Wednesday, 30 March 2011


I'm afraid my blogging will be subject to an enforced interregnum due to the failure of my laptop's power cable. I have a new one on order althogh this is likely yo arrive while I'm in Scotland this weekend.

Normal service will, hopefully, be resumed next week.


Monday, 28 March 2011

From the Vaults: March 2010

Today's blog is another of my occasional retrospectives. This time, I've chosen a selection of posts from last March which give a flavour of what I was blogging about this time last year.

First up, a picture from the first in my (stalled) series of features on Great Buildings - the Modernist exemplar that is the Villa Savoye - you can see more here.

Next, an excerpt from my letter to my 60-year old self. If you could talk to your future self, what would you say? Here's how I started:
Dear Andrew,

How has it all worked out? On second thoughts, don't tell me - I'd rather find out for myself.

There are some things that I hope have happened, though.

I hope I managed to sort out my finances in time to enjoy some travelling and make some sort of half-decent pension provision. I know you've still got 7 years before you get the state pension (if there still is one!) but hopefully you've got a bit more put by!

Are you still blogging, or is the Internet completely outmoded? It's funny to imagine that could happen, but then 25 years ago it was hard to envisage it at all!!"

Finally, a link to some poetry, Yeats' Lake Isle of Innisfree.

Hope you enjoy, 


Sunday, 27 March 2011

It's Census Time!

Today is Census Day in the UK and as someone who finds statistics and demographics intriguing, I've dutifully completed and filed mine online. What's more, I'll be looking out for the results being published - which is just the way I roll!

Anyway I thought I'd hold my own mini-Census of my blog readers using genuine questions from the Census form, so please take a moment to answer these questions in the comment section below. 

1. What is your gender?*  

2. What is your country of birth?
    • England
    • Wales
    • Scotland
    • Northern Ireland
    • Republic of Ireland
    • Elsewhere (please state)
3. What is your religion? (This question is voluntary.)
    •  No religion
    • Christian (Inluding Church of England, Catholic, Protestant and all other Christian denominations)
    • Buddhist
    • Hindu
    • Jewish
    • Muslim
    • Sikh
    • Any other religion (please state)
Although I can't guarantee confidentiality for 100 years, if you don't want your details published, please note this in your comment.


* The actual question is "What is your sex?" but I'm a bit of a pedant!

Friday, 25 March 2011

Coffee as Theatre

Earlier this week I popped into Starbucks (as you do) for a Double Caramel Macchiato to go and I noticed they were advertising a number of drinks branded as "Starbucks Reserve".

The Barista enthused about this select range (there is a choice of three in the UK) of rare coffees and the brewing method used. The range is only available in small quantities in just 10 stores in the UK (six in London, one in each of Manchester, Birmingham, Bristol and either Edinburgh or Glasgow). I had, in any case, my heart set on my Caramel Macchiato... but I knew I'd be back!

The following day - having had the idea firmly implanted in my head - I returned to the branch in question, to sample one of the coffees on offer. A different, but equally enthusiastic, Barista was happy to discuss the merits of the coffees on offer before taking my order for a Fairtrade Nicaragua Corcasan.

He then proceeded to make the coffee using the "pour over" method of filtering. This part was pure-theatre; the filter paper (my Barista discussed the merits of cloth vs. paper) is carefully placed in the specially shaped porcelain cup/funnel. This has a hole in the bottom and is placed on a special rack above the cup. He then took a measured amount of my chosen beans and freshly ground them.

Having prepared the beans, he warmed the funnel and cup by pouring some hot water through and discarding. The ground beans were then placed in the filter and water added to create the bloom (i.e. the point at which the grounds become saturated). After letting this settle, he poured the rest of the water through, taking care to continually move the narrow spout so that he "stirred" the grounds with the water stream.

The whole process takes around 4 minutes - and the result is an exquisite cup of black coffee (I wasn't offered milk, but that would have seemed wrong anyhow). More pricey than a normal filter coffee, but cheaper than the "handcrafted" range, this was well worth the cost for the personal service alone.

There's more about Starbucks Reserve range on the UK website here - and on the US site here. If you're lucky enough to live near a participating branch do try it.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Not an A-Z of my CDs: F

This week, I've chosen the extraordinary Paloma Faith (whom I had assumed was American but turns out to be a Londoner). 

This is a live version of her hit, New York:

As always, Enjoy!


Tuesday, 22 March 2011

The People Vs Banksy

Earlier today, I posted some pictures I took at the Banksy Exhibition held in Bristol in 2009. I mentioned that I had queued for some two hours, along with many thousands more. I didn't however, mention the art project I took part in as I did so.

You may know that some of the earliest Banksy works are in Stokes Croft in Bristol, which bills itself as "Bristol's Cultural Quarter". While queuing, representatives from the "People's Republic of Stokes Croft", a local community and campaigning organisation, handed out cards on which participants could make their own artworks.

These were subsequently exhibited, which I missed, and a book has also been published - must check to see if mine made the cut! Meanwhile, you can be the judge - here's a picture of my drawing, along with the, ah, inspirational queue.


Virtual Gallery - Room 6

For the next room in my eclectic online gallery, I've curated some pieces from the Banksy exhibition held in Bristol in 2009. Over the course of a few months hundreds of thousands of people queued to see the world-famous "graffiti" artist's takeover of the Bristol Museum and Art Gallery. 

These pictures represent a flavour of the show, although after queuing for two hours my actual time in the gallery before it closed was limited. As well as the main exhibition, there were a number of guerrilla pieces round the rest of the building - a fake poo on a plate in the ceramics exhibition, a "collector's" plate with cats on amongst the historic porcelain, a dildo inserted into a row of stalagmites in the geology section.

The exhibition's Information Desk
What does a Bishop wear under his Cassock?
Not on Canvas Any More...
Improved Spot Painting - Damien Hirst and "Local Artist"

No caption required!

For previous posts featuring Banksy, just follow this link and this one too. There's also more on the exhibition on the BBC website.


Sunday, 20 March 2011

Some Miscellaneous Pictures

In the process of clearing the personal details and memories from three old phones which I'm selling, I came across a host of pictures. Here's a selection of five for you with a promise of more to follow...

Salisbury Cathedral

Cloisters at Salisbury Cathedral

Millennium Sculpture at Heaven's Gate, Longleat

Pawprints in the snow

The Driveway to Montacute House, Somerset
Hope you liked!


Friday, 18 March 2011

Let's Dance with Noel Fielding

Aside from Red Nose Day, Comic Relief is supported by programmes all across the BBC in the weeks leading up to the big day itself. In 2009 (and again in 2010 for Sport Relief)  Let's Dance for Comic Relief gave comedians, soap stars and celebrities the chance to showcase their dancing skills. While some of the acts were relatively "straight" performances - for example, this years winners performed tap in the style of Fred Astaire, - many were comedic re-intepretations.

This year, Noel Fielding chose to perform to "Wuthering Heights" by Kate Bush - sheer brilliance:

If you want to give to Comic Relief, you can do so here.


Iconic Images 14

It's always a temptation on Red Nose Day to focus on the Comic rather than the Relief but doing so does an injustice to those whose vision was to use comedy to raise funds to help those who need it both here and in Africa.

To that end, I've decided to post this video of Michael Buerk reporting on the Ethiopian famine of 1984. This is the news report that inspired first Band Aid, then Live Aid and, ultimately, Comic Relief.

While the challenges have changed, the need is still there. Please consider giving to Comic Relief - you can do so here.


Thursday, 17 March 2011

Happy St. Patricks Day

It's fair to say that St. Patrick's is the most widely celebrated of all the Saints' Days of the countries of the British Isles. Indeed, while the Scots and Welsh also celebrate St. Andrew's and St. David's days to some extent, many English people would be hard-pushed to even tell you when St. George's day is.

I'm not sure whether or not I'll be joining in the celebrations and enjoying a drop of the dark stuff myself but either way, I've been enjoying these (and a number of other) classic Guinness adverts when putting together this post:

Enjoy and Sláinte!


Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Not an A-Z of my CDs: E

I'm really enjoying the wide remit to feature artists and songs I like but for one reason or another I don't own in my collection. I also feel like I could go through the alphabet multiple times and not tire of finding old (and new) tunes to feature.

This week I'm rewinding to the late 80s and Electronic - the "Supergroup" formed by Bernard Summer of New Order, Johnny Marr (formerly of The Smiths) and Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe of the Pet Shop Boys. Here, for your audio and reminiscing pleasure is "Getting Away With It":


Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Calling all South Dakotans!

While browsing Google Analytics earlier, I was pleased to note that, at some point or another, my blog has been read in a total of 151 countries, including a viewing in China! Still another 41 (or so) to go, but that's for another day and another post.

What stood out for me today, though, was when I looked at this map of the US:

Spot anything odd? 

For all that the USA is the location for most of the visits to my blog (after the UK), it appears no-one has ever visited from South Dakota! What am I doing wrong? What interests the good people of the Mount Rushmore State? 

If you're a South Dakotan, leave a comment and say hi... there may be a prize in it! For the rest of you, here's a picture of Mount Rushmore:


Monday, 14 March 2011

Doing my bit for The Chain gang...

Regular readers will know I love the current number one by Adele. After four weeks, though, I think it's time she moved over and let another act take the top spot. But who do I think should get the honour next?

Lady Gaga?
Justin Bieber?!!!

No, the song I want to get to number one next is a track from a 1977 album. Specifically, it's The Chain by Fleetwood Mac.

Used as the theme music for BBC's coverage of Formula 1 for every season since 1978 (except for those years when ITV had the broadcast rights but we don't speak about those), The Chain has become iconic. Now, there's a Facebook and Twitter campaign to get it to number one in time for the start of the new season. Follow the links, join up and buy the track!

There's more on this - including two versions of the track - over on Stephen's blog. In the meantime, here's the BBC's Formula 1 trailer to get you in the mood:


Saturday, 12 March 2011

A Tale of Two Cities

Thanks to @jpshaddock 's twitter paper, I came across a series of short films which were created as adverts for an international language school. I'm not sure about the soundtracks, but think the footage, narrative and typography are fantastic. They are directed by Gustav Johansson with Typography by Albin Holmsqvist.

First up, Paris:

and here's London:

You can find films for Beijing and Barcelona here.


Friday, 11 March 2011

Going. Going. Gone.

I remember when selling your underwear online was restricted to, how shall we put this, the more exotic corners of the interweb. And largely anonymous.

Not, it seems, any more. The lovely Russell Tovey, star of Being Human, is taking part in the Twit Relief auction and is offering a pair of his pants, socks and ta our of the set. Should you want to bid, you can do so here. At time of writing, though, the going price was £1,060 so you'll have to dig deep!

A whole host of celebrities are taking part by offering "Superfollows" on Twitter as well as more conventional charity auction prizes to winning bidders - whether that be a "Meet and Greet" with Davina McCall, tickets to the premiere of the last Harry Potter film courtesy of Edith Bowman, or the Inbetweener's Car.

You can see all the offerings on the Twit Relief eBay pages and you can donate here. In the meantime, here's Mr Tovey (almost) touting his wares:


Thursday, 10 March 2011

The Next Attenborough?

Following on from my post featuring  David Attenborough earlier, here's a clip of Steve Backshall on his CBBC programme "Deadly 60". More than once recently have I heard him touted as the BBC's replacement for the great man who has retired from making the epic series with which he made his name. Given he's now almost 85 years old, who can blame him!

Here's the young pretender in action:



Q: When is a bird not a bird?

A: when it's mimicking a Car Alarm, Camera or Chainsaw.

This clip of David Attenborough narrating footage of the Superb Lyrebird was voted the nation's favourite Attenborough moment in 2006:


Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Fly Fishing

Further to my earlier post featuring Day V Lately - here's the legendary Yellow Pages ad featuring a certain J. R. Hartley:


Not an A-Z of my CDs: D

This week's entry in my list of CDs by acts whose work I don't own is a bit of fun: it's Day V Lately from the Yell advert which is currently running on British TV:


Monday, 7 March 2011

Let Me Die a Youngman's Death

It's been a while since I posted a poem - and a long-stated aim that I would recommence this poetry strand within the blog. I'm therefore pleased to be posting this poem by Roger McGough. 

The light-hearted tone belies the underlying fear of growing old and fading away - enjoy!

Let Me Die a Youngman's Death by Roger McGough

Let me die a youngman’s death
not a clean and inbetween
the sheets holywater death
not a famous-last-words
peaceful out of breath death

When I’m 73
and in constant good tumour
may I be mown down at dawn
by a bright red sports car
on my way home
from an allnight party

Or when I’m 91
with silver hair
and sitting in a barber’s chair
may rival gangsters
with hamfisted tommyguns burst in
and give me a short back and insides

Or when I’m 104
and banned from the Cavern
may my mistress
catching me in bed with her daughter
and fearing for her son
cut me up into little pieces
and throw away every piece but one

Let me die a youngman’s death
not a free from sin tiptoe in
candle wax and waning death
not a curtains drawn by angels borne
‘what a nice way to go’ death


Saturday, 5 March 2011

5 on the 5th - March

It's 5 on the 5th time again. This month, the theme is "lines" which I have loosely adhered to.

Taking part is easy - take your five pictures, post them, and submit your details on Stephen's own post. Simples.

Once you've done that have a look at everyone else's contribution.

All these photos have been taken around Bristol.

A line of coloured houses, in the Bristolian fashion

Path with lines of shadows, trees and houses

I love the way these lights follow the line of the river and the path

Don't stand on the shadow

A car park...

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Iconic Images 13

This week, Space Shuttle Discovery docked with the International Space Station on it's 39th and final mission - one of the last by a NASA Space Shuttle before all the remaining vessels are decommissioned. Discovery flew its first mission in 1984 and is the eldest of the three craft still in service. When it is retired only Endeavour and Atlantis will remain active before they, too, are retired later this year when Atlantis flys the 135th mission in June.

The unspoken truth in the talk of the ending of the Space Shuttle programme is that, in addition to furthering our knowledge of Space and exploring our galactic surroundings, it has been tainted by tragedy and the cost of 14 lives. The Challenger disaster of January 28th 1986 (just over 25  years ago) and 2003's Columbia disaster both claimed 7 lives.

As the era of the Shuttle draws to an end, I've chosen this picture of the Challenger disaster as  a reminder of the cost of human exploration of Space and the latest in the Iconic Images series:


Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Not an A-Z of my CDs: C

This week on my list of random songs I like and tracks from artists I've never quite got round to adding to my CD collections, it's the beautiful Corinne Bailey Rae with a live version of "Put Your Records On".