Sunday, 29 January 2012

Back to 1991

I don't know how many of you have been listening to 'Sounds of the 20th Century' over the past few months.  It is a Radio 2 show broadcast on a Thursday at 10pm, and simply plays music, news, sports reports, films etc for an hour from a particular year.  It must have started around ten months ago now since they started at 1950 and have now reached 1992.
I've enjoyed listening to it since it's nice to hear history at first hand so to speak, rather than having it already digested by an 'expert', or even worse, getting it through the memory of a member of your family.  Plus the last few have brought back my own memories of various times and places, 1991 being one of them.
This was the year that Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves came out, a film which I saw at the cinema in Edinburgh with my parents, and I absolutely loved it.  When it came out on TV I recorded it onto video and watched it so so often that the video started to get a bit crackly.
When my fiancee and I heard a clip of it the other week it was suggested that it be added to our Blockbuster list (of dvd's)...instead I went and bought it and we watched it last Friday.  I was still amazed as to how much of the dialogue I could remember, and there are so many little bits to it that are cheesy, funny, exciting and thrilling, that it's still a joy to watch.
The other most interesting thing to happen in 1991 was the 'leg over' incident between Jonathan Agnew and Brian Johnstone on TMS.  It's one of those moments that you can't help smiling or laughing at every time you hear it; it's just wonderful.  And ironically when I was in Waterstones recently I was flicking through their bargain bin and I came across a book called 'Thanks Johnners' by Jonathan Agnew, quite recently published it seems, and a lot to do with Brian Johnstone and TMS (I haven't read it yet). But the amazing thing was that it was signed by JA, and it was only 99p...a bargain I couldn't turn down.
I can't wait for 1993, the year of 'that ball' from Shane Warne, and of course Jurassic Park!

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Capping It

I'm risking going a bit political today, and yet I'm still trying to see both sides.  The new benefits cap which the government plan to bring in seem, on the face of it, quite sensible.  It is quite ridiculous to have situations where people are being given up to £80k a year for doing nothing while most ordinary people wouldn't earn that in four years.  However, this isn't the case for most people and just one of those stories that the media like to bandy around as if it's the norm.  Most people still struggle on what benefits they get. And in some way there should also be an incentive to work, which sadly people need in the UK since there is very little 'work ethic'.
Then again, for someone who works hard and is in a good job, only to find themselves unemployed because of the economic climate, to have their benefits capped at just £26k for a whole year might see themselves and their family out of a home within nine months if luck doesn't come their way.  After all a lot of life is about luck, not just hard work.  But then you have the realm of one rule for some and another rule for others, and that cannot work realistically either.
The real deeprooted problem is that the only likely place for work is London.  Jobs therefore need to be spread around the country more easily, and much much more of them must be created.  Then of course housing has to be considered.  There is still far too little housing and far too high a cost, so landlords must be given some sort of incentive to charge lower rents.  Finally the costs of transport, and daycare for children, can be prohibitive for a lot of people, so these need to be addressed too.
The problem with all this is that it would take a long time to sort out, probably a similar length of time that the problems have been escalating for (roughly 40 years) and no government is ever going to be in for that long.  Therefore, sadly, a simple benefit cap is the only way forward for them.  And after all that, I'm still not sure where I stand, so here's a poem inspired by it all instead, called "Caps".

They give out their caps
Expecting us all to wear
They say that they’ll fine us
If our heads all go bare
Then they change all the sizes
And make us compare
If we wear the wrong one
It makes everyone stare
You think to speak up
But in the end you don’t dare
Yet if none of us speaks
Then they think we don’t care
That what was our home
Is a multinational lair
And we all have to swallow
That it’s supposed to be fair.

Sunday, 22 January 2012


Not much to blog about this week.
Disappointments in the sporting world with Sheffield Weds losing their unbeaten run at home, followed by losing a last minute goal to get only a draw this week.  Then the England cricket team's shambolic batting in Dubai against the Pakistan spinners - they'd do well to get a draw out of that series.
Regarding the wedding, we've been slowly working on the invitations in order to try to get them out by the end of the month.  Realistically there is not much we have to do for a while as it is several months away.
I do have more time off in a week's time however, when hopefully we may be able to get out for another walk, or at least later in the week I will be visiting Somerset and may be able to get walking there, weather permitting. One thing that we do plan is to visit Glastonbury and perhaps get up to the Tor.  If you believe some, it runs along a ley line, and so it will be intriguing to see if there is anything to 'feel'. I'm prepared to keep an open mind.

Monday, 16 January 2012

London Loop - Upminster Bridge to Harold Wood

We walked the next section of the loop today, albeit a much shorter one than before in order to break up a too long section; in total it was roughly four and a half miles.
We started back at Upminster Bridge, in sight of the windmill that is in Upminster itself, and after a short walk through a nice housing estate we came across it again while crossing a railway bridge.  It is about two hundred years old and was still being used up until the 1930’s.

From here we passed through three frosty fields, although the sun was surprisingly warm.  It was good that the fields were frosty since they would otherwise have been quite muddy.  In one of them sat two old leather sofas, on which sat some teenagers.  It’s a situation I only ever imagined happening in American films, but maybe that’s where they got the idea from.

At the far edge of another field was a pony having either a late breakfast or an early lunch.  He took very little notice of us since his food was obviously far more interesting.

A nice stroll across the Ingrebourne again and through some lovely damp smelling woods before we hit upon what we both hope will be the nastiest part of the whole loop; roughly one mile of walking alongside a busy road, only half of it with actual pavement, the rest with grassed verge.  Not nice.
However, we were rewarded by getting to Pages Wood, a lovely area with paths going all over the place, trees and this very cute ‘Duck’ bench.  It would be lovely to have somewhere like it very close by in which you could spend an hour just strolling. 

The woods fed into Harold Wood Park, which was very large and would be a great place to play and spend time.  I have to admit that the cricket ground and pavilion looked lovely and I could imagine it being a great place to play.  From here it was just another short walk to Harold Wood station and the end of this walk.

Sunday, 15 January 2012

44 Inch What?

Last night I watched 44 Inch Chest on dvd and have to say that it is another film that I find tricky to slot in a category of whether I liked it or not.
While it was on I enjoyed it.  John Hurt and Ian McShane's characters were funny, especially in their interactions with each other, and the dialogue between all the characters was interesting.  It was the sort of stories and dialogue that real people do not talk, and if they did, then in person you would find them dull, but in fiction it helps you get to know them quicker.
But once the film had ended you realised that there had been no real point to any of it.  The ending was a major anti climax along with a disappointment.

The film does have some things to say on the subject of marriage, but still cliched and unoriginal, and on the subject of revenge but it doesn't make them clear.
As an antidote to Tarantino and Scorcese it might work, and to watch a group of English actors working well together it is interesting.  But beyond that, the film is poor. 5.5 out of 10.

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Ice Ice Baby

Spent the afternoon at Canary Wharf where they had their annual Ice Sculpture Festival. It was somewhat disappointing since there was little going on other than thousands of people milling around and getting in your way.  I think however that most of the sculpting had gone on earlier in the day, and the sculptures that were on display were pretty impressive, despite occasionally dripping!

It was also possible to have a go at ice sculpting yourself, but most of their slots were already booked, all the way up to the finish at 6pm.  A friend of ours was quite excited about the prospect of a snow pit, but this too turned out to be a disappointment since it was only about 4 m square and full of kids! Never mind, if the prediction that there will be snow by the end of the month comes true, then we'll have plenty of the real stuff to play with.

In other news we're getting into full swing with the wedding invitations; Paper has been bought, and the text has been through its first draft.  The most stressful bit to come will be all the legal paperwork, with its myriad certificates, forms and licences.  It will be worth it, but I just find the whole thing daunting.  I guess that means that when the big day finally comes I'll know that the worst is already behind and won't be at all nervous!

It's been a long while since I've done much writing and in order to get some inspiration I've put some different types of information into an excel file with a number randomiser to come up with some interesting suggestions for characters of stories that may well suggest the stories themselves.  I hope to write some in the near future, which I will then post up here (perhaps with the original conditions to see where it came from -what do you think?).  It was an idea I read somewhere but no idea where.  If I find it, I'll let you know.

Monday, 9 January 2012

New Foods

I am trying to make a little effort to make new foods this year.  After last weeks very successful attempt at profiteroles (wish I had had a working camera at the time to take a photo!) I wanted to have a go at dumplings this week.
I started off with a very simple chicken stew made from chicken thighs, onion, garlic, mushrooms, stock and a huge pile of herbs.  After frying off it went in the oven with plenty of water, then I made the dumplings with a very basic ratio of 2:1 flour to butter, with a dash of water to bind, before putting these on top of the stew for about half an hour.
Here is the result:

I found them very tasty, although my fiancee didn't quite get the idea of balls of pastry in the middle of a stew.  By the way, she made the roast potatoes, not me.  Despite not being a native, she's taken to roasties like a lass to Yorkshire.

In other news we now have a date for the wedding...I'm starting to get nervous now...

Inglorious Filmmaking

I’m glad that I didn’t go to see Inglorious Basterds at the cinema; it’s not that it’s a bad film; it’s just not a very good film.  It does have its humorous moments, homage’s to spaghetti westerns, with a Leone style soundtrack but set in rural France, and it also has moments of great tension.
Sadly, the tense moments only appear around the character of Hans Landa, who is a character whom you actually believe in, and you believe could do anything. 
Shoshanna is also an interesting character with whom, because of all our knowledge about the persecution of Jews, you can understand her motives.  But once again the obvious romance between her and her black projectionist are not explained.  You can’t help wonder whether the only reason why they have been put together is because they were both persecuted due to their race.
As for the violence, it is truly over the top, and seems to be wielded by Tarantino like a child with a gun.  It is dealt with far too a comedic way, both detracting and distracting from the story.  In much the same way the continuous switches between German, French and English (with the relevant subtitles appearing and then disappearing when it switches again).  Am I the only one who finds it impossible to switch from concentrating on listening to reading and back again, without losing something in-between?
All in all it is an ok film, but the story is much too much of a child’s fantasy for it to be truly absorbing and only great after several beers and there’s no Die Hard to watch.  5.5 out of 10.

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Usually Right

There was once a girl usually right
Who would get so very uptight
When some disbelieved her
And were ever so eager
To prove that she actually might

Saturday, 7 January 2012

Beach Wedding

Planning a wedding
Is like getting stuck in quicksand
Not so much of a sinking feeling
More for every forward step
A dozen more ideas pull you in
I guess this means that
There's a beach wedding for us all

Thursday, 5 January 2012

Plans and Banquets

Moving forward with wedding plans today, although a backward step with having the engagement ring resized.  My fiancee won't have it for at least four weeks now and she's disappointed.  Even after just a week she's gotten used to having it on her, albeit wrong, finger since it kept sliding off the right one.
However been checking out paper for possible use in invitations and various other leaflets required.  I think it has only just dawned on us both how many little things there are to organising a wedding; we do have some ideas for gifts though.
Visited the Banqueting House, the last remaining part of the original Whitehall Palace, and dating back to the early 1600's.  The best way to describe it is sugary, like an over-iced cupcake, with it's Reubens ceiling, columns and balcony.  Also the throne and canopy looked like it hadn't been dusted since Charles II became King.  You can actually hire the place for functions, but after careful consideration is probably slightly out of our price range...donations anyone?
Finally have our 2012 calendars too...a His 'n' Hers with columns for us both...anyone would think we were already married!

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

London Loop - Purfleet to Upminster Bridge

Back in January 2009 I started walking the LOOP, the circular route of about 140 miles that runs around the whole of London.  I started in Erith and got as far as Berrylands in June; and that was as far as I got.  It was just after then that I met my now fiancee and she literally stopped me in my tracks!
However a new year has started and we have decided to complete the LOOP together, going in the opposite direction, and yesterday walked the route from Purfleet to Upminster Bridge.

It started with a stroll along the Thames estuary to our left, with RSPB marshland and birdwatchers to our right.  It was a sunny day but there was still somehow a sense of desolation to the area, probably down to the lack of anything growing other than grass, thistles and the odd bush or tree.

Nearby to Purfleet was the remaining Magazine, the last of five, that used to sit here full of gunpowder received from Waltham, standing ready for use in wars gone by.  Nothing now but a long brick house, it seems a sense of waste for something that could be turned into a community hall or craft hut. 

Continuing on, with Erith on the opposite bank, we first passed a huge landfill site and waste management centre, before coming across jetties and factories.  Beyond Coldharbour Point, and just before the Tilda Rice factory, were a group of concrete barges slowly dying and sinking into the mud.
These were originally towed across the channel and used in the D-Day landings before subsequently becoming part of the estuary flood defences.  Now they simply sit, retired and unused, apart from a possible resting point for birds.

Across more grassland from here, running alongside drainage ditches, as far as Rainham where a new footbridge was being built.  Rainham village itself was an attractive looking place, with tudor style pubs and a complete late-Norman church.

After Rainham we came into to Ingrebourne hill, and as part of a slight diversion climbed to the top where a kind of pyramid gave fantastic views to the surrounding area.  Heading back down we followed the path towards Hornchurch Country Park with paths through trees and grassland, with several cycleways, a lake and the River Ingrebourne.

The river stayed a constant companion from here on in to Upminster, next to small grassed areas perfect for local dog walkers and children, as well as an outdoor gym.  There was plenty going on at Hornchurch FC, while the surrounding houses still covered in Christmas lights were quiet, before finally, unfit and exhausted, we made it to Upminster Bridge station just in time for sunset.