Friday, November 30, 2007

Friday Music Blogging: Colosseum

Dick Heckstall-Smith

Jon Hiseman's Colosseum were surely one of the best British jazz-rock fusion bands of the late 60s/early 70s. Unfortunately the clip I wanted to show has disappeared from YouTube (surely not copyright infringement, er,hum?). This one is not bad although is of the re-formed group in the 90s. It features the Valentyne Suite which was a signature piece. Great sax playing from the late lamented Dick Heckstall-Smith.I saw this band in their first life at diverse locations including Guildford and Cardiff. And Jon Hiseman I've seen many times drumming in Barbara Thompson's Paraphernalia.

Oh, sorry, I forgot to mention that YouTube has turned off the embedding on this clip so you have to access it by clicking here or the link above.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

What's the Obsession with Minis About...?

Little Cricket asks this excellent question in the comments section of the previous post. It's hard to explain if you haven't driven one (or possibly not lived in the 1960's). In this case a video clip is probably worth a million words. Here's some classic footage featuring the car's designer, Sir Alec Issigonis, who explains all.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Monte Carlo -Here We Go

MCH graphic

Hard to believe that it's been nearly three years since I donned my Nomex gear and did battle but another adventure is nigh. My entry with Bill Richards to the 2008 Monte Carlo Historique rally has been accepted. So now the work starts. There are maps to buy, routes to plot and a reconnaissance to do. And above all the trusty Mini Cooper has to be prepared. I'll document all our preparations over the next two months (at the time of writing there are 66 days to go).

In the meantime here's the re-run of the 2005 event which culminated in an intimate association with an Alpine mountain wall 50Km outside Monte Carlo.

Monday, November 26, 2007


Phone in loo
Undesirable placement of telephone and toilet

I'm now safely back home after my jaunt to the Far East and recovering from 18 hours of being cooped up in a metal tube and forced to consume some kind of substance purporting to be food. But fortunately I avoided the gastrointestinal difficulties that have in the past made traveling in far off lands a miserable experience. Indeed following a trip to New Delhi a few years ago, I remember praying for death for several days after making innumerable trips, mostly on my hands and knees, to the bathroom. But that's a story for another day. However I do wish to comment on the growing, and to the mind of this old microbiologist, the quite rebarbative trend in so-called luxury hotels of placing extra telephones adjacent to toilets. The last thing I want to do when I'm, err, doing my ablutions, is to receive incoming phone calls. And if I make a call to someone I certainly don't want to talk to them while they are otherwise engaged. Most of all it has to by unhygienic as by definition the user cannot have washed their hands. It's beyond the pale. I'm going to start a movement (pun intended) which I'm going to call the Campaign for the Removal of Ancillary Phones (CRAP).

While we're on the subject Chertz makes a related observation.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Packing my Trunk

On Elephant
Mad Dog driving a pachyderm: bloke at the back was bearing the trusty Holland & Holland nitro express -you never know when you may have to bag a tiger.

The conference is over, papers have been presented, collaborations established and plans made. Also some sights seen. I have to say I find this part of the world quite intriguing and I'll probably be back in the not too distant future. Now it's back to Seattle (I'll be in the airport in 6 hours after a bit of sleep) where the shock of reality awaits. I have a lot of projects on the boil including rallying. More when I'm back in the Land of the Free.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007


Mad Dog considers a career as a Tuk Tuk driver

Transport in Thailand can be hair-raising to say the list. On Monday I spent the afternoon in a Tuk Tuk. These things are hilarious three wheel motorscooters that seem to be omnipresent in South East Asia. Most seem to be powered by smoky two stroke engines (for the petrolheads out there, I think these are triple cylinder jobs –think Kawasaki c1979). As mentioned in my previous post they are dirt cheap to hire. However potential passengers should be aware that these machines are not exactly encumbered by modern safety equipment. So don’t hail one if you are expecting seat belts, air bags, ABS brakes, crumple zones etc. Mine didn’t even have a grab handle. You also stand a pretty good chance of being asphyixiated and by diesel fumes that belch from a large proportion of buses and truck. And if the pollution doesn’t get you and you can avoid a physical collision there is still a high risk of heart attack from the tactics of the drivers who seem to draw their inspiration from kamikaze pilots and Stirling Moss in about equal measure.

Watching TV
This cab driver liked to watch TV while driving

Another heart-in-mouth journey was across the city to the domestic airport. This time the trip was made in a conventional taxi and I thought this would be a normal, prosaic conveyance. But I was to have no such luck: no sooner did we set off than the driver started to fiddle with a dashboard-mounted screen that I had mistaken for a GPS navigation device. However as the driver started to fiddle with a collection of DVDs I realized what was happening. The screen was a LCD television and the driver intended to watch while weaving in and out of the Bangkok traffic. And that’s what happened. For the duration of the 15 mile journey we were treated to a slapstick Thai gameshow with an extremely raucous soundtrack exacerbated by the constant chattering of the taxi’s radio. Fortunately we got to the airport unscathed. The next time I attempt a similar journey I’m going to make sure I have Valium and Ibuprofen at hand.

P.S. Just to show I'm an incorrigible smarty pants here's a video clip of my Tuk Tuk ride; yes I've figured out how to do YouTube uploads so watch out...

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

More Bang(kok) for the Buck

Tower on Chao Phraya Riverfront

Yesterday I did a quick tour of Bangkok with the primary objective of taking in a few Buddhas. There certainly is no shortage here. My first port of call was the Grand Palace which I got to by public water bus. The waterfront scenery was diverse ranging from the prestige skyscrapers of multi-national corporations, historic temples through to corrugated iron shacks. The water of the Chao Phraya river is invariably an opaque brown. I don’t want to think why!

Orange robed Buddhist monks at the Thai Grand Palace

On arrival at the palace I made a plan to visit three sites of interest (all Buddha of various shapes and sizes) and negotiated the hire of a Tuk Tuk a three wheeled motorscooter for the princely sum of 30 Thai Baht ($1.00) –and this for two hours of transportation entertainment. A bargain if ever there was one! I’ll elaborate more on that in my next post. Anyway I survived the trip (just) and observed some spectacular architecture and astonishingly beautiful Buddha. Apart from the Tuk Tuk adventure I felt curiously peaceful by the end of the afternoon. Curious.

Part of the Grand Palace

Emerald Buddha
The Emerald Buddha

As a side note, my first reaction on seeing soldiers marching around the Palace with shouldered rifles was to think that this was a bit incongruous with the peace and tranquility theme. Then I noticed that the weapons contained no magazines/bullets and were thus only symbolic. A nice gesture in this day and age.

Soldiers marching
Guard at the Grand Palace: the guns are not loaded

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Postcards from Thailand


Views from my hotel over the Chao Phraya river. The sheen on the lower picture is because it was taken through glass.

Well, with the exception of losing the folder containing my itinerary (I've got an email record so it should be ok) I've arrived safely in Thailand and recovering from the physical trauma of spending 18 hours in an economy class seat designed for a midget and the cognitive dissonance of losing a whole day from my calendar (I took off on Friday and arrived on Sunday). Here are a few random observations from the past 30 hours:

• Over the entire trip (two flights) I was offered "...Chicken or Pasta..." on the three meal occasions. How's that for imagination.

• The chicken curry was uncontaminated with a single molecule of piquant spice.

• Old fashioned Boeing 747s have more legroom than newer 777s.

• United Airlines offer the worst entertainment system choices in the airline industry: while not a particularly big fan of British Airways, UA would do well to take a look at their rival's movie system and library.

• At a three hour layover at Tokyo's Narita airport, I felt an strong urge to travel into the city and find an iaido dojo. Aikido's Hombu dojo also beckoned.

• Despite my love of most things Japanese, shopping and eating opportunities at Narita were minimal. There was no cell phone signal, either.

• Bangkok's international airport is a architectural marvel.

• Overall there seems to be a lot new money in Thailand: the skyline is dominated by high-rise, high-tech buildings.

• To compensate for more than 24 hours of barely edible airline food, I've just had the best breakfast I can remember.

More notes from the road soon. Now I'm off to look at some Buddhas...

Friday, November 16, 2007

On The Road Again, Again


Once again I'm heading off the airport. There's been a lot of travel on the agenda this year and I've still got two major trips before the end of the year. On this occasion I'm going to Thailand, a land I've not yet visited and I'm excited. I should get in a couple of days sightseeing on either side of the conference. And if there's time I'll try one of those "body treatment programs" the hotel brags about on its website. The problem with these jaunts to far-flung places is the opportunity to acquire interesting new gut flora which in the past has resulted in me praying for death for as long as a week. So this time I'm armed with a bag full of contingency pharmaceuticals including cipro. Fingers crossed it will be enough. Hopefully I'll manage a post or two from the road. More soon...

Monday, November 12, 2007

Classic Iaido

Classic iaido
T. Mitsuzuka (R), 7th dan kyoshi, MSR iaido, training with T. K.Chiba (L), 6th dan MSR iaido, 8th dan aikido. Berkeley, California, 1989.

Despite all the freneticism of the past month my pathway in iaido has continued slowly but steadily. I recently unearthed this superb photo of my original aikido and iaido teacher, Chiba Sensei, demonstrating a Muso Shinden Ryu kata with Mitsuzuka Sensei. Wonderful!

Sunday, November 11, 2007


IEmbattled 2
Mad Dog has been under siege for the past month

Phew, over a month since a post. Sorry everybody but I've had the busiest month in recent living memory, quite possibly since returning to these shores in 2001. All memories of my Grecian vacation are long gone and I've felt like a candidate for karoshi. Here's a list of just a few of the things I've been up to (there's a few I haven't mentioned too).

• Organised and endured one major project review meeting

• Entertained several collaborators from overseas

• Received a contract to write a book on Vaccines

• Dealt with a mountain of paperwork

• Booked a trip to Thailand for a conference later this month

• Applied for entry to the 2008 Monte Carlo Historique rally

• Had another fibrosarcoma-like lump removed from my cat

• Filed my income tax return

• Become certified in CPR and First Aid

• Fired a machine gun (yes, really –and before you ask, it was quite legal)

And this is not the complete list. Anyway I'll try to pick up some momentum in the next few days.