Tuesday, December 30, 2003


No, I think it's been working all this time. Just - things. Things and stuff, and I haven't been writing. So, for the remaining few who haven't yet given up, here's my current predicament:

I have approximately no time available to me to do any writing, and - as we know - writing is one of the things I'd really like to do a bit more of. My main problem is that my free time is at the end of the day, when I'm tired. Despite this, there are a number of things on the go at the moment, none of which seems likely to be finished any time soon. I'm not looking for advice (though don't let that stop you), just kind of putting down a marker of some kind:

The Chronicle of the Lean Months - not, strictly speaking, written by me. In fact, not in any sense written by me, this is a wonderful piece of family history in the form of a diary of the late 1920s kept by my grandfather and his brother. I have been transcribing and researching it, and it is substantially complete. I think it probably needs an introduction or preface of some kind, and I am actively pondering this, but I think I need some more background material, which means more research, and that may have to wait. Although, I do have a lovely tale of my visit to the British Library Newspaper Collection to recount. Remind me, won't you?

Morningside Crescent - complete in one sense, in that there is no more story to be written. I haven't looked at it for over a year, though, because when I did look, I frightened myself with the amount of work needed to make it internally consistent. Serves me right for writing a serial, I suppose. I'd really like to get it done, but I somehow doubt I ever will.

Going Back - nice idea for a short story, born out of my account of the school exchange trip to Germany which I did manage to write earlier in the year. Unfortunately, it resolutely refuses to remain within the 'short story' boundaries, and now needs to be completely reworked into a much longer piece, which I wonder about having the energy for. I only started it because the pivotal scene occurred to me one day and is still fresh in my mind, despite my never having written it down anywhere. I'm a little afraid that if I get that far, I'll consider it done.

Untitled thing - I've foolishly gone and had an idea, and I know that this is a full-length story and I know I'll never have time to do it. I have a sort of vague concept of a retired rock singer suddenly discovering that one of his songs was an underground anthem behind the Iron Curtain - the story proceeds in a kind of parallel state; one thread the imagined riches of a successful career, the other the reality of a faded dream, and some kind of twist involving giving up your dreams for something or other. It's a bit unformed, as may be seen, but it's an idea.

I wonder if any of this will ever see the light of day.

Friday, November 14, 2003

Watty blows the dust off...

Yeah, yeah, I know.

There's something about eggs, and something about Mastermind, although that's probably passed its relevance now, and perhaps I should rant about IBM engineers, but perhaps not.

Also I may have some news about the British Library, which is exciting.

Oh, you want me to spell this stuff out? Well, don't get too excited. It's just random blog stuff. Oh, but I have been writing again; there's a medium-sized story in the works, and I'm quite pleased with it so far. So that may serve as an excuse, if you feel the need for one.

So, eggs. I was thinking about eggs one night, because I saw some on a cookery programme. I'd like to explore my relationship with eggs, since it's an odd one. Over the years, I've found it easiest to simply tell people that I'm allergic to them, which is plainly not true, but keeps things manageable. The truth is more complex than that. I remember that as a child I would happily eat the yolks of boiled eggs, provided that they were heavily salted - but then, as a child, everything I ate was heavily salted - I remember being a student, and too poor to own salt - the astonishment I experienced on discovering that food had lots of different flavours.

So, perhaps I am allergic to egg whites. But that's not true; I can eat meringues, and any number of other things made with egg, as long as I can't taste egg in the finished product, then I don't care what went into it. So what is it? Well, I can't really explain - I suffer a physical revulsion when faced with any kind of cooked egg. Raw, no problem - I can happily break eggs to make cakes and so on, even doing that juggling thing to separate them, where half the white goes over your hands (OK, my hands.) is no problem. I wouldn't eat a raw egg, but I don't believe I'm unusual in that. But start cooking them, and my stomach turns. It doesn't matter how they are cooked, if there's an egg smell in the house, I have to go outside. And I accept that they probably don't taste the way they smell - except, of course, that I know they do. They just do. I have accidentally eaten egg - in sandwiches, for example - and felt fine afterwards, so what exactly is my problem? If it's psychological, I think I'd rather not know what underlies it, if it's physical (and it certainly feels physical) then how come it doesn't seem to affect me if I can't see that it's an egg I'm eating?

No, I don't know the answer, I just felt like writing this all down.

Hey, you come here, you get what you get. What can I say?

Thursday, October 23, 2003

Watty's been thinking...

I was in Chertsey today, looking at photocopiers - the excitement in my life knows no bounds - and on the way home, I thought I might make a short detour around Heathrow and see if there was any Concorde activity on the penultimate day of service. I'm not sure what I was expecting to see, but it seemed like something worth checking out. I battled with the perimeter road and the crowds - even though the last flight's not uintil tomorrow, people were out in numbers, looking for something or other. Maybe they were camping out. At any rate, I battled through the traffic round to the Concorde hangar on the east side, and there was Alpha Foxtrot, looking as sleek and modern as ever she did. As I meandered along, I wondered why I was there at all.

Concorde first flew when I was 7. I remember the excitement and sense of occasion as clearly as I remember the Moon landing later that same year. If I close my eyes, I can still conjure up Raymond Baxter, clearly as thrilled as anyone there, yelling above that deep roar as she took to the skies above Toulouse. I had a Corgi model Concorde, which must have been a very early one, since it was in BOAC colours, with the 'working droop snoot' in a rather unlikely royal blue. I knew that the wing shape was an Ogive delta, even though I had no idea what one of those was. I had Concorde pictures in my scrapbook; I knew about Brian Trubshaw and Olympus engines and Filton; in some unspecified way, Concorde was my areoplane. I don't remember the first time I saw one, although you'd think I would - probably I was a cynical teenager by then. I do know that every time I saw one, I was somehow uplifted; my day brightened a little however good or bad it had been up to then. I know all about the problems and setbacks, and I am aware that this has hardly been the most environmentally friendly project in the history of engineering, but I also know that none of that really matters now - it happened, and now it's over, and I'm far from being the only person to be not a little sorry about it.

I descended the West Ramp to head back to the M4 and home, and I was glad to see that the scale model on the 'Concorde roundabout' is still there. As far as I can see, it's going to be there for a while yet, work is being done on the plinth in preparation for tomorrow, and I can exclusively reveal that after tomorrow, the plinth will read 'Concorde. Timeless.'

Which says it all, really.

I fought my way back on to the M4, and took the high level bridge to join the traffic jam on the M25. Just as I came over the highest part of the bend, I looked out to my left, and there, in the setting sun, was that unmistakable, unforgettable sihouette. I wish I could have stopped. I wish I had had a camera. I wish a hundred other things, but I'm glad I saw her coming in to land today. As I say, I don't remember the first time I saw one fly; I imagine, however, that today was the last time I'll see one in action, in her element, and I'm glad I did. The memories of Concorde from my childhood are inextricably bound up with those of the Apollo missions, and somehow the two conflated in my mind this evening:

"Goodbye Concorde, and thank you."

Monday, October 20, 2003

Watty's been Tate Moderning again:

I rewarded myself for attaining the unlikely age of 41 by extending and renewing my membership of Tate (this year I'll get to St Ives!), but that has pretty much nothing to do with why we went there on Saturday. In truth, we wanted to take the boys on the boat trip between the two Tates, and everything else was just a bonus.

Like the current installation at Tate Modern. Every year, an artist is given the whole of the vast interior of the Turbine Hall to play with, and each of the four installations so far has been intriguing and interesting in its own way. This year's, an installation by the Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson, is spectacular. The Weather Project is, on the face of it, quite simple, and from the descriptions of it in the papers during the week, intriguing but hardly spectacular. But it's one of those things you can't explain. You have to go and see it. Naturally, I'm not going to be prevented from trying to explain it just because it's impossible.

We entered from the south door - I really ought to know by now that these installations need to be experienced from the west, coming down the slope, but never mind - and it was immediately clear that there was something odd about the quality of light. As we went further, we could see that clouds appeared to be forming inside the hall, and everything was suffused by an orange glow. Further in, and we can see the promised sun-like object hung on the wall at the eastern end. It's very impressive, and seems somehow to shimmer, as if its upper half was reflected in water, which is, of course, impossible. The picture does not, I'm afraid, do it justice:

I would have needed some fairly sophisticated camera technology to capture it properly, but that should give an idea.

Gradually, slowly, I became aware of people craning their necks and looking up, and when that happens, you can't help but join in. Whereupon the astonishing realisation that the entire hall has gained a mirrored ceiling. Hung halfway up the 'sun', and also halfway up the hall, the strips of mirror don't alter the shape of the buillding, but alter utterly the way you look at it. They also provide fantastic entertainment, because you can lie on the floor and take pictures of yourself:

(that would be No. 2 Son making like a freefall skydiver in the middle there)

It's something which needs to be seen to properly understand it. I liked the way that you can go behind and above it, and see how it works, and that it was gently forming clouds as the day went on, and that everything was bathed in sodium lighting, so that we all looked a sort of muddy orange. And I liked the way it did what good art should do; it made me think, and it provoked a sense of wonder.

After that, we went to see Finding Nemo, which was just about the perfect end to the day. I quite like the birthdays I'm having at the moment...

Wednesday, October 15, 2003

Watty's been to the TUC:

OK, that's not true. Well, not strictly true, but kind of interesting in an odd way. Yesterday, I was at a conference (Business Performance Measurement, among other things) in a place called Congress Centre. Not somewhere I'd been before, and I couldn't work out exactly where it was from the description. It's in Great Russell St, and apart from the British Museum and some rather expensive hotels, the only things I could think of on Gt Russell St were some upmarket second-hand bookshops. I was a little early, so I got off at Goodge St, and strolled through Bloomsbury in the morning sunlight, playing "spot the Blue Plaque" (12 of them, including one or two to people I'd actually heard of). As I turned into the street in question, I saw what had to be my destination in the middle distance. It looked oddly familiar, with some intriguing statuary on the canopy above the door.

As I drew closer, I suddenly realised where I knew it from - news programmes in my teenage years seemed to be regularly broadcast from these front steps, for this is Congress House, home of the TUC, Tolpuddle Martyrs and all. The Congress Centre is not used for union activities for most of the year, so they've turned it into a high tech conference venue and hire it out.

In the inner courtyard of the building (at least, it used to be an inner courtyard, now it's the main conference hall, but above first floor level it's still open to the sky) there is a very familiar-looking statue - you can see it in the blue bit on their home page, albeit a little fuzzily - which I think is by Eric Gill, but I may be wrong. I imagine it represents the noble suffering of the worker - sorry, Worker - or some such, and it's a shame it's kind of hidden now, for it's a powerful piece of work. At some point in the afternoon, I was listening to a presentation on how greater efficiencies in business information had led to huge improvements in one anonymous business (somewhere in Sweden, I think). The presenter was enumerating with great pride all of the savings and improvements which his new system had brought about: "and of course, they were able to make a number of redundancies..."

I swear I heard the statue, sobbing gently.

Monday, October 13, 2003

Watty's got a cold:

Which seems a little unfair, since I hadn't really got rid of the previous one. So now I have two colds. *insert appropriate sound effects here*

Meanwhile, I spent a part of yesterday putting up new curtain track (small boys, long curtains, you get the idea). Having tried several times to patch up the existing arrangement, I finally gave in and bought new track, which actually went up relatively straightforwardly. Straightforwardly, that is, until I reached the point in the instructions which begins:
So now I have two colds and several gouges out of my hands. And someone's upset the heron outside, and it's squawking.

Wednesday, October 01, 2003

Watty's been to the football:

Don't worry, it's not a match report.

I was invited by one of my suppliers (from whom I may, or may not, be about to purchase two rather expensive colour photocopiers), and on the way there, I was musing about how long it had been since I had seen a game 'in the flesh' as it were. I reckon it must have been the 2000 Scottish Cup final, but the less said about that the better, methinks.

Anyway, we settled down to watch Watford play Burnley, and after noting the usual reactions which a live football match inspires in me - a general sense of anticipation, of heightened senses, of real excitement (don't ask me to explain it, it just is), along with the thrill I have had at every match since my first at the age of eight at just how green the pitch is - I can't explain that one, either - I began to feel that this whiole sensation seemed a little odd.

I'm just out of the habit of this, I thought. And that may be true, but more to the point, I'm now in the habit of something else. I no longer watch games the way I used to; I watch them as if I was watching them on TV. Apart from not bothering to take the time to work out who was who - I was waiting for the commentator to tell me - I found I was watching only a small portion of the play around the ball. One of the great things about the game is how much happens away from the ball; one of the joys is spotting the play developing in areas which some of the players haven't seen yet, and being able to anticipate what's going to happen. I found I was having to force myself not to look at the bit of action I would normally be seeing on the TV. Over the course of the evening, I realised this old, ingrained skill was slowly coming back, but I was still quite surprised by the fact that it was missing. I think I need to start going to games again - otherwise, how am I going to teach the boys how to watch?

Monday, September 22, 2003

Watty's been moved to respond:

was in my newspaper today (not my newspaper, you understand; just the one which lands on my doormat each morning). It is, of course, entirely wrong. Well, wrong in places. I actually felt exercised about it enough to write to him and tell him so, which was fairly pointless, but made me feel better.

Actually, that makes me sound as if I am angry or upset about it. I'm not - I'm just bemused.

Tuesday, September 16, 2003

Watty's just remembered something:

On the way home after my epic journey to Leeds last week (don't ask), I had the good fortune to hear the interval entertainment from that evening's Prom; which was Patrick Stewart reading this - H.G. Wells : The Star. The version we heard was slightly bowdlerised (you can guess where), but nevertheless it was a wonderful thing to hear, and beautifully read, too.

Also, while I'm on an astronomical bent, the coincidence of reading about Galileo just as his namesake is about to plunge to its doom in the atmosphere of Jupiter prompted me to have a look at the Galileo website. Much that is startling and intriguing may be found there. I really should keep a closer eye on these things, I think.

Watty's laughing in the morning for once:

Lifted straight from MCiOS, but it's too good not to share: Dave Barry demonstrating that, among other things, humorous columnists do have influence. I can't tell you how much that has cheered me up this morning.

Friday, September 12, 2003

Watty finally gets round to it:

Prom 54

A Saturday night, a programme of well-known favourites; what's not to like? Well, there's the pain in my legs, for one. I foolishly spent the day wandering round London, climbing the Wellington Arch - as previously noted - among other things, so I only have myself to blame, really. I think I mentioned here last year that it's hard to get something new out of the Mendellsohn violin concerto, and Gil Shaham certainly didn't do that; but he did have a great deal of fun with it, although as someone near me remarked at the interval, it would have been nice if he had shared his enjoyment with the rest of us - there certainly seemed to be a great rapport between soloist and conductor, almost to the exclusion of the audience. But it was fun, and the orchestra visibly enjoyed it.

Almost as much as they, and we, enjoyed the second half. Now I will admit to bias, as you probably know, when it comes to the works of Mahler, but I find it does lend me a somewhat over-critical ear with the symphonies I know well, like this one. I need have had no fears, though - Maris Janssons clearly loves it as well, and drew a superb performance from the Pittsburgh SO. What came across clearly for me was the irony and pastiche, particularly in the funeral march, and now I know what everyone means when they rave about the brass in US orchestras. When the horns (all eight of them) stood up to usher in the finale, it took the sound to a whole new level. It was also pretty damn loud from the front! Loved the encores, too - especially the knowing looks between conductor and audience...

Prom 56

I should have expected the queue, really. It still managed to take me by surprise, though - I turned up at 4, three and a half hours before the start, to find that it was not just down the steps, not just along Prince Consort Road, but halfway up Queens Gate on the way back up to Kensington Gore. I hurried to the end, and joined in the heated speculation. Clearly we were going to be towards the end of those who got in, but that didn't stop literally hundreds more people joining the queue. By the time it was moving, I could no longer see the end of it, so I only have an estimate of how many failed to get in. We shuffled forward, then picked up pace as the queue was processed remarkably quickly. All the way along Prince Consort Road, past the Beit Quad, past the new goods entrance, round the corner, up the steps - discussion now fevered; would we get in; how close would we come? Just up at the last remaining bit of building work, it all grinds to a halt. We stand, preparing ourselves for the bad news. After ten minutes or so, we're off again, shuffling more slowly now. Round the final corner - I can see the door - and down on to the roadway. Surely we're OK now? We stop again. Now the counting of heads starts. I'm number 37 each time they do it, so at least no-one's pushing in. Word reaches us. We have to wait until ten minutes to go, find out how many season ticket holders haven't come, and then that number can be admitted. 7:20 arrives, and the door opens again. The tension is almost unbearable now - come on, come on...

Suddenly, I'm in, with the highest numbered ticket I've ever had - 512 - and as I go down the stairs, I hear the door being closed. Only 6 people made it in behind me. Was it worth it.? Well, apart from the prat with the mobile phone, yes it was. Sir Simon and the Berlin Phil? Yes, of course it was. We had a Bartok piece for Celeste, strings and percussion which was enjoyable enough, but which I probably didn't pay enough attention to thanks to the stress of getting in, and the lack of time to organise myself once in. This was then followed by an incredibly early interval, while the entire stage was rearranged in preparation for the arrival of Tasmin Little in the Ligeti viloin concerto. Now, it's fair to say that this is not for everyone. Not by a long chalk, but I was mesmerised. The skill level required to perform it was outstanding, but Little appeared to have skill to spare as she wrung every conceivable sound out of her fiddle. The whole thing was enlivened for me by the sudden appearance of a chorus of ocarinas and slide whistles, faithfully reproduced by the soloist in her cadenza at the end. Startling stuff, and I should mention that my enjoyment was enormously enhanced by the superb programme notes (which can be seen here for a short time) - they really helped understanding of what I was hearing.

Which only left 'Rite of Spring', or 'the one with the mobile phone' as it may well come to be known. In case anyone missed it, the very first notes of the opening bassoon melody were accompanied by the Nokia ring tone. Sir Simon stopped, glared briefly at the offender, then began again. To me, the interruption added a real edge to the whole performance,and it sounded to me like no version of the 'Rite' I had heard before, but I imagine that the poor bassoonist, who may not even have heard the interruption, will have had better nights. Afterwards, a little 'Gymnopedie' "so that we can all drive home safely", preceded by a pointed remark about leaving the phone at home. An evening which could have been memorable for the wrong reasons was, in the end, memorable for the music. But that bloody mobile phone ran it close.

Thursday, September 11, 2003

Watty still hasn't done those reviews:

I have had the great joy of an email - two actually - from a long, long lost friend. Someone who was a teenage thespian at the same time as I was, and who found his name in some of my 'Musical Memories' from last year.

Evening, Rannoch - I'll be in touch again soon.

Monday, September 08, 2003

Watty wanders in:

I did get in, in case you were wondering. Reviews will follow, when I get the energy back.

In the meantime, I want to know this: when did I start to suffer from vertigo?

Last weekend, I happened to be passing the Wellington Arch in Hyde Park Corner, and discovered that you can go in it, and climb (well, go up in a lift) to the top, and gaze over parts of London. And spectacular it is, too. There are also a couple of intriguing galleries inside, detailing - among other things - the history of the blue plaque scheme. Now, I have always been a fearless climber of things; I've been up Notre Dame, the Eiffel Tower, the CN tower, the Duomo in Milan; you name it, I've climbed it and peered over the edge. So I was slightly surprised to find that on reaching the top of the lift, I was overcome by a powerful feeling that I didn't want to be there. It's hard to describe, just a definite reluctance to go outside, and a feeling that I needed to hang on to something solid at all times. I'm sure this is not unusual for many people, but it took me by surprise. Perhaps, I thought, it's because the parapet is not much above waist height, and it's a bit windy. I made myself go out there, and I tried to look convincingly unworried, but I was a bit spooked.

So yesterday, on discovering that our local monument was open, I resolved to try again. It has (as may be seen) a relatively high railing - surely I'd be OK up there. But no; the same odd sensation of needing to hold on to something. I enjoyed the view, and the boys came with me, much to their excitement - they were unaffected by the height - but I still felt odder than I expected to. Perhaps it's age. *shrugs*

Sunday, August 31, 2003

Watty's in the queue

The queue for tonight's Prom, that is. It's absurdly long, which I really ought to have anticipated, and I'm by no means certain of getting in, but here I sit anyway. I feel I should catch up on what's been happening, but this is really not the right keyboard for all the typing required. So here I sit, while the people next to me play cards, and the man on my left (which is to say, ahead of me) gives up and tries the Gallery queue, and I just know it wi l be good one. If I get in, that is...

Friday, August 29, 2003

Watty's been away:

And busy - ridiculously busy. That's my excuse, anyway. More soon. Probably.

Monday, August 11, 2003

Watty didn't forget this:

Prom 26

The traditional, once-a-summer 'too hot to Prom' Prom.

Actually, in spite of an ill-advised rush to get there, caused by speed restrictions on the railways (in turn, due to the heat melting the rails), this was not the hottest I have ever been at a Prom. In fact, the whole thing was surprisingly bearable. Don't get me wrong, it was hot enough for the sweat to have been running down my spine. But I've been there and felt sweat running down my legs...

Anyway. Whilst in the queue, just at the bit on the steps where the new air conditioning dumps all its excess heat, I was accosted by a woman from BBC Scotland who wondered if I would like to be part of her documentary on tonight's conductor. Sadly, I had only a vague idea who he was, so I passed, but it seemed that a number of people were here specifically to see him, which was intriguing. Once safely inside, I scoured the programme to find out what all the fuss was about. It turns out that Ilian Volkov is in his first season at the BBC Scottish SO, and is only 7 years old.

OK, he's 27, but I still feel old. I can handle the performers being that young, even the composer, but this is really taking it too far. Conductors should be distinguished and grey. Or just grey, in the case of Sir Simon. He's going to have to be good, I thought.

Fortunately, he was good. He lived up to the hype comfortably, and is clearly going to be a star. We started with a new piece by Judith Weir (who is a friend of the man I queued next to. That's why I like the Proms) called The Welcome Arrival of Rain, which was pleasant and lively, and has almost entirely disappeared from my memory already, I'm afraid. There then followed the Schumann cello concerto, courtesy of Heinrich Schiff. I expected to kind of like it, but without any huge expectations, but Herr Schiff had other ideas. He attacked it with gusto, and not a little perspiration, and really brought it shining to life. In the conditions, it was a remarkable performance, and one I shall remember fondly for some time. Which is something I never expected to say about a Schumann concerto, to be frank. There then followed a short French farce involving the presentation of flowers to the soloist, who had just left the stage. After a few red faces, the flowers were united with their intended recipient, who promptly gave them to the lady cellist he was passing. She, deep in conversation, was somewhat startled, to say the least.

The second half began as the first had ended, with rumblings in the audience thanks to the fountain being left on, and an extraordinary hiccup, just as silence fell, but quickly setled down to an impressive and highly satisfactory rendition of Shostakovich 10. Volkov handled the orchestra impeccably, producing the requisite fire and brimstone in the second movement, followed by the quiet longing of the third. By the end, I was entirely caught up in his version of Shostakovich's world, the repeated DSCH motif seeming to come at us from everywhere at once, and if the ending seemed a little abrupt, then I'm afraid that's the way it was written, and doesn't reflect on the conductor at all. Of whom we will hear a great deal more, I'm certain. I have more ruminations on the whole Prom experience, but they'll have to wait, I'm afraid. I have a holiday to attend to.

Watty's been a bit hot:

Hm, August. I can honestly say that I don't remember ever being this hot in this country. Yesterday lunchtime even I was beaten inside by the ferocity of the sun; in the direct sunlight, the temperature must have broken 40o. It's been a remarkable summer all told - I was able to hike around in shorts before Easter, and although we are promised cooler weather, all that is going to happen is that tempertures will return to normal for this time of year. Which, if you were brought up in the north of Scotland, is still pretty hot. In fact, the temperature in the middle of the night at the moment still feels hot to me.

Still, we're heading for the north of Scotland tomorrow for a week. That should sort it out.

Wednesday, July 30, 2003

Watty's nearly up to date:

Prom 13

Context is everything. Prom 13 was about John Adams' On the Transmigration of Souls, but to treat that piece apart from the rest of the programme is to do it a great disservice. The evening was designed to provide a setting for the final work, and it did so admirably. Firstly, a nicely played 'Trauer' symphony - it does have a sense of melancholy and mourning, and that sense was made evident without losing the drive and purpose which keeps the music flowing - conductor Adams clearly enjoying the experience. This followed by a coruscating reading of the Bartok third piano concerto from Héléne Grimaud - her playing really giving the clear sense of raging against the dying of the light, and setting us up nicely for what followed.

John Adams (I presume) had chosen to prefix his contemplation of the tragedy of New York with Aaron Copland's Quiet City, a subtle and charming view of the same city - not without its problems, but a place to celebrate nevertheless - with glorious solos on trumpet and cor anglais. It left me with a clear sense of the city before the tragedy, and Transmigration was intended to give the sense of the aftermath; the loss, the pain, the determination in some way to move on. It begins and ends with footsteps and a roll call of names, and layers together a kind of musical rage and dismay with sorrow and loss; the voices articulating the only emotions available in such a time - the simple truths of love and loss, often in a manner which recalled the simplicities of plainchant. The repeated 'I love you' was moving, but the phrase which leapt out at me was 'I see buildings and water' - although presented in context, in that this cannot help but be a work about September 11 2001, it also spoke to me of hope and confidence in the future of New York; a kind of 'we're still here' statement. Whether this work survives in the repertoire is largely irrelevant; it exists in the here and now, and relates to an event which touched all our lives in some way, therefore it is art to celebrate, and use as art should be used - to provide a place to consider one's own reactions.

Tuesday, July 29, 2003

Watty's catching up:

Good grief, a week's gone by.

I have two Proms to review, and - well, maybe some other stuff, too.

Prom 11 - Blue Peter Prom

Taking a 5 year old to his first Prom is an experience I recommend to everyone. Every small part of the experience takes on a new significance when seen through the eyes of a child. The Hall looks bigger, redder; the audience more excitable. No, wait - the audience are more excitable. And with reason. Looking at this through the eyes of a child, I find it difficult to imagine how it could be improved. We shivered to 'Sleigh Ride', we marveled at Julian Bliss, we whistled along with the Great Escape, we laughed at the programme notes, and we oohed and aahed at the lighting. And then we were simply bowled over by Stomp. I can't imagine a better way to teach children about rhythm, and the use of three folding chairs to demonstrate how a Canon works was simply perfect. From there it was all orchestral majesty, and Pomp and Circumstance. Oh, and balloons. You can't do this kind of thing without balloons.

We're doing that again.

Tuesday, July 22, 2003

Watty's been feeling a bit odd all day:

I mean, it's not every day you pass a dead body on your way to work, is it? Just a mundane traffic accident, in truth; a large Land Rover-type vehicle parked perpendicular to the road, front end in a hedge, two police cars, and an ambulance. I sat in a short queue behind it all, idly wondering what had happened, then the line of cars moved, and we crawled past the scene; the usual group of onlookers milling around and paramedics and police officers doing what they do in those situations. As I pass the Land Rover, I realise that there is someone lying in the road, and that they are covered up, with no one paying particular attention to them. I am past before I realise the implications of this, and it's sat uneasily in my subconscious for the rest of the day. On the way home tonight, I see a Police sign appealing for information, and a forlorn bunch of flowers on the verge.

And however much it's bothered me today, it's nothing compared to what those involved are going through tonight. I have no way of knowing who they are, but nevertheless, I spare them a thought as I sit here listening to my radio, and getting on with my life.

Wednesday, July 16, 2003

Watty's been all cultural:

Two different Tates in three days. This may be some kind of record - well, for me, anyway. Firstly, Tate Modern on Sunday.

It's probably my favourite building in London, and I go there more than I go to any other place when I'm in town, which is not often these days. The Albert Hall in Proms season doesn't count. Well, OK, it does, but.

I'll start again. Thanks to being a member of Tate, I was able to stroll into the Cruel and Tender exhibition without queueing, or indeed, paying, and I recommend it if you're in the neighbourhood. The Tate's first full-scale photography retrospective, it takes as its theme 'the real in 20th Century photography'. It's an interesting and eclectic mix of photographers, and the contrasts were intriguing. I found, to my surprise, that the landscapes - mainly detailing the impact of mankind on the land - were more engaging than the portrait-style pictures of people, which seemed as a rule disengaged from their subjects. I make an exception for Diane Arbus, but a lot of the others seemed to depend on odd camera angles and lighting for effect, while the Bechers' industrial close ups are stark and strangely moving. a special mention, too, to Andras Gursky's 99 cent, which is overwhelmingly huge, and somehow soothing. Most interesting.

And then last night, I went to Tate Britain for a 'supporters evening' viewing of the Bridget Riley exhibition. Now, I know she's not for everyone, but you need to put aside your preconceptions about migraines, and properly look at these paintings. At some level, all painting is about lines, curves and colours, but Riley distills this into something which transcends mere painting. The earlier works, in particular, are alive with movement, and given the right amount of concentration, you really can feel yourself being almost physically drawn into them. One in oarticular, Arrest 2 is hung in such a way that I found myself looking along the surface to check that the canvas really was flat. The exhibition is arranged broadly chronologically, and it is fascinating to trace her development, from the stark black and white stripes of the early years to the recent riots of colour and form. One room is given over to an exploration of the creative process. Here are all those famous imges, painstakingly traced out on graph paper, and minutely annotated with lines, numbers and instructions. A terrific show, and a wonderful experience to be there 'after hours', as it were.

Friday, July 11, 2003

Watty's been travelling:

Well, that was a strange day. On the face of it, get up early, travel to meeting, have successful meeting, have lunch, go for short walk, travel home again sounds pretty mundane. However, yesterday, the meeting was in Prague. A short travelogue is in order, then:

The best thing about being up at 5 in the morning is that Christmas Day-like lack of traffic. Even late in the evening there is still a reasonable weight of traffic, but at that time in the morning, I can make it to Heathrow in half an hour. Cheerfully taking the wrong turning (hey, I'm not awake yet) I have to do a half circuit of the perimiter road to get to the car park. This affords me the opportunity to hear the 'Radio 4 UK Theme', which is played at 0530 every day, apparently. A lushly scored, sub-Percy Grainger amalgamation of Rule Britannia, Men of Harlech, Londonderry Air and so on, it caught my attention for two reasons. Firstly, the English tunes are Greensleeves and What Shall We Do With The Drunken Sailor?; and secondly, I don't hear a Scottish element. Later in the day, however, I find myself humming 'Scotland the Brave', so presumably I just missed it whilst avoiding a bus. Parking at Heathrow takes forever, of course, and I'm only just in time for the check in. Fortunately, travelling 'hand luggage only' is pretty much painless, and I am checked in for the return flight at the same time - which just might come in very handy at the other end of the day.

I have flown Czech Airlines before, and they are perfectly pleasant, but clearly without the muscle of BA. We don't seem to be late in boarding, but have to wait half an hour before pushing back. Slots are at a premium at that time in the morning, and something tells me that the planes with the Union Jack on the tail get priority. Intriguingly, Iain Duncan Smith is going to Prague today, too - I bet he's on BA, though. Once airborne, am struck by the fact that I was reading the night before about flying Spitfires over this same part of Kent; I try to imagine what is must have been like - visibility probably not much better that you get through the perspex window of a 737, but a sight colder. We hurtle on towards central Europe, fortified by an airline breakfast. The scenery below changes so gradually that I scarcely notice it, and it's not until we are letting down into Prague that it's obvious. The heavily wooded ravines, red pantiles and round churches are just so Bohemian. Although I was here for only a few days 5 years ago, it's oddly good to be back. Everything is going well, if a little late, until we reach Passport Control.

The exiting passengers are faced with a long blue wall, set into which are a number of doors. Behind these doors sit uniformed Police officers, doing the dullest job in the world, and comensating for the boredom by looking fierce and occasionally interrogating someone for an unreasonable amount of time. Something like 6 flights have all arrived at around the same time, so there are about 600 people to process, and - naturally - not enough doors. We form into unruly queues, but some of the queues are tucked around the corner, and so are not obvious when you first arrive. Therefore everyone piles into the first three queues - one which is not moving at all, and two which are inching forward painfully slowly. To improve the entertainment factor, one of the flights appears to be an entire Scottish football team and their supporters, who are well-behaved, but very obviously in a big gang together. After an hour - I'm not making this up - my queue has reached the line at the front. I stand there, passport poised, hoping that my lift hasn't given up and gone home, when they shut the doors. Lunchtime, apparently. We merge politely with the queue next to us, ignoring the choice Scottish insults being lobbed at us - I pretend to be Italian, but I doubt it fools anyone.

Eventually, passport scowled at, I emerge, blinking into the Prague daylight. My lift has not given up, although he's quite tricky to track down, and we head off in to town. The Ferrero Cz offices are in Wenceslas Square, which is better than some faceless industrial park, but does not lend itself to rapid transport. Very quickly, we come upon the most obvious sign of change in the past 5 years - a traffic jam. Solid, M25-like traffic as far as the eye can see. We detour heroically, and I get to see all sorts of intriguing Prague suburbs. Some of them look quite smart and modern; some of them look distinctly Cold War era. Eventually, we reach the centre and, after a few more amusing minutes spent in search of parking, we troop into a wonderfully typical Prague building, festooned with pillars and intricate stonework. Inside, we negotiate the concierge, and find ourselves in a wonderful central European stairwell, complete with Soviet lift, all Cyrillic lettering, and distinctly ropy mechanism. We use the lift on the way up, but I notice that we walk back down.

I shall spare you the meeting - sufficient to say that it was more than satisfactory - and proceed straight to a rather late lunch. We walked past the National Gallery (next time...) and into a cavernous, and very typically Czech-looking restaurant. Almost every place I have eaten in Prague has been underground, and this is no exception. Thankfully, there are more steps at the back, and we come up into a very pleasant beer garden, where I am made to drink my daily ration of pivo ("Every Czech, from babies to grandmothers, drinks three beers a day"), and I volunteer to be fed typical Czech cuisine. Grandmother's potato soup is wonderful, and the duck is pretty good, although could possibly have done with fewer dumplings. At least I was going to sleep on the way home. After a debate about whether strudel is actually a Czech dish, and much amusements at my attempts to say 'Thank You' (I got it, but I needed to see it written down. Oh the shame - and me a linguist, too), it was proposed that I might like a stroll round Wenceslas Square, which I accept happily.

It hasn't changed much, really - possibly there are even more tourists than before, but the bookshops are still there, and the ridiculously cheap tat they want to sell me ("Oh, Prague is very expensive; you should come out into the country") I buy T shirts for the boys, and get change from 500 Crowns, and we soak up the sunshine and avoid the travelling Hare Krishna band on our way back to the traffic. As we sit in more jams, dodging trams, I reflect on how odd it is, for someone of my generation, to be able to come to Prague for the day, and buy software. There is still a big part of me which doesn't accept that there is no Iron Curtain any more, and that the Czech Republic is full of Audis and BMWs, advertising and Western goods; the airport is full of Boeings; and all these young people with green passports are Czechs on their way somewhere, not tourists on their way in. But one day, I'm going to go there, and really see the city.

Thursday, July 03, 2003

Watty's seeing camels:

Yup - real, honest-to-goodness camels. Grazing in a field by the side of the road. I don't imagine my day will improve after that.

It's something to do with a Circus. I'm not seeing things. I'm not.

Saturday, June 28, 2003

I know I've posted from the train before now; but that was from a laptop and involved large amounts of juggling with the mobile. Today, I am comfortably sitting on the platform at Tring, my mobile is in my pocket, and I'm tapping this into a little hand held iPaq. Well, I'm impressed...

Monday, June 23, 2003

Watty's still going on about it:

I ordered the said Paddy McAloon CD from a new online retailer (well, new to me, anyway - they are probably extremely well known for this kind of thing) called CD-Wow! The price was excellent (£8.99), they offer free delivery, and I'd have the CD in 5 - 7 working days apparently. So I placed the order on Friday morning, and forgot all about it. Until this morning, when the parcel arrived (that's next working day, then), postmarked Hong Kong. I'm rather impressed.

Saturday, June 21, 2003

Watty's been shopping again:

It hadn't really passed me by - I still see quite a bit of news and so on, but it was quite a surprise to discover just how much excitement there has been today. It's Harry Potter Day. The boys and I were in Milton Keynes, and at every turn, we were confronted by wizards, owls and Ford Anglias. Even the shops which had nothing to do with it were showing HP videos or something. I remember big book launches from my time in the trade, but this is absurd. Each shop is vying with the others to offer the best deal - if you are actually trying to buy the thing, your head must be spinning. Ottakars are running a fancy dress competition, and the shop is full of children dressed as teenage wizards, not to mention the staff. My favourite is a nine- or ten-year old boy, immaculately turned out in the full Potter gear, and it has to be said, very pleased with himself. His excitable parents are ushering him round the shop, pointing him at the staff, and exclaiming "Look! He's got a real scar on his forehead. Right here..." He has, too.

Thursday, June 19, 2003

Watty wishes to enthuse:

Paddy McAloon has finally released a new album, and it's magnificent. In fact, it's probably beyond magnificent - a reflection in music and words (not 'lyrics'; words) of the process of being suddenly and possibly permanently, blind, it's not 'pop music' in any recognisable form, but it's probably the music this gifted, intelligent musician was born to make. Breathtaking at first listen, I can't imagine how much I'm going to come to love this.

Watty went to sea:

OK, that's a lie. I went on a boat. (This boat, if you're interested). It's tied pretty firmly to the Embankment just opposite the Oxo tower, so a bit of mild bobbing was as nautical as it got. I sat and politely listened to a number of presentations, learned a few small but potentially useful things, very politely laughed sympathetically in that nice British way we have when IIS fell over during a demonstration, had a very pleasant barbecued lunch, managed to stay awake in the afternoon, and marveled once again at companies putting people in front of audiences they wish to impress without first at least letting them rehearse what they are going to say. Only one of todays speakers was what you might call proficient at it, and he stood out a mile.

Afterwards, I fended off several slightly panicked phone calls from my staff, explained carefully how to resolve the problem which was causing the panic, and rewarded myself with some very nice cold beer at the Head of Steam before trundling home on the train. Well, it was a different day, anyway.

Wednesday, June 18, 2003

Watty's still working in a building site:

It's an unnerving experience. The aquisition of a new suite of offices has turned into a full-blown rebuilding project, which was originally designed to proceed in simple, self-contained stages with people only moved at the last minute once their new accommodation was ready. However, owing to the sheer impossibility of getting anyone to agree to anything, or even to stop changing their minds for 30 seconds, it's all being done randomly, and none of it is being finished properly. So here we sit, temporarily in the middle of the office, covered in dust, unable to hear anything thanks to the incessant drilling and banging, subject to all the passing conversations since we're in the middle of what was the corridor.

And every half hour someone else comes round and asks for their telephone or PC to be moved - often it's the same person several times in a row. So I'm slowly going mad, and in the end, we'll be squeezed into slightly less space. Hmm.

Never mind: tomorrow, I'm going on a boat on the Thames for the day.

Tuesday, June 17, 2003

Watty's been shopping:

I've also not been well, but I'm pretty much better now, thanks. What's left appears to be hayfever, and, as such is merely an irritant

I popped out at lunchtime - the office is currently a building site, so any relief from the dust and noise is welcome - in order to go and do some shopping, it being close to various birthdays. Once I had done the necessary, I thought I'd follow up a post on the Radio 3 messageboard, and zoomed up to Superdrug (not my usual port of call for CDs, but anyway) and bought myself this:

That'll be all 15 Shostakovich symphonies. 11 CDs. A decent edition, too - Rudolf Barshai, recorded within the last ten years. Grand total? £6.49.

No, the decimal point isn't in the wrong place. Even if they were average quality (which they're not), 43p per symphony would be good value. I tell you, I'd have been pleased to get 11 blank CDs for that price... I'm off for a lie down.

Friday, June 06, 2003

Watty's not been well:

Most odd. Just like having 'flu, only without the cold symptoms. Aches, pains, high temperature, dizziness, that sort of thing. A long night's sort-of sleep seemed to sort it out, but left me feeling like I'd been ill for weeks. So, I'm a bit quiet.

Hasn't stopped me updating this, though. If you feel you might be in the vicinity over the summer, just let me know; you'd be most welcome.

Sunday, June 01, 2003

Watty's been on the Home Front:

I was woken this morning by the news that the kitchen was infested. Not entirely unexpected, as will become clear. I struggled into some form of clothes, and staggered downstairs to face the enemy. It seems that every year, around Whitsun, out come the ants. Quite who is responsible for telling the ants that it's the end of May, I'm not sure, but there you are. As my eyes gradually unfog and begin to focus on the kitchen floor, I can see that I'm in for a day of military activity. The ants have established a bridgehead at the strategic hall/kitchen border, and have strong supply lines snaking across under the kitchen table, where there may or may not be the odd disused pea. Other raiding parties are striking out for an interesting-loking Ribena stain deeper into the kitchen, and a few enterprising souls are heading off randomly, but full of hope and determination.

First avenue of attack - last year's crawling insect spray. Alas, there's not even propellant left in the can. Boiling water's out - not at this time in the morning; I'd only pour it on my feet, and in any case, I have no idea where they're coming from. So, kitchen cleaner with bleach, then. Well, it's certainly fatal to them; the ant forces take some heavy casualties early on, but I'm left with dozens of corpses to deal with, and a strong smell of bleach at the breakfast table. As I gather the matériel required to mop up, I realise that a second wave has been launched, and I can't tell where they're coming from. None of last year's entry points have any ants near them, and there's no other obvious way in. Slowly it dawns on me that they're coming up the hall from the front door - struggling antfully over the lip, past the draught excluder, through the doormat, and up the relatively ant-unfriendly carpet. Pausing only to applaud their strength of purpose, I break out the Dyson Of Doom. A few minutes of cyclonic vacuum, and the invasion is over. For now, anyway. I quickly apply washing up liquid to the strategic parts of the invasion route, and retreat to an uneasy breakfast.

By the time we're ready to go out for reinforcements, I'm half-convinced I've won. When we get back, armed with sprays and traps and so on, I'm startled to discover that I actually have won. This doesn't stop me spraying every square inch of potential entry, and laying traps near what is obviously Base Camp near the front door, but for now, I think I can hold them off.

I know I should be conducting scientific experiments, and studying their migration patterns, and so on, but not in my kitchen, thank you. Did I ever tell you about the time we had a mouse in the kitchen in Perth..?

Tuesday, May 20, 2003

Watty's had an unexpected treat:

We're looking to buy some new remote backup software. Hardly stirring stuff, but - well, OK, it's not remotely interesting to anyone but me, but bear with this. I asked if we could go and see it in use somewhere; a perfectly normal request, and one which usually ends up with me driving to Peterborough or Bracknell, and wandering around a draughty shed for half a day. Not this time, though. We - Simon and I - were invited to go and see how they do things at the Wellcome Trust in Euston Road. Now, the product demonstration was excellent, and very useful; the people we met could not have been more friendly or helpful, and we were allowed to go and gasp in wonder at the robotic tape library doing its thing. And all that was well and good, and I was more than happy just to have had the experience of being in this wonderful Art Deco building, when it was suggested that we might like to visit the library.

Now, you might not be all that excited by libraries (so what are you doing reading this, then?), but even the cynic amongst us could not fail to be impressed by the exhibition of Francis Crick's lab notes. There, under glass, was real, legible, history. One sheet holds a primitive sketch of the DNA helix - possibly the first time it had been put down on paper in that way. Over there is the Nobel Prize telegram. Another notebook is open at the first page (amusingly, it's been started from the back, so the book is displayed upside down. On the first page, a confident hand has written D.N.A., and underlined it. Beneath that, the pencil marks are readable but faint, but it's that first line which stops you. Was that the first time Crick had written it down like that? It certainly felt like it. An astonishing document, in a wonderful library.

And then, after viewing some of the wonderful art in the Wellcome collection, we were ushered out by means of a quiz question answer - the tunnel under Euston Road which links the two parts of the Trust; it's owned by London Underground, leased to the Wellcome Trust, and has wonderful LU posters along its length. At the midpoint, you pass quite obviously over the platforms at Euston Square, and under the Euston Road. Eventually, you emerge on the other side of the street.

Far more interesting than my usual Tuesday morning. I must go and organise sending those guys some chocolate...

Thursday, May 15, 2003

Watty has been writing:

This isn't what I was writing; this got written by accident. But someone liked it...

Tuesday, May 13, 2003

Watty's been to Birmingham:

I was led there under false pretences. I was supposed to be attending an exhibition / trade show on 'Storage Solutions'. When I got there (there being the Birmingham Botanical Gardens), I was slightly surprised to be urgently escorted into the conference session despite not having paid for it. It was only just the right side of 'dull and uninteresting', and I resolved to get out and go round the exhibition as soon as I could politely excuse myself. The exhibition turned out to be six people sat behind tables in a room dominated by tea and biscuits, and almost entirely uninteresting. I made my excuses and left. Actually, I didn't. I just left. This was, apparently 'The (their italics) event for IT professionals'. Harumph.

So what does one do when stranded in Birmingham for the best part of a day? Well, I went and bought a sandwich, trundled over to see 'the best bookshop in the midlands' -(heaven help the rest of the midlands), and parked alongside the runway at Coventry airport, watching small aircraft struggling with the weather, while I wrote a long overdue and much needed training programme. So a not entirely wasted day, thankfully.

And then I drove home through a magnificent hail-and-thunderstorm, listening to Verdi's Requiem; 'Dies Irae' seemed hugely appropriate as the road disappeared under water...

Oh, and The Birmingham Botanical Gardens is a weird place to hold a trade show.

Monday, May 12, 2003

Watty's busy

I'm not blogging because the muse has called. I'm writing something, and I have some hopes for it. Watch this space...

Friday, May 02, 2003

Watty's got a question:
How exactly does this kind of thing happen? I know that the 'will of the people' will appear to have been served, and I'm pretty sure that the Lib Dems will see it as a ringing endorsement, but how can it be right that for the next four years, the people of Aylesbury will be governed by an unopposed single party. And what about, say, Quarrendon ward? What about the more than 5,500 people who did not vote for the two elected councillors? No wonder people are so apathetic...

Thursday, May 01, 2003

Watty's been exercising his franchise:

Although I am wondering just how much point there was to it tonight. The smallest ballot paper I have ever used had but two names on it, and although mine might turn out to be the casting vote, somehow I doubt it. The party of national government, elected two years ago by a supposed overwhelming majority, doesn't seem to think it worth their while putting up a candidate in this ward, or indeed in many others on the council. Which leaves us with what is, on the face of it, a truly democratic vote - the person who has more than half the votes will be elected. Of course, if you wish neither candidate to represent you, you do not have a voice - out of the wide potential spread of political opinion, I was tonight faced with only two possibilities. Since the two parties concerned will contest the overall make up of the whole council, I can pretend that my vote did at least influence that outcome. It did, of course, do nothing of the kind. If the person I voted for does not win, then my vote is not playing any part in the process, other than the important one of noting that yes, even though I am unhappy with the process, I still feel it is important to take part in it.

The Edlesborough election is not, sadly, representative of the opinion of the people who live here - it's a pretty thin kind of democracy, really. Only those who feel obliged, or who are involved have bothered to vote, and no pollster would accept the result from such a self-selecting sample; one in which a proportion of voters will not have bothered because the party they support was not even on the ballot paper. The turnout will be minimal, verging on the pathetic, and I can't honestly say that had I not bothered, or chosen the other candidate, there would have been the slightest difference in when and how efficiently my dustbins are collected. So why do I bother? Well, like Churchill said; democracy is the worst possible system of government - except for all the others. And it is a democracy, and a freedom which would be keenly missed if removed; and it is the most valuable thing we can do as members of society - to participate in deciding how that society is run, and having the opportunity to dismiss those who we percieve to be doing it badly.

But. like I say, it's also a pretty thin kind of democracy, and it wouldn't take much imagination to make it more representative. By my quick count, there are 59 seats on the council, and the current council is split pretty much 50/50. I doubt very much, however, that political opinion in the district is split that way. At present, real political power is held by a handful of independent councillors, most likely chosen on single-issue campaigns, who have staggeringly disproportionate influence. If the council were truly representative of the views of the electorate - and if that electorate were obliged to vote - then of course there would be a great deal of horse-trading and debate; but isn't that what democracy is all about? The argument is that the current system produces strong government; but it actually produces government intent only on winning elections, not representing the views of the people - the two names on my ballot paper tonight make that point very clearly.

Wednesday, April 30, 2003

Watty's all joyful:

It's my favourite day of the year. No, not because of Walpurgisnacht - I shan't be eating pickled herring today; perhaps I should.

No, today sees the publication of the Proms programme, which really does mark the beginning of summer for me. No highlights yet; I haven't had time to read it, although this looks particularly unmissable....
More later

Monday, April 28, 2003

Watty's feeling all literate:

Some more writing. I've been promising this for about a year now, and I finally did it:

It may yet see a revision or two, but it's substantially done. I have found some of the people from the bus, and they have promised not to sue. Next step is to send it to the two schools involved, and see if I can provoke a response of some kind, it being the 25th anniversary and all. You never know...

Also, the books list over there has been getting seriously out of date. I'm going to try to fix it, but the one thing I know for sure is that my nice idea of doing reviews for each thing I read is not really sustainable - it's a matter of time, I'm afraid, as most things are. Still, nice to be busy...

Sunday, April 27, 2003

Part 3:

  • I travelled on most of the elements of transport covered by the Travelcard, and it stuck me what astonishingly good value it is. For less than I paid for my sandwich at lunchtime, I travelled from Osterley to Wimbledon on the Tube, from Wimbledon to Merton, and then on to Elmers End via Croydon on Tramlink; then to Lewisham on a normal train (in spite of strikes); onward to Greenwich on the DLR; still on the DLR (once I managed to find the cunningly concealed Cutty Sark station) to Bank; and then tube - plus a stroll in the parks - back to Osterley. I'm sure I could sit down and work out how far that all is, but take it from me, £4.50 for that journey is ridiculously cheap.

  • No, my sandwich didn't actually cost £5 - I had some other things, too.

  • There are some wonderful roads in North Wales - if you're ever jaded by hacking around on motorways, try driving from Welshpool to Dolgellau.

  • There are some people who would like to hear from you if you do enjoy hacking around on motorways.

  • Chester is every bit as pleasant as I had always imagined. It contains what is now one of my favourite bookshops: partly because it sold me a copy of The Right Stuff for a pound; partly because it also sold me a splendid copy of Mahler 3 for next to no money; but mostly because it is on top of the City Walls - in fact, it is effectively in the City Wall. This elevates it enormously in my estimation. Good prices, too, if you're used to London.

  • I am trying to visit all four Tate galleries this year, while I am a member ('twas one of my birthday presents). I made it to Liverpool, and I'm extremely glad I did. Not only is the Tate much more comprehensive and interesting than I remember, but they had a quite stunning installation by Janet Cardiff, which made the whole weekend worthwhile. You can read about it on the page I linked to, but neither the description there, nor anything I might say here can convey the power and thrill of walking around this piece and genuinely feeling as if you are inside the choir. Nothing can convey the joy of hearing unexpected harmonies; the feeling that one of the singers appears to be slightly flat until you walk a foot or so to the left, and hear how exquisitely the voice harmonises with the one next to it; the sheer uplift of being in the middle of this piece when you are enveloped by one of Tallis' sudden bursts of joy; the sight of other people, walking around enraptured or the sudden glimpse of container ships on the Mersey just when you are convinced you must be in some gothic cathedral. Wonderful, and highly recommended. As is her other piece in the same display, a curious and witty examination of cinemagoing.

  • I also went to see the Beatles Story. It ought to be a tacky rip-off. Miraculously, it isn't.

Friday, April 25, 2003

Watty's wanderings, part 2: (before I forget)

A few observations on things I saw on the way to Portmeirion - and on the way back, come to that:

  • I walked on a part of this route one day; and I discovered our neighbourhood quarry at Kensworth. Apparently, it has an underground pipeline which delivers its products to Rugby, over a hundred miles away. At least it keeps the disruptive traffic down. I made a mental note to do more walking - I wonder if I can keep my resolution?

  • I went checking up on Time Team - trekking around South London, I found two of the sites from the most recent series: Merton Abbey Mills, and Greenwich. Unsurprisingly, neither site showed any sign of having had enormous trenches cut into them. Surprisingly - to me, anyway - both the marvellous second-hand bookshops near those two sites have fallen into a state of some neglect. There is, as far as I can tell, now only one decent bookshop in Greenwich, and none at Merton. Which is not to say that I didn't find books there - I did - but that browsing was a depressing, rather than uplifting, experience. I fear for some of these places. And I do feel inspired to create my online bookshop database, but where would I find the time?

  • More later, possibly much later...

Sunday, April 20, 2003

Watty's been wandering:

All over North Wales and Merseyside, to be exact. Oh, and a trip on a tram in Croydon, too. And a walk in the country - the kind I don't often do nowadays. It's been a lot of fun, if tiring. I have several observations to make, not all chronological (where's the fun in that?) and not all in this post, but I'll make them anyway.

Apparently, bets are being taken now on the UK's first 100oF day happening this summer. If April's anything to go by, it's a dead cert. Twice in the course of the last four days, the thermometer in my car read 32oC - admittedly, the true temperature was around 26o or so, but even so - this was in the middle of April. Earlier in the week, it was snowing. I am naturally sceptical towards claims of significant climate changes, but I do wonder...

I have longed to go back to Portmeirion for nearly 20 years now, and on Friday, I finally made it.

A more perfect day for it I cannot imagine. Admittedly, the glorious weather brought out the tourists - but I can't complain, that included me. I wandered around, taking pictures like they were going out of fashion (the link should load quickly enough; they're all thumnails - some of the images are quite big, though), and trying to work out where the giant chess board had gone. I think I'm a little sad that the whole place is so determinedly commercial now - every building not given over to the hotel is a shop of some kind. The whole thing is very tasteful, of course, but I still would have preferred some of the mystery I remembered to still be evident in the closed and shuttered buildings to the insistence that I should buy yet more postcards, or fudge, or pottery, or watercolours, or whatever. But I wandered around the grounds a lot more than last time, and I photographed a lot more (oh, you noticed), and I definitely want to go back in fewer than 20 years this time.
And I discovered a real curiosity. I still don't quite know how to describe it; I imagine Derrida would have a field day with it. It's a map. A map, in the end, of an imaginary place, but nevertheless, a real map. In a way, it's a map of a map. I'll try to explain.

I imagine that most people reading this are at least familiar with The Prisoner; if not, feel free to go off and familiarise yourself for a while. The Prisoner took place in a location only identified as "The Village". Many (but my no means all, of the outdoor scenes were filmed at Portmeirion, but The Village was no more Portmeirion than it was Borehamwood Studios - it was a fictional place. In the first episode, Patrick McGoohan's character (I'll skip over all that "Number 6" stuff, shall I?) is seen examining a map of The Village. The map only appears in that one shot, and while it is clearly based roughly on Portmeirion, it is by no means a map of Clough Williams-Ellis' creation. However, imaginiation is no barrier to commerce, and on sale in the Prisoner shop in Portmeirion is a very accurate facsimile of the map of The Village. Now, this may be a unique map - a clear and accurate representation of an imaginary place, sold to people visiting the real place which inspired the imaginary place, but almost entirely useless to them in getting about, since some of the buildings and streets on the map are in the wrong place, while others simply do not exist. I almost bought one - I wish I had, now.

Thursday, April 10, 2003

Watty asks for a moment's silence:

Hardly surprisingly, but all of a sudden, Concorde is to be retired. Quite apart from the entirely selfish reflection that I would have liked to have flown on her one day, it seems to me to be a terribly sad day for aviation, and technology in general. It seems that one of the leaps forward in technology has turned out to be a dead end, and yet it is still a staggering achievement by any standards. Launched into a fuel shortage, it really never had a chance on economic or ecological grounds - only mass-production, and acceptance by US airlines, could have made the critical difference - in the end a truly staggering amount of money was poured into the project, and even at today's hyper-inflated fares, it could never have recouped its development costs. But it was - is, still - the ultimate proof of the axiom that if an aircraft looks beautiful, it will function well. Supersonic passenger flight at the edge of space has been commonplace, if not common, for 30 years and more, and rarely, if ever, can an aircraft have fulfilled its design brief so well.

And - although it seems unlikely - I do hope that somehow, one can be kept flying. Not just because it is a symbol of what the European aviation industries could do when determined; not just because it is the last great airliner (I can't tell modern jet airliners apart, and I'm interested in the subject); not just because it was the only aircraft to always be referred to as if there was only one ("Oh, look - there's Concorde"; never a Concorde); and not just because of the extraordinary sight and sound of the takeoff. No, I'd like to think that we could keep one flying as a demonstration that late twentieth-century technology could make things of beauty and utility, in that order. And I'd like to think that it could be kept flying long enough for the rest of the aviation industry to catch up...

Watty's under the weather...

I am sitting here in my office, peering out at the weather, and celebrating what must be some kind of record, even by British weather standards.

Last week, it felt like spring; grey and wet, but not as cold as it had been. After a couple of days of that, we had summer - clear, blue skies, warm sunshine - temperatures not far off normal June or July levels. Then, at the beginning of the week, autumn arrived - still the same crisp, clear skies, but the temperature dropped by about ten degrees. This morning, it's snowing. I give up.

Monday, April 07, 2003

Watty's feeling a bit cartographic:

I bought myself a new road atlas on Friday. About time, too - the old one had been shredded by assorted children, not quite yet old enough to appreciate maps as things of beauty. I happened to be in a petrol station, as one does, and I suddenly spotted the rack of maps. Now, I could easily spend an hour or so musing over various atlases, weighing up the benefits and demerits of what are essentially only slightly different versions of exactly the same thing - the roads don't change from atlas to atlas, after all. But time is short - I'm on my way home - and I choose the one which seems to have the best combination of durability and value; in the end, it's only a road atlas, it's not a proper folding map.

For proper folding maps have a special hold on me. I remember poring over Ordnance Survey maps - those beautiful old quarter-inch editions, the traditional red-covered one-inch series, almost as soon as I could read. One of the reasons I went to University in Edinburgh is because of my great aunt, who had a streetmap of the city in her front room. Often, when visiting, I would pull out the map and study it intently - finding what, I cannot say, but I seemed to find something new every time. There are those, I know, who cannot follow roadmaps; cannot relate the marks on the paper to the physical world; I think I understand how that can be, but I cannot imagine it. I used to think that I had an innate sense of direction, but I realise now that it came from studying maps of places until I could navigate around them with my eyes shut - as soon as I was in a strange place, I couldn't find North, except by blind guesswork. Having said that, one of my favourite stories about myself relates the tale of navigating out of the entirely unfamiliar town of Blackburn purely by the position of the sun in the sky.

I have maps all around me - there is a seventeenth-century map of Scotland above the desk where I'm typing this; there's a wonderful historical map of the London Underground in the bookcase just behind me; there are at least two facsimile old county maps in the drawers of this desk, and if I go downstairs, I'll easily find my huge Times Atlas of the World, and that's to say nothing of the maps and atlases in the car. And there's a kind of magic in them - they're not simply navigation aids, they're the keys to the world. With the right map, and enough determination, you can go anywhere, and it can't be just me who would (and does) make the occasional detour because I've spotted a new or interesting-looking road on the map. I often think that you could strand me anywhere and as long as I have a good book, I'll be fine. But the same is true - possibly more so - of a good map.

Thursday, April 03, 2003

Watty's all apologies:

I turn my back for a minute, and somehow a fortnight has passed. I'm still here. Today's passing thought is:

Earworms. I can't claim to have invented the term, and I forget who it was, but I am plagued with these most days. You overhear something on the radio, or someone whistles a merry tune, and there it is - firmly fixed inside your head for the rest of the day. For a while it was children's television themes, from watching 'The Hoobs' or some such before breakfast; just today I realised that hearing a siren causes me to hum 'Fireman Sam' for several hours. If someone mentions a shark, I get 'Mack the Knife' for days afterwards. The only known remedy is something loud enough to drown it out. Trouble is, then you start humming that.... Still, better than no music at all, I suppose.

Thursday, March 20, 2003

Watty should have gone to bed an hour ago...

Instead, here I sit, tired and full of annoying sniffly cold which has made me lethargic and irritable, and I've got a window open with a live image of a street in Baghdad, and I'm just staring at it.

I mean, part of the fascination is that such a thing is possible - - look, there goes another car, an Iraqi car, with at least one real Iraqi person in it, just driving around their city in the middle of the night. Frankly, it could be Bradford or Bristol in that picture, and I wouldn't know the difference. Except I would. Because there's some eerie sense of something not quite right about the whole thing. Every so often, there's a faint sound, like distant thunder - it might very well be distant thunder, I see no other indication of any military activity; perhaps I'm imagining it; perhaps it's just another truck passing, nearby but out of sight. It certainly doesn't feel like I'm at war with this street, or that it's at war with me.

I think that what strikes me tonight is that for the first time in my life, I cannot understand the position of those who want to take up arms. As a child, I was used to the irregular bombings and shootings - never close enough to directly affect me, of course, but nevertheless, happening in my country - and I could see why people wanted to fight back. I could also, if I squinted a bit, see why the bombers felt their methods were necessary. When this country went to 'war' over pretty much nothing at all 21 years ago, I could see why it seemed so important; I could understand the motives on both sides, and there was a spark of sympathy in me for the position the British government found itself in; easy for me, a pampered child of a postwar generation, to sneer at military posturing, but what else, realistically, could have been done? The same impulse applied in 1991 - you can't just stand aside and let countries be overrun by dictators; but what seemed sadly inevitable then seems faintly absurd now - we've spent 11 years starving these people, now let's drop some bombs on them. I know that's a simplistic view, but what can be more simplistic than several tons of metal and high explosive raining on your head?

Like I keep saying, there had better actually be some weapons of mass destruction hidden away somewhere, and they had better not be reluctantly dragged out and used as some desparate last resort.

Well, goodnight, Baghdad. I hope that street's still there in the morning, and I hope that, having got this far, some kind of swift resolution can be found. But it's a pretty faint hope, and I'm not holding my breath.

Wednesday, March 19, 2003

Watty doesn't particularly want to be at war with anyone

I think Lou Reed said it best

Wednesday, March 12, 2003

Watty's been doing his duty:

I am the proud owner of a silver badge. It doesn't sound much, but it means something to me, and for all I know, it means the difference between life and death for someone I'll never meet.

I've been a blood donor all of my adult life, and today was just another donor session, really - save for the little silver badge. The mobile unit parks right outside the office these days, and we can make appointments so that the whole thing is quick and efficient. I wandered down nice and early this morning, with my forms all filled in, and was processed in short order by the usual efficient crew - it's generally the same faces every time; it strikes me that seeing the same people each time must signify that what cannot be a well-paid profession must have a lot of rewards. I like to have the blood taken from my right arm, being left-handed; the trouble is, the veins in my right arm aren't always as keen. This morning, there was a bit of a struggle - I offered to get the chisel, but we managed it in the end. As I lay there, steadfastly not looking at the needle, I naturally found myself thinking about all those previous donations...

The very first time I gave, I had only been eligible for about 3 weeks - it was November 1980, and - I know I'm not making this up - all first time donors were being enticed with the promise of a half pint of Guinness. Of course, this was inside the student union builldings at Potterrow in Edinburgh - I suspect the Guinness was not on offer to the general public. It wasn't the Guinness which tempted me, though; it was simply one of those things I had alwways known I wanted to do. I remember vividly lying under the striplights in the refectory building, and feeling very pleased with my little blue book and my elastoplast. Over the years, I've given blood in a wide variety of locations, from the Usher Hall in Edinburgh, via a 19th century hospital in Inverness, Aberdeen Royal Infirmary, somewhere I've drawn a complete blank on in Perth, various church halls and, oddly, once a nursing home, to the current mobile unit. I have only once had an unpleasant experience - in a church hall in Rickmansworth, when I didn't press hard enough after the needle had been withdrawn, started to drip blood on the floor and promptly passed out. It wasn't the sight of the blood, I'm pretty sure - I can watch the bags and test tubes being filled with no problem - more a case of donating on an empty stomach. Since then, of course, I take donation day as one of my many excuses to overeat.

No dramas today, however. I am awarded my silver badge marking 25 donations, and warmly thanked, as always, and I make my way back out into the persistent drizzle, feeling a little better about myself, and only briefly wondering if there is someone lying on an operating table at Watford General about to benefit from a simple gift, freely and anonymously given. And I smile quietly to myself and get back to work.

Monday, March 10, 2003

Watty also remembers:

One year ago today, I consumed my last deliberate caffeine.

No, really. I know that seems pretty much impossible in ths age of coffee, but it's true. I don't remember the last cup, as it happens - it would have been a Sunday night, but nothing more than that has stayed with me.So I thought I'd give it a go for a week or so, see if I suffered the same symptoms as last time, and then it just took on a life of its own. The last time I tried, I went cold turkey from around 6 or 7 cups a day. I suffered two days of dreadful headaches and by the end of a week, was actually suffering tremors. That time, I went back to one strong cup a day, and that's where I started from last year. There were no real physical effects to begin with; then after a couple of days, I began to notice how tired I was, and even now, I still expect to have more energy than I actually do - this does, of course, have several other contributing factors, but I still feel it as a lack of stimulant at certain points in the day. About an hour after lunch is usually the worst - no surprise, I suppose, but the loss of the post-prandial espresso is very noticeable if it's hot, or quiet.

And that's probably the most difficult part of the day, because everyone has an after-lunch espresso, and the smell fills the air for about half an hour. You see, I love coffee. I love everything about it except for the effect it has on my brain. So even walking down the street can be torture, as I pass Starbucks after Starbucks. I would comfort eat, but I gave up chocolate, too. Is there actually caffeine in chocolate? Of course there is. Alternatively, there isn't - I decided not to take any chances, so I have been a chocolate-free zone for a year, too. That part, strangely, has been relatively easy, considering where I work. I think that, as I have got older, my sweet tooth has abated a little - I do miss it sometimes, but not so's you'd notice.

So, I hear you ask, aghast, how on earth do I do it? Well, it's not too difficult. I found viable alternatives in the hot drinks stakes quite early on, and you'd be surprised how many places serve fruit teas and so on, if you just ask. The best seem to be the London Fruit and Herb company teas - I would link to them, if they had a website - full of fruit flavour, without being overly sweet. I probably eat slightly more than I did before, mostly savoury things, and I get past the coffee shops by just pretending that I can't smell them. Mostly I get by because I feel a lot better without the effects of caffeine - the depression is a lot more manageable; none of the mood swings which coffee seemed to induce; I have fingernails, as noted before, and although I'm tired, it somehow feels like a healthy tired, if that makes sense. I also seem to get fewer colds, although I have no idea whether that is related...

How long will I keep this up? I have no idea. I rather like the effect, but I also still crave coffee every now and then. Perhaps in a moment of weakness, I'll be tempted by a Snickers bar, or something, but I hope not. See you in another year.

Watty apologises:

Such is the way of the web. The second I post something, it vanishes. You'll have to take it from me, it really was rather affecting, and I wish I had contacted him now. Ah, well.

Thursday, March 06, 2003

Watty does a kind of webloggy thing, probably out of spite or something:

This isn't a link to someone else's weblog. It's more the kind of diary which I might have written when I started this, only I'm not quite ready to bare my soul so openly. The staggering thing about this guy is the almost exact parallel he has with my life. It's not a perfect fit, but it's spookily close in lots of places. Anyway, I was struck by it earlier today, and I thought he should have an infinitesimally wider audience. I also think I ought to write to him, but what if he turns out to be me...?

Watty's in reflective mood:

If you care to look back through the archives (I'm not saying you should, but if you should happen to be passing that way...) you'll discover that I started doing this a year ago today. I remember the trigger for it well enough, but I don't really know what I thought it would achieve. I just put some of my words out there for anyone who cared to look, and 12 months on, I'm still sort of doing it.

It has definitely been therapeutic for me - writing is one of the best ways I know to help me get my head round my head, if you follow me; writing in here has helped me work out how I'm really feeling about things on several occasions. It's also allowed me to complete some bits of writing I wouldn't have done otherwise; the Musical Memories project was great fun to write, but in hindsight I think I tired myself out a little, and I've never really got back into the swing of doing this regularly again. The Depression Index idea kind of fizzled out; I couldn't keep coming up with new ways of saying the same thing. Also, there's no doubt that I do this when I'm in a depression, and I really haven't been recently - people have even noticed that I've been more cheerful, which is good. Then I came to the conclusion that it was intruding on the lives of others a bit too much, and that I needed to make it more a place to put things I wanted to write down and less of a diary. And I'm more than aware that it's never been a weblog, however much I may have tried to make it look like one.

All of which leads to absolutely no conclusion whatsoever. I'm still here, I feel better about myself than I did a year ago (there's another significant anniversary coming up in a few days which may have an influence on that); I like doing bits of random writing, and for those reasons if no other, I shall continue to come here and post things. I can't tell if there will be devastating insights or chunks of orphaned fiction, or reviews of concerts, or more nostalgic ramblings, or something else altogether which I haven't thought of yet.

Or mabe it will turn into a weblog. You never know. In any event, Happy Birthday ...if you must; and thank you for reading this far.

Monday, March 03, 2003

Watty's fairly triumphant, really:

Project concluded, which is to say: phase 1 of project concluded - there's a lot more to come, but none of it should involve sleepless nighs and working weekends. And yes, I am mildly triumphant - well planned, and well-executed, it all has gone at least as well as could have been expected. I may have some time to write some stuff in here shortly. Probably. Maybe.

Friday, February 21, 2003

Watty's in much the same condition as last time:

I heard a rumour that this place was absent without leave, so I thought I'd come and post in it, see if that gave it a kick. Not much more to say, right now. The project is taking all of my time and energy, but we'll be live in a week now, so hang on to your hats.

Oh, and I have been doong a little writing, which I think is encouraging. In fact, if I wasn't so tired, I'd be doing that now, instead of this. More soon, I promise.

Sunday, February 09, 2003

Watty knows he's been remiss, but:

*insert excuse of your choice here*

I met Gene Cernan - the slightly less well known "last man on the moon" - this afternoon. Well, OK, it wasn't really him, it was an actor. Actually, it was an Explainer - look, we were at the Science Museum. Bear with me. He was fun, and educational, and he was wearing an actual NASA space suit, complete with moon boots! But none of that is the point.

I was 6 going on 7 when Neil Armstrong may or may not have fluffed his lines on stepping onto the surface of the moon, and you can imagine just how exciting it was - pretty much the history of manned spacefight had taken place in my lifetime, and while I probably didn't have a grasp of the historical context of it all, I did have the Airfix models. I kept scrapbooks, was allowed to stay up late to watch things (I can still remember, and could probably recite, James Burke's description of the various layers of the spacesuit), and there was no other topic of conversation in the playground. Apollo 11 was launched on our school sports day, and one or two of us managed to convince ourselves that the contrail we saw high overhead that afternoon was the Saturn V thundering out of the atmosphere. It wasn't, but on some level, it really was.

So space flight has always been part of my life, and I'm probably at the younger end of those who can remember the moon landings. There's a deep fascination within me for all things space (hence the italics earlier), and some level of frustration that just when everything seemed possible, it all petered out. I don't think I ever actually wanted to be an astronaut, but I liked to think that people I knew could be, if they wanted to. And I suffer from an even deeper frustration at those damned inflexible laws of physics, which seem to put so many obstacles in the way.
And every now and then the laws of physics jump up and smack you in the face. That's what last Saturday felt like to me, child of the space race - a smack in the face. Another, far less innocent contrail, and a gut-wrenching reminder of just how dangerous this whole business is. But we take risks, and test the limits, and sometimes people die - that's the way it's always been, it's an inbuilt human trait.

Then I was struck by a curious parallel - it's my no means a good fit, but I do think there's merit in it. My paternal grandmother was born almost exactly as Wilbur and Orville Wright were proving that the differential air pressure on either side of a cunningly-shaped piece of wing could actually translate into lift. By the time she was my age, there were airliners and heavy bombers, fighters and troop carriers - the aircraft evolved staggeringly quickly. Along the way, there had been some dead-ends - airships in particular - as well as a couple of leaps of evolution which changed the whole way that aviation worked. Rotary-winged flight offered an alternative evolutionary path, and then the jet engine simply moved everything on to a different level - a colossal step-change in the way things worked. And I wonder if spaceflight isn't on a similar path. There was a rapid early evolution, followed by some intriguing later developments, some of which, I feel sure, will turn out to have been airships - and I wonder if the whole Shuttle concept isn't one of them - it does work, and pretty reliably, but it's fragile, and fraught with miniscule dangers. The effort - the energy, work and concentration - required to make it happen seem out of proportion to the reward, and perhaps we'll go back to more 'conventional' methods of space travel. Or perhaps there's a Frank Whittle out there somewhere, about to revolutionise space flight. Perhaps the whole idea that the only way to get anywhere outside the atmosphere is to apply ever-increasing amounts of brute force to the problem is about to be superceded. Maybe, among the dozens of alternative ideas and crackpot theories there's a real, workable solution to those infuriating laws of physics. I hope that there is, and I know that when the day comes for someone to test fly it, there will be no shortage of volunteers. Risk is part of the deal.