Monday, August 26, 2013

A Blip on the Internet Since 2004

One of the versions of Edvard Munch's "The Scream" was stolen from an Oslo museum in August 2004. It was recovered in 2006 (this image from Wikipedia)

2004!  It was still the relatively early days of the New Millennium. Do you remember anything about it? Let me remind you of a few things that happened that year:

• Facebook was launched
• Terrorist bombs at a Madrid railway station killed nearly 200 people
• The Republic of Ireland banned smoking in bars, restaurants and enclosed public spaces
• Greece won the European football championships in Portugal
• Wikipedia reached 1 million entries
• The Cassini-Hugyens spacecraft arrived at Saturn
• John Peel, Ronald Reagan, Ray Charles, Marlon Brando, Christopher Reeve and Yasser Arafat all sloughed the mortal coil

In addition to these milestone events, the Merriam-Webster dictionary picked "blog" as word-of-the-year. Back then I didn't really know what a blog was but I remember thinking that if they were that important I should probably have one. Such folly! I duly sniffed around on the internet and found Blogger who offered a free hosting service.  I signed up and after a bit of fiddling and wishing I'd paid more attention to the HTML class I'd attended in 1999, I finally published the first entry of Mad Dogs and Englishmen.  That was on August 26, 2004: today is its 9th anniversary! Needless to say, I had no idea where how the embryonic web log was going to develop. Certainly it's evolved over the past nine years. I'll pontificate on the blogging process on another occasion -the fact is I'm still here even though the average blog lifespan is around three years.  Oh well...!

Happy Birthday MD&E!

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Jazz on a Summer's Day

Last month, having just recovered from a debilitating three day upper respiratory tract infection, I was  feeling most decidedly blah. Then I chanced across an article describing this event in Glyndebourne, Sussex. I'd already missed two days but Sunday looked fantastic, especially as one of my favourite emerging artists, Esperanza Spalding, was playing. But then there was also Jools Holland, Terence Blanchard, Branford Marsalis and a host of others. I had to go and this was also a chance to escape the sweltering heatwave. So the next day I packed my bag, bought water, sunscreen, food and a hat, rented a car at Waterloo and set off for the coast. 

By the time I arrived in mid-afternoon the sun was past its zenith (a good thing) but the weather was glorious.  Esperanza Spalding had just started to play. As I was settling down for an afternoon/evening of jazz, I was invited to join an exuberant group of itinerant concert goers who decided I had "sparkle". Good grief, I felt like the least sparkly old geezer in the universe but resistance seemed pointless so I relaxed and joined the party.  And what a party it was! Here are a few photos:

I arrived at the festival sometime in the mid-afternoon and activities were in full swing
The festival site at Glyndebourne was a delight and had a carnival atmosphere
Brandford Marsalis and his band are always superb; old style hard bop but who's complaining..!?
This gentleman striding purposefully through the crowd is a gregarious Australian by the name of Andy: he thought I should join his party of family and friends
I had no reason to turn down a party and was happy to accept the invitation
Settling down for an evening of fantastic music  -the weather was perfect
There's something about bubbles and music festivals -a kind of hippie aesthetic, I think...
It never fails! Adults and children alike are universally fascinated...
It's all in the left hand!  Here Jools Holland and his amazing big band tear it up with some good old fashioned boogie-woogie.  See also clip below (apologies in advance for the somewhat out of focus scenes but I was restricted to using a phone camera)

An unlikely looking bunch -a little tired, happy and loving the music. Thanks for inviting me to your party, Andy!

My musical 'discovery' of the day (or even the year) was Melody Gardot.  I'd never heard of her before and had no expectations. But what a find!  Think 33% Cesaria Evora, 33% Woodstock-era Santana percussion and the remainder a mix of Diana Krall and Sheryl Crow.  Absolutely fantastic! Be sure to note the superb sax playing of Irwin Hall.  I can't wait to catch her again.  

Note: I captured Melody's signature "Who will comfort me" number on video but it was with a phone and not the best quality (I was plagued with camera issues that weekend).  So here I've borrowed a better clip, taken a week after the festival, from YT.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Product Placement

Recently I found myself back in London having to take care of a somewhat onerous domestic project. In the course of this work I revisited my old flat in Docklands, just around the corner from Tower Bridge. I have to say that the area has been transformed since I first took up residence there more than two decades ago.  Back in the 70s and 80s it was a derelict wasteland populated primarily by rats and film crews working on the episodes of The Sweeney: as a cab driver once poetically stated when I asked him what he thought of the area "I wouldn't f**king go there unless I had a f**king Kalashnikov!".  Quite so, but things have changed. Now it's a vibrant (if slightly yuppified) district teeming with fancy restaurants, coffee shops, bars, food boutique markets, trendy warehouse conversion properties, tourist attractions and, errr, tourists.

Anyway, the thought train that caused me to pen this post arises from when I was idly skimming through the list of free Amazon Instant Movies the other night and I noticed the title "The World is Not Enough". This is a James Bond (Pierce Brosnan era) flick made in 1999; at the time we were all paranoid that it was going to be "The World is Going to Blowup" when the all the computer chips rolled over at the start of the New Millennium and somehow would set off nuclear strikes and other such catastrophes.

The 007 take on the dystopian fin de siècle view involved some kind of improbable nuclear plot. Honestly I didn't pay much attention (after from Russia with Love the storylines of virtually all the films in the franchise have failed to suspend my disbelief).  However what did cause me to sit up and take notice was a powerboat chase along the Thames and up St Saviour's Dock past my balcony window.  JB was in pursuit of a red leather-clad female assassin toting a rifle with laser sights and driving an impressively powerful cigar boat.  To my amazement the chase continued to the mouth of the dock and then on up to my flat. Indeed the dock and my domicile featured in a full 16 seconds of celluloid footage. Here are a few screen shots I've borrowed...

At the mouth of St Saviour's Dock, James Bond's small experimental powerboat on left overshoots the cigar boat piloted by Italian actress Maria Grazia Cucinotta. Interestingly the large derelict building  on the right has now been restored and is known as Tea Trade Wharf: the ground floor (bricked up) is now a trendy restaurant
The rather charming villain hangs a sharp right and zips into the dock                                                                                                                                                       
And along she goes...(fortunately the footbridge was up at the time!)            
Past Java Wharf on the right ...                                                      
And now towards my window on the left: eagle eyed viewers might be able to spot my cat sitting on my balcony (but I'm not going to tell you which flat)...! The same viewers might also notice that the dock comes to an abrupt end 200 yards ahead where a very solid wall known as "The Dockhead" stops marine and terrestrial traffic co-mingling on Jamaica Road
Now 007 does a quick about turn and guns his craft past the blue-painted pontoon office known as "The Harpy"
And enters St Saviour's dock, driving furiously...                                                        
This is the last frame of the clip: from here on things become even sillier as Ms Cucinotta and her boat somehow avoid the Dockhead wall and emerge from another inlet further up river in Rotherhithe
St Saviour's Dock in July 2013: view from the footbridge                        
A photo, taken a couple of years ago, of the The Harpy with Tower Bridge in the background
The view from my balcony window. The mouth of the dock is towards the right. Today boat chase activity has been curtailed by a series of habitat rafts installed for the convenience of ducks, swans and geese and the occasional seal.
Companies such as Aston Martin, Jaguar, Sony, Omega Watches, Walther Firearms pay a fortune for their products to places in these films so I think I may have got a freebie here.  And if I ever sell this property, I shall make sure that the estate agents milk the " seen in the James Bond film..." line for all its worth!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Tanti Auguri!

Bugger! Where did 29 years go? It seems just like yesterday...

Happy Birthday Olivia!

PS Next year in Ibiza.

Fu Fighters

Some photos from recent seminar with Master David Leung who is probably one of the best all round martial artists I've seen (and I've seen a lot over the years). As well as Tai Chi he has a deep knowledge of different kung fu styles as well as Japanese arts including jujitsu and aikido. His weapons techniques are also extremely impressive. Here he is teaching a tai chi sword form. The weapon is known as a Jian or "Scholar's Sword" -it's more of a thrusting instrument than a Japanese katana although it can also be used to make slashing cuts.

Master Leung makes a point (sorry, I couldn't resist) to Sifu Viola Brumbaugh

The form is very different to iaido and kenjutsu I've studied in the past.  Think karate kata with a sword. 

Maybe I'll be offered a (bit) part in an epic battle movie like Red Cliff...?!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Seal of Approval

The view from my balcony. The tidal rise and fall of the Thames at this point is 7 metres. At a high spring tide the water will cover the boardwalk                                            

Recently I spent a few weeks at my old flat in London while attending to some personal business. The flat is near Tower Bridge and overlooks St Saviour's Dock, a tidal inlet some 400 metres from the Thames: the dock is also the mouth of a curious undeground river, the Neckinger.  St Saviour's is flanked on either side by old warehouses now mostly converted into apartments. The picture above is the view from my balcony. Despite the muddy green-brown water, the dock teems with wildlife.  Fish (and fisherman) can be spotted frequently around the junction with the Thames.  Various species of aquaphilic birds have taken up residence outside my window and when the tide is in they are always paddling and flapping around. They ducks are mostly mallards but pochards, wigeon and tufted ducks have all been spotted. Canadian geese are frequent visitors and their distinctive squawking makes them hard to ignore.

What a great place to park your dinghy! Unfortunately there are no moorings on my side of the dock                                                                     

Mallards and tufted ducks. The dock teams with wildlife   -it's an urban version of Tales of the Riverbank                                                                                     

A pair of swans promenade in the dock while ducks paddle respectfully to one side under the boardwalk. In the past, black swans have also graced the waterway 

Several pairs of swans are also permanent residents, moorhens are ubiquitous and seagulls are forever scavenging. Thanks to the sterling work of conservation group Thames 21 the dock now sports a series of "habitat rafts" on which the birds can perch and also lay their eggs.

To me, these stately, pristine, creatures always seem out of place in the murky waters of the dock                  

Canada geese and ducks on the habitat raft. Here they doze, sunbathe, and protect their eggs                        

Eggs! The dock will soon be full of ultra cute ducklings -too bad I wasn't around for the hatching of this batch

Like sentries at the nearby Tower of London, these unflappable fellows conscientiously guard their eggs. Interestingly they seem to regard this duty as a communal obligation and the different species take it in turn to stand watch 

Recently the rafts had a new visitor  -fortunately there were no eggs present at the time although the swans were a bit put out having to play second fiddle to this charming chappie (actually 'he' is probably a 'she').

This Harbour or common seal (Phoca vitulina) came to visit recently. She took over one of the habitat rafts,  much to the consternation of the swans who consider it their property

Basking in the sun: after an hour or so he/she swam off and the swans regained their perch

Now is that a cute face or what?    Who said charisma is overrated?
The phoca photos were taken by St Saviour's resident Julian Cox. I'm grateful to both he and Ruth at The Londonist for granting me permission for their use.