Friday, 30 August 2013

North London

East Dulwich from the Bus

I. Am. Broken.

Training went stupendously. Hugely productive, lots of fun. The way work ought to be.

Finished around 4:30 and hit the road by about 5pm. Negotiated central London in rush hour to get to East Dulwich. My funny valentine, Cathryn, moved out of Fran's house (with the cats) and back into her own place around February, shortly before we cut off Lies' dreads. She took with her clothes, makeup, and boyfriend Danny. They've been together a couple of years now but this was the first time I got to meet him. Top bloke.

Stayed with them Wednesday night and sank a few pints at their local pub, The Great Exhibition in East Dulwich. It's a gorgeous place with lovely mood lighting, a selection of good ales, and outside seating.

Woke up really lazily on Thursday and noshed down on a fry-up before making my way up to Highbury & Islington in North London.

Heading to Peckham Rye Station

First port of call was Elle, my best friend from High School, who I only seem to see once every few years now. Went to meet her eight-week-old new arrival, daughter Delilah. Don't think she'll mind me sharing this picture.

Mum and baby both beautiful. Baby also very quiet. She slept through the entire couple of hours without a peep! That's how impressed she was by Aunty M, obviously. Don't blame her. We gassed non-stop. It was fantastic to catch up. Though I had some sad news to share. In the village where we grew up, there was a bench beneath a tree outside our primary school. From the day we went to upper school and started walking home together, we used to get sweets from the Post Office and sit on that bench, talking. From the ages of about 11-16 we sat on that bench every week. I blush to think of the stories it could have told.

A few years ago, the Post Office closed and moved further down the village, but last week I noticed they'd also taken away the benches!

We were both gutted. If we'd known, we would have sawn off a piece to keep.

Right: Our Bench

We ended up at The Alwyne Castle, where we met up with Will Davis, who is an author friend I met last year at a book festival in Northamptonshire. I owed him a book in return for one he'd given me, but it took a whole year for me to get to London to give it to him.

He also lives in the Highbury & Islington area so, after Elle went, we embarked on a major pub crawl. We started off in this gorgeous little candlelit bar, the name of which I've completely forgotten, supping G&T and wine. Then we headed for food at Pasha, a totally delightful Turkish restaurant with an impressive selection of cocktails.

  He opted for a very sophisticated French Martini:  

Vanilla Vodka, Chambord and Pineapple juice shaken and fine strained

I went for a Nutty Turk, which was something to do with frangelico and cocoa powder (scrummy!) then switched to a Pomegranate Martini, which had little pieces of pomegranate in the bottom - very cute.

It complimented the stuffed aubergines and duck with pomegranate (running theme) and walnuts. 


Then it was on to another bar for more cocktails! Including something extremely strong and fizzy with sloe gin. Very annoyed with myself as I took photos of the cocktails, but the effects of the cocktails caused me to accidentally delete them. Ho hum.

Stayed over at Will's, who lives in a wonderfully dramatic house which even has a dance pole through the middle of the living room! He's an aerialist by profession and therefore ridiculously fit, as is his sister, who runs a fair trade fashion label called Nancy Dee.

He's a fairly early riser, as were the workmen with the pneumatic drill outside, so I headed back south of the river quite early.

By the time I got there I was fit to drop. Cathryn had been out drinking too and hadn't had a very good night's sleep, so we popped to the shop for lots of nibbles and  sprawled in front of the TV for the rest of the afternoon. We watched Anna Karenina and Office Space. Now I finally understand the pop culture reference with Stewie and the CD in Family Guy's Bird is the Word episode!

When Danny got back from work we found our second wind and headed out for more drinks at the Exhibition.

Beautiful Sunset

More Drinks

Then swung past the fish 'n' chip shop on the way home.

When we popped out for snacks earlier, we passed this.

I took Cathryn in and tried to get a refund, but they asked to see a receipt, so I had to take her home again...

Sad news about Seamus Heaney. Cathryn was a big fan and we drank heavily in his honour that night.

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Hello Hounslow

Well, kicking off the Autumn Road Trip, I am safely ensconced in exotic Hounslow tonight.

Don't think I've ever been here before, so I took a little wander.

They have a park. It has a pond.

Yes, those are empty bottles and... uh... tennis balls. Lots of tennis balls. The legacy of Murray's Wimbledon win, I guess. Perhaps use some taller netting on the tennis courts?

This is what I love about London, though. Tomorrow I need to be at that big hotel in the background there, but to get to it I pass a row of workers' terrace houses and a mock Tudor building!

The other thing I enjoy about London is the anonymity it affords. When I first came to Croydon aged sixteen, it took me a long time to feel comfortable. I arrived there from a little country village. Like most teenagers, I was completely uncomfortable in my own skin and would always choose the two seater places on trains - one seat for me, one for my bag so that no one could sit next to me. I'd get on the bus and stare fixedly out the window in the hopes no one would notice me.

After I'd been there for a few months, I asked myself a question. I'd just walked down Croydon High Street, and the question was: name what three people were wearing.

I couldn't.

And therein lay my answer. I was so consumed with what I was doing, that I hadn't noticed anyone else. Therefore, why would anyone else notice me?

It didn't take long for my perception to make a radical about turn. No longer was London a city full of eyes and people staring, it was the place where no one stares. You could walk down the street dressed as a gorilla and I doubt anybody would blink.

If you lived it every day it would probably become a bit lonely, but just passing through it's nice to be forgotten for a day.

I only walked down to Asda to buy food. My road survival kit consists of an assortment of olives, a selection of sushi, a roast pepper and feta wrap, a chocolate shake, a bottle of guava juice, oh, and dental floss for that minty after-dinner freshness.

Munched it whilst watching the last couple of episodes of The Borgias. Glad I saved them. Sad they're not making any more episodes but it did kind of end at an appropriate place. Left them at the height of their power.

Also discovered Katie Melua the other day and I'm utterly smitten. She's done so many incredible songs, but I think my favourites are It's Only Pain, which features this bizarre sort of Kate Bush - Helena Bonham Carter hybrid; I Cried For You, another fascinating video; oh, and she also did a cover of Closest Thing to Crazy. I completely forgot that song even existed, but she and it are both brilliant.

It freaked me out a little. The first thing I said when I heard her (accidentally, on Radio 2) was 'gosh, that sounds a bit like Eva Cassidy.' Flicking through YouTube, what did I find? Only a posthumous duet of Wonderful World featuring Melua and Cassidy!

Truly beautiful.

Feeling a little nostalgic at the moment. I've been working my way thought re-blogging an old blog lately and there's an entry where I must have been hooked on the Chilis for a period. Specifically Snow. I've had it on repeat for two days now and I'm still not sick of it. Forget 'over and out,' let's just rock out.

Monday, 26 August 2013

Farewell Countryside

Well, last day in the Northamptonshire countryside today. Feeling much better than I was but still pretty drained of energy. Lots of packing still to do. One of my least favourite pastimes.

Found this incredible caterpillar in the garden a couple of days ago. It was huge.


Apparently it's an Elephant Hawk Moth on the ground looking for somewhere to dig down and pupate. It'll turn into this next year, but only live for around five days after that. I put it back near the fuchsia, which is apparently its preferred diet as it feeds off nectar.

Elephant Hawk-moth  Deilephila elpenor (Adult) 

Also finally learned what the orange and black ones are that we saw at the reservoir. They used to be incredibly common when I was little, but I hadn't seen them in years. They've got a beautiful name: Cinnabar, after the colour of mercury ore. Also moths, they turn from this:

Into this:


I think they are my favourites because they are so familiar from childhood, and black and red is always dramatic.

My folks have been away in Wales visiting family the past few days, so I've been looking after the animals. 

At 0:58 a little pale fish surfaces to eat, then darts around the pond. This is one of the Butterfly Koi I bought for Mum's birthday last year. They're certainly growing. I know last year I was complaining about that rooster next door, but it came to a sad end as all the chickens were eaten by a fox several months back. Wonder if it read my blog? Ah, cruel nature.

We also have terrapins. At one point there were five, but I think we now only have two. Novel use for a greenhouse. They are about  twenty years old now and were only the size of a 50p piece when we bought them.

I don't particularly enjoy feeding them as they always look more interested in my fingers than the food.

Well, it's been a lovely month in the countryside, picking redcurrants, swimming in the lake, going for long walks, pretending to be a pirate and catching up with old friends, including Harri, Colin and Morgen. Shame about the cold, but at least it didn't interfere with anything too pressing. Also managed to do lots of writing and reading. It may well be winter before I'm back in this neck of the woods.

Mum's Birthday Birdhouse

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Birds of a Feather

What a lovely picture of my mumsy. I packed them off to Bird on the Hand in Market Harborough for M's birthday, to have a go at flying falcons. They had a lovely time and couldn't speak highly enough of the centre, so worth remembering if you live in the area and need a gift idea.

Meanwhile, I have been observing birds of my own... again. This time I am absolutely certain they were having a quickie. Sadly, my phone camera didn't pick up the sound, but I swear the one on the right was cooing the pigeon equivalent of "awi'gh darlin', aws ya father?"

What I think I have learned from careful study of the avian kingdom is: if at first you don't succeed, walk away looking dejected and she will come to you.

A lesson I'm sure we could all benefit from.

On to other winged beasts. This beautiful butterfly paid me a visit the other day whilst I was writing.

I swear I haven't Photoshopped this next picture. I simply took it whilst it was in flight - with very weird results.

My underwater butterfly.

How charming.

Well, I am certainly feeling a lot better than I was, but still terribly sleepy. I'm not panicking about next week just yet, but I have called off the wedding, which is a shame as it was a friend that I used to share a house with in Reading many years ago and haven't seen since. Hoping to catch up with them next time I pass through town. 

The lovely lady Harriet is also back in the Borough for the weekend, but I doubt we'll be up to our usual wine-sozzled selves. Indeed, I fear it may have been over indulgence that caused this little episode. The eternal pleasure/pain theorem laid down by Sod and his laws. 

Maybe a warm Horlicks instead?

Feeling very sorry for myself.

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Autumn Road Trip

I have been so ill over the past week that I have been capable of little except working my way through the first two series of The Borgias. This sees the ironic situation of Frankie from Lip Service acting as a nun alongside a legendary British actor who turned into a bit of a numpty over the equal marriage debate.

At one point she utters the immortal line:

Now I must live my life in penance, praying for forgiveness.

Well, as a career move, that didn't exactly come to pass.

Other non-strenuous activity has included watching pigeons on the roof.

ME: There are two pigeons on the roof outside. I'm not sure whether they're trying to mate or kill each other. Are there any obvious differences?

ZAK: Is this question about pigeons specifically, or is it open to all species? Sometimes, honestly, I can't tell.

I love the way the one on the right holds up its wing as if to say 'I'm gonna give you such a slapping!'

I have had a truly dismal time of late: hideous cold, debilitating auric migraine, and a throat so sore that I lost my voice for three days straight. Before my family could count this as a blessing, I positioned myself in front of the piano and proved quite conclusively that musicality did indeed favour my cousin's branche of the gene pool.

I don't care. That's not what music's about. If we only ever did the things we are good at, well, it would be a very quiet life. Instead, we do the things that we enjoy. Which is murdering classics such as Gary Jules' Mad World (because the dreams in which I'm dying are the best I've ever had) and trying to play Merry-go-round of Life using only my right hand because co-ordination has never been one of my strong points.

I learned Mad World entirely by watching a YouTube tutorial. For those of us who are slow at reading sheet music, it's a quick alternative.

I'm totally down in the dumps. Had to pass up the cinema on Monday for my friend's birthday, and may well miss another friend's wedding party this weekend because I don't think lurgy is a wedding gift they would appreciate.

I have to leave soon and I really need to be in good health by then. Work beckons me to London, then I'm doing a tour of both North and South London before waving off a friend to Rwanda and home to touch base before flying off to Dublin. 

Remember: what doesn't kill you makes you stronger.

Right now I could quite happily dig a hole in the garden and lie in it.

Still, one outcome of The Borgias is that I have taken to reading Machiavelli, and I think it may just have given my antibodies some ideas.

Monday, 12 August 2013

Geek C'est Chic

Having a total geekgasm. Mum's decided to clear out the attic and in the process unearthed a large cardboard box with most of my childhood in it!

Look at this! Vintage VGA Lemmings, Monkey Island on 3.5" floppy, Shufflepuck - which my uncle used to run on an early Apple. Took me ages to track it down for PC. Personal Nightmare, about a village much like ours which was taken over by Satan - Hot Fuzz precursor - and a woman (anyone remember Elvira?)  with huge knockers on the front.
Horror, soft. Hairstyle, hardcore.

I think those were the definers once text-based moved to graphics:

I'm now in possession of a floppy reader and a copy of DosBox. What a blast from the past! To think all computers once used to run from the C:\ prompt! It's incredible how fast it comes back to you. Ugh - nostalgic.

Unfortunately, I haven't managed to get past the compatibility issues yet. Think it may be a lost cause. Any suggestions hugely appreciated.

Another thing I found in the box was a living, almost breathing Matsui auto-reverse walkman!!

The batteries were a bit mouldy so I plugged it into the mains and it only seems to play on double-speed. Everything sounds like it's being sung by the Chipmunks. Tried everything to slow it down but think it's just a bit ancient.

Also found a tape which has confused me horribly.

Side A is a playlist of songs I used to think were dead cool when I was about fifteen. Well, they are dead cool, but I haven't listened to them for many years:

  1. Somewhere Down the Crazy River - Robbie Robertson
  2. Black Magic Woman - Santana
  3. Take Another Little Piece of my Heart - Erma Franklin
  4. The Thrill Has Gone - B.B. King
  5. Take Me to the River - Al Green
  6. Smokestack Lightning - Howlin' Wolf
  7. Right Next Door (Because of Me) - Robert Cray
  8. Fade to Black - Dire Straits
  9. Little Red Rooster - Howlin' Wolf & Eric Clapton
  10. One Bourbon One Scotch and One Beer - John Lee Hooker
  11. All Along the Watchtower - Jimi Hendrix

Those were mostly Merrick's influence. That man can play his guitar.

Side B was also - I thought - a list of songs I liked in my early teens. I just sort of assumed this was a musical time capsule from around the same time as the games.

  1. Romeo and Juliet - Dire Straits
  2. Love and Affection - Joan Armatrading
  3. Wuthering Heights - Kate Bush
  4. Aidia (Born Innocent) - Sarah McLachlan
  5. Patients of Angels - Eddi Reader
  6. Black Velvet - Alannah Myles
  7. You're so Vain - Carly Simon
  8. Tracy - Mogwai
  9. A Little Soul - Pulp

I think everyone was just a little in love with Sarah McLachlan when she played that live, no?

See, that makes sense because it came out in 1997 when I was sixteen.

It all works until the last two, which come from an album called Jesus Life For Children Under 12 Inches. I remember this because it was about my first year of uni and I had a fling with someone who brought it home from the sale bin one evening. Hard to forget as the cover is strewn with naked ladies. I remember lying on the bed drifting off to Tracy and just thinking Kid Loco had done something magical with it.

Funnily enough, I've recently been obsessed with the French drama The Returned. Turns out the creepy music for that was provided by Mogwai. Très cool.

Anyway, digression. I must have been at least 18 or 19 when I first encountered that album, yet they're on a cassette tape with a whole bunch of stuff I liked aged 14/15. 


I assumed we'd all switched to CDs by 1999/2000? Whenever I think about playing music at uni, it was on a CD, not a tape. 

Having said that, I found a 3.5" floppy in the box with a load of coursework on it, so maybe we weren't that technologically advanced. It's crazy this overlap of time. I still remember 5 1/4" floppies, but couldn't tell you when we switched to  hard floppies. Heck, I even remember games on tapes for the ZX Spectrum, but I was little then.

Ho hum. 

I feel like I'm living that episode of Futurama where Fry buys the tin of anchovies and converts his house back to the the 90s. It would be kind of interesting, just for a day. I miss ASKII art, coding MUDs, and web addresses that stretched on for miles. Back when the Internet was Fidonet and something mysterious, littered with BBSes like Karnak and Demon's Domain. It's all gone a bit mainstream since.

Sunday, 11 August 2013

Pirates' Day

Learn to speak like a pirate!

Garrr me'arties! T'was Pirates' Day down at me nephew's sailing club yesterday, in aid of Sailability.

Much fun had by all.

Bandanna - Check.

Stripy Tights - Check
Motley Crew - Check

Three teams had to build their rafts then race out to collect the flag.

Aided by one of the boats facing a technical issue...

... and under the expert helmswomanship of Captain Lizzie, my nephew's boat sailed on to take the flag.

Unfortunately, they were ambushed by the other two crews on the way back and dragged into the water by a particularly vicious all-girl crew who almost succeeded in drowning them and taking the flag!

Eventually, Captain Lizzie managed to wrestle it back and returned it to Wendy to win.


I then ran to the loo to do a quick change into Normality Girl before heading over to Thornby to ring for another wedding.

It's a strange little church with no back door for the ringers, so you have to shuffle in towards the end, before they walk down the aisle. It's also an open belfry, so people can watch. 

Some nice quirks, including a large organ and an unusual font.


The best feature of all though, is the pub at the end of the road.

It was a gorgeous, sunny day and we sat outside enjoying it with a well-deserved pint. 

By the powers! More pirate booty!

Then it was back home for a shower and change before heading off to my mate Col's leaving do. He's off to teach in Kuwait! Excellent night, including Galaxy fondue and plenty of interesting conversation. He will be sorely missed. Hoping to do food before he finally leaves.

Sparkly Doctor Who Cupcakes!

Thursday, 8 August 2013

Ravensthorpe Walk

Mam and I went for a walk yesterday around Ravensthorpe reservoir. We used to come here loads, but neither of us had been in a long time.

Here's some photos. If you click on them they should enlarge - especially good for these panoramics.

On the Bridge

The Old Water Pump

Other Side of the Lake

Walking down the hill.


In the woods.

Crossing the bridge.

The old pump house.

Canada Geese



Miscanthus grass, grown for eco-fuel.

Pretty cottage in Coton


It was really nice, and we ended up in the pub for a pint with friends.

Also went back to the New Inn at Long Buckby the other day for another pint of draft Hobs.

We were visiting Aunty Heron, who was up preparing Celia for her tri-annual MOT.

Walking to the boat, we passed another one which was actually called Heron!  It had a rather unfortunate sign in the window...


Watching boat approaching lock from the comfort of pub.

Also worthy of note this week is the croque-monsieur that mam made for breakfast the other day. Best breakfast ever? Quite possibly.

It's Pirate's Day at my nephew's sailing club on Saturday. Expect funny photos to follow...