Thursday, December 29, 2011

Happy New Year

Illuminati by The original SimonB
Illuminati, a photo by The original SimonB on Flickr.
Er, hello!

Been a busy few weeks what with Christmas and having to put a new floor down in our dining room (curses on the previous occupants, praises to Our Lords of Black and Decker for their marvellous power tools and workmate) as well as moving office at the start of the month and just life in general getting in the way.

Anyway, hope everyone had a happy holiday and here's to 2012. When I hope to be a bit f a better blogger...

Friday, October 21, 2011

Empty Rooms

Our office is a bit like the Marie Celeste these days.  Half of those who used to work here have been shipped out to new locations, and about a quarter of the others took the money and ran so those of us who remain are rattling round somewhat.  At the time of writing, there are only three of us making use of the 20 desks I can see from my perch.  Still, we are being shipped out to a different office ourselves soon where it will all be noise and crowds again.  In fact so crowded that the 30 in our team are only being allocated 23 desks, so we will have to rely on holidays, sickness, study and site visits to ensure that we never all need to be in at once.  Worse still, it is out on the edge of town rather than in the centre, so my lunchtime wanderings are not going to be as interesting - although presumably not so expensive either.  Although we will be right next door to ASDA.

As such we are going through another orgy of archiving or chucking stuff out.  It always amazes me how much junk manages to accumulate over a short space of time.  Partly through the previous unreliability of our networks driving people to print and file every email they receive.  Folders and folders of them litter the desks, shelves and cupboards and never actually get referred to again.  Maybe one day the paperless office will become a reality, but I can't see it for a few years yet.

Anyway, that's all I've really got to say today.  Just want to add that if you've ever (a) read a book or (b) bought a book you'll probably enjoy Jen Campbell's blog, and if you do then she's doing a great poetry project to raise some money for a worthwhile charity here.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Communal Comedy

Got a bit of an insight into two different aspects of life last night - communal living and political activism.  Josie Long's Alternative Reality Tour came to the Old Hall commune in East Bergholt and we went along to be entertained and educated.  The tour is visiting places that don't normally get on the normal touring map, and is being organised largely through word of mouth and twittering.  A bit more organised than Amanda Palmer's "Ninja gigs" but along the same line.

I had completely forgotten there was an active commune in the birthplace of Constable (and Tory safe seat!) but they have been living in Old Hall since the 70s and all seem to be doing well on it.  I think most of the residents were there for the show along with as handful of us outsiders - we were made welcome and didn't feel like we were intruding on their home.  The idea of communal living has never really appealed to me.  Being thrown in with strangers at college was strange enough so I'm not sure I could handle life with more than just the immediate family (i.e. Mrs B) around.  Heck, some days I get annoyed by the next door  neighbour popping in (or indeed, just being on the other side of the fence when we are in the garden).

Still, the concepts of living as susatinably as possible, raising your own food, helping each other out and generally being nice to one another are all ones I fully endorse.  Good luck to one and all - not that they seem to need it.

The show itself was superb.  I've been a fan of Josie for a while through the Utter Shambles podcasts she does with Robin Ince, Twitter and other places - although not actually seen her perform before.  That's something I still haven't quite got used to in this interconnected modern world - being able to know a lot about someone, appreciate their humour/message/whatever without ever having actually experienced what they do most of the time.  In this sort of field it goes far beyond, say, liking a band's music but not owning any of their records or having been to see them live.

Part of the ethos for this tour is "anti-cuts" and trying to get people inspired to find alternatives to the budget slashing going on around us right now and take action against it.  With both of us working in the public sector and being under constant threat of being the victim of the cuts I'm right behind this.  And if you can make people laugh at the same time then so much the better in my book.  The venue was just right for the message (in fact we were in the old chapel (now de-consecrated) rather than just loose in the hall) with a teeny stage and a few standard lamps, leaving us free to concentrate on the matter in hand.  I had thought about taking a camera to capture the moment but decided against it in the end as I know I would have ended up more bothered by angles and framing rather than being part of the audience.

As with the communists (!) I'm not sure I could ever get as directly involved in taking action - always a bit paranoid about unforeseen consequences - but fully support those who do.  I have the convictions but not the courage I guess.  Having followed the student protests, UKuncut occupations etc it was fascinating to hear more from someone who'd been on the inside.

We also had sublime music from Aisha and Grace Petrie and a bit more comedy from Tom.

All told, a great way to spend an evening at a remarkably reasonable cost (i.e. free!).  If you get the chance, catch one of the rest of the tour dates.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

What we did on our holidays

OK, so it is nearly two weeks back at work now, but it was very nice to have a couple of weeks off at the start of the month.

As may be reasonably obvious from this picture, we did have a day in London amongst the excursions. This time we did two thirds of the National Maritime Museum (i.e. the museum itself and the Queen's House). Both of those were excellent and I can highly recommend the 16" West bistro at the museum too. We ran out of energy at that point though so the Observatory is left on the list for another visit. Hopefully one with better weather as, to be frank, it chucked it down for a lot of the day. Which made the river bus back to Westminster a rather damp experience. Great views though and a surprisingly fast cruise.

Other days out included plane and tram museums, assorted buildings in the heritage open days scheme, local delights of Aldeburgh and Bury St Edmunds and a couple of walks on the beach.

We also used a few days clearing and rebuilding our bedroom, with a new carpet thrown in during the process. All fun and games.

Pictures of all of that can be found in the usual place (click on Canary Wharf then have a rummage around!).

What surprised me most though was how much I have struggled to get back into things on returning to work. After a couple of days catching up on emails it was theoretically into the new job, but in actual fact things are much as before. We hardly see our new boss, have been given no clues as to whether we should still be doing the same stuff and are generally floundering around looking for jobs to tide us over. Assuming there will be a big change coming of course.

There are increasing rumours that we will be moving office, and went up to see the new place the other day. Not that impressed with the building (small and already crowded, with no room for more people I could see and no space for more cars to park either) or it being out of town, so no decent lunchtime wandering to be had.

All of which leaves me feeling just as unsettled as I was before knowing I still had a job and what it was.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

And lo September arrived and a new era dawned. Or, yesterday I couldn't even spell Engynear and now I are one!

After 5 months or so of consultation, discussion, uncertainty, drip-feed of information, interviews and worry we find ourselves in a new working structure today. All intended to make us a leaner and meaner organisation realising large savings and get us into shape for another restructuring, joint working company or straightforward sell-off to the private sector in 2013. In theory I now have new managers at the two levels above my direct supervisor (who hasn't changed) and a whole bunch of new colleagues shuffled around from different teams in the old way of thinking.

In practice I am sat on my own at my usual desk with emptiness all around due to most of the rest of the new team being on holiday and a large chunk of the old having moved out to new locations. And I have a new job title to put in my email signature or on letters should I get any that need answering today. Yesterday I was a Senior Passenger Transport Infrastructure Officer while now I am a Project Development Engineer. But I'm still doing the same work as far as I can tell.

I'm sure it will all work out soon enough, but right now I feel at a bit of a loose end with nothing concrete to be getting on with and a feeling that I ought to be getting some Engineering skills training. Not that I might ever use it, but now I've got the job title I feel I ought to get the knowledge.

Still, only got today and tomorrow to fumble through then I'm off for two weeks much needed break myself. No doubt everything will become clearer when I get back. And MrsB is in town today so I'll be meeting her for lunch.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Into the Groove

Into the Groove by The original SimonB
Into the Groove, a photo by The original SimonB on Flickr.

I know I've been lax with this recently. Still can't think of anything earth-shattering to write, so here's part one of somehting I satrted a couple of years ago and really ought to get on with. Maybe publishing this bit will spur me on.

Music has provided the background to my life for as long as I can remember as well as being the focus for a number of key moments. If I’m not deliberately listening to something then I still have music running through my head (sometimes even when I am listening to something I’ll get another song intrude). I can’t shut it off. Sometimes it gets distracting when I want to concentrate but I’d rather have it there than not.

There was always music in our house, usually Dad’s choice of whatever he fancied (often classical but also lots of stuff from the 60s) and this wasn’t confined to the living room. I know my brother and I both had large valve radios we used to listen to, complete with little diamond shape stickers plastered over the front to indicate where each station could be found – no presets back then! Mine was attached to the underside of an old breakfast bar installed in my room as a large desk. Known as “the bar” until we moved out of the house it served as base for a thousand lego creations, half-written stories, airfix kits and was somewhere for homework to be tackled. But most importantly it was big enough to put a pair of speakers on and still leave room to use the rest. Sometime after the original transplant from the kitchen the bar gained an annex. A white conti-board construction, featuring one shelf just underneath the level of the bar and three open sections underneath used for storage. Two of them got filled with comics and magazines but what went on the shelf meant the third section got reserved.

My own record player. A Garrard 401 or 404 if memory serves. And with it a Pye integrated radio/amp/cassette player and all linked up to the speakers on the bar. The tape player in the Pye was later condemned to idleness by the arrival of a Panasonic tape deck with proper recording level controls and everything.

I’m not sure how Ma & Pa managed it as I remember getting the kit as a birthday present very clearly. As was traditional at the time presents were given out downstairs straight after breakfast and among other stuff that time has erased I unwrapped three LPs: K-Tel compilation “Music Explosion” (Seasons In The Sun, Kung-Fu Fighting and 20 others), David Essex – Rock On and the inevitable classical selection “Rock Gently with Beethoven, Bach and Brahms”. Anyway, on going back upstairs I found the kit to play them on all nicely set up and ready to rock – Dad must have done it while I was having breakfast or something.

The interwebs tell me that Music Explosion was a 1974 release with the other two from 1973. So I would imagine this birthday was therefore either 1976 or 1977. I can’t imagine getting all that kit at age 4 in 1975 but at the same time can’t remember not having my own reproduction equipment so am not going to sweat on the details. I do remember the lectures on how to look after everything, cleaning the records before use (hello the EMItex cloth and Dust Bug), only holding them by their edges and so forth. That certainly left an impression as I have vivid memories of being a little know-it-all explaining to friends that their Dad’s records skipped because of all the finger prints be-smearing the surfaces. And at primary school we always went in to assembly to a record being played by a carefully selected duo of kids from the oldest class. When it finally got to be my turn I brought the EMItex in and cleaned all the records for the first time in years.

As well as the instructions to look after them, something else about the way Dad kept his records must have rubbed off as well. Until the mid 80s the albums were stored in the “bar annex” in the order I got them. Complete with a little red sticker in the top left corner with the number of acquisition on (these came from a Sasco year-planner which arrived one Christmas and was never used other than as a source of stickers, I later upgraded to letraset directly applied to the sleeve for anything with a light enough background). Unfortunately at some point this chronological system was replaced with a shift to storing alphabetically by artist and then within each artist in order of release; the stickers were removed and the letraset scratched off and all I have now is a bunch of scarred sleeves to testify to the old ways. They were all catalogued in a notebook as well, complete with track listings and carefully copied band and record label logos, which I wish I still had but has also been lost along the way. Probably when it got replaced by a database on the ZX Spectrum which has been continually updated and replaced via Atari ST and has now moved on to the PC.

That means that although I can make some good guesses I can’t be sure exactly of what albums followed the initial three. By the time I moved up to secondary school in September 1982 there were three sets from Geoff Love and his orchestra adapting themes from tv and film sci-fi into a disco style, a rip-off of the Star Wars soundtrack by an outfit known as The Sonic All-Stars (this is the first album I can remember buying with my own money), the real soundtrack to Return Of The Jedi, a Monkees collection on Music For Pleasure (I’ve just looked and it carried no release date), some Abba, some Madness and Dare from the Human League. But what order they arrived in can only be guessed at by the dates they hit the shops. Scattered in amongst this lot, and with the first two albums definitely being acquired the wrong way round (probably a Christmas present for the second followed by the first two months later as a birthday present), were the four albums released up to that point by the band I could not get enough of.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Too much information?

Ransome Boats by The original SimonB
Ransome Boats, a photo by The original SimonB on Flickr.

So when, exactly, does an interest tip over to become an obsession?

I am currently reading Arthur Ransome's "Racundra's First Cruise", a tale of sailing on the Baltic just after the First World War. It is a book I've been wanting to read for some 30+ years since I first noticed it listed in the front of one of the Swallows and Amazons series. Not continually I should add, interest has waxed and waned over that time, and even now it has sat on the shelf for over four months before I could bring myself to make a start. Anticipation being part of the pleasure of any book for me. But, a quick count up reveals I now have 24 books by or about Ransome with a couple more sat on my Amazon wish list... (Oh, and the Swallows and Amazons film on DVD plus audio versions of 8 books, a radio play and a documentary and have also been aboard three of his yachts - as pictured above).

That's not the highest tally for any one author (f'rinstance Terry Pratchett has reached number 38 in the Discworld series plus there are all the other non-Discworld books, spin-offs, graphic novel versions etc) but I'm not sure that counts as obsessive. Just following the works of a good author. I'm thinking more about what level of interest goes beyond this.

I used to think I was well up on Human Origins, with 8 or 9 books on the subject (and one or two more I'd borrowed from the library) but that's really nothing to the Space Programme (15) or Maps (20+) or Transport in general (over 50 - heck I seem to have accumulated at least 20 books by Top Gear presenters or spun-off from the magazine). But is this normal behaviour?

OK, I know that compared to much of the population even owning one book doesn't count as normal, but among those who do have a shelf or two?

Whatver the answer, I'm not going to stop now, even if I do need to get some books on carpentry and work out the best way to knock up some more shelves...

Saturday, June 11, 2011

On the Telly

OK, I know I've talked about the thrill of seeing somewhere familiar in the tellybox before, but ITV have taken it to a new level this week with Injustice, a "psychological thriller" stripped across all five days and largely shot in and around, well, here. Written by Suffolk local Anthony Horowitz, we have a lawyer and his family enjoying life by the sea in our delightful County. Except they are not explicit about much of this in the script, and certainly take a few liberties with reality. So I'm having fun spotting what is masquerading as where and trying to work out the bits I don't recognise at all. And of course while I know that this sort of thing goes on all the time (e.g. Cardiff being the entire universe in Doctor Who) it does reinforce the message that you can't use tv drama as a tourist guide when planning a holiday. The only other major show we have had up here of late was the dramatisation of the Ipswich Murders (Five Daughters) which was shot in Bristol to avoid upsetting the residents too much, but did feature some beautiful establishing and wide shots of the town as well as actual news footage from the time. This time we have also been mercifully free from bad attempts at Suffolk accents, unlike when Inspector Linley had a mystery to solve in "Suffolk" once (but with no recognisable geography).

Anyway, for those thinking about coming up to Suffolk on the strength of the locations, here's my reasonably spoiler-free rough guide to what is where (or where it definitely isn't):

Let us start with the house of Dervla Kirwan and James Purefoy. The town they live in is not specified other than it being coastal and with Ipswich being their mainline station/local court for him to work at. However, it is definitely Southwold as the pier and beach feature prominently, along with a few shots of beach huts.

Here in Felixstowe we had bad guys living on one of the static caravan parks down by the docks, and a long sequence showing our sea front in all its faded glory. They managed to make it very confusing by digitally dropping in some tower blocks (which play a key part in the plot). As you can see from the picture above, they really aren't there...

Staying in Felixstowe we have the station building here pretending to be the outside of Ipswich Station (with big Welcome to Ipswich signs just to prove the point). Of course they couldn't use the bit of our station where trains actually stop as we only have one small platform now, cut off from the still-impressive building as seen on TV by the car park. In real life, our station building now houses a few small shops, a community radio station, a pub, a cafe and the entrance to a supermarket. Still, they did use the car park as a car park, so that bit was real! No idea where the platforms they filmed at were though, didn't look like any I am familiar with and the few glimpses of trains seen were not ones that run around here either.

The bus we saw leaving from "Ipswich" station in episode 1 was indeed a genuine Ipswich Buses vehicle, even if they don't actually run to Framlingham (in fact there isn't a direct service from the station either). Mind you, the bus stop in the middle of nowhere certainly wasn't one of mine (I'd have made them one special and everything if they'd asked) and the flag was poorly positioned on the pole, probably breaking traffic signs regulations.

Bits I haven't identified include: The court building (definitely not Ipswich Crown Court, and not another building around town I recognise), the police station (again, not Ipswich or the force HQ at Martlesham) and the young offenders institute (although that is no doubt meant to represent Warren Hill at Hollesley Bay). Fields driven through in the middle of nowhere could well be local, although some of them seemed a bit too hilly to me... And of course while lots of the London locations were very recognisable there was also much that I probably wouldn't recognise if you dropped me there.

Mrs B, however, is just upset that Dervla was in town and she didn't get to see her... And you can see it all on the ITV plyer for next few weeks.

Monday, June 06, 2011

Show Time!

Aaah, the County Agricultural Show. One of the few places where high fashion, bowler hatted stewards, farming tweeds and replica football kits get to rub shoulders with each other. Usually in the queue for an organic hog roast or artisan-made ice cream. While wearing wellies (although not this year due to the recent lack of rain).

We had the Suffolk Show last week and spent an enjoyable day poking the animals and gawping at the fashionistas. I do so enjoy the sight of a young farmer (or farmer's wife I suppose) dressed up to the nines and going gooey over a duckling or haggling on a hand crafted objet d'art alongside the general populace in their scruffiest "day out where you might get a bit muddy" attire.

Things were improved somewhat further this year by a ban on all dogs within the showground. With the exception of those actively engaged in demonstrations of hunting or rounding up sheep or helping the disadvantaged find their way around, all the other canines were banished to a different field. It made a nice change to be able to sit down with an ice cream or lunch and not to have to (a) check the ground first and (b) worry about a sandwich thieving mutt slobbering past. Hopefully they will ban the smokers next.

I always enjoy a look at the old tractors (sad, I know) and you can't beat the animals for a good day out. Lots of pictures on flickr if you click on the horsey abhove to go through to the set...

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Flame on

Home From Home by The original SimonB
Home From Home, a photo by The original SimonB on Flickr.

OK, so I missed last year due to laziness but the Summer Burn has opened for 2011 registration HERE and I'm in again.

If you don't know the score, sign up, burn a couple of CDs of your fave summery tunes and then send them off to the addresses you get given and receive a matched pair in return. Usually good fun, highly enjoyable and worth a punt in my book.

And if anyone wants to do a direct swap with me as well as or instead of taking a chance on the official burn then leave a comment and we'll sort out the address exchange.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Faded Formats

Faded Formats 6 by The original SimonB
Faded Formats 6, a photo by The original SimonB on Flickr.

So last night I finally caved in and paid for my first ever music download (Mr Blue Sky by Jim Bob (you know, him off of Carter) which is to be the theme for a new Radio 4 comedy written by Andrew Collins and starting next week). I'm not sure where I stand on the technological progress line between early adopter and total luddite, but I guess this step has been a long time coming.

I've been a ready purchaser of music for as long as I can remember (starting with a rip off version of the Star Wars soundtrack performed by the Sonic All Stars) but I guess I have been putting this move off for a long time. I like an object when I splash my cash, and this was the first song I have wanted to own that I can't get in a physical format. And it feels a bit odd to have it this way - do I now add it to my database of owned music or not?

It was a wrench for me when I started buying some albums on cassette rather than vinyl. While I had gathered a few that way over the years I can remember precisely the moment that size of medium and non-scratchability outweighed the ease of being able to drop the needle on any given LP track.

October 1986 and a family day trip to London during half term. Before we hit the main objective of the day (a museum visit) we had time to visit the Virgin Megastore on Oxford Street. The fact that I would have to carry them around with me for the rest of the day meant I ended up purchasing Emotional by Falco and Crash by the Human League on tape. OK, so they then went in my pockets but it somehow felt wrong. Especially as we then went on to buy a socking great dot-matrix printer around the corner on Tottenham Court Road and took turns carrying that for the rest of the day.

After that the die was cast and a succession of Walkmen were stuffed with tape after tape bought from the shops, rather than ones I'd recorded myself. Even the arrival of our first CD player in the house (and then my own) didn't stop me buying albums on tape despite the limitations of easy access to any given song and dodgy sound quality (well, they were half the price) until my final year at college in the early 90s. Something I regret now as there are stacks of them moldering away in the corner of my study and never being played.

But, if that day 26 years ago heralded the begining of the end of my vinyl purchases, have I now done the same for CDs? Probably not, because if nothing else for as long as they can be picked up on the high street or with the weekly shop I will continue to do just that. And my car stereo has no input jack so I'll need a continual supply of discs for the foreseeable there as well.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

A false sense of security

We have just spent a slightly dull 20 minutes in the park at the end of the road following a security evacuation drill.

It was announced that a "specific security threat to the building" had been received and we were told to collect our belongings then given a three minute countdown to evacuation. That was the first clue that this might only be a drill as normally the policy is to leave anything behind and get out as quickly and safely as possible.

The second clue was that nobody was trying to stop traffic passing the place and the third that nobody was moving all the children on the Ipswich Town practice pitch which is right next door. If there was a chance of a bomb going off in a building with this much glass then I would have expected the innocents to be cleared away from the potential shrapnel zone. Still, it made a change from a fire drill I suppose.

We did have a genuine security evacuation about five years ago (having to leave for three hours while the Police searched every floor) but I don't think anything was found then. Given the current fuss over our leader and councillors (e.g. see post below) I wouldn't have been surprised if there had been an actual threat from a disgruntled council tax-payer.

Now, what was I doing before we were so rudely interrupted?

Wednesday, April 06, 2011


Protest! by The original SimonB Protest!, a photo by The original SimonB on Flickr.

Someone is a bit upset about recent cuts to bus services and has plastered our bus station and other town centre stops with a range of stickers like this one. So now I am going to have to pay our cleaners extra to remove them all, further biting into the revenue budget that could have been used for services... I must say the perpetrator has put a lot of time and effort into producing the different stickers, but they are in many ways aimed at the wrong person. The role of the chief exec is to implement the policies set by the elected councillors after all...

Monday, March 21, 2011

Another Mr Angry on the phone

Westleton relic by The original SimonB

Westleton relic a photo by The original SimonB on Flickr.

OK, I know I'm ever so slightly biased as it is part of my job to decide locations for them, but I do fail to understand quite how worked up people can get over the presence of a bus stop somewhere in the vicinity of their house. And let us be clear about this, I am not talking about a bus shelter, or a raised kerb for wheelchair access or even something as sinister as a timetable display case. Just a simple sign on a pole (and often on a lamp column that was there already, rather than a purpose built post). And in at least 9 out of 10 of complaints we are talking about locations that have been bus stops (not necessarily marked with a flag, but registered with us, with the bus companies and showing up on Google Maps) for as long as anyone can remember.

Over the years I have been accused of:
Endangering lives - if people are waiting at the bus stop when I want to pull in or out of my drive I won't be able to see and may hit them/oncoming traffic. Well, try looking with your eyes, and anyway it is rare indeed for most stops to actually have someone waiting for most services.

Ruining sleep - how can I get any rest with a bus stop outside my house? This is a pretty rural county and we only have two bus services that run past 11pm, and one of those sticks to the A12, and only a handful that start before 7am. Apologies to the night shift people, but the road would be there anyway and, indeed, so would the buses be passing by.

Devaluing property - I want at least £10,000 in compensation as that's what my house has lost in value. Er, no it hasn't. In fact, in this day and age I can see people choosing a house because there is a stop handy and they don't need to buy that car.

Destroying property - my 16th century cottage is being shaken to pieces by bus-induced vibrations or people waiting are leaning on my wall and knocking it down/leaving marks on it. You can prove that can you? We survey our stops regularly so I've got photos of your house going back at least ten years I can look for cracks on...

And so much more. My pet favourite is when children can no longer play in the garden because somebody might look in from the upper deck. Which, again, they could have been doing all along as the bus route has been passing your hosue for years.

MrsB and I lived with a bus stop outside our flat before we bought the house and it never bothered us one little bit. And that had a shelter and everything. OK, so some stops get kids hanging around them with nothing better to do, but then so do 100 other street corners without a bus stop and I'm not taking responsibility for that one.

There are more pressing things in this world to worry about.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Down down, deeper and down

Mind the step by The original SimonB

Mind the step a photo by The original SimonB on Flickr.

I'm currently reading Underground England by Stephen Smith, a follow-up to his previous book based on the capital Underground London. Both take us below the streets and fields of every day life to see what lurks beneath in tunnels, vaults, burial chambers and so forth. They also both stretch their definitions somewhat by covering issues that are blatantly above ground or underwater, but could be classed as "underground" in the sense of hidden or clandestine.

While I have never wanted to join the pot-holing or caving fraternity, I don't object to wandering about with a few feet of rock or building above my head when the opportunity arises. I enjoy the Underground in London for the simple fact that it exists despite all the engineering challenges they faced to build it as well as for it being a reasonably effective way from getting from a to b. And I'm more than happy to wander around a "show cave" in the Peak District or Cheddar Gorge when the opportunity arises.

But as well as the obvious and accessible deepness, what both of these books offer is a glimpse into the support structure of our daily lives. Peering through the gaps in the floorboards and negotiating with disinterested beuracracy is just as interesting as what becomes revealed through these actions. We all know what we do in our own daily lives, and how those we come into contact with don't often appreciate the backstage stuff that gets them their loaf of bread, bus stop or X-ray. What Smith has done in these two tomes is illuminate a whole bunch of institutions that help keep us going and also happen to be "below stairs" - literally or metaphorically.

There are more academic works out there about what goes on beneath our feet (London Under London by Trench and Hillman being one I would also recommend) but as an introductory delve I'd say you can't go far wrong with these.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

How can this be true?

So yesterday I changed the first digit of my age again. Sure doesn't seem like 10 years since the last time that happened. Been spoilt rotten over the whole weekend with some lovely meals, top presents and lots of time with MrsB.

And no, my teeth haven't fallen out, I've not gone grey (well, greyer) overnight and my knees still work.

So, now life can really begin as they say.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

In between the towers

So we had our first proper day out of the year on Saturday - a jaunt down to the Tower of London care of cheap coach tickets and a two-for-one entrance voucher. I'm sure the places that do still charge have got disproportionally more expensive since we got free entry to so many other museums etc. Anyway the two offers combined gave us a relatively inexpensive blast of history and we made sure to get the best value out of it. The tower website has suggestions for what to do if you only have 1, 2, or 3 hours to spare for your visit (I can't imagine anyone being prepared to spend £17 a head for only one hour, but there were people already leaving when we arrived just after 10) and we stretched it out to 6. The weather was not the best for photos as while dry the skies stayed grey all day, but clicking on the picture will take you to more on flickr.

It was a pleasant surprise to find that while there have been many changes since MrsB and I last visited some 15 years ago, they have mostly been for the better. Most of the material on display in the various towers is still presented with "here are the facts" boards rather than some ghastly interactive nonsense, and while there was one area with a trio of actors attempting to get people involved it was definitely the only one. Of course there are still plenty of Yeoman Warders/Beefeaters wandering about and giving tours (free!) as well as other custodians, but they were good at blending into the background while still being obvious for those with questions. I lost count of how many steps we went up and down through the various towers and wall walks though.

Despite never having lived there, I feel almost as at home in London as I do, well, at home. OK so we go down fairly often and always have done, and every other show on the TV manages to squeeze in gratuitous establishing shots of the landmarks even if the action takes place in some dingy back street, but that doesn't explain why I feel comfortable with the city. Take me to other large centres and I can feel very tense and nervous of crowds - maybe I just expect it here so don't notice it so much. We also had a short stroll along the river bank before heading for home whcih was nice and again highlighted a few places to add to future visits.

I do think it is important to keep visiting places such as this whenever we have the chance. It is all too easy to dismiss them as something for the tourists and forget about what we do have at home (well, not exactly at home for someone living in Felixstowe, but you know what I mean). Not sure where our next target for a trip will be. Since listening to the History of the World in 100 Objects series I do want to go back to the British Museum and see them in the flesh so to speak, but there are so many other places we haven't seen at all.

This weekend we have a trip to a local theatre for an adaptation of three Dickens Ghost stories which promises to be spooky, then the weekend after that I seem to be turning 40 so frankly anything could happen.

Friday, January 28, 2011

25 years gone

Originally uploaded by The original SimonB
Just discovered it is 25 years since the Challenger launch explosion put the brakes on the US space programme and changed the lives of more than just the seven folks on board. I can see the explosion happening and the SRBs spiralling off as clear in my mind as if it had happened yesterday. A real tragic event. More here.

I know the remainder of the fleet is due to be grounded this year, but I am a child of the space age. I'd still give anything for a ride into the blackness on that big white bus. My admiration for those who do knows no limits.

Still not acheived my ambition of watching something go up in the flesh, but maybe if I start saving today we'll have enough in the bank for when the Orion/Aries or whatever they do build starts to fly.

And of course this means that in a day or two it will also be 25 years since Jean-Michel Jarre's Rendez-vous Houston concert, the tv broadcast of which is forever etched in my memory due to the snippets of crown footage they slipped in between the songs that then turned up on the album as well. "Kids, get off my car". "The most amazing sight ever seen by the human eye".

Thursday, January 20, 2011

For those in peril on the sea

HMS Quorn
Originally uploaded by The original SimonB
OK, this is the third attempt to commit what I'm thinking into words (and you really wouldn't want to see the previous drafts) and it is going to have to go something like this.

Having just listened to a reading of Alistair Maclean's HMS Ulysses I am once again staggered by what people go through in times of conflict and would really like to dig deeper into the ships, the convoys and general life at sea. OK, so I know that is a work of fiction, but it has a pretty good grounding in the reality of the matter. Even I can recognise a lot of the truth of the descriptions from a few cross channel and north sea ferries and a trip around HMS Belfast.

My Grandfather served in the navy during the Second World War, but like many of his contemporaries was reluctant to talk about the experience. I don't know why some people close off that whole area of the past while others go on to write books, make films, set up web sites and so forth and generally spend all their time expounding on the subject. Maybe there is a corellation between those who talk or not about their history in the forces and whether they were willingly in the fray or reluctant draftees, I'm sure the answer is out there if I wanted to look.

Anyway, I do sometimes wish that Grandpa had fallen a bit more into the latter category as there is so much I would have liked to ask him while he was still around to be asked. So here's a cheer for Stanley for going through it all when the country needed it, and thanks for those who are able to keep it in our minds.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Football unfocus

You can always tell when Ipswich Town are playing a home evening game. Large chunks of the office get up and leave early in order to go home, have a bite and get changed before coming back for the match. An equally large proportion stays late at their desks then goes straight over (the office is literally next door to the ground). This leaves the rest of us wondering what all the fuss is really about. Especially the way they have been playing recently.

With every result, hiring or firing of manager or players reported across the local media and discussed endlessly around me during the day I know far more about the workings of football than I ever thought I might pick up. While I may have watched the odd cup final or other game on the tv there is no way I could ever be described as a football fan, and yet I do seem to care about what goes on inside the stadium next door.

And good luck to the new manager as well - I can't imagine why anyone would ever want to take on a job like that. More to the point, I don't understand why it is always the manager that seems to get all the blame when things go badly, but the players who are praised when teams are winning. Surely they are both equally responsible either way?

I have been inside Portman Road on numerous occasions for meetings (it being a handy venue and all that) and also to see Bryan Adams back in 1992, but the only football I have been in to view was a charity tournament on the practice pitch. That's where the picture above comes from - a team from the office entered and did fairly well (but quite how well I can no longer recall).

I have tried to catch the bug properly in the past in order to fit in with friends, but it just doesn't grab me. Perhaps I need to go to a proper professional game but at those prices I'd rather take MrsB out to the theatre AND have a good meal as well.

So while I won't be joining those shivering in the stands tonight I will keep an eye out for the result later, if only so as not to put my foot in it when I get to work in the morning.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Another year of reading

OK, nobody asked for it but as I've been logging my books again for another year here's the full list. As with last year, audio books are in italics.

Peter Biddlecombe - The United Burger States Of America
Ian Hislop (Ed) - Private Eye Annual 2009
Terry Pratchett - Nation
Michael Harvey (Ed) - Top Gear Top Drives
Stephen Cole - Doctor Who: Sting Of The Zygons
Simon Schama - A History of Britain III: The Fate of Empire 1776-2000
Terry Pratchett - Sourcery
Matthew Brzezinski - Red Moon Rising
Terry Pratchett - Wyrd Sisters
Ian Fleming - Octopussy And The Living Daylights
David Eddings - Domes Of Fire
Emma Kennedy - The Tent, The Bucket And Me
Terry Pratchett - Unseen Academcals
Mark Cawardine - Last Chance To See
David Eddings - The Shining Ones
Mike Parker - Map Addict
David Eddings - The Hidden City
J. K. Rowling - The Tales Of Beedle The Bard
Terry Pratchett - Guards! Guards!
Mitch Albom - The Five People You Meet In Heaven
Terry Pratchett - Eric

Julian May - Conqueror's Moon
Stuart Maconie - Adventures On The High Teas
Elizabeth-Jane Grose - See Felixstowe With Me
Kim Stanley Robinson - Red Mars
Kim Stanley Robinson - Green Mars
Julian May - Ironcrown Moon
Kim Stanley Robinson - Blue Mars
Richard Hammond - As You Do
Terry Pratchett - Moving Pictures
Dava Sobel - Longitude
Terry Pratchett - Reaper Man

Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond & James May - Top Gear: The Best Of The Columns
Terry Pratchett - Witches Abroad
Julian May - Sorcerer's Moon
Mike Gayle - Turning Thirty
Terry Pratchett - Small Gods
Alan H. Cohen - Mr Everit's Secret
Neil Gaiman & Charles Vess - Stardust
Stephen Smith - Underground London
Charlie Connolly - And Did Those Feet
Terry Pratchett - Lords And Ladies
Vonda N. McIntyre - Star Trek IV - The Voyage Home
Dan Brown - The Lost Symbol
Terrance Dicks - Doctor Who And The Planet Of The Spiders
Neil Gaiman - Coraline
Mike Durrant - Felixstowe - Then And Now
Jeremy Clarkson - For Crying Out Loud: The World According To Clarkson 3
Terry Pratchett - Men At Arms
Alistair Maclean - The Way To Dusty Death
Martin Lampen - The Knickerbocker Glory Years
Jim Lovell and Jeffrey Kluger - Apollo 13 (Lost Moon)
Will Self - Grey Area
Seb Hunter - Hell Bent For Leather
Maxwell Roberts - Underground Maps Unravelled
Martin Day - Doctor Who: Wooden Heart
Bill Bryson - Down Under
Terrance Dicks - Doctor Who And The Giant Robot
Tony Hillerman - The First Eagle
Mark Barrowcliffe - The Elfish Gene
Terry Pratchett - Soul Music
Terry Pratchett & Jacqueline Simpson - The Folklore Of Discworld
Bill Bryson - A Short History Of Nearly Everything
Oli Smith - Doctor Who: The Runaway Train
Lynne Truss - Get Her Off The Pitch
Jenni Davis & Gill Knappett (Eds) - Ghosts Of Warwick Castle
Terry Pratchett - Interesting Times
Richard Dawkins - The Ancestor's Tale
Paddy Heazell - Most Secret: The Hidden History Of Orford Ness
Neil Gaiman - The Graveyard Book
Terry Pratchett - Maskerade
Matthew Engel - Eleven Minutes Late
Neil Gaiman - Smoke And Mirrors
Boris Starling - Messiah
Terry Pratchett - Feet Of Clay
Ben Goldacre - Bad Science
Mark Gatiss - The Vesuvius Club
John Lloyd and John Mitchinson - The QI Book Of Animal Ignorance