn't there even be the possibility of genetic factors influencing who wins?).

However its a great read, in particular for those that involved in training or motivating the young.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Book Review: The Pirates! In an adventure with Scientists

Arrrrrrhhh me hearties!!!

Yeh have heard me tell of yon Pirate Captain, arrrahhh! that yeh have! Here he be in print, shiver my timbers, aye, timber, that is where paper comes from, that it does!!

This be the yarn of the Pirate Captain and his adventures with that scurvy crew of his (alas, a little more lime and there'd a few more of 'em left alive, poor souls).

There's be much tales of ham, puking, walking the plank, fair wenches, scientists, sailing the seven seas, wondering what the seven seas are, arrhhh, that there be.

Of course there be high adventure, battling that double crossing son of a gun Black Bellamy and that land lubber, the evil Bishop of Oxford, arrhhh! So listen up good, Jim me lad!

Two cutlasses up for this pieces of eight filled treasure story!!

And ye salty son's of Neptune, remember - if in doubt, do what the Pirate Captain does, and end every conversation with an arrrahh!


Picture from: Amazon

Friday, May 18, 2012

Putney river bus runs aground

Uh oh!

This is the Putney river bus hard aground earlier this week. It was stuck on a mud bank for 20 minutes or so, blocking half of the river, prop churning white foam, turning grey waters brown.

If this were to happen during the Queen's Diamond Jubilee 1,000 boat parade it would be bad.

The Thames Barrier is meant to be raised during the pageant to ensure sufficient water but will it be enough?

At low water the Thames isn't that deep - see here and here for more information.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Queen's Diamond Jubilee - update

Excitement is building for the Queen's Diamond Jubilee and the 1,000 boat parade on the Thames.

To give you a flavour here are just a couple of the flood of updates:

  • The National Maritime Museum has an exhibition called Royal River: Power, Pageantry and the Thames (see picture above)
  • There's an article about the exhibition from curator and historian David Starkey about the Thames being 'liquid history'
  • They say that nothing on this scale has been seen on the Thames since the days of Charles II
  • It is expected to take 75 minutes for the flotilla to pass by on its way under 14 bridges
  • To get really into the diamond spirit, CPO Diamond on HMS Diamond is to receive a Diamond Jubilee medal
  • The lead boat will be the rowing barge Gloriana, powered by Olympic oarsmen Steve Redgrave and Matthew Pinsent.
  • A flyby is planned with the Royal Air Force spelling out ERII in the skies.
  • Not all the boats will be joining the parade on the Thames: in particular those Tall Ships that are unable to fit under bridges will remain in the Pool of London - see video here.
  • There's been gossip about how the Queen might actually be dreading "the ship thing"
  • The mayor certainly isn't dreading the day, saying how it will be better than Dunkirk (well, duh)
  • Security has been increased after the boat race fiasco
  • The royal couple, William and Kate (bless), will be on-board the Queen ceremonial barge
  • The barge will be decorate with a sculpture of Old Father Thames and decorated with half a million gold coloured buttons 
  • As the boats pass the MI6 building the musical barges will play the theme from James Bond and the Dambuster's theme as they pass the MoD building
  • There's an App for that - yes, go to iTunes to download an application that describes the Thames over the route the regatta will take

There was also this post of mine about preparations - and yes, those mooring buoys are appearing as if the Thames has an outbreak of yellow spotted measles.

Any more good links?

Picture from: the NMM

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Book Review: London Under

Opening a new Peter Ackroyd is a bit like cutting the foil on a bottle of vintage port. There's the thrill of anticipation, reading the short paragraphs on the outside with an approving nod before finding a cosy chair to relish its smooth joys.

And it doesn't disappoint, as long as its not corked (i.e. fiction - the less said about First Light the better).

In this slim book there are indeed riches of vocabulary and turn of phrase, ornate and decorated, sentences rising as high as a croquembouche.

Previously I reviewed Ackroyd's Thames and it was a memorable book - maybe too long, for it is a style that can overwhelm the reader. Maybe that's why I skipped his follow-up London, The Biography (a typical bold claim, to use the definite article) in favour of Beter Sackroyd's "Piddle - A Gentle Stream".

London Under as you might expect is an exploration of the lands below our feet, the catacombs, rivers, sewers, water pipes, electric, communications, tube lines, pedestrian tunnels, secret bunkers and bomb shelters. To go below the surface is to burrow into history, layers of London stripped away as we travel back to pre-Roman Britain.

Time itself seems subject to his whim: "Time itself does not matter in the presence of the lost river" he says to which I respond with a baffled frown of someone who once could do space-time tensor algebra.

As you might expect from Ackroyd, pretty much anything can be a sign of the sacred, so that, for example, the water pipes "create a blessed space" - but there are demonic undertones underground too. He sometimes isn't sure which - maybe both, which no doubt is spiritual equivalent of double cream, naughty but nice.

There is mention of course of the controversial and much debated Thames Tunnel (as blogged here), though rather strangely he calls it "not widely known or discussed", which makes we wonder whether we have strayed into a parallel universe, otherwise called planet Ackroyd.

Having said all of this it is a great read and totally quaffable in a minimum of sittings.

Just remember to have a pinch or two of salt to hand.

Picture from: Amazon

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Ancient Egyptian discovers how to make rowing interesting

Many, many years ago when the world was young there lived in Egypt a Pharaoh named Sneferu, who was father of Khufu that built the Great Pyramid at Giza.

Being a time of peace and plenty there was little to worry this great lord as he lived in his great palace in Memphis by the side of the mighty Nile.

Indeed it could be said he was bored.

"I'm bored" he said.

Hence he called forth his Chief Magician, Zazamankh, to entertain him.

"O Pharaoh: life, health, strength be to you!" said Zazamankh. "My counsel is that you go rowing or sailing upon the Nile".

"Yawn" said the Pharaoh. "Been there, done that, got the t-shirt."

So Zazamankh called forth the officers and attendants of the Pharaoh Sneferu.

"Bring me twenty oars of ebony inlaid with gold, with blades of light wood inlaid with electrum" said Zazamankh. "And for rowers choose the twenty fairest maidens in the Pharaoh's household: twenty virgins slim and lovely, fair in their limbs, beautiful, and with flowing hair. And bring me twenty nets of golden thread, and give these nets to the fair maidens to be garments for them."

So it was done as to the words of Zazamankh and presently the Pharaoh was seated in the Royal Boat as the maidens rowed him up and down the stream.

And the heart of Sneferu was glad at the sight of the beautiful rowers.

"Zazamankh, you are the greatest of wisest of magicians" said the Pharaoh. "Your reward shall be all that you desire."

And thus it was that rowing was made interesting.

Editors note: there was a bit more about a broach being lost (see here) and Zazamankh's wand work to retrieve it which you can read all about in Roger Lancelyn Green's book Tales of Ancient Egypt.

Photo from: The Metropolitan Museum

Monday, May 14, 2012

Opera non-review: Einstein on the beach

I had a ticket to Philip Glass's 5 hour spectacular "Einstein on the beach" at the Barbican but alas was hit by a horrid 'flu so was unable to go. However the following non-review came out of my (literally) fevered brow:

     It is.
     It is.
     It is.
     It is. It.
     It is. It.
     It is. It.
     It is. It. It is. It. It is. It. It is. It.
     It is very.
     It is very.
     It is very.
     It is very. It is very. It is very. It is very.
     It is. Is very. It is. Is very. It is. Is very. It is. Is very.
     Long. Its is. Long. It is. Long. It is.
     It is very long.
     It is very long.
     It is very long.
     It is. It. It is. It. It is. It.
     Very long. Very long. Very long.
     It is very long. It is very long. It is very long.
     It is very long. It is very long. It is very long.
     It is very long. It is very long. It is very long.

Picture from: The Barbican

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Queen's Jubilee: Charge of the narrow boats

More preparations for the Queen's Jubilee Pageant, this time for the narrow boats.

Unlike the animals on Noah's arc these came three by three:
Despite the number of boats not being a multiple of three the organisers seem to have it better under control than the last rehearsal:
Clipboard and a megaphone - good to see the keep it simple spirit of blighty still alive.

Rowing into the sunset

Yesterday was a lovely evening and I enjoyed watching this historic rowing boat out for a practice session, quite likely for the Queen's Jubilee pageant.

Maybe someone knows her background?

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Top 100 Travel Blog

Yesterday's post might have seemed a bit off-topic.

What was the boating angle? you might have asked. There were no shots of spinnakers flying, kayak blades cutting the water or Laser sailors doing handstands.

However those Technorati blog watching servers would have approved.

I don't often check out what Technorati thinks of this blog so didn't expect to find it in the top 100 travel blogs - actually hovering just outside the top 50.

Which was surprising as in the last year or two travel opportunities have been limited. While previously I'd been to interesting places like Venezuela's Orinoco Delta and the remote monasteries of Georgia recent posts have usually been restricted to London.

But why look further? In a recent survey by TripAdvisor London was voted the number one tourist destination for 2012.

Quite right too: as Samuel Johnson once said "when a man is tired of blogging about London he is tired of blogging."

Or something like that.

Updated: now top 50 (just):

Friday, May 11, 2012

Cardiff Castle and Bay

Today they skies have been blue and rain cloud free for the first time in.... ooooh... weeks.

And it was on a similarly sunny day several weeks ago that I took the train to Cardiff, just two hours from London. The main reason for the trip was to witness a bailiff go about his business which was most informative and efficiently done.

So I had time to visit Cardiff Castle with its Norman keep (above) and surrounding walls that were used as air raid shelters in WW2:
The was a background sound track of bombs falling as Vera Lynn sung about bluebirds and the white cliffs of Dover, a combination that always moves me.

Within the walls there is a fantastic Victorian mansion with fake medieval banqueting hall, mock Arabic room with "jelly mould" Moorish ceiling and a "the butler did it" library:
All very impressive.

After that I was hungry so went down to Cardiff Bay for lunch. Its a bit out from the centre, too far to walk easily, so I took taxis though there is a train.
It seemed pretty familiar as a couple of episodes of Doctor Who were filmed there (as well as, I understand, some other TV programs).

Despite the restaurants being full it had an empty feel: the marina, for example, had just a couple of boats moored up.

Cardiff Bay is a space too big for the people in it (now that is a real Doctor Who sentence)

Then it was back to London and the tube in rush hour, which most definitely didn't have an empty feel to it.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Victoria's London vs. Elizabeth's London

This year is the Queen's Diamond Jubilee; Liz's that is, not Vicki's.

Queen Victoria had her Diamond Jubilee back in 1897 and London has changed quite a bit since then - or at least parts of it have.

But not all, as can be seen by the two photos above. Greenwich has survived mostly unchanged, though of course the river traffic is very different: faster but less elegant.

More in a new book called The Queen's London.

Picture from: The Telegraph here.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Jeremy Rogers and son, boatbuilders

Its the middle of a long weekend and we're peering into the battery compartment of a Contessa 32, trying to understand the numbers on the voltmeter.

But despite it being Sunday lunchtime we're not alone - we are joined by not one but two generations of boat builders.

That's what I call good service.

Monday, May 07, 2012

Playing at sailing

Over at the Proper Course Tillerman's theme this month is playing.

Playing gets a bad rap, kids stuff. Maybe its the way we use the word, to mean muck about, as if not serious, just going out and tacking at random before heading in.

But that's not what children actually do: play is much more complicated than that. There are whole worlds in which they are pirates or astronauts, there is action and drama, conflict and resolution.

Of course we could follow their lead and "play" we're Long John Silver (or Ben Ainslie or Ellen MacArthur or whoever is your hero) instead of taking the boat out for a day sail, but that feels odd.

One of the objectives for kid's play is to practice being grown up and we no longer have that excuse. Indeed life is now more serious as we are deep in the territory when we realise that this is not a drill - this our one time around.

However for kids practising being grown up isn't why they play, its just the benefit. The reason they play is to have fun, and that's something we can do too.

Whether its beating the opposition to the start or sailing to one of the remote untouched corners of the world or just admiring the glistening light on the waves sailing brings many pleasures.

Some are only apparent afterwards, when we must pay with pain, cold and tiredness for a wealth of memories or experiences.

But we chose to do that, because we want to.

And that makes it play, of the best sort.

Saturday, May 05, 2012

New boat on the Thames

I've seen many boats on the Thames but not this one.

Further down the river HMS Ocean has squeezed its way through the Thames Barrier. Meanwhile up in the skies there are meant to be some mean flying things too - but its been cloudy so I haven't seen any of those Typhoons.

Pre Olympics it's hotting up in London town, except weather wise its rather cold.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

The Thames needs Lifeboats!

The people of London are concerned.

"Why oh why are there no lifeboat services on the Thames?" ask 84% of them and two thirds of Londoners agree there should be one.

But what's strange is that there are indeed lifeboats - in fact there are four RNLI stations on the Thames which are the busiest in Britain and have been supporting this stretch of water for 10 years now.

"C'est bizzare"