Saturday, 25 July 2009

London 2012 - Get involved in the Open Weekend

It might just be me, but I was not aware that this weekend is the London 2012 Open Weekend.

A series of events celebrating arts, culture and sport are taking place through the Capital and the UK this weekend, and people are being invited to participate and experience the growing excitement of London 2012.

There is just one day left of the Open weekend, but in order to see the list of available events taking place in London on Sunday, 26th July, click HERE.

London 2012 stadium takes shape

I must admit to never venturing further East in London than Greenwich. Somehow my London experience to date has been very "western". Until today that is...

I took myself out toward Stratford, to the enormous building site that is where the London 2012 Olympic Park and Stadium are taking shape.

The size of the construction site is breathtaking, and as you look out over it, it almost seems to spread out Biblically, as far as the eye can see.

At the moment, the most dominant feature of the site is the Olympic stadium itself, which given that the Olympics are still more than 1,000 days away, appears to be coming along very well. (By comparison to when I have seen preparations for the 20120 World Cup in South Africa. Although at the moment it looks more like a dinner plate in a metal cage, it is easy to see how this structure will become the centrepiece of the Olympic Park come 2012.

Also clear to see is the Aquatics centre, though not as accessible at the main stadium.

What is apparent is that this is not just a building project, this involves all manner of engineering projects under a single banner. It is obvious that transport, utilities, infrastructure and community projects and developments are all taking place and contributing to the development of the East End of London.

And say what you will about what may become of the Olympics, or the legacy they may leave after 2012, it is clear that in the current economic climate, a massive construction project such as this one, which cannot be stalled, halted or delayed in any way, is driving the manufacturing and construction industry in the local London area, and probably reaching out throughout the UK. Right now the employment and economic development that this project is providing the people of London is probably immeasurable, and you shudder to think what unemployment and growth statistics might be without this project.

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Beware the repairman - shocking under cover investigation

Sadly, not all repair men and repair shops can be trusted.

Beware if you have to send your laptop or PC away for repair. This story is running on SKY news this evening and makes for some very nasty viewing...

Doing something outrageous

Let me start this by saying.... I don't do jogging!

I can run around a hockey field, I can cycle a bike for a fair distance, but some how running on a road has never interested me...

Yet, despite this, I find myself completing an application form for the London Marathon in 2010, to be run on April 25th. That makes it 9 months away.

I will only find out in September if I actually have a place secured in the starting field, and I then commence my preparation and my fund raising. And that's the point of this exercise - fund raising...

So we wait and see....

Monday, 20 July 2009

Videos from Fairford

I managed to sit myself down and put a montage of some of my photos together from yesterday's air tattoo.

First up, the Avro Vulcan and the B52 Bomber

And then the Red Arrows performing and closing the afternoon.

Sunday, 19 July 2009

Flying visit to Fairford

Today I went to my first Air Tattoo. I had known about this annual military air show, having lived close to the Gloucester air field where it is held, but had not previously made it. This year I was determined.

With experience from the Biggin Hill air show recently, I knew that traffic would be my biggest problem, and so I set out at 05:30 from London, and made good time through to Fairford. Once I had cleared the entrance gate and mandatory military search, I was overwhelmed.

Static Air Display

I have been to both Biggin Hill and Farnborough air shows before, but the static air display at Fairford was probably bigger than both of those combined. Literally the full 2 mile length of the taxi way had doubled as a military aircraft air park, with dozens of machines from various European and the US air force on display. The fact that Fairford doubles as a US air base, meant that the US contingent represented the majority of the planes on show, but German, French, Finnish, Dutch, NATO and several other national air forces were well represented.

Strangely though, despite the massive number of planes on show, the Avro Vulcan parked up at the East of the run way seemed to attract the most attention.

Flying Display

The weather was best described as "changeable" and probably more honestly described as "bloody awful". Several heavy showers swept across the air field, and the strong cross wind created some interesting take off and landings for the various display teams. But the teams were magnificent. Their ability to switch from normal diplay to flat display to accommodate the weather was brilliant, and the show generally was unaffected by the weather conditions.
If anything, the wet runway often lead to some fantastic photo opportunities, especiialy when the fast jet displays were oeprating at low level. This Swedish Airforce Gripen had a particularly spectacular take off.

There were several Air formation displays, including the Breitling Jet Team, the Red Arrows, the Swiss Airforce (I learnt that today... Didn't know they had an airforce, let alone they possessed F18 Hornets). However, the Italian Il Frecce Tricolori representing the Italian Air Force were very memorable, complete with Italian commentator and the sounds of Nessum Dorma for their Finale.

Late in the afternoon we were treated to some Cold War icons, not only displaying, but actually sharing the same piece of runway at the same time.

A B-52H Stratofortress, returning from Spain, made no less than 4 low level passes, delighting the crowd with its sheer size and 8 roaring engines.

But more was to come. The moment everyone had waited for, the return of the AVRO Vulcan to the Royal International Air Tattoo after 18 years. The Vulcan rolled along the runway, and the crowd seemed to rise as one. Fortuantely the immense howl of the Vulcan engines managed to drown out the almost synchronised click of 50,000 cameras as XH558 took off.

Her display was breathtaking, but more was to come.
Having landed and slowly taxied in front of the crowd, the Vulcan waited at the west end of the runway, as the B-52 itself came in to land.

The plane is so wide, she hardly fitted on the runway, and at times I am certain her wing mounted side wheels made merry in the rain soaked Gloucester turf alongside the runway.

Even so, she then joined the Vulcan, and these two great ladies of the Cold War taxied together back in front of the crowd - a truly fantastic moment and very rare indeed.

The show was ended by the Red Arrows. Their performance was impecable, and words could hardly describe the fantastic art and skill that these pilots display in the flying.

The Roayl International Air Tattoo promotes itself as the world's biggest air show, and on the evidence of the static air display and the 6 hour flying display from across the world, it is easy to see how this label is justified.

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Where the famous hang out in London

Google have launched a new section within their domain showing where some of London's more famous residents like to hang out.

They have consulted such names as Ken Livingstone and Kelly Holmes and lead singer of Madness, Suggs, and asked what their favourite places in London are.
Then, using Google Maps, these places have been set out and marked with customised "pins".

If you are familiar with Google maps you will immediately recognise the format, but what is really nice is to find out more about your own city through the eyes of these celebs.

Go see the celeb maps for yourself here.

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Trafalgar Square Art

A few days ago I blogged about the new art display taking place at Trafalgar Square, Antony Gormley's "One and Other", taking place on the Fourth plinth.

So this evening I went in to London to see it for myself. I got to Trafalgar Square just in time for the 8 o'clock transition between participants.

The earlier participant was a Lollipop lady - someone who helps at pedestrian crossings, generally outside schools.

The next participant cut a lonely figure on the plinth. Dressed in a formal evening dress with elbow length gloves, she looked like she was the only attendee at a formal party. The dark clouds to the South of the City were a dramatic backdrop to her.

However, perhaps the most amusing sight of the evening, to me anyway, was when the participant whipped out a camera of her own, and suddenly the gathered crowd who were taking pictures of her, became a subject of her own enthusiastic photo taking.

Taking the trash out

The Thames has long been used as a transport artery for the Capital.
However, after the recent Expenses Scandal within the Government, the irony of seeing the trash being taken out by a barge in front of the Houses of Parliament couldn't be lost...

Sunday, 12 July 2009

Getting Steamed Up in Hampshire

It is one of the amazing things about London that you can travel less than an hour down the road, and transport yourself back in time by decades...

Today I took myself south from London toward Southampton, but stopped at Alton, a small Hampshire town, and took in the Mid Hants Railway - more commonly known as the Watercress Line)

Running between the towns of Alton and Alresford, this Heritage Railway gives you a taste of what the mighty era of steam must have been like, as it muscles its way through 10 miles of beautiful Hampshire countryside, all the while chugging to the harmony of the steam engine.

Today the engine on duty was the Lord Nelson, a restored Southern 4-6-0 E850. And what a beautiful site she was (Trains are female - even the great Lord Nelson in this instance...)

I managed to catch the train both at Alton and then arriving at Alresford. The power, majesty and presence of the machine, originally built in 1926, is just awesome.

If you are in Hampshire, and in fact, even if you are not, a ride on the Watercress line is well worth making the effort for.

London after dark

I probably shouldn't admit this openly, but I have not often been out into Central London until the early hours of the morning. However, last night was an exception.

I headed out to Piccadilly Circus for the evening and enjoyed myself to such an extent that home time came long after the last tube had set off for the night. And so I found myself connecting Night Bus routes to get home.

While I regularly use buses, a Night Bus is a completely different creature. And the mix of people, all returning home after various degrees of frivolity, or in fact heading on to another venue for further frivolity, creates quite a melting pot of emotion, fatigue and edginess.

I connected with my bus at Trafalgar Square - where half the nation appeared to get on. The resultant Sardine Can experience brought you much closer to your neighbour than you might have thought possible... Slowly we wound our way home, exchanging occupants at every stop, those getting off being replaced by a new and seemingly more obscure group of characters. At one time our driver refused to continue, as the bus was overloaded. This added to the tension slightly.

But despite thinking that the whole bus might erupt into some kind of warped "WWE Cage match", we managed to get home without incident.

Once in Wimbledon, I had to complete the last part of my journey on foot. And here you realised that you were in a safe environment.
My 15 minute walk included passing 3 girls who were walking themselves home alone. And this really did drive home the point of how safe things were and are.

The final highlight on a chequered trip home, was the site of an urban fox in the next road up from me. He stopped in the middle of the road, eyeing me up as if to question how dare I disturb him, before scuttling off into the darkness.

Sometimes I take the safety I feel in London for granted. It's only when you take a trip home in the early hours, and your experience tells you that this should be a harrowing experience, that you see how safe things can be - and are.

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Where were you....?

I wasn't alive when Kennedy was assassinated, but I believe that people recalled exactly where they were when they heard the news of his death.

Strangely, I know exactly where I was when I first heard that Michael Jackson had been rushed to hospital and was seriously ill. I recall staying up until 3 in the morning enthralled, watching the news develop of his failing health and at first the rumours of his death, the unconfirmed reports, and then the sad news that he had been pronounced dead.

I suppose for my generation this was our "Kennedy moment" - I will always remember where I was at that moment. And I was by no means his greatest fan. I can only imagine how others must have felt.

And then this evening, I found myself transfixed to the TV, watching a celebration of his life, as icons of the music industry, headline acts in their own right, came together to support the family and celebrate the all too short life of what Berry Gordy described as "The greatest entertainer who ever lived".
Smokey Robinson also struck a chord in me when he said that he felt honoured to have been able to see Michael Jackson perform. Somehow, the ceremony made you realise that this was the end of something immensely special, that you had witnessed true greatness, and that it was now gone.

No doubt there will be millions of similar blogs circulating the globe tonight and in the days to come, and I am sure that many more devoted MJ fans will be able to share their personal experiences of Michael Jackson, attending a concert, buying his albums, hearing their favourite MJ song played at their wedding. For me, I have no such tributes, except to turn to nature, and a bird that Mother Nature has deemed so special that it too can moon walk.

So my MJ tribute is the Red Capped Manakin Bird;

Perhaps the most touching tribute was brought by Paris, his daughter:
"I just wanted to say, ever since I was born, daddy has been the best father you could ever imagine," she said.

"And I just wanted to say I love him so much."

Monday, 6 July 2009

Life imitates Art imitates Life imitates Art....

One of the things I love about Britain, and especially London, is the massive and varied mix of culture that appear to not just collide, but smash head on at high speed to create a wreckage - which itself becomes a brand new art form.

And in this fantastic City of London, all forms of art generate interest and appreciation. All are accepted and in their own way generate something new.

So you should not be surprised by the latest Art Work to grace Trafalgar Square. Starting this morning, the "Fourth Plinth" is home to Antony Gormley's "One and Other".
What is most amazing about this is that Mr Gormley himself has not seemingly created anything himself, other than an opportunity for others to become part of a living art work.
For 100 days members of the public have registered to take part, to stand themselves on the Fourth Plinth for an hour and take part of a Living Monument. The rules are simple - do SOMETHING, ANYTHING, so long as it is LEGAL.

This is fantastic fun and you can watch it from the comfort of your own home.
Just open this link:

You can just watch what is happening - 24 hours a day.
I have just been watching a chap now with a microphone, encouraging the public in Trafalgar Square to communicate with each other, to introduce themselves to strangers and to even go so far as to give another person whom they don't know some money.

It really is quite interesting.

As I say, in London, everything is Art, Life is Art is Life.

Saturday, 4 July 2009

Holiday Pics - then and now

I was sifting through old photos on my laptop in the week and found these, from my December holiday:

Don't you love the feel of the African savannah?

So this morning I went back to the same place...

Yes, it's amazing...
All these photo's were taken within Richmond Park.

Often London is nicnamed "The Big Smoke" by locals, but perhaps sometimes we miss out the fact that there can be so many different facets to the City, and its parks and green areas are simply amazing!

The morning after...

I cannot claim any credit for this, other than I found it.

But you know you have had a BIG night out, when you go to make eggs the next morning and....

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Beware the dangerous dog!

I was out and about over the weekend and spotted this sign on display:

Now, I am pretty sure I know what the message is supposed to mean - but I cannot thinking that these dogs must be the most volatile dogs on Earth!