Friday, November 23, 2007

Celeb spotting #1 

Working in the West End, it is sometimes difficult to nip out for lunch and not see someone famous. I’ve seen Simon Callow at least three times, for instance. I’ve also seen Richard Wilson, Alexander Armstrong, Jonathan Ross, Stephen Fry and a man who was in the Fifth Element whose name I didn’t catch. A colleague of mine spotted Victoria Wood on the tube and Denis Norden lives round here somewhere.

It’s something I don’t normally get too excited about. They may be famous but they are still people and still need to do their shopping. I thought, however, that I might start making a note of the ones I see, just to get the boasting out of the way.

Today I saw Nick Frost queuing up by a cash point. I used to find him attractive. The miracles of television, eh?

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Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Will it work? 

Today I used my new Travelcard for the first time.

Not a particularly exciting announcement, I must admit. However, this year I have bought a six zone Travelcard on Oyster (see below) rather than a paper ticket.

I have seen other people use Oyster cards at Orpington. I have seen them use them on the bus. I have used a pre-pay Oyster card on buses and tubes before but this is the first time I have used one that contains a season ticket.

So, I had two questions on my mind when I arrived at the station this morning:

1) Will it work?
2) Have I just wasted £1710 (yes, it costs THAT MUCH) on a bit of plastic?

Logically I knew it would work. I bought a six zone annual Travelcard and Orpington is in zone 6. Orpington has Oyster readers and I have seen them working but those two questions still revolved around in my head when I got on the bus, when I got to Orpington station and when I got off the train at Charing Cross.

It worked but am I paranoid or what?

*Note to foreign readers, non-Londoners and people similarly blessed by not having to commute into our bustling metropolis: a Travelcard is a way of paying for travel in and around London in advance. You can buy them for the day, week, month or year and to cover a number of zones. Zone one is central London and zone six is the one furthest out. There is a certain amount of snobbery that goes on regarding which zone you live in. Zone one is where the hip and trendy dudes live and in zone six we’ve only just learned to bang the rocks together and pull the hay out of our hair.

If you buy them from any of the overland rail companies, you are sold a paper ticket. A year of passing these through card readers can make them a bit ragged and wears the print away. The alternative is a thing called an Oyster card, a plastic card with some sort of radio activated chip in it so that you only have to slap it on the reader for it to activate and magically pay for your journey.

The only advantage to continue buying paper tickets is that sometimes, when the service over the year has been bad, a 5% discount is offered on the next card. It wasn’t available to me this year, therefore I am now an Oyster user.


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Friday, November 09, 2007

Poppy dilemma 

Usually I only remember to buy a poppy at the last minute. This year I remembered to get one a week or so ago.

Last night I noticed that I only had a pin decorating the front of my coat, the poppy having been torn away somewhere, probably in the scrum at Charing Cross when I was trying to get to my train last night.

So, dilemma. Should I ...

a) buy a new one?
b) brazen it out with the poppy sellers?
c) find an old one at home and use that instead?

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Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Little Things please Little Minds 

I went shopping for a birthday present for my great-niece at lunchtime. All would have gone better had my sister not misread which of the Little Miss books that Syd wanted.

One was Little Miss Lucky and the Naughty Pixies, although Jean, struggling to read the very small writing, read it as Little Miss Lucky and the Naughty Pricks. So when I eventually found the book I started giggling like a loon in the middle of the children’s books section of Smiths and then also along a significant part of Oxford Street.

Trying not to laugh makes me look like I am smiling drunkenly at all and sundry.

Oh, and Syd now has a little sister! Amelie Mae arrived in the early hours of this morning.

I’m a Great Uncle eight times over now. Do I get a prize?

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Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Raising the Titanic 

As I was writing my entry about the RMS Titanic the other day, I was aware that it rambled and lacked focus. I wasn’t too clear about what I wanted to say or how I wanted to say it. Was it a book review? Was it a eulogy to the ship? Both?

The only thing that was clear was that the blog entry itself wasn’t at all clear.

I was prompted to write what I did because of a book by Daniel Allen Butler called “Unsinkable”--the Full Story of RMS Titanic. I was very moved by it.

Daniel wrote a comment on my blog asking for my thoughts on the book once I had finished it and that’s what I am about to do. Daniel, if you are reading this and want further feedback, I would be happy to send more. The blogger address in your comment was private so I couldn’t send to that and the only email address I could find for you was for a workshop and that didn't seem appropriate. So, all I can do is write here again in the hope that whatever found my previous comments finds this one as well.

So, what did I think of the book?
A glib "I liked it" wouldn't be right. For a start it isn’t a strong enough word and, more importantly, “like” implies that it made me happy. It didn’t. The book dragged me into the story and made me experience very intense emotions. I said earlier that section of the book when the collision has occurred and people are heading for the lifeboats was very distressing to me. I raged at the disgraceful behaviour of Captain Lord and actually felt sorry for Bruce Ismay, a man so often portrayed as the villain of the story but who was as much a product of his time and his upbringing. That's quite an achievement for the book to alter my preconceptions so well and to affect me emotionally.

I think the only criticism I would have is that at times I found the numbers of people a bit daunting and found myself flicking through the book muttering "who are they?". A factual equivalent of a dramatis personae would have been helpful as would pictures. Some readers, such as myself, have a better memory for faces than for names. I'm still wondering what happened to the woman who stayed awake each night because she worried something bad would happen at night. I lost the relevant passage and, with it, her name so I have no idea whether she or her family survived.

This is probably a feature of history. In fiction it is easy to restrict your characters to a very neatly delineated set. This isn't possible in real life. The Titanic’s story had a cast of thousands. Literally.

However, the people were described in enough detail for me to sympathise with them as I read about them. Each scene served as a snapshot of the person's actions at the time and for the large part it didn't matter that I couldn't cross-reference between their actions at one part of the book with those in another unless they were one of the major players such as Lightoller or Ismay or Andrews.

The book as a whole worked really well for me. I liked the way I could feel something for the people. I loved the way the luxurious feel of the ship came over in the text. I loved the way the event was placed in the context of Edwardian thinking, how sea travel was seen as being incredibly safe, for instance, and why the steerage passengers were not allowed to mix with the first and second class passengers.

I loved it but what did happen to that woman?


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Sunday, November 04, 2007


I was going to buy a ticket for Xanadu on Broadway for my impending visit to New York when I noticed that I could buy a ticket for a seat on the stage.

My dilemma is this ... unless the show comes to London, I will only be able to see the show once. Should I get the cheaper stage seats and miss out on some of the visuals but have a lot more fun OR should I spend a little more on good seats, see a lot more but be less of a participant?

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Saturday, November 03, 2007

RMS Titanic 

I can't remember when I first became fascinated with the tragic story of the Titanic. It seems to have always been part of my life. Indeed, it seems a story that is never far from public consciousness. Very few people would be ignorant of the catastrophe.

Many will have seen the film with Kate Winslett and Leonardo di Caprio. I watched it and enjoyed it although paid little or no attention to the romance between their characters, being much more interested in the ship itself and upset at its eventual demise and of the huge loss of life.

Others will have seen A Night to Remember, in which Kenneth More played 2nd Officer Lightoller, the most senior surviving officer from the ship. I saw this as well.

I have also seen Titanic the Musical and have blogged about it earlier. It was an emotional production, an unusual choice of subject for musical theatre but gorgeously compelling.

I have just finished reading about the ship in a book called "Unsinkable": The Full Story of the RMS Titanic by Daniel Allen Butler, hoping to glean some facts about the ship's first and last voyage without all the emotional baggage presented in the films and show.

Facts were there a plenty. Measurements, dates, times and the names of passengers and crew. It was almost easy to lose interest in the book at the early stages, especially in the overly florid and detailed description of the train journey from Waterloo to Southampton.

However, this is not a story that can ever be devoid of emotion. I was surprised to find myself becoming upset, almost to the point of tears, when reading on the train about the attempted evacuation of the ship. I had to put the book away.

The people that had to be left behind, the ones that survived knowing that people they loved were about to die, the ones that nearly made it, only to be killed by a falling funnel or the bitterly cold North Atlantic water, all are brought to life in the book.

I think I have become obsessed.


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