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?