Monday, 21 January 2008


Went to Tower of London on Sunday, which was most disappointing thing we've been to so far in our tourist-in-London endeavours...

It was £16 each for tickets and totally over-priced. Very little in the way of information boards to tell you about what you were wandering through - so very little sense of history on our way around.

There was an "exhibition" on torture in the tower, which was pretty tame (I've seen much better in eastern Europe...) and had the bizarre feature of an "entry poll" which asked people to vote on whether they thought torture was acceptable all, some or none of the time. Frighteningly, the vast majority of visitors had voted for all or some of the time, with only about 1/3 saying none of the time. As Kevin said, it would have been more interesting if they'd done an exit poll to take views after reading about the effects of torture!!

The highlight, of course, was meant to be the Crown Jewels. I'm sure I've been told that only replicas are in situ in the tower but there did seem to be a lot of security around them so who knows... There was a bizarre moving escalator to take you past the various crowns which I could see the point of from an efficiency perspective, but which felt a bit ungrateful from an "I've paid £16 and I'm a London council tax payer" perspective!!

Anyway...that was all after I'd been out to Kent early Sunday morning to take part in the Dartford 10 mile race. This involved a train trip on what is a truly marvellous public transport system compared to Scotland's own, leaving London Bridge at 8am and arriving in Kent a mere 30 minutes later. I completed the race in about 86 mins which is a lot less than my PB from 4 years ago, but still pretty good considering my focus is on distance not speed at the moment. I managed a sprint finish too!

Prior to that, we'd spent Saturday working and not doing very much, and Friday evening out in Soho with a friend of mine and her husband. We met in a cinema bar, had a few drinks and then Kevin and I succumbed to a Chinese meal before we walked home - it is so absolutely fantastic to be able to walk home from the west end (only 30-40 minutes!).

Last night we went to the Clapham Picturehouse to see No Country for Old Men, which I'm sure is a cult classic but I was a bit too tired to appreciate it after my early morning running escapades... It was alright but a bit 'what's the point of this exactly?'. And we missed the last tube home by a mere minute, which meant two buses and a later night than would have been ideal. But who schedules film timings so that people miss the last tube!?

Anyway, another week, more work and more work-searching...more news in due course!

Seyonara tout le monde xx

Sunday, 13 January 2008

Tower Bridge

A few interesting facts about Tower Bridge, gleaned from the excellent Tower Bridge exhibition which we went to today...

* 432 men were employed to build it; only 10 died despite the fact that health & safety legislation didn't exist, or not in its current form anyway

* It took 8 years for the man behind the design, Horace Jones, to convince the committee making the decision, that a) the bridge was needed and b) his design would meet all the challenges that needed to be met. He died a year into its construction so never saw the end product.

* There was lots of opposition to the concept of having a bridge at that part of the Thames, particularly from merchants who felt it would be "the ruin of us all", cutting the Port of London in half and restricting their access to their wharves (the design in fact allowed for the famous 'lifting' of the bridge so that tall ships could still sail through).

* The bridge's bascules (the bits that raise) are still lifted around 1,000 times each year. By my reckoning that's about three times a day - but I've never seen it yet!

Here's a view from the Tower Bridge upper walkway and of one of the engines that powers the lifting.

Saturday night "up west"

In an effort to tick off some of our 'things to do in London' list, we went to the cinema in Leicester Square last night.

Leicester Square is being given a revamp over the next few years to make it more attractive to tourists and less scruffy. When I saw this on the news last week, I didn't really know what the problem was as I hadn't remembered it being particularly scruffy...but looking at it anew on Saturday evening, it does seem a bit rough around the edges...

Not that it's any cheaper for it though - £17.50 each for circle seats in the big Odeon (the one where all the premiers are held). The usual exorbitant prices for popcorn etc. But it is a lovely cinema and you've got to do these things now and again!

Went to see "I am Legend", which sees Will Smith as the last man in New York after a cancer curing virus mutates, wiping out 95% of the world's population and turning most of the rest into "socially de-evolved dark-seekers" - aggressive zombie-like things which only come out after dusk, killing and eating anything they can and exhibiting no traces of their former 'humanity'. Will is the soldier-scientist who pledges himself to finding a cure for the virus, having packed his wife and child off to safety as New York is annexed for the greater good, only to see them die in a helicopter crash caused by mass panic and hysteria. Left alone with only his daughter's pet dog for company, he spends his days looking for other survivors, testing out variations on a possible cure on rats and the occasional dark-seeker that he manages to trap and catch. He spends his nights cowering in fear behind bolted doors as the darkness gives life to all kinds of nasty things!

In the end our hero is joined by a woman and child (who somehow get to Manhattan although all the bridges were bombed when the island was annexed). I won't give the end away needless to say it's fairly Hollywood...

It wasn't as bad as I expected it to be and it was pretty gripping throughout. But for a much more thoughtful take on a similar premise (i.e. humanity nearly wiped out by a virus), I'd recommend "Earth Abides" by George Stewart.

Take That and Party!!

Thanks to my lovely fantastic mum's generosity, I spent Friday evening glammed up at a very special event in Old Billingsgate, a former fishmarket and on this occasion, venue for a fundraising dinner for the Outward Bound Trust, with special guest stars, Take That.

Now, although I was firmly in the target demographic for Take That's first conquest of the pop world, I was more interested in Scotland's own Wet Wet Wet and although the occasional poster may have graced my bedroom wall, the frenzy over their recent reunion has tended to leave me a bit bewildered.

Not any more!


Assured, professional performance, totally at ease with themselves and the audience, no airs and graces, just basic strong singing, really affectionate with each other in a northern bloke-type way, bursting with charisma and I'd forgotten just how bloody good some of their tunes are. I've since downloaded two of their albums and am a complete convert!

One of the best nights I've had in a long, long time.

Wednesday, 9 January 2008

Lovely Ljubljana

After a lazy New Year’s Day, it was off to Ljubljana on 2nd Jan for a few days. After chuntering out to the airport on the Stansted “Express” (hmmm) we arrived to find that our flight was delayed (always risky flying on the last easyjet flight of the day!) but we arrived in good spirits nevertheless and enjoyed a relaxing break in a very laidback, cosmopolitan capital that feels cozy, young, stylish and affluent.

It did, however, take us three museums before we found any real explanation of either Slovenia’s communist past or its experience of World War 2. There was lots of information about its Roman settlements and its current status as an EU state, but I would have really liked to understand a bit more about the complicated set of relationships, ideologies and history in the Balkans, from a Slovenian perspective.

2008 rolls around

So, it’s 2008 and 2007 already seems like a distant memory in some ways. After a long festive break, filled with all kinds of family events, we came back to London for New Year, taking advantage of our close proximity to the Thames to go out to see the fireworks on the river. People around us in the crowd had travelled from as far afield as Derby to see the display, which apparently cost £1 million to put on. Although they were impressive, I’m not sure I would have wanted to travel much further than the 20 minutes it took from our flat! The crowds were a drunken nightmare, it was cold and raining – and to cap it all, we’d brought the wrong bottle opener with us so couldn’t even enjoy our bottle of fizzy wine - I can’t remember the last time I was sober at New Year!

Anyway, despite much talk of Edinburgh losing its Hogmanay crown, I can’t see London competing for it – unlike Princes St, there was no music or entertainment for the crowds, so basically it was just a long wait for some fireworks which were actually a bit tricky to see after a few minutes, thanks to loads of smoke (again, Edinburgh has the advantage of hills to show them from).

Don’t mean to sound negative – it was good to see them and the Eye looked impressive with fireworks shooting off it!